How did I not post this yet?
At the beginning of setup, all players draw map tiles and place them in real time following to a few simple rules (doors must connect to doors, for instance) to generate the map of the University. Then the group selects which Scenario to play, the players each pick a Character, and a Role Card is distributed to each player. There are two types of Role Card: the Cultist, which secretly describes how that player will betray the rest of the party and summon some sort of unspeakable abomination, and Academics, who are trying to complete the Scenario Goals before the Cultist can kill them. Academic role cards describe the particular way that character could go insane during the game.
On your turn, you first drawn an Event relevant to your location, Indoor or Outdoor, and then take two actions. Actions can be Move, Attack, Search, Use an Item, Steal, Trade, and doing any character or Scenario specific actions. Each player takes a turn in clockwise order, and then when it gets back around to the Start Player, instead of taking another turn, they move any monsters which may be on the board, and draw two University cards. University cards are all bad, but in different ways and to varying degrees. They could be an instantaneous one-time occurrence, or last for the round, or be Weather, which affects all Outdoor tiles and remains in play until it is replaced with a new Weather effect. The Start Player picks one to play and one to shuffle back into the deck without revealing it, and then passes the Start Player token to the player on their left, who begins the new round.
Events and University Cards have the chance to move the Star Chart forward. When the Star Chart gets to a particular number which only the Cultist knows for certain, they may reveal themselves, summoning a monster, or transforming themselves, or a number of other options, depending on which particular Cultist role card they have.
Play continues in that fashion until either the Cultist successfully kills all of the Academics, or the Academics complete all of their Scenario Goals.
Ability scores are of the form “a pair of colored dice.” The colors are Green (masterful), Blue (mediocre), and Red (miserable). They each have an assortment of faces on them, which are called Good, Bad, and Weird (in the final version they will be referred to by the August Derleth Elder Sign, the Yellow Sign, and the H.P. Lovecraft Elder Sign, respectively). Ability checks tell you what ability to use, what the difficulty is (Green for easy, Blue for moderate, and Red for difficult), and give a chart of possible outcomes based on the check result. To make an ability check, you take the dice for your ability into your hand, and then grab dice that are the color of the difficulty until you have five dice in hand. Roll them. You get a single reroll, which consists of you choosing all the dice that came up with a certain face (all the Weird results, or all the Bad results), and reroll those. Ability checks always have a beneficial result which occurs if you get three Good results, a result that is harmful to the individual character making the check if you get two Bad results, and a result that is strange and bad for the group as a whole if you get two Weird results.
Combat is done with opposed Brawn checks. The difficulty is determined by a random Combat card, which also determines the Weird result. Bad results decrease your own defense, Good results deal damage to your opponent.
These portraits are unfinished – they’re here to give you an idea of what the characters will look like, the style, et cetera. The monster art and the sample room tiles are finished, so that will give you more of an idea of what the final version will look like. Thank you for checking this out!
Here are a small portion of the room tiles. The final version has 49 room tiles, four more than Betrayal at House on the Hill.
Cultists of Cthulhu: Miskatonic University is coming along smashingly. It’s going to be quite a struggle to get the game ready for Kickstarter by April, but if we can maintain this pace it’ll be golden by then.
In addition to the refinement of various mechanics, math, and other crunchy bits, there have been two major changes in the past few weeks. There used to be a complex, Resistance style minigame at the end of each round, where the Cultist would have an opportunity to betray the other players. Playtesting revealed this to be too complicated, out of place feeling, and not actually provide interesting decisions. Therefore it has been scrapped, and instead, at the end of the round, the first player draws two cards from a specific deck (haven’t decided yet if this is constant from game to game, or dependent on the scenario), picks one to play, and then shuffles the other back into the deck without revealing it. This vastly simplifies things, makes it easier for the Cultist to betray people, and gives Academics an interesting choice to make. Definitely an improvement.
