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Subject: Cthulhu Wars a review rss

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Ben Burns
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I was at NTRPGCon over the weekend and met up with Sandy. I've played in a Call of Cthulhu game with him last year so was excited to hear about his new board game. So I made sure I signed up to play. It is short enough we actually played 2 games. I played the Black Goat faction the first game and the Cthulu faction the next game.

First off, yes the mini's are just as amazing in person as the pictures indicate. Nothing like picking up Cthulhu and invading someone else's territory.

Game pieces: The ones he had were extremely nice, thick and sturdy. They would stand up to a lot of play before becoming unusable. The map board was really cool, though he didn't have the real board he had a paper one we played on. It can actually make 4 different variations of the world to play on. And with 13 expansions coming out, add in the very different ways to play each faction, and it adds for a lot of variation.

Each faction is so different than the other factions, that no 2 people are ever trying to do the same things. If you think this is a war game you are wrong. You do not win by wiping anyone out, etc.. You win by doing rituals and raising your doom track to 20. Get there and have your spell books and you win.

In both games I played there was fairly minimal combat as most of the players were new and kind of tentative on what to do.

Game Mechanics: The basic game mechanics are extremely simple. There are 3-4 options on what you can do, and once you play it once, they are 2nd nature. Though having Sandy there to explain things made it run a lot smoother. I haven't actually read the rule book, so I hope there are some examples in there. The biggest thing is remember cultist are NOT monsters. There are rules for cultists and rules for monsters.

Faction Game Mechanics: This has to do with the spells you get in your spell books. Some of these can be a bit complicated. I saw even an experienced player make a mistake using one of her abilities. However, it is the rule books that make each faction so unique. As each spell book is unique. Either the rule book needs to clearly explain a couple of the spell books or there will be an FAQ real quick on a couple. The 1"x2" cards that hold the spell book info, sometimes isn't large enough to get into too many details.

But don't get me wrong, the majority of the spells are easy to implement and make total sense. I think our biggest problem was we were unfamiliar with what everyone had, so questions were brought up that wouldn't ever again.

Game play is fast. There is very little sitting around waiting for other players to go through 20 things. You do 1 action and the next player goes. So example, I move 3 cultists into 3 new areas, this cost me 3 power. Done with my action move to the next players turn. When I'm out of power, then it skips me and those with power can keep going, until everyone is out of power.
Then you add up how much power you get for the next turn and start again. The game actually only lasts about 3-4 Full turns. But you probably got 5-6 actions in each turn. So you are looking at about 20-30 moves per game before someone wins.

Combat: Combat is easy enough mechanic wise, but difficult to do more than a few small skirmishes because of all the costs to move cultists and monsters around. And that moving is 1 action and combat is a separate action, allowing people to reinforce, until you get all 6 of your spell books. Then you can move and attack as 1 action. Then combat picks up, especially with Cthulhu's submerge and reemerge anywhere he wants to spell. And it is cheap power wise to bring a full army with him.

Acquiring your spell books. These again are all unique. You can almost consider these like an achievement unlock. So I do a specific task, and I get a spell book. Some are extremely easy and others are very difficult. Example, I was the black goat faction game 1. I got my first spell book on my first move when I moved 3 cultist into 3 areas and had people in 4 areas. While my hardest was being in 8 areas. Cthulu's hardest to get was probably killing at least 2 enemy in 1 combat. With all the spells and such, without Cthulhu himself it is very, very difficult.

Variability: I can see a ton of variability in this game, especially if you get a few expansions. With every faction being so different, and there are several ways to win with each faction. I played the whole game with the Black goat and never used one of his better powers. And when I played Cthulhu I played him completely different than the previous player. And I'd love to play the other factions and then go back and replay the ones I already did. Add in the 4 different board configurations and its a lot different.

Overall fun: Definitely a yes. We never got bogged down into the minutia of the rules, of course having Sandy there helped, but there just weren't that many questions that even came up. The hardest part of the game is picking the order you get your spell books, and remembering to keep your eye on the actual goal of the game. Its so easy to get caught up with whats going on the board, with all the cool mini's and attacking, building up your power base and killing/capturing the enemies forces, you forget to do your rituals to destroy the world.
In the 2nd game I decided I was going to go for a quick win, and built up a quick power base, then summoned Cthulhu and immediately started doing my rituals and won pretty easily.

