Cthulhu Fluxx Game Review

The Basics:

  • For ages 7 and up (publisher suggests 13+)
  • For 2 to 6 players
  • Variable game play length

Geek Skills:

  • Active Listening & Communication
  • Counting & Math
  • Reading
  • Pattern/Color Matching
  • Hand/Resource Management

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Variable
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • The Elder Gods are stirring and madness is in the air as well as your gaming table!

Endorsements:

  • Gamer Geek approved? Gamer Geek approved!
  • Parent Geek approved!
  • Child Geek approved!

Purchase:

Overview

Cthulhu Fluxx is the newest addition to the Fluxx family of card games from Looney Labs. This time around, the players will not only be playing for victory, but also to keep their sanity! The Elder Gods are starting to break through and it is up to the players to drive them back! Of course, sometimes the goal is to also fall deeper into madness! Cthulhu has awakened and Yog-Sothoth means to devour the world! Time to find some ancient artifacts and send those Elder Gods back to the dark and remote corners of existence!

Cthulhu Fluxx is comprised of 100 cards and all depict some element of H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. The quality of the game is typical of Looney Labs, which is to say, excellent. For those players who are familiar with H.P. Lovecraft’s work, each card is a delight and the game designer, Keith Baker, clearly knows his Lovecraftian lore. Even the Albino Penguins from the story, “At the Mountains of Madness“, make an appearance! Color me impressed!

Cards of Fate, Cards of Madness

Cthulhu Fluxx is completely card driven and the game changes as each card is played to the table. Sometimes the rules change and sometimes the victory condition. Understanding how the cards work is not very complex as each card will clearly describe what needs to be done and when. Even if you’ve never played the game before, by simply reading the cards, a player can play the game right out of the box with little difficulty.

Here’s is a quick description of each card type to help you understand how the game is played.

Example of some of the cards in the game

New Rule Cards

Part of the “madness” of Cthulhu Fluxx is the way the game’s rules can change many, many times during a single game. While it might seem an impossible task to keep track of all the different rules that could be played, the game handles that for you and saves you a trip to the nuthouse by making sure new rules trump old rules. For example, one rule could say “Draw 2 Cards” and then a new rule played could say “Draw 3 Cards”. The New Rule card replaces the old card and is used by all the players until another New Rule card is played and replaces it.

Meta Rule Cards

These are just like the New Rule cards, except they stay in play for the entire duration of the game and can only be played if all the players agree to use it.

Goal Cards

These cards define the victory condition and are used by all the players in the game. But, like the New Rule cards, Goal cards can trump older Goal cards. This means that a player could be exceedingly close to winning the game only to have to start over because the goal changes. Of course, this also means a player who is nowhere near victory could suddenly find themselves victorious when a new Goal card is played.

Ungoal Cards

These cards define the condition that will cause all the players to lose the game! They are treated exactly like a Goal card in every respect and can be replaced by Goal cards.

Keeper Cards

These cards represent things in the game and are used to meet the Goal card’s victory conditions. Keeper cards are played out in front of the owning player and are constantly matched to the current Goal card to determine if the players are on the right track to victory.

Creeper Cards

These are the bad cards in the game and always come into play as soon as they are drawn (unlike the Keeper cards which can be kept in the player’s hand and secret). The Creeper cards can keep you from winning the game and are usually passed to opponents through Action cards. However, there are very specific Goal cards that require you to have one or more Creeper cards in play to win.

Action Cards

These cards are used and discarded, requiring the players to do whatever the card demands. Sometimes the card will only require the player who uses it to do something. Other times, the entire table has to complete the action stated on the card. The Action card can be a game changer or hardly even noticed. It all depends on when they are played, making them something of gamble and the single greatest source of second guessing in the game.

Surprise Cards

These cards are meant to be played either during  a player’s turn or out-of-turn. Their single purpose is to cause other players problems, but they can also be used to cancel out other Surprise cards. It all depends on when the card is played, which is described in detail on the Surprise card. For example, the “Twist of Fate” Surprise card will allow the owning player to steal a Keeper card during their turn or an opponent’s turn.

Impending Doom and Madness

Cthulhu Fluxx adds several new icons to the cards that are used during the game to determine certain outcomes. These are as follows:

  • Doom (looks like an hourglass)
  • Anti-Doom (looks like an hourglass on its side)
  • Investigators (looks like a magnifying glass)
  • Attachable Creepers (looks like one card on top of another)

All four icons are used during the game, but the Doom, Anti-Doom, and Investigator icons are used to determine the outcome of certain cards. For example, the “Call of Cthulhu” Ungoal card is triggered if there are at least 6 Doom icons showing and the Cthulhu Creeper card is in play (Cthulhu adds 3 Doom icons himself!). Investigator icons and Anti-Doom icons will come from Keeper cards, but the Doom icons can come from Keeper and Creeper cards. In the dark and disturbing world of the Elder Gods, even heroes who fight for our survival are creatures of madness, as are their weapons. For example, the “Tomb” and the “Necronomicon” Keeper cards both have Doom icons.

