2-4 players, Competitive, Area Control
Designer: Sandy Petersen
Artwork: Kev Adams
Publisher: Petersen Games
Overview of Gameplay
Cthulhu Wars is played out round after round with each player taking a single action until either a player reaches 30 “Doom” points or the “Instant Death” section on the Ritual of Annihilation Track. Yes it all sounds very ominous and as you know, I enjoy ominous things. So each players turn will see them performing a single action which will consist of either moving units around, summoning monsters or cultists to the board, casts spells from their active spell books (if any) or attacks another players units. These actions cost power points which will detract from your overall total throughout the round. Once a player has used up all their power they must pass for the remainder of the round.
The Action Phase that I just described is the meat of the entire game but there are other phases that you actually perform before that phase. In order these are: Gather Power, Determine First Player, Doom, Action. You start out by increasing your power that you will later spend. This is MOSTLY determined by how many summoning gates you control on the board. But there are also other ways such as how many cultists you have on the board and some factions have abilities that allow them to gain power in other insidious ways. After this we move to determine the first player. This game is unique in that the first player is in a constant state of flux entirely dependent on who has the most power. After the gain power phase whoever comes out on top with the most power gains the first player marker and then gets to determine the direction of play, that is, the player turn order. After that super quick round the Doom phase transpires in which the Doom track advances per player based on how many controlled summoning gates they have and then each player in turn order can choose to perform a Ritual of Annihilation.
The Ritual of Annihilation is a very expensive ritual and arguably one of those things that won’t be done a lot in the game till towards the end of the game. You have to pay the cost in power to perform the ritual and then you gain the benefit. Here’s the thing, the cost is always high, and it gets higher the more it’s performed, and you really don’t get much out of it. BUT what you do get could mean the difference between winning and losing the gain. Basically it’s a gamble. What you get out of this expensive ritual is to move your Doom marker up along the doom track 1 step for each gate you control and you get to draw an elder sign token out of the bag for each elder god you control on the board, (which for most players is one unless you are playing as Hastur).
Speaking of which I forgot to mention the Elder Sign bag. This is a bag chock full of little tokens with numbers ranging from 1-3 (mostly 1’s) and certain events such as the Ritual allow you to collect them. You keep these babies a secret throughout the game and can reveal them at any time to instantly gain that amount of Doom points to add to your Doom total. This could push you over the edge on the Doom track to initiate the End Game. But beware as if there are other players close to your score, they also get to finish their turns so they could end up beating you.
And…………..there is ONE MORE THING that I need to go over in order to win, the spell books. Each player starts the game with a specific player board with 6 spell book slots and 6 different spell books. On the player boards there are very specific instructions for different situations such as, destroy 2 units at once or summon your elder god etc. Once you complete one or multiple of these instructions you can start placing your spell books on these spots which unlock new abilities for your faction. This is also needed to win the game. You see you MUST have ALL of your spell books placed on your player board by the time someone reaches 30 Doom on the tracker or you have no chance of winning. If you have all your spell books placed AND have the most Doom on the tracker, you win!
I really like the components here, the miniatures are just out of this world. Each faction is colored differently to easily differentiate then on the board which is always a good thing in any area control game. Also they are super detailed with some of them having some awesome detailed bases such as the cultists. And did I mention the elder gods are freakin HUGE? The table presence this game puts off once everything is setup is awe inspiring to say the least. All the colors and the impressive minis, it’s truly a sight to see and it’s very picturesque. The tokens are also super thick and the boards are sturdy.
The one complaint I have are the battle dice as they are just regular dice. For a game to be super decked out with all these colors and enthralled in all the luxuriates of the elder gods, it’s a shame to see the dice you roll to be so……basic. Reminds me of War of the Ring who made the exact same mistake in including some of the most basic dice for battles when everything else in the game is decorated. Now you CAN of course buy special elaborate battle dice made for this game…..and I did order some mind you……but I feel like they should have come with the game. It just feels so off without them.
The box is pretty large and hefty and very durable. I was instantly impressed with how thick the sidewalls of the box lid was actually. The insides are composed of extremely thick plastic inserts that are ehhhh ok. The plastic is super thick and durable feeling for sure but I’m not a fan of how it holds the miniatures in place. It’s got that molded feel to it so once you get everything taken out it’s kinda a pain to figure out how everything goes back in, almost a puzzle. Plus even though there are spaces and gaps in specific spots in the insert nothing really has enough space to hold everything of anything. So you end up putting most of something in a space and then scattering the rest of the components around in the excess space you can find. Everything does fit but it’s kinda a mess.
