Squamous Studios unleashes addictive fun with “Feed The Shoggoth!”

Feed The Shoggoth! may be purchased here.

My dear unknown friend,

When Squamous Studios’ Feed the Shoggoth! arrived in my mailbox I had to laugh. Every time we find that a mouse has invaded our apartment my wife and I will say, “Honey, I’m afraid we have a shoggoth in the house again,” and here we are being commanded to feed one? This will be a tough sell. Yet the back of the attractive box promises,

“Feed The Shoggoth! is a devious and fast-paced card game, in which players each control a different cult faction, facing a very angry and hungry Shoggoth in the middle of the table. Players earn points and win the game by sacrificing minions from their cult to the Shoggoth. However, the Shoggoth is indiscriminate in whom it eats; if you can’t feed the Shoggoth on your turn with a Minion, it eats you, and you’re out of the game!”

Now we’re talking. I see the game is recommended for 3 to 6 players so I send out invites and lay in the food and party supplies. My wife Cathleen and I play a lot of card games. Each time we travel we select a new one to play for the duration of the trip. Naomi has tested other card games with us for previous reviews so she is moderately familiar with the mechanics modern games employ. This would be the first time Chip and Denal have played such a beast having previously stayed within the realms of Hearts, Spades, and other old school classics. I feel this gives our review group a nice spread of experience levels to gauge the difficulty level in understanding the mechanics of the game.

shoggoth-chipnaomi

Feed the Shoggoth! comes as two decks of cards within a cardboard tuckcase. The cards themselves are very sturdy with the linen texture of modern-day Bicycle playing cards and will withstand the rigors a chaotic beer and pretzel game such as this will most likely be subjected to. The deck consists of 1 Shoggoth Card, 1 Graveyard card, 10 Cult Faction Cards, 36 Minion cards, and 72 Play cards (which are made up of Spells, Actions, and Artifacts). The game was designed by Badger McInnes who has previously done layout and book design for Chaosium, Pagan Publishing,  MRP and other companies you will most likely recognize. The illustrations, also capably produced by Badger himself, are crafted in a cute manner instantly recognizable to all geeks. Badger’s previous work on Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu brings an aura of familiarity to any with previous experience of that venerable RPG.

In addition to the cards you will also need a handful of tokens -we used pennies- or a pad of paper and pencil to keep track of points.

Setup is straightforward.

First. Place the Shoggoth and Graveyard cards in the center of the table.

shoggoth-graveyard

Second. Shuffle the Cult Faction cards and hand out one to each player face up. Each Cult confers their own unique benefit which is printed on the face of the card.

shoggoth-cult

Third. Shuffle the remaining cards. Each player is dealt seven cards face down which they are allowed to look at. This makes up your play hand. This initial hand must contain at least one minion, if not shuffle their cards back into the deck and deal them another seven cards. Let me give you a quick rundown of the cards that make up the life of a cult leader.

shoggoth-initialhand

Minions.
Appropriately colored red. You need them because Shoggoths don’t do Dominoes, it’s Minions or you and they know it. Why else the long faces? You either want one in your hand each turn when the Shoggoth comes around, have a strategic plan in place, or be really good at bluffing. Each Minion you manage to feed to the Shoggoth is worth 1 point.

shoggoth-minion

Artifacts.
Think of these as your land mine defenses. They take a full turn to activate (you place them on the table sideways ala “tapped” in that other CCG and on your next turn you turn them upright to show they are active and armed) yet once in play you have wiggle room to go absolutely over the top bananas with our next delight.

shoggoth-spell

Spells.
Whereas artifacts are your booby-traps, spells are your strike anytime and anywhere wrist rockets. The only limit stopping you from letting these bad boys fly and undermining the efforts of your fellow cult leaders is the amount of cards in your hand because you only draw back to seven at the end of your turn. This is the voice of experience speaking. Nothing sucks worse than some trifling snake handler disrupting the final sacrifice you need to claim victory and you’re standing there powerless because earlier you were gleefully one upping counter-spells with another cult leader. That “end of the turn” tidbit will come round to bite you. Hard.

shoggoth-artifact

Actions.
These cards are played exactly like spells with the advantage they cannot be canceled or blocked. There are only a handful of these, I believe six, and they are all concerned with moving the Shoggoth away from you on your turn so they are to be treasured for emergency use.

shoggoth-action

Turn Sequence:

First. Place as many Artifacts as you wish in front of you. Remember that Artifacts are first placed sideways, showing they are Inactive and being charged.

shoggoth-cathleennaomiSecond. Any artifacts that came out the previous turn can now be placed in their upright and Active position.

Third. If you wish to sacrifice this turn and the Shoggoth is not in front of you, use Spells or Actions to attract the Shoggoth to you. Though I was mixing childhood pleasures I doubt few reading would begrudge me the pleasure I got from declaring, “Unleash the Kraken!” during this phase.

