by Marius Hartland
''It was the Yuletide, that men call Christmas though they know in their hearts it is older than Bethlehem and Babylon, older than Memphis and mankind. It was the Yuletide, and I had come at last to the ancient sea town where my people had dwelt and kept festival in the elder time when festival was forbidden; where also they had commanded their sons to keep festival once every century, that the memory of primal secrets might not be forgotten''
• H.P. Lovecraft, the Festival
Since we have done some time travel and ghoulishly digging up carrion fodder in the last eight story cards, I thought I'd dig up a quote I've used almost exactly two years ago when I presented my very first spoiler article: Tulzscha – The Green Flame . This time, things will not only get spoiled, but they'll be Rotting Away.
Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game is a game of skill. There is an element of luck involved – but that's just to make it harder to make the right choices all the time. Lets look at a classic game of skill: Chess. Chess is totally deterministic. The lack of randomization have lead some people to argue, though, that Chess is more about knowing enough about games that have already been played than making on-the-spot strategical decisions. Those people have invented (among other variants) Chess960, where the start-up position is randomized and there are 960 opening positions (half of them are mirrored versions of the other 480 though.) The game still is a deterministic game of perfect information, but memorizing 480 times as much setups than in standard Chess is a bit excessive for a human mind. (And hopefully, for the Reaper, should you come in that situation... do try!) Having a randomized, closed deck (and thus, not even having perfect information on how the game will develop) only enhances the need for a wide array of tactical skills.
...which outreaches fancy and mathematics alike.
In the Call of Cthulhu Card Game , one of the skills is understanding the concept of “card advantage.” It's a nebulous concept, due to the nature of the game, and no two will answer alike when you ask what card advantage is exactly – Because no card is of equal value, and the value depends on the situation at hand. This is where the science behind the game enters the realm of quantum physics and trans-dimensional mathematics. Yog-Sothoth feels right at home here.
First of all, the game has different zones; the decks, hands, domains, resources and the cards in play. To me, card advantage deals with the number of cards you have in the direct access zones that directly deal with the game at hand, versus those of your opponent. These active zones are mainly your hand and in play. Resources are a difficult matter; I tend not to count them as a cost of card advantage, but they are needed to further the game as well. The concept gets more fuzzy around the edges when you consider that sometimes cards are "active" in your discard pile, but for the sake of this discussion, let’s just generalize.
Card advantage is important when you enter the realm of Yog-Sothoth, because there you'll see that on average, all the cards are of equal value. They are averaged, after all, in the eyes of a being that sees all possible game situations at once. And the more cards you have versus the cards your opponent has in active game zones, the better the chance one of your cards goes unchecked by your opponent and wins you the game. Shifting back to our own reality sometimes makes it obvious: If you hold five very good cards, and your opponent's hand is empty, you’re probably going to have a field day.
Waste not, want not
A similar thing is true for a concept, directly lifted from Chess, called 'tempo.' In the Call of Cthulhu Card Game tempo means how well you have used your resources and abilities to help you get ahead of your opponent in time and development. Once your refresh phase hits, any undrained domains and unexhausted support or character cards you have left unused are basically a freebie for your opponent. You'll have to keep the pressure on your opponent to stay ahead in the game. But even that is not always the answer. The game wants you to balance tempo and card advantage. When you exert yourself, you run the risk of overexerting yourself. And then, this happens:
Card Nine from Outer Space
Rushing out of the gates can be a problem, when you see this "red flag for rush" falling to the Professor of Archeology or Ghoul Khanum across the table. Your tempo was excellent, but your card advantage suffers immensely, and at the worst of moments. It's nice to draw two cards a turn to try to recover, but, well, your time is short. Thanks to the holistic approach of this Story Deck you can try to get your team back insane, or as a big domain using the other story cards. Or remember to hold back a little when Rotting Away is the news of the day, judging the amount of pressure you put on your opponent well. They could just keep the story around though when you don't pressure enough giving them more tempo. It's a game of skill after all; but also a game of cosmic horror and impending doom.
Skill goes for the characters themselves, too. Having a high enough printed skill makes them immune to Rotting Away . Will it keep them safe?
Next week we'll see the tenth (and final!) Core Set Story Card. The meek shall inherit the earth when we take a trip Through The Gates .