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.
I’m going to warn you right now, this post contains a lot of me bragging about how I got to spend yesterday playing Cthulhu Wars and you didn’t. On the other hand, there will be a lot less bragging about my performance, as I was up against Sandy’s sons, Grant and Arthur, who proceeded to crush me under a mass of squirming tentacles and clever tactics. Repeatedly. Even so, I’d do it again in a heartbeat. It was an astonishly fun experience.
A quick bit of background: Unless this is your first visit here, you know that I kind of like playing board games. If you’ve read my books, you also know that I might be obsessed with Lovecraftian horror. So, when I saw Cthulhu Wars on Kickstarter with Sandy Petersen’s name on the box, you can imagine how badly I wanted to give it a try .
For those not in the tentacles-and-insanity crowd, Sandy created Call of Cthulhu, the groundbreaking pen and paper role playing game that introduced me and a generation of gamers to Lovecraft’s mythos. In all seriousness, if it weren’t for Sandy Petersen, I’d probably be writing about elves or vampires or god knows what. He also worked on a couple of video games that you may have heard of, like Doom and Age of Empires, so I guess it’s fair to say that he was instrumental in creating both the things that influenced my writing and the stuff that frequently prevented me from doing that writing. If it weren’t for Sandy, the entire horror video and board gaming genres that we take for granted today would be very different.
In any case, when I saw that the father of Lovecraftian gaming was launching something epic for the tabletop, I started
stalking reaching out to him. And because he’s a delightful and charming man, he had no problem ordering his security to let me up so I could take a look at his new game.
First of all, let me tell you two things about the figures. One: photos don’t do them justice. They’re huge, intricately detailed, and vividly imagined. Hastur is the size of a baby’s head. You can see the souls swirling in Nyarlathotep’s belly-maw. Cthulhu could easily serve as a standalone piece of decoration for your mantle (until your creeped-out significant other took it down and asked what was wrong with you). Just take a look at Shub-Niggurath and her kids to get an idea for the level of care and detail in these figures. Click for a close up view:
The second thing about the figures is that they aren’t built this way for the sake of looking cool on the Kickstarter page. Anything less would have been a disservice to the gameplay. The first time you see the abilities of the factions, all you can think is that they are completely, insanely overpowered.
Cthulhu is an engine of destruction who begins devouring his enemies before combat even starts, and worse, he can appear with his impossibly hard to kill and offensively overwhelming minions anywhere he wants at any time. Did I mention that the Shoggoths can become powerful enough to destroy even an elder god by themselves or that the Star Spawn are even worse?
Or that Shub-Niggurath can give birth to an entire army in a single turn? Get anywhere near her brood and you’re in for a bad day. Of course, staying away from her is no picnic, either. Her fungal Mi-Go can cause a planet-wide extinction event and even her cultists are rabid enough to kill enemy monsters.
Nyarlathotep has a cadre of flying engines of destruction that appear instantly whenever his faction is threatened, and if it looks like you might survive that, he can make you completely irrelevant by shifting you right out of reality. You’ll enjoy watching invisibly from the sidelines as the rest of your faction is ground up into giblets. And on the off chance that you do manage to fight back, he actually gains victory points when successfully attacked. Delightful.
And then there’s Hastur. His place in the pantheon is as the assassin of the other gods, if that gives you any idea what its like to face the King in Yellow. There’s literally no protection from his attacks, so be prepared to kiss your best beasties and even your Great Old One goodbye. And because he draws power from corrupting the land he moves across, you’ll get to watch him continue to tear reality a new one while everyone else is helplessly out of power at the end of the turn. He actually exists as two separate Great Old Ones, because I guess one god-eating bastard wasn’t good enough, which would seem totally unfair if the other groups weren’t so completely nuts themselves.
Each faction is a complete nightmare. The board represents the entire Earth and it can barely contain them. It’s gloriously epic and visceral in a way that you rarely see in any game, much less a sophisticated strategy game like this one. The factions all feel badass and super-charged, instead of just generic sets of actions and win conditions lumped under a common theme. The fact that they are balanced against each other, while at the same time being completely asymmetrical in abilities, is a testament to Sandy’s skill as a game designer, as well as an absolute truckload of playtesting.
