One of the first HP Lovecraft stories I read and then immediately reread was The Shadow Over Innsmouth. Spoiler alert: The story ended with that right kind of wrong twist where the main character realized he’s a Deep One offspring that now dreams of swimming down into the ocean black with his froggy-fishy kind. I wanted to reread the story right away to see if I had missed subtle details that foreshadowed the end. And of course, I did. Even though the story is over 100 years old I always recommend that one to new readers because like the main character you discover along with him the macabre town of Innsmouth and its dark secret that is linked to the mythos of the greater old ones.
This brings us to today’s review of Unfathomable from Fantasy Flight Games. This semi-coop is set in 1913 on the steamship SS Atlantica where human players are trying to keep the ship and passengers in one piece to finish their journey to Boston. Yet all the while deep ones attack and a hidden traitor(s) hybrid is trying to sabotage their efforts. Unfathomable is for 3-6 players and plays in 2-4 hours.
Unfathomable set-up is the same for every game except that the player count will determine how many Human and Hybrid cards will make up the Loyalty deck which is randomly dealt to each player and then again during the Awaking Phase (when the Waypoint cards equal 6).
The game begins with the current player and each player’s turn includes the following 4 steps:
- Receive Skills: players will draw the number and type of skill card listed on their character sheet.
- Action: players may perform 2 of the following actions: Move, Attack (Deep Ones or Traitor), Rescue a passenger, Use character action ability, Use a ship space action, Trade item cards, or Reveal as a Traitor.
- Mythos: resolve a mythos card. These are challenges or tough decisions that the human and hybrid characters need to try to overcome to keep their journey going or to sabotage their conflicting win conditions.
- Discard: players discard down to a 10-card hand limit.
Please note there are 5 skill types each represented by its own deck. When resolving a Mythos card that requires a skill check, the current player will reveal the test and what number and skills cards are needed to overcome it. The current player will draw two cards from the Chaos deck. Each player takes turns adding facedown skills cards or passing. The current player shuffles and reveals—if cards match the skills needed for the test they are added and any skill that don’t match the skills are subtracted. Losing a test will result in negative effects like losing resources: sanity, food, fuel, souls (passengers), moving the travel or ritual track back, or positive actions for monsters.
After Mythos cards choices or skill tests are resolved, the monster will activate: Mother Hydra can damage the ship, Father Dagon usually spawns deep ones, or deep ones try to overrun the ship, and defeat passengers and characters. Travel icons will move the ship on the Travel Track and draw Waypoint cards and the Ritual track to cast a banishment spell to repel monsters.
The human players will win the game if they have drawn Waypoint cards equaling 12 or more. The hybrid wins if one of the resource dials reaches 0, there are 6 damage cards on the ship at the same time, or if all the Deep One figures are on board and none to draw from the supply.
Unfathomable was first described to me as a re-skin of Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game but I will not be doing a comparison of the two games in this review. I cannot say Unfathomable is the same as Battlestar Galactica mainly because I played the latter once and it was over 12 years ago. What I will say about Unfathomable it is highly thematic and it takes me back to The Shadow Over Innsmouth story. Much like that story the main character doesn’t know who to trust and has many difficult choices to make over the course of his journey. The same is true for Unfathomable which submerges you in Mythos and the early 1910s. If you’re a fan of the Cthulhu Mythos then this game should be right up your alley.
The only thing I would caution any players is that you really need the “right” players who want to play a hidden traitor game. Also, note that this game is a long game so if you’re like me and your selective on how you spend your time then if you don’t have the “right” players I would suggest that you move on to something else. If you need to convince or push a player to play Unfathomable then it will likely lessen the experience so don’t waste the time. Now if players are willing to invest the time and more importantly want to play then you should be in for a fun and memorable experience.
If you’re familiar with Fantasy Flight Games, then it should come as no surprise that Unfathomable production values are excellent. There’s some assembly with the resource dials but overall, these are quality pieces that you feel is well worth the price tag of this game. The Unfathomable board, cards, monster miniatures, and rulebooks are all top quality and have excellent design details. Plus, Unfathomable comes with excellent player aids for both the human and traitor characters to reference which is key if you decide to reveal yourself as a traitor (just be subtle when checking out the reference cards to not give anything away).
I will add that if you’re familiar with Fantasy Flight Games, then you should be pleasantly surprised that Unfathomable is not screaming for an expansion after your first play (Star Wars: Outer Rim…cough, cough). You have 10 characters to choose from and all the decks are sizeable, especially the mythos, skill, and spell. You don’t feel like something is missing during your first few play-throughs like you do with some other Fantasy Flight games. I mean don’t get me wrong, I personally love expansions and additional content but Unfathomable should not leave you feeling like you bought this base game just for future expansions (Marvel Champions…hem, hem).
Honestly, the best part of Unfathomable for my group and me was that this is a social game. You’re constantly chatting about what to do, who you do and don’t trust, weighing on tough choices even if you’re not the Captain or the Keeper of the Tome. All players are constantly interacting and when and if you find someone to be a hybrid (or falsely accuse someone repeatedly), it could be a shock or an “I knew it!” moment that will constantly keep you engaged and having a blast. You do have to watch out for quarterbacking by some players but that’s nothing you can’t course-correct during the game. Some players or groups might see this as an event game or one you break out every so often but it should be a fun time anytime with Unfathomable.
I love games based upon the Cthulhu Mythos and Unfathomable is a terrific addition to that genre. It’s highly thematic with excellent production values. It’s one of the first Fantasy Flight Games that for me doesn’t feel it needs an expansion after your first few play-throughs. Lastly, it’s an excellent social game that is long but should be memorable and enjoyable for all.
The only thing I would caution players is to push people to play this one if they might not be vested in a longer hidden traitor game. That can ruin the experience for all involved but I would rather encourage players to find something else that all players are wanting and are excited to play.
Final Score: 4.5 Stars – A highly thematic semi-coop game that should be fun experience for all players and a must-have for those who love the mythos and hidden traitor games.
• Needs the “right” players to play