Time for a smackdown! Cthulhu and the King in Yellow engage in a no-holds-barred wrestling match in this oversized, over-the-top card game.
What Is Wrestlenomicon?
Wrestlenomicon is a card game duel designed by Rob Heinsoo for 2 players, ages 12 and up, and takes about 20–45 minutes to play. It’s currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, with a pledge level of $20-25 for a copy of the game. The gameplay is probably fine for kids younger than 12, but the illustrations and titles on the cards veer into PG-13 territory, with a good bit of gore, some potty humor, and mild profanity.
Note: My review is based on a prototype copy, so it is subject to change and may not reflect final component quality.
Here’s what comes in the game:
- 60 Cthulhu cards
- 8 Cthulhu Cultist cards
- 60 Hastur cards
- 8 Hastur Cultist cards
- 6 Attack Track mats
- Ground Zero mat
- 2 Deck mats
- 2 Guts mats
- 2 Discard mats
- 2 Permanent mats
- 2 Cultists mats
- Six-sided die
I’ve called some of these components “mats” to distinguish them from the cards: they’re large, almost square cards used for placement of various cards and decks. The cards from the Cthulhu and Hastur decks are all large, tarot-sized cards, too. Even though this is essentially just a card game, everything is oversized, so it takes up a very wide space on the table to play. I do hope that some of the text and icons are enlarged a little, because even though the cards are huge, the text is tiny.
The illustrations in the game are by Kurt Komoda, and are a ridiculous mash-up of Lovecraft’s mythos and pro wrestling, along with dance moves and rude gestures. Cthulhu is full of tentacles and eyes, and the tips of his tentacles have teeth. Hastur is a faceless mass of yellow fabric, with hints of unspeakable things underneath. The card artwork also features plenty of other Old Ones and creepy critters (or pieces of them). This is not a game for the squeamish!
How to Play Wrestlenomicon
The goal of the game is to reduce your opponent’s guts to 0.
Lay out the attack track in the center of the table, from 6 to 1 and then Ground Zero. The Ground Zero card should be flipped to the side that says “First Attack Slams!”
Each player chooses one of the decks, Cthulhu or Hastur, and takes the corresponding cards. The large mats are placed in a row in front of each player. Set your Cultist cards near (but not on) the cultist mat. Shuffle your cards and place 25 on the guts mat, and the rest on your deck mat. Then draw 7 cards from your deck. Choose a player to go first.
On your turn, you may do one of the following:
- Play an attack card
- Play a permanent card
- Pass and draw cards
Play an attack card
The attack cards in Wrestlenomicon don’t take effect immediately—instead, you’re telegraphing your moves in advance, so your opponent can see them coming. Each card has a number indicating the space on the attack track where it will be played. It also has a momentum number, which is how many spaces you may move a different attack card along the attack track. Each space on the track may only have one card when your turn ends, so if you would end a card’s movement on the same space as another card, you just stop short. (If you play a card into a space with a card and you’re not going to move it, then the existing card is just discarded.)
If you have collected cultists (through various card effects), you may spend them to add momentum so that a card moves further. There are also some cards with an exclamation point next to the momentum—these move all of your other attack cards rather than just one.
If you manage to move an attack onto Ground Zero, then the attack hits. Most attacks do damage, which discards cards from your opponent’s guts stack—some have fixed damage amounts, and some will require a die roll. You also compare your attack type with the top attack card on your opponent’s side of Ground Zero to see if it “slams,” which then activates an additional effect. The four attack types slam in a cycle: Bizarre slams Dominance, Dominance slams Ranged, Ranged slams Viscera, and Viscera slams Bizarre. (The very first attack of the game slams automatically, with the Ground Zero mat serving as a reminder. After the first attack, you flip the mat over to its regular side.)
When you’re attacked, you may play one defense card from your hand if its conditions are met—defense cards may reduce the damage you take, or have other effects. Some defense cards work with any type of damage, and some only work against specific types of attacks.
Play a permanent card
Some cards are marked “Permanent.” These are played to the Permanent mat, and you may have up to 2 of them in effect at a time. When you play one, you get the “play” effect immediately, and then the “permanent” effect is an ongoing effect that lasts until the card is discarded, either because your opponent destroys it or because you discard it to make room for a new permanent card.
Pass and draw cards
If you have 4 or fewer cards in your hand, you may pass to draw 2 cards, or discard 1 card and draw 3 cards.
If you have no attacks or permanent cards in your hand at the start of your turn (and at least 5 cards), then you can reveal your hand, shuffle them back into your deck, and draw back to the same number before you take your turn.
In addition to your one action per turn, you may also play one combo card per turn. Combo cards have conditions that must be met in order to play them, and have various effects.
The game ends when one player runs out of cards in their guts stack—the other player wins! There’s also a scoring chart: based on how many guts cards the winner has left, you get a rating from “Desperate victory” to “Cosmic victory.”
Why You Should Play Wrestlenomicon
Wrestlenomicon is an absurd spin on the Lovecraft mythos, and your enjoyment of it will depend at least somewhat on whether you like your Cthulhu to be serious or silly. If the idea of Cthulhu saying saying “Pop! Got your head!” while literally popping the head off a monster bothers you, then this is probably not the game for you.
Theme aside, though, Wrestlenomicon has some clever mechanisms at work. Because of the way attack cards are played, your opponent can typically see what’s coming. The card you played this turn isn’t going to hit them until at least the next turn—and that’s if you can move it all the way to Ground Zero, which will require another attack card with enough momentum, or sacrificing some cultists. The exception is when you have combo cards, because there are some that will let you move attack cards if you didn’t land an attack this turn.
Hand management is also pretty important: what order do you play your cards so that you can make your attacks hit turn after turn? You want to avoid wasted momentum if possible. If you see that your opponent has an attack lined up that could slam you, can you land an attack to change the current type? When can you afford to pass to draw more cards, and what will your opponent do in the meantime?
Hastur and Cthulhu have somewhat different approaches. Hastur gains cultists more easily, which can be spent for extra momentum but can also help power up certain attacks and abilities. Cthulhu has a harder time getting cultists, but has some powerful combos that can be chained turn after turn. I can’t say that I’ve played enough times to know both decks really well yet, so it’s hard to know how balanced the decks are. I’ve won with Hastur several times—some close games and some not so close—but a friend who played at GameStorm told me that Cthulhu won with 19 cards left in his guts pile, so it was a landslide victory. My guess is that the game can just be a little swingy, depending on the luck of the draw and how well you roll the die when it’s needed, but it’s also a game in which experience and knowledge of the decks could make you better at mitigating bad luck.
I’ve been playing Wrestlenomicon with my 12-year-old daughter (who always wants to play as Cthulhu) and we’ve been having some fun with it. It’s a bit strange to have a 2-player card game that takes up most of a large table. That’s fine at home, but I’m not sure it’s a game I would try to take to play on the go. I think you’d be hard-pressed to make it fit on a standard card table without overlapping the attack track mats. The oversized cards are fun for showing off the wild illustrations and are a fun fit for the larger-than-life theme, but they do lead to some practical difficulties, too.
All in all, I think Wrestlenomicon is a somewhat silly game with some potential to be a serious tactical duel. If you like your Lovecraft with a big dose of humor, and you like 2-player combat, visit the Wrestlenomicon Kickstarter page!
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a prototype copy of this game for review purposes.