The second is in how the map works. Previous prototypes used the Betrayal at House on the Hill style “when you leave a room, draw a new tile and place it,” or a pre-made map, or larger tiles a la Last Night on Earth. The new map mechanic is unique, fits the flavor of being at a university that you already know, and is just fun. At the beginning of the game, before picking characters or assigning Academic/Cultist roles, the tiles are placed facedown on the table, and players go around in turns drawing one and connecting it to the others. The rules for placing these are simple: every new tile has to be accessible from every preexisting one, and only exit/entrances can open onto grass. Then each Scenario can have other rules: the Library can’t be within 5 tiles of the Vault, or the like. This generates a lot of different, interesting looking university layouts, and makes it easier to base the game mechanics off of specific rooms at the like.
And finally, check out yet more art! My favorite of the room tiles so far, and four characters. There will be more to come later, I can’t wait to share the next update!
Professor Pugnacious, already sent to the backers and available for preorder will be in retail stores in March.
Cultists of Cthulhu: Miskatonic University is on track to have its kickstarter launched in April.
Save the Singularity is pretty much done being designed, so we’ll be able to launch the kickstarter for it soon after Cultists.
Same with the Bag of Holding. I expect Cultists to be quite successful and to draw in a bigger audience than we currently have, so launching these smaller projects afterwards will make them more successful than launching them earlier, even if they are already ready to go.
Murder Most Foul is undergoing a lot of revision and will be in beta testing soon. I’m not sure if I’m ever going to turn this into a sellable product, but I am going to run it, so if you live near Brooklyn and want to give it a try, email me!
Legitimate Businessmen continues to be on hold. Sorry mafia fans (I’m looking at you, John). So is the Secret Unnamed Someone Else’s IP Card Game.
Andrea isn’t feeling well, so her deck of cards is also on hold. If she gets better, you can expect those to hit kickstarter sometime after Cultists.
One game that is very far down the pipeline is Monster Movie Madness, a competitive miniatures game where you play as horror movie archetypes trying to kill coed campers.
And finally, I’ve been playing a game that I don’t want to name which is very innovative, but very flawed. It’s got a great idea for a mechanic, but then implements the mechanic in a way that doesn’t work at all. I really want to take that mechanic, trim all of the fat off of it, and make a different, better game that uses it. I’m still in the contemplation stage on this one. I might make an alpha playtest of it at soon, depending on whether inspiration strikes.
In non game news, three big things: I wrote a 22,000 word short story set in the Cultists of Cthulhu world, in a single 13 hour marathon writing session. I’m currently posting it over the next 11 days on my private blog in unedited descent-into-madness form. When I’m done with that, I’ll edit it and put it up here. Second, I’m starting a youtube channel called Let Me Tell You About. The first series will be me telling you about Hercules, who is hilarious. Finally, on December 28th I, Thomas Eliot, asked Sixpence Games cofounder and Professor Pugnacious codesigner Allison Rea to marry me. She said yes!
I just ran my very first LARP: Murder at Highgarden, a murder mystery dinnear theatre, written for the occasion by one Jacqueline Bryk. Highgarden is the name of the mansion sharehouse I live in in Brooklyn, and Jax is someone you may know of if you are involved in the LARP scene in this corner of the world. In spite of my constantly being overwhelmed floundering to stay on top of things, it went quite well. While running it, I had an idea for how I would like to run another game in the future, which I am entitling Murder Most Foul. The following is a write up of that idea, which in its current form incorporates none of the rules used in Murder at Highgarden.
There are two important roles in the game: the Guests and the Host. The Host is the person organizing the event, and is the victim of the eponymous murder. They should provide the house to play in, provide the Guests with their roles, explain the rules, set up the props, make the food, and take the money if this is being charged for, which I plan to, because groceries and time are not free. The Guests are not involved in the setup at all.
