Necronomicon


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Rating: 4.4/5 (99 votes)
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GrimmrookNecronomiconCoinciding with H.P. Lovecraft's birthday today, we review Necronomicon, a single player trading card game by Games of Cthulhu. If you're astute, then you could probably assume from either the game's title or from the developer's name that this trading card game is one steeped in H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos.

If you know what I mean when I write Cthulhu mythos, skip this paragraph. If you don't, read on. Back in the first half of the 20th century, science fiction/horror writer H.P. Lovecraft wrote a series of stories linked together by a hierarchy of monsters and gods that predate all other religious histories. At the very top of this hierarchy sat, or perhaps more appropriately, swam, Cthulhu, a giant octopus monster sometimes with wings and humanoid limbs. These monster gods seemed forever perched just on the edge of our reality, held at bay by the thinnest barriers of time or space or comprehension. Now, in the Necronomicon, you may harness their prowess to beat your opponent into submission.

You and your computer opponent each start off with a numerical value of health, and in order to win the game you must reduce your opponent's health to zero. There are several ways to do this. The principal method is by playing any number of direct attack cards but you can also taint your opponent that will slowly erode his life away turn by turn, or you can summon a monster to come to your aid. Monsters do not instigate attacks against your opponent, but any time your opponent hits you, the monster automatically hits them in return.

Be mindful, though, as this power comes at a dire cost. You are also assigned a value for sanity and most cards you play come with a cost to your sanity. If you allow your sanity to reach zero then you will become afflicted with any one of a number of mental diseases. Xenophobia prevents you from summoning monsters while agoraphobia allows you to use only two of the cards in your hand.

So take up your cards and prepare to climb up the ranks of the mystical and the terrifying. It may only cost you your mind and your life.

Analysis: Because trading card games attract their own purists, I think it fair to point out that there are a few things that enthusiasts may find missing. For one, there is no way to play other human opponents. Also, the library of cards is not vast and you can't construct your own deck. This could lead to more luck involved than is to the liking of veterans of the genre.

necronomiconDespite these departures from the genre norm, Necronomicon provides a very well balanced and satisfying experience. Balance is achieved through the modest but suitable card library. Stronger cards tend to come with hefty costs to your sanity and the very strongest also tend to hold further risks for the caster. Meanwhile, weaker cards may be safer to play, but they will provide little respite when your opponent is hammering you for twenty points of damage a pop.

Further strengthening the gameplay is a three color system that affects your damage dealt (red), your defense (green), and finally taint (yellow—the higher your taint, the more damage you receive over time). This opens the door for so many strategic options as you must take into account both your own and your opponent's attributes before taking action. Should you hold onto the Mind Burn card until you can built up your arcane power some more? Should you cast Dispel to knock down your opponent's defense even though he still has an Invulnerable card left to play? Depending on the situation you can find yourself slowly bleeding your opponent dry or hitting him with a veritable blitzkrieg.

The opponent's AI also is fairly well done. It is challenging, and at times it might seem unfairly good, but over the long run what you have is a game that is difficult but not impossible. The one caveat to this is in the final two challenges where you may need a little help discovering the computer's weak spot.

All of this is encased in a very neat, albeit crude, aesthetic package. The lay out is simple, but the artwork on the cards is beautifully done and appropriate for the theme. The sounds, though not ubiquitous are also nearly perfect. The violin sting that precedes a match does a good job of getting the blood pumping and the gurgling noise when someone takes a big hit is visceral and gritty.

Overall, Necronomicon is an excellently executed trading card game. It is darkly beautiful, exceptionally balanced, and chock full of multiple strategies borne from a mixture of your own style and necessity. What it may lack compared to more traditional trading card games is exactly what makes it an excellent casual game that appeals to a much broader audience.

Play Necronomicon

37 Comments

Lazlo Toth August 20, 2009 7:21 PM

Hmm, I dunno. The game seems to be more or less a reskin of a game called "Maganic Wars" that's been out there for several years. I don't know if it's the same developers, used with permission, or what...

Necronomicon's got a number of improvements -- like the Sanity mechanic, not to mention coherent English. But as a veteran card gamer, it feels like there's more missing in this game than multiplayer and deck construction.

YMMV, obviously, but the game just doesn't feel very strategic to me at all. There's a little bit of ambiguity to whether you should, say, pursue bonuses or direct damage, and that can be interesting. But other than that, it feels most card choices are obvious. You want to play whatever does the most damage. If you don't draw high-damage cards, you piddle around until you do... and the game comes to a grinding halt in the meantime.

