H.P. Lovecraft undeniably changed how we look at fantasy and helped to bring it out of obscurity.
The worlds he built inspired numerous authors and spawned countless spinoffs based on the mythos. It’s an absolutely fascinating place to get lost in and lose your sanity.
Today we’re looking at the best Lovecraftian-inspired board games.
Table of Contents
Our Top Picks for Best Lovecraftian Board Games
In a hurry? Check out our favorites below.
Arkham Horror: The Card Game
Playing time: 60-120 min
The Arkham Horror card game delves deep into the Cthulhu mythos.
The Arkham Horror card game is/(was) a living card game. That means that after the release of the initial base set of the game, a brand new expansion set would come out regularly adding to the impressive amount of cards available until your shelf was covered in little boxes. It’s similar in concept to the Game of Thrones card game.
Arkham Horror: The Card Game focuses more on story-building elements than some of the others that I’ve seen. It’s a cooperative adventure that plops you straight into the pages of a Lovecraft novel, and you need to figure out how to survive. How you do that is entirely up to you, and watching your characters’ reactions and progress is just as fun.
After all, opening a door and coming face to face with a Shoggoth is likely to make anyone go a little nutty.
Mansions of Madness (Second Edition)
Playing time: 120-180 min
If the thought of reading through one of the tomes (rulebooks) necessary to play some of these Lovecraft-inspired games sends you into convulsions of madness, then maybe step into Mansions of Madness.
This cooperative exploration game has players wandering through an eldritch-infested mansion that constantly shifts every game. That’s because the game is run through an app that determines encounters and basically runs the rule side of the game for you. It lets you focus on what’s really important like trying not to die and enjoying the game.
The first games that tried to add technology to board games were largely gimmicky like Operation or Atmosphere, but with time comes progress, and Mansions of Madness is one of the best tech-enhanced games I’ve ever seen. It makes everything run smoothly which makes it one of the easiest Lovecraft gateway games on this list.
Playing time: 90-120 min
Are you sick of trying to stop eldritch horrors from destroying the world?
Do you feel like just giving up and accepting the madness?
Why not try Cthulhu Wars where you get to be one of the madness-inducing horrors from the deep?
Cthulhu Wars is an area control strategy game where each player controls one of the ancient horrors and attempts to take over the world.
This game is BIG!
It was crowdfunded on Kickstarter to start production, and has some seriously crazy minis that push the definition of “mini”.
There are 4 factions in the game with each one having variable powers.
Pick your favorite, gather your cultists, and plunge the world into darkness.
Playing time: 120-240 min
Eldritch Horror is the evolution of Arkham Horror (#5 on the list). It’s a worldwide epidemic that threatens the world starting with a capital “C”. No not COVID. I’m talking about CULTISTS!
Eldritch Horror is a globetrotting cooperative adventure in which our intrepid investigators track down clues left behind by cultists and horrors before the Ancient One awakens. The investigators need to fight to keep their sanity through events around the globe and stop the ancient ones from awakening.
If you’re looking for a thematic Lovecraft game that offers an insane amount of replayability, Eldritch Horror is a rabbit hole of gaming that you can get lost in, especially when you consider the insane number of expansions available.
Arkham Horror (Third Edition)
Playing time: 120-180 min
Arkham Horror was my first real foray into the world of Lovecraft. I hadn’t read or really understood any of the mythos and Arkham was my first introduction. It was also one of the first heavier (both weight and gameplay) games that I ever played, so it’ll always be a favorite of mine.
Arkham Horror puts players in the shoes of the investigators as they attempt to corral the sleeping ancient ones and stop them from being unleashed upon the world. It was the precursor to Eldritch Horror, and most of the complaints you can find have been fixed with the 3rd edition. The rules are clearer, the gameplay is streamlined, and it’s still just as fun as ever facing down Yoggoths and Shuggoths in dark alleyways.
Playing time: 150 min
Machina Arcana is a solid dark and gritty dungeon crawl.
Players progress through a series of interconnected missions leading to an ultimate showdown with an elder creature.
The artwork, minis, and gameplay lead to a very technical dungeon crawl that will have you strategizing and picking out the perfect equipment to slay the creatures from the deep.
There’s a lot of flavor text that brings the theme to life, but behind all of the incredible artwork is a hardcore dungeon crawl that will have any strategy fans itching to dive back in.
Playing time: 60-120 min
Mythos Tales is seriously old-school cool.
Players will be given a scenario and will need to scour the city of Arkham during the 1920s. You’ll be armed with your wits and a newspaper.
In each game, players will be given a scenario to investigate and a handful of clues. It’s up to the investigators to scour the local newspaper for clues on the comings and goings of cultists and where they need to go to find leads.
It’s a fun little mystery game that’s just cool to see. The newspapers are all full of random clues that will leave you guessing, and at the end, you’ll be left with a sense of accomplishment and a story to tell. The game is designed to be replayable, with different outcomes and paths to explore in each scenario. The atmosphere is thick with tension, as the dark and mysterious world of Arkham comes to life around you.
