9th of April 2021

My Dear Tatos,

I write in haste to warn you. A tome has come into my possession by means of our mutual orange friend. At first I perused with deep interest, but the more I read, the more I found my grip on reality slipping from me. Indeed as I read a passage aloud to my nearest companion, she found herself overcome and fell into a dark, comatose state and did not rouse for many minutes after I had ceased, such was the confusion in these pages. Its words spoke so much of what was not contained within the box of eldritch symbols, with which it had been acquired. It spoke of horrors yet to come. Horrors that would twist our current thinking. Thus did it seek to ruin our minds and defeat our mortal bodies. I warn you to make yourself safe and not engage with these artifacts, lest you possess the strength of gods to survive this mental anguish.

Yours in peril,

Jane

Cthulhu Wars: Duel is an asymmetric, area control game, from Petersen Games, for two players which takes about half an hour. It’s a game that wants you to know that while it does attempt to be an affordable, streamlined version of the half ton of glorious coloured plastic that was Cthulhu Wars, there will be expansions. Rather than explain the game you’ve purchased Duel’s manual is a cosmic nightmare of clarifications, citations and explanations for Great Old Ones who aren’t even out yet.

Why bother just letting you know about the game in front of you and moving on when you can drive your players to their own special Lovecraftian loss of reality. Why put in an example of a rule that is always true if this box is all you own, when you could throw in a paragraph about how this other Old One (you don’t know them, they don’t go to school here. They’re from… er… Canada, but don’t, like, check or anything because they’re shy… probably) can totally do things differently.

When I looked on YouTube for information on how to play, most of what I found was people telling me what the game isn’t. It’s not Cthulhu Wars. People seem to love telling you how it’s similar to or different from the beast that spawned it, but don’t seem to care if you’re coming in fresh (because CW is a ridiculously decadent plastic fest (as many good Kickstarter games are) and you can’t afford it or justify the shelf space).

I spent 2 hours reading the manual and it’s full of unnecessary bullshit that caused me to really struggle with what is actually a very simple game. So simple in fact that I would recommend you start with the reference sheet on the back of the manual as well as your player mat, and only use the manual itself for clarifications and picture examples of what things are called.

CW:D takes place in four phases and as many rounds as necessary (4-5 seems to be the average). First up the Action Phase: if you’ve got power, spend it to move, fight, open gates, deploy or capture cultists. Then comes the Gather Power Phase where you’re awarded power based on how many cultists you have on the board, any opposing cultists you’ve captured, how many gates you control, and any gates that are currently abandoned on the board. Next you decide who the first player is, based on who has the most power now. And finally it’s the Doom Phase where you can perform a ritual for some power to generate more Doom and a token with a secret amount of Doom.

The winner is whoever has the highest Doom score and the game end is triggered either when someone goes over 30 Doom or when so many rituals have been completed that you move to Instant Death.

That’s it, two short paragraphs and you’ve got the gist of the game. What else is there? Well, there’s player mats, spell books, cardboard standees of your various horrors plus discs to represent your cultists, and a map board to shuffle your units around on.

When you realise that the world wraps around horizontally (like Asteroids), you’ll understand how little space there actually is to claim, but claim it you must if you’re to gain the power you need to bring about your preferred version of the end of the world.

On your player board you’ll see a clear explanation of your various units, including summoning costs, attack power (number of dice to roll for them) and any special abilities. On the right side of the board are 6 slots with various conditions that must be met. Once you meet one of these you can select one of your spell books to activate into that slot, to give you an advantage for the rest of the game. The order you choose them is entirely up to you and gives you some nice strategizing to do as the game goes on.

One nice rubber-banding technique is that if you run out of power before your opponent, you can push up the decay counter by one space. This means that they’ll have to pay whatever the current decay cost is before taking any further actions, which is a great way of stopping one player absolutely running away with things early on.

Apart from the abysmal manual, the other massive downfall of this game is its combat. Combat power is based on the type and number of each unit you have on the battlefield. Different units have higher combat scores, meaning you can roll more dice. There’s no rerolls, nothing that can mitigate a bad roll, you just get your number, roll that many dice, and work out if you’ve actually done anything to your opponent. A six is a kill, four or five is pain, everything else is worthless.

Once both players have rolled, You can assign your opponent’s damage to your units as you see fit. With kills returning units to your pool (to summon again) and pain causing units to flee to a safe, adjacent space, but leaving them alive. While it’s simple and clean, it’s a type of randomness I detest in area control and war games because a few bad rolls will absolutely ruin you.

While I had an okay time with Cthulhu Wars: Duel, I felt it could have done with a more concise rulebook, and some way to mitigate the randomness of dice rolling. Whatever else it is, it’s short, so ultimately not very offensive (apart from how it’s based on Lovecraft and no matter how the current fan community tries to pronounce certain words these days, they were intended to be racist as heck, so there’s that.

Pros:

  • Affordable
  • Decay mechanic helps keep players score closer together.
  • Minimal plastic components

Cons:

  • Poorly written manual
  • Basic dice rolling
  • Lacks depth

Final Score: 6/10

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