The Sanity mechanic I will grant is really *neat* -- the names and crazy effects add something that Maganic Wars was seriously lacking -- but it's not really enough of a disincentive to balance high-damage cards against low-damage ones.

Oh, one other step in the right direction: I've been saying for years that Maganic Wars needed multiple damage tracks (e.g. fire, ice, water) with a rock-paper-scissors mechanic, so that a low-damage card of the right color might be better than a high-damage card in the right situation. Necronomicon doesn't *quite* do that, but it has "armor piercing" mundane attacks like "Raid," and that's progress.

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I'll admit, I was sceptical. Trading cards? Lovecraft? But I found myself giggling within minutes. The penalties for losing your sanity are a particularly good touch. It's a nice mix of Lovecraftian horror and a black sense of humour.

Ia! Ia! Cthulhu Fthagn!

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Slanzinger Author Profile Page August 20, 2009 7:39 PM

Quite liked this one, played it a long while back on Kongregate
The sanity mechanic worked very well at spicing up the relatively drab "card battle" style, and although I kinda tired of it pretty quickly, it's still very well executed and is fun for a time.

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I love a good horror story, as one can tell by my collection of Stephen King and Dean Koontz (although, really, Koontz isn't exactly a horror author), but I have to admit I'm distressed by the fact that Lovecraft is celebrated so much in flash gaming circles.

I admit, the monsters are pretty cool, but keep in mind the guy was a flagrant racist.

From Wikipedia:

'S. T. Joshi notes "There is no denying the reality of Lovecraft's racism, nor can it merely be passed off as 'typical of his time', for it appears that Lovecraft expressed his views more pronouncedly (although usually not for publication) than many others of his era. It is also foolish to deny that racism enters into his fiction."'

From his story 'Reanimator' (again quoted by Wikipedia) in description of a black man whose dead body the protagonist uses for experiments:

'He was a loathsome, gorilla-like thing, with abnormally long arms that I could not help calling fore legs, and a face that conjured up thoughts of unspeakable Congo secrets and tom-tom poundings under an eerie moon. The body must have looked even worse in life - but the world holds many ugly things.'

And (again from Wikipedia), Lovecraft was very up-front about his anti-Semitic beliefs:

'The mass of contemporary Jews are hopeless as far as America is concerned. They are the product of alien blood, & inherit alien ideals, impulses, & emotions which forever preclude the possibility of wholesale assimilation... On our side there is a shuddering physical repugnance to most Semitic types...so that wherever the Wandering Jew wanders, he will have to content himself with his own society till he disappears or is killed off in some sudden outburst of mad physical loathing on our part.'

I'm NOT asking JiG to stop posting games based on his work. JiG has every right to post these games, just as everyone has every right to play them. It would be disrespectful to suggest otherwise. The games themselves are designed by people who's only agenda is to take a great story and make it into an entertaining diversion for the masses. And that's perfectly fine.

I just want the players to stop and think before playing, and the game designers to stop and think before using Lovecraft as a model for their games. Granted, he had a genius when it came to writing horror fiction, but is that justification for celebrating a proud racist? That's all I want to say. *bows and leaves*

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Really enjoyed this, despite not being a Lovecraft fan in any way, shape or form. Would love to see a sequel or expansion, particularly if it meant multiplayer and an expanded deck.

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Nivekolas August 20, 2009 10:07 PM

@Tabs:
We aren't celebrating his racism, but his genius. They are two different things about the same person. The world is full of racists, so do we celebrate every racist's racism on their birthday? No, we celebrate their birth and what they've done in their life. I don't even understand why you would even bring it up.
It's like saying we shouldn't call Einstein a genius because he dropped out of school.

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The world needs more card game games.

Or maybe that's just my childhood dream of being a card game creator sneaking out again.

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@Tabs, what ST Joshi has also noted in his many writings on HPL (as have others) is that Lovecraft's racism is distinctly a product of his earlier years, and that as his life went on, his rather bigoted views softened distinctly. Indeed, this can be seen even in his writings, as in "At the Mountains of Madness" (one of his later works), where the protagonist, referring to the utterly inhuman Elder Things, "[...] whatever they were, they were *men*." The younger HPL would never have made such a statement, even in fiction.

As for the anti-Semitism, this is again a product of his youth and changed notably over his life. His wife was Jewish.

Lovecraft's detractors are quick to leap on his bigoted youth, but rarely credit him for actually evolving and growing out of it. Given the course of his humanistic development, had the cancer not taken his life, it is not unlikely he would have lived to repudiate some of those earlier views.

