Wednesday, December 14, 2016

GJJ Games Reviews - Feed the Shoggoth by Squamous Studios

Feed the Shoggoth
Designer: Badger McInnes
Publisher: Squamous Studios
3-6p | 45m | 14+
GJJ Games Reviews - Feed the Shoggoth by Squamous Studios

Game Overview:
With all the games I have, I only had one set in the Lovecraftian mythos; Tides of Madness.  So when I was asked to review Feed the Shoggoth I figured it would be a great opportunity to work on filling a gap in my collection, thematically.  Feed the Shoggoth is a casual card game all about sacrificing your cultist minions to the Shoggoth in order to avoid being eaten yourself.  The theme and gameplay sounded light hearted (for a Lovecraft inspired game, anyway), fast, and interactive, so I figured I'd give it a shot.

Feed the Shoggoth is a take-that style card game for three to six players that takes around 45 minutes to play (although depending on your style of play, it can be a lot quicker or longer).  Feed the Shoggoth was successfully funded on Kickstarter back in July of 2014 and delivered to backers about a year ago.  You can pick up a copy of the game at

Components & Packaging:
For a successfully funded game, the components were somewhat disappointing.  The cards themselves are nice, linen finished cards, and the artwork is nice, but the packaging is horrible.  Feed the Shoggoth comes in an oversized, cheap tuck box.  And it's not even a deckbox sized tuckbox like Star Realms comes in, this is a double-wides box that holds the cards in two separate piles, side by side, with no separator.  This might be acceptable if there was only one type of car, but there are a few that you don't want mixed in with the others, and inevitably the cards are going to shift and get mixed up.  
There had to be better choices for a box to store the game in.
Never mind the fact that the box stock is as thin, or thinner than the card stock and you have a box that'll be tossed in favor of a standard deck box in no time.  There's no way this box will hold up to repeated plays if you enjoy this game.  For a game that nearly doubled its funding goal there's no excuse for such a chintzy box.  If that's your first impression of the game it doesn't bode well.  It really feels more like a prototype than a published game.
I've only had the game a few weeks and the box is already looking pretty beat up.  It's not going to last for long.
I did really enjoy the artwork though.  The character and item art is fun and foreboding at the same time, perfect for a casual Lovecraftian game.  There is more artwork than needed though.  There are several cards with different names and artwork that do the exact same thing.  This adds a bit of superfluous complexity.  There's a lot of reading to learn different card abilities, so why make different cards have the same abilities?  It just adds to the inaccessibility if you can't learn to associate actions with specific cards.  But that's a point for the gameplay section.  I just wish they had taken the money spent on the extra art and gotten a decent box instead.
The art is good.  Nothing that will win awards, but it's thematic and fits the style of the game well.
Why there are so many spells that do the exact same thing as other spells though, I don't know...
Score: 5/10 x1

Rules & Setup:
Setup is super easy.  There are essentially four sets of cards in the game.  Most of the cards are the Spells, Artifacts, Actions, and Minions that will go into a main deck.  There are also ten Cult Faction Leader cards, a Graveyard card (where sacrificed Minions go), and a Shoggoth card that will circle the table looking for minions to eat.

All of the Spell, Artifact, Action, and Minion cards get shuffled into a draw deck and then each player is dealt seven cards.  If any players don't have any Minions in their hand they'll get a new hand until they have at least one Minion.  The draw deck is placed in the middle of the table with the graveyard on one side and a standard discard pile on the other.  The Shoggoth will also start the game in the middle of the table.  Each player is also given a random Cult Faction Leader card.  Each Cult Faction Leader has a special ability that will trigger during certain game conditions. 
Spells, Artifacts, Cult Leaders, Minions, Actions, The Shoggoth, and the Graveyard.
The rules also appear simple, at first glance.  However, as we played we realized that there are many vague areas in the rules, particularly around the timing of when certain cards can be played.

