Posted 08 June 2013 - 12:44 PM
Cthulhu Wars is my newest game, and marks my return to tabletop games after 25 years in the wastelands of the digital world. Our team (there are only 3 of us) have really put our hearts into this game. I wanted to post here a description of how the game plays - you can find physical descriptions and photos elsewhere. In case you haven't heard, it's on kickstarter right now and has already funded.
1) a large map of the Earth, subdivided into Areas, printed on both sides. Mounted, like a Fantasy Flight or old Avalon Hill game.
2) various thick-cut cardboard counters, dice, and such paraphernalia.
3) sixty-four 28mm scale plastic figures of cultists, monsters, and great old ones. I insisted they be 28mm, because I wanted to use the cool figures in Call of Cthulhu
Each player takes on the part of either Great Cthulhu (green), the Crawling Chaos (blue), Black Goat (red), or the Yellow Sign (yellow, duh). Each faction has 15-18 figures, 6 spellbooks, and a faction card that includes his Power track, spellbook requirements, and his unique data. This card is vaguely similar in format to the faction cards in TWILIGHT IMPERIUM 3 or similar games. Factions include 6 cultists, 3 types of Monsters, and a Great Old One (Yellow Sign has only 2 types of monsters, but gets an extra Great Old One to make up for it.)
The only unit shared between factions are the Cultists. All Monsters and Great Old Ones are unique to each faction. In addition, each faction has its own unique special ability and set of 6 spellbooks. And of course the Great Old Ones have different abilities, awakening requirements, etc. I have unsurprisingly based these abilities on my own interpretations of the Great Old Ones, so they may be familiar to CoCers. For instance, Cthulhu has the Devour ability, enabling him to eliminate an enemy unit before combat even begins.
1) Gather Power
2) Determine First Player
3) Action Rounds
The players scan the map and determine how much Power they will have in the upcoming turn. They earn 1 Power per Cultist and 2 per controlled Gate. Player control of Gates is determined by whose Cultist stands atop it. There are a few other ways to gain Power, but Cultists + Gates are the lion's share. At game start, each player has 8 Power. As the game proceeds, they earn more. 10-14 is decent, 15+ is good. Fewer than 10 (after the first turn) is not so great. More than 20 is uncommon, but does happen.
Determine First Player
Whoever has the most Power is First Player. If there's a tie, whoever was First Player last turn breaks the tie. The first player also determines the direction of play for the turn - whether clockwise or widdershins. Going earlier in the turn gives a slight advantage, so you can punk the guy sitting next to you by pointing the direction of play away from him.
Each player may take one (1) Action per Action round. Each action has a cost, often 1, but ranging from 0 up to 10 or more. For instance, recruiting a new cultist costs 1 Power; Awakening Shub-Niggurath costs 8, and so forth. Players continue taking Action rounds and spending Power until all players have exhausted their Power. If a player runs out of Power early, he sits idly while the others complete the phase. You are not allowed to "pass" during the Action phase - you MUST take an Action. This turn structure is common to other games, like CHAOS IN THE OLD WORLD or HERE I STAND.
This Action Round system keeps the game moving quickly (because your turn is over fast), plus lets other players react to what you are doing. For instance, if you want to attack another player, first you take an Action to Move units into his territory. Then, on your next Action, you can declare the Battle Action. But in the meantime, he can take a Move action of his own, to flee, or bring in reinforcements. Or he might Summon a new monster to the area, etc.
In most turns, nothing happens during Cleanup. But occasionally there is some event which needs to occur before the next turn starts. So the Cleanup phase exists for that occasional need.
One of the main driving forces in the game are the spellbooks. On your faction card are six spaces with six different requirements. For instance, one of Cthulhu's requirements is "Control 3 Gates in Ocean Areas". One of Yellow Sign's requirements is "Desecrate North or South America". When a player fulfills one of these requirements, he immediately picks out one of his 6 spellbooks, and places it on his faction card, covering the space. He now has access to that spellbook throughout the rest of the game.
Each spellbook gives the player a unique benefit. Some spellbooks create ongoing effects. For instance, Black Goat's Frenzy spellbook grants her Cultists a Combat value of 1 (normally, a Cultist's Combat is 0). Some spellbooks give the player a new Action only he can perform (for instance, Yellow Sign's He Who Is Not to be Named, which lets Hastur teleport to any spot where there is a Cultist, who presumably unwittingly said The Name. There is at least one spellbook boosting each of the faction's Monsters. Crawling Chaos's Invisibility spellbook permits his Flying Polyps to turn invisible, for instance. Some spellbooks are absolutely core to a faction's future activities. Others are merely nice perks. Which spellbook you acquire in which order becomes a major part of the game's strategy, and, obviously, changes each game.
Earning all six spellbooks unlocks some late-game bonuses that massively boost a player, and typically indicates that the game is drawing near its end.
Combat is not particularly lethal. Both sides roll dice equal to their unit's Combat total in the Area, then check the dice. Each 6 results in a Kill. Each 4 or 5 results in a Pain. The defender (as in AXIS AND ALLIES) picks which units receive which results. Kills are removed from the board. Pained units must retreat into a neighboring Area. One of the main functions of Battle is to clear out an area of enemy units so you can take over a Gate they have built there. In 8 months of intense playtesting, I have only seen a player completely eliminated from the map once, so this is not a game of genocide. Wars are more like the CIVILIZATION boardgame, carried on for limited goals, and ended when those goals are achieved.
Among experienced players, the game is a constant stream of little skirmishes, with an occasional major clash.
The game features a Doom track, like a lot of other Lovecraft-themed games. However, in CTHULHU WARS, you are trying to increase the Doom track, not thwart it. Each player has a token on the track, and all are trying to get to the magic 20, which grants victory. Advancement on the Doom track is done by performing the Ritual of Annihilation (an Action). Each time the Ritual is performed, it gets more expensive for everyone. The amount of Doom points received for performing a Ritual is contingent on how many controlled Gates you have. For instance, if Cthulhu controlled 3 Gates, a Ritual would score him 3 Doom points. The most common way to hinder a player from winning is to take away his Gates. This not only reduces his Power for next turn (making it harder to perform the Ritual), but means he will actually gain fewer Doom points if he does manage to pull it off.
The rules themselves are not that complex, but all the many different abilities, monsters, and spellbooks give a lot of breadth. The game's depth comes from the interaction of the different factions. Knowing what an enemy faction can do, and mastering your own faction's possibilities is the path to victory.
The spellbooks, spellbook requirements, monsters, special abilities, etc. are completely different between factions, which all play very differently. Cthulhu is a combat powerhouse, Crawling Chaos strikes far across the board, preying on the vulnerable, Black Goat spreads like a fungal pool of consolidation and control, Yellow Sign follows its own insane logic.
Par seems to about 90 minutes. I've seen games last less than an hour, but this is very rare. I've also seen a game in which two players had severe cases of analysis paralysis, take 3 hours. At CthulhuCon in Portland, we played 5 games in 9 hours. Yesterday, at NTRPGCon here in Dallas, we played 4 games in about the same time, with breaks between games.
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I hope you can see from this description that this is NOT a damn glorified "Risk". Man that comment (in another thread) sticks in my craw. Sorry to sound so negative but wow.