Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/04/21/tabletop-review-call-of-catthulhu-deluxe-book-1-the-nekonomicon/
Back in September of 2013, I reviewed an awesome rules-lite game entitled Call of Catthulhu.It was an adorable game about house cats being the last stand against the Great Old Ones. You played as a cat and you dealt with fun parodies of Lovecraftian lore. In the back of the book was the promise of a Kickstarter campaign for a deluxe version of the game. Well, the Kickstarter ran from October 30th, 2013 through December 2nd, 2013 and was highly successful, netting a little over $41K from 783 backers. The project ballooned to multiple books, a boxed set, miniatures and more. A few days ago, the first book for Call of Catthulhu Deluxe, The Nekonomicon, was released in PDF form (we’re still waiting for physical copies) with the promise of the next two books (Unaussprechlichen Katzen and Whirls of Catthulhu) to be released in May and June. So how does The Nekonomicon fare? Is it worth delving into the new version of Call of Catthulhu, or should you stick with the much cheaper basic edition of the game? Let’s take a look!
The Nekonomicon is essentially the Player’s Handbook for Call of Catthulhu Deluxe. Unlike the basic game, which has a little bit of everything to allow you to play, this first book focuses specifically on PC creation and the core rules. Playing Call of Catthulhu is quite easy. You just get a bunch of six sided dice and roll them when the rules and/or GM feels it is necessary. A 1 or 2 is a failure and a 3-6 is a success. An Easy challenge needs one success with two dice being rolled. A Normal challenge needs one success with a single die rolled. A Difficult challenge needs two successes on two dice. Pretty cut and dry, right? If you fail a roll, you can cash in a Treat (each player starts with one at the beginning of the game and can earn more through good roleplaying) to roll again. So don’t worry about volumes of rules and all sorts of mechanics. I just summed up the core rules for you in a few sentences. The game is really easy to learn and a lot of fun to play as long as you have a group that has a whimsical sense of humor.
Making a character is pretty easy too. You have five classes for your cat to choose from: Catcrobat, Pussyfoot, Scrapper, Tiger Dreamer and Twofootologist. Your choice of roles determines which tasks are easy ones for you. There are no stats or attributes. You pick your role and this is the only part of your character that really determines mechanics later on in the game. The rest of the character is all based on roleplaying. What type of cat are you? What color is your fur? Is your cat a feral, house cat or show cat? What breed is it? What colour are the cat’s eyes? What is its personality? This is all fairly standard stuff. As I’ve said, Call of Catthulhu is very rules light. It’s a game for role-playing and storytelling. The game also gives you thirty possible character backgrounds to help you flesh out your character if you choose. You look at your axis of roles and lifestyle and the cross reference gives you an option or two. This is completely optional, but a great way for newer or younger gamers to get the hang of a game where the dice see little use except in dramatic moments.
There’s a lot of adorableness in this game, from the custom cat dice you get for it down to the fact the GM is called the Cat Herder. However, this is a game with Lovecraftian tones, so injury and death of your kitty can occur. To prevent this, make sure you are a good die roller, have plenty of treats and always send out the right cat for the job (RCFTJ) to make successes more likely. After all, if you have a daring feat of dexterity that needs to be accomplished, you want to send the Catcrobat instead of the Scrapper or Tiger Dreamer. Dire Challenges preset the opportunity for injury or death, and there is always the Blaze of Glory option that means your cat will die (but also succeed) in an attempt.
It’s worth noting here that cats get three strikes and the cat is out. One sad cat face on a Dire Challenge is injury, two is disabled and three is dying. So be careful with your kitty. After all, no one wants to see his or her beloved puss hurt or worse. Now, the game does have a “Nine Lives” rule, where cats can pull off a chance to survive their would-be demise, but each brush with death requires a notably harder roll to survive. As you might imagine, the maximum times a cat can do this is eight, for a total of “nine lives” the cat has lived. This is a nice touch that lets people get some more rolling in while also holding true to cat folklore.
The Deluxe version of the game offers some new rules. There are two optional rules where Snake Eyes equals an embarrassing failure and double sixes gives the cat an extraordinary success. Of course, this means only easy or hard challenges can have something go really well or astoundingly bad. There are also new contested challenge rules (usually used for fights). There are also a few advanced combat rules for multiple cats in a fight, surprise attacks and grappling. Yes, cats do grapple. Our kitten wraps herself around our elderly cat as if she was Dean Malenko, so it was great to see holding actions as an option in the new rules. There are also Rules of Paw for better role-playing, such as characters only being able to use sounds (not words) when they are out of visual range from one another, or cats only being able to carry one thing at a time and leave scents on up to three objects before the oldest one disappears.
The Nekonomicon ends with a few DM notes, such as good times to ask for die rolls and a reminder of how stupid the hairless two footed ones are when it comes to understanding the eloquence of their kitty superiors. There’s also a note that cat PCs gain Experiences rather than Experience Points. Experiences are simply bits of knowledge and reminders of what a cat now knows about the true horrors that lie between the thin veneer we think of as reality.
Overall, Call of Catthulhu Deluxe is off to a great start with The Nekonomicon. As the other books start to come out you’ll get information on Mythos creatures, other animals (some of which can even be PCs) and other settings for Call of Catthulhu, like high fantasy and superhero gaming. If you don’t already have the basic version of Call of Catthulhu, you should definitely pick it up in tandem with The Nekonomicon, as it does have things that the first book are missing, like more background on the default setting and Kitty Lovecraftia. Of course, all of those things are coming in May’s Unaussprechlichen Katzen, so if you’d rather just get Call of Catthulhu Deluxe releases, you won’t have that long of a wait. Whatever way you choose to go, Call of Catthulhu is a fantastically fun (and funny) rules-lite RPG which gamers of all skill levels can enjoy. What little mechanics are in the game are solid and easy to understand, and the roleplaying opportunities in this one are limitless. I’m really looking forward to the subsequent releases and being able to use the miniatures of our pets I got in the Kickstarter (two cats and a rabbit) in a game once the boxed set has finally made its way to my home. Hopefully Malice, Shelly and Baby will fare better than many of the Investigators I have had in a Call of Cthulhu game!