Cultist Simulator Review (PC)

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Cultist Simulator

Developer: Weather Factory
Publisher: Humble Bundle

Main Review

Review Context: I’ve never played a card game like this before, but I do enjoy playing digital card games.
Date of Playthrough: May 28, 2018

PC Specs Game Played on:
OS: 
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Processor: 
Intel(R) Core(TM) i3 CPU 540 @ 3.07GHz
RAM: 
8 GB
Video Card: 
GeForce GTX 950 2GB GDDR5 ACX 2.0 SC+
Resolution: 1366×768

Disclosure: This review was based off of a review copy.

Cultist Simulator, developed by Weather Factory and via a kickstarter, has to be one of the most surprising and refreshing video game experiences for me to come across in quite some time. Having played many card games, Cultist Simulator definitely stands out for many reasons, not just the fact that it is a 100% single player experience, but the type of creative engagement it brings to your mind.

Upon starting Cultist Simulator for the first time, you will embark on your journey as an Aspirant. Your story begins here, and from here you are given your starting cards to start telling your own story. You will see a square box that says “Work.”and this is where you will ‘go to work’ by placing your character card in this crafting box known as a verb token. This is a repetitive action that you will have to manage and get used to during your time playing. As you place your character card in the Work verb token, once you click on the bottom right of it to submit it you will see a timer go off. The timer is a a staple mechanic in the game that you will have to manage. When the timer finishes, more cards will be crafted out of Work. The bread and butter of Cultist Simulator is crafting cards from cards you already have, with the usual outcome of producing new cards to further expand your story narrative.

Cultist Simulator

From that first action you take in the beginning, you will eventually end up with additional verb tokens that have different functions for crafting your story. The staple verb token lineup that you will end up with is Work, Dream, Study, Talk, and Explore. It is how you use these tokens that will shape your story. And yes, all of these tokens have timers that will have to be managed by you. Rest assured, there is a pause option at the bottom of your screen, so you will be able to pause and unpause as need be to drop any cards in the token first with pause then unpausing it. As someone who was very unfamiliar with this style of game I spent most of my time pausing and unpausing to drop different card combinations in various verb tokens just to see what the outcome would be. Almost always when dropping a card in a token you will see a description in that token of what might happen. This helps give the game a Choose Your Own Adventure type of feeling to really control the narrative of your own story.

As an Aspirant, I began my work as a painter, and before I knew it I had so many new options in front of me. The Talk token is probably the most interesting one, because this is where creating and expanding your cult occurs. There are up to nine different cults that you can find, with each having a different principle. Before I knew it I was recruiting people to my cult and each member was represented by their own card. Like every card, every person has to be crafted onto the game board first, then they need to be convinced to be a believer of your cult.

This review isn’t meant to be a description guide of how the game starts, but it is very important to realize how your story unfolds around you from the start. Besides all the verb tokens that you will have to manage, there are also other cards with words that will be used as a common resource to continue building your narrative. Some of these words include passion, reason, glimmering, as well as others. These cards also run on timers, and managing them and creating more of them is part of the challenge within Cultist Simulator.

Cultist Simulator

You do get health that you can both gain more of and lose all of through various means. There are many different narratives that can end your playthrough, but rest assured, you do have have legacy! Cultist Simulator is a roguelike, meaning the game is meant to be played multiple times. After each playthrough a little bit of your legacy carries over to your next one, but you will have a choice to change your role. The other roles that I really enjoyed were the Physician and the Detective. All of these roles have different starting tokens, but the mechanics remain the same. It is up to you to explore your options.

As you play enough of Cultist Simulator you will find yourself managing your game board in different ways, as tokens and cards can be moved and arranged however you like. You will most likely have a different board management style than the next person, and that’s how it should be. This type of board customization really gives you your own personal touch to the game as you control your cultist story. There is no tutorial, so the game relies on you to figure out everything. Although I was able to figure out things on my own, it was at a slow pace to start and faster as I went along.

Cultist Simulator is a game that is definitely only for the most dedicated gamers wanting to put the work in to learn the mechanics. If you are invested in the immersive experience by reading every card and making various judgements then you will enjoy it. It was a very strange feeling reading about having someone “following” me as my cult grew bigger. The longer I played, the more it felt that every decision I made with my cards was important. Many decisions could mean the difference between continuing or death. Although the game has good customizable auto save settings, I never took advantage of a save restart because part of the Cultist Simulator experience to me is making a choice and risking a consequence. Alexis Kennedy, the creator of Cultist Simulator, did a great job making this accessible even to me, someone not heavily invested in the type of subject. Cultist Simulator will be adding more roles to the game as DLC,  and they will be free as they become available if you own the Perpetual Edition (first week only). Cultist Simulator is definitely a game that I will keep returning to in 2018 because it is very addicting.

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