Each Guest wants to kill the Host. Each player is given a character sheet describing their Guest, including a reason that you wish to kill the Host, and a few things you know about some of the other characters. (knowing a few of these, but not having to know everyone’s, should give you any given person’s motivation). At the beginning of the evening, each Guest flips a coin. On a heads, they decide to kill the Host. On a Tails, they chicken out and decide to delay their vengeance.
There are a number of different weapons, think the variety of the Clue traditional ones (knife, candlestick, lead pipe, revolver, wrench – one blade, three bludgeons, one gun, interesting), strewn throughout the house. They are marked by having something obvious, like a big ribbon tied around them. Anyone can pick these up and hide them however they wish. In order to kill someone, you simply get them alone in a room, reveal your weapon, and inform them that you have murdered them. If they also have a weapon, you rock-paper-scissors to see who kills whom. Guests may kill the Host, and may kill each other.
At the end of the game, each living Guest makes a single guess as to who the Killer of the Host is. If you are the Killer, unless you are guessed by the plurality of voters (including yourself), you Escape. Regardless of whether you Escape, everyone who guesses you Catches you.
Scoring: The Host lives: all Guests lose.
You killed the Host: +1 Point.
You Escape (only possible if you kill the Host): + 2 Points.
You Catch the killer: +2 Points.
The incentive structure here is such that all the Guests want somebody to kill the Host, even if it’s not themselves, but nobody wants to get caught doing it. I’m hoping that will incentivize people to leave enough room for the Host to get himself murdered, yet still have a good chance of figuring out whodunnit. The Host should pretty much be trying to get himself murdered, and should definitely not act strategically to try to stay alive. Bumbles their way out of danger, perhaps, but they ought to end up dead.
And that’s it! I’m really curious what sorts of behavior will arise from these incentives. I am now putting this out there to get feedback from you, my dear reader, and then I shall revise it and then, at my next dinner party, there shall be a Murder Most Foul.
Here are a few alternate rules that I think make for interesting variations on Professor Pugnacious, but that after playtesting we ultimately decided not to use. They make for fun changes, though, if you want to mix up your game.
Persistent Failure: Failure tokens, instead of going away at the end of the turn, remain until they are assigned. This makes cards with Failure a lot more powerful, which is fun, but ultimately fairly game-breaking.
Persistent Victory: Instead of putting your Victory/Defeat token on an enemy after beating it and then immediately gaining the benefit that turn, you may leave it there until you want the benefit, and then remove it-use other tokens to track this on additional enemies. This added a lot of book keeping for a not very big benefit to game play, and to really run properly would require a lot of extra tokens, so we left it out. Most players ended up forgetting to use it, or saving it up for a few turns and ending the game early. This combines well with Persistent Failure, though!
Cleaning the Ring: For a cost of 2 less than the card, you can pay to trash a card in your Card Queue. This lets you get rid of cards nobody is buying, and speeds up the game, but it also makes a “turtling” strategy of just getting rid of all the good cards viable, which annoyed a lot of players.
Massive Combat: You can fight more than one Enemy, or the same one more than once. This is just completely bonkers, but some people like it.
I’ll add more if I think of any or remember discarded rules from back when we were playtesting. It went through a lot of variation back then. I’m happy with what we ended up with, but sometimes it’s fun to try one of those variants just for a change.
This time I stuck to my resolve and didn’t send out an update until I knew that it was accurate. Games are in the mail! Some of you have already gotten them. Your copy ofProfessor Pugnacious is winging its way towards you at this very minute! In this update I’ll address a bit of the technical issues about that, then suggest some ways to get the most fun out of your copy of Prof P, then gush about how grateful I am to all you guys.
If you live in the USA, then your game should arrive shortly. If it’s not there within a week, then please poke me and I’ll see if I can find out what’s up. If you live outside the USA, then I’m afraid it could take significantly longer-up to 8 weeks, depending on the country. At least, that’s what I hear from PSI. Given that we’re about to go into American Thanksgiving, the mail system could get clogged up, so don’t fret too much if your package is a bit late.
