Denizens of the Underworld , the sixth deluxe expansion for Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game , is due to arrive at retailers later this month, and that’s good news for fans of the game’s Syndicate faction.

Roughly two-thirds of the expansion’s 165 cards focus on Arkham’s largest criminal organization and its extended network. This intensive exploration of the Syndicate, its themes, and its signature mechanics, makes Denizens of the Underworld the faction’s primary complement to the Core Set . It’s the perfect second step for new players looking to delve deeper into the faction’s nefarious methods, and its cards allow veterans to retool and refine their favorite strategies.

One of those signature strategies for which the Syndicate is (in)famous is “skill reduction.” Today, we’ll look more at this strategy and how it’s enhanced by the new cards and effects appearing in Denizens of the Underworld .

Skill Reduction 101

In Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game , players try to win three stories. To win a story, they need to place five success tokens at that story. To place success tokens, they need to win Investigation struggles or succeed at the story. To succeed at a story, the active player must commit more total skill to the story than his opponent (and help his characters survive the story’s icon struggles long enough that they can count their skill).

Skill manipulation, then, is directly in line with the core victory condition for the game: If you can raise your skill or lower your opponent’s, you stand a better chance of getting more success tokens at stories than your rival.

This is something at which the Syndicate has excelled since the days of the Core Set . Cards like the Clover Club Torch Singer ( Core Set , 66) and Like a Moth ( Core Set , 76) gave them the means to lower opposing characters’ skill, while other cards, like Get On Your Feet! ( Core Set , 78), gave them the means to raise their own skill.

Other expansions have further bolstered the basic strategy, and the Syndicate has gained more means to lower skill with characters like Street Tough ( Touched by the Abyss , 116), while other cards arrived to prey upon your opponent’s newly vulnerable characters. Some of the best examples include Mr. David Pan ( Curse of the Jade Emperor , 43), Tear Gas ( The Thing from the Shore , 86), and Parallel Universe ( The Thing from the Shore , 98).

Soon, Denizens of the Underworld will boost the Syndicate’s skill manipulation capabilities even further with a handful of new characters and supports that can raise or lower characters’ skill levels. A couple of examples include Crooked Attorney ( Denizens of the Underworld , 17) and The Clover Club ( Denizens of the Underworld , 20).

However, perhaps more important than the introduction of more cards to raise and lower skill levels is the fact that Denizens of the Underworld also allows Syndicate players to put this skill manipulation to use in new ways.

New Uses for Old Tricks

Since the release of the Core Set , skill reduction has provided the Syndicate a means of winning success tokens and stories by tilting the determination of success to its advantage. With cards like Parallel Universe and Mr. David Pan, Syndicate skill reduction decks also gained the ability to reshape the icon struggles at a story, converting them all into a series of skill struggles, but with standard icon struggle stakes. Furthermore, Syndicate players looking to destroy their opponent’s characters could use Tear Gas to knock them out of the game.

In Denizens of the Underworld, though, the Syndicate reinforces its ability to use skill reduction as a means of completely eliminating rival characters. Both Henry Knoll ( Denizens of the Underworld , 7) and Concrete and Chains ( Denizens of the Underworld , 25) destroy characters with skill “0.”

The tricks go beyond destruction, though. A new Syndicate Sorcerer , Lena di Boerio ( Denizens of the Underworld , 5) can use her magical powers to siphon skill and icons from other characters.

And many of the new Syndicate cards play off of skill manipulation, even if they don’t directly raise or lower skill. When he readies, the Numbers Runner ( Denizens of the Underworld , 13), a new Criminal , allows you to exhaust a character with lower skill. His four base skill ensure that he’ll be useful even if you find yourself caught without skill reduction options on the table, but when you have them, the fact that the Numbers Runner can target any character means that he could even exhaust the most powerful Ancient Ones in the game.

Finally, Denizens of the Underworld introduces a capstone character to the skill reduction deck type that offers nothing less than we’d expect of Danny O’Bannion and his toughest cronies. O’Bannion’s Inner Council ( Denizens of the Underworld , 3) not only gains skill for each Criminal you control (including itself), it completely ignores the icons of all characters with lower skill. Once you take into account its Willpower and Toughness +2 , it becomes entirely clear why Danny O’Bannion counts these skilled individuals among his closest companions.

Tactical Diversity

The Syndicate’s skill reduction capabilities, their ability to manufacture crooked wagers, and their tactical acumen are all coming to the fore in Denizens of the Underworld . This sixth deluxe expansion for Call of Cthulhu is now just a few weeks away, so keep your eyes open for more information, including a closer look at a couple of the most inventive new options that will soon become available to Arkham’s cleverest criminals!

Based on the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft and his literary circle, Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game takes two players deep into the Cthulhu Mythos where investigators clash with the Ancient Ones and Elder Gods for the fate of the world. The Living Card Game format allows players to customize their gaming experience with monthly Asylum Pack expansions to the core game.

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