A renowned author of horror fiction, H.P. Lovecraft has managed to spread his slithering tentacles of influence all over the gaming world, most likely due to the vast and detailed mythos in his works. Or the popularity could be due to how cool Cthulhu looks on game covers, scaled wings spanning the front of the box and tendril feelers weaving around corners.
Lovecraft’s specific brand of horror concerns itself with cosmic abnormalities that are unknown to human minds and that can never be known. This type of mystery has translated particularly well to board games, specifically cooperative ones, as the players work together to attempt to uncover hidden knowledge, tap into powers beyond human understanding, and defeat gigantic tentacled monstrosities before losing their lives or their minds.
It may surprise you to know, then, that not every game with squids or other cephalopods involves slow descents into madness and pathways to realms of complete and utter horrifying darkness. If you happen to be a fan of tentacles (no, not THAT kind of fan) and of keeping your sanity, these five games take Lovecraft out of the equation but retain all the cephalopodic goodness.
This one may be cheating, because Lovecraft could very well have been influenced by the notion of the Kraken somewhat in his creation of Cthulhu. However, the Kraken is but one threat that the gnomish submariners in Red November are facing. Red November is a cooperative game from Fantasy Flight Games (they certainly like their squids) in which the players try to simultaneously fix their constantly-falling-apart submarine whilst defending it from a nearby Kraken hungry for gnomes. The goal is to survive long enough for help to arrive without completely losing hope as you slowly chip away at the submarine’s ever-dwindling supply of alcohol.
City of Iron
Even though this steampunk deck-and-civilization-building game from Ryan Laukat at Red Raven Games doesn’t have an underwater setting, squids still manage to make a memorable appearance. Players work against each other in City of Iron to take over the entire continent on the board by controlling the flow of resources and conquering land. Wealth in the game is measured by machine parts and bottled demons (which sounds slightly Lovecraftian in nature by itself), and one of the many valuable resources is tentacles. I’d like to purchase “the stuff of nightmares” for twenty seven tentacles, please.
Another cooperative survival game, Space Alert by Vlaada Chvátil places players on a ship in the middle of (you guessed it) space. The players become crew members who embark on missions in real time, making hyperspace jumps to investigate dangerous parts of the galaxy and defend the ship against whatever they happen to find. One of the galactic dangers the crew may face is an “Interstellar Octopus,” (yes, we know, not exactly a squid) which cannot be targeted with the ship’s rockets and IS A GIGANTIC OCTOPUS FLOATING AROUND IN THE VACUUM OF SPACE WAITING FOR SHIPS TO DISMEMBER.
A Kickstarter project by Stefan Feld and Tasty Minstrel Games, AquaSphere takes place on a submarine research station where players form a team to conduct experiments and program various bots in order to gather as much information as possible. All of the players’ efforts are directed towards gaining knowledge points, which can be gained in a number of different ways and require tactical planning of the station’s resources in order to obtain. Squids (or octopuses again, in this case) come into play when they find their way onto the research station and, after thorough investigation by the scientists, become another source of knowledge for the players.
An underwater Game of Thrones, Abyss is a game of strategy and cunning where the players vie for a recently vacated throne to an underwater civilization. In order to gain power, players must persuade other Lords of the Abyss to join their side and support their claim. These Lords are regal squid-people who help the players access different parts of the city. You can also task your octopus emissaries with collecting resources and treasure or send them out to fight monsters, all with the aim of proving yourself the true Ruler of the Abyss.
Can you think of any non-Lovecraftian games that involve madness as a mechanic? And what are your favorite horror board games, squid-populated or otherwise? Let’s lose our minds about this in the comments.