In Case You Missed It: The Star on the Shore for Call of Cthulhu

In Case You Missed It: A New Continuing Series Highlighting Game Products that May Have Sailed Under your Radar

Do you like going insane in the membrane? Do you like reading dark tomes of Forbidden knowledge only to lose your mind from the evil secrets held within? Is your idea of a good time looking down the slimy tentacles of some two-story tall unspeakable horror while you are armed only with a pocketknife and a lantern?

If so, Call of Cthulhu RPG is for you! But, I am sure you already have heard of the excellent RPG by Chaosium. And unless you live under a rock, you are aware that enough paper and pdf supplements are published to support Call of Cthulhu every year to sink the island nation of Iceland. And a good deal of these adventures are quite good…as are a lot of the old adventures from decades past, but how do you discover a gem in all this rough?

The Star on the Shore: Struggles Against Evil in 1920s New England

Well, one adventure published in 2017 stands out from the rest. Author Ben Burns created The Star on the Shore for Dark Cult Games (the publisher is now New Comet Games). The 95-page adventure stands out for the following reasons:

1-Massive Sandbox Setting

The adventure details the events in Rockport, Massachusetts and its surrounding environs. There are 39 separate locations (all stocked with NPCs) in Rockport plus dozens of other locations scattered around (and maybe I shouldn’t give it away, but also under Rockport) for the players to explore. This adventure is big with a capital B-I-G.

2-Detailed Plot Line with Reference Material for the Gamekeeper

The book includes a large reference section detailing the plot events, all the inclinations of the NPCs, The spells, locations of key NPCs, and possible final scenarios. There are the usual stat blocks for NPCs, monsters, etc as well. In short, Star on the Shore doesn’t just tell a story, it provides the numbers, names, information, and material that the gamekeeper will need to run a smooth adventure. And I am barely scratching the surface of how much stuff is in this book.

3-Gorgeous Maps and Handouts

Call of Cthulhu is always best when the players can visualize the setting. Well, set your peepers on this gorgeous map! Did I say it is a two-page tear out too! I didn’t? Well, I just did! Oh, and the gamekeeper has a labeled version of this map (albeit a smaller map).

–now that is a cool map!

And how about these handouts?

–photocopy, cut out, and terrorize the players with the knowledge of the horrors that lurk around them!

4-The Adventure is Top-Notch

Now this is going to be difficult to explain, so I will do my best. The sandbox feel of Rockport allows the players to roam around where they want and set the pace as they please. However…in the background Ben Burns has given the gamekeeper a timeline of events. And these events move day by day! As the players waste time smoking and joking with the locals, the evil plot (of the locals maybe?!?) keeps moving! Thus, the gamekeeper knows what is going on and can use this knowledge to build the tension.

5-Color Coded NPCs

Okay, I can’t take a photo of this because it might ruin the adventure for those who haven’t experienced it yet, but I am going to make this simple: each block of NPC stats has a background of either green, orange, or red. I think we all can figure out what those colors mean…but only the gamekeeper gets to see them, mwah ha ha!

6-This Adventure Takes Time to Complete

It took my group 4 game sessions of about 2 1/2 hours each to finish The Star on the Shore. And everybody loved it! If you like long-ish Call of Cthulhu adventures, this adventure is for you. Did I also say there is a side-adventure included too? Well, there is!

–does this artwork on the back cover give you a clue about the unspeakable events happening in Rockport? Does this scene actually happen in the adventure? You will have to buy it to find out!So, run don’t walk, to your local game store or the internet, and buy yourself a copy of The Star on the Shore. You might lose your sanity and your limbs, but you won’t be disappointed.

Have fun and good luck on those sanity rolls…you are going to need it.


In Defense of American-Style Games: 3 Good Reasons to Play Ameritrash as Seen by a Grognard

With the popularity of Settlers of Catan in the 1990s, Eurogames have exploded onto the American gaming landscape. The emphasis of Eurogames on indirect competition, hidden scoring, broad themes, resource-driven game mechanics, and balancing mechanisms to keep all players “in the game” has proven to be popular, particularly with younger players.At the same time, American-style Games, often denigrated as “Ameritrash Games”, have been criticized, panned, and abandoned by many of these newer players. The critique is that Ameritrash games are either based too much on luck (think Talisman), too much on direct competition (e.g. Advanced Squad Leader), too complex (e.g. almost anything by Avalon Hill or SPI), too theme specific as to not be appealing to the average gamer (e.g. Air Assault on Crete), and too long to play (e.g. The Campaign for North Africa).

