Cultist Simulator (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £14.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Cultist Simulator is a little like occult research itself: It’s messy, and offputting and obfuscatory at first, but, as you get deeper, it all becomes simpler, and then… Well, you’re exploring for the sake of exploring, falling deep down the rabbit hole…

The Mansus, this game’s Dreamlands, in all its glory. *Poked from off camera* Oh, sorry, wrong capitalisation. All its Glory!

To unpack this, nominally, Cultist Simulator is a real-time strategy/RPG hybrid where you, a person of some description (be that a doctor, a policeman, a working joe, or other things) get a hint of a deeper world, a world where, if you really, really want, if you work hard, and make sacrifices, you too can become a big player in the world of ancient magics.

Of course… Some of those sacrifices are human, and some of that work is murder, or suppression of evidence that you’re doing all this stuff, and I say “nominally” regarding the game because it isn’t really much like anything that’s come before. The cards, for example, are all on timers. The events are on timers. And, while you can pause and interact with them all, unless you’re doing just that, the event cards can only be viewed individually, so you’re always going to miss things, partly because here, a lack of tutorialising is a deliberate choice. Fun fact: Cult, and occult are words whose Latin roots are two letters apart. Colere, to cultivate, and Celare, to hide.

As such, a review of Cultist Simulator, by its very definition, is a somewhat spoilery experience. Starting only from a card or two, the world expands, with more verbs (that’s the squares as opposed to the cards) unlocking in play, more threats, more opportunities. Teachers are discovered, lore is uncovered. Dreams, strange places, possible cult members, and, of course… Hunters. People who would rather (and with good reason) see these ancient secrets remain buried, even if their methods, their name (The Bureau of Suppression) seems a step too far.

There’s one heck of a narrative here, but interpreting it is as much a learned skill as getting to the point I have.

This is one of the high points of the game, that the world expands, and is explained as you go, in fragments, little pieces. With atmospheric writing, overlays to the board, changes of music, the world is created. This is a game with a lot of reading, and a lot that can only be discovered through experimentation. Wait, you can Study with your Patrons? Damn, didn’t know that. You can get a rough idea of what an event or card wants by clicking the empty slot? Damn, didn’t know that at first.

It’s simultaneously frustrating as hell, and some excellent marrying of narrative to mechanics. You are, after all, always a character unfamiliar with the occult elements of its world, by choice or no, but, as a player, I can’t deny I spent some time angry that progression seemed always a step away. What the hell do I do with this door? How do I deal with the deep, dark Dread in my life? (To be fair, that’s a question I struggle answering in life, as well as this game.) It doesn’t necessarily help that yes, even if you’re so close to earning that goal, that true glimpse that destroys and creates, something simple, something you’d overlooked, can prematurely end your dreams. Since a single run can sometimes last up to 10 hours, you can imagine why that’s so devastating. The cult members and patrons remain the same, even if the story changes, and this, also, is perhaps a flaw.

Cultist Simulator is interesting as all get out, and somewhat unique, both in terms of how it handles events, and how it uses a lack of tutorialising to its benefit narratively. I would recommend it to folks, because, interestingly, it’s using its flaws. Not perfectly, and there are still things that the game does that annoys the hell out of me (such as generating cards on top of other cards, or the magnet slots on events prioritising over events that are already being used, dammit dammit dammit, but it intrigues me with its well researched and written world, its subtle, mostly minimalist aesthetic, and… Not gonna lie, it feels good when you finally achieve your goals.

The writing is excellent, and I mainly chose this screenshot for the folks who already bought the game. Some amusing… Poetic… Justice.

The Mad Welshman loves new aspirants. It’s such a delight to discover how well each goes with Garlic Butter.

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One Deck Dungeon

Source: Supporter Donation
Price: £7.19 (Phoenix’s Den DLC :  79p)
Where To Get It: Steam

So… Here’s another one that caught me off guard with the release. Yes, One Deck Dungeon, a game I reviewed about two months ago is out. Its main addition? A gauntlet mode, in which the masochistic can try and beat all the dungeons in one go.

The Lich’s special ability is frustrating. Turns out Liches are like small children playing Cops and Robbers.

Considering I wasn’t sure I could beat the main dungeons without the Hero Progression system they added… I can’t really say much about that.

So, to recap, One Deck Dungeon, a computer game based on the tabletop game of the same name, has up to two adventurers, each with a special ability, try to make their way through one of five dungeons, based on a single deck of possible encounters, random loot, and a boss at the end. Each dungeon has special rules, such as the Lich’s Tomb, which removes all dice rolling a 2 (Combined with encountering an Ethereal, who removes 1s and 3s, this dungeon can get painful) , and a boss at the end. Everything is resolved by rolling dice, fitting dice of the required number or above into boxes with numbers to prevent damage, losing time, or other fun things, and this can be aided with skills, potions, and each heroine’s special ability.

Nice to see a game with all-women protags, to be quite honest.

The Ethereal, similarly, is quite evil. But still, that loot… I need that looooooot!

Everything said in the previous review with the appearance of fairness (Yes, it’s dice, but skills can affect them, multiply them, reroll them… Skills go a long way to helping), the aesthetic (Solid, if workmanlike in places), and the dungeon deck (Could do with some extra variation) still stand. But one thing has served to improve the game, for me, at least, quite a bit. Hero Progression.

