The end of the world was horrific as humanity turned on itself and was consumed in fire and bloodshed. The alien Old Ones, sleeping since time long forgotten, awoke to an irradiated, war-torn wasteland perfectly suited to their needs and desires. The wars of humanity were long gone. The war of the Great Old Ones was just beginning.
Cthulhu Wars was meant to be Sandy Petersons Swan Song. A giant, overly produced game to end his career in the game industry with a bang. Instead, it killed its Kickstarter campaign and helped launch Petersen Games were Sandy continues to publish big, beautiful games. Since then the game has had several editions, or Onslaughts, funded through Kickstarter, the latest being Onslaught 3. There’s also a slew of extra content available for the game for those who can’t get enough Lovecraftian goodness.
In Cthulhu Wars each player takes a different faction led by one of the Great Old Ones. Each faction has 6 Acolytes, a bunch of hideous monsters, and a Great Old One (or 2, in the case of the Yellow Sign.) The factions also have their own unique spellbooks, as well as monster and Great Old One powers. The base game handles 2-4 players but has space on the map for up to 5 if one of the many expansion factions is purchased.
In the game, players are vying for control over areas on the map to build and control Gates. Controlling Gates allows players to summon monsters and their Great Old One but also supplies them with more Power to take more actions on future turns. It also raises their Doom, the Victory Points of Cthulhu Wars. Each turn players will spend their Power to move, summon, battle, and use special abilities. Performing certain actions will unlock Spellbooks, which each player has 6 of, each unique and provide different actions or ongoing buffs. Power can also be saved and used during the scoring phase to perform a Rite of Annihilation to score more Doom and further the game towards its end.
Cthulhu Wars is played until one player has 30 Doom and all 6 of their Spellbooks or the Rite of Annihilation track is filled. At that point, players add up their Doom along with any Elder Signs they’ve earned throughout the game to determine the victor.
For more details about how the game is played, check out the Cthulhu Wars Omega Rulebook. Not only does it contain the game’s core rules, but it has all the information for every expansion and addon released to date.
At this point, it’s well known that Cthulhu Wars is way overproduced. The giant box it comes in is filled with thick cardboard tokens, a massive, fully-illustrated, softcover rulebook, 2 giant, double-sided boards, handfuls of 6-sided dice, and, of course, miniatures. 64 of them ranging from 20mm to a whopping 180mm. All of them incredibly detailed.
There’s no question of Cthulhu Wars’ quality. The care and attention to detail that went into every square inch of the game are evident as soon as you open the box. This is a game that’s meant to be played, played with, and enjoyed for a long time.
I have to admit Cthulhu Wars is not at all what I expected. Oh, I knew what to expect from the components, but the actual gameplay surprised me a bit. This is not a sprawling, several–hour game with multiple campaigns that can be played over the course of weeks, months, or years similar to other “monster” games that have been cranking out of Kickstarter like it’s going out of style. Cthulhu Wars is a tight game, fitting into a little more than an hour and packed full of tense player interaction and has, despite the size of its rulebook, an easy-to-digest set of core mechanics.
Combat is fairly simple, with both players involved chucking dice and either killing on “paining” units. 6’s kill units, 4-5’s pain units and cause them to retreat to an adjacent area. It’s fairly luck-based, but there’s plenty of abilities that can affect a battle’s outcome. These come in a few varieties that can happen pre-battle, during battle, or post-battle. One of my personal favorites is Cthulhu’s ability to just flat out devour a unit before combat begins. Yum.
There’s plenty of choices for players to make over the course of the game, most stemming from how much Power a player has to work with at that start of any given turn. There are units to move, Gates to build, Acolytes to keep on the board, units to capture or kill, and monsters to summon. All the while players need to keep in mind the 6 different requirements they need to fulfill to unlock their Spellbooks, gain more power, and a chance at victory over the other Great Old Ones. The choice to save Power to perform Rites of Annihilation during the scoring phase to hasten the end of the game is also lingering at the back of every player’s mind as they take their actions.
Sometimes it’s a tough balance between furthering your objectives and making sure you’re on solid ground on the next turn. Every Acolyte you lose, or Gate you lose control of, leaves you with less starting Power on your next turn. Of course, resummoning Acolytes and fighting for control of Gates also take Power. Great Old Ones take a massive amount of Power to summon, leaving you with a very little left to do much else on the turns they are summoned. Choices. Choices. Choices.
I prefaced this section saying that Cthulhu Wars was nothing like I expected. It exceeded my expectations. Cthulhu Wars is a fantastic game that keeps you on your toes and provides an extremely satisfying experience in a perfect amount of time. Is it worth $200? That’s up to you. You certainly get your money’s worth, but you need to know what you’re getting into beforehand. As I stated earlier, Cthulhu Wars isn’t a game with massive, sprawling campaigns. It’s a medium-weight game playable in under two hours with tons of high-quality components.
Is it worth it? I think it is. It fits my gaming schedule perfectly while still providing a huge, “monster” game experience on the component side. I look forward to rounding out my collection with more factions, maps, and other overly-produced goodies.
A copy of Cthulhu Wars Onslaught 2 was provided free for review by Petersen Games
Media personality Rob “Devar-TTY” Kalajian has been a staple in the board game world for many years. As a former writer for Purple Pawn and the owner of Devar-TTY’s Pawns Perspective, Dev now focuses mostly on video games and TTRPGs. A self-proclaimed geek, Rob loves all things toys and games and even helps raise his four kids in his spare time.