A Terrifying Night of Fright in Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu

October 1, 2020 | Sessions | 2 comments

Travel to the dark world of horror where evil forces gather and gates must be sealed in Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu.

It’s October, and so begins a month of spooky games! Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu arrived as part of my birthday gift over the summer. There never seemed to be a good time to play it… Until now! Another side effect is that I finally learned how to spell that last word. Wow. So off I went to a little town with characters underequipped for the challenge!

Content Warning

This post is still as tame as can be! Please know that there are some horror-themed miniatures and blurry depictions of Cthulhu below. I consider it all appropriate as I didn’t want to go too heavy on the horror theme. Yet be sure to keep this in mind if you’re not particularly attached to this genre. No Calico Critters this time, though they’ll be along soon!

Game Overview

Game Name: Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu
Publication Year:
2016
Designers:
Matt Leacock and Chuck D. Yager
Artists:
F. Jordan, A. Kanaani, P. Kluka, and C. Quilliams
Solo Mode: Included in the Base Game (Cooperative)

The main mechanics come from Pandemic, yet there are some unique aspects. Note the cultists and this fantastic visitor in the graveyard! There is a decidedly horror-filled theme as characters race to seal gates and stop the arrival of Cthulhu. Old Ones create obstacles and challenges, while relics offer potential ways to make progress.

Shoggoth in the Graveyard with Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu

A Wise Doctor

I knew he had intelligence when I saw that suit and hat. Ha! I took my time with the rules, even though the majority were very familiar to me from past iterations.

As for my characters, I figured I would start out with a duo. Having a team of 4 might be better in the future…

Regardless, a doctor seemed like just the right sort of person for the job! His ability to take an additional action per turn sounded very useful. What was in that briefcase?!

I was only slightly disappointed in his lack of a full name. “Doctor” would have to do, though I called him Teddy.

A Very Dapper Doctor to Fight Evil in Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu

Occult vs. Occult

What better way to fight the occult than with a full-fledged occultist?! She had this craft mastered.

Manipulating the locations of enemies was another awesome kind of skill. This could help clear paths for the doctor, or limit the number of awakening rituals.

I rather enjoyed this part of the setup process! It gave me a chance to plan early strategies for quick advances.

Sanity as a tracked resource was also an interesting concept. It wouldn’t be easy to travel around and see all of the horrors. I only hoped this little team could do well!

Fighting the Occult with the Occult in Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu

Unpacking a Briefcase

There was a rather uncanny resemblance between the doctor and a card from my StoryWorld collection!

The Monster Hunter had all sorts of gadgets to help him out. I just figured this was an accurate depiction of all the tools inside the actual doctor’s briefcase. Looks correct.

Ah, but there was the missing ingredient: A dog! If only the doctor had a canine companion of his own.

I got a little sidetracked as the team’s train prepared to arrive in Arkham. There was a wave of ancient evil to hold back, and little time to do so! But about that dog… Ha ha!

Everything Inside the Doctor's Briefcase in Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu

At the Train Station

The pair arrived in a strange and eerie town. All looked safe, though the deserted streets and mumbled chanting didn’t bode well. With no-nonsense nods, they set out.

The occultist’s first target was Dunwich. Rumor had it that the cultists formed a stronghold at the Old Mill.

Quickly, she caught a vintage bus that spewed choking fumes and roared through a dying engine. It was far from a pleasant ride, though this was not a pleasant business.

Cultists rose out of the night and she held her ground. She banished the few that she could with her unusual powers.

Arriving to the Terror in Arkham in Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu

Early Stirrings

Before the occultist could catch her breath, though, evil struck. Perhaps it was the sound of the bus. Maybe it was the doctor’s monster-seeking instrumentation. Or dog?!

In any case, this showed up with the very first card draw. What luck! Still, there’s something to be said about managing the worst from the beginning.

Honestly, the area wasn’t in bad shape. Sure, there were a few Shoggoths roaming about. Nothing out of control!

She remained within sight of the remaining cultists, trying to learn of their intentions. What might unfold?

A Very Active Sort of Evil in Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu

Unpleasant Arrivals

The doctor, who was known to me as Teddy, quickly took another bus to Kingsport. He was unaware of the danger that lurked in the streets, however. News was slow.

Teddy arrived in the market, only to come face-to-face with an enormous Shoggoth! It was brilliantly horrifying.

