Last weekend, Sandy invited me down to take another sneak peek at Cthulhu Wars. This time to see the whole thing in all its sprawling glory: the core set, the expansions, every add-on, every creature. It was a blast and I have a bunch of stuff to report, but before I go any further I have to show you something:
This was a quick shot of us unboxing and setting out the factions and figures. For scale, this wooden counter is over two feet wide and easily twenty feet long. And when I took this picture? WE WERE STILL TAKING THINGS OUT OF THE BOXES. Seriously, if you ordered the DVM ‘get everything’ pledge, prepare your body. You’re going to swear you failed a sanity check as stuff keeps pouring out of the boxes. I’ll drop some close ups of the figures as I go along.
The State of the Game
The scope of the game is huge. Not only does every figure come with special abilities, and in some cases their own spellbooks, but there are three additional expansion maps, each with their own special rules and figures. The combinations of factions, neutral forces, and maps is staggering.
I asked Sandy what, out of all this stuff, we could play. He pointed at the vast sprawl in front of us and said, “Anything you want. You choose.” I wasn’t sure if he was serious, so I offered to help playtest anything that still needed work or balancing. He just grinned at me. “No need. It’s done.”
So we spent the day playing anything we wanted on any map we wanted. And guess what? He was right. Everything fits together like clockwork. It’s ready.
How It Works: Azathoth Comes for a Visit
Think of the core factions as hubs. The neutral Great Old Ones and monsters socket into your faction, expanding your forces on the map and granting you access to their powers. If you think facing Cthulhu is bad, wait until you see Big Green coming your way arm-in-arm with his new buddy Azathoth. And some Elder Things. And maybe a Star Vampire or two.
Players start the game with only their faction in play. But as they accumulate points and power, they can bring in heavy hitters on a first-come-first-served basis. If I purchase a Star Vampire, then only I can bring them in for the rest of the game. Of course, they don’t come cheap, so I need to make sure they compliment whatever mad strategy I’m in the middle of pursuing or I’ve wasted precious resources.
You would think that this would quickly become a convoluted mess, but Sandy has managed to create a system that provides complexity without complication. The unspeakable horrors that you summon integrate neatly into any of the factions, providing the expected benefits that are common to all creatures, plus a specific power or two that work within the existing gameplay as you would expect.
You get clear and usable options, rather than puzzle pieces that don’t fit. A good example are the High Priests. For all intents and purposes, they act like regular cultists and provide the same benefits: producing a power each turn, taking ownership of gates, and selflessly throwing themselves in front of your enemy on command. But they can also be used as living eldritch batteries that can be sacrificed to give you a burst of power when you need it most.
There are three new factions and they’re all brutal. Each one has a new and unique play style and can easily go toe-to-toe with the four original factions.
Windwalker is a combat powerhouse. He’s slow to build up, but the longer the game goes on, the more ridiculously powerful he becomes. First of all, as combat begins to happen around the board, you’ll discover that battlefield deaths are summoning your Windigos for free. You’ll also notice that every one of the powerful Knoph Kehs that you summon is cheaper than the previous one. Oh, and while your army is rapidly swelling up on the board, you get to back them up with a Great Old One that is indestructible. And you STILL have Ithaqua, your primary Great Old One waiting to join the fray. Oh, and don’t forget to hibernate so you can save up your power this turn in order to release it all in an overwhelming show of force next turn.
The downside to playing the Windwalker? Keeping people from ganging up on you early. The upside? Laughing when they gang up on you later…
If Windwalker represents power, then The Sleeper represents leverage. Pound for pound, Sleeper is the best at turning points of power into mayhem and destruction. Don’t like spending power to summon units? No problem, how about free monsters that can appear anywhere? Don’t like the fact that other people have monsters on the board? Me neither. Good thing they have to sacrifice them to you, oh mighty Tsathoggua. Covet their faction powers? Why not use them yourself with your devious Serpent Men? Hate other people taking turns while you’re trying to crush them? Why not take a nap while they scurry around and then spend all your power at the end while they watch helplessly from the sidelines?
The Sleepers motto? Life is hard. For everyone else.
The Opener of the Way represents change. Specifically, changing the entire game world around so that you win. Cthulhu Wars revolves around gates. You need them to generate power and to be the start player, certainly, but more importantly, they generate the doom points you need to actually win the game.
Players spend all their time and resources scheming to protect their own gates and to take yours. You know what makes this hard? When someone has the power to yank a gate completely out of reality and keep it to himself like some kind of private cosmic hot tub. Or how about when they are staging their forces to take over a gate, only to have it vanish and reappear on another continent?