The Attachable Creepers are Creeper cards that latch on and stay with a Keeper card for the duration of the game. For example, the “Madness” Creeper card is attached to a Keeper card that has an Investigator icon on it. This will cause the Keeper to lose any special abilities it would grant the player. Wherever that Investigator Keeper card goes, the madness will stick with them.

Game Set Up

To set up the game, first find the Basic Rules card. Place this in the center of the playing area. This card defines the starting rules in the game that all players must abide by until such time a New Rule card is played and trumps it. After that, shuffle the remaining cards and deal out to each player a starting hand of 3 cards. If any player has been dealt a Creeper card, they must immediately play it in front of them and are dealt a new card. Players should keep their cards that have not been played to the table hidden at all times.

The remaining cards are placed next to the Basic Rule card, face-down, and becomes the Draw Deck. Determine who should go first and begin play.

Playing the Game

All games start out with two simple rules. These are draw 1 card and play 1 card. Until a New Rule card is played and either trumps one of those basic rules or adds to it, the players will continue to complete the two stated actions on their turn.

New Rule, Action, Surprise, Keeper, Goal, and Ungoal Cards can be kept in the player’s hand, and should remain hidden until such time they are played to the table. Creeper cards are always played to the table as soon as they are drawn. The player always gets to draw another card if they draw a Creeper card. If the player is very unlucky, they might draw more than one Creeper card on their turn.

Or the player’s might not draw any cards at all. Again, it all depends on the rules of the game that are currently in play. On their turn, the players must comply with the rules that will state the number of cards a player draws, the number of cards a player can play, the number of cards a player must discard down to, and taking any additional actions a Keeper or Creeper card might require. Along the way, a Surprise card might jump out and change everything or keep it the same. As the game progresses, it changes and is never the same game twice.

Example of a game in progress – image taken from the game’s rules

Closing the Portals

To win the game, a player need only successfully met the requirements of the current Goal Card. At any time a player does, they immediately win, even if it isn’t their turn. There are no points to count or scores to keep. By simply meeting the conditions of the Goal card, the player is victorious. If the requirements of the Ungoal card are ever successfully met, all the players lose!

To learn more about Cthulhu Fluxxsee the game’s official web page.

Prediction

Thanks to my little geeks earlier exposure to Oz Fluxx, this game is not going to take anything other than a brief refresher to teach them how to play the game. The only new elements to the game are the Doom, Anti-Doom, Investigator, and Attachable Creepers, but these are not difficult concepts to grasp. In fact, nothing in this game is terribly new to suggest a new teaching session is going to be necessary for any of my test groups.

Which, honestly, has me a bit concerned. I already know the feelings of my test groups regarding Fluxx games, and since this game is not overly different than the others, I wonder if my testing will be legit. For example, if I knew a person didn’t like chocolate cake, why would I try to get them to eat mint chocolate cake? Yes, it’s different, but not enough. The same can be said about Cthulhu Fluxx, which might impact the commentary from my test groups. Specifically, those players who have decided that all Fluxx games are horrible. Not having open minded players could be a big issue.

Ah, but this game has two things going for it that I don’t think the other Fluxx game did. First off, the Cthulhu Mythos is hot-hot-hot right now. Any Parent or Gamer geek worth their weight in D20’s knows who Cthulhu is. Heck, even my 5 and 7-year-old know the name of that tentacled horror (thanks to some outstanding parenting by yours truly). The vast amount of Lovecraftian lore put into this game will make it a joy to play for those who love his work and monsters.

Second, the Cthulhu Mythos theme actually makes sense in the context of the game. All other Fluxx games I have played use a tacked on theme to generate cards. With Cthulhu, you already expect a lot of chaos and Fluxx is just the kind of game to deliver it. Constantly changing rules and shifting cards can certainly be maddening, but the brilliant stroke here is the use of Doom and Anti-Doom icons that generate or reduce the level of danger. Somewhere in the deck of cards is Cthulhu and he will win if the players don’t keep the doom level low on the table.

All that certainly adds interesting new twists! Whether it is enough to spark a renewed interest in Fluxx or open closed minds has yet to be seen.

Refreshing my little geek and other test groups took about a minute. Some players were very anti-Fluxx right from the start, but agreed to “give it a try”. My 7-year-old was much more excited about playing the game, especially with Cthulhu being part of it! As I set up the game for us to play, I asked him his thoughts on it so far.

“Awesome! I love Cthulhu! Do we get to fight him, Dad?” ~ Liam (age 7)

Looks like my little investigator geek is ready to go! Let’s see if the game is a fun time or a maddening one…and not in a cool Lovecraft kind of way.