Poor Teddy was unprepared for this sort of meeting. He lost half his sanity from the encounter, and I really didn’t blame him. This was a very unfortunate bus ride.

However, never count the doctor out! He rallied his courage and defeated the Shoggoth, much to its chagrin.

A Very Frightening Arrival at the Market in Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu

A Sealed Gate

Little by little, the duo fought off the darkness. From a player perspective, I had to plan actions and movements so carefully. With Old Ones to face, limitations occurred.

I stopped some of the worst effects with relic cards. The sanity die was rather kind, indeed! Both the occultist and doctor were in pretty good shape as the fight waged on.

Back in Kingsport, the occultist even managed to seal off a gate in the graveyard! Progress was slow but steady.

With the town under control, she only needed the doctor to hold off the worst of the cultists back in Dunwich!

Securing the Graveyard with the Occultist in Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu

Dangerously Cornered

Teddy, however, was in a pretty tight spot. He wanted to seal the gate… Without the requisite resources. All he could do was ward off some of the cultists, and stare.

It did not look good. Over the course of this journey, the Old Ones came out at an alarming rate. I managed the Shoggoths very poorly, indeed. Not a good sign!

Even at the introductory difficulty level, the challenge was excellent. Or, perhaps I was just very bad at planning…

All the same, there were paths ahead. Dunwich could get under control in short order. It just depended on the cards!

Trouble in Dunwich for the Doctor in Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu

Session Overview

Play Number: 1
Solo Mode: Included in the Base Game (Cooperative)
Play Details: Introductory Difficulty Level
Required Play Space: 32″ x 24″
Setup Time: 5 Minutes
Play Time: 20 Minutes
Outcome: Loss

Then, Cthulhu showed up. That was that! It was a pretty exciting conclusion, though. I knew I was going to lose, yet I had a few small goals that could be accomplished. Next time, I’ll have some other ideas in mind for success!

Losing to the Arrival of Cthulu in Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu

%

1 Play

Affordability

Price & Value

7

Functionality

Challenges & Mechanics

9

Originality

Design & Theme

7

Quality

Components & Rules

10

Reusability

Achievement & Enjoyment

9

Variability

Distinctness & Randomness

7

+ Pros (Positives)

  • The theme and mechanics work well together in ways that make sense and create a sort of ongoing storyline.
  • Each character plays very differently, and it’s also nice to see a reasonably diverse cast across genders and ages.
  • Rolling for lost sanity adds a layer of randomness that doesn’t detract from gameplay, but adds suspense.
  • There is a good deal of variety with the Old Ones in terms of which ones are used, and in what order they appear.
  • Planning a strategy between teammates takes careful planning and is a lot of fun to adjust over the course of play.
  • Although the setting is certainly horror-based, the artwork is done tastefully without going over the top.

– Cons (Negatives)

  • The quality of the miniatures is underwhelming, although they’re still excellent and far from disappointing.
  • As with similar games, sometimes bad luck coupled with poor planning can lead to swift or immediate defeat.
  • Several rules, like when to move the Shoggoths during the summoning step, are a little difficult to remember.
  • Cultists can’t be stacked and can end up taking up a lot of space on the map in heavily concentrated locations.

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Continue the Conversation

What do you like or dislike about Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu? Is it innovative, or possibly too similar to other versions of Pandemic? I was pleasantly surprised, especially since I thought this horror theme might be a little much. Not so at all! I was invested in the characters and felt crushed when the Old Ones were just too much. Back to the train station!

2 Comments

  1. When I played this we promptly christened the cultists “Jawas” because of their size relative to the investigators.

    I realise that the mechanics and theme have to be jammed together, but I really don’t see a shoggoth as a thing you meet at random. Or have any hope of defeating, for that matter. But that’s the modern Cthulhu-game style, I suppose.

    Reply
    • Ha! This sounds about right. The size difference really is noticeable. I get it from the standpoint of not cluttering the board, but I may have a few more laughs when I next play.

      Cthulhu still isn’t really up my alley. Some games in the genre certainly work, though I feel like I’m scaring myself this October! I’m looking forward to playing some more of my cozier games next month. Although I still like this format of trying to give some new games a whirl. I’m sure I’ll find some more to get to the table!

      Reply

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