As a gamer, I’ve only just recently begun to delve into card games. My first foray was with Warhammer Underworlds: Online. Well, I guess that isn’t really a “pure” card game since it contains die rolls as well. So, when I saw Weather Factory’s debut game, Cultist Simulator, I instantly became curious about it.
One thing that drew me to it was the fact that I could see it featured nothing but cards (a “pure” card game if you will) and another was the mysterious blurb on its Steam page:
“Seize forbidden treasures. Summon alien gods. Feed on your disciples. Cultist Simulator is a game of apocalypse and yearning. Play as a seeker after unholy mysteries, in a 1920s-themed setting of hidden gods and secret histories.”
Anything that sounds even vaguely Lovecraftian is a sure way to get my attention.
When you actually start the game itself, there’s not much of an introduction and there’s also no tutorial. Personally, I like non-hand-hold-y games since they force me to figure things out on my own and give my brain a workout, as long as they’re not too obscure.
Cultist Simulator opens up with a worn-out card table, a few tiles, and a couple of cards. You begin by sticking cards into the tiles and then waiting to see what develops as new cards appear. As you gradually click on these cards or place them into special highlighted tiles, batches of text appear and begin to weave together a narrative. The more things you unlock and discover, the more in-focus these disparate elements become.
I was initially struck by how mundane everything felt. I had to go to work to earn money, sleep, and dream. However, I soon discovered that these semblances of routine life were always setting up rhythms of illusory comfort—which are inevitably torn away.
In Cultist Simulator, you’ll eventually stumble across some sort of ancient item, piece of lore, mysterious person, or even some form of temptation that puts you on the path to uncovering either fortuitous events or calamitous downfalls.
One of the things that’s interesting about Cultist Simulator is that, unlike most “chill” card games where everything takes place over the course of turns, here, things occur in real-time. You’ve got to be on your toes and keep your eyes darting from card-to-card, while also reading the various tidbits of text that the game constantly throws at you, all as quickly as you can manage. If you don’t, you can quickly find yourself ending up in some type of unfavorable situation, and then it is game over.
For instance, I quickly realized that I had to constantly work a job in order to earn fund cards since they got absorbed every minute by the “Time Passes” tile. The times that I couldn’t feed that tile had me coming down with an illness, and if I couldn’t find a way to recover, I’d perish and have to begin a new game.
When Cultist Simulator picks up and you begin to unlock secret arts and recruit followers, you’ll have a lot of plates to spin. Fortunately, I discovered that the game has a pause button. This is handy since you can always pause the game and strategize your next move.
What this boils down to is that there’s a lot of trial and error (and dying) going on in Cultist Simulator, especially if you’re just starting out. To keep this from getting redundant and stagnant, the game gradually introduces new mechanics and systems so as to make each session feel relatively fresh. This includes some interesting new random events and also new characters to play as. Each of these characters has their unique quirks and idiosyncrasies when it comes to building up a cult, so things never get boring.
As a game, Cultist Simulator requires some patience, and certainly an investment of time, in order to learn its rather obtuse mechanics. But when you do, you’ll find a hidden gem of a horror game that can deliver hours and hours of deep and emergent storytelling.
Cultist Simulator has some pretty good graphics so you’ll need a pretty beefy gaming PC or gaming laptop in order to play it at a decent framerate. Therefore, you may just want to invest in a better gaming rig:
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