"Come now my child, if we were planning to harm you, do you think we'd be lurking here beside the path in the very darkest part of the forest..." - Kenneth Patchen, "Even So."

THIS IS A BLOG ABOUT STORIES AND STORYTELLING; some are true, some are false, and some are a matter of perspective. Herein the brave traveller shall find dark musings on horror, explorations of the occult, and wild flights of fantasy.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018


AH, THE AGE-OLD QUESTION; "what to do in-between sessions, when no Keeper is around but you still want your sanity abused?"  For Call of Cthulhu addicts who just can't get enough this has long been a problem.  Over the years, video games have been the answer, alternate delivery systems for the mind-bending horror provided by the pen-and-paper game.  2005 saw Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, an unholy partnership between Cthulhu publisher Chaosium and Headfirst, Bethesda, 2K, and Ubisoft.  This year sees Cyanide and Chaosium unleashing the very promising Call of Cthulhu: The Official Video Game.  For those who simply had to take their Cthulhu on the road with them, iOS and Android provided Red Wasp's Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land.  All of these adapted the classic 1981 RPG to various engines and platforms...but were--and let us be honest here--video games.  Not that I dislike video games, mind you.  But they are by definition a visual medium where the horror takes place on the screen.  Call of Cthulhu (the table-top game) is a literary experience; it takes place inside the imagination.  I have never been wholly convinced that even the most gifted graphics team can create Lovecraftian horrors as hideous as the mind can.

Now Chaosium and MetaArcade have joined forces to try something a bit...different.  

Cthulhu Chronicles is perhaps the closest thing to the tabletop Call of Cthulhu experience that gamers can reasonably expect.  Released today for iOS, with Android coming soon, Chronicles essentially takes tried and true Call of Cthulhu scenarios and adapts them to text-based solo-play.  About a week ago, via TestFlight, I had a chance to look at the game for this review.  Here's what you need to know.   

Players choose one of six Investigators to play.  These can be changed between scenarios, or if they survive, continue into the next story.  These characters come with a Bio and some equipment, and are defined by 5 statistics.  Health measures how much physical damage you can endure, Sanity tracks your psychological injury, while Appearance, Athletics, and Knowledge each allow you to face different tests during the game.

Players also select which scenario to pursue.  These are all genuine tabletop Call of Cthulhu scenarios adapted to Chronicles.  We have, for example, the introductory 7th edition scenario Alone Against the Flames, and the 6th edition's Edge of Darkness.  Others from the Chaosium archives are Dead Border, Eyes of the Law, and Paper Chase.  


Actual play is fairly straightforward.  Chronicles doesn't have the animated sequences that something like the Steve Jackson's Sorcery! line has, though game play is similar.  A page of text is provided with a picture or illustration, and this will give the player a series of choices to pursue.  It's a time-honored approach going all the way back to those "Choose Your Own Adventure" books.  


Sometimes these choices lead to a test.  These are the equivalent to rolling dice in the tabletop game.  Tests come in various difficulties, and these modify your chances accordingly.  A wheel appears and spins, resulting in either a pass or a failure.  Consequences depend on the test.  You might simply fail to notice a clue or to persuade an NPC to talk...or you might take damage.

The game is free to play, but as with all games of this sort there are in-app purchases.  These take the form of "tickets."  Basically, players get a number of free trials of a scenario, after which they must purchase the scenario and play it to their heart's content or spend tickets for additional single play-throughs.

Are multiple play-throughs worth it?  Taking different characters through the scenarios changes the text considerably, and I applaud MetaArcade for tailoring the text to each character.  We've all played games like this where it doesn't matter what character you are playing...the text is the same.  This is not the case here.  Also, multiple plays opens up different story paths, either through making alternate choices or passing tests you might have failed before.  On the other hand, just like a pen-and-paper scenario, the second and third time you play it some of the fun derived from surprise and the unknown is dissipated   This isn't a fault of Chronicles, just the nature of the beast.  I suspect players will want to try at least two or three play-throughs at least.

Cthulhu Chronicles is without doubt the closest thing to playing Call of Cthulhu you can get without a Keeper, and this is really the most attractive feature of the game.  The writing is atmospheric, and the music provides suitably creepy immersion playing in your earphones.  The real success or failure of the platform will depend on what scenarios are offered in the future (a massive adaptation of Masks of Nyarlathotep, anyone?).  A steady stream of classic spine-tingling tails will certainly keep drawing players back.  And since the price of admission is free, why on Earth haven't you downloaded it yet?

I give this solid adaptation of Cthulhu three-and-a-half Elder Signs out of five.  Recommended heartily for those who need their Cthulhu fix between sessions and for people who are curious what the whole "Call of Cthulhu" thing is about.  Find it right now in the iOS App store.        

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