News for May 2011
Taking Advantage 6
An advanced lesson in deck-building for Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game
Call of Cthulhu LCG | Published 13 May 2011

'Feed it reg'lar, Willy, an' mind the quantity; but dun't let it grow too fast fer the place, fer ef it busts quarters or gits aout afore ye opens to Yog-Sothoth, it's all over an' no use. Only them from beyont kin make it multiply an' work... Only them, the old uns as wants to come back...'
– H.P. Lovecraft, The Dunwitch Horror

With the regional tournaments just around the corner, we're going to pick the brains of Stahleck 2010 winner Francesco “Konx” Zappon, peeking at some of the thought processes behind his strategic decisions while building a deck and his tactics while playing it. Or how Francesco explains it:

Meant To Be Broken

In Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game, the basic rules allow you to do a couple of things per turn. The main things are:

  • You get to draw two cards per turn.
  • You can put one of your cards on a domain as a resource.
  • You may play up to three cards per turn.

Therefore, the way you progress is quasi-linear: On turn one you can play only one card costing 2 and two cards costing 1; the next turn either two cards costing 2, one costing 1 or one card costing three, 2 costing one. And so on.

Once you're aware of the basic rules, it's time to “break” them to gain an advantage over your opponent. But what kind of advantages can you claim for yourself? I will try to avoid the usual classification of “Card Advantage” and “Board Advantage.” While these definitions are simple and relatively easy to understand, let's try to get a more in-depth look at the types of advantages you can secure for yourself, so you can account for these while building your deck.

Each of the following can be grouped under either “Card Advantage” or “Board Advantage” but we're going to take a little more detailed look. We're now going to divide the possible advantages in three groups:

  • Tempo Advantage (TA)
  • Space Advantage (SA)
  • Material Advantage (MA)

Each of these more generic types of advantage can be further broken down into subtypes. I'll give you some examples here:

Tempo Advantage

Direct Tempo Advantage: The main limitations in playing the cards you have in your hand is their cost. To play a 3-cost card you'll have to wait for your second turn, when you can have enough resources. Until then, the card is sitting in your hand, being useless. Then again, if you have some means to play it anyway, you can gain Direct Tempo Advantage over your opponent. A classic example is playing a Priestess of Bubastis (Core Set, F123) to enable a 3-cost character on your first turn. Another way is to use transient resources. These allow you to gain tempo, but at the cost of Material Advantage (which I will go into later).

Indirect Tempo Advantage is gained when you return an opponents' character to their hand or drive on of their characters insane. In doing so, you temporarily “steal” the time your opponent has spent on playing the card. In the case of 'bouncing' a character, you are even forcing them to spend more tempo and resources to play it again.

Yet another way is avoiding paying the cost altogether. With Shocking Transformation (Core Set, F140), you can put into play a very high-cost character, even from another faction! Such an advantage often comes with other costs though; In case of the transformation this will come -again- in the form of Material Advantage.

Permanent Tempo Advantage can also be achieved. Let's say you have a Prize Pistol (In Memory of Day, F22) on a character that has, in total, 3 Combat Icons. Now you have a potential source of Permanent Tempo Advantage as you can wound (and usually destroy) one character per turn, at the expense of one of your actions. Alternatively, Dangerous Inmate (Screams from Within, F86), barring some limitations, can give you Tempo Advantage since usually it takes an insane character at least two full turns to be able to commit to stories again (which is also space advantage; see below).

You gain tempo by counteracting the action and resources your opponent spends by neutralizing the character he got from it, while -hopefully- spending far less than he did.

Space Advantage

Moving on to Space Advantage: The ability to prevent opponents in pursuing their strategy, as I will illustrate here:

Y'ha-nthlei Statue (Aspirations of Ascension, F66) exemplifies Space Advantage. This card alone can take care of a complete subset of characters from the moment you play it. As an aside, it is easy to see that this card provides both Card and Board Advantage, making the usual classifications a bit too superficial in the analysis of the card.

Then there is Torch the Joint! (Core Set, F18), a card that is not often discussed, but which offers a really dangerous type of advantage while playing Call of Cthulhu – a reason why I hope I never see this mechanic developed too much in the game. Suppose you are at turn one and you're the starting player: You resource something and then play this card. With this play the Space Advantage (but even Tempo Advantage!) you gain is huge. If they decide to build a 2-resources domain, your opponent will have a cap of two actions; on the other hand, if he decides to gain another action, he will be behind you on the resource development so he’s not able to play the cards within the normal timing and he’s losing a lot of Tempo.

