Man vs Wife: Cthulhu Dice

Man vs WifeCthulhu Dice is another Steve Jackson Games original. Designed for 2 to 6 players, each player takes on the roll of a cultist in service to Cthulhu trying to drive the other cultists mad. The last sane cultist wins!

The game comes with a large 12 sided die, 18 glass stones, a ziplock bag and instructions. Yes, even a game about going insane has instructions, not a lot of instructions, but still enough to be very confusing if you don’t pay attention. (Wife: Great!)

Cthulhu Dice

Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn

In normal play, each player is given three sanity tokens. The owner of the game decides who goes first, with subsequent games starting with the winner of the previous. On your turn, you pick a target player and roll the die to attack their sanity. A Yellow Sign means they lose 1 sanity. A Tentacle means the Caster takes 1 sanity from the Victim – unless the Caster is insane, then the sanity goes to Cthulhu in the middle of the table. Elder Sign gains you 1 sanity from Cthulhu (unless he doesn’t have any). Cthulhu showing his face means everyone loses 1 sanity to the center of the table. And rolling the Eye means you get to pick which result happens. Once that is done, the Victim gets to respond to his attacker with a roll of the die. No one can pass when it’s their turn to play, they must roll the die. Once you are out of sanity stones, you are insane. You can still attack other players on your turn, but no one can attack you on their turns, and any sanity you steal (Tentacle) goes to Cthulhu. The only way to regain sanity is for you to roll Elder Sign. The game ends when there is only one sane player left at the end of a completed turn. If no one is sane Cthulhu wins! (Wife: This is confusing.) No. It’s insane! Mwa-ha-ha! (Wife: I can’t believe I married you.)

We decided to play with the two player variant Rival Cults. Each of us gets 3 cultists, but we still alternate turns back and forth between us. The twist here is that since you are playing 3 cultists, sometimes you may want to attack your own side. (Wife: What?) I know! (Wife: Why are you excited?) Because it’s Cthulhu! (Wife: I am placing my face in my palm and sighing heavily.)

We decided (Wife: I decided.) to only play one round instead of a best of three this time. (Wife: I don’t know if I could handle playing this more than once.) Then Cthulhu has already won. (Wife: Don’t make me facepalm again.)

Unlike with Zombie Dice, I’m not going to put in a play-by-play. (Wife: Good.) It really didn’t make much sense anyway, which is kind of the point. (Wife: Seriously?) But I do want to throw in a few things as they happen.

It is important to know that during a turn, for both the attack and the response, the initial attacker is the Caster and the other person is the Victim for both rolls. This is important because Tentacle specifies that the Caster takes 1 sanity from the Victim, so if the responder/Victim rolls Tentacle the attacker/Caster is the one who steals the sanity. (Wife: I guess that makes sense… Maybe.) That happened a few times during play, so it’s not uncommon at all.

I rolled a Cthulhu during the game. (Wife: Is that good?) Everyone lost a sanity stone, and I had my first insane cultist… which I used to attack on subsequent rounds. (Wife: What? Shouldn’t being insane mean he’s out?) Nope. Insane people continue to fight. (Wife: Just like real life!) Exactly! Though, post game I admit it was a mistake. (Wife: Just like playing this game.) I didn’t get to keep any sanity that I stole. If we played again, I’d do it differently. (Wife: But we aren’t playing again.) Well, if I play with someone else then.

She plays very well and all my cultists go insane. (Wife: I win!) Not yet. (Wife: Huh?) We play until there is only one sane cultist. (Wife: But only I have sane people.) Right. (Wife: And I can’t attack insane people.) Correct. (Wife: So, who do I attack?) Your own people. (Wife: Insanity!) Exactly! (Wife: What?) Just roll.

Essentially at this point, I’m attacking her people because I have to and praying to get an Elder Sign to regain a sanity from Cthulhu. (Wife: And I’m attacking myself, watching all my sanity slowly trickle to the middle of the table. Goodbye sanity!) It takes a few rounds, but eventually, she defeats herself. (Wife: I… win?) Yes. (Wife: I win!) Again. (Wife: Always!)

