Name: Cthulhu 500
Type: Card Game
Publisher: Atlas Games
Size: 13.5cm x 9cm x 2cm
Playtime: 30-60 mins.
(4.0 / 5)
As is evidenced by the tattered state of the box in the picture above, my copy of Cthulhu 500 has seen a huge amount of use. I’ve owned a copy for several years and at one point I carried the game around in my work/gaming bag at all times and pulled it out whenever my group had a spare hour.
Now I need to be honest and say that I’m a Cthulhu junkie, I have the complete works of Lovecraft, own an almost complete Arkham Horror collection and run Call of Cthulhu whenever possible so I’m probably a little bit biased towards this game. With that said, this game is a big hit with my whole group (who rarely agree on anything) and has been a go to game since I got a copy so it can’t just be me.
In the box you get the rules, which are on a double sided A3 sheet that folds up nicely, and the 110 cards you use to play the game. The cards are split between a few categories being the Vehicles, Upgrades, Crew, Actions and Reactions.What you don’t get with the game, and need to play, are dice, being a couple of D6 for ‘passing’ tests (see below) and counters or another die for each player to show how many laps that each player has completed.
You get 2 versions of each 8 Vehicles, one with just a picture of the vehicle on it for the middle of the play area to show your place in the race and one to keep in front of yourself with the vehicles statistics on. Each of the vehicle cards is also double sided to allow you to flip them when a vehicle becomes damaged.
Unsurprisingly, based on it’s name and everything I’ve said, Cthulhu 500 is a card game that plays out a race. The object of the game is to have the most laps at the end of the game, which is when the Checkered Flag card is drawn. The rules are, with one notable exception, very simple and reasonably simulate a race, albeit a race using occult and impossible vehicles, crew from beyond the stars and none Euclidean upgrades.
The game starts in a simple enough fashion, each player is dealt 5 cards and then the pack and turn order is decided. To do this each player takes and places a die face up (or number of tokens) representing the number of cards from that starting hand they are prepared to sacrifice to be at the front of the pack for the start of the race. Players reveal simultaneously and the player that sacrifices the most goes at the front, 2nd most is 2nd and so on. Ties are decided by a dice roll and crucially all sacrificed cards are placed in the discard pile. The person at the back of the starting pack takes the first turn.
Players can take 2 actions on their turn chosen from Play an Action Cards, Add Pit Crew, Make a Pit Stop or make a Passing Attempt. Playing an Action Card just means you can play a card from your hand with the action type, such as Shuggoth Crossing, and these can be offensive or defensive. Adding Pit Crew just means that you can add a crew card from your hand into your pit team, which gives you access to their skills and special abilities. Making a Passing Attempt is the most obvious way to try and win the game because this allows you to move up the pack and gain laps. Making a Pit Stop leads to a few other actions and opens up the option of upgrading your vehicle by installing items such as wheels or a driver, I’ll go into a little more detail on this shortly.
Since Passing Attempts are one of the most common and important actions that you can take in the game I thought that I’d go into a little more detail, especially because the one truly clunky rule forms part of some Passing Attempts. In it’s most simple form a Passing Attempt involves a player trying to move up the pack by passing the car in front (cars at the front move to the back of the pack and gain a lap) which is accomplished by rolling a D6 and adding your vehicle’s speed. There are other modifiers that can apply, dictated by your driver, mods, action and reaction cards but the core mechanic of D6 plus your speed remains the same throughout. The player of the vehicle you are trying to pass does the same and if you beat their total score then the Passing Attempt is successful and you move ahead of them in the pack.
This process becomes complicated if you both reach the same score because this means that the two vehicles have collided. Assuming that neither vehicle was damaged before the Passing Attempt both players (the player attempting the passing test and the player they are attempting to pass) flip their vehicle cards over to the damaged side and the pack order remains unchanged. If either vehicle was already damaged before the Passing Attempt was initiated then one of a number of things can happen depending on which vehicle was damaged or whether both vehicles were damaged. I won’t go into detail but if an undamaged vehicle tries a Passing Attempt against a damaged vehicle and the result is a tie, causing a collision, and then either vehicle also has the ability to cause further damage, due to a mod, things can get very clunky to resolve.
Taking a Pit Stop action allows you to upgrade your vehicle with new tires, an engine, a sponsor, a driver, tentacles or any other of the variety of the mods that you can add to your vehicle with the aim to make it stronger and faster, alternatively a Pit Stop allows you to try and repair your vehicle if it’s damaged. Taking a Pit Stop action isn’t without risk however, the vehicle behind you gets the chance to try and pass you for free which might cause you damage and let them move ahead of you in the pack, and if you’ve pulled in to try and repair then you still need to make a roll to succeed and this might fail resulting in you having wasted an action.
After a player has taken 2 actions they can then discard as many cards as they want and draw two new ones. Once the whole draw pile is discarded then the discard pile is shuffled and forms a new draw deck.
Winning the game is simple, you need to get more laps than anyone else by the end of the game. The end of the game is determined, as I said above, by the appearance of the Checkered Flag card which is generally shuffled into the draw pile on it’s 2nd cycle through (after it has been exhausted and the discard pile reshuffled). The game allows for a number of variants to this end game process and my group tend to opt for the ‘Warning Lap’ option which allows every player 1 more turn after the Checkered Flag is drawn. This turn tends to be hectic and high risk as players try everything to get another lap or two in. By having the endgame being determined by the appearance of a card the game can also be easily shortened or lengthened by simply changing when the Checkered Flag is put into the deck. The method most often used by my group is to shuffle it into the last 5 cards of the draw deck on it’s 2nd cycle through.
As I’ve made clear, this is a great game, it’s fun, fast, simple (mostly) and maddeningly hectic if you play like my group, who opt for the ‘everyone get the person who is winning’ method of gaming. It’s not without it’s problems as it’s not technically a complete game since you need a few dice to play and the Passing Attempt action can get very complex in certain situations. Those issues taken into account it’s still a go to game for me and my group and a game I would recommend to anyone who wanted a suggestion for a good card game.
At the time of writing Cthulhu 500 doesn’t have any expansions (which is a shame, if anyone from Atlas reads this, please create an add on for Cthulhu 500).