There are four types of cards that you'll have in your hand.  Minions are sacrificed to the Shoggoth to earn you points.  Artifacts can be used on the turn after you activate them to do various effects, but usually only on your turn.  Spells can be used any time, even on someone else's turn, and have various effects.  Actions work just like Spells, but can't be blocked.

In general, each player's turn consists of two phases.  First is the Artifacts phase.  In the Artifacts phase you enable any previously played Artifact cards.  This just means you turn them vertically, indicating that they can now be used.  Then you can play Artifacts from your hand.  When playing a new Artifact it comes into play turned horizontally.  This indicates that the Artifact cannot be used until your next turn.  Technically the rules have you do these two steps in reverse (play new Artifacts then activate existing Artifacts) but it feels much more natural how I described it and I don't believe there are any mechanics in the game that can affect this.
I have a hand of cards ready to go on my turn.
Next comes the Sacrifice phase, and this is where the rules get a bit more ambiguous.  The rules state that you can declare that you are going to sacrifice a minion if the Shoggoth is in front of you by holding up a minion card from your hand.  The assumption then would be that if the Shoggoth is not in front of you then you cannot declare a sacrifice and your turn would be over.  If you do declare a sacrifice, then the other players have the opportunity to play Spells and Actions to move the Shoggoth around or do other, more nasty things.

However, the rules then go on to state that if the Shoggoth is not in front of you, you can then play Spells and Artifacts to get the Shoggoth in front of you.

Then the rules state that you can go around the table and see if any other players have Spells to cast to try and stop your sacrifice.  You can play Spells, Actions, and Artifacts in response.  What's not clear is if these plays are done in any specific order or just haphazardly as players snag opportunities in the quickly changing game state.  It also doesn't state how long this can go on for.  Once around the table?  Until everyone passes?  Can the active player play something in response to every other player's card, or only after all other players have played?

If the Shoggoth is in front of you after everyone has played their Spells and Actions, then you can sacrifice a minion.  If you do, you get a point and the Shoggoth moves on to the next player to the left.activate don't have a minion to sacrifice, then the Shoggoth eats you and you are out of the game.
Sacrificed Minions go to the Graveyard, not the normal discard pile.  This makes Minions a limited resource in the game.
Finally, to end your turn you draw back up to your hand limit (usually seven cards).

The first player to collect three to five points, depending on the number of players, or the last one surviving, is the winner.

Overall, the rules seem pretty easy.  But the number of inconsistencies, contradictions, and ambiguities in the rules really cause a lot of confusion.  Spells can be cast any time, but does that mean any time during the Sacrifice phase?  If it's not my turn, can I play Spells during the active player's Artifacts phase?  Can I play Spells before the active player declares a Sacrifice?  On my turn, do I get to play Spells before I play any Artifacts?  Can I use Spells to move the Shoggoth in front of me before I declare a sacrifice?  Can others mess with that immediately?  Or do they have to wait until I ask if anyone wants to try and stop my sacrifice?  There's just too much that needs clarification.  Yes, you can easily house rule most of this stuff, but a game shouldn't require 2/3 of the rules to be house rules.

Score: 4/10 x2

As indicated in the rules section, gameplay was a bit of a mess.  There were timing and turn order issues constantly.  The game just didn't flow smoothly.  It was hard enough to get the Shoggoth in front of you on your turn without worrying about other players playing spells before you have a chance to do anything.

I think at it's heart Feed the Shoggoth could be a very fun take-that game, similar to Munchkin, but without a lot of the overhead, but it needs a lot more work.  The pieces are there, they just don't work well together.  Some streamlining of the timing and turn sequence, clarification of exactly when cards can be played, and more Shoggoth attacks would really help the game flow.  
There are some great interactions caused by the Spell cards.
There is a variant that has the Shoggoth demand a sacrifice on every turn, regardless of who it ends up in front of, and I think that would be a much more exciting and fast paced way to play.  With the standard rules it is so difficult to control the Shoggoth so he is in front of you on your turn that the game drags and outstays its welcome.  With someone needing to sacrifice every turn, I think the game time would be cut to about 30 minutes, maybe even quicker, which is perfect.  