Visual Appeal /Theme
Classic Cthulhu theme here at its finest. This particular Elder god theme is interesting because usually you have investigators literally going insane trying to prevent cultists from summoning the gods. Here there are no investigators to stop you, just other elder gods and their cultists. And more than likely they will be so busy doing their own summoning that you will easily be able to summon your Elder God…hence the whole “Wars” aspect to this Cthulhu game.
Visually the game is a looker for sure. I already mentioned how much I enjoy the colorful miniatures and how they stand out on the board. Likewise the board itself is colorful, although…..I am not a fan of the board’s design. The way the lines separating the different areas are connected with the land and oceans are sometimes confusing and combine that with the colors they use on the board and you get a mishmash of areas. On top of that this is further complexified depending on how many players you have playing as you flip certain sides of the two boards to accommodate different player counts.
Let me start by saying the Rulebook is CRAZY more intimidating looking than it actually is. This is one of those situations where its bark is worse than its bite for sure. Like When I pulled out that rulebook and say it was like 175 pages thick…I gasped, slowly pushed it away and quickly chugged down a gulp of coffee, burning my luscious lips. Then once I started looking through it I found that the vast majority of the book was just advertisements to more products for the ongoing Cthulhu Wars game line. The game is surprisingly easy to learn and play and I had very few questions after reading through the rulebook.
Table Talk/Fun Factor
From what I’ve played thus far this game does create a decent amount of table talk, especially when units start converging on the same area. I mean you can choose to move around in the same area and not bother one another……and it’s probably a good thing to announce this to the other player if you plan on moving through there…..but at the same time, are you REALLY not going to battle them? Who knows? It always creates tension when units get too close especially to areas that contain those precious gates and those helpless cultists.
As far as fun goes this one lagged for me a bit. Perhaps I am spoiled with the incredible Chaos in the Old World but I just wasn’t as impressed with the game mechanics in this one as I was in Chaos. For me in Cthulhu Wars it seems like EVERYTHING hinges on those gates. I mean you get vastly more power per round the more gates you control, you get more precious Doom points per gates you control, in turn taking a ritual of annihilation is much more appealing the more gates you control. That leads to more places you can summon monsters etc etc. Now of course each faction is asymmetric so playing as Hastur there is a strategy that involves collecting elder sign tokens instead and this could be said of the rest of them too BUT new players are not going to know this at all. So much of the time new players will try to run around and toss up new gates or fight over gates, which is a pretty bland straight forward area control game. Now playing with seasoned players that worked towards their factions strengths makes the game slightly more interesting but still I feel that it wasn’t nearly as intriguing as Chaos with its events and corruption and dial trackers.
Also, and this is a huge one for me, the turns are dull most of the time. You get ONE action. In a 4 player game let’s say you decide to summon a monster at one of your gates. You deduct the required power, place your mini and you’re done. You will see this a lot around the table. Just people moving around the board, summoning monsters usually. When a battle does happen that brings the game to a screeching halt for the rest of the players. They gotta sit there and watch and it will take a bit while everyone counts up the plethora of dice they are using based on what monsters are in the battle and then count up all the aftermath. And then what’s worse is if you run out of power much sooner than other players (which happens more than you’d think) you just sit there getting skipped for who knows how long until everyone else finally runs out of power. This happens often when someone summons one of their elder gods (they take a lot of power obviously).
Optimal Player Count/Replayability
As with most area control games you really need at least 4 players to get the most out of them. The more players you have running amok plotting and planning, the more intriguing situations you can have pop up. This game in particular plays from 2-4 out of the box but the game board is made to play up to 5. So right off the bat I would suggest picking up one of the many elder god expansions to add that 5th player if you normally play with groups of 5 or more. Each faction has a different play style so that does add to the replayability plus as I kind of alluded to earlier there are many different ways to go about winning. You could focus on the gates to garner power or you could try to learn your faction’s strengths and work to those abilities.
Positive Final Thoughts
The game is massive in scale with the huge miniatures tromping around on the board and they all look very awesome. I love the detail and design of each of them. The colors are grand and the presentation is spectacular. The game is overall easy to learn and play and the player boards with the spell books look cool and the asymmetric powers are neat.
Negative Final Thoughts
The game just isn’t all that fun unfortunately when compared to other Area Control games I’ve played. It’s primary focus it seems was its presentation and it nails that in spades but when it comes to gameplay it comes off very lacking. I’m not saying I would never play it if asked as I do enjoy the idea of manipulating these very large and impressive miniatures around on the boards, but there are many other area control games that I would choose over this one.