One problem I’m already starting to hear about is that the box for Treachery on the Trainshas gotten banged up in the mail. That sucks, and I hope it doesn’t happen to you. Fortunately, I haven’t heard anything about any actual game components getting damaged, the core set box getting hurt, or anything missing from a package. Personally, I didn’t even keep my ToT box, because one of the things I intentionally did with the box for the core set ofProfessor Pugnacious is to put in just enough room to fit the expansion as well (plus the promo sets, if you’ve got those). I think that the box for Treachery on the Trains is functional and looks good, but the box for the core set is a work of art. Andrea really outdid herself there. So my suggestion is, if you get a Treachery box that’s all banged up, throw it out and keep the cards in your core set box. If that solution doesn’t satisfy you, message me and we’ll figure out something that does.
Now for something I’ve been wanting to talk about for a while: how to get the most fun out of Professor Pugnacious.
- First, play a few games with just the core set, to get a feel for it, before you start customizing it. Now, what are your favorite parts?
- Do you love messing up your buddies with Failure? Then add in all of Treachery on the Trains. Be careful swapping in the Runaway Locomotive Finale for the Mechanical Abomination: it’s a trap! That means the combat is Skill based instead of Fight, which means if you don’t grab Failure fast enough somebody may stock up on enough skill to grab an early victory and bring your plans to a grinding halt! Is the Failure getting to be a bit overwhelming, so that nobody has a chance to defeat the Finale? Use the Rival Professor as the Finale instead.
- Is your favorite part manipulating the Card Ring-taking things out from under your friends, and making sure you’ve got exactly the card you need for your deck? Then add any cards which do that, but especially add the Sky Pirate. She’s an enemy who hangs out in the Main Deck, and when she comes into the card ring she makes it so the player she’s in front of can’t buy anything! That makes movement cards even more important. Also consider adding Army of the Undead-the Zombies also hang out in the Main Deck. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as swamping your opponent with four Zombies, a Sky Pirate, and then having enough Failure to make their combat a complete mess.
- Want a quicker game? Swap in the Rival Professor and replace some of the Enemies from the core set with Enemies from Treachery on the Trains.
- Want a longer game? Swap in the Shoggoth or Vampyr and add everything you can to the Main Deck and Enemy Deck-if you use the Vampyr, you can also use the Zombies!
- Want the game to feel more thematic and exciting, without getting any longer? Add in the Events and Locations from Treachery on the Trains and the promo sets, and play the theme music.
- Want just a really different experience? Play with Armies of the Undead. It’s my favorite of the promo sets, because it really changes the feel of the game. I think it’s a lot of fun, and it’s quite different from playing with a standard Finale.
- Do you just love the game, and want to make it even more diverse and replayable? Add in whatever you want, and once you get a feel for it, take out certain cards for certain games. In particular, add in the Classes-they give you a specific, unique power, unlike anything in the purchaseable cards, and they each synergize well with different strategies, so they incentivize you to try out new things (or make your favorite strategy even better).
- One of my favorite strategies is what I call “the pacifist.” I don’t want to spoil it for anyone to discover for themselves, but I’ll just say that adding the Necronomicon from Mythos Monstrosities makes it a lot better. Also, try using the Master Engineer Class.
Thank you so much for your support through out all of this. It’s been a long ride, with a lot of bumps along the way, but we’re finally at the very last home stretch. Once you get your copy of Professor Pugnacious, then the celebration begins! I can’t wait to hear how much you enjoy the game. Please don’t hesitate to contact me, be it by kickstarter message, facebook, twitter, or google+. And once again, after you play the game, please take a moment to rate it on BoardGame Geek. Maintaining a good rating (7+) will be really helpful for succeeding in retail. Most of all, please help to get the word out! Tell your friends, write reviews, blog about it, whatever. You guys are the key toProfessor Pugnacious and Sixpence Games‘ success. You were here at the beginning of something that I hope lasts a very long time. I owe it all to you, and I hope to pay you back by providing you with great games for as long as I can. I’m really proud of what I’ve got in the works.