Balance: While Cthulhu won both our games, I think that is more an indication that Cthulhu is easier to play than the other factions. Also some of his spell books require him to go attack. None of the other factions do that. So I'd bet for 80% of the first time players if everyone is new, Cthulhu will win. However, by the 2nd and 3rd game on, and players become more familiar with not only their own factions powers, but all the powers, it will be about even who wins. And will be determined more by strategy than anything else.

Overall, I give this game a 9 to 9.5 on a 10 scale. Only a couple things I'd like to see changed.

1. I more variable starting positions. Everyone always starts in the same areas. Now the areas can change with the different maps, but having some variability there I think would give even more variation. Though I do know 1 of the factions can start in a some different spots.

2. I would like to see Ancient ones be a bit tougher. Say all AO have the same ability as the star-spawn so they would have to take 2 hits before being killed.

I might think of a couple other things, but my overall impression was that I had a fantastic time playing. It was so much fun, everyone who played immediately wanted to play again.

It has very fast setup time. (< 5 mins). And quick play time ~1 to 2 hours, average about 1.5 hours.

Grats Sandy, you got a winner on your hands with this one.



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Jack Francisco
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Any resistance that I would put up against this is futile. I will have to jump aboard.
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Jeff C
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If I hadn't just received a lecture on my "spending habits" I probably would have backed this the first day (though the wonky way the early bird specials went also was a hinderance).
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Michael McFarlin
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Thanks so much for this. Makes me very happy I jumped on this when I did.
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Thomas
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Curious to see how this game evolves, too bad the expansions are so expensive.
 
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Thanks for the review, I'm a backer, but still waiting for more info before I know if I am going to stay one or not. So far, I really like what I see.

 
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Matt Shinners
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BenTheRat wrote:

Each faction is so different than the other factions, that no 2 people are ever trying to do the same things.

Faction Game Mechanics: This has to do with the spells you get in your spell books.

My worry here is that some of the spells are just better than others, and there seem to be limited numbers of them (6 per faction, if I'm not mistaken). If that's the case, replay value seems to be limited - once you know the ideal progression of spells, you just do that. Then, it just becomes a "Let's all pile on the leader" game where it's more reaction than any type of strategy.

Can you talk a little bit about the spells? Are they balanced enough that selecting one will be situational, and the same progression won't always happen? Did you get a sense of this the first game, or not really?

It seems like the replay comes more from the interaction of having different factions on the board each time, but when you're charging $55/faction, it adds up quickly...
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A. B. West
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Very good review given the play and this looks like an exciting game! Love the mini's of course. Might pick this one up!
 
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Thanasis Patsios
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The first point the OP makes about starting positions is critical IMO. Surely this will lead to a standardised meta-play with the same optimal opening moves for each faction.
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Ben Burns
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There are only 6 per faction. For balance, I can say I felt the 2 I played were balanced. I'm not sure how they balance between each other.

There are so many different ways to play though, I'd say there is no real set pattern for the spells. Some you definitely play earlier than others, but most are related to your different monsters.

So when playing black goat I didn't bother with the Fungi spell until last because I didn't summon them until almost the end.

So its more a matter of what your strategy is will dictate which spells you choose. But yes, some you will choose earlier and some later. Obviously you won't pick the spell for your Ancient One until you bring him out, etc... But whether my strategy is to bring out the Ancient one early or build up the smaller monsters and work up slowly.
 
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Sandy Petersen
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Our experience in other playtests is that one of the biggest strategy decisions a player makes is which spellbook to bring out first.

And it's hard to tell whether a spellbook is "stronger" than another, because they are so different. For instance, Cthulhu's Y'ha Nthlei spellbook lets him suck power out of enemy Gates in Ocean Areas. Is this more powerful than Crawling Chaos's Abduct, which lets his Nightgbaunts carry off enemy monsters before combat? Plus, Y'ha Nthlei is not as good in the earliest part of the game, when other players are unlikely to have an Ocean Gate. But you like getting it early, so you can be getting that extra power over time so ... every decision is nuanced.

