Version Reviewed: 1.5
App Reviewed on: iPhone 4S
Graphics / Sound Rating:
Replay Value Rating:
Much like H.P. Lovecraft’s tentacled, otherworldly monstrosities, The Moaning Words is a beast with a weird name that's a little difficult to explain - although there’s no non-euclidean geometry or ten-dollar vocabulary words on display here (save "non-euclidean").
The Moaning Words is one part interactive game book and one part collectable card game, but even those two elements have their own sub-elements. For instance, the CCG side also has the distinct feeling of classic “simple to learn, hard to master” board games like Go, while the story side of things also offers unlockable versions of classic Lovecraft tales rendered as what can only be properly described as “motion novels.”
As one would expect for a Lovecraft-themed adventure, investigation points and sanity are the expendable resources the player's investigator uses to both pay entry into CGG matches outside of the story and to make choices within the stories themselves. Both resources can be replenished with items from the shop, which are mostly paid for with gold, as well as a third resource that can be earned by winning basic card game matches or by completing each chapter of the story. There’s also a premium currency of Elder Signs that are earned via completing small, replenishing objectives and are used to score the most premium of eldritch power-ups. The whole experience is crafted into a tight feedback loop that requires shifting from one story to card game and back.
The card game is, on its face, quite basic. “Cards” are small square chits with numbers on each of the four faces. Players take turns placing them in slots on a 3-by-3 grid. When a card is placed, any opposing cards that share a border with it are flipped if the number on that side is greater than the number on the opponent’s card, and claiming the majority of the spaces spells victory. Certain cards have special abilities and every map's center space is partially bounded by walls, making for strategic defensive arrangements of cards with low number values. More cards are unlocked by fighting the horrors of the Cthulhu Mythos (in battles paid for by sanity points), purchasing boosters in the store, completing chapters of the story, or by reading through the unlockable Lovecraft tales.
The story side of things is primarily shouldered by an original tale written by noted sci-fi and fantasy scribe, Alan Dean Foster. Foster’s prose isn’t as purple and overwrought as Lovecraft’s, but it serves its purpose well enough. I honestly would much rather have seen more of Lovecraft’s works rendered in the “motion novel” style I mentioned above, full of moving page elements and atmospheric audio, but as only his pre-1923 work is considered public domain (the copyright status of his most well-known Mythos works remains contentious at best) I understand why we don’t have more of them available.
The Moaning Words comes with a lot of content packed in and not a ton in the way of restrictive gating. There are some time constraints that can be frustrating, like waiting 24 hours for each story chapter to become available, but I understand not wanting to give everything away for free. Some of the puzzles in the game book section are offered with no explanation as to how to interact with them, but it’s a minor complaint.
Beyond all of that, The Moaning Words is dripping with atmosphere, and with October now rolling around, it’s the perfect time for something spooky.