The game encourages teamwork and strategic thinking, as players must work together to piece together the clues and solve the mystery before time runs out. The game is a nod to the classic detective stories of the past, with a Lovecraftian twist that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
Whether you’re a fan of mystery games, Lovecraft, or just looking for a fun and engaging game to play with friends, Mythos Tales is a must-try.
Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu
Playing time: 40 min
Normally, when you have a themed variant of an established game it ends up being a re-skin of a classic that’s almost exactly a replica of the original.
Reign of Cthulhu manages to avoid this trap by utilizing the core Pandemic mechanics with a heavy dose of Lovecraftian madness to create a really unique game.
The usual outbreak mechanics will be familiar but instead of disease, cultists will swarm the board and need to be handled. On top of that, the investigators will need to seal portals before the ancient one awakens. Reign of Cthulhu comes with a surprising variety of Ancient Ones to battle and offers a wide variety of strategy that are not normally seen in a themed variant game.
If you’re at all a fan of Pandemic, Reign of Cthulhu will be easy to jump into but offers a much different experience overall. I’m very impressed with how they took the core mechanics and blended them seamlessly with all new dangers.
Shadows Over Normandie: Achtung Cthulhu
Playing time: 30 min
There’s always been a weird association with the World Wars, Cthuhlu, and Nazis. Probably because it was a weird time period when fiction was becoming reality and things thought to be impossible were being emphatically proven to be true.
Shadows over Normandie is built on the Heroes System from Devil Pig Games. It’s a wargame-driven system for a serious 2-player clash. It’s an epic system that’s been labeled a miniature wargame without the miniatures. Instead of painstakingly recreating each individual unit in mini form everything comes prepared in the box full of punchouts ready to fight your opponents.
Playing time: 90 min
If you’re looking for a bit more madness and randomness in your games, Elder Sign delivers an amazing thematic Lovecraftian experience. Elder Sign is from the same designer and publisher as Arkham Horror, so you’ll see a lot of overlap as far as characters and art design but after that, things start to diverge.
Our investigator team will need to search the museum where the Ancient One will attempt to awaken and take over the world. Elder Sign primarily uses dice mechanics to determine successes and has often been compared to an Eldritch Yahtzee. It does use Yahtzee-like mechanics but it’s a little more than that. Players will be able to use character abilities, equipment, and magic to give those dice a nudge in the right direction.
Saying this is just a thematic-looking game is like saying the Carolina Reaper is just another chili pepper.
Tides of Madness
Playing time: 20 min
Tides of Madness is the more thematic cousin to Tides of Time. The entire game consists of only 18 cards and a handful of tokens, making it an excellent travel game.
Players will take turns drafting and scoring cards to come out on top with the most victory points. Unlike its predecessor, Tides of Madness introduces a new mechanic to the mix. In addition to trying to score the highest, you’ll have to avoid going insane. Of course, the higher point value cards aren’t free. They come with a penalty and gain you a bit of madness. If you gain too much then you’re knocked completely out of the game.
It’s rather refreshing to see a gorgeous game that doesn’t need a full dining room table to play.
Mountains of Madness
Playing time: 60-90 min
Not to be confused with the Eldritch Horror’s expansion of the same name, Mountains of Madness is a standalone game from IELLO designed by Rob Daviau himself. Players will need to “communicate” and work together to reach the peak and discover artifacts along the way without losing themselves to madness.
Unlike the Fantasy Flight big-box Lovecraft games like Arkham and Eldritch Horror, Mountains of Madness can be played in about an hour. So you won’t have to dedicate an entire evening to closing portals to get your Lovecraft gaming fix.
The big twist comes in the form of madness. Instead of just throwing tokens and saying you’re crazy now, madness manifests in peculiar ways. The game will give you handicaps that make it more difficult. In a game where communication and talking to your fellow players is vital, madness cards force you to omit words or “forget” how to say things.
Playing time: 30 min
Arkham Noir brings images of smoke-filled offices and dark detectives living on the edge and the game doesn’t disappoint.
It’s also a unique addition to this list by being a completely solo game. I’ve always been fascinated with game design and solo games have always been intriguing. In Arkham Noir, players will race against the clock to uncover clues to solve 5 of 6 different mysteries.
It’s purely a card-based game, so the timer is built-in by using the deck of cards itself. Players will need to match up clues to the 6 rows of cards and ultimately close it after dropping a minimum of 5 cards in the row. You’ll also need to match up card symbols when placing them down, so it’s not as easy as dropping a handful of cards to finish.
It’s surprisingly tense for a simple card game, and even more surprising that it works so well as a solo game as well.
Playing time: 25-45 min
If the name sounds familiar, that’s because it’s based on the same system as Star Realms.
Obviously, replacing our fleet of ships are cultists and Shuggoths which will be crawling out of the woodwork to give your opponent a bad day.
Another big changeup from the Realms series is that Cthulhu Realms deviates from the 2-player setup and comes fully equipped to handle up to 4-players.