Welcome to trying to deal with Yog Sothoth. Oh, and check this out:
See the four figures on the right? That’s one mutant. The longer anyone tries to face you, the bigger and nastier he becomes. Automatically. You see one of these and you know its about to be time to leave the neighborhood. Oh, and did I mention they can split back apart into lots more mutants at will?
And the final nail in the coffin? The Opener of the Way gets to sit back and wait for the perfect moment during the game, that instant when he has a lot of gates and the points are rolling in, so that he can double them. In one of our games, the Opener controlled EIGHT gates at once (a new record, by the way). The only thing better than winning the game is the look on everyone else’s face when you go from last place to first in a single turn.
Maps: Freezing Your Shoggoth Off
We had time to play two of the new maps: Primeval and Yuggoth. Or as I like to call them “trapped in a barrel with a beehive” and “why is my army gone”. New maps are always good to have in a game, but far better is to have new maps that change the game itself. Believe me when I tell you that these maps change things.
We played Primeval first. You start out like any other map, happily placing gates and doting on your precious army of cultists. And then the world begins to freeze over. Gates become uninhabitable, slipping from your grip and feeding power to the entire board. Then locations begin freezing over, forcing everyone to the center, shoulder to tentacle, tooth to claw. And all the while power levels keep rising as more and more unoccupied gates feed everyone.
By the middle of the game, you’ve basically buzzed 4 monstrous armies on shots of espresso shoved them into a shoebox to fight it out. Which is both a huge amount of fun and hilarious.
Next was Yuggoth. The first thing you notice about the Yuggoth map is the giant green pyramid in the east. Building gates there gives you bonus power. Next you might notice a laboratory in the north that lets you convert cultists into Brain Cylinders, letting you greatly expand your army of followers with gurgling neural tissue that happens to be immune to pain. In the west you’ll discover a plateau that allows you to summon an army of Slime Molds which are 100% loyal. To whoever happens to own the plateau.
All of that would be enough to change the game and make everyone rethink their strategies and make it a fine map. Naturally, Sandy pushed to another level. Meet the Watcher of the Green Pyramid:
When this guy spawns, and he will, things get real messy, real fast. Imagine playing a game of hot potato with a grenade. That explodes every time you throw it. Over and over again. The Watcher is a combat nightmare. To give you an idea, a faction monster that is built for combat would roll 3 dice, maybe 4, tops. A Great Old One like Cthulhu would roll 6. We were rolling *17* dice for the Watcher. And every player gets to control him in turn.
It’s huge fun and the map that produced the most howling, laughter, and tears all day. Highly recommended.
In a Nutshell
It’s finished. It plays beautifully. All of the new factions and creatures slot into the core game seamlessly. And it’s fun as hell.
Is there a learning curve? Yes, but it’s not as steep as you would think. We had a new player who had zero exposure to Cthulhu Wars and he picked Opener of the Way as his faction for the first game, arguably the most complex of all the factions. By the middle of the game, it had clicked for him and he came in second against 3 experienced players.
That said, it is a full blown strategy game. It will reward groups that play together regularly, allowing them to really develop their strategies and experience the game’s depth. If you play with a lot of pick up groups or folks that aren’t familiar with this sort of game, you may find it more challenging to introduce people to it.
For those that have the luxury of a regular gaming group, this game will quickly go to the top of your list.
That’s about 4 hours from now as I write this. I’m running around with my hair on fire getting ready, but honestly it feels pretty good to finally push the big red button.
Am I nervous? Oh, yeah. But in more of an excited rollercoaster kind of way, instead of a ‘didn’t this plane used to have two wings’ kind of way. It’s going to be a great ride.
I’ll stop back by here right after launch and drop in a link to the official KS site. Even if you’re not looking for a game, it’s worth stopping by just to see me talking on camera. This is why authors are better read than viewed 🙂
See you in a bit!
EDIT: We’re LIVE!
It’s official! We’re launching on Friday, January 31st!
First of all, thanks to everyone for their support and encouragement. It’s been a crazy and exciting time getting this beast ready to launch.
Here’s what you can expect from the Kickstarter:
Modular, Easy to Understand Pledges!
Each pledge level will clearly show the following information:
• Pricing: From core set only to ‘get it all’ packages
• What’s included: Items for each pledge will be shown in the handy graphic you see above
• Stretch Goal Category: Goal badges will be shown in the circles at the bottom and will be used to show what stretch goals come with each pledge level
Free Stretch Goal Rewards!