HPL's bigotry was repugnant. But to deny that the man was changing and to denigrate his contribution to literary history because he was racist is also narrow-minded. Do you complain a game draws on "Alice in Wonderland" because it "celebrates" its pedophile author? Or perhaps you chastise the makers and aficionados of Sherlock Holmes games for lacking proper concern for the morality of basing games on the works of a man who was an ardent supporter of every form of supernatural charlatanism of his time?

I know this has gone on too long, but jeez, man. Fans of HPL's works know he was a racist. They've made a considered judgment that this doesn't devalue his creation. How self-righteous do you have to be to wag a finger at people on a game site for a *flash-based card game* that doesn't even touch on the objectionable material?

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Kyle, just a comment: it's spelled "Gandhi". (And it annoys me every time somebody misspells it.) Also, he himself was criticized for some of his opinions (though many of these criticisms arose from misunderstandings about his beliefs).

Back to the topic at hand - the game. It's a fun and interesting game to start out, but it gets somewhat repetitive as the game goes on. Personally, I'm not a fan of card games (computer/video game versions in particular) all that much, since they require you to have a certain level of interest and dedication starting out. As such, I actually liked this game a bit more than most card games, since it was, in fact, left partially to luck; I don't like building decks - I just want to play the game. However, partially as a result of this, the outcome of each round seemed left to chance, and my strategy wasn't forced to change at all in later rounds. Nice time-waster, though.

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Anonymous August 21, 2009 4:20 AM

On the topic of the major ongoing discussion, whether or not Charles Dodgson was a paedophile is a matter for debate; he had an emotional attachment to young girls, but any suggestion that it was sexual is pure speculation. It's my understanding that the nude underage portraits, for example, were not actually an uncommon art form at the time. Lovecraft, on the other hand, shows an unambiguous racism; however, I would dispute that they are the essential core of his work. As stated above, assuming the morally dubious element is not the focus of an author's work, we can celebrate that work separately from a celebration of the author's character, or rather, from one aspect of their character which may not in any case predominate.

As for the game, this is quite uncanny; I first played it a long time ago on Kongregate, but then turned to it again for a replay merely earlier this week. It seems a strange coincidence that it should appear here at around the same time. I enjoyed it, anyway, more than I would've thought possible for a monster-battling card game.

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I got to 30 - Great Cthulhu and then accidentally clicked 'Game complete'. Ack!

Anyway, it was a nice way to pass some time.

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D'oh. Must have been too early. I guess that meant I won the game. Hehe.

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Some Shoggoth August 21, 2009 2:32 PM

Looks like this is the older version too, there's a newer one at newgrounds iirc.

[Edit: Nope. This is the latest version of the game and the same version as up on Newgrounds. -Jay]

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Henry Ford financed Adolf Hitler. Should we refuse to drive mass-production automobiles?

John Kellogg advoated sexual mutilation in order suppress the libido. Should we refuse to eat breakfast cereal?

Much good has been done in this world by people who held ideas we find disagreeable. We should be able appreciate their achievements while also recognizing their imperfection. Lovecraft is far from the most notable nor the most repugnant on that list.

Besides all which, this is a game site. Play the game! Or don't.

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Would anyone mind writing up some of the oh-so-interesting lack of sanity effects other than the two mentioned in the review? I played for a while, but all my opponent and I got was Megalomania five times in a row.

And since I must:
Tabs, I personally did not here anyone praising Lovecraft's morals or character. He was mentioned because he is a famous and influential writer. That's it. Please avoid starting barely related arguments in the future.

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i haven't played the game yet (though i plan to! i love me some cthulhu stuff) but i want to ask... in what sense is this a "trading" card game? if you can't actually trade cards or assemble your own deck, i don't think you can really call it that. it sounds like it's a card game, pure and simple, albeit one that borrows some ideas and mechanics from trading/collectible card games.

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Zrinn --

There are two more sanity effects besides the ones mentioned in the walkthrough.

Schizophrenia: sets your attack and defense modifiers to 0 as long as you have it.

Megalomania: causes your taint to go up by 4 and your arcane to go up by 2 every turn. As you probably figured out, unless you have a lot of ways to erase taint, this will kill you pretty quick.

I would often play something that would nuke my sanity, figuring that I had some sanity-restoring card, and then wind up with Agoraphobia preventing me from using it. Ooops.

Also, a tip that didn't seem immediately obvious:

If you discard a card, your sanity goes up by the number of sanity points it costs. This can be useful, especially in some of those @!#@!*&$# challenge levels where your sanity starts at 5.

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Insanity penalties

Agoraphobia - Your hand is effectively 2 cards. The extra 3 cards you currently have are unavailable for anything until you're sane again.

Schizophrenia - At the end of each turn, your Elder and Arcane are reset to zero.