Fourth. If you wish to sacrifice, announce your desire to do so. This is the same as tying the poor Minion to the stake. They have not yet been cast into the gibbering maw and indeed here you may want to bluff since you can hold up any card, the other players only see the back, and the opportunity to watch your witless opponents exhaust their limited resources attempting to thwart a sacrifice you never planned on seeing through seems a spectacularly haughty gesture entirely becoming of a masterful Cult Leader. Just have a good plan in place such as moving that Shoggoth on since if your turn ends with the Shoggoth still unfed and in front of yours truly it is yours truly it shall dine on tonight.

shoggoth-threeheadsponderFifth. Resolve the sacrifice. This is  when chaos is unleashed. To keep it manageable go clockwise around the table and ask each Cult Leader, “Are you opposing this sacrifice?” If not, go to the next Cult Leader and repeat. If they are opposing the sacrifice let the spells start flying. Remember, at this point, any Cult Leader can join in and throw down a spell if they so wish. Each card counts as it is played. This is where the game grows fun, fast, and furious. This is also where you must keep an eye on your hand to ensure you do not over extend yourself in the grips of “auction fever” and you must keep a wary eye on that one quiet player at the table because dollars to donuts at the last possible moment they will lay down that one card that changes everything. Mark my words. If by some miracle you successfully feed the Shoggoth you gain one point for your efforts. The Minion is placed atop of the Graveyard card in the center of the table, never to return.

Six. Draw back up to seven cards in your hand. Your turn is over. Move the Shoggoth to the player on your left.

shoggothdenalsacrifice2You play until one Cult Leader has accumulated enough points to achieve victory, which is determined by the number of players:

3 Players     5 Points
4 Players     4 Points
5 Players     4 Points
6 Players     3 Points

It’s because of this points basis I like the idea of using tokens such as pennies, meeples, or glass beads in front of the players instead of pencil and paper because then one can quietly scheme which of their opponents is closing in too quickly on winning the game without making a big production of it.

I loved Feed The Shoggoth! This is what I would call a near perfect beer and pretzel game. It moves quickly, every player is involved at all times so no one feels bored or left out as other actions drag on and opportunities for undercutting and sabotaging your competitors abound. The mechanics are such that while easy to grasp and understand, particularly after a game or two are under your belt, there’s enough depth there to keep you on your toes and laughing the whole way to the abyss.

shoggothdenalchipI find it particularly fascinating that I agree wholeheartedly with Squamous Studios suggestion of 14+ on the age suggestion. I believe the mechanics of this game are such that if the parents knew the turn structure of this game well children much younger would have no problem playing alongside them.

Which brings me to the one problem I did have with Feed The Shoggoth! and that was the instruction booklet that ships with it. The instructions for the game seem to have been written with brevity in mind and while that is a laudable goal at times they felt a touch too lean. I can understand wanting to fit them on one folded sheet (with a thank you page for those who backed the KickStarter campaign) to minimize printing so I understand the trade-off. For instance bluffing was mentioned yet in such a manner you’re left wondering if this is a mechanic invoked within the game itself or are we talking bluffing as it is generally known? The rules are all there, they are just very lean and they are laid out in an odd manner that will most likely have you referring to the Internet your first few games so I would keep a laptop close by or underline key parts in the instruction sheet before your first few games. As I said once you have them down they flow fast and free. Just know this going in. Since I had already said I felt parents could teach children younger than the recommended 14 years old I felt it only fair to give a heads up having them there at the table with you the first time may not be the best idea.

shoggothdenalsacrifice

Guess who won. Yes this is Denal’s poker face. All the time.

I also loved the fact this game plays well with 3 to 6 players. This is a hard area to crack and Feed The Shoggoth! does the job extremely well. With simple optional rules that allow you to tune the game for either a longer, more strategic game or a shorter, nastier affair Feed The Shoggoth! has large amounts of replay value. Every person I invited over to test this game, every single one of them, loved it. This is unheard of. This game had me cursing at my phone’s camera for not operating fast enough. One second the table would erupt in wild laughter and then suddenly everyone was back to intense, devious plotting. I felt as if I was watching The League of Gentlemen performing a sketch wherein they deconstruct a gaming session. When one adds to this the consideration it is entirely possible to play three or four games of Feed The Shoggoth! in the time it normally takes to set up other Lovecraftian themed games I believe Squamous Studios has a release on their hands that rightfully deserves its place in every gamer’s collection of our darkened corner of the world.

As for a soundtrack, I believe all gaming sessions of Feed The Shoggoth! should include this classic at least once in their playlist:

Feed The Shoggoth! may be purchased here.

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