Review: The Gate of R’lyeh Board Game

A Game of Horror and Suspense

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Gaming is like going to the movies. Sometimes they are a comedy that are silly and fun for the whole family. Other times a good horror movie seems perfect for viewing pleasure after the kids have gone to bed. Both types of games are fun, but honestly it depends on the mood of those who want to play a game. Up until this point, most of the games we have reviewed have fallen into the fantasy, economic or drama category.

Now it is time to expand our board game palate into the realm of horror/suspense games. With DPH games The Gate of R’Lyeh players investigate a world where the monster Cthulhu stands ready to devour the world. If the investigators seal the Gate of R’Lyeh, they win. There is at least one player who is hoping that Cthulhu will break into this world and that player wins if the investigators fail. The Gate of R’Lyeh is a cooperative game where players do not know who they are cooperating with. This adds to the suspense as the clock slowly ticks down.

Suspense Games Live and Die on the Story

As always, we start of the analysis of a game with story. While story is important to any game, suspense games live and die on the story. If the game is supposed to build suspense and there is a crude joke or silly graphics, then the game starts to fall into the comedy category. The Gate of R’Lyeh is a game that is based in the world of H.P. Lovecraft. This turn of the 20th century author created a world where a cult was trying to bring an elder god from a place of banishment to destroy the world of the living. The heroes in this world are investigators who are regular people with skills. The investigators race against a clock, the cultists and invent their own fragile sanity to try to save the world from a threat that no one sees coming.

DPH games immerses the players into this world in a rather unique way. They begin by introducing them to the world where players explore the reality through the game rather than just a map. This creates an element of suspense this type of game needs. Players become paranoid over who they can trust and who is trying to stab them in the back. If the investigators seal the dark portal, they win. If, however, the cultist get their way, then the world ends. This game is one of the best Lovecraftian games I have played. Not only does the game stays true to the feeling of the books, but it keeps players on edge not knowing who the cultist is. It really creates the suspense which makes these books worth reading over 100 year later. For the story score, Gate of R’Lyeh receives a score of 9 out of 10.

The Artwork Must Support the 1910s Feel of the Game

Alongside the story, the artwork maintains the feeling of suspense. As players immerse in the world of Lovecraft, the art work has to support the 1910s feel of the game. This is supported by character pictures on the player cards being dressed in 1910s garb. The playing cards and boards reflect the dark ages in feel and the symbolism used. These seem “occult looking” while not borrowing from any actual religion. Basically, the art makes players feel like they are researchers at the turn of the century who have discovered an ancient temple and are using “arcane” symbols to seal away a monster. One of the best positives about the Gate of R’Lyeh is DPH did not use real arcane symbols. Doing so would have put the kibosh on reviewing this game. As a result, the Gate of R’Lyeh receives a score of 9.5 of 10 for the artwork.

Mechanics and Strategy Work Together Toward a Successful Game

Yes, the game transports players to an amazing world, but the question is how the game actually works. The objective of the game is to create the four sigils around the game before the doom clock runs out. This alludes to three of the game’s mechanics. First, there is the doom clock. This effect of the game to maintain the number of turns that players have to complete their goals. As a result, this prevents the game from going on forever and creates the feel that if players do not do something soon, the world will end. The cultist simply needs to keep things messed up for a few more turns. The second preliminary element is the creation of the seals. This involves research, playing cards and voting. Each player has their own goals, which makes this part of the game quite interesting.

One thing that makes it exceptionally fun is trying to figure out which player is a cultist and which is an investigator. If a wrong guess is made, the game could come to an abrupt end. The third preliminary element is playing the sigils, which becomes easier when the cultist is identified. This action is still difficult as players do not know what cards their allies are holding. The final element that really contributes to success of the game’s complexity are the “god” cards. These have their own synergies and antithesis dictating what cards players can play to help their cause. Certain cards can serve to hurt players’ opponents, but players are may be stuck playing what they have in their hand. The synergy between the mechanics and the strategy in this game is so strong that we give the game a 7.5 in each category.

A Novel Approach in a Saturated Market

Finally, comes the novelty score. There are several Cthulhu games on the market, so this is a niche market already with several games available. One of the things we see with the Gate of R’Lyeh is they did not take the same path that several of the other game have taken. Arkam Horror, Dunwich Horror and the Elder Signs all have players running around trying to stop the cultist. DPH changes their game up by allowing one of the players to be the cultist. This creates a totally new feel within the world of Lovecraft. The game has a definite sense of novelty in general, but especially within its class. As a result, the Gate of R’Lyeh receives a score of 8 out of 10 for novelty.

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Overall a Must Have Game

The is an amazing little game. The occult nature of some games chases away many players, but players can feel “safe” in this game. The designers built it around a fantasy universe and took special measure not to build this fantasy world around “actual” occult items. This is a game anyone should feel comfortable playing. The +13 rating is accurate, so it may be a little scary for players under 10. The overall score of the game is outstanding with a score of 41.5 out of 50, putting it the class of “must have” games for your game room. We highly recommend this game as it is fun, takes about an hour to play and is designed for 4-8 players. Grab a copy and become immersed in the world of Lovecraft. Just make sure not to be scared out of your sanity.

Christopher W Smithmyer
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