Each pledge level that includes Stretch Goals will receive a pile of goodies for free as we hit our targets. We’re keeping the exact information a secret for now, but expect:
• CARDS: hero upgrades, monster twists, new missions!
• FIGURES: new monsters, alternate heroes and specialists!
• LOCATIONS: new map tiles and operations!
• SPECIAL REWARDS: soundtrack and fully voiced mission briefings!
• Downloadable manual!
• Gameplay and instructional videos!
It’s been a year in the making and frankly, we can’t wait to show you all the cool stuff we’ve been building. These last couple of weeks will be spent with our manufacturing and logistics suppliers to make sure we get the best prices and shipping possible. And then…it’s go time!
See you on the 31st and thanks again for all your support!
For the next several weeks, we’re going to be releasing an absolute metric ton of info about FTZ. To do that, we’ve started a blog over on Board Game Geek. I’ll occasionally drop something off here at Fugitive Prose, but with the volume of game posts we’re planning, I figured it was best to keep things separated.
Here’s what the latest post looks like, wherein we reveal the hero figures for the game and talk a little about the lore. If board games are your thing (and they totally should be), come by so you can catch all the updates as they happen!
In 1942, four soldiers vanished from the training program of the newly formed First Ranger Battalion, their names stricken from the roster. Chosen for their unique skills, they would fight in secret against terrifying supernatural enemies and overwhelming odds.
This is their story.
Before mankind ruled the planet, magic seeped from the Earth and created a world of wonder and horror that we have long since forgotten. As human numbers increased, the raw chaos of magic was pushed back, eliminated by our shared perception of an ordered world. Now, in the Age of Man, only two things are needed to allow a remnant of the past to rise again: a drastic reduction in the local human population and the power of blood spilled by violence. Welcome to WW2.
Artifacts long buried begin to surface and feed. In the midst of a global war comes a new threat to all of humanity. A threat for which we have no answer. Yet.
Two specialists are deployed by the mysterious Division Zero. One can somehow detect and track the presence of nearby supernatural forces. The other has dedicated his life to becoming a living encyclopedia of the arcane.
What one can find, the other knows how to destroy.
But neither Specialist is capable of getting through the army of lethal protectors that each Artifact creates. For that, they need men of war.
Meet Fireteam Zero
Four men were selected by Division Zero to protect the Specialists and cut a path through anything foolish enough to stand between them and their target.
They are Fireteam Zero. And they will not fail.
Stay tuned for a look at each hero and the skills they bring to the battlefield! Also, show your support for the amazing art team behind FTZ by giving us a thumb!
You know what the worst part of having a secret project is? The grueling work? Piece of cake. The agony of choosing between all the cool things you want to do and the things you actually have time to do? Harder, but still no. The hiding under a tarp in the hall closet until your wife threatens to turn off the wifi? Almost. For me, it’s keeping my big trap shut about the whole thing for nearly a year.
Fortunately, that’s no longer a problem. It’s announcement time, baby. Let’s do this.
What is it?
Fireteam Zero is a tactical miniatures board game that takes place in the Emergent Earth universe. Here’s what it says on the back of the box:
In 1942, four soldiers vanished from the training program of the newly formed First Ranger Battalion, their names stricken from the roster. Chosen for their unique skills, they would fight in secret against terrifying supernatural enemies and overwhelming odds. This is their story.
Fireteam Zero is a cooperative game for up to four players who must cut a path through an endless swarm of deadly monsters in order to discover and defeat the ultimate evil behind them. Each player possesses a set of brutal combat skills that are represented by a deck of cards unique to that character. Play cards to devastate the creatures in your way, help your teammates survive the onslaught, or even reshape the tactical landscape with the proper application of explosive ordinance.
The battle is fought across three maps of increasing difficulty, each one bringing more and tougher enemies than the last. Players must search for and complete mission objectives in order to progress and bring them one step closer to the final showdown.
Aiding them are two NPC Specialists, one with an uncanny ability to sense the location and nature of the supernatural energy in the area and another with an encyclopedic knowledge of the arcane. Use the Specialists wisely or risk failure no matter how many monsters you defeat.
Race against time as the creatures on the board become stronger and more cunning. The longer you take to complete your objectives, the more Monster Twist cards are revealed, each granting a new and terrible aspect to your enemy. In each set of missions you will face a different family of horrifying creatures, each with their own special abilities and twist cards.
Players must not only fight for their lives, but at the same time they must make smart tactical choices with their teammates in order to make the best use of a limited resource, the cards in their hands. Each card not only represents an action that they can take, but also their health. Spending too many cards can leave you vulnerable, while spending too few can result in being overwhelmed. Clever players will rely on each other to succeed.
