Review: Miskatonic School for Girls

A few weeks ago, during the Avacyn Restored Prerelease, I picked up some deck-building games I’ve been looking at for a while: Quarriors (technically a dice-bag-building game), Tanto Cuore, and Miskatonic School for Girls. I intend to review all of them in the coming weeks, but Luke Peterschmidt’s Miskatonic is the one I’ve had the opportunity to play the most.

NOTE: While the game is for 2–4 players, I’ve only managed to rope one other person into playing each time I’ve had a chance. I intend to revisit this review when I’ve had a chance to play multiplayer. The rules are only slightly different, in that two Faculty Members are removed from the deck in a 2-player game.

The Premise

The Miskatonic School for Girls is home to some of the brightest young minds! Unfortunately the staff members are all foul servants of the Great Old Ones! It is your job to help your House combat these terrible beings, while maintaining a grasp on your fleeting sanity. The last one to be left sane wins!

One of the most intriguing aspects of Miskatonic is the ability to build your opponents’ decks. Not only do you buy students to bolster your own House’s abilities, but you constantly throw Faculty Members at your opponents in order to deplete their sanity.

The Presentation

One of the things that struck me immediately is the cards are printed on what appears to be playing card stock, instead of the normal cardboard we see for most card-based games. I liked this immediately.

The card frames and artwork are great and suit the boarding school setting of the game. Also, if you are a Lovecraft fan (as I imagine you would be if you got this game), there are tons of humorous nods to the Mythos. Mr. Pickman is the art teacher, Herbert West is the “staff recruiter”, and one of the students is Erica Zann, just to name a few.

The Play

I have to confess: I’m not sold on this game. I admire what it is trying to do, but the actual process of playing simply isn’t as fun as I would like it to be.

Every turn, you are required to buy a Student for your own deck, and a Faculty Member for your opponent’s. In a multiplayer game, you always purchase Faculty Members for the opponent to your left. If you can’t afford one or the other, or choose not to buy one, you receive either a Transfer (Student) or a Substitute (Faculty Member). The cards available for purchase change from turn to turn, being laid out in a fashion similar to Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer.

In a twist from most deck-building games, cards you purchase go not to your discard pile, but to a separate “Purchase Pile”. At the beginning of your turn, you draw first from your Purchase Pile, and then from your deck, to fill your hand to 5 cards.

Taken individually, these mechanics are decent. Yet they do not mesh together well. There is very little sense of control over your or your opponent’s deck. There is no way to draw extra cards and cycle through your deck, or meaningfully thin your collection of cards. The Purchase Pile, while interesting in principle, kills the appeal of some of the cards with “BFF” abilities (cards that get drawn off the top of your deck to combat the Faculty Members in “Class”).

Unfortunately, Miskatonic School for Girls is a game where all the pieces fit together, yet the end result just isn’t horribly exciting. The deck-building feels unfocused and bland.

I’d be interested in seeing an expansion, which could breathe a bit more life into the game. I enjoy the source material, and Fun to 11 did an excellent job in the game’s appearance and flavor. Clearly it is a labor of love. I truly want to like it more than I do, and I appreciate its willingness to experiment, but after several hands with new players, I’ve concluded it lacks that initial bite other games in the genre have.