Review of Fast & Fhtagn: A Game of Cthulhoid Street Racing
The Lovecraftian racing game that challenges your sanity
In board game stores today, you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a game that utilizes H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos. Whether it’s in appropriately dark homage (like Eldritch Horror) or campy parody (like Unspeakable Words), it seems like this “crazy” theme is compatible with every type of tabletop game. It’s no surprise that we’ve finally gotten a Cthulhu racing game…but who would’ve expected it to combine it with The Fast & The Furious?
Earlier this year, Atlas Games released Jeff Tidball’s Fast & Fhatagn: A Game of Cthulhoid Street Racing, a clever game that–quite honestly–made me laugh hysterically upon discovering it. But is the game as entertaining as it sounds?
Review of Fast & Fhtagn: A Game of Cthulhoid Street Racing
Publisher: Atlas Games
Designer: Jeff Tidball
Box Dimensions: 8 x 8 x 1.5 inches
# of Players: 3-6 people
Ages: 13 or older
Category: Card management racing game
Play Time: 5-10 minutes per round
How to Play
In Fast and Fhtagn, you play an ultra-cool driver behind the wheel of a cursed Cthulhoid car, racing through the streets while struggling to maintain your sanity. To win the game, you must be ahead of your opponents’ cars when they cross the finish line.
To set up the game, two sets of street mat cards are laid out to establish the board. Players are each given a different vehicle and place it on the street. Throughout the game, players can enhance their cards by adding drivers, mechanics, and enhancements in order vie for better positions in the race.
On each turn, a player can perform four actions, which involve moving, playing an action card, pulling over to the side of the road, repairing their car, enhancing their car, or discarding cards. As vehicles move ahead of their competition, new street mats are drawn, which introduce oncoming civilian cars and unexpected changes in the course.
For doing “cool” things throughout the game, players can earn style points to redeem for benefits like extra turns at the conclusion of the game.
Fast and Fhtagn includes:
- 12 racer cards (sets of 2 per vehicle)
- 84 play cards for actions, accessories, drivers, and mechanics
- 26 oversized cards for street mats
- 29 style markers (1- and 3- point designations)
- 3 reference sheets
- 2 six-sided dice
- Quick start sheet
All of the components of Fast and Fhtagn are high-quality. The box is compact but fits everything neatly due to its snazzy, asphalt-like insert. The cards are crisply printed, well-designed, durable, and shuffle well. The contrast of bright colors against black backgrounds really make the game look awesome on the shelf.
Fast and Fhtagn embraces its Lovecraftian inspiration through and through–from its clever title and box art to the names and references on the action cards. It’s a hoot to see cards that reference both Ulthar and a dashboard bobblehead. While it’s not essential to know the Cthulhu mythos to play, you probably won’t find it very entertaining without some prior knowledge.
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Thoughts on Learning Experience
Upon holding the instructions booklet in your hands, you know what kind of experience you’re in for. The 30-page pamphlet is indicative of the detailed level of rules and guidelines every player must follow.
I’ve tried to read and learn the game on multiple occasions; I consider myself someone who catches on and understands directions/processes quickly. Even in spite of the inclusion of a quick-start rules (which doesn’t do much except point back to the main booklet) and an index in the main rule booklet, understanding and remembering every minutiae of Fast and Fhtagn did not come easily. There’s simply a lot to every single action and element of the game.
While I don’t see this as a shortcoming of the directions booklet–which does its best with how much it has to explain–it’s more so an indication of the way the game was designed.
Thoughts on Playing the Game
Fast and Fhtagn feels like a Rube Goldberg machine: a complicated contraption whose ultimate result is small by comparison. It takes a simple, brilliant setup for a game and over-saturates it with micromanaging rules and multi-step systems.
I absolutely love the premise–a tongue-in-cheek blend of the mythos of Lovecraft with the machismo of The Fast & The Furious. From when I first saw the game to flipping through its components, it proved itself to be a hilariously campy idea, but unfortunately the gameplay undermines that.
It’s a game that gets its challenge not from mastering the gameplay, but from actually learning it–and that doesn’t make for a very rewarding experience or one that would encourage replays. Instead of simply laying a card or moving your vehicle, you have to do X (e.g. change lanes). But to determine how you should perform X, you need to do Y. But to determine if you’re allowed to do Y, you need to do Z. But if someone else already did Z, you have to do A, B, and C–though the exact order depends on what position you’re in.
Because of this, the game feels slow as players constantly refer back to the instructions. That pacing may be fine on engineering or war games, but in a vehicle racing game, slow pacing is detrimental.
There are certain elements that work. I like the idea of building the road course as you advance, unsure about what’s ahead of you. That mystery adds to the theme of the game and the unique gameplay other racing games lack. It’s a great way to create a fresh racing game not restricted to the traditional track. The cards are a lot of fun too.
There’s a lot of thought and talent behind the art design and thematic concept behind Fast and Fhtagn, but it stumbles in its execution by over-complicating a fun, campy premise. I had high hopes for this game because of how clever it is, so I would welcome a revamped “pocket” version of it that streamlined its basic idea.
Fast & Fhtagn can be purchased through the publisher’s distributor, Amazon, and other online retailers.
- Aaron WidmarSenior Editor
Aaron is unashamed to be a native Clevelander and the proud driver of a 1995 Saturn SC-2 (knock on wood). He gleefully utilizes his background in theater, literature, and communication to dramatically recite his own articles to nearby youth. Mr. Widmar happily resides in Dayton, Ohio with his magnificent wife, Vicki, but is often on the road with her exploring new destinations. Aaron has high aspirations for his writing career but often gets distracted pondering the profound nature of the human condition and forgets what he was writing... See more articles by Aaron.