This article originally appeared in Pyramid #5
CREATURES & CULTISTSPublished by Pagan Publishing
Designed by Jeff Barber and John Tynes
Creatures & Cultists is a card game from those happy boys at Pagan Publishing -- the same bunch that brings you The Unspeakable Oath (reviewed last issue). This game is a less-than-serious look at the universe of H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos (the starting point for virtually all of Pagan's projects) from the bad guys' point of view. Each player represents a secret cult of psychopathic fanatics trying to bring their patron Cthuloid deity over to the material plane. Every game ends with the total destruction of Earth and all life thereon -- the object of the game is to see that humanity is destroyed by your deity, and not some other cult's. The game exudes a cheerful nihilism reminiscent of the classic Nuclear War.
You might guess that any card game that boasts of "moron-level rules" on the back of the package would fall firmly into the ``beer and pretzels" category, and it's true that once you know the rules, C&C can be easily played when the first case of Bud is on its last legs. In fact, there's probably a decent drinking game in here somewhere -- something like you have to drink every time somebody else plays an event card on you, whenever a cultist is killed everybody has to drink a toast to his memory, and whenever a line of cultists is wiped out you have to drain your can.
On the other hand, there is a tactical element to this game sufficient to hold the attention of the sober -- this is no Stomp! On the tactical sophistication scale, the game checks in somewhere below Illuminati but above The Car Wars Card Game.
To start the game, each player creates an original cult, complete with name, credo and symbol. Silliness is encouraged -- the group I played with included "The Sons of the Shuggoth," "The Fun Guys from Yuggoth," and the "Sons of Barney." Each cult has 24 members which the other players are trying to wipe out. Acing a rival cultist gives you "Fuggly Points," which can be used to modify die rolls. "Fuggly Points" aren't the only colorful terminology this game introduces to the public -- a critical success is a "spooge," and a crit-fail is dubbed a "boof."
Each cult has a randomly-rolled skill in three separate areas -- thuggery, sorcery and conjuring. Combat is resolved with 3d6, and your odds in any given attack are determined by a combination of your applicable skill level, what's on the attack card you're playing, and which cultist is attacking who. This sounds like it would be a complex equation, but it's not.
As is customary in games of this sort, in addition to lots of more-or-less straightforward attack and defense cards, there are a lot of fun-to-read special event cards. Examples: "MISTAKEN FOR THE KKK: The cult you play this on gets stuck in south-central Los Angeles, in full cult uniform -- white pointy hats and robes. Several locals show them the sights, such as the ends of broken bottles, knives and .38 specials," or, "POISON BREAKFAST CEREAL: Make a Thuggery roll. If successful, your cult has managed to poison Double Super Blow Chunks Cereal, a favorite breakfast item among many cultists. Your strategic coup grants you an extra turn at the end of this one, as the rest of the player cults suffer from bellyaches."
Although the rules make it sound like playing this game with any fewer than four (preferably five) players is all but pointless, I found a three-person game quite active and enjoyable. A two-person game would basically be a mindless slugfest, but that can be fun too.
The biggest problem with Creatures and Cultists is the rules. Although the basic rules are very clear and readable, they too often break down when it comes to specifics and special cases. If your fellow players are capable of agreeing on how to interpret an ambiguous rule on the spot and then moving on from there, this is no big problem, but rules lawyers should be kept away from this game at all costs. I'd also encourage Pagan not to reprint the game until it's been through at least one more exhaustive round of playtesting.
As is usual with Pagan, the physical quality of the product is as excellent as you can reasonably expect for a company their size, plus a little bit extra. The black-and-white (actually black-on-sepia) cover illustration is a bit substandard, but the art on the cards is generally good. The cards themselves are printed on perforated sheets of a light, unlaminated sepia-tone card stock. They're adequate for a $7 game, but small and very fragile compared to standard playing cards. In addition to the cards and the rules, a small booklet of photo-copyable cult record sheets is included. No dice are included, but six-siders are available at every convenience store in the land, so who cares?
This being the '90s, Creatures & Cultists is about as good as any game with a list price under $10 can possibly be (or at least it will be once those pesky rules ambiguities are cleared up). It's an entertaining and unpretentious little game, and while it will never be a Hacker, much less a Magic: The Gathering, for groups with the right sense of humor this game could become a long-lasting favorite.
- Chris McCubbin
Article publication date: February 1, 1994
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