Also I wanted to say that in the other 10 games I played at the convention Cthulhu only won once. So there is at least one data point to undermine the theory that Cthulhu wins 80% of the time in early games. Maybe it is true if Cthulhu seeks out combat and no one else does.

Of course with experienced players there is low-level combat all the time.
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Ben Burns
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thats interesting, that was just my observation on the 2 game we played.

So out of the 12 games, Cthulhu won 3 times, or 1/4. But myself and the other guy who played Cthulhu are both really good at board games. So maybe it had more to do with us, than the powers.

 
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Sandy Petersen
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I do think that if other players are all cautious, and Cthulhu is not, this gives him an edge. I mean in your games Cthulhu didn't just win, he won BIG.

The game is not about being cautious and coy, that's for sure. It's about hauling out your big-ass monster and Getting It Done.
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Ben Burns
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I'll agree with you there. I guess I said the 80% because most players tend to be cautious and Cthulhu kind of forces you to not be cautious.

I realized in the 2nd game I had been way too timid in the first game.
 
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Don Riddle
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@Sandy: is there a "cautious" faction that can wait out Cthulhu's aggressiveness without succumbing?
something can slow him down without battling?
 
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Ken H
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Very cool and nice to hear a first hand report with with Zombicide Season 2 having burnt a hole in my wallet as it is I'm out. $150 for just the game is nuts and part of me would like to see any publisher crazy enough to push it to that level fail miserably.
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David Boeren
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I wouldn't say that. $125 (when I signed up) is fine, and really any price is fine as long as you're receiving sufficient value for your money.\

That's what we all still need to be convinced of, because right now I don't feel like there's $125 of value there and almost all the add-on stuff requires additional money. There are currently two free figures being offered, but only if you spend $200+. Granted, they're jumbo figures and come with some cards and tiles but for $200 into any other similar game on Kickstarter you'd be buried under a mountain of bonus stuff.

No problem, we've got 4 weeks left to see what happens. Either the value materializes or you can drop with nothing lost. I feel like a lot of us are in this same boat.

Personally, I think the expansions are the problem. Way too many, and way too expensive. Since realistically you can't have them all it makes the perceived value of owning the game at all go down. This is a boardgame, and people who love a boardgame want to own the whole game, not 25% of it.

If they can find a way to dramatically reduce the number and cost of the expansions I think you'd see a huge increase in how many people stay in at the end. Bundling would probably be one good way to help with this.
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Sandy Petersen
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You DO get "the whole game" even if you just buy the basic box set, with 4 factions. 90% of our playtests have been with just the basic four factions and they are plenty of fun.

I can't see how the fact that the game is expandable makes it in any way a worse game, unless you think we should have just released a super-game with every single conceivable sequel already included in the box. Or not done expansions at all.

We would love to do the expansions cheaper, but each is pretty much 1/4 of the full game in size, but costs more per piece to produce because we expect a lower "print run" of the expansions, vis-a-vis the main game. European friends may have noticed that we did NOT add a shipping charge to the expansions as well, so we are eating that (and it's not cheap, with a faction weighing in at about 2 pounds). With full knowledge, I hasten to add - i'm not complaining.

Note also that "any other similar game on kickstarter" would have had either fewer figures, or much smaller ones, or both. Of course figures aren't gameplay, but I can assure you that we have been playtesting this thing up and down both sides and through the middle.
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Sandy Petersen
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In answer to the question about the "cautious" faction:

Every faction has to fight at times. But the game is more a series of skirmishes, with an occasional all-out fight (usually triggered by Nyarlathotep or Cthulhu, but sometimes one of the others).

I would say that Yellow Sign and Shub-Niggurath are the most "pacifistic" factions.

Yellow Sign tends to survive battles because he usually has a whole lot of weak crappy monsters in an area, so he is protected by the fact it takes a long time to hack through his minions, so to speak. One way a playtester likes to describe him is "He can't dish it out, but he sure can take it."

