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Smash Up: The Obligatory Cthulhu Set - Board Game Box Shot

Smash Up: The Obligatory Cthulhu Set

| Published: 2013
Expansion for Smash Up
207 24 5

Just when you thought Smash Up might escape, the International Gaming Authority reminded us at AEG that we were honor-bound to include Cthulhu in one of our products, so we set on to make the most Cthulhu-est product ever.

Smash Up: The Obligatory Cthulhu Set features crazy Cthulhu cultists, fishy Innsmouth locals, horrifying Elder Things, and good old Miskatonic University members (the Fightin' Cephalopods). To be certain we got it right, this set also includes a new card type fittingly known as "Madness" that each of these groups can use to various effects. Just remember that Madness brings you power but at a price (joking!).

If you're ready to embrace the creatures beyond the understanding of mortal men, then shuffle up these guys with your pirates, bear cavalry, and others for the most awesome fit of crazed insanity you've had in a long time!

User Reviews (4)

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Legend of the Five Rings Fan
Advanced Reviewer
Guardian Angel
49 of 54 gamers found this helpful | Medals x 2
“Madness to their methods”

The inevitable Lovecraftian touch comes to Smash Up with its second expansion, The Obligatory Cthulhu Set. This new expansion diverges from what is seen as the thematic “fun” of the game, with disparate elements combining to form new strategies, but it manages to do so in a way that enhances the game overall.

TOCS includes four new factions, each with a Lovecraftian theme, and one major new mechanic: Madness. Madness is a chaff mechanic, which works as follows: if you are given (or voluntarily take on) a Madness card, it usually goes into your hand. Madness cards are Action cards which can be played to either draw two cards, or returned to the communal Madness deck (which of course eats up your turn’s Action to do). If they end up shuffled into your deck, they can clog your draws when you need to hit that critical Minion or Action. Additionally, Madness eats at your victory! Every two Madness cards in your deck (including your hand or discard pile) at the end of the game will reduce your Victory Points by one, meaning that even when the game ends as someone reaches 15 VP naturally, they could still be dragged into 2nd (or lower!) place depending on their Madness count.

Each of the new factions manipulates Madness in some way along with its basic schtick:

– Innsmouth: The “one of us” faction has ten Minion cards like most other Smash Up factions, but in this case all ten are identical: a 2 Power card called “The Locals” that lets you look at the top 3 cards of your deck, put any “The Locals” into your hand, and put the rest on the bottom of your deck. Deceptive in their effectiveness, Innsmouth pairs well with “extra minion” effects, and nearly always ensure you won’t be stuck with only Actions in your hand. Innsmouth dabbles in Madness, taking on the penalty for a couple of kicker effects.

– Minions of Cthulhu: Whereas Innsmouth may dabble, the cultists revel in Madness! They draw Madness cards to fuel huge effects, including a simple “Draw a Madness card, destroy a Minion” effect. Should they ever put their faction boss (Cthulhu’s avatar) into play, they can then spread the Madness around.

– Miskatonic University: The sober, intellectual lot, able to carefully analyze the non-Euclidean dimensions of the Old Ones and present their findings. Misk U not only takes on Madness for the occasional strong effect, but they are also very good at ditching their own Madness, particularly with their in-house Psychologists.

– Elder Things: Things Man Was Not Meant To Know. Really. Lovecraft’s horrific creatures pass out Madness to their opponents like candy, and use high-Power Minions to crack bases with a sound like doom. Their limitation is that there needs to be some setup before they can play their best Minions.

It’s harder to involve your kids in a Smash Up game night where the Mythos is part of the action, though it could prove a gateway for avid readers. There’s not as much family-friendly fun in playing Cultists/Robots vs. University/Bear Cavalry, for example. But for those who embrace Cthulhiana as part of geek culture, TOCS becomes a sillier version of Arkham Horror roleplaying.

