I started reading H. P. Lovecraft stories in high school. I really do enjoy visiting Lovecraft County. My roleplaying group is currently playing Call of Cthulhu, and I’ve run many an adventure for Call of Cthulhu and Delta Green. I still play the Call of Cthulhu LCG when I get a chance. One of my introductions to hobby board gaming was Arkham Horror – the third game I purchased for my collection. So, I come somewhat naturally to Lovecraftian games. There was a time where a Cthulhu themed game was almost an auto-purchase for me, but since Lovecraft has become public domain, there has been a proliferation of Cthulhu themed board games. I think some of them are quite good, while others are a not so great game that have Cthulhu pasted on as a cheap theme. I have, subsequently, tried to become slightly more discerning in my Cthulhu game related purchases.
Perhaps as a side effect of the explosion of Mythos games, a trend has emerged – you play as the evil, attempting to summon the Elder God, rather than playing as the investigators / heroes trying to stop the lurking fear. Such is Fate of the Elder Gods, designed by Richard Launius, Darrell Louder, & Chris Kirkman, and released by Greater Than Games, where players each represent a cult attempting to summon a particular Elder God.
Fate of the Elder Gods is a mancala style area control game. The board is separated into six areas, each with a unique area ability. At the start of the game, each of the six areas has one of your cultists, and one pesky investigator in it. You are attempting to advance your summon token nine times to successfully summon your Elder God before those investigators get ten elder signs on your summoning track. The first player to advance their summoning token to nine on their track wins.
On your turn, you start by moving the big Cthulhu standee – the Fate Piece – to a new location. If that location has three more investigators, they immediately move to your lodge – your play board – as they begin to suspect that you’re Up To Something. Then, you place one of your cultists from your lodge, and an investigator from the supply, into the area. You then perform the action of the area you’re in: you get artifacts, move your cultists around the board, force the investigators to raid other players, work towards summoning your Elder God, etc. If you have a plurality of cultists in the area, you get a secondary, optional action as well. If you don’t have a plurality, you can roll a die, and on a success, you have temporary control, giving you the optional second action, and that’s pretty neat.
Here’s the problem. As you go culting around Arkham, you raise the attention of the authorities. Investigators begin to follow you around. They start to end up in your lodge, watching you very closely. Other cults may even give the investigators tips as If at the end of the turn you have five, or more, investigators in your lodge, they begin a raid, and you get to roll some custom dice. Some of these dice are going to turn up elder signs – that’s bad, the investigators are slowing down your summoning. Some of these dice are going to turn up Cthulhus, which kill investigators – bad for them, good for your lodge.
On your turn you will always end up with a spell, and if you go to the museum, you may end up with an artifact. Spells are pretty nifty, and add to the replayability of Fate of the Elder Gods. Spells are going to tweak the rules, opening up a few different paths to victory. They may also afford you the opportunity to screw with other players. Spells are a one-time use, but you’re going to have a steady supply of them during the game, so you need not worry about firing them off. Artifacts have a little bit more staying power. Once you acquire an artifact, it stays in your lodge, and you’ll be able to use it repeatedly for a slightly more powerful effect; some artifacts have a one-use-only effect that is even more powerful.
The aspect of the game that I quite liked – and that those who I played this game with liked as well – were the Curses. When you start messing around with great cosmic horror, you can end up cursed. Different card effects in the game may end up cursing your cult. If this happens, the player to your right draws a curse card in secret and sets it aside. Curse cards have specific triggers – when you move to a location, when you roll something on a die, etc. When a curse is triggered on you, the player to your right reveals the curse and tells you what horrible thing has befallen you. I quite like this mechanism. You never know exactly what is going to trigger a curse, so you end up tiptoing around hoping that your evil plans are not about to blow up in your face. It adds some fun, good tension to the game.
There is a lot of plastic in Fate of the Elder Gods. The cultist figures are well sculpted, fit nicely on the board and in your hand, and look sufficiently Lovecraftian. The same goes for the investigator figures and the Cthulhu figures. The player boards are well designed and intuitive. The graphic design on the spell cards is very slick – they are quite intuitive in hand and are easy to figure out when playing them. The game passes the colour-blind test: the colour-blind players in my group had no difficulty discerning between different coloured playing pieces, and the symbology on the cards means they are not colour dependent. Overall, Fate of the Elder Gods has good graphic design and components – it is an attractive game, and looks good on the table.
It took us a full read of the rules and a few turns of play to figure out exactly what was going on, but after that it was smooth sailing. There’s not a lot of need to consult the rules mid-play, and the player aid cards give you all you need. Play is smooth and quick – there was not a lot of downtime in our four player games, and players stayed engaged throughout. I really only have one gripe about the game. There is only one location on the board that allows you to advance your summoning token, and you can only advance after a successful die roll. In our plays, the end game had a similar strategy for all players: first, move to the location that allows you to move your cultists, move many of your cultists to the area that allows you to advance your summon token, move there, and hope for a good die roll.
The “hoping for a good die roll” is what really grates me. On our first play-through, two of the four players failed to win on the turn they thought they would win because of a poor dice roll. That’s just a little annoying. Now, there are ways to mitigate against this – spells and artifacts both provide different paths to victory and can protect against crappy dice rolls.
I will certainly play Fate of the Elder Gods again. It does a good job of the “you play as the bad guy” in Lovecraft games. Each cult has a specific ability that they can use during the game, increasing the replayability of the game. The spells and the artifacts do provide a different approach to the game, and can open up different paths to victory. As a game, it provides an interesting take on area control, especially with the roll-a-die for temporary area control mechanism. It’s thinky enough to keep you engaged, but not too brain-burnery to prevent conversations with your pals at the table.
Greater Than Games provided me a media copy for this review.