H.P. Lovecraft is known for being a master of horror. His stories are full of creeping cults, slumbering dark gods, and madness on the edge of one’s soul. This card game based on his work makes excellent use of Lovecraft’s most recognizable themes, but it also moves between being overly complicated and painfully simple.
The overly complicated part is the card game, which is how you’ll spend most of your time playing Necronomicon. The story is set in Miskatonic University, where a cult is attempting to summon dark evils that will destroy the world.
You’re given a deck full of investigator, monster, and event cards. Investigators, the good guys, must be placed on the bottom row in front of you, and the monsters go on top. The goal is to have your investigators defeat enough monsters so that you can avoid Doomsday and proceed to the next part of the game.
A place of madness and woe, also known as college.
The tutorial that explains all this is a hopeless mess. While you’re trying to concentrate on the dense, text-based instructions, whispering voices will yammer on endlessly. It’s enough to drive you mad, but maybe that’s the idea. We had to mute the game just to read the instructions, and even then, they hardly make any sense. A much better tutorial can be found on the developer’s website here.
Adding to the confusion is the fact that event cards, which will alter the characters’ attributes, disappear after they’re used. It would be helpful if you could keep track of these changes throughout the card game, so you could follow along when your investigators and monsters do battle. It’s simple enough to understand that larger numbers win in a battle, but when you start adding bonuses and rolling dice to decide winners, it’s easy to get lost.
Die, monster! Six-sided die, that is.
Assuming you can survive the card game through a combination of patience and luck, you’ll graduate to a board game segment where you have to find four colleagues and four artifacts to fight the Cthulu cultists. This part of the game is overly simple, as you’ll just roll a dice and search one of twelve rooms. Random events like Madness will set you back, but if you locate certain colleagues, you’ll become immune to these effects. This part of the game is a breeze, and once you start to move around the board, you’ll be able to complete it effortlessly.
Then it’s on to the big climactic battle, which is actually very anticlimactic. In this final encounter, you face off against the forces of evil in a dice-battle roll to the death. Whoever rolls the highest numbers wins. It’s entirely based on luck, and we found it disappointing that Necronomicon ends so much weaker than it starts.
Colonel Mustard, in the hall, with the Cthulu.
Despite these problems, there are a few good reasons not to banish Necronomicon to a dark oblivion. The artwork for the cards and menus is exceptional, and the spooky music suits the atmosphere. The card game itself could be better explained, and the board game and finale could be much deeper, but the potential is certainly there.
As fans of H.P. Lovecraft, we want an iPhone game that perfectly suits his haunting prose, but Necronomicon in its current state feels rushed and uneven. Unless you’re a huge fan of the author’s work, we would advise you to use caution before buying this game. Or, as a Lovecraftian character might warn: Beware!