Cthulhu Britannica: London
Cards from the Smoke
Rules: Andrew Kenrick
Art Direction: Jon Hodgson
Publisher: Cubicle 7
Page Count: N/A (160 Large Cards)
Available Formats: Print
MSRP – $19.99
Recently, I was traveling for work and had a chance to visit a really nice gaming store just outside of Oklahoma City called Game HQ. Each year I travel to the area for this conference and I make it a point to stop into this store and this year I was able to find a copy of Cards from the Smoke. I was really excited to see it on the shelf because I wasn’t aware that any had made it into distribution after fulfilling their Kickstarter obligations and the sunsetting of their Call of Cthulhu license. Needless to say, I snatched these to fill out my Cthulhu Britannica: London collection.
The cards come packaged in a double-wide tarot sized box; the box itself is durable will most definitely stand up to repeated use. In the box are two plastic wrapped decks of cards and a small multi-fold booklet–nothing more and nothing less. The cards themselves, as mentioned before are tarot size, but they are not as thick tarot cards and feel a little on the flimsy side. The cards should hold up pretty well to repeated use since these are not a constant use item during the game (more on that later), but only time will tell how they hold up.
The cards themselves are beautifully illustrated in the style that fits well with the rest of the Cthulhu Britannica: London books. The art arrangement is done by multiple artists that have their own unique styles. That being said, the imagery all comes together in a nicely arranged way so that each art style compliments the others. The artwork is evocative and can be used as prompts for scenario creation. They are perfect that for that purpose.
What is the intended purpose of this product? Well, there are several purposes according to the rules booklet. The cards can be used for the following purposes and I am sure there are others.
- Keep track of a chase or investigation
- Provide an abstract way to resolve chases/investigations
- Track growing threats
- To illustrate things in the game
- Story prompts for scenario creation (my addition to this uses)
Each card includes several key things that are used in various ways. Cards are made up of a title, artwork, card type (Investigation, NPC, threat or Pursuit), flavorful quote, Icon (threat, location or barrier), eldritch symbols, and references to other Cthulhu Britannica: London books. Ok, the cards have a lot of things on them but they are easy to read and easier to interpret. Next, I will lay out the down and dirty of how to use the cards.
First things first, as the keeper, you need to decide how you want to use the cards. The primary uses are either chase scenes or investigations. Either way, pull all of the pursuit or investigation cards out (separately of course) and shuffle the respective cards together to form a deck. You may also add in any threat or NPC cards that appropriate for your scenario. Set up is that easy! Keepers should not that there are other tips listed in the rules booklet for different ways to approach creating these decks.
Chase Scenes – Flip the top card until you have a location, this is the start location for the pursuer. Next, lay out two more cards in a line, the second card becomes the starting location of the quarry. Finally, flip one more card and this represents either a location the quarry can escape to, a threat to deal with during the chase scene, or some other obstacle they must overcome to escape.
Investigations – Keepers will construct an investigation deck and split it into roughly five piles. Then specific cards (An Important Clue, Scene of the Crime, A grisly Discovery, Strange Artifact, and Odd Murder) are shuffled into these piles. Next, the keeper flips the top card of each pile, these set the scene for the investigators to solve. The keeper will interpret the cards to paint a picture of the scene for the investigators.
Story Prompts – As mentioned I am adding this into the uses since I can see this is the area where, for me, the cards will really shine. I am a fan of using tarot cards to flesh out people and places (GM’s Toolbox – Tarot Cards Can Give NPCs Depth) and I see these cards being used in the same way. The artwork is evocative and the flavor text is well written on each card. While I can’t say that they can be used and applied like the tarot card method, there is still lots of inspiration in the cards. The investigation method previously mentioned can be adapted to be used out of the game for the purposes of story prompts and Keeper inspiration.
I know that I have only provided you the barest of information when it comes to using the cards, despite that, the rules included are well written, concise and should be easily implemented by Keepers of all skill levels. Is this card deck for everyone? Absolutely not! I believe those that want to use the cards as a visual representation of chase scenes will find them useful. Those, like me, that will mine the cards for inspiration will undoubtedly find plenty of use for the cards. Using it for investigations, to me, seems a little limiting. that is unless you are looking to create specific scenes or scenes-on-the-fly, then I think it does a fine job for that purpose. All-in-all I am happy with my purchase and plan to use it the cards for inspiration and to use the “variant” chase rules for faster chases.
Finding this product will likely be a little challenging since very few copies seem to have made it into distribution. First, Amazon currently has copies in stock for just under MSRP and they are eligible for free shipping if your order qualifies. If you’re reading this review after Amazon is out of stock, I would definitely scour the secondhand market — eBay, Facebook sales groups, and G+ marketplaces.
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2 Comments Add yours
I haven’t bought into this product’s usefulness. Everytime I break it out, it just doesn’t click. In practice, I don’t think it really delivers on what it promises. It tries to do a number of things but none of them come off very well. On top of that, the products focuses very much on the London setting. That makes sense given how it is labelled on the box. On the other hand, it asks the Keeper to make all the adjustments. I would have preferred something more dedicated to solving a particular problem, say running chases effectively, and with more generic setting.
Contrary to your experience, I would say the instructions are not well written. They seemed to go for brevity to fit them in the box but lack any example on effective use. The Eldritch Symbols in particular are problematic.
This is something Hobbit Tales does quite well for The One Ring.
I have trouble seeing how this would get much use at my table. I’m more likely to build my own chase solution now.
Thanks for the comments. I agree that the rules are short and brief and that they require the Keeper to implement them without any real examples, which kind of sucks. As I stated in the review, the cards are not for everyone. I don’t plan to use them for much except as stroy prompts for London themed games. With that being said, as prompts for creative Keepers this cards set is pretty useful.
As far as the other “things” the card deck was created for, you’re right, there is work that is imparted on the Keeper and could have been better implemented or thought out. If I recall this being a stretch goal for the boxset Kickstarter campaign. It’s possible, and likely, that it was hastily taken from concept to production without enough thought given to actual usage.