And someday in the not too distant future, our next adventure will begin. Cultists of Cthulhu: Miskatonic University is coming along nicely, and will be on kickstarter… some time. See? I’ve learned my lesson about declaring specific dates. You can keep up with developments through the social media I linked above, or by checkingwww.SixpenceGames.com every now and then. I’ll be posting some more concept art soon. (I’m delaying Save the Singularity until after Cultists, because I think Cultists will draw a bigger crowd, so the eventual crowd for Singularity will be even bigger. In the meantime, play Save the Singularity for free!) Also, if you live in or around New York City, I host regular open-to-the-public game nights and will be having ongoing playtest sessions, so get in contact with me if you want in on that.
Happy gaming, from Thomas, Andrea, Allison, Panda, PSI, and everybody else who worked to get this game into your hands. I hope you enjoy playing it as much as we enjoyed making it.
Betrayal at House on the Hill and Mansions of Madness are two of my favorite games, especially Betrayal. They do a great job of getting you into character, making you feel like you’re really in the moment. They just ooze theme. They were a big inspiration for Cultists of Cthulhu: Miskatonic University, but I want to make sure CoC:MU is distinct, separate, and not really a replacement for/replaceable by either of those games. So in this post I’m going to discuss the similarities and differences between CoC:MU and BaHotH and MoM.
BaHotH and MoM are both about the players controlling a single investigator each, represented by a miniature, exploring a creepy building made out of rearrangeable tiles. One of the players is opposed to the others, and controls the monsters. The investigators and the evil dude have secret goals that the other doesn’t know about, and they move around on the board trying to accomplish them before the other can accomplish theirs. The main mechanic is ability score checks, which are of the form “roll some dice, did you roll high enough? If so, good, if not, sucks to be you”. No real choice involved there. Both have as one of the main mechanics turning over event-style cards and rolling to see what happens.
Okay, so that’s all the similarities I can think of off the top of my head, what are the differences? In BaHotH, you build the building as you explore it, whereas in MoM it’s set up in advance. In BaHotH, you don’t know who the traitor is until halfway through the game, whereas in MoM the keeper is chosen in advance (and also doesn’t control an investigator, just the environment/monsters). BaHotH has a lot more replay value than MoM, because once you know the secrets of a certain scenario in MoM, you can’t really play that one again with the same group, whereas in BaHotH you never know which scenario you’ll be playing, so you can’t really plan ahead, so even if you play the same one twice, that’s okay. MoM is also more strategic, whereas in BaHotH things are a bit more random-you never know what’s on the other side of the next door, which is really thematic, but also makes it so you can’t really plan your movement at first, it’s just sort of stumbling blindly. BaHotH requires almost no setup, MoM famously takes anywhere from half an hour to a full hour to set up.
Now how about CoC:MU? Like BaHotH and MoM, it has a board made out of rearrangeable tiles, and like BaHotH, they’re flipped over as you play. BaHotH has one building with three floors which are only connected via special, non-adjacent tiles, whereas CoC:MU will have multiple buildings, each with one floor, an indoors and an outdoors, which are only connected where the tiles are actually adjacent. It has one player vs the rest, but unlike BaHotH that player is picked at the beginning of the game, and unlike MoM that player is secret until partway through the game (and they control an investigator). The academics and the cultist have their own goals, and the cultist’s are secret, but the academics’ aren’t-except each academic will have their own private goal, which is secret. You pick a scenario at the beginning, like MoM, but then a random Cultist Card is chosen, which makes the way the scenario plays out unknowable in advance, which means it should have BaHotH levels of replayability. I’m hoping that the fact that everyone starts the game knowing what their own goal is will make the game more strategic and less arbitrary feeling, which I know is a common complaint against BaHotH. Like BaHotH and to a lesser degree MoM, one of the main things in CoC:MU is turning over Event cards. I’m trying to give players more control over what kind of events they draw, though, to make the game feel like it has more choices.
