I just picked up this interesting little title after reading a nice review of it online as I was looking for good campaign systems. I would call this a rare entry into the category of “Narrative Wargame”. A narrative wargame differs from a Campaign Game in that it has campaign elements, but only one group actually uses it, while the opponents are controlled by a GM like player. Technically, the “Lurkers” or bad guys are supposed to be controlled by alternate players, but I foresee one player creating a linked series of games while the other runs the “heroes”. Another interesting bit about this game is that it is set in the 1920’s and is firmly placed in the Mythos of H.P. Lovecraft and his ilk.
The game does not really have any design notes, but there are a few things you can surmise about the writer’s intents. Instead, the forward is a bit of semi-in-character ranting about unspeakable and nameless horrors encroaching on the mind that led to the rules. The game reminds me a bit of Frostgrave because the mechanics of the game itself are simple, basic, and few; with the bulk of the rules are based around the campaign and development.
Things I Like
I am always a fan of campaign play, and this game delivers it. Each model starts with basic stats and skills and equipment. As they play, they will gain injuries, equipment, and skills. The two most interesting features in this game are that the injuries are not just physical, but psychological as well. Characters will gain phobias, madness, and Black Marks. These represent their exposure to blasphemous, hideous monstrosities; and the corrupting and wicked things they need to do to face them. This is a nice change as most campaign games focus on physical damage only. I also liked how when terrible things happened to your compatriots, such as being eaten by a Gibbering Horde your models would need to take insanity checks.
In this game, both players do not have a warband like in many camapign games. Instead, one player hasthe warband of threshold Agents and they are opposed by the GM who controls the “lurkers”. The lurkers are expected to get killed off in each mission, but try to stop the Threshold agents from accomplishing their missions. The game has a huge list of “Lurkers” to choose from to oppose your Threshold agents. It has most of the basics with a heavy dose of Lovecraftian evil. This means the opponents will be varied and range from the alien, undead, beastly, and to corrupted and mundane humans. Typically, the number of points spent on Threshold agents would translate over to the number of points spent on “lurkers” to create a “balanced” game.
The “Lurkers” had some interesting campaign related objective they could attempt and that Threshold agents could attempt to thwart, my favorite being a re-enactment of the play The King in Yellow. This touch makes sure that the GM can do some interesting plots with his “Lurker” and not let the Threshold agents get all the advancements.
Finally, there is a “generic action” that allows you to do things like consecrate a grave, interact with an object, do a bit of role-play, etc. This generic action could really open up the door to some cool scenario/light RP elements in the game.
The game has a variety of scenarios. My favorite are Quest scenarios that can only be activated by finding Map Pieces in regular scenarios and turning them in to play a Quest scenario. That is a neat mechanic.
Things I Did Not Like
This is a relatively lethal campaign game. As I read various battle reports and Campaigns, it seemed like Threshold agents were getting killed left and right. I am not opposed to a lethal wargame, but it defeats the purpose of a campaign game if before your characters can get interesting with injuries, phobias, skills, and gear they are dead.
In addition, there is very little reason for the “Lurkers” to run-away or flee the battle. They always seem to fight to the death. Again, this seems unrealistic as if the Cult Leader and all his henchmen are killed, how do they continue their evil plans? The game has a set of Nemesis rules for enemies thwarted continuously; but from my readings of the rules it looks like no-one would survive long-enough to have a nemesis. There are no rules for Lurkers running away and ending the scenario, they fight to the death.
Despite the focus on Insanity and terror, the morale rules need a bit of work. They are a bit unpredictable with agents freezing up, running, or going crazy and attacking. For a game based in the Mythos, they seemed to be a bit random/not important enough. Again, I felt like both sides would just fight until one or the other was wiped out and any momentary insanity would quickly be passed by.
The core game runs smoothly enough, but I do not feel like there are many opportunities for decision making. It runs on Nominating 1 model per turn, but if that model has the “Command” skill or similar they can allow a couple other models to activate as well. In theory, this seems okay but what it does in practice is to bunch up your investigators and not allow them to move freely about the board as individuals. Models are forced to act a bit as a “unit”. If models do not stick together, they will end up getting isolated and the “Lurkers”/Threshold Agents will close in and quickly overwhelm them. It makes some sense thematically, but reduces some of the open-ended possibilities of the game.
Meh and other Uncertainties
The core mechanics for shooting and injury are pretty basic. Roll over stat to succeed. However, the more you succeed the more you potentially wound when attacking. That is a nice touch.
Each model gets two actions when nominated. However, each turn only allows 1 model to be nominated so Characters with the ‘Command” skill become critical as mentioned above. Actions are moving, shooting, charging, and Generic action (Like read a book, cast a spell, use a psychic ability, etc.)
Threshold Unit creation is straight forward and simple. Personnel Points plus Equipment Points with four model types is the cost of the unit, with starting units being 15 points. The four types are Characters, Agents, Civilians, and Children. Each also can get a single skill to start with. Choosing Lurkers is pretty much the same, except they change every game.
Map pieces are the resource of the game. They are discovered by winning scenarios. Map Pieces can be turned in for Quest scenarios or to hire Threshold specialists that remain part of the team for 2-5 missions. They are a good way to juice up a team with some specialist power.
I get the impression that there are few differences between this second edition and the First edition, but I am unable to speak meaningfully on this topic.
This was a game system built to support a campaign mechanic; therefore the in game rules are relatively light and emphasize ease of play. It would be easy to run through an entire 3 game mini-campaign in a single night. In addition, you can’t beat the campaign setting for coolness. However, I am unsure how sustainable it would be long term as the rate of Threshold Agent turnover seems to be high enough that by the end of game 5, none of the original agents would be left alive!
I am really glad I purchased this game as I think it has gotten me excited about Campaign play again. However, I think I can only recommend this to folks who really like the Lovecraftian Mythos and don’t mind being the GM once and a while. I think for more standard wargamers, they will want to stick with a more straight forward PvP game.