Shub-Niggurath is able to spawn lots of monsters very quickly, so it's not so much that she survives battles particularly well - but she recovers very swiftly indeed. I can think of many playtests in which Cthulhu or someone launched a violent assault on one of Shub-Niggurath's Gates, and killed almost half of her whole on-board faction. On her very next turn, she re-summoned every single monster she'd lost, plus a couple extras, and was back in the game. Of course, she'd still lost the Gate, but she was in a position to do something about it. Now, Shub-Niggurath herself is a potent combat force, but not as dangerous as the other G.O.O.s. It's her resilience she relies upon more than her combat power.
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Holy Wall o' text batman! Would have been nice to have some pictures to break this up and to illustrate some of the claims made about mini-qualities and such.

Either way, thanks for the review.
 
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Kelsey Rinella
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Sandy Petersen wrote:
I can't see how the fact that the game is expandable makes it in any way a worse game, unless you think we should have just released a super-game with every single conceivable sequel already included in the box. Or not done expansions at all.

I think there's a lot to gain in helping people appreciate the value of the base game, or one with some but not all expansions. I also like the idea of giving people a bit of the publisher's perspective on these decisions. That said, there are a lot of completionists in the boardgaming hobby. It clearly makes the experience of collecting a great game less satisfying for them if they know they can't afford to complete their set (or they did complete it, but feel they were unreasonably prodigal to do so).

Personally, I think the instinct to collect is generally a cause of me doing things which ultimately reduce my happiness, so I try to stomp on it when I notice it in myself and advocate for others to quell such behaviors to the extent that they can. So I get where you're coming from, but hope you'll try to see things from their perspective a little more. That could well mean just saying that this game is designed to appeal to those who like being able to choose their expansions, and you recognize it's an expensive product for a completionist to own while also thinking it delivers enough value to make that a pretty awesome purchase. Which essentially amounts to, "Too bad," but doesn't make it seem like there's something wrong with being a completionist.
 
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Don Riddle
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well, i don't personally think that Mr. Petersen's comment implied any negativity towards completionists. it was more of a grumpy shrug, as if to say: 'what can i do? i designed some expansions. they're expensive and not necessary for the base game so i didn't include them. but i can't give them away for free.'
that said...
i'm perturbed by the pricing as well. the expansions say suggested retail of $55. well, there's no way they're gonna cost that much, because nobody (too few) would by them at that price. i wish he'd come down on the expansion pricing, or, as others have suggested, provide INEXPENSIVE bundling options. he HAS said that he's looking into such things, but no word yet.
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This sounds a lot like Chaos In The Old World (Cthulu-ized). Has anyone played both to weigh in on that? (FWIW - CITOW is a fantastic game)

I backed the kickstarter and was kind of displeased that the level that includes the game and 'all the kickstarter stretch goals' - really doesn't include any stretch goals since all the stretch goals are just unlocking the ability to pay more money for more maps or factions.

I do not want to own only 1/2 the available factions and I don't want to pay $500 for everything.

IMO, it would have been nice to put out the game and maybe a stretch goal free add in 5th faction + bonus map now, and then release an expansion faction or board every few months. When they added an expansion to CITOW I was thrilled to buy it a year after the game we had played a bunch, and if they put out another expansion we'd jump at that too. It is just painful to dole out $400-500 in one chunk for a game you've never played.

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Kelsey Rinella
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riddle13 wrote:
well, i don't personally think that Mr. Petersen's comment implied any negativity towards completionists. it was more of a grumpy shrug, as if to say: 'what can i do? i designed some expansions. they're expensive and not necessary for the base game so i didn't include them. but i can't give them away for free.'

I am sometimes more sensitive on others' behalf than on my own; I hope others read his comment in this light and that I was just expecting more uncharitable readings by others than would have happened.
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The minis are awesome, but I wish they were smaller. They aren't really 25mm... since Cthulhu then would be 15-25 feet tall which is way too tiny. As i referenced in my other post this reminds me a ton of Chaos In The Old World from the description and from the number and variety of figures in each faction. Those minis were small, but still looked awesome and the game was free by comparison. I know I would much prefer smaller minis and $20 expansion factions than $55 ones that just take up more storage space.

I don't want to sound like a hater tho... I will most likely stick with my backing of the kick starter, but it will take a lot more than I currently see to make me up my pledge to the $200 level. It just isn't worth is for 2-3 minis. If you got a free faction then it would be worth it and would take at least some of the sting out of the price of the other items you bought to get to $200. $40 for a map? That's a bit extreme.
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