Have you played Shouty Witch Hunt the boardgame? It’s the newest way to create bad feelings and resentment! Everyone gets a secret role and then spends the next 20 minutes accusing each other with baseless assumptions and I’M LOUDER THAN YOU DISCUSSION.
Yeah, I’m not a fan of social deduction games. But maybe you are?
In Don’t Mess with Cthulhu, 4 to 8 players hide away their identities as Investigators or Cultists to mess with each other. Investigators are trying to find all the Elder Signs that seal away the ancient evil while the cultists try to summon it to consume human life.
Oh those goofy cultists and their shenanigans!
The rules are simple enough, but the strategy is a bit complex and adding some of the variants is going to make it harder. I think the target audience is older gamers, those already familiar with the expectations of social deduction games and Cthulhu lore. It’ll play in about 30 mins and is best with a party of people, but we had fun at a 5 count.
Each round, players will be given their secret identity and their investigation cards. Players will announce — truth optional — how many Elder Sign and Cthulhu cards they have before shuffling and displaying them face down on the table. The first player will pick a card in front of another player, revealing it, and pass the first player token to that player. After a round of picking, all the cards not chosen are removed and those that weren’t are shuffled and redistributed. Now with less cards, the round repeats.
Investigators want to find all the Elder Sign cards, cultists need only find Cthulhu. There is an
optional mandatory rule where players keep track of their victories between games and you continue to play until someone has three victories.
A common problem with social deduction games is the first round of play. No one has any real knowledge to work on and are mostly going on blind faith. DMwC tries to subvert this by forcing players to potentially lie immediately before a single card has been flipped.
Declaring your cards seems banal, but doing it wrong will cost you the game. Each role needs to construct the best lie possible when they are dealt Cthulhu, and picking the cards of a player that knowingly has no special cards gets you to a safe reshuffle.
That opening lie is crucial because it opens the magic circle. When the claimed number is different to the known available (and it probably will be) the accusing fingers go flying. It’s a neat thematic effect that whispers “something is amiss”.
Don’t Mess with Cthulhu can end on turn one. A player haphazardly picking the one Cthulhu card from a giddy cultist does not have to be the fault of the player. This isn’t an unknown flaw in the early part of most social deduction games. Important information or actions can happen too early and destroy the flow for one or all players. Slip of the tongue give you away? Well enjoy the silent treatment for the next 10 minutes.
The game tries to subvert this with the Necronomicon variant. It adds the book as a “bad” Elder Sign that acts as a Cthulhu card until the first Elder Sign is revealed, at which point it reverts. This makes the first round tighter, that first lie more important, letting the game go a bit slower at the start. I suggest adding it every time, even if it feels weird to add a variant that helps the cultists.
There is a second variant that makes the game… weirder. It doesn’t hurt the play, it just adds odd complications. Try it out, but I don’t think it’s necessary.
If you, like me, aren’t a fan of social deduction games, Don’t Mess with Cthulhu isn’t going to win you over. It falls into many of the trappings they all do, and as always, the “deduction” element is mostly just witch hunting.
But if you like them, DMwC is a good addition. It’ll make you feel all that paranoia and betrayal that you expect. I like the curve of the game, when it works. As the cards are slowly fading and pointing the flashlight requires trusting one of the two people that said they were your friend. Which is my husband and which is the robot?!
Look, if this is a game you think you’d enjoy, you probably will. That’s the best recommendation I can give. It’s not my favorite social deduction game, but it’s a good one and you should try it out. Whatever isn’t The Resistance, am I right?
Oh, and a word of advice: Always play this with an actual flashlight.
Review copy provided by publisher. Thank you Indie Boards & Cards.