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Gav Thorpe Blog - Cthulhu Wars – The Old Ones Arise


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#1 Bugman

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Posted 09 August 2017 - 08:00 AM

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Some years ago now, one of the first Kickstarter projects I backed was Cthulhu Wars by Petersen Games. The huge playing pieces have tremendous appeal, and the idea of Great Old Ones do Risk is an instant sell in my book. That Sandy Petersen, creator of the seminal roleplaying game Call of Cthulhu, was involved clinched the deal, as I doubt there is any games designer quite so well-versed in Lovecraft’s mythos.

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I bought the core game and a few of the expansions as part of the original Kickstarter. Then along came Onslaught Two, which convinced me to get all the new stuff as well as everything I hadn’t opted for in the first release… It all arrived a couple of months ago, just as work on our extension was started. Coincidence, I swear.

As part of my recent birthday celebrations I was able to round up some friends for a six-player game, the first chance I have had to use the really big boards. We booked the RPG room at the Nottingham games cafe The Dice Cup and spent the afternoon summoning Polyps and unleashing Nightmares, and having great fun all round. (We played Paranoia in the evening, but that’s a different blog post…)

And now Onslaught Three is up on Kickstarter with another new faction and the introduction of Investigators, so I thought it a good time to take a look at this impressive game.

A word of advice – it is not a small or light game, so keep an eye on your shipping costs! My Onslaught Two shipping caught me at an inconvenient low point in my cashflow…

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That’s quite a few big boxes to choose from!

The Basics

The world has already ended. Unlike Call of Cthulhu and many other mythos-related games, this is not about averting the return of the Great Old Ones. Too late for that! Instead you get to play a world-domination game as one of the ancient horrors, summoning cultists, monsters and eventually the Great Old One, to see who inherits the remains of humanity’s home.

Cthulhu Wars is one of those games that has a lot going on but the basic mechanics are very simple. Each turn you gain power, you then spend that power to perform actions like moving, casting spells, summoning monsters and initiating battles. In the process you will earn Doom points, and when a player reaches 30 Doom the game ends and the highest score wins.

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Early moves, everyone is getting cultists and cheap monsters out and learning their first spells

Emergent Complexity

Sandy Petersen and the team have done a lot with those core mechanics. The number of permutations of earning and spending power is the key to the gameplay, and also the different strategies of the various factions.

One of the neatest ideas is the spellbook. Each faction has six spells, which are special actions or abilities they can use during play. These are unlocked a bit like video game achievements by fulfilling certain criteria. For example, I played as the Sleeper and one of my spell book requirements was simply to pay 3 Power and choose another player to gain 3 Power. The order in which you try to achieve these objectives varies according to what’s happening, but they lead you along a certain playstyle from the beginning.

But that’s not where it ends. The six spells can be unlocked in any order. So, you have six objectives for six different rewards. Certain abilities, like some of those for the Yellow Sign, are pretty obviously essential from the outset, others are better later in the game or can only be used once the Great Old One is in play.

Exponential Possibilities

The variety of tactics within each faction becomes even more convoluted when one considers the opposition. Some Great Old Ones are aggressive and violent, others subtle late bloomers. As the best match-ups depend not only on your own abilities but also what everyone else is playing the strategy used in one game may not work in the next.

On top of that we also have variant boards with their own layout and special rules; independent Great Old Ones that can be summoned by any faction to fight on their behalf; High Priests; Ramsey Campbell’s monsters and other supplements.

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With the Opener of the Ways battered into obscurity, it looks as though Black Goat would win, but a surge from Great Cthulhu itself clinches victory in the late stages

It all sounds like a mega-game, and at first it can be a bit daunting. Yet the core system is sound enough that two turns in you know how the rules work, and it’s a matter of concentrating on how to get the best synergies and strategies underway.

With all the variety of the expansions it really rewards repeat play and despite the vast breadth of options, I’ve seen experienced Cthulhu Wars players at my local club easily complete a game in a couple of hours or less.

While Onslaught Three offers a lot to existing players it is also a great jumping on point if you haven’t played before. The stretch goals are falling like autumn leaves and everything from the original projects are available as add-ons so you can back without a specific reward level and choose what you want. There are just a few days to go before the Kickstarter ends.

And remember these wise words: Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn

Have you played Cthulhu Wars yet? What did you think?

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It’s not over ’til it’s… Oh. It’s over.

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