Cthulhu Death May Die is not your usual Mythos themed boardgame. Instead of being all about finding clues and solving a puzzle, this game is all about rolling dice and kicking Elder God butt.
As an added bonus this is one of the best looking games CMON has produced.
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A look at the components in Cthulhu Death May Die
Cthulhu Death May Die is a new cooperative board game by Rob Daviau and Eric M. Lang, published by CMON in 2019.
You really need to see Cthulhu Death May Die in person to get the full effect, but this is one of the best looking games I’ve seen. Everyone knows CMON games come with great miniatures, but these minis are over the top even for CMON.
I suggest you stop right now and take a look at my Cthulhu Death May Die unboxing video so you can see some of these minis for yourself.
Besides the characters and the monsters, in this game you also get minis for representing your character stats. Where most games would use pegs or wooden cubes here, with Death May Die you get tentacles to mark your Sanity, Heath, Stress and Skill levels.
Besides the minis, the game also comes with some really beautiful map tiles. These are in a wide variety of shapes and cover a bunch of different scenes. Most of these are inside buildings but there are some caves and outdoor locations as well. It’s worth noting that these tiles are quite different looking and somewhat smaller than the tiles from Mansions of Madness, a game that I think can be considered the main competitor to Death May Die.
Besides the map tiles, there are some counters and stuff to punch out as well. These are all well cut and good quality.
The rulebook is glossy, full colour and filled with artwork and examples. It’s actually rather easy to read and the examples really help explain each step of the game.
Then there are the boxes. The base game comes with six scenario boxes and two Elder God boxes. The Scenario boxes come with a bunch more cards and the stuff needed to set up each scenario. This may include more punch boards and tokens. The Elder God Boxes represent the main baddies and your eventual targets in the game. With the base boxed set you get Cthulhu and Hastur. Each Elder God box comes with more cards and punch outs and, of course, some really kickass minis.
All of this fits really nicely into the box. There’s a place for everything except for the room tiles. Those nest well enough on top of everything, once you get it punched. The game even includes a card that shows you where to put all the minis back when you are done playing. Something I wish they had done in earlier games like Rising Sun.
To say I was impressed by what I got in this box would be an understatement.
How does Cthulhu Death May Die play?
You start off each game of Cthulhu Death May Die by picking one of the scenarios you own (the base game comes with six) and one of the Elder Gods you own (the base game comes with two) and mashing those two boxes together. You take the cards from both boxes and combine them and that determines what map tiles to use, what mythos cards are in play, what monsters you will face, etc.
Players each pick a character and there are plenty of options. I was personally very pleased to see not only men and women and people of colour but also an amputee included as playable characters.
Each character has three skills, one of which is completely unique to that character. Other than that characters start off identical except for their background, looks and of course which mini you get to play with. Some asymmetry is added when each player draws a psychosis card for their character. This is an in game effect that will go off as the character descends into insanity, an inevitable part of the game. There’s a significant deck of these that include things like having to hold an even number of items due to being obsessive compulsive, or entering a catatonic state when you lose sanity, which means you miss some actions but are safe from the monsters because they ignore you while you suffer.
The map is set up based on the scenario played and that will also put starting monsters and sometimes some tokens on the board. The goal of each scenario is to disrupt the ritual that is attempting to bring an Elder God into the world. Once the ritual is disrupted the Elder God becomes flesh and can be killed. It’s then up to the players to try to do just that. If the Elder God arrives before the ritual is completed it cannot be harmed. There’s also a time limit, if that is reached the game is lost. The game is also lost if one character dies before the ritual is disrupted or if all characters die after it is disrupted.
On a player’s turn, they take three actions. These include running (moving up to three spaces on the map), attacking (a monster or cultist or a Great Old One), resting (only if there are no enemies around) and trading items to other players. In addition, each scenario has two special actions that can be taken that are tied to how to disrupt the ritual. For example, during our game we could smash laboratories.
Attacking and doing scenario actions requires the rolling of three black dice and sometimes, when the character has an appropriate skill, some green dice. Players are looking for ! symbols that count for successes. There are other symbols that can set off special effects and symbols that drain a character’s sanity. The green dice have less harmful symbols on them than the black ones do.
Sanity is treated very differently in this game than from other Mythos games I’ve played. In most of those, it’s basically a health track, that when depleted causes the character to be removed from the game. In this game, it’s more of an XP track. The more sanity you lose the more powerful your character gets. Losing sanity unlocks new skills and adds more green dice to a player’s dice pools. The thing is, if you lose enough sanity you can still be removed from the game. So it’s actually a push your luck mechanic.
After a character has acted, they draw a Mythos card and then the baddies get to go. The Mythos deck is a mix of cards from both the scenario and the Elder God Box and includes all kinds of horrible things that I’m not going to get into here. After the Mythos phase characters are attacked by monsters in the room with them. This uses the same dice and it’s interesting to note that sanity results here also apply to the active character, so characters can lose sanity both on their turn and on the monster’s turn.
