Among the successful Kickstarter campaigns within the last year has been Fun to 11's Miskatonic School for Girls, a deck building game focused on a young all-girls school which happens to be run by all manner of Lovecraftian monsters, the goal is to be the one to survive the attacks on your sanity. As my roommate had supported the project, I have been able to play the game over two weeks, so I figured I would share my thoughts.
First, the game is quite gorgeously put together, with artwork that balances well between the cute and school-girlish and the more horrifying and frankly punny takes on Lovecraft's villains and elder beings. Among the noteworthy is Lunch Lady Lulu, who brings to life all the stereotypes of a lunch lady with Cthulhian grotesquery.
The players also all get mats which resemble paddles, harking back to days of yore, and thankfully excluding any overt sexual intent (among my primary concerns when dealing with school girls and tentacles in any way, shape, or form). The cards themselves are of a wonderful stock that makes shuffling a dream, with their contents all displaying various puns on the Lovecraft mythos. If I had a complaint? The paddles also have a track to note where you are on sanity, and the pebble used can move about if you're not careful--which largely becomes an issue during the classroom battles, where you are moving around cards on the center of the board (though you can choose to enact that elsewhere).
As to the game itself? It will not be everyone's cup of tea.
There is a high degree of chance involved in the game. Never quite enough to make you feel like your input is worthless, but enough that the game can quickly veer against you. The two buying tracks are constantly cycling in and out, and your opponent is the one who starts building part of your deck, putting various faculty members in it, whom you'll have to fight once you use them during the resource phase. When fighting faculty? You draw randomly from your deck and use the stats of the girl you selected to off a faculty member or defend against their attack. Draw another faculty member? Great! They go to an opponent's discard pile, but the attack is undefended.
You are dealing with two different resources, and are presented with new options every time, instead of the traditional deck building tactic whereby you purchase from a set pile, there is a chance that you will never quite get what you want, and must make do with what you have at hand and in front of you. Likewise, when entering battles, the girls, on average, are far more likely to be underpowered against the designs of Lovecraft's mind. Given the cutesy veneer, it is a mistake to think this is a game with a happy ending.
Given long enough, all the girls from the various houses will go insane. The aim of the game is to make you lose--to win is to be the last house standing against the onslaught. What isn't asked is how much longer that house will survive. This can lead to a certain amount of frustration, depending on how much control the players want. On the spectrum of games where pure tactics can win versus a random roll of the dice, this game veers slightly more toward the latter; though, again, not enough to mean your input is worthless.
However, there have been games where my purchases against an opponent mixed with a poor draw of the cards has meant he took a sanity hit of ten points in one round. You are designed to lose, no matter what. If you are a gamer who wants absolute control over the situation at all times, this is not the game for you. Then again, if you are such a gamer, I would probably recommend against going near anything with the hint of a smell of Lovecraft's universe. Your control of the situation is typically strongest at the start of the game, but as more cards get added to your deck and the probability of drawing what you need diminishes, you increasingly slide down the path of losing everything.
So, as a product for gamers who eschew ever losing control of a situation, this is not one I would recommend, particularly given the probability that exists in the use of the cards. On the other hand, for those who are a fan of the Lovecraft oeuvre, and rather enjoy reenacting the scenarios of doom and despair that so riddled his works, this is a perfect display that given enough time, we will all succumb to terror and insanity. Given the fact that it can be a relatively quick game (my play times have been anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes), this is easily one that can be played multiple times in a row, or among a plethora of games in an evening.
This game was acquired through the Kickstarter campaign, and has been played over the course of the past two weeks. It is available for purchase at Fun to 11's own store for $45 with domestic shipping, or $54 with international shipping.