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Subject: Classical Euro Mechanisms Wrapped in a Cthulhu Theme rss

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Sam Hillier
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St. Albert
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One of the paths to greatness for games is to have simple rules from which deep, interactive gameplay emerges. My favourite examples of this are games like Concordia, or Ginkgopolis, and it is an apt description of many "classic" Euro games. But what happens when you take a clean, elegant game like that, and wrap it in the writhing tentacles of Cthulhu, the Elder God of Ameritrash? Well, you get Fate of the Elder Gods: a surprising combination of Euro Elegance and Cthulhu Theme.

How does Fate Play? Each player takes the role of a cult trying to summon their favourite Elder God to come and devour the world, and the first to do so is the winner. You will move between six locations around Arkham, from the Museum and Library through to the Other Worlds. Each location lets you take a certain action, with a bonus action if you happen to have area control on that location. These locations let you draw spell cards, accumulate powerful artifacts, recruit more cultists to your cause, and then sacrifice those cultists to progress towards summoning your Elder God.

The action-selection mechanism is what makes Fate so simple and elegant. The current location is marked by a giant Cthulhu statue. To move to a new location, you simply play one of your spell cards face down at the current location (adding it to a column of previously played cards) and move to the location that matches the back of the card you just played. You then go to that location, take the action (possibly with a bonus for area control), and then can use the spell cards at that location to prepare one of your spells for casting.

As you can see, the spell cards are key to this whole endeavour. Each card has a spell on the front (which usually does something nasty to one of the other players), but also has a symbol on the back. The symbol on the back determines where you can go, but then it is left behind. This lets spell cards slowly accumulate on various locations where you, or other players, can use them to cast the prepare and cast the spell itself.

Mechanically, this gives you an interesting choice between using a spell card to move, or as a spell itself. It also gives rise to interesting, Euro style interactions between the players. As players move around, spells accumulate, and these are the resources that anyone can use to prepare their spells. Once they are used in this way, all spell cards are removed from the current location. If you're smart about it, you can really benefit from the other players' actions, and also roadblock their plans.

But there's more than mechanisms to the spells. Think about what this is representing in the city of Arkham. As this Cthulhu statue moves throughout the city, symbolizing the attention of the Elder Gods, it leaves a trail of magical energy behind it. All of the cults can harvest that energy for their own nefarious, mystical purposes.

This leads to another thematic element to the game: the spells themselves. As mentioned above, many of these will do nasty things to your opponents (though some are also defensive). You can kill their cultists, impede their progress, summon investigators to their lodge, seal them with Elder Signs, or even curse them.

Investigators? Elder Signs? Curses? These are the familiar trappings of Cthulhu games, and they appear in Fate in very interactive and strategic ways. First, investigators. These troublesome do-gooders are hot on the trail of the cults, massing on the locations of Arkham and investigating the cults themselves. Mechanically, they accumulate on the locations, and when they hit a critical mass, they move to the lodge of the player who takes that action. It is inevitable that you will end up with some on your lodge eventually, so you'd better come up with a strategy to manage them. If there are ever five or more they perform a raid which, if successful, places Elder Signs that impede the efforts of your cult.

Elder Signs provide an alternate loss condition in Fate. If you accumulate too many, you lose and the game is over. The player who then has the least amount of Elder Signs is the winner. This gives rise to an interesting decision point mid-game, where players can decide to play for their own win, or play to make another player lose (and, hopefully, win at that point by having the fewest Elder Signs). This may happen in a game, it may not. Whether or not the game turns this way is up to the players (as in a classical Euro) and not up to a deck of cards (as in a typical Cthulhu game).

Finally are the curses, which are a very clever way to make the players invested in each others' turns. At certain points in the games (triggered by spells, Elder God abilities, or other player-driven actions), players can become cursed. When this happens, the player to their right draws a card. This contains a piece of bad news for the cursed player, but also a triggering condition that remains hidden. Once that condition becomes satisfied, the curse is revealed and the consequences unleashed. This gives some great tension to the game: if you're cursed, you live in a state of anxiety about which action of yours will trigger the curse.

Through all of these mechanisms (and more that I haven't mentioned), Fate manages to achieve a surprising combination of classic, elegant Euro mechanisms, and rich, rewarding, Lovecraftian theme. This isn't a dry, cube-pushing, resource management Euro game, but neither is it a fiddly, luck-driven mess of a Lovecraft game filled with tiny cards and flavour text. Instead, it is an elegant game with simple mechanisms from which arises an interactive, thematic, engrossing game, filled with player interaction, strategic decisions, and engaging theme.

I do want to offer one cautionary note, that the game still has some elements of "roll to resolve." Investigator raids, and a few other mechanisms in the game, use custom dice to determine their outcome. This can occasionally give rise to a big swing in the game: 5 investigators on your lodge may fail completely to place Elder Signs, while they may place 5 on me (which gets me half of the way towards losing). Fate does provide players with ample ways to mitigate this through artifacts, spells, and other powers, but it is there for people who are adverse to such things.
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Rome Knows Nothing
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Great breakdown!!

I LOVE this game!!
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Dice Hate Me
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Awesome review, Sam. So glad you're loving the game. Thanks for spreading the love!
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Ben Armstrong
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Nice review. thumbsup I wasn't interested in this when it was announced (I've got enough Cthulhu games as it is!) but this actually looks pretty slick, to the point it's high on my wishlist now. Only worry is that the theme might be a bit dark for other people I game with.
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Dice Hate Me
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Big B wrote:
Nice review. thumbsup I wasn't interested in this when it was announced (I've got enough Cthulhu games as it is!) but this actually looks pretty slick, to the point it's high on my wishlist now. Only worry is that the theme might be a bit dark for other people I game with.


Glad your interest has been piqued!

If it's any consolation on the darkness, it doesn't feel oppressive when you're playing. It's more mischievous than downright evil. I mean, we have an Elder God that eats Cultists and burps out Summoning Points...
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Joel Carr
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It is funny, I really like the mechanics I have seen.. and personally am fine with the theme.. but the rest of my family would dislike the theme... so it is a tough sell....
 
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