Fireteam Zero is a story-rich board game of squad tactics and horror. Each map can be played separately in about 45 minutes or together to complete an entire Operation in about 3 hours.
That’s…a lot of words. What is it really?
Basically, you get to find out what Abe and his squad got up to during WW2. Each player will become a member of Fireteam Zero and commit acts of badassery against different families of monsters while trying to capture or destroy the arcane artifact that’s creating them.
Each player has a hand of cards that represent both the monster-stomping actions they can take and their current ability to deal with threats. Run out of cards in hand and you get to enjoy a quiet dirt nap. And the whole shebang takes place on a giant board filled with large, fantastically detailed miniatures.
Did you say miniatures?
I totally did. Here’s an example:
Monsters come in three types: minions, elites, and bosses. A minion is about human-sized, represented by a standard 40mm tall figure. Elites come in at 50mm, and bosses hit a whopping 60mm in height with a proportional increase in girth. The charming fellow pictured above is an elite: the Corrupted Human in the Children of Typhon family. Here’s a bit about him:
Division Zero Record Number 9364: Corrupted Human
A human being that has come into contact with liquid from the Cup of Typhon [see artifact record 9110]. Class 2 mental and physical aberration occurs immediately, with violently aggressive behavior and physical deformities characterized by razor sharp insectile legs, mouthparts, and even additional heads.
FTZ Field Notes: These bastards can tear an unprotected man in half with no particular effort and are as hard to kill as they are ugly. Engage at a distance. And with as many explosives as you can carry.
Our miniatures are being created by the amazing Chris Deavellar, whom you may know from his 3D work on the MMO, Fallen Earth.
Sounds like you got lucky. Who else is working on this?
As a matter of fact, everyone involved has some pretty serious gaming chops. The design of the game itself is by Christian Leonhard, who happens to have a couple of international game design awards under his belt. Pretty much the only reason he agreed to work on this project with me is that we’ve been friends for years and I totally know where he buried all those hobos.
The art, layout, and graphic design work is being done by renowned game artist Gary Simpson. If you’ve ever played Summoner Wars, then the artwork you were ogling was Gary’s. I have no idea why Gary agreed to join up with us, except that it was probably easier than getting a restraining order.
Together we formed Emergent Games and vowed to create kick ass tabletop experiences or die trying. Christian and Gary don’t actually know about that last bit yet, but I’m sure they’re cool with it.
Okay, this game thing checks out. As your loyal blog reader, how can I help?
Spread the word. If you’re a fan of board games, hop on over to Board Game Geek and give us a like. If not, point your gamer friends to this post. Anything that gets the word out before our upcoming Kickstarter campaign would be amazing.
In return, help yourself to some free books! The Emergent Earth novels that this game is based on are free through Wednesday the 6th! Get Bad Radio here and Liar’s Harvest here. Tell your friends and hook them up with some free books at the same time.
Stay tuned for more posts where I go into detail about the theme, combat system, monster families, and more in the weeks ahead.
People have asked if I’m ever going to reveal what happened in WW2 prior to the start of the Emergent Earth series.
My standard response is to subtly change the subject, usually by throwing my coffee on them and running out of the room. While that works ONE HUNDRED PERCENT OF THE TIME, I’ve decided to try something different and actually answer the question.
Yes. Yes, I am.
I was originally going to tell the story through the magic of interpretive dance, but when that turned out to be a lot of effort and chafing, I took the easy way out and started scamming some clever people I found at the bus station into making a game with me. Luckily, they just happened to know a bunch about game design and art and stuff, so that worked out pretty nicely. It’s amazing what you can find in the lost and found, I tell you what.
I’ll post more info about the game in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.
Also, if you haven’t already signed up for my mailing list, you might want to give it a shot before you miss out on … something.
Come for the amazing acapella vocals, stay for the science! Or vice versa if you’re some kind of string theory rebel.
Tell you what, just watch and be amazed by whichever part you like. Just admit afterwards that Tim has an impressive set of pipes and we’re cool.
Being a gentleman (that word should probably be in quotes) of both Korean and Cajun descent, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that I’m a fan of spicy food. I’ve also been known to delicately nibble on the occasional confection while adjusting my top hat and monocle.
Feel free to replace that image with me sitting in a big tub of chocolate while my handlers pour buckets of Milk Duds over my head. I’m not saying that one of those images is more truthful than the other, but I may not actually own a monocle.
