Think H.P. Lovecraft and tentacles and you’re heading in the right direction with this creepy game of bluffing and outwitting opponents in a race to gather magical ingredients.
|Night of the Grand Octopus||IELLO||Board Game|
In The Box
Minimal and abstract games are great but sometimes you really just want to geek out on great packaging, lavish components, and a game that doesn’t require hours and multiple play sessions to understand. The worst we can say about Night of the Grand Octopus is that it requires some assembly. Once everything is put together you end up with a few circular game boards, a bunch of sturdy cardboard tokens, wooden character models, and five special clock-dial player mats. There are also small wooden cubes and a knife-shaped track called the Dagger of Power that measures your cult’s power. Back to the point about “some assembly required,” you’ll need to put stickers on the front and back of those character models, which requires a lot of patience. Adult supervision required, unless you want to end up with a weeping child.
The player mats are designed with two round dials representing a clock face, but a very sturdy one that will hold up to heavy use. These clocks were realized (like every other element in the game) with lots of color and designs that bring to life the world described in the game’s backstory. The illustration style is creepy but not in a scary way that will freak out younger kids. It’s more in the vein of Harry Potter than Goosebumps, but far enough toward the latter to make things feel exciting. The tokens consist of objects like potions and skulls being placed in locations like a laboratory and crypt, showing the dark thematic side of Night of the Grand Octopus. We especially appreciated the fact that the game’s manual outlined in detail how to modify the setup for different groups or players of different abilities. The fact that a game has enough depth to be adapted this way is a good sign, not to mention the fact that its creators spent enough time testing to understand how to effectively reach their audience.
How It Plays
Night of the Grand Octopus takes the traditional race game and throws in a pinch of classic horror novelist H.P. Lovecraft. You’ll play as a cult leader intent on binding the titular creature through a ritual that requires magical objects scattered across the grounds of an enchanted university. Each room becomes a potential battleground as you try to guess what ground other cults will attempt to claim, then deploy your cultists and fiendish Offspring accordingly. If you can manage to pull together enough magical items and survive the conflict with your cult’s power high enough, you’ll win the day and summon The Grand Octopus to do your bidding. What this summoning means for the rest of us, we can only guess…
The mechanics of Night of the Grand Octopus are extremely simple. Each player holds a Command Clock that is set secretly each round to plan where Cultist and Offspring characters will travel next in the university. Movement rules are different for these two types, and conflict happens in rock-paper-scissors style when one of your characters ends up sharing space with another cult. The possibilities are that you’ll gather a needed item, work out some compromise to “live and let live,” or try to fight it out and lose valuable Cult Power. If your power drops far enough you’re out of the game, so guessing where your opponents won’t be ends up more profitable than looking for a fight. The social aspect of negotiation is less interesting than the mind games of wondering which items other cults are after and blocking them, all the while attempting to make your own preparation for the ritual.
The recommended age threshold of 7 is lower than we’re used to seeing, but it’s on target thanks to some simplified rules. The elaborate setup makes Night of the Grand Octopus really exciting and fun for young ones to play, and hopefully we can all agree that creepy universities and dueling cultists make for a more interesting race game.
Having to put on those stickers nearly killed me, and even trying to channel all my hobby-model-building Type-A qualities I still managed to rip one slightly. That aside, the wooden characters feel great in your hand and the two-sided stickers are a nice touch.
Even though it looks like it will take a while, this is a really quick game. There were times when it felt like people got obsessed over one room or were camping out with their Offspring, which was a little frustrating. There is some luck involved, but the strategy comes from thinking about what items other players have collected and guessing their next moves.