Whereas the unifying theme is potentially a dealbreaker for some folks, the mechanical benefits of the set are incredible. TOCS does more to enhance Smash Up as a game than the prior expansion, Awesome Level 9000. Madness as a whole makes scoring a strategic matter, as you need to be aware how much you’ll be dragged back down by the burdens you’ve taken on. The new factions add to the fun with some countermeasures: for example, Innsmouth specializes in “burying them deep,” shuffling Minions back into their owners’ decks. This acts as a natural foil to Zombies’ constant recursion. One of the drawbacks to the prior sets is mitigated here as well.

There are more “surprise factor” Special actions available in TOCS, including a well-telegraphed one in the Minions of Cthulhu deck with the Cthulhu’s Chosen card, who can let you draw a Madness card when a base is scoring to gain +2 Power. Prevent someone from claim-jumping your base at the cost of half a VP? Sure! The new bases, two tailored to each new faction, are good additions as well. The Misk U bases involve purging Madness, either by winning during base scoring, or by ditching one for each Minion played on it. The Elder Things bases reward large Minion play, and so forth.

As a standalone set, it fares slightly better than AL9K, since Madness is a central mechanic which all of the decks share. It does suffer from the same problem (only six deck variations) as the previous expansion. With a complete set of factions, the total number of deck variations is now nearly doubled to 120, and truly insane (Madness!) game sessions of up to eight players can be supported — though it might be recommended to limit the number of bases in play if so.

The base cards in this set are slightly darker on the back than those in prior sets, which is unfortunate — sleeving is recommended to fix this issue.

TOCS also comes with cardboard punchout scoring tokens with a bit of a Lovecraftian art theme.

An overview of game play can be found in my review for Smash Up here:
A review of Awesome Level 9000 can be found here:

New mechanics add substantial new depth to the game
Increased surprise factor adds to the off-turn game
When combined with prior sets, nearly doubles game variations
Can be bought and played as a limited standalone game

Not as entertaining as prior sets due to unified Lovecraftian horror theme
Less kid-friendly (also due to theme)

Player Avatar
Intermediate Reviewer
Spread the Word
51 of 61 gamers found this helpful
“Is this real life?”

Needless to say when I had heard about this expansion I was a little past excited. My two favorite things ever coming together to make my friends lives that much more difficult.

Then came the madness cards. If it had been anything else FOR anything else I would have called it a gimmick. But cows of the holiest. It works so well with this expansion and even better with the full game. Once upon a time you could be the boss hog and break bases faster than your pals could keep up. Now you can be target punished for these things and bleed points. 15 points means nothing in the eyes of Cthulhu and 12 madness cards.

This was a blast of an expansion and the added deck and rules didn’t slow things down at all. It only added a new layer of tactical complexity to an already bang up game.
Don’t miss the chance to drive your friends insane.

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The Gold Heart
Grand Master Grader
3 of 7 gamers found this helpful
“Something fishy”

I understand that Lovecraft is fairly popular these days, but an entire expansion devoted just to Cthulhu wears thin. Elder Things could easily have been added to another set and the other ideas scrapped. This is part of the overall weakness of every Smash Up expansion, where there will be one or two worthwhile card additions alongside some others that it’s hard to imagine anyone would ever want. I know that they don’t want to front load all the content people will be eager to buy and that’s why they balance it out with less marketable material, but just because I see the business strategy doesn’t mean I have to like it as a consumer. Fine to have bought at 75% off MSRP, but not remotely worth the full price.

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Gamer - Level 2
13 of 41 gamers found this helpful
“Totally baffled by the theme choice.”

Totally baffled by the theme choice. For me it is very hard to get excited about four variations of Cthulhu races. There just isn’t enough to distinguish each flavor of Cthulu. There were so many other ways for AEG to go here for such an early expansion – perhaps an expansion like this would more understandable as a seventh or eighth expansion but not a first or second. The Cthulhu should have been one race in a “monsters” or “mythology” expansion. Thematically this set left me very underwhelmed and totally overshadowed the content.


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