You should have picked a different school. Even the name of this one – Miskatonic University – should have been a pretty clear sign that something was wrong. Then there was that creepy librarian, and the weird book you found in the back shelves… An now there are dead bodies showing up, people praying to Old Gods, and a rift in the very fabric of the universe threatening to consume all of creation.
Maybe you should have spent more time on your homework. Or maybe you’re playing Cthulhu Fluxx.
Cthulhu Fluxx is a set-collecting / hand management card game published by Looney Labs. Designed by Keith Baker and illustrated by Derek Ring, it’s one of the dozen or so games based on the original Fluxx. This version, as the name suggests, is Fluxx with a strong Lovecraftian-Cthulhu flavour.
Cthulhu Fluxx, like all Fluxxes (Fluxx’s? Fluxxi?), is a fairly simple game for 2-6 players. Players have a set number of cards in their hands. On their turn, they draw a card from a shared draw deck and then play one card, either in front of them (Keepers), in the center of the board (New Rules or Goals), or into the discard pile (Actions). Then play passes to the left. The game keeps going until a player has a combination of Keepers laid out by the current Goal, at which point they win.
The entire purpose of Fluxx, however, comes from how quickly the game changes in play. A New Rule card changes what players can and cannot do (draw extra cards, play extra cards, have a hand limit). The constantly changing Goals means that what you have to do to win can change every turn, making it almost impossible to plan your victory many turns in advance. Even when you are on the right track, an opponent’s Action card might steal one of your Keepers or make you discard the cards you were saving.
Cthulhu Fluxx adds two new types of cards to the basic types in all Fluxx games: Creepers and Ungoals. Creepers are like Keepers – they are played in front of you and remain there. The problem is, you have to play Creepers when your draw them whether you like it or not, and you cannot win the game as long as one is in front of you (unless the Goal, as some do, specifically requires that Creeper). Ungoals are like Goals in that they set out a criteria that ends the game when met. However, unlike Goals, no one wins when these criteria are met. Everyone loses, typically in a bout of madness brought on by the rise of some eldritch horror from beyond the stars.
Mechanically, Cthulhu Fluxx is simple to the point of absurdity. Every card has clear instructions printed on them. The constantly changing rules and goals makes victory a matter of luck as often as any sort of skill. Frankly, in my experience, it’s a lot easier for everyone to lose thanks to an accidentally-met Ungoal than for any one player to win. This simplicity means Cthulhu Fluxx is an easy game to pick up and learn, though the heavy amount of writing on each card means that player’s need to have a fairly solid reading skill (which accounts, perhaps, for the otherwise high-sounding 13+ recommended age).
Where this game really shines, though, is in the theme. With famous horrors (Cthulhu and Shoggoth, among others), unsettling locals (Innsmouth), and oddly lovable characters (my personal favourite: the Penguins), the cards are just fun to play and look at. The Goals blend specific cards together with titles that, though vague, seem to conjure a sense of story. Consider the Miskatonic’s Rarest Book goal, which gives victory to a player who has the Necronomicon and the Librarian. Even the rules cards get into the theme of it, going from simply mechanical (Draw 3 a turn instead of 1) to the downright meta (draw an extra card if you can name something another player fears).
At the end of the day, Cthulhu Fluxx is simply fun. It’s too random to be a game one can get overly competitive at. It’s too thematic to take too seriously. It’s quick (anywhere from 10-30 minutes) and easy to play more than once in a sitting. It’s certainly not something you could spend hours and hours at… But it’s a nice, compact game (both in time and space required) to fill out an evening. Just be careful not to get too wrapped up in it or take it too seriously. You wouldn’t want to accidentally get the attention of… anything.
Cthulhu R’lyeh fhtagn!