Despite the confusion, I like the game. It plays quickly once you know the rules, and would be much clearer if we had more people and weren’t playing the variant rules. (Wife: Really?) Probably. (Wife: Well, maybe we could play again, with more people.) Really? (Wife: I said maybe. Don’t push it.) Dragon*Con? (Wife: Perhaps.)

As with any dice game, there is math. (Wife: I don’t care what Danica McKellar says, math sucks.) Math is your Cthulhu. (Wife: What? … I don’t … oh. I think I finally understand.) You don’t. (Wife: Are you sure?) No. (Wife: Stop it.) Stop what? (Wife: Stop this insanity!) I can’t! You took all mine. Anyway, back to the math…

The die has 12 sides, 5 of which are Yellow Sign, so on any given roll you’ve got a 42% chance of rolling it. And there are 4 Tentacles, so 33% chance of that. That makes of 75% of the possibilities, so the bulk of any game is going to be a player losing a sanity to Cthulhu or a player stealing a sanity from another player. The remaining sides – Cthulhu, Elder Sign, Eye – each have only an 8 and 1/3 percent chance of showing up, so don’t count on them. In our play, only 1 Cthulhu was rolled, and no Elder Signs or Eyes. It’s only post game that I truly understand the flaw of my attacking with an insane cultist. I shouldn’t have done that. (Wife: It probably wouldn’t have mattered.) Probably not.

Anyway…

Man, 0. Wife, 3.

(Wife: I win! Forever and ever!)

Man vs Wife: Zombie Dice

Man vs WifeZombie Dice is the award-winning dice game from Steve Jackson Games. In it, you play a zombie and try to collect (eat) the most brains. The game comes with a cup (cardboard with two plastic lids for each end) and thirteen dice (and instructions – because selling games without instructions would be very silly – that said, if anyone put out a game with no instructions, it would probably be Steve Jackson Games).

The game is played as follows. The winner of the previous game, or the person who can most convincingly moan “BRAAAAAAAINS!”, goes first, they shake the 13 dice in the cup, then (without looking) they select and roll 3 of those dice. Dice that show brains or shotgun blasts stay on the board, while dice that show footprints go back in the cup. The player can stop at any time to end their turn and collect their points (brains), but if they get a total of 3 shotgun blasts their turn ends with zero points collected for the round. Put all the dice in the cup and pass it to the next player. When a player reaches thirteen (or more) brains at the end of their turn, finish the round and whoever has the most brains wins. If there is a tie for first, then those players play one more tiebreaker round.

Zombie Dice

Braaaaaains!

In our play, being only two players, we decided that simply the first player to 13 won, that way we wouldn’t have to keep track of which one of us went first so we’d know if the other person got another turn. Also, I totally forgot that rule when we played. (Wife: Cheater!) I didn’t cheat. (Wife: But we played without you telling me all the rules!) And? (Wife: Just sayin’…)

Anyway, we settled on playing a best-of-three series. We used the results of playing Life last time to determine who went first. (Wife: And I won at Life.) She went first. (Wife: Yay me!) On her first turn, she rolled three dice five times, ending her round after getting a second shotgun blast and scoring 4 points. I then rolled twice, getting 2 brains the first time and then two blasts on the second and quitting. Her second turn netted 2 more brains in four rolls, quitting when she got her second shotgun blast. For my second turn, I got 1 brain, one shotgun blast and one footprints on the first roll; on the second roll I got 3 brains (Wife: You suck!); on the third roll I got 3 brains again (Wife: You really suck!) and then I quit, scoring seven points for the round – more on why I quit despite only having one shotgun blast later. 2 brains and two blasts on her third turn. 2 brains and two blasts on my third turn as well. On her fourth turn she rolled twice, 2 brains on the first and 3 brains on the second, bringing her total to 13. (Wife: I win!) Only if you stop. You can keep going. (Wife: Nope. I like winning.) I know.