Material Advantage

Last, but not least, is Material Advantage: the Materials you have at your disposal are not only the cards in hand and play but even the success tokens and the resources on your domains.

If you play a card that let you draw two or more cards, you gain Card Advantage. That is the simplest form of Material Advantage. One of the basic examples is Unearthing the Ancients (Core Set, F40.) But an even better card is Aspiring Artist (Ancient Horrors, F12); this card not only gives you Material Advantage in terms of cards, but even in terms of Board Advantage.

In reverse, if you play Byakhee Attack (Core Set, F95), you gain Material Advantage. You reduce your hand by playing the card, but your opponent has to reduce his hand by two, giving you a net gain of one. If you play Catastrophic Explosion (The Gleaming Spiral, F82) and you manage to kill at least two opposing characters (and none of yours) you are again in the business of gaining Material Advantage.

Using success tokens to put Descendant of Eibon (The Terror of the Tides, F75) in play is a trade-off: you lose some Material Advantage to gain some other advantages (your Descendant of Eibon can help in wounding a character at the combat struggle, prevents a character from readying and/or grabs tokens during the investigation struggle/skill comparison).

Keeping Your Balance

There are many cards that have multiple purposes and can give you several types of advantage at the cost of others. Generally transient resources cost you Material Advantage, while giving a short-term boost to Tempo Advantage. Obsessive Insomniac (In Memory of Day, F24) trades one kind of Material Advantage for another (the number of resources to cards in hand). One of the Thousand (Perilous Trials, F32) lets you gain tempo while you lose some tempo (!) and some Material Advantage (although you're likely to get stronger material in return). This is the reason why I don't think that the usual definition of Card and Board advantage are precise enough.

So, you're making a deck that "does Board Advantage.” Will you achieve that through bouncing effects on your opponent's characters or through wounding effects? This depends on your overall strategy: If you are trying to rush to the stories, bounce or exhaust effects are enough for you, since you need to gain a small amount of tempo to win. You don't really need to destroy stuff if  your goal is to create a small time window that is large enough for you to win.

On the other hand, if the strategy is more oriented towards complete control of the game (and so, in gaining a lot of Space Advantage) wounding effects are more suited for you: you want to get rid of a threat for good when you use your cards, because you are not going to win really fast.

Conclusion and Acknowledgements

I hope you enjoyed reading the article as much as I have enjoyed writing it. Of course, everything that is written here is debatable, but I hope I have given you a new point of view to take into account during the deck construction/analysis.

In the future I will write deck analysis based on this theoretic scheme, to look more in detail at the theory and bring some practical examples to support it. For any comments, critics, suggestions, remarks please do not hesitate to write directly to me or even better, in the Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game official forum!

Finally, I want to thank all the players that have written articles about game theory in the past: they have provided the basis for this article and they have been the first contact I had with game theory. In particular I want to mention Der_Wolf, an Italian player who wrote an article that can be considered the basis of this: without that, this couldn't exist.

Based on the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft and his literary circle, Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game takes two players deep into the Cthulhu Mythos where investigators clash with the Ancient Ones and Elder Gods for the fate of the world. The Living Card Game format allows players to customize their gaming experience with monthly Asylum Pack expansions to the core game.

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Comments (6)

Published: 5/19/2011 8:54:52 AM

I don't play CoC, but I loved this article.  The sub-division of card and board advantage was great.

Published: 5/16/2011 12:37:11 PM

More please!  The biggest challenge I experience with ALL of the LCGs is that there just isn't enough strategy articles written.  I for one, suffer from a small play-group, with no "experts" so we frankly need help.  Between deck archtypes, build-styles, theme interactions, and just plain "Build your introductory deck THIS way" articles, there's an endless amount of content to cover.  Multiply that times AGoT, CoC, WHI, and LotR, and you've got yourself some quality journalism!

PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE!!!  Post more "How To Build an LCG Deck" articles!

Published: 5/14/2011 8:34:52 AM

Thanks to all of you guys :)

I really hope you like this kind of articles, since I'm going to write some more stuff on the same "game theory" line. Feel free to add more comments on cards/topics/game situations that you think are relevant for the article!



Published: 5/14/2011 2:26:37 AM

Thank you very much, it was a very good read

Published: 5/14/2011 12:45:30 AM

An excellent article. Thanks Konx.

Published: 5/13/2011 7:17:40 PM

Great article, something like this is good to have for any of the card games.

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