One thing I want to mention is despite having lots of unique units on the board like this:
… each player’s turn is very fast and straightforward. In fact, often a player’s turn will only last a few seconds, keeping everyone involved and immersed in the action. If you’re worried about let-me-surf-on-my-phone-between-turns syndrome, rest assured that nobody is going to be wandering off as play moves around the table. The secret is how Cthulhu Wars manages to break down fairly complex gameplay into easily manageable chunks that are still effective and easy to knit into an overall strategy.
Which brings me to replayability and tactical depth. You might think that because every faction is a nuclear weapon, there’s not much need for strategic finesse, but you’d be wrong. All of the factions are just as tough as you are and none of their awful tactics can be directly countered. You really do have to think on your feet if you want to survive the kind of stuff the other three factions are capable of throwing at you, but the brilliant thing about the way the game works is that none of the strategies you’re empowered to use require lots of time to get running. You can improvise and adapt fairly quickly, alternating between attacking, building up your forces, and triggering your own widespread destruction as events unfold.
The truth is that as much as I like Sandy, Cthulhu Wars would blow me away no matter who made it. The gameplay is fast and addictive, the strategy is deep yet accessible, and the arresting quality of the components sets a new bar for board games. It’s not cheap, but frankly, you’re looking at an *eight pound* box full of awesome. Without a doubt, there’s more value here than you’d expect for the price, especially if you’re serious about tabletop gaming.
As of this posting, there’s still time to pledge at the official Kickstarter, and there’s a crazy amount of free stuff at certain pledge levels. Here’s Sandy:
I’m sure you’ll be shocked out of your sneakers to hear that I love both video games and space. So, naturally, any intersection of those things automatically gets all my money. Case in point: Star Citizen, being developed by Chris Roberts, who created Wing Commander and stole a large chunk of my formative years.
He’s pretty serious about this game, space ladies and space gentlemen. Check out the trailer for a newly revealed ship, the 300i:
And before you ask, yes I already bought one 🙂
Ghost Stories is both amazing and amazingly hard. Basically, you get a fancy robe and the mandate to save a village from Wu-Feng, who is not only a complete bastard, but is bringing an army of demons and monsters to his end of the world party. The bad guys are relentless, and they pretty much only need a toehold in the village to end life as we know it.
Fortunately, you are a complete badass. The Taoist monks can do things like slow down time to double their number of actions, pull resources out of thin air, fly to any place on the board at will, and yawn in the face of the most potent curses. But as powerful as they are, the forces arrayed against them can sweep them aside at the first misstep.
Which is, of course, the brilliant thing about it. It’s a co-op game that requires real thought and teamwork to win, which is frankly kind of a rarity. The theme is strong, the art gorgeous, and the replay value high. It’s much more of a strategic puzzle than what you would normally think of as a theme game, but that only strengthens the long term playability of it.
It’s not a new game, having been introduced in 2008, but this was my first chance to play it. I have to say, it lives up to its reputation. If you haven’t tried it, do so. Trust me on this one.
Now, on to serious business. Most game days we order pizza to go with our mountains of cookies and chips and what-have-you, but this time we were able to order from a new Vietnamese place down the road. I had high hopes, but what they delivered totally blew me away. The pho was as deeply flavored as anything I’ve ever had, with a complex blend of sweet/spicy/earthy notes that worked together in perfect harmony. The broth was otherworldly, the noodles perfectly balanced between tender and firm, and the veggies fresh and crisp. Every bite was a flawless composition of texture, taste, and heat.
Also, see that sammich in the background there, next to the Galaxy Trucker board? That’s a grilled pork bahn mi, and it was easily as good as the pho. I probably shouldn’t have eaten both of them at the same time, since one is pretty much a whole meal by itself, but I lacked the superhuman will necessary to stop.
I regret nothing.
As usual, I leave you with the soothing vocalizations of Tom Vasel as he raves about this very tough game: