H.P. Lovecraft's Kingsport Festival: The Card Game
Publisher:Passport Game Studios / Giochi Uniti
Release Date: March 2017
Price: $25.00
Game Designer: Gianluca Santopietro
Format: Card Game
Number of Players: 3-5
Playing Time: 30 minutes
Age Rating: 13 and up
Product #: PGS208
ICv2 Rating: 3 Stars out of 5

Some years ago, I had the good fortune of assisting with the development of a clever dice game called Kingsburg, still one of my favorites.  More recently, I lent a hand to its very worthy successor, Kingsport Festival.  So when I heard that Gianluca Santopietro was converting it into a card game, I was very intrigued and eager to give it a try.  The question was, would the card game capture the unique feel of Kingsport Festival in a faster-playing card game?  Or was it insane even to try?

Summary:  Like the boardgame, in Kingsport Festival: The Card Game, the players assume the role of the traditional villains in a Lovecraft horror tale:  the cultists bent on invoking mind-shattering Elder Gods in their pursuit of… whatever it is that cultists hope for when they invoke mind-shattering extra-dimensional beings.

In each of nine rounds, you begin with one random resource, then use the abilities of the Elder God cards you already have to gain more or alter your resources.  Your resources can then be used to purchase one Elder God card to add to your collection.  Three times during the game, brave “Investigators” will interfere with the cultists’ plans, forcing you to divert valuable resources to resist them.  Along the way, you must balance your quest for power with your fragile sanity, and in the end the cult that has invoked the most powerful assortment of Elder Gods wins the game.

Originality:  To my mind, Kingsport Festival: The Card Game is a fine blend of two other games:  Kingsport Festival, of course, and Thomas Lehmann’s card game Um Krone und Kragen (recently relaunched as Favor of the Pharaoh), both games that I particularly enjoy.  While none of the mechanics or themes in The Card Game are new, merging these unrelated systems results in a new experience, quite different from both earlier designs.

Presentation:  This game practically oozes theme, like some unspeakable horror from the nightmare world of the Dreamlands.  The graphics are dark and brooding, the artwork hints as partially-seen monstrosities that defy the eye and the mind to comprehend.  The icons are suitably creepy:  your resources are flames, skulls, and tentacles.  Everything perfectly communicates what the game is about.

The logo is, however, difficult to read.  While fans of the earlier board game will immediately recognize it, those unfamiliar with the line might have trouble identifying what this game is.  And the box text does little to describe what gameplay is like, relying instead on a generous helping of atmospheric description.

Quality:  The game components are very good. The box is sturdy, and while twice the size it needs to be it is a standard size so it will look good on the shelf.  The cards are tarot-sized with excellent artwork, and good quality.  The custom dice are easy to read, with instantly recognizable symbols.  The rulebook is full color and glossy throughout, and packed with highly thematic examples.

On the down side, however, the rules themselves are unclear in a number of places, leaving the reader with numerous questions.  Even the “Frequently Asked Questions” section in the back does little to help clear up the ambiguities of the various Elder God abilities.  There are few illustrations in the rulebook, and those that are there are almost universally small and hard to read.  The game examples are printed in a font that is very hard to read (though delightfully artistic and thematic, to be certain).  The result is a game that is great to learn if you have someone to teach you, but a bit of a chore if you’re doing it from the rulebook.

Marketability:  In a word:  Cthulhu.  Somehow, despite what would seem to be excessive market saturation, Lovecraft’s brainchild continues to be a huge draw to gamers of every type.  Add to that the more-than-reasonable price point, the quick playing time, and the lavishly illustrated components, and Kingsport Festival: The Card Game is sure to attract fans of the Mythos.  Once the hurdle of learning the game is overcome, the strategic and tactical depth offered by the title promises good replayability, which should promote favorable word-of-mouth for this title.

Overall:  I do enjoy playing this game.  While I’m not generally a fan of playing the “bad guy”, I do appreciate the theme, and I find the presentation of the game to be fabulous.  I really like the way your abilities grow and expand during play, as you add more and more Elder Gods to your collection.  However, I felt that a lot of the decision-making was more about responding to random elements than developing long-term plans.  I wanted the sanity mechanic to add more tension than it does, and I felt that the Investigators were not a big enough threat to my little cult.

Despite its drawbacks, Kingsport Festival: The Card Game is worthy of its name, and when I’m looking for a quick horror-themed game with a good mix of randomness and tactical decision-making, it will certainly make it to my short list.  And that’s why I give this game 3 out of 5.

-- William Niebling