Cthulhu Wars - A Five Second Board Game Review

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Cthulhu Wars - A Five Second Board Game Review

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There Will Be Games

That is not dead which can eternal lie. Or, y’know, whatever.
― James S.A. Corey

Cthulhu Wars is about as straightforward as a modern area control game gets; going as far as to outright copy Chaos in the Old World’s action point system, which was... exactly the right decision.

When I sat down for Cthulhu Wars, I was greeted with miniatures that could concuss my opponents in the event of an altercation, and the knowledge that this game cost more than any 3 random games I could pull off my shelf. I figured the game play would be equally bespoke and was kinda surprised that I had seen most of it before.

But, the familiar proven mechanics allowed the glitzier physical elements to shine though. That isn’t to say that the game doesn’t have new mechanics. It does and I had a blast messing with them. They just aren’t headliners.

This game was never striving to be innovative. It merely strove to feel like big, eldritch monsters were at war and to let you have a blast with all the fun toys in the box. And in that it succeeds wonderfully.


Mason Sokol
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Mason plays games and has opinions.

Articles by Mason Sokol

Associate Writer

Articles by Mason Sokol

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Malloc's Avatar
Malloc replied the topic: #296447 03 May 2019 08:11
cw is the best example of a “Meh” game that people play because it cost as much as their 1st car.
Vysetron's Avatar
Vysetron replied the topic: #296451 03 May 2019 08:44
I love this series. Wish I'd thought of it. Keep up the good work.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #296453 03 May 2019 09:17
@Vysetron

Anyone can submit a 5-second review. I would like to run them more often.
Ah_Pook's Avatar
Ah_Pook replied the topic: #296456 03 May 2019 10:20

Malloc wrote: cw is the best example of a “Meh” game that people play because it cost as much as their 1st car.


I dunno, I think it's a good game. It's basically a mashup of Chaos In The Old World and Nexus Ops (both of which I like a lot on their own) that works really well. I've only played the base game so I can't comment on the zillion dollars worth of expansions, but I think dismissively writing it off because it's ludicrously overproduced/expensive does the game a disservice.

That said I definitely wouldn't have ponied up MSRP for it, but that's a different discussion.
Vysetron's Avatar
Vysetron replied the topic: #296457 03 May 2019 10:46
I do think the game is good, but only "good". The main reason it's seen the level of success it has is the ludicrous production. It sticks in people's heads mostly because of what it looks like, not how it plays. If it was released with standees way back when it wouldn't have gotten the pile of expansions and support it sees today.
Colorcrayons's Avatar
Colorcrayons replied the topic: #296460 03 May 2019 10:49

Ah_Pook wrote:

Malloc wrote: cw is the best example of a “Meh” game that people play because it cost as much as their 1st car.


I dunno, I think it's a good game. It's basically a mashup of Chaos In The Old World and Nexus Ops (both of which I like a lot on their own) that works really well. I've only played the base game so I can't comment on the zillion dollars worth of expansions, but I think dismissively writing it off because it's ludicrously overproduced/expensive does the game a disservice.

That said I definitely wouldn't have ponied up MSRP for it, but that's a different discussion.


I can see where you're coming from and agree. Yet it's hard to separate cost from consideration, at least as far as subjective perception of value is concerned.

But I do hear a lot of people not only talking about the game, but playing it a lot. So they are getting some mileage out of their gaming dollars. The question I have about that is, are they playing it more because they sunk so much into it? Or is it because it's a legit game that people want to play a lot? Or some combo of the two, or more factors?
MasonSokol's Avatar
MasonSokol replied the topic: #296464 03 May 2019 11:19

Colorcrayons wrote:

Ah_Pook wrote:

Malloc wrote: cw is the best example of a “Meh” game that people play because it cost as much as their 1st car.


I dunno, I think it's a good game. It's basically a mashup of Chaos In The Old World and Nexus Ops (both of which I like a lot on their own) that works really well. I've only played the base game so I can't comment on the zillion dollars worth of expansions, but I think dismissively writing it off because it's ludicrously overproduced/expensive does the game a disservice.

