Night of the Grand Octopus

The night is dark and full of terrors… Well, of course it is! You’re the one trying to summon them! When I was at GenCon back in August I saw a promotional banner for a game that had me wanting to buy it immediately… but there was none to be had. More recently, when at local FLGS X-Planet to snag Blood Bowl, something caught my eye on the board game shelves. Ladies, Gentlemen and cultists in service to tentacled gribblies, it’s the Night of the Grand Octopus! Come with me as we stalk the otherwordly halls of a very mysterious tertiary education institution and attempt to bring forth the end of all that is.

The premise is simple. The stars have aligned, the auguries ring true – it’s time to crack open the walls of reality and let your betentacled deity of choice through into the real world, all you need is four components to complete the ritual, and conveniently they’re all at the same university. You sneak on site and begin your search, only to find…

… you’re not the only cultist in town. There are others here, seeking to open the gates of reality for their own elder things! The race is on. Get the materials you need to bring your otherwordly fever dream to life, while thwarting those darn heretical -other- cultists. Let’s pop it open!

See this? This is a beautifully presented set of board components. Yes, I’ve put everything together, but look how nicely it all fits into the box’s plastic inlay. So nice. Let’s run down the contents and talk about how it’s played.

Each player – up to five – get a dial that’s used in a similar fashion to X-Wing’s dials. You issue commands for your cultist and your Junior Squiddly Thing. They’re called Offspring in the rules, but we just referred to them as Squiddlies. The wooden tokens come undecorated, and there’s a sheet of stickers to apply to them. Note when doing so to be especially careful with the “ears” of the squiddlies. I think I managed to tear 7 of 10 (the pawns are double-sided) trying to remove the stickers from their backing.

Every turn you’ll spin the two pointers – the dagger-clutching cultist and the tentacled extremity – to indicate where your pawns are going to be each turn. You’ll keep this secret from your opponents, until a simultaneous reveal. You can send your cultist and your squiddly to one of 7 different locations…

The board has 6 of the 7 locations on it, and each will have a stack of components that you’re trying to gather. The thing is… you can only collect a component if you’re the only cultist in the room. Waitaminute, Gdaybloke, didn’t you say 7 locations? There’s only 6 on the board…

That’s because the 7th changes every game. There are two double-sided discs which represent pocket dimensions or special locations that have spoooky special rules. You’ll use *one* of these every turn, each with its own rules, adding to replayability and each potentially dramatically changing the game. One even lets you switch components from your opponents…

Speaking of, there are seven different components, each to be found in a separate part of the board. To win you need to be the first to collect four *different* components.

The last component is the sacrificial dagger of power. As your cultists run into conflict they’ll lose power… Lose all your oomph, and you’re out of the game. Unless I’m mistaken there’s only ONE way to regain lost power, and it’s in one of the pocket dimensions… only one of the four, and remember – you’ll only use one each game, so more often than not there’ll be NO way to regain lost power.

To play the game, each turn you use the dials to indicate where your cultist and your squiddly are going to be for the turn. Everyone reveals simultaneously, and pieces are set on the board to see who was successful in gathering a component. Here’s where it gets tricky and you start playing with each other’s heads.

To collect a component, you must be the only cultist in the space… and alone. No witness.

If there are any squiddlies with you, you (and all cultists also there) must fight! Defeating the squiddly takes energy and power… your token on the power dagger drops one level closer to oblivion. No component for you, since you were too busy thwarting a squiddly.

If there are any other cultists with you (and no squiddlies) you have to decide. You can fight (everyone loses power, no-one gets a component), you can look askance at each other and all walk away (no-one gets a component), or if you want to be political and barter an alliance or somesuch, you can choose for ONE cultist present to get the component. Thing is… everyone agrees, or it’s down to fisticuffs.

Depending on which of the six spots a player is on, there are only so many options for them to move to, as they must follow the staircases around the board. If you can predict where an opposing cultist is moving to, you can put your Squiddly in his path, denying him a component and forcing him to lose power.

Alternatively, you can go to the pocket dimension by setting both your cultist and squiddly marker to the same location – any location. You can get there from anywhere on the board, so it’s a convenient escape… but if do, your squiddly doesn’t roam the university that turn, allowing your opponents to squirrel their way around without your interference.

And so you have to weight the odds in your head. Yes, the pocket dimension with its special rule (whichever one you’re using) awaits, but while you’re there, your opponents could all be getting a step up on you. Of course, should one of your opponents *also* pop over to the pocket dimension, you’ll be too busy thwarting each other and neither of you will achieve bupkiss.

So what you have in the end is a beautifully packaged game with fantastic art assets, build around what turns out to be a very straightforward game mechanic, with games (at three players, at least) taking less than 15 minutes, making it immediately suitable for competing to be first to three or five wins, or even to be able to switch players in and out with spectators in a larger gathering.

It’s a fun game, it’s simple enough that casual gamers will pick up the mechanics very quickly, the strategic aspect of plotting where to send your cultist and your squiddly to hopefully score you components and thwart your rivals adds depth, and the pocket dimensions add variety and replayability through their special rules.

All in all, a bloody fun time, and per my playmates TheGreatGaspy and HuntressKaya (whose online name I don’t know so I’m granting her one based on her preferred Hordes faction), there’s potential to turn this into a suitable late night game with beverages for those old enough to imbibe…

Recommended for fun and shenaniganry.