Xenophobia - Your summons have no effect. If you have a monster out currently, it's discarded. I'm not sure if this just means you can't put a monster in play, or if you can't do that plus any side effects of playing the monster don't take effect. I just haven't taken the time to notice.

And to round out the list (I think):

Megalomania - at the end of each round, you get +2 Arcane and +4 Taint.

For me, Xenophobia and Schizophrenia are the most tolerable.

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@Tab, SC, Kyle E. Moore, Zrinn-
"Sententia est pugna per contemno"

-To be honest, I am not a Lovecraft fan, mainly since it reminds me of greek mythology (Which I never liked). I still played just for the fun of it, although I would prefer a Jules Verne based game as that is my favorite fiction writer.

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Johne - would you kindly translate that for those of us who have no idea what you're trying to say, please?

I looked for a translation, but I have no idea what language that is (I tried Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese). And that phrase cannot possibly be common knowledge since Google finds nothing that matches.

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-Latin

"Opinion is the conflict with hate"

-Meaning both sides of an argument are both guilty parties of biased judgment.

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The translation is rough, as I could not get it exactly right.

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Thank you, that's good enough. I appreciate that.

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Maybe Latin, Jay?

I think I've heard a saying "(something) is (something-'grounds' maybe?) for contempt". This might match that.

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ahh, too slow :)

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Kyle:
Good points, and I suppose it makes sense to compare it to trading card games, as the casual video game players are more likely to understand that comparison. But as someone who plays an awful lot of tabletop board games and card games, there are a lot of games out there that use unique and highly specialized/stylized cards that aren't collectible/trading card games. So, no, it certainly isn't a "traditional" card game, but it's not really a "trading" card game either.

But talking about this is probably pretty pointless, when we could be talking about the game itself. :) but i still haven't actually played it, so i'll withhold my thoughts until then.

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I never knew about that, but if he was racist and later got over it, it's admirable for overcoming it. Still, in a Flash-based card game based on his later works, you're not supposed to be worried about racism, you're supposed to be worried about magical monsters from beyond space and time trying to eat your brain.

Anyway, it says under "How To Play" in the main menu that you can discard a card to gain sanity if you'd lose it by playing it. It also tells you that you have to click on the Necronomicon to play a card; for the first little bit, I was clicking on the cards over and over.

Though the game doesn't have multiple layers of depth, there's lots of room for updates or expansion packs or something. This game was out for a while, if I recall. Also, there's a lot of context and internal references involved that people may not know about, like most of the cards that have to do with "taint".

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I differentiate between "trading card games" and "collectible card games". The difference is mostly just the trading part, so in my mind this goes in the broader CCG category. $.02

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Yay, I managed to finish the main game!

This is what I ended up with, spoilerized to protect the sanity of those who don't care what score I got:

Highest Arcane Attack +: 27
Highest Elder Defence +: 11
Highest Taint: 16
Highest Attack: 39
Number of Times Insane: 17
(I still don't like the idea of having to make myself xenophobic to win a card game, what with the earlier exchanges up there)
Final Score: 2870

Final Rank: #30- Great Cthulhu

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Kyle: played up to rank 13 \ and plan to finish. It's pretty simple, but enjoyable. My only real complaint is that they automatically take the opponent's card down. I'd rather be able to click or something to have it disappear because as it is, it often disappears to quickly to read all the text. Granted, in the early game, I end up seeing most of the cards in my hand eventually, but still. I also think it's starting to get a bit repetitive. Also, there's not a lot of room for long-term strategy. So it's fun, but... I'd like a little more depth, personally.

LSN: I, personally, wouldn't even call it a CCG. A CCG needs a deck building aspect. In most CCGs, the deck building is at least as large a part of the game as the actual, you know, gameplay. Here, when both players have the exact same cards, well... it's not as interesting.

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Cthulhu isn't at the top of the mythos. He's actually pretty small in the overall heirarchy

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How d'ye win that bleeping hard fourth challenge? I just don't see how to hold on to my life points.

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Redhairsword Author Profile Page February 23, 2010 1:59 AM

My favorite strategy is to hit my opponent with taint early on and try to build that up against them. Then I directly attack their sanity as much as possible.
I take a lot of damage, but cards like the doctor and the soul's essence don't help them much when I'm not directly targeting their HP.
I hate the Blessings of Hastur when my opponent uses it. >.< Love it when it's in my hand.

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TheWesson Author Profile Page August 18, 2010 8:05 PM


Once you play it through by reloading whenever you're beaten, try to start a game and get through levels 1-30 without once being beaten.

It's doable but a more interesting challenge than just reloading after a defeat.

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