That said I definitely wouldn't have ponied up MSRP for it, but that's a different discussion.


I can see where you're coming from and agree. Yet it's hard to separate cost from consideration, at least as far as subjective perception of value is concerned.

But I do hear a lot of people not only talking about the game, but playing it a lot. So they are getting some mileage out of their gaming dollars. The question I have about that is, are they playing it more because they sunk so much into it? Or is it because it's a legit game that people want to play a lot? Or some combo of the two, or more factors?


I tend to question the usefulness of trying to make such a distinction, people say you enjoy the taste of alcohol or coffee because of the effects not because you are getting objective enjoyment from the taste, but I still get a big damn smile on my face from my morning coffee that I couldnt get from just warmed half and half and tons of splenda. These people *are* getting enjoyment and trying to suss out if it is *true* enjoyment can be a...not great road to travel ultimately.

I do see why people try to make that distinction, largely because they want to know if *they’d* get the same enjoyment, I just caution against looking too hard as to whether enjoyment is valid, since it basically always is ;)
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #296466 03 May 2019 11:47
The over-sized monsters creates a level of ridiculousness that keeps people in a good mood even when they are being totally screwed. I feel completely comfortable playing CW at cons and open game meet-up with people I don't know very well because it attracts people who have a sense of humor. I don't have concerns that they will get bent out of shape, sulky, moody, rules lawyery, angry or argumentative the way people can get when playing other DoaMs. Players who are attracted to CW tend to be the kind of people who are invested in "having a blast" watching giant monsters beat the crap out of each other, rather than being invested in winning the game at all costs, or demonstrating their personal cleverness.

It looks like exactly what it is - big, dumb DoaM fun.
hotseatgames's Avatar
hotseatgames replied the topic: #296467 03 May 2019 12:05
The only game that has been more of a hit with my group than Cthulhu Wars is Spartacus. We love how fast it is, as well as how straight-forward it is. It's also a joy to really dig deep into a faction so you can play it well. I have played each faction at least one time except for the Ancients, and I'll get around to them soon.

It's a top 5 for me, probably.
WadeMonnig's Avatar
WadeMonnig replied the topic: #296476 03 May 2019 15:13
Well now, I guess we get to see what happens when we add a different editor star score to the mix :) I'd give it a 4.5.
I could (and probably will at a later date) write 1,500 words on what I love about Cthulhu Wars. I've played as all the base factions and shockingly, I liked all the base factions and would play any of them again. Granted, I love DOAM's but this is a fantastic one. I got my onslaught 2 copy (with a fist sized hole in the bottom of the box) for a mere $75.00 at a ding and dent sale. It's a game I will play in a heartbeat and it can go pretty damn quick. Definitely top 10 for me.
tk342's Avatar
tk342 replied the topic: #296477 03 May 2019 15:29
I wish I knew how to make this play fast. My group has really liked it every time we've played but it always ends up taking an hour or two longer than I would like.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #296478 03 May 2019 16:44
@tk342

Yikes! When we play the whole game only takes two hours tops. If everyone has played before it is usually only about an hour and half for 4 players.
Josh Look's Avatar
Josh Look replied the topic: #296479 03 May 2019 17:25

Ah_Pook wrote: It's basically a mashup of Chaos In The Old World and Nexus Ops


And yet not anywhere near as good as either.

This game is a rare case in which I feel absolutely nothing while I play it. No excitement, no tension, no thrill of playing with giant plastic figures, and no real desire to ever dig in deeper to see if I’m not playing it well enough. Mechanically, it’s sound and nothing strikes me as bad, yet at no point do I feel like I’m having fun.

I love me some toy appeal and can enjoy a dumb game that has some, but I dislike the giant figures. I’m not completely anti-Lovecraft, but the theme is stupid. This could have been *the* kaiju game, with its dopey, dumb gameplay and with reasonably sized minis that actually gave it an MSRP that matches what you’re getting. But no, here’s one of the definitive KS projects with Lovecraftian monsters fighting because nerds. I didn’t pay for it, so I guess I have no horse in that race.

