Miskatonic School for Girls

From: Fun to 11
Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

Plenty of gamers at some point have made an impulse purchase of a game based solely on the title or the cover art. For me, this happened in the Dealer’s Room at Guns of August 2012 with this game. As a Lovecraft fanboy who especially enjoys the Cthulhu Mythos games which have a silly tone to them, I couldn’t not buy this game. Without even considering what kind of game it was, I plunked down my hard-earned cash for my own copy.

From the back of the box:
“You gather new students to help stave off these wretches and while you’re at it, you send a few of those wretched staff to the other houses. Hey, nobody likes a tattletale, but when your sanity is on the line, you’d start snitching too!”

So having made my rash purchase, what kind of game did I now possess? As it happens, Miskatonic School for Girls is a competitive deck building game. However, a significant difference from other deck builders is that you get the opportunity to build the decks of your opponents. To a certain degree this helps avoid the multi-player soltaire feel that deck builder games can have. As for the premise, you control one of four school houses (house names aren’t provided, so I personally go with Hasturpuff, R’lyehclaw, Ghatanothoador, and Shubbniggurin) at a private girls’ school run and staffed by eldritch abominations and their human minions. Your objective is to recruit desirable students into your house while directing faculty members towards other houses, all the while trying to keep your sanity from slipping away.

Cards are separated into Student and Faculty decks. The Students have feminized versions of character names from Lovecraft’s stories, such as Hannah Armitage and Erica Zann. Meanwhile, the Faculty consist of antagonists and eldritch abominations from the same sources. These are particularly interesting, as some of them come from Lovecraft’s more obscure stories, like The Terrible Old Man and Arthur Jermyn. Blank cards are also included for players to exercise their creativity and are disappointed that there wasn’t a Wilma Whateley card included. Each card has a Friendship Point or Nightmare Point cost (for Students and Faculty respectively) which is scaled appropriately to their stats and special abilities. Each card also has a keyword describing the primary interest (for Students) or staff position (for Faculty). While these don’t have a game mechanic effect, they can serve as useful hooks for players who like to narrate the class sessions (they also provide in-jokes for the attentive Lovecraft fanboys).

Card purchasing occurs at the beginning of a player’s turn. After taking the cards in his purchase pile (if any), the player draws from his deck until he has five cards. These cards are used for the Friendship Points and Nightmare Points which they provide for purchasing new cards. Out of a selection of three cards for each type, the player purchases one Student card (which goes to the player’s purchase pile) and one Faculty card (which goes to the purchase pile of the player to his left). If the player can’t afford any of the available cards or simply doesn’t care for the current selection, he draws a Transfer Student or Substitute Teacher as appropriate. These cards are generics with mediocre stats and no special abilities. But they are free, so you get what you pay for.

If the player was fortunate enough to have only drawn Student cards, his turn comes to an end. But after the first turn, that becomes next to impossible. In that case, Faculty cards from the player’s hand are placed on the Classroom section of the House Board while the Student cards go to the discard pile. Should any of these Students have a special ability denoted as Pre-Class, these may be applied should the player so desire. However, some Pre-Class abilities require that the card in question be removed from the game, so should only be used under dire circumstances.

Class is conducted by drawing a number of cards from the player’s deck equal to the number of Faculty cards in the Classroom. Any Faculty cards drawn are Pet Teachers, which immediately go to the discard pile of the player’s choice. Should any Student cards remain, these are the BFFs used to battle the Faculty. If any of them have a special ability denoted as BFF, these are immediately applied. The Students then total up their Girl Power (the number on the croquet mallet) and distribute it among the Faculty cards. If the Girl Power received by a Faculty card equals or exceeds its Health (the number on the wormy apple), that card is defeated. If all the Faculty cards are defeated, the classroom cards go to the discard pile and the player’s turn ends. If any survive, their total Damage (the number on the spanking paddle) is compared to the BFFs total Resolve (the number on the shield). If Damage is greater, the difference between Damage and Resolve is subtracted from the House’s Sanity.

While minimizing Damage is a high priority, the Survive and Defeat abilities of certain Faculty cards should also be considered. A Survive condition allowed to pass can be even more crippling than Sanity loss, while a Defeat condition met can provide a player with a much-needed edge. If a House’s Sanity reaches zero, that player is out of the game (with the last House standing being the winner). The completely random nature of the Classroom can be off-putting (but there are options, see below), though it could be argued that this makes it truer to its Lovecraft roots. Players getting eliminated one at a time can also be bothersome, especially if someone loses Sanity at an accelerated rate and gets stuck with nothing to do but make snarky comments and going to the kitchen to grab munchies for everyone.

From the back of the box:
“Please remember that parents are not allowed to visit during the school year except for our annual Oddly Shaped Rib Cook-Off that honors the memory of any children that might go missing between now and then”

Two card types which help shake up gameplay are Friendly Students and Aggressive Faculty. Once in a player’s deck, they behave like normal cards of their type. Their uniqueness comes from the fact that they don’t go to the purchase pile when they’re bought. A Friendly Student gets used as a BFF in the Classroom session for that turn, in addition to the normal draws from the deck. This provides an option to make classroom results a bit less random. As for Aggressive Faculty, when one is purchased, the recipient must immediately conduct a Classroom session with it. The purchaser’s turn then resumes as normal.

There are also a few cards which don’t end up in anyone’s deck when purchased. Locker cards go to the Locker area on the purchaser’s House board. These provide a continuous effect of some sort to the recipient’s benefit. Then there are the Event cards, which immediately go into effect when drawn from either of the decks. Sometimes they get used as a Locker card by the player who drew, though this is not necessarily to his benefit.

Overall, this game is best suited for Lovecraft fanboys, as well as those who like narrating random results. For anyone else, it’ll likely come across as just another deck builder game with one unique mechanic to distinguish it from the others. But if you count yourself as one of the above mentioned types, it’ll give you plenty of material to work with.

Rating: 15

Product Summary

Miskatonic School for Girls

From: Fun to 11

Type of Game: Card Game

Game Design by: Luke Peterschmidt

Art by: Betsy Peterschmidt

Game Components Included: 40 Starting Class cards, 51 Student cards, 4 Student Event cards, 46 Faculty cards, 4 Faculty Event cards, 18 Transfer Student cards, 20 Substitute cards, 4 Turn Order cards, 4 House Boards, 4 Sanity Counters, 8 blank cards, 4 ounces hopelessness

Retail Price: $45.99

Number of Players: 2-4

Player Ages: 12+

Play Time: 60-90 minutes

Website: http://www.funto11.com

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck