by Steve Jackson
Great minds run in the same gutter.
We had kicked around the idea of Chez Cthulhu before, but John Kovalic didn't know that when he said "Hey, you should do a Chez Cthulhu game, because I SO want to draw the cards."
Twist my ARM, John.
I admit, no arm-twisting was required! Knowing that John wanted to do it was enough to tip the project from "This would be Cool" to "Doing This One NOW." Indeed, notes already existed, needing only to be summoned from the darkness of the hard drive. I like writing Cthulhu stuff, and I like writing silly stuff, and here was the chance to get both flavors in one box. When it came down to it, most of these cards pretty well wrote themselves . . . I know, I know, you've heard that line a million times, but in this case, I mean the cards themselves came back in time and jumped up and down on the keyboard to create the text. All that I had to do was keep the popcorn coming.
That's my story, and I'm sticking to it until I come up with a better one.
By May of '09, we'd already had a few playtests and worked out the worst balance issues. I had specs for most of the art. And what do you know? That was when, by sheer cosmic coincidence, John came to visit. So we went out to eat, and we talked about Cthulhu. And we went to Amy's for ice cream, and I unlimbered the Mac and called up the card database, and on a lovely summer day, with a beautiful breeze blowing, Phil Reed and Andrew Hackard and John and I went over the cards and giggled madly. I wish we could do the in-person thing with every set of cards that we do! Brainstorming with John is fun even by email, but in person the ideas get batted back and forth like . . . SIMILE FAILURE. Like something that goes back and forth really fast and gets sillier with every blow, until MADNESS ensues.
Which gets us neatly back to Cthulhu. I planned that, really.
Over the next few months, John sent us drawings . . . very, very silly drawings. Usually, we just said "Ah hah, great!" Sometimes we tweaked a bit. For instance, the first image of the Lackey showed him in a cultist robe.
But we decided it would be funnier if he looked like a bright-eyed Congressional aide, complete with suit and briefcase, awaiting the bidding of his evil master.
One of our favorite People cards was a "Deep One" takeoff called Deep Juan. He turned out to be John's favorite character, too, and appeared on several cards, often as the hapless victim.
And some of the cards were created from the start with John's art in mind. For instance, one of the Job cards is Dog Walker. This is NOT something that you immediately think of as a horrible, Cthulhoid job. But . . . it depends on the dog, doesn't it? I knew John would come through, and he did . . .
And the playtesting went on. Our new playtest coordinator is Elisabeth Zakes. She was on our editorial staff a long, long time ago . . . Well, now she's back! And she does not fear madness or Cthulhu; indeed, she gleefully spreads madness and Cthulhu to our playtest groups. Some of those groups were never heard of again; in fact, the very towns where they lived no longer appear on the map. (When I hold up two fingers like this, I am making stuff up and you can ignore me.) One of our MIBs returned the playtest set with HIS OWN HEAD in the box. (Two fingers again.) Others sent lengthy responses we could not decipher, seemingly written in some strange tongue in which all of the words are English yet the reader's eyes slide across the page without finding meaning, as his mind goes slowly dead. (That has nothing to do with Cthulhu. It always happens.) And some . . . gave us very useful feedback.
It was thanks to the playtest feedback that we added the Madness mechanic. I'd written up the original draft with no new rules . . . just lots of Cthulhoid flavor text, a new type of Thing (Tentacles), and, of course, the Sacrifice cards. I didn't want to make it too complicated! My worst flaw as a designer is that I like rules . . . and, left unchecked, I write far too many. But the playtesters wanted more, and a couple of groups specifically said "Why can't you go crazy?"
Easily done. Oh, so easily done. It had been in the back of my head all along, waiting to come out. (No, that was the tentacle.) (Two fingers again!) (No, two fingers on the two fingers! Cthulhu fthagn!)
But I digress. The Madness rules were added; we did a second round of testing with the surviving playtesters . . . and the thing was done. You'll see it soon. It will rip away the fragile veil that protects your feeble mind from . . .
Naaah. You'll have fun.
And yes, this game can be combined with the original Chez Geek and so on. The other games, of course, don't have Tentacles in them. That works out, because Chez Cthulhu doesn't have Cigarettes. So, for a combined game, just read every reference to Cigarettes as including Tentacles, and vice versa. Yes, this makes some of the Chez Geek cards deeply, deeply wrong.