Board Game Review: Cthulhu Monopoly

cthulhu monopoly boxIt’s a perfect match, right? A board game from the Depression era about monopolizing resources and winning by forcing the other players into bankruptcy and a mythic evil creature that’s older than mankind and has dark, horrific desires. Cthulhu, in case you aren’t aware, is a fictional creature imagined by the dark mind of early 20th century horror writer H.P. Lovecraft in his 1928 short story The Call of Cthulhu. It’s evil. Really, really evil. He describes it as “a monster of vaguely anthropoid outline, but with an octopus-like head whose face was a mass of feelers, a scaly, rubbery-looking body, prodigious claws on hind and fore feet, and long, narrow wings behind.”

What does an evil presence have to do with the family game night staple Monopoly? Turns out precious little, but USAopoly, the official licensee of Monopoly from Hasbro, has produced dozens of custom Monopoly games including one of our family favorites, Nintendo Monopoly. In that version, the theming is fairly light and it’s basically the artwork that changes from the standard edition, with a bright, colorful board and properties tied to individual Nintendo games and characters.

But Cthulhu? When I saw the announcement of the Cthulhu Monopoly, I knew I had to get a copy just to see how they melded these two extraordinarily different ideas together, and it turns out to be a mixed bag. The artwork is splendid, the tokens are really fun and the packaging itself is a definite step up from our “throw everything in the box” Monopoly sets, but a play through leaves me really wishing that USAopoly would have gone much further down the Lovecraftian path to make a game that really does reflect a bit of the dark Cthulhu mythology, not just tap into that universe for the artwork.

Let me show you what I mean. To start, here’s “Go”:

usaopoly - cthulhu monopoly

You can see, the overall feel of the board is dark, gothic and ominous, including Lovecraft creations like the Brotherhood of the Yellow Sign, and of course Boardwalk is replaced by Cthulhu itself, a far more terrifying space!

Note also that you collect “IP 200” salary: The “IP” = insanity points, but “salary”? In a single square it’s an example of how the theme hasn’t quite fully seeped through the entire design properly. In fact, it wasn’t until the third reading of the rules that I realized the money was “insanity points” you were accumulating, not dollars.

And looking at another corner of the board…

usaopoly - cthulhu monopoly - free parking

Why is free parking still just a car? In fact, the four corners of the board are standard Monopoly art, which is a bit incongruous when everything else is so beautifully reimagined for the Cthulhu universe. Note in particular that Chance has become “Sanity”, with a terrifying straight-jacket graphic. Oh, and then there’s Rhan-Tegoth replacing Kentucky Avenue. A definite upgrade. 🙂

You can also see one of the beautifully reproduced tokens in the above picture, the Necronomicon book, well known to anyone who is a fan of the occult and its mythos as a ‘book of magic’ that appears throughout most of Lovecraft’s stories and even other authors works.

Here’s another player token:

usaopoly - cthulhu monopoly - dagger playing player token

Look closely and you’ll see the dagger is sitting on the Insane Asylum space.

There’s a card for that:

usaopoly - cthulhu monopoly - example property cards cthulhu insane asylum

I’ve watched a lot of horror films and never have I seen someone mortgage an insane asylum. They might abandon it after a variety of unspeakable horrors, but mortgage it? And for only 75 insanity points? 🙂

A close look at the above also reveals that houses are crypts and hotels are mausoleums. Excellent idea, but other than a change in plastic color, the molds are disappointingly those of standard houses and hotels in Monopoly:

usaopoly - cthulhu monopoly - house/crypt closeup

They don’t look very crypt-like to me. Maybe they’re en-crypt-ed?

And those mausoleums:

usaopoly - cthulhu monopoly - mausoleum / hotel

If it were a crematorium a chimney would make sense, but do mausoleums have fireplaces? I don’t think so…

I imagine that there’s a clause in the license between Hasbro and USAopoly that says the game can’t be called Monopoly without it having all the standard rules and gameplay, which is why you get 200 “insanity points” “salary” upon passing Go and why the Insanity cards are rather half-heartedly themed:

usaopoly - cthulhu monopoly - chance/sanity card

I was hoping for something more like the fun, dark themed board games Elder Sign, or Eldritch Horror, but then it wouldn’t be Monopoly, would it? But maybe a set of alternate instructions and a few extra cards tossed into the box, an evil cultist opponent who could steal property, or even cards that had you lose sanity (lower your insanity points bankroll) or cause you to fall into a deep sleep for a turn or two.

In the end, however, while the artwork is really excellent and the theming of the Lovecraft world transforms the tired Monopoly board into something wonderfully dark and gothic, it’s still Monopoly and if that’s your thing, this is a nice additional set to own, but if you’re not a fan of Monopoly, the new graphics aren’t going to spice up the game or make it more entertaining.

Perhaps the next version’s design will match Lovecraft’s evocative turn of phrase from The Call of Cthulhu:

“God! What wonder that across the earth a great architect went mad!”

Disclaimer: USAopoly sent us a copy of Cthulhu Monopoly for review purposes. Pick up a copy for yourself at Amazon.com for just under $50 for yourself if you’re so inspired. Before the Old Ones get you…

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