Final Word

As you might know, I have something of a poor history with the Fluxx games. I first tried them at Gen Con and the demo team who taught it to me really messed it up. Pretty funny when you think about it, as Fluxx is not a hard game at all. But it was enough to leave a sour taste in my mouth that still remains to this day. I wouldn’t be much of a reviewer, however, if I didn’t keep an open mind. I did just that when I played Oz Fluxx, but my experience with it did little to change my mind. Important to note as you continue to read.

My little geek, who loved his first game of Fluxx, loved Cthulhu Fluxx even more, stating it was “the best Fluxx game ever!” He really enjoyed the cards and liked how the crazy Lovecraftian stories where being played out in front of him. Several times, we paused the game so we could go look up an Elder God he was not familiar with. At the end of the game, he was pumped that he didn’t let Cthulhu win, even though he might not have won himself. It was fun observing him nervously keep count of the total number of Doom icons as he watched with a worried eye for the Ungoal card with Cthulhu to appear.

Parent Geeks and Gamer Geeks who loved or liked Fluxx didn’t change their mind. They continued to say it was a great game and a lot of fun. No surprises there. What was a surprise was hearing one of the biggest anti-Fluxx Gamer Geeks state that Cthulhu Fluxx “wasn’t that bad.” Now, you need to understand, that’s like getting praise from Caesar! When I pressed him for more details, he said he rather enjoyed how the game used the Cthulhu Mythos with the cards in a way that made sense. In his words, “I felt like I was playing a Cthulhu game, not Fluxx.” The other Gamer Geeks agreed and I just about feel out of my chair in amazement.

My little geek gives me his best “crazy smile” as he proudly presents the Ungoal and Cthulhu he beat!

Gamer Geeks, believe it or not, this game might actually be for you. But let me put some serious disclaimers on this statement. If you like Fluxx, you’ll like this newest version of it. If you like Cthulhu games, you’ll like this game. If you like games where the theme of the game matches the game play, you are going to like this game. Yes, it’s still Fluxx, but it is now a version of Fluxx where the theme and game are blended together seamlessly. The constantly shifting playing area makes total sense in the context of the Lovecraftian madness and horror. Still simple, still light, and still Fluxx, but for perhaps the first time, a game of Fluxx that makes perfect sense when you are playing it.

Parent Geeks, like the Gamer Geeks, your perception of this game is first and foremost going to be based on your feelings of the Fluxx games in general. If you loved them before, there is nothing in this game to suggest you won’t continue doing so. If you are a fan of Lovecraft’s work, you’ll be doubly delighted. The game still plays the same, but the card combinations, Elder Gods, and goal requirements are exceedingly well done. The Cthulhu theme doesn’t feel tacked on, but rather a natural fit making the game feel less disjointed, but no less chaotic. Which is exactly what you’d expect with a game with Elder Gods and unspeakable cosmic horrors.

Child Geeks, this is a fun and chaotic game that will keep you on your toes and engaged from start to finish. You will need to constantly reevaluate your currently held cards and your goal, as the table will change. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the far, far worse. Help your teammates keep the Doom value down, but not too much. After all, only one player can win this game!

Three important points I need to make about the game. First off, I highly recommend you play with the Meta Rule that allows one player to still win the game if the Ungoal with Cthulhu is played. This adds a really neat element to the game that allows individuals to focus on bringing out Cthulhu on purpose (destroying the world) while the other players try very hard to win using the other goals (saving the world). It splits the table and makes for some really fun game play. Since it requires a Meta Rule, all the players need to agree to it before it is used in the game, but so very worth it.

Second, the starting age for this game is 13, according to the publisher. Don’t you believe it. There is nothing complex about this game that would suggest a more mature and experienced audience is necessary. There is some artwork that might make some younger little geeks feel unsettled, however. Before you play, take a quick look at the cards and see if the game is appropriate for your  little geeks.

Third, I actually enjoyed this game. For the first time, I was liking every minute I was actively playing it. The reason for this had to be because of the Cthulhu theme, but it also had to do a great deal with the vibe at the table. Cthulhu is well-loved in our part of the world, and all the players liked playing a game with that theme. The elevated level of enthusiasm at the table was visible and awesome.

I can’t bring myself to recommend this game to players who do not like Fluxx. It is just another Fluxx game, afterall. But I do encourage all players to give Cthulhu Fluxx at least a try. Yes, even Mr. and Mrs. Sourpants who loudly claim that all Fluxx games are worthless. Have an open mind, haters. For the first time, I enjoyed myself with the game and was more than happy to play again, and then again, and then again. Usually, I would just walk away from the table when a Fluxx game was going to be played, but now I was the one asking for players.

Or maybe I’ve just gone totally insane.

If you are a fan of Fluxx, of Cthulhuand of card games, do give Cthulhu Fluxx a try. Don’t be surprised if you go coo-coo for it, too. Also, this…

This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.

About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children and wife the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on CyrusKirby.com. Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....
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