Any game that features CTHULHU is going to be popular whoever the designer and publisher are and however the game plays. WAKE UP CTHULHU! is a card driven game with a board for multi-players (2-4) used in a somewhat similar fashion to Knizia's LOTR game whereby the players Cultists are placed on a spiralling path towards Cthulhu's Pit whilst Cthulhu himself moves slowly, but with deadly intent, towards the players, eventually meeting up with them.
So picture the scene. The cavern is deep and dark lit only by a spiralling path of small lighted candles. The spiral arm turns inwards on a slow curve with the candles providing just enough light from one to the next. In the deeply black centre of the spiral something stirs, you cannot see it but you can feel its presence and it is a monstrous sensation, enough to make the hairs on the back of your neck bristle tautly. Your mind begins to play tricks on you and fear makes every step you take leaden, but still you proceed, the foul evil creation must be destroyed. With companions behind you, egging you on, err I mean supporting you with words of encouragement, you take another step and then another. Suddenly the darkness in front of you intensifies and becomes even darker, though you wouldn't have thought that possible, a freakishly grotesque inhuman shape looms out of the depth of the deep dark pit towards you. In the grim light from the candles you now get to see Cthulhu standing before you, his shape hitherto never before seen by mankind ... he is a Green Meeple!
It is a shame that the budget couldn't run to a Cthulhu model (Playroom Entertainment managed to produce them for their "UnSpeakable Words" game and that is now quite a collectible game) because the mood around the table definitely changed once the Cthulhu meeple figure is removed from the box. Yes I know it is only a marker and anything could be used but the box art shows a monster's tentacles amidst green flames and surrounded by frightened cultists and the perception is that inside the box will be found Cthulhu (okay most people would expect a Cthulhu model but not a green meeple) himself; even the back of the box art suggests at least a platicised or rubberised Cthulhu tentacle, anyway thankfully that's the only disappointment.
The game consists of two decks of cards, the Blue backed Grimoire and the Brown backed Ingredients. The Grimoire is prepared by shuffling the deck and then creating 6 equal sized smaller decks with their top card face up on display. Some of the cards in the Grimoire are Curses and whenever one of these is turned up it has to be resolved immediately. WAKE UP CTHULHU! has a unique manner for choosing the Start Player - it is he/she with the most bulgy eyes and thus an heir of Dagon. Players start with a hand of 7 Ingredients cards (excluding objects) and may do one of two options in their turn: Conjure a Grimoire card or Advance on Arcane Knowledge.
Conjuring a Grimoire card requires that the player discards the required cost of the card in ingredients from his/her hand. The Grimoire may be eitheran Object or a Spell. If it is an Object it is placed in the player's hand to be used when needed, but if it is a Spell it has to be immediately resolved; used/discarded cards are put into the Grimoire Discard Stack. Players may hold any number of Objects but can only use one of a type in a turn. On the right hand side of the Grimoire cards is an Arcane Knowledge cost and to perform this action the player pays the cost as shown on the card and then takes the reward in Knowledge tokens in their colour, placing them onto the spiral spaces (candles) of the board. Depending on the number of players the spiral begins at the first Red candle, the First Purple candle or the first Yellow candle - the more players the higher up the spiral they begin placing tokens (ie 4 Players Red candle). When Curses are resolved Cthulhu moves from his pit towards the player's Tokens.
There are five different Ingredients plus "Jokers" which can be used for any colour. The Objects have different effects, these being; Daemonum Prestigis, Ran-Tegoth, Ulthar and R'lyeh. There are three Curses; Stellaris Seminum, C'thonian and Yuggoth. and six Spells; Clavicula Salomonis, Liber Ebon, Necronomicon, Picatrix, Pkanos Skriptum and Vermiis Mysteries. All of these are fully explained in the rules booklet. The artwork, mainly by Evelt Yanait, is very good on the Object cards and acceptable on the Ingredient cards and all are in the style of a family friendly Cthulhu.
The kicker is that CTHULHU always wins. However as Cthulhu himself is unlikely to be sitting around the table with you, other than in spirit of course, the human winner is the player who has managed to get and keep the most supporters on the spiral trail when Cthulhu eventually ends the game by reaching the nearest supporter to him. If there is a tie in number of supporters Cthulhu declares that the supporters (of those tied for first place) who are closest to him are the bravest and thus they are to be spared . . . for now!
Putting the CTHULHU name on what is basically a recipe game adds a fun twist to an otherwise regular family game. The thought behind this is rather baffling because most players would think that a company publishing a Cthulhu based game would be aiming its mechanics and options at core board gamers, and yet the game is aimed at players aged 8+ who probably have never heard of H.P. Lovecraft or Cthulhu. As a 30 minute game it's a fun filler between longer games during a games session or to play when time is short and players do not necessarily have their brains completely in gear.
There is a solitaire variant which uses the flip side of the playing board and which plays slightly differently as the goal is to reach the end of the spiral path before Cthulhu awakes. Personally I'm not a great fan of playing board games on my own, I prefer PC, online or electronic games. I also don't think there is enough of an enjoyable challenge in WAKE UP CTHULHU! even with the rules amendments to make it playable solo it's definitely a multi-player entertainment. Expect to pay just under £20.00 for it.