If you’ve read some of our other articles, you’ll know I’m a huge fan of Star Realms. So, how does Cthulhu Realms stack up?
The artwork and overall feel are a lot less serious than Star Realms but that actually works well here. It’s a nice change of pace from the grim renditions of Lovecraft’s work in other games, and it works well as a nice starter game before sinking your teeth into something heavier, like Arkham or Eldritch Horror.
Smash Up: The Obligatory Cthulhu Set
Playing time: 30-45 min
Smash Up is one of those games you see on almost every gamer’s shelf and it usually only gets brought down when trying to convince a “non-gamer” to take a crack at the hobby. (There’s no such thing as a non-gamer, by the way. Just gamers who haven’t been properly introduced to the hobby yet.) But I digress.
Smash Up is a fantastic lightweight card game that lets players come up with dumb combinations.
Playing time: 60 min
Gloom has always been an oddball game. Instead of trying to guide your characters down the path of righteousness and keep them happy, you instead try to make them the most miserable people on earth. And then you kill them.
In Cthulhu Gloom, up to 4 players will play awful cards on their unhappy characters and when they’re having the worst possible day, you’ll try and murder them. Your opponents will try to do the same but they’ll also play cards to try and give your characters a slightly brighter disposition.
Gloom is one of those weird games that plays with your emotions. So often we’re used to trying to make everything better, but that’s the exact opposite of what’s going on here.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Cthulhu Gloom is shared storytelling. As players place cards, you’ll have to build up your narrative on how they got there, which can lead to some interesting combinations.
Playing time: 5-30 min
Fluxx is the literal definition of randomness in a game. Literally anything and everything is random. The rules, win conditions, and the game itself are always in a state of… Fluxx. See what I did there?
Cthulhu Fluxx introduces an entire realm of bad puns to an already punny game where players will collect and set characters and monsters from the Lovecraftian world while simultaneously trying to avoid the Ancient Ones that come in the form of Creeper cards.
Everything is completely random here and nothing makes sense until it does. Fluxx is a unique game where there’s a rule for everything and always a way to break the rules.
Playing time: 30 min
Another little game to add to your collection, Pocket Madness is a great little card game that can be played in about half an hour.
It has adorable artwork and is reminiscent of Hearts or UNO but with cute artwork, madness, and eldritch monsters.
Players will attempt to open and close portals by dropping sets of cards down and being the first player to get rid of all of their cards. If you’re left with cards at the end of the round, you’ll start to accrue madness tokens and you lose the game entirely if you get 10.
Pocket Madness as the name implies is a great little game that’s absolutely perfect as a travel game.
Playing time: 90 min
Face existential dread and stab your friends in the back.
Munchkin has always had a special place on my gaming shelf. It’s a quick little card game that ultimately rewards you for being a jerk to your friends.
Munchkin Cthulhu is no exception but instead of pun-filled, D&D-inspired cards, you get Cthulhu renditions to take the edge off losing your closest friends to a card game. You’ll contend with cultists, fellow players, and, of course, the great Cthulhu himself.
Playing time: 5 min
Another game by Steve Jackson.
It’s a quick-and-dirty dice-rolling game that’s surprisingly similar to Left Right Center.
In Cthulhu Dice, each place starts with 3 sanity tokens and players will take turns becoming the Caster to try to curse a player of their choice. Depending upon the roll, someone is going to lose sanity.
It’s not a complex game, but it’s a rather fun little time waster. Our game shelves can’t be completely filled with multi-hour epic games, right? We would never get anything done.
Call of Cthulhu Tabletop RPG (7th Edition)
Playing time: 120-240 min
Inevitably in a group of friends, you’ll always have that one person you can sacrifice to the elder gods and banish him/her to an alternate dimension. I’m, of course, talking about being a gamemaster for a tabletop RPG.
Like other tabletop RPGs, you’ll need to sacrifice a player to run the game but the fun part is the game is only limited by what you can imagine.
And that’s the list! Hopefully, you find something to keep that existential dread and madness from creeping in.
As we end this article, I’d like to address the Shoggoth in the room. Lovecraft is undoubtedly a massive influence on the fantasy and horror genres. So much so, that a bust of his head was the award for the World Fantasy Awards. He’s also written some truly horrifying things in the form of racist literature. It’s a bit conflicting to see a fantasy world you enjoy turn out to hide some real-world monsters. We can, in one aspect enjoy fantasy and another, denounce its creator.
Did your favorite game not make the list? Leave a comment below. We’d love to hear from you.
You may also enjoy:
- Best Literary Board Games for Book Lovers
- Arkham Horror Review
- Eldritch Horror Review
- Best Eldritch Horror Expansions
Before starting GameCows with his wife Kendra, he used to teach English Language Arts in the US. He combined his love of gaming with education to create fun game-based learning lessons until he eventually decided to run GameCows with Kendra full-time. He’s known for pouring over rulebooks in his spare time, being the rule master during game night, and as the perma DM in his DnD group. Bryan loves board games, writing, traveling, and above all his wife and partner in crime, Kendra.