Review: Cultist Simulator (PC)

Do you wanna build a cult, man?
by Andrew Borck on May 31, 2018
Gaming
Overview
Item Reviewed

Cultist Simulator (PC)

Synopsis

Players will control an everyday citizen who, though exploration and luck will find themselves searching for more - answers, clues, mysteries, or money, to name a few. It can happen differently every play through, but soon players will be recruiting cult members, reading ancient texts, and attempting rituals. It doesn't usually end well for your cultist, but each death gives you different options when you start again based on who you played as and how you met your end.

Features

-Click and drag interface
-Several different win conditions and ways to play
-Cards are well-animated and can be moved around to the player's liking
-Different buffs and curses slowly dull in color as they are about to expire
-Experimentation gets you new interactions and cards

Specifications

MINIMUM:
OS: Windows XP or later
Processor: 2GHz or better
Memory: 1 GB RAM
Graphics: 1280x768 minimum resolution
DirectX: Version 9.0c
Storage: 500 MB available space
Sound Card: DirectX 9.0c compatible

Length

20-40 hours

Release Date

May 31, 2018

Platforms

PC, Mac, Linux

Full Review
Developer: Weather Factory
Publisher: Humble Bundle
Platform: PC
Genre: Tabletop, Rogue-like
Price: $19.99

 

Cultist Simulator is a tabletop simulation game from Alexis Kennedy, who also created Fallen London and Sunless Sea. You play as a citizen in a H.P. Lovecraft-inspired 1920’s setting, searching for answers and enlightenment. As you progress through Cultist Simulator, you gain new cards and open up new options for using them, in a unique drafting mechanic. Anyone familiar with Kennedy’s catalog will recognize that while the trip will be entertaining and full of good writing, it won’t necessarily end well for the player character.

Content Guide

Themes

Players start out as normal citizens going about their lives, but by some occurrence, they come into strange or otherworldly content. The game encourages players to follow these leads, no matter the cost or outcome. As options open up you come into contact with stranger things: rituals, ancient beings, evil dreams, human sacrifice, and demons. These are all explored or investigated by the player character in a bid to establish or grow your cult.

Language

One of the temporary cards is evidence against you which can be gathered by an investigator. Should it be upgraded it can become “D**ning Evidence.”

Drug Use

In order to alleviate some of your woes you can spend money to purchase a small amount of opium. This does have a small possibility of consequences in-game, but it’s presentation makes it seem as if it’s a small price to pay for the comfort.

The opening screen is both confusing and encouraging.

Full Review

The worlds imagined and inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s writing have long been subject matter for both video and tabletop games. Noir detectives, disowned heirs, tough heroes and heroines are often thrown into these stories as they go up against men and monsters, as well as facing their own mortality and madness. One of the common enemies is the Cultist, a human foe that has been corrupted by the dark arts and serves an evil or otherworldly purpose. Cultist Simulator turns the usual formula on its head, casting the player’s character as an average citizen who, through research and trial and error, finds themselves looking for answers and trying to start their own cult.

Things start off slow, with just a few options…

Gameplay is managed through cards and different nodes that you can place them on. Cultist Simulator has a helpful mechanic where if you click and hold on a given card, any node you can place it on and use it will be highlighted. You start with just 2-3 cards, depending on your background. Different backgrounds are available based on how your last game ended. If your character died, one of your three options might be doctor, or if you were incarcerated, one of your options might be policeman. As you progress some interactions are obviousplace your job on the “Work” node to go to work, and get “Funds.” Later in the game, a node will unlock (The passage of time) that will automatically take Funds from you to represent the daily cost of living. Should you have no further Funds for this node your character may fall ill or die.

…but those options bloom quickly. Also, take note of the macabre save game message.

After some trial and error and a little experimenting, you’ll be able to unlock new nodes and cards which will add to your options. The game intuitively draws you in, getting you to try new things. Before you know it your humble doctor is recruiting associates and going to strange bookstores to research new and dangerous texts and dreaming of a forbidden wood filled with creatures that would make Guillermo del Toro have nightmares. How easy it felt to have the character do these actions and not have it feel jarring speaks to the good game design; it also felt like the developers were showing how easy it could be to get drawn into these dark worlds.

At the height of his research, Doctor Brown was just starting to tap into otherworldly secrets as the authorities started closing in.

Since none of the cards or nodes are animated, the only movement onscreen is when temporary effects wear off and the card disappears, or the time ticking down on nodes where something is happening. Because of this, players must be the type to enjoy reading the flavor text for each item, or the game just becomes a click-and-drag game where you watch timers. Not only will reading the cards draw you into the game more, each one will often give hints as to your next move. For instance, after using the “Dream” node several times on the same card, reading the outcome literally told me that I could glean no more information from dreaming on it; I would have to work to learn more. This also highlights another mechanic where you must decide which nodes to use, and how best to juggle them. Some jobs will demote or fire you if they aren’t paid attention to often, but you must also use the “Work” node to further your cult’s goals sometimes. This push and pull makes the game feel more strategic, and made me glad for the pause button. Players can pause time, run it at normal speed, or double speed if things aren’t progressing fast enough.

One of the many game over screens. In this timeline, Marty was not able to save Doc from himself.

It takes a little time to get a handle on, but players who dive in will find a lot to enjoy in Cultist Simulator. The large amount of reading and subject matter will turn away a small percentage of gamers, but for someone like me who enjoys flavor text, tabletop games, and Lovecraftian worlds, Cultist Simulator is a lot of fun. Losing your progress can be disheartening, but the game is good at drawing you back in with different choices each time and using your player character’s names in the early cards. My favorite was when Doc Brown was pouring over his notes for a deceased patient, trying to discover the cause of Tommy Vercetti‘s madness. If you’ve enjoyed games like Call of Cthulhu or Eldritch Horror, and might be interested in seeing how the bad guys think, I would recommend checking out Cultist Simulator.

I still don’t understand what the Mansus is, but every time I made a breakthrough something would happen on this screen. Maybe if I try just one more playthrough…

Review copy generously provided by Weather Factoryand Humble Bundle. 
Positives

- Encourages experimentation
- Excellent flavor text and reading
- Simulates a tabletop game while doing all the work
- Being able to name each character adds to the world-building

Negatives

- It's easy to lose from a small mistake
- Losing hours of progress can be frustrating
- A lot of reading could be a downside for some
- How to unlock new things can be confusing at first

Rating
Our Rating
User Rating
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Theme
7.5
9.5
Bottom Line

An well-done simulation of a tabletop card-drafting game, Cultist Simulator can draw you in, and without realizing it, minutes or hours will have gone by. Its subject matter and large amount of reading will be a downside for some, but if you enjoy games set in H.P. Lovecraft-ian worlds, you will enjoy this game a lot.

7.5
Total Score
9.5
User Score
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