In terms of flavor, CoC:MU is closer to MoM than BaHotH. In terms of visual appearance, it’s closer to BaHotH. In terms of gameplay and mechanics, I think it will be its own beast. In large part, that’s because of the very different main mechanic.
The base mechanic for MoM, BaHotH, and CoC:MU is ability score checks. The way that works in MoM is that you have an ability score, say Strength 6, and you roll a single d10. If you roll below 6, you succeed, if not, you fail. In BaHotH, if your Strength is 6, you roll 6 of the special BaHotH dice, which are six siders with two 1s, two 2s, and two 0s on them, sum the result, and if it’s high enough, you succeed, if not, you fail (there are often varying degrees of success). Those mechanics work well enough, but they don’t really provide you with the opportunity to make any decisions, and so when designing CoC:MU, one of my main goals was to make the base mechanic be distinct from what’s come before, and involve actual decisions, but not be so complicated as to slow the game down. I came up with something that I think works well. It takes a little bit of explaining to communicate how it works, but once you do it a few times, it becomes obvious second nature.
There are three kinds of dice: Red, Blue, and Green. All are six siders. There are three kinds of symbols on them: Good, Weird, and Bad. (I’ll rename those in the final product, I expect). Red dice have 1 Good, 2 Weird, and 3 Bad faces. Blue dice have 2 Good, 2 Weird, and 2 Bad, while Green dice have 3 Good, 2 Weird, and 1 Bad.
Ability scores are of the form “X dice of Y color.” For instance, you might have a Brawn of Green Green but a Willpower of Red and a Finesse of Blue Blue. Ability checks, for instance on an event card, are of the form “W ability score, Z Fill.” A Fill is five dice in a specific order, for instance RRBRR. To do an ability check, you see what your ability score is, and then going from the left to the right, you take dice from the Fill until you have a total of five dice. So if the check is Brawn RRBRR and your Brawn is GG, then you would take GGRRB. Then you roll all the dice, pick two to reroll, reroll those, and then consult the results chart. Results always give something for 3 Good, another thing for 2 Weird, and another thing for 2 Bad.
Here’s an example. Say the event is “A bust tumbles from its pedestal. Brawn RRBRR. 3 Good: It shatters, and you find something inside. Draw an Item. 2 Weird: the bust has your own face! You are unnerved and want to get out of here. At the end of your turn, move 1 towards the closest exit. 2 Bad: the bust hits you as it falls, take 1 wound.”
You roll 1 Good, 2 Weird, and 2 Bad. Now you get to reroll 2 dice. You were moving towards a room you have to get to, so you don’t want to be forced to move back, so you want to reroll those Weirds. But you also don’t want to take damage, so you want to reroll those Bads. You could reroll 1 Weird and 1 Bad, but the odds they’d both come up Good are pretty low. Which do you choose to reroll? Your choice could also be affected by which dice came up with those faces; if the Weirds are both Red dice, then there’s a 50/50 chance they’ll come up Bad if you reroll them, so that’s worth keeping in mind.
You have a real, actual decision to make, with actual consequences depending on what you choose. And in true Lovecraftian horror fashion, none of the options are very good.
Another important aspect of it is that, while the Weird and Bad results happen immediately, if you get the Good result, you can keep the Event card in your hand, and play it later. Say you want to find the Necronomicon. That’s a Library only item, so you have to search in the Library to have any chance of finding it. You can only hold two cards in your hand, though, so choose them wisely!
I hope all that that makes Cultists of Cthulhu: Miskatonic University feel distinct and strategic. What do you think? Does that sound like an interesting mechanic? Does it sound too similar to Betrayal at House on the Hill or Mansions of Madness? I’m really curious to hear what you think. Let me know either in the comments here, or on twitter @SixpenceGames.