Score: 5/10 x3

Honestly, I have no real desire to play this again, and neither did anyone I played with.  I think this was mainly due to the pace and follow of the game though.  I can see where the game could have some potential with an overhaul of the rules, but my initial experience with the game was so lackluster that it would take someone else really wanting to give the game a try for me to play again.

However, if there is ever a second edition with all of the rules issues ironed out, I could see this being a great alternative to Munchkin.  If you are into take-that games like Munchkin I can see where Feed the Shoggoth would be right up your alley.  The cards are humorous (you can chase the Shoggoth with a hoard of penguins), there is a ton of player interaction, and it's light enough that the screw-your-neighbor and player elimination aspects shouldn't be a huge deterrent.  It's really the rules that are the issue.
"Those must be some special penguins.  I don't think I've ever seen a Shoggoth move that fast."
The flavor text on many of the cards is great.
Score: 5/10 x1

General Fun:
You can probably guess that the game, as is, wasn't much fun for me or the others I played with.  In fact, they all asked to quit before the official end.  The pacing was all off and everyone was tired of trying to scour the rules searching for clarifications that just weren't there.  For a game that should have been fast, chaotic fun, Feed the Shoggoth just left everyone feeling frustrated and run down.  That's a shame, because I think with a lot of clean up and clarification to streamline the gameplay, Feed the Shoggoth could be a ton of fun.
These guys are the stars of the show.  Unfortunately they can't quite save it.

Score: 4/10 x2

Overall Value:
At $20, I can't recommend Feed the Shoggoth.  Even if the gameplay was fixed $20 would be to much for a game that consists of only 120 cards, a rules sheet, and a piece of junk tuck box.  $15, or even $10 would be more appropriate, but the gameplay needs a lot of work for even that to be reasonable.

Score: 4/10 x1

Final Thoughts:
Feed the Shoggoth felt more like an early prototype than a completed game.  There is a vague impression of a decent game, but it needs a lot more testing and refinement before it's finished.  Unfortunately it is finished.  

If I had played this at a Protospiel event, I'd have given the designer feedback and said I was interested to see where it would evolve to by the next event.  I do like the moving Shoggoth, the different Cult Faction Leader abilities (although they don't seem very well balanced), the way Minions can become a limited resource (although I suspect this isn't as much of an issue in lower player count games), and the player interaction.  Unfortunately all the good stuff is overshadowed by the obtuse rules.

If I had gotten this as a Kickstarter preview I'd have pointed out all the rules issues in the hopes that they'd be fixed for the final printing.  I'd probably have rated this as a 6 as a Kickstarter preview, especially if I had gotten some positive responses from the designer (maybe even a 7).

But for a published game to have this many issues is inexcusable.  It feels like the game was never blind playtested.  Curiously, there are no reviews on the Kickstarter page for Feed the Shoggoth, so maybe it never was blind playtested or sent to any reviewers.  Regardless, it's obvious that there really wasn't enough time put into perfecting the game.
Were this a prototype I'd say it had potential.  But unfortunately it's not a prototype.
So I guess Tides of Madness is going to remain the only Lovecraftian game in my collection.  The only one I'll be playing, anyway.  However, if you really like take-that style games and want a change from Munchkin, you might want to take a look at Feed the Shoggoth.  Just be prepared for a lot of tweaking and refinement to the rules through your own house rules.  If you play as the rules are written you're in for a night of frustration.

Overall Score: 45/100

Want another opinion?  Feed the Shoggoth was also reviewed by Jeremy on the Everything Board Games Network!  Check out his review here!

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GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games.  Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play).  I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game.  A score of 1-10 (low-high) is given to each game in six categories: Components & Packaging, Rules & Setup, Gameplay, Replayability, Overall Value, and General Fun.  Rules & Setup and General Fun are weighted double and Gameplay is weighted triple.  Educational games have an extra category and Gameplay is only weighted double. Then the game is given a total score of x/100.

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