As an actual game, it’s fine. It’s not great, it’s not bad, it does nothing to rise above the other options in the same design space. To me, it’s boring and forgettable, which actually might be the worst fate a game can suffer.
WadeMonnig's Avatar
WadeMonnig replied the topic: #296480 03 May 2019 18:19
*waits for Josh to add his rating to see how much it lowers the overall* Rally the troops, we've got a cthulhu rating war! :)
Josh Look's Avatar
Josh Look replied the topic: #296482 03 May 2019 19:10
Wait until the next ICFTT drops and you hear which AT sacred cow I outright dislike.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #296486 03 May 2019 21:45
The thing about CW is that people who like Chaos in the Old World expect it to be Chaos in the Old World, but bigger and better. And people who like strategic, DoaM games want it to be a strategic DoaM, but bigger and better.

But what it is a chaotic tactical game. It becomes increasingly chaotic as the game progresses. In the last turn or two are typically totally out of control, and any f**king thing can happen, and most of it will be "unfair." And this is so this is so thematically perfect.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #296491 04 May 2019 00:19
Root actually has a similar "points get out of control at the end" factor, now that you mention it, uba. I think that drives people crazy too.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #296493 04 May 2019 00:51
@Gary Sax

Yeah, it's like that but more chaotic. Like the last turn of Argent when every one has so many special powers and actions that you can't track them. By the last couple of turns of CW most factions have some kind of teleport power, Cthulhu can convert other faction's cultists to his own anywhere on the board, the blue faction can scatter everyone's dudes when they have to retreat so you have no control over where your dudes end up on the board, everyone with 6 spell books can declare as many battles as they wish with a single action.

Your ability to predict and influence the board state peaks mid-game, and you have about two turns to make the most of it before all hell breaks loose.
Josh Look's Avatar
Josh Look replied the topic: #296509 04 May 2019 11:31
I get that it’s not CitOW or something more deep and strategic, but that’s also not an excuse for flat, mediocre gameplay. Cthulhu Wars is the board game equivalent of a Zack Snyder flick, all style and no substance. More specifically, it’s like one of his DC movies. You can’t just literally copy and paste from the all-time greats, taking those individual elements completely out of context, deliver an entirely sub-par experience and hope that the walls of glitz, or in this case, plastic, are enough to distract your audience so that they don’t see that you don’t really understand what those things you’re referencing were really all about.
Jackwraith's Avatar
Jackwraith replied the topic: #296516 04 May 2019 12:56
I guess my note of reluctance is that I don't like what are essentially pre-programmed games. The last Kickstarter sent out one of their "updates" yesterday and it was a breakdown of how the game is played over the 4-6 turns that it usually lasts. Throughout said turn-by-turn breakdown, the words "must" and "have to" and phrase "if you don't, you're in trouble" are frequently used. It's basically saying that you have to have a your respective Great Old One on the board in turn two to keep up with all the other players summoning theirs. If you don't pursue that strategy that the games hands to you, you lose.

That's what makes Josh's comment about it potentially being a kaiju game relevant. It's mostly about giant Lovercraft monsters bashing each other. I guess you could play King of Tokyo/New York and save yourself an hour? Granted, none of the monsters in the King Of games are anywhere near as interesting as the CW factions, but what I found fascinating about games like CitOW is that there were other angles you could take in the early game, based on your opponents and their actions, which gives the game a nice, tactical feel. I often don't get that from CW because, as their email indicates, the game forces you to do certain things in order to stay competitive. There's nothing wrong with that. Sometimes the fun is in figuring out how to take that programmed path in the most efficient way, based on what you're up against and the game state. But I start to feel hemmed in when, on turn two(!), I have to get my big bad on the board or I'm basically out of the hunt.