See, with the base abilities, the later dungeons can best be described as the sound of a table being flipped through a monitor, which is itself being thrown through a window. They’re punishing. But finishing a dungeon lets you, with Hero Progression on, unlock useful things in four basic categories: Basic, Healing, Combat, and Dungeon. I’ve mainly gone with a Healing build, and it’s been fun to go through the lower dungeons to get basic abilities, do the higher dungeons, just… Levelling up. As you would. I asked, last time I took a look, if the game could be more fair. And the answer, funnily enough, was “Yes, here’s a big step toward that.”

So, in summary, One Deck Dungeon is fun. Its music is alright, its aesthetic mostly solid, and it’s pretty clear to understand and play. It could do with some extra monster variety, but, overall, it’s alright as it is. Just… Turn Hero Progression on if you’re having trouble, eh?

Another 3 Star Dungeon, another… Three armour for every enemy on the third level. Well, good for me I brought the Warrior then!

Dungeons… Dungeons never change.

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Triplicity (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £7.19 (£3.99 for soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam

Triplicity is, on your very first glance, a strange combination. Okay, so there’s a deckbuilding, small scale card game battler… But why the block puzzles, friend? It still somewhat confuses, but, thankfully, both elements improve over time, so Triplicity… Turns out alright.

The blocks have been conquered, and soon, I shall face my polygonal opponent, and hear their twinkly lamentations…

The artistic direction in the game is pretty solid, overall. Minimalist, but solid. Soft, ambient music, low poly worlds that are nonetheless bright and use their colour well (with one minor exception: Green/Yellow blocks, or more accurately, the markers of where they’re meant to go, are hard to distinguish, so a colour-blind pass may be useful.) The cards are reminiscent, artwise, of early editions of Magic: The Gathering, relatively muted colour schemes, but using a similar 5 colour scheme for it’s theming. The similarity ends with that and the attack/defence stat.

Playwise, it’s similarly simple and approachable. Block moving puzzles make a prelude to card battles, where the first turn is chosen randomly, and there are three fields, three energy per turn, and cards have a max energy cost of three. Some cards have special abilities, but for the most part, you’re tactically considering where to put your cards for maximum offence and defence as players react to each other (or player and CPU, as is the case with story and practice mode.) Defeat still earns a card for your library, while winning earns three. Take a wild stab at how many block puzzles have to be solved before fighting a card battle in the single player mode.

I could really go for some Twiglies right about now…

With a multiplayer mode, and a practice mode where you can try your wits versus the AI, Triplicity is, honestly, not a bad game. It’s approachable, accessible, and when my only niggle with it is “Wait, if the cards are the focus, what’s all this block malarkey”, I can’t help but give a pair of gentle thumbs up.

The Mad Welshman finds simplicity both pleasing and frustrating. You may be able to tell.

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One Deck Dungeon (Early Access Review)

Source: Supporter Donation
Price: £11.39
Where To Get It: Steam

Adaptations of board games, for better or for ill, generally have to be faithful to the original. And so it is with One Deck Dungeon, a game that toes the line between “Yeah, that’s fair” and some good, old fashioned table flipping. You might be unsurprised to learn that dice are heavily involved. But let’s get into that.

If I’m clever, and my Black Die of General Usefulness roll well… I can still take it. Let’s do this.

One Deck Dungeon is a game where the majority of the deck remains roughly the same. Here, a beetle, armoured up the wazoo, and able to run away with its loot rather than die (as it should) if its armour remains unbreached, regardless of how much it hurt. There, a Wraith, avoided by many an adventurer, not for the traditional reason of life drain, but because it converts items (Which give you dice) into XP (Which, while useful in a fair few contexts, doesn’t give you dice, and gives you nothing if you haven’t levelled up yet.) So, it’s a game where, like a traditional RPG, knowing what something is on first glance (even without things helpfully being labelled and clearly explained on encountering them) means you can answer that age old question: Kill, Flee, Disarm. Every dungeon has the same timer, ticking down by a base 2 per turn, ticking further down if time is spent murdering an enemy (IE – boxes with an hourglass in them aren’t fitted with a corresponding die), and, once time has been used up, staying in that level of the dungeon hurts the adventurers (Presumably they have a bad case of loot itch, a horrid affliction that means not-looking for loot somewhere more powerful than where you were causes physical pain.)

Where does the change come in, the challenge from trying different things? Well, mainly two sources right now: The Adventurers (each with different values of stats-as-dice, in five flavours, and different skills if you play single player or two player) and the Dungeons (Each of which has a different boss, and different, stacking “Bad Things” per level.) My Warrior has, generally speaking, had a good time in the beginner dungeon (even getting me my sole win so far), but, due to a variety of factors, from 2s magically disappearing because of a Weakness Curse to magic based armour and damage, hasn’t done so well in, for example, The Lich’s Tomb, or against the Yeti. So… Everything is understandable, at a glance, and this is good.

So… Close, dammit! [dies]

You would think, at this point, that I’d then point to the dice and cry “BULLLL!” But no. Mainly because, while victory against a boss is only assured if you’re both good and a little lucky (and, in cases like the Yeti, heavily weighted toward hitting things while also having some dice to take care of, say, Magic and Agility), getting to the boss is, generally speaking, okay. The majority