If character finds themselves monster free at the end of their turn they get to Investigate by drawing a card from the investigation deck. This deck comes from the scenario box. Here players will find tools and allies that can help them on their quest to kill an Elder God. Most of these cards give the players a choice of actions and give different rewards based on the choices made.
That’s pretty much it.
The actual gameplay in Cthulhu Death May Die is fast and furious. This is a high energy dice chucker where things can swing from going horribly wrong, to going stunningly well, due to some lucky dice rolls or card draws. Thankfully the game does include a randomness mitigation mechanic. Players can spend stress to re-roll dice and stress can be regained pretty easily by resting.
This game is not about puzzling out the right way to go or discovering the right clue in the right spot. It’s all about running in, rolling some dice and kicking some ass.
Overall Impressions of the Mythos Board Game Cthulhu Death May Die
When I first got Cthulhu Death May Die, I was expecting yet another Arkham Horror. A four-hour slog of flipping cards and moving my pawn around a map and having people read out to me what horrible thing was happening to my character. I was hoping maybe it would be like Mansions of Madness, a quicker, cooperative game with a lot of puzzle elements. It wasn’t that either. What it was, was something I wasn’t expecting at all.
Cthulhu Death May Die is not your average mythos game. It plays very differently from what I was expecting based on other games in the same genre. Most of those games are all about moving around a board trying to find clues and then somehow using those clues to scare off some big baddie (or rather dying or going insane while trying to do that).
Death May Die isn’t that. Sure you may need to get some clues, but you are more likely going to be smashing things and killing cultists. It’s not about driving away a Great Old One, it’s about kicking that Star Spawn’s ass back to where it came from. Losing your sanity in this game is a good thing, it’s what makes you more capable of dealing with the threats at hand. You are going to want to push your sanity to the brink to be able to bring the pain, just watch that you don’t go too far.
This is two-fisted pulp Cthulhu, not research and investigation Cthulhu. This is the Cthulhu of Robert E. Howard, not the usual H.P. Lovecraft fare we are used to seeing, and I love it!
I really enjoyed how quick this game was to set up and get to the table. The rules are clear and concise and honestly rather simple. We were playing in minutes after setting it up. The gameplay itself is just as fast, with player turns recycling quickly. Even with five players, the game flowed excellently.
It’s not all sunshine and roses though. I do have some complaints about Cthulhu Death May Die. The first two are minor, and the third one could be a game breaker for some people.
The first problem we had playing Death May Die was fitting all of the minis on the board. The map tiles are just too small for the miniatures. Sure a room with a cultist or two and one character works fine but once you put on larger monster or an Elder God in a room there isn’t any space for any more miniatures. It’s a bigger problem than this too because you aren’t only putting miniatures on the map. There are all manner of counters that need to go out to show you where things are, what’s on fire and what monsters have been hurt.
That leads me to my second problem with Cthulhu Death May Die. The way you track damage on the monsters is terrible. CMON expects you to put counters out next to the miniatures on the board and this is impractical. The biggest issue here is that there’s not enough room to place the tokens. The bases on the minis aren’t big enough to hold the tokens (okay maybe this works for the Elder Gods, but that’s about it) and as mentioned already, there often isn’t enough room on the map tiles. There’s also the problem that the counters are round and thus have no way to “point” to what miniature they are supposed to be for. Multiple times we would move a cultist to another room and then realize we left a damage counter or two behind and weren’t sure what went with which miniature.
Both of these problem are annoying but they don’t ruin the game. There are ways to compensate for them, and many people online have proposed better ways of tracking things like monster damage. However, I haven’t seen a fix for my biggest problem with this game.
Cthulhu Death May Die is not a campaign game. Despite the fact that the game comes with six scenarios, and these scenarios tell a linked story, it’s not a campaign. When you sit down to play, you can pick any scenario you own. They don’t have to be done in order. Not only that but what you do in one scenario has no effect on any future scenario.
Seeing as one of the designers of this game is Rob Daviau, the godfather of the Legacy Game, the man behind Risk Legacy, Pandemic Legacy, and Seafall, I was honestly shocked to learn that there is no campaign element to Cthulhu Death May Die. Shocked and very disappointed.
I do have to admit that once I got over that initial disappointment, I did have a lot of fun playing Cthulhu Death May Die. This is a really solid cooperative dice chucker. It’s very accessible. It’s easy to learn and lightning quick to get to the table. Pick and scenario, pick a god and go!
I really love how different Cthulhu Death May Die is from other Mythos games I’ve played. At this point, I would go so far as to say that it’s my favourite Cthulhu based game.
I strongly suggest anyone who wants something a bit different from their Lovecraft inspired tabletop games give this one a look. Just know going in that this is a two-fisted pulp dice chucker and that it’s scenario based and in no way a campaign game.
So those were my thoughts on Cthulhu Death May Die the hot new Eric Lang and Rob Daviau miniature game from CMON. Have you played Death May Die yet? What did you think?