That mild frustration is part of why I've been eager to try other factions, to see if they depart from that in some way (Windwalker's GOO coming in stages, for example; as does the new Demon Sultan faction's) and/or change the makeup of the game for how the other factions might proceed. But if they're saying that a game shouldn't go past the sixth turn because everyone SHOULD be doing X, maybe that means it's just not the game for me? Dunno.
Scott_F's Avatar
Scott_F replied the topic: #296518 04 May 2019 13:12
I'm a huge fan of Cthulhu Wars and am about 50 plays into my copy of the game. I think the game is great because its punchy, it has the right mix of strategy vs. luck, the asymmetric factions all play differently, a single 4 player game can often be done in 60-90 minutes, and it looks amazing.

Comparing this to Nexus Ops or Chaos in the Old world misses the point to me. Nexus Ops I loathe because winning is entirely reliant on dices rolls and card draws. Sure I'll play it with a 10 year old nephew. Do I want to play it against anyone other than that? Nope. And Chaos, while it is a game I love, has so much fiddly cardboard shit on the map and hidden information through the chaos cards that other players won't know unless they play the game half a dozen times. And odds are their first and second game Khorne will win and they will all bitch about balance and refuse to play again anyways. Compare that to CW where all the special powers are open information and games clock in at half the time. And everyone can play a fun faction (Tcho-Tcho aside) instead of just Khorne having the joy of killing other players and being the bully. Saying CW is nothing but minis rolling dice also is flat out wrong. I wish there was more conflict in the game honestly. Some factions will only fight a few times during the entire game, like Sleeper and King in Yellow and even Black Goat somewhat. I prefer not to play those factions, but if you don't like directly attacking other players as a strategy there are options for you.

I also agree that the first 1-2 turns of CW are programmed. And it is a negative in a game that lasts on average 5 turns. I would've preferred all players have a bit more resources on the board already and can get to the interaction quicker - kinda like in Star Trek Ascendancy I want an accelerated start just to skip the boring base building phase. The order that you get access to your spellbooks does matter on those turns though, as does when you summon your great old one so turns 1-2 are not completely programmed. Adding more neutral monsters and expansions and alternate spellbook options go a long way to fixing this but need a group comfortable with the main game.

Yeah for sure I like CW because the minis are huge and I've sunk significant money into it. But every game I play of it I can summon a huge, giant demon of some kind and make my friends groan in terror. Thats worth money to me.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #296519 04 May 2019 13:17
This is a great conversation btw.
WadeMonnig's Avatar
WadeMonnig replied the topic: #296520 04 May 2019 13:23
Maybe I haven't hit the level of "must have" and "need to" play. It can be a game of who blinks first and summons a GOO and ends up energy poor in a round, putting a target on their back. Or how long you can appear weak while still getting spellbooks. Or making deals to buy time. Either way, it's been a fun ride figuring it all out.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #296524 04 May 2019 13:33
I do think that the discourse around this game and Root speak to me a lot about how you can't just throw away your 3-4 hour games and replace them with short distillations and keep everything about them intact.

Whether losing what you lose when cutting to a shorter, cut to the chase experience is worth it, of course, is a personal thing. I feel like it creates a race out of every game without as much time to swing back and forth.
Jexik's Avatar
Jexik replied the topic: #296525 04 May 2019 13:57

ubarose wrote: It looks like exactly what it is - big, dumb DoaM fun.


I feel like Heroscape is a similar kind of 'litmus game' for me. Even at tournaments for 'scape, there's usually a pretty relaxed and fun attitude. If you can't have some fun with a game, why bother?

That said, I'm not a big fan of Cthulhu Wars because of its price... which is funny considering how much Heroscape I used to have. It was basically the only game I played back then though.

Gary Sax wrote: I do think that the discourse around this game and Root speak to me a lot about how you can't just throw away your 3-4 hour games and replace them with short distillations and keep everything about them intact.


I try to play Advanced Civ once a year for this reason. Twilight Imperium is one I'm interested in but haven't played yet. I think I prefer 2 and 8 hour games to 4 hour games for some reason...