Well, as a Grognard (look it up kids if you don’t know what it means), I am here to defend Ameritrash Games with 3 good reasons you should be playing them:

1 – Direct Competition Can Be More Fun Than Multiplayer Solitaire

One of my critiques of Eurogames is that often the game is thinly disguised multiplayer solitaire (in other words, each player plays alone and the end-game scoring determines who played solitaire better). Players really cannot directly confront, impede, attack, etc, each other. Thus, each player’s “strategy” is not truly an interactive strategy, but really solitaire. Good examples are Race for the Galaxy by Rio Grande Games or Cities by Z-Man Games. Often a Eurogame adds one element of direct confrontation, such as card drafting (think 7 Wonders), that isn’t really “direct” confrontation as the emphasis is on denying an opponent a resource rather than taking it from them.

Direct competition in an Ameritrash title is more than just denial, it’s seizure! Take the classic game Dune by Avalon Hill (or the new variant Rex by Fantasy Flight Games). Your units (tokens) will move quicker if they have access to Arrakeen or Carthag. Taking those strongholds gives you an advantage and removes it from an opponent. The battles that I have seen in my 4 decades of gaming in those Dune strongholds are legendary! In a similar vein, Small World by Days of Wonder encourages aggressive acquisition of territory–at another player’s expense (much like Risk). Nothing more fun than making your opponents’ units disappear from the board.

And if you haven’t played Enemy in Sight by Avalon Hill, you are missing out on how much fun direct competition can be. There is nothing more enjoyable than screaming “Breaking the Line” to the tune of Judas Priest’s “Breaking the Law” as you wreck an opponent’s line of ships. I have seen grudges held for years (actually it’s two decades now in one instance) over a well-played Breaking the Line card! Taking the battle to your opponent can be very fun–and memorable!

— you don’t eat the worm, it eats you!

And here is the kicker–luck is NOT involved in battle in any of these games! The common criticism that Ameritrash games are full of luck can be untrue.

2 – Randomness Can Be More Fun than Repetition

What makes Talisman work? The random discovery of what monsters, treasure, etc, lie in every space! Why do battles in Star Wars Rebellion feel exciting–because you have to chuck dice and live with the results. Let’s face it, many things in life are random, and randomness in games is a good thing not a bad thing. Now, we don’t want so much randomness that we are playing Monopoly, but adding a random element can help make a game less predictable, repetitive, and boring. Even the classic Settlers of Catan has two random mechanisms (dice rolls for resources and random bonus card draw).

The main problem with Eurogames is that they are so repetitive due to a lack of randomness. And repetition can be boring. Really good games with repetitive play (for example, Lost Cities by KOSMOS) are fantastic (much in the vein of Rummy, Solitaire, Pit, etc) but a good number of Eurogames are not fun when repetitive. In particular, I find Carcassonne to be really boring due to it being the same game over and over.

— nothing says generic, repetitive play like these components from Carcassonne

3 – Strong Themes in Ameritrash Games Make for Evocative Gameplay

Okay, one thing I despise about many Eurogames is that the “theme” seems to be an afterthought. The game is so abstract that literally any number of broad themes could fit. The classic Puerto Rico by Ravensburger or the more recent Terra Mystica by Feuerland could realistically be titled and themed anything. The games are all about the gameplay “engine”, Puerto Rico has nothing at all about it that is truly Puerto Rico–other than the tacked on place names, currency, etc.

Strong creative or historical themes build evocative gameplay. When I play Dune, I can envision that Sandworm eating my units (even if they are just little round cardboard tokens), I can see the Baron Harkonnen backstabbing me with a traitor, etc. Eclipse by Lautapelit is a rather complicated game, allowing for players to customize their spaceships. Guess what? This detail adds to the space 4X theme and gameplay. Arkham Horror by Fantasy Flight is so thematic that when I play it I can actually feel the Elder Gods returning to Earth.

— Arkham Horror by Fantasy Flight, a million Cards, chits, tokens, bits, etc, but well worth the hours it takes to set it up and take it down

So in short, there is a lot to love about American-style gaming, so don’t believe the “Ameritrash” label and get out there and play a dice chucking, card drawing, heavy themed game today!