The Shattered Mind
A Preview of The Mark of Madness for Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game
"If I am mad, it is mercy! May the gods pity the man who in his callousness can remain sane to the hideous end!"
–H.P. Lovecraft, The Temple
The mind recoils at the thought of the tenth deluxe expansion for Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game, or at least it should… In The Mark of Madness, Artists create works that seem to make no sense, even though many of their works share frightening similarities in their themes and imagery. Meanwhile, Cultists speak of omens written in the moon and stars, Lunatics brandish meat cleavers and wield conductors' batons like magical wands, and all Marseille teeters unknowingly above an abyss of insanity, pushed to the brink by the terrible Ancient One known as Hastur.
This tenth deluxe expansion is one that many of the game's most zealous fans have long and eagerly awaited. Few themes run as deeply and centrally throughout H.P. Lovecraft's eerie fiction and the mythos of Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game as that of minds shattering when confronted by unknowable terrors. Accordingly, the game's Terror struggle is arguably its most iconic; its inducement of insanity stands apart from the mechanics presented by other games, and it binds the game's story resolution directly to its thematic underpinnings. And the Hastur faction, which stars in The Mark of Madness, aligns itself more fully with the Terror struggle and with insanity than any of the game's seven other factions.
When we first announced that Hastur and his followers would at long last get their turn in the spotlight with The Mark of Madness, we promised that their new cards would lend new power and import to the Terror struggle, as well as the very nature of insanity. Today, we look more closely at some of these cards… if you dare.
Deeper Forms of Terror
Even with just a cursory inspection of its cards, you'll find that one of the primary themes running throughout The Mark of Madness is the expansion of the Terror struggle: it's no longer merely about driving characters insane. There's still plenty of that, of course, but since there are so many characters with Terror icons and Willpower that cannot be driven insane, the cult of Hastur has adapted, finding new ways to gain traction through its strength in the Terror struggle.
These start, naturally enough, with Hastur, He Who Is Not to Be Named (The Mark of Madness, 19), who allows you to add a success token at any story where you win a Terror struggle, every time you win a Terror struggle. This is notably not an effect that's limited to stories where you commit Hastur, himself, and though you're not likely to get Hastur into play until the late stages of your game, his effect can quickly turn a game in your favor. This is especially true when you pair Hastur with Drawing the Sign (The Mark of Madness, 25) and other characters, like A Scheme of Byakhees (The Mark of Madness, 16), that create additional Terror struggles wherever they're committed and may well grant you additional benefits for winning those stories.
You'll also find plenty of Terror struggles on the expansion's conspiracies. The Door That Will Not Close (The Mark of Madness, 33) comes with two Terror struggles, and since characters committed to the conspiracy cannot uncommit unless they go insane, your opponent will have to think twice about opposing you there. However, even those two Terror struggles pale in comparison to the riches of insanity provided by Opening Night (The Mark of Madness, 35) which screams nothing but sheer madness. With five Terror struggles, this conspiracy lends tremendous fuel to Hastur and Drawing the Sign.
Finally, The Mark of Madness allows Hastur's followers to use their strengths to overcome some of their traditional weaknesses. Although the followers of Hastur have long excelled at the Terror struggle, they have historically fallen short in the next icon struggle, the Combat struggle. The Mark of Madness addresses this with the introduction of Straitjacket (The Mark of Madness, 20), which doesn't technically add a new layer to the Terror struggle, but does allow your most maddening creatures to shatter your opponents' bodies as easily as they shatter their minds.
Which of Us Is Truly Mad?
Even as The Mark of Madness begins to reshape the Terror struggle, expanding it to encompass a great deal more of the game, it leads us to wonder: if we suddenly find the world is full of unspeakable horrors, are the raving Lunatics truly the mad ones, or were those of us who didn't shudder with panic or tremble with rage, were we the ones who were truly delusional?
Admittedly, insanity is not a relative term in Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game as it is in the world. Each character in play is either ready, exhausted, or insane, and in most cases, only characters who are ready are able to commit to stories. Characters who are insane are generally two turns away from doing anything useful. It takes one turn to restore one of your characters from insane to exhausted. Then, on the next turn, that character can ready, along with all your other exhausted characters.
Hastur's loyalists, however, have long viewed insanity as less of a setback and more as a waypoint along their greater journey. Given the tempo hit that players suffer when their characters are driven insane, this way of thinking about the world hasn't always done Hastur's followers a lot of good, but when The Mark of Madness arrives, we may learn that all of Hastur's Lunatics were merely ahead of their time.
Cards like Lure of the Moon (The Mark of Madness, 30), Starving Artist (The Mark of Madness, 1), and Moon Worshipper (The Mark of Madness, 2) are going to greatly accelerate the tempo of any Hastur deck that focuses on driving its characters insane for various benefits.
Even worse, though, is that as Hastur's madness lends strength to his followers, it insinuates itself like a disease among the larger population. Mad Maudlin (The Mark of Madness, 11) forces your opponents to drive characters insane if they wish to resource their domains, and The Dikes of Ys (The Mark of Madness, 23) causes the first character played each turn to enter play insane.
Because characters don't benefit from their Terror icons or Willpower until they are already in play, The Dikes of Ys can even slow the arrival of an Ancient One like Y'Golonac (Core Set, 122) or a team of Agency operatives working Undercover Security (Core Set, 7). In fact, because it works on every turn, if you choose not to play any characters on your turn, you can commit characters to stories on their own, gleeful in the knowledge that The Dikes of Ys can even hold back the threat of a Black Dog (Words of Power, 29).
With all these new ways they introduce to Induce Terror (The Mark of Madness, 32) and derive advantages from insanity, the new cards from The Mark of Madness create a truly nightmarish setting for your games of Call of Cthulhu, and in such a setting, is it more sane to carry on like everything's fine, or to rave and babble and obsess over the signs of otherworldly activities like one of Hastur's many Lunatics?
France First. Then, the World.
While the citizens of Paris may be the first to suffer the spread of Hastur's madness, they certainly won't be the last. The Mark of Madness adds unprecedented depth and flexibility to the Hastur faction and ensures that the game's iconic Terror struggle will once again loom large over every story phase.
The Mark of Madness is coming soon. Head to your local retailer to pre-order your copy today!