Review: Miskatonic School for Girls
Girl’s schools and the Necronomicon go together like peanut butter and chocolate… well at least where Cthulhu is concerned. To the betenticled monstrosity they’re “the two great tastes that taste great together!” Delicious! However, for those of us who are not Great Old Ones, the concept may seem to be a strange and comical juxtaposition. And, it is. It’s also a tremendously entertaining and clever deck building card game.
Miskatonic School for Girls is a new deck building game from Fun to 11. Combinations must be a running theme here, because aside form the aforementioned crossing of whimsy and horror, Fun to 11 also combined two recent tabletop gaming trends: deck building games and Kickstarter. That’s right, Miskatonic School for Girls is one of a recent batch of successful tabletop game Kickstarters.
Miskatonic School for Girls comes in an attractive glossy box. You only need glance at the box cover art to notice a similarity to a certain wizard school’s coat-of-arms. The game includes 178 game cards, four turn order cards, eight “make-your-own” blank cards, four house boards, four sanity trackers, and a rulebook.
The components from box, to cards, to house boards are all high quality. Everything feels well designed and professionally produced. The cards look great. Betsy Peterschmidt has done a fantastic job capturing cartoon whimsy while retaining horror elements. Cards like Crossing Guard Dagon and Lunch Lady Lulu are excellent examples. Humor is there in droves, but the creature still retains enough of its original character to remain frightening.
The rulebook is a short, four page, full color, glossy affair with a great layout. The house boards are long rectangular play surfaces designed to organize each players cards and track their sanity. The boards are illustrated with an image of a traditional school paddle, a chalkboard, and includes a sanity tracker that runs along the bottom edge.
The rules themselves are easy to learn. You can get through the booklet quite quickly, though Fun to 11 has also produced a video in which designer Luke Peterschmidt teaches you the game. I first noticed this trend with some of the Wizards of the Coast boardgames and it is a welcome addition here. Like many deck building games, the strategy comes more from the way the cards’ special rules change or break the core rules, than from the core rules themselves.
Most deck building games begin with a pre-constructed deck that is identical for each player. It is the players’ choices throughout the game that change the deck (using a card purchasing mechanic of some kind). Where Miskatonic School for Girls innovates is in the ability to buy cards to place in other players’ decks to hinder their progress and attack their precious sanity.
Each card can generate a certain number of friendship or nightmare points. Players can use friendship points to recruit new students to their decks (as well as a limited selection of “equipment” that stays in your locker) and nightmare points to purchase faculty to place in your opponents’ decks. New students increase your ability to purchase cards, defend you in combat against faculty, and/or assist in other game phases. Faculty attack opponents sanity and often have special abilities that hinder the opponent in other ways. Under most circumstances you will always play faculty to your left. This can be changed by special abilities and events, but “to the left” is the general rule.
Another unique quality of Miskatonic School for Girls’ gameplay is that you are always adding one card to your deck and one card to your opponents deck (only one each). If you don’t have enough Friendship or Nightmare points you will place a transfer student (in lieu of purchasing) in your deck or a substitute in your opponent’s deck. These offer only minor aids and obstacles respectively, but are better than nothing. At first I found this rule in opposition with my deck building sensibilities (adding cards for free, what?!), but as I played it grew on me and I liked the dynamism it added to the gameplay.
The object of the game is to be the last player with their sanity intact (relatively). This whittling down of players in one of my few complaints about the game. As players lose their sanity they drop-out of the game. Usually games are fairly even, but if by freak circumstance (and we are dealing with Outer Gods here) a player drops out with a significant amount of game time left, all they can do is sit and watch.
Different card effects can lower sanity, but when it comes to sanity drain the heavy lifting is done by the faculty. Every time a player draws their hand (five cards) any faculty are placed in the classroom and must be fought. To do this you draw a card (called a BFF) for each faculty member in the classroom and compare their girl power to the monster’s health. If the girl power is equal or greater the monster is killed, any special rules that activate go off, and the card goes into your discard pile and can be drawn again later. If her girl power is less, the monster deals sanity damage. Compare the faculty’s damage to the student’s resolve. Any leftover damage is carried over to the player.
Multiple combats are possible. A player may pool his/her girl power and resolve and distribute it among the faculty they are battling as they choose. If you draw a faculty card it does not help you defend, but it becomes a pet teacher and may be placed in any players deck. The student and faculty purchase decks also have events in them. Generally, event cards have a global effect which benefits the player who drew the event and negatively impacts the others.
Miskatonic School for Girls plays quite quickly once you know all the basic rules. It is a fun dynamic experience, the kind of game that will have you smiling as you draw cards, and hamming it up with a cackle as your sanity drops.
+ High quality components
+ Easy to learn and play
+ Clever game design with some unique elements
+ Tons of Lovecraft inspired “in-jokes”
– Many duplicated cards (probably for game balance, but I’d still like more variety)
– Players who lose all their sanity are out of the game until you start again
Miskatonic School for Girls is a great way to spend an hour with your friends. I loved directing the deranged faculty to assault my buddies, and as an H.P. Lovecraft fan, appreciated the references to characters and creatures from the famous Cthulhu Mythos. If you enjoy deckbuilding games, Lovecraft’s fiction, or whimsical looks at the macabre, you’ll enjoy this game. It left a sinister, sanity shattered smile on my face, and what more can you ask from a game. Miskatonic School for Girls can be found at your friendly local game store and retails for $45.00