Imagine for a moment that you, the reader, have been transported back to the 1920s, work is scarce but there is a job available as a cleaner that provides just enough money to eat and live. Time passes by and as you grow tired of the menial labour tasks, you refocus your efforts on learning as much as you can about trying to start a Lovecraftian cult. Picking up the latest manuscripts and books you continue to learn about the required skills each day. Your dreams at night take you far away and sometimes fill you with dread or contentment for the next days work. Through talking with others, it is discovered that you have the same ideals and beliefs, so you start a cult to draw more people to the truth. Pesky annoyances, like a detective, start nosing around your cults new expeditions and adventures and you must find clever ways to get rid of them or perish trying.
This is just a taste of the story for the card-based simulation game Cultist Simulator created by Weather Factory with the Nintendo Switch version being developed by Playdigious.
As a simulation card-based adventure, the player has to work their way through the story by utilising cards to live, work, study, explore and start and grow a cult following. Each round starts with a decision of what character legacy the player will have. Choose between the always available Aspirant, up to the advanced legacies that become available upon victory in each round. The selection available for the new round is dependent upon how the last round finished.
Each round is comprised of the following structure:
- Pick a character legacy
- The round begins with menial labour cards to obtain funds
- As the game progresses specific tokens (e.g. Study, Dream) will hit the play space and require the player to use resources appropriately. These resources include Health, Passion, Reason and Funds that are acquired through finding certain cards and story paths.
- Victory is gained by expanding your notoriety and being able to grow your cult enough to be able to win the round.
- Defeat ends in the character death from either starvation, illness, injury or dread reaching three stacks.
Cultist Simulator is a challenging game. It throws the player in the deep end to learn the different time-based tokens and what cards can be used to stay alive. No tutorial exists for this time-based outcome and if the player is not quick to pause the timers then things can get out of hand quickly, with significant repercussions. Utilising pause provides players a way to stop and look at the table without taking away from the challenge of the situation that has a defined outcome. The timer can taunt the player at times as once they have locked in a card on a token it cannot be changed.
The cards tell a well-crafted written story with plenty of surprises to keep the player guessing as to what is coming next. At some points, “fork in the road” moments will present themselves where the player must make a major decision which are unable to be changed once accepted. This player found that it could lead to frustration at times due to the irrevocable nature and results are instantly felt whether they are good or bad.
As this is a simulation card game the player will need to use trial and error to learn what combination of cards can be used to perform certain tasks. Have low health? Study about Vitality to gain some back. Dread got you down? Find a contentment card to erase it before it overcomes you. Low on Passion or Reason? Find a way to restore it through study or expeditions. Be careful with certain cards in the dream token as dreams can cause Dread or Illness tokens to appear and if you are out of work for a while your funds will dry up and the character will eventually starve. Through careful use of cards and waiting for the right situation, the player will find a way to survive.
Cultist Simulator is a single-player experience with mature themes that would be hard to explain to any child. The fact that it is written words and not graphical content means that the player could have a round with children around without too much trouble. The timer on the tokens are able to be paused, which has proven effective for parenting duties needed during this review. Also, the Switch allows for the game to be put into sleep mode in the middle of a round which is handy for the 2-3 hour plus rounds if a break is needed.
Rob for One More Game
8 – Great – this is a standout game where some minor changes would make it amazing. You could easily justify your purchase of this game.
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A review code was kindly provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review for the Nintendo Switch. Our thoughts are ours and ours alone.