Enter Cthulhu Wars by Sandy Petersen. This game puts you in the driver’s seat of a particular faction from the beloved Lovecraftian mythos ( and some friends) such as yellow sign, tcho tcho and of course the great old one Cthulhu himself. In this area control, VP gaining game you will be actively working to open gates, gain power, cause general mayhem and overall end the world in a style that suits you best. This monstrous battle royal can have only one victor as each faction seeks to be the first to gain enough DOOM points to end the world their way.
Doom the World, Your Way.
Cthulhu Wars is often described as the spiritual successor to the Warhammer game Chaos in the Old World where similarly you fill the role of demon lord’s hell bent on the corruption and domination of the mortal realm. Both that game and Cthulhu Wars is fantastic due to the fact that there is a great deal of variance between how each faction plays. This is not a game where you just pick your favorite color to play, each faction has very unique win conditions, play styles and strengths and weaknesses.
On top of this, each faction has 6 unique “spell books” that they acquire in special ways that they need to win the game. These books give the factions unique actions or passives that modify their gameplay. The great thing is that they can be unlocked in any order with the unlock requirements not being tied to a specific spellbook. This added layer of customization creates a lot of variability and replayability as you may need to pursue different skills sooner depending on your matchup or strategy. Your decisions have to change drastically depending not only on who you choose to play but also on what factions you find yourself matched up against. This is a gold star for a game as it offers exponentially more replay options.
This table top masterpiece has been hailed as one of the “Cadillac games” on the market right now tied with other titles such as Kingdom Death Monster and Joan of Arc. What that means you can expect is quality components across the board (no pun intended) as well as a higher than normal price point though many would say it is more than justified considering what you are getting. Just looking at these “minis” was enough to peek my interest and keep it for months as this game has some of the best presentation I have ever seen in a game.
Cthulhu Wars is played over a series of rounds consisting of smaller turns where players spend collected power to summon units, move, and do battle with others on the map all for the goal of controlling gates to gain DOOM. Two great features of this game that make it stand out is the combat system and the abduction mechanic.
First, let’s talk battle. Battle is played out with dice rolling where only 6s result in you removing plastic from the board. 4s and 5s simply cause units to run away to other areas. This may seem off putting but I think it is in fact a great mechanic as you have to choose carefully how you battle as combat does not directly mean plastic is leaving the board as much as it is leaving the space you are in. This means you could be allowing the enemy to move around more and put themselves in a better position if you are not able to remove them from the board. The fun thing is you get to roll a LOT of dice.
Great old ones can often come in packing 8-12 dice on their own not counting their monstrous buddies and sometimes a cultist or two. Now as always when using dice there is a bit of luck in play. I have often lost to far smaller foes because the dice gods had forsaken me but I think this simply adds a bit of chance and spice to the game as losing a fight does not mean you lose your pieces, usually. Combat is far often more about repositioning the enemy more than outright destroying them which is a refreshing take on area control.
Second, Cthulhu Wars has a great mechanic called abduction where monsters can steal other players cultists(a main source of power in the game) pull them off the board and feed them to your great old one for power. This can create a huge difference in power between players and great a fun game of cat and mouse as you need to spread your forces out to get gates but cannot leave cultists undefended as they look mighty tasty when left alone.
There is a second layer to this game within the game as Great Old Ones, your mightiest units can abduct even if there is a monster guarding your cultist. The only defense is to have your Great Old One there as well to stop this from occurring. This adds a great deal of brain burning that can occur as you must plan how to advance your own agenda while also protecting your resources from the constant threat of kidnapping. This cosmic game of tag leaves you a lot of strategic options and also creates a built in “catch up” mechanic as enemies can only spread so far before they run the risk of losing units to easy captures.
A Cult Classic or a Great-Old-One of a Hit?
Cthulhu wars is an exceptional game that is enjoyable to watch, play or heck, even display proudly on your shelf. It is very simple to learn in that you have simple actions to memorize but the depth comes into play with how you interact with each other. The game intentionally limits your space giving you little to no breathing room from the start of the game. Anywhere you go you are rubbing shoulders with rival factions or exposing your flank to a new threat. This tug of war is tangible and forces you to make hard decisions over and over again.
An astounding credit to this game as well is that overall it is very balanced as each and every game I have played has always had at least two competitors’ neck and neck all the way to the end. You can feel Sandy Petersen’s love for this game and the Lovecraftian lore within this title. The painstaking care to the model quality, theme and flavor that each unique faction has just begs me to play this game again and again. With 11 factions now sanctioned by Peterson and so many great homebrew factions to play, this game possesses unlimited replayability and still, after years, sits securely as my favorite game of any category.
While some people may dislike the dice rolling or high, rootlike asymmetry; I would say that dice impact this game far less than TI4 or Risk as bad dice rolls do not mean unit loss nearly as much as those other titles and that the asymmetry of Cthulhu wars only adds to its beauty. Where in Root or Vast, each player is playing their own game in the same world; in Cthulhu Wars, each player is playing the same game with a few neat tricks up their sleeve. The one true critique to Cthulhu Wars is that, like many advanced titles, there is a skill gap from veterans to novice players. A first timer will undoubtedly learn a few things as the game goes through the rounds. While this in no way means a newbie cannot win Cthulhu Wars, it does mean there are a lot of moving parts that is hard to understand until you experience it first hard.
I cannot praise this title enough as it set a new, very high bar for what an area control game needs to be. If you like dudes on a map, beautiful,HUGE minis or just Lovecraftian lore in general, you will not regret checking Cthulhu Wars out!
Genre: Area control
Pros: Beautiful table presence, Attention to balance and detail, High replayability.
Cons:Dice rolled conflict, High faction asymmetry, Learning curve.
Rating: 9.99/10 as close to a perfect hit to me as they come.