Disturbing imagery aside, what I’m trying to say is that I have a particular weakness for spicy candy, the hotter the better. Knowing this, my wife brought me a box of these little bundles of joy:
The first thing you notice when you tear open the box with your teeth is the fruity bouquet of the habanero peppers. This is an exceedingly good sign. Habaneros have a distinct and delightful aroma and you can tell instantly that you’re not dealing with artificial ‘habanero flavorings’ here.
The pralines themselves are individually wrapped and about the size of your palm. They also have a pleasant heft to them, as a good praline should.
The wrapper opens easily, with no fussy peeling or undignified tearing with your teeth. The first thing that happens when you unwrap one of these gems is that the sharp smell of the chile is joined by the rich scent of the praline itself. If you’re not familiar with pralines, they’re a delicious mix of sugar, butter, cream, and nuts. Also, what’s wrong with you? Go eat some pralines already, sheesh.
The first bite proves that the praline part of the equation is spot on: chewy and smoothly rich, like a cross between a dense nougat and a caramel. The nuts provide an excellent textural addition while at the same time giving the sweetness a bit of nutty earthiness to contrast against. After the initial sweetness hits you, then the habanero notes come through with a spicy finish, making you want to take that next bite right away to offset the heat with more sweetness.
If you’re a fan of fresh chiles in general or habaneros in particular, then you’ll love these. If those flavors aren’t your thing, then you’ll probably want to steer clear. This isn’t a praline that just happens to be spicy, it’s a confection that fully embraces and celebrates the unique flavor of the habenero.
Personally, I’ll eat fresh habanero in pretty much anything, so these are a real delight for me. I urge any of you that are fellow chile-heads to give them a shot.
Story time. A few weeks ago I was in Minneapolis doing top secret and mysterious things, the most important of which was shoving delicious food into my largest head orifice. A buddy joined me and we ended up at this joint, which was filled to the rafters with brilliant and amazing comestibles. After the meal we were forced at gunpoint to order dessert and some coffee to go with it. Quick aside, it was tres leches cake and it was crazy good. It came sitting in a bowl of sweetened milk, like a fortress of moist, frosted cake surrounded by a tiny moat.
But I digress. The coffee arrived and we were so mesmerized by the cake that we didn’t even glance at it before taking a sip. And then we forgot all about the cake. Okay, maybe we didn’t forget it completely, but eyebrows went up and yummy noises were made. It was the best coffee I’ve had so far, no exaggeration, and that includes fancy preparations with exotic equipment from snooty coffee bars.
We found out that it came from a local roaster called Dogwood Coffee and we reminisced fondly about it every time we had coffee after that. Normally that would be the end of it. Dogwood Coffee is in the distant northlands above Texas, which may as well be on the moon as far as my coffee needs go, so I figured I’d just remember to get a cup the next time I was in Minneapolis and count myself lucky.
But to my surprise, that buddy of mine (who is now my best friend ever until this bag runs out), shipped me this delightful care package:
Sadly, being a coffee luddite, I had no way to turn the precious beans within into drinkable coffee. I briefly considered rocks and a frenzied bout of smashing and yelling, but my wife talked me down before it was too late. Since I wasn’t allowed to improvise I turned to Amazon and got this:
I’m going to be honest with you here. I’ve never ground beans before in my life and the novelty wore off in about a hundred cranks. The results were excellent, but I’m a right lazy bastard. If anyone besides my own brain had suggested I work to get my first cup of coffee…well, let’s just say it would be greatest episode of Cops ever filmed. But I persevered and was rewarded with glorious, usable coffee grounds:
Then I whomped everything into my beloved Aeropress:
Quick note about the Aeropress. I absolutely cannot believe this thing costs like twenty-six bucks. It cleans up in five seconds (eject coffee grounds in puck form -pop- rinse in sink – done) and the coffee is amazing. Check out how many coffee shops have put up reviews and tutorials on YouTube. You don’t see a lot of cheap but awesome gadgets in this life, but I assure you, this is one of them.
You have no idea how hard it was to take this picture before taking the first sip. I basically just snapped off a quick one and threw down my camera without checking to make sure it looked good. That’s quality blogging right there.
Was it good? Was it worth the endless grinding and complaining? Yeah, totally. I’m gonna drink all these beans and then I’m going to order more from the distant lands of Minnesota. And Cthulhu help me, I’m gonna grind every single one of them, too.
Mojo discovers that rabbits are not as fun as advertised by Disney. No singing. No games of tag. Not even a tiny top hat.
On the plus side, they’re fun to bathe and they taste GREAT.