Round two… Despite her winning the last game, she let me go first (Wife: It’s because I’m awesome.) just so that I could see what it’s like to go first (Wife: And because I’m awesome.) and to shake things up. (Wife: Because if I went first, I’d just win.) That too. For my first turn, I got myself two brains and one blast on the first roll, then one brain and two feet on the second, and finally one brain and two blasts on the third. (Wife: Score for the human race!) I exit the round with no points. (Wife: Ha ha!) Laugh it up. (Wife: I will!) For her first turn, she rolls three shotgun blasts, and stops laughing. (Wife: I hate the humans.) Not so funny now, huh? (Wife: Just take your turn.) My second turn is looking good, I’ve got five brains and one shotgun blast, I’m about to stop when I decide to chance it, and get two more blasts. (Wife: The human race strikes again! Ha ha!) So, it’s only funny when it happens to me? (Wife: Yes.) Noted. She racks up 4 brains and stops when she gets two blasts. (Wife: 4 to nothing! I am winning!) Then on my turn I get 6 brains before stopping with two blasts. (Wife: I am not winning.) She gets 2 brains, then I get 2 brains. She gets 1 brain, then I get 3. She gets 2 more brains, and so do I, but my 2 brains happen to be the two I need to get 13 and win the round. (Wife: Come on, humans, kill that zombie!)

Round 3… You see, in a best-of-three series it’s always nice when the first two rounds are split because then you get to play the third round. (Wife: Duh.) Well, it’s better than someone winning the first two rounds and just trouncing the other person into the dirt. (Wife: Unless I win, in which case it is awesome.) And when you lose? (Wife: I don’t, because I win.) Round three goes like this: 2 brains for her, 1 brain for me, 3 for her, 4 for me, 2 for her, 4 for me, 3 for her, 1 for me, and then 3 for her. (Wife: I win!) She wins. (Wife: I win two out of three!) The match goes to her. (Wife: And I rub it in your face!) And I glare at you. (Wife: And I smile.) And I cave. (Wife: And I do a victory dance!)

I love the simplicity of this game. The rules are uncomplicated, and scoring is easy. You can pass the cup around while still having conversations. In that way, it is a very social game. I plan to take this with us to Dragon*Con this year to have available for random games. I also might pick up the expansion, Zombie Dice 2, and a Zombie Dice Bag.

Another reason I like this game is that as simple as it is, there is also deep strategy if you pay attention. (Wife: You paid attention?) Yes. (Wife: But you lost.) Yes. (Wife: I’m going to go grab a nap while you get into boring math stuff. See ya!) As I was saying, there is a little more to the game than just rolling dice. Back up there in round one, I had a turn where I got 7 brains, 6 of which came from rolling 3 brains two separate times, and then I stopped. Here’s why. The game has 13 dice, each of them with brains, blasts and footprints on their sides, but they are also colored green, yellow and red. The green dice, of which there are 6, have three brains, two footprints and one shotgun blast, so a 50% chance of rolling a brain and a total 83% chance of not rolling a blast. The yellow, of which there are 4, have two brains, two feet and two blasts, so 33% brains and 66% not-blast. And the red, of which there are 3, have one brain, two feet and three blasts, so a 17% chance of a brain and a 50% not-blast. That means a red die also has a 50% chance to roll a shotgun blast. On my 7 brain turn, I had 8 dice on the table, 7 brains and 1 blast, and none of them red. That left 5 dice in the cup, 3 red and 2 yellow. I stopped because I felt that as awesome as it was to roll three brains twice in a row, there was a pretty high chance I might roll two more shotgun blasts and lose all those points.

Of course, knowing probabilities doesn’t always help that much. Smart people will sit at a craps table in Vegas losing all day long, or slowly winning small amounts, but then someone will come along who doesn’t know any of the math and will take the house for thousands. A case could be made that I lost round one because I thought myself out of taking the chance and getting more than 7 brains on that particular round.

Anyway…

Man, 0. Wife, 2.

(Wife: I’m back now. I win again! Victory dance!)