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The Drink: Tentacooler
In a wine glass filled with ice, combine:
4 oz dry Prosecco or other sparkling white wine
1.5 oz elderflower liqueur
Top with 7-up or Sprite
Enjoy that Elder God Essence!
I'm almost nervous to write this review because Haak loves this game just so goddamn much and I'm afraid he'll unfriend me if I say anything negative about it. (Not really. But maybe actually a little bit.) But, I am here to have opinions, both positive and negative, so opinionate I shall.
What's in the box?
One thing that is undeniably awesome about Cthulhu Wars is the figurines. They're definitely too big to be called mini-figures. We like to refer to them as "maxi-figs." They truly do deserve the name. They're that big.
But seriously, these are some mighty pieces of plastic. H.P. Lovecraft must have had some nasty nightmares and somehow imparted them into the rest of the world, particularly those over at Petersen Games. These figures are scary enough in the neon colors that they arrive in, and I've seen some painted ones--they get so much better and just so, so much worse. There are just too many tentacles and an abundance of eyes where they don't belong. Yuck.
Side Note: Try not to think about maxi-pads while you're worrying about whether that Cthulhu maxi-fig is going to stomp down on your minions. It doesn't make the nightmares any better. #sorry
This game is definitely an investment. With a nearly $200 price tag, play time generally clocking in at nearly 2 hours, and a board that is roughly the size of your living room, this is not a game to be taken lightly. I mean, literally, that box is heavy! Those maxi-figs add up to about 12 pounds.
Anyways, if you can spare the cash and a group of semi-serious to serious gamers, you will probably have a good time. Despite being potentially overwhelming, it is a good game. Or as Haak puts it:
"CTHULHU! LOVECRAFT! WAR! CTHULHU FHTAGN! PETERSEN GAMES! ASYMMETRY! CTHULHU! IÄ IÄ CTHULHU!"
So yeah, I wasn't totally kidding when I said I was afraid he would unfriend me.
Cthulhu Wars is an asymmetric game: while all players are following the same rules and have the same win condition (have a lot of DOOM POINTS), each faction has different abilities, strengths, and sub-goals to complete along the way. Great Cthulhu punches really good, and all of his goals are to punch the other people lots. The rest of the factions do other stuff.
ALL THE DICE
Other than the pure joy of finally having enough power to summon your Great Old One and stomping down that maxi-fig on someone else's puny minion, the actual mechanics of the battles are about as awesome as board game battles can be. The battles are fought through dice rolling... which is pretty standard, but if you have a really strong army fighting in the battle, you get to roll so many dice. It's really satisfying to have literally a handful of dice rattling around ready to take down your opponent through the ever-loved, ever-hated mechanism of probability. But actually, rolling a bunch of dice at once is great, especially when it results in the death of your opponents.
This game does take a while, but there are a variety of sub-goals to complete along the way. In order to get more abilities for your faction, you have to complete spellbook goals, such as "kill 3 enemies in 1 turn" or "share spaces with all of your opponents." It's always a thrill to unlock a new spellbook and feel the power of that new ability.
How much power do I even have
One small aspect of the game that is kind of annoying is that each action requires a different amount of power, which can be difficult to keep track of. There is a power track on your faction card and a small marker to track it with, but it's frequently hard to remember to move the marker the appropriate number of slots, plus the marker is liable to slide around a little if you bump your faction card even infinitesimally.
This is definitely a strategy game. There are quite a few options to choose from on each of your turns and you'll have to manage the amount of power you have left for this turn balanced with how much power your opponents have used so far and how much damage they can wrought after you're out of power. There are a lot of valid strategies, some of which are more straightforward and easier to wrap your head around, some of which are pretty sneaky and require a little more forethought.
The Balancing Act
These strategies are balanced partly by the asymmetry of the different factions, which make different strategies categorically better for different factions. But it's also balanced by the age-old game mechanic of King Making. You can be doing an amazing job and getting really lucky rolls, but if you're doing too obviously well too early, and your opponents all make an agreement to gang up on you... you're probably screwed. As it gets into the late game, there's less they can do if you get on a roll, but you have to be a little careful of being too obviously winning too early.
Everybody is going to think about balancing the many different types of moves they can make and how much power they have to exchange for board control, DOOM POINTS, unlocking spellbooks to get more sweet abilities, or more power on future turns. The doom phase is a great example of this, because each player must decide whether to expend some of their precious energy in exchange for DOOM POINTS.
However, if you're not interested in doing a whole bunch of optimization math, you don't have to do a whole lot of it. You can, to some degree, role-play your faction to help make the choices easier, but you definitely need a pretty good idea of what your faction is about before this will be at all successful. Our first game or two took a really long time as everybody tried to figure out what was going on and what they were trying to do.
Are you a math major?
On the other hand, if you (like Jordan) are excited by using science to figure out the best moves to make depending on your faction and how well the other players are doing, this game will absolutely let you do that. You can count out the amount of power you have and try to expend it as slowly as possible so that you can have the last word each turn after your opponent's run out. Or you can figure out how much power your opponent's killer combo is going to cost them, so you can sneak in and wipe them out after they finish dealing with the third player for you.
Because every faction has different abilities, it is totally possible to trick somebody into a bad move by luring them in, then using one of your sneaky get away powers or sneaky I'm-going-to-kill-you-now powers that they totally forgot you had. Being aware of the other factions' abilities can help you avoid getting sucked into these traps, but there's a lot to keep track of with who has what spellbooks so far and who has power left, so only the most experienced of players will be able to avoid all of these traps. And even moderately experienced gamers will probably be able to set them up.
Because there are so many decisions to make and so many minute ways they can go right or wrong, combined with the fact that you can get screwed by some unlucky dice rolls at the last second, it feels pretty awesome when your plans pay off. But, on the flip side, there are so many things that can go wrong. And it's oh so sad when your Great Old One gets destroyed just before your plan falls into place. Back to the drawing board and time to re-summon that massive figure!
Games take around 2 hours. It can be a little less than that once everybody has a handle on the faction they are playing and is more practiced with the rules.
There are quite a few rules to learn, and the rules reminder cards, while helpful, are still pretty confusing. Even Haak (who had read the rule book multiple times) messed up a few of the rules on his first play through. Not recommended for baby-gamers, but there's not much secrecy so you can continue asking questions throughout if you have one experienced player.
Cthulhu Wars would probably be fine for most color-blind folks. The colors are very bright, and everything except the minions is also a different shape.
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ - Hopefully Haak doesn't hate me for giving less than 5 stars
🍹🍹 - DRINKERS: You have to stay focused for a pretty long time, so probably take it easy.
💭💭💭💭 - THINKERS: So many things to balance, but can get screwed by luck at the last second
⚜⚜⚜⚜⚜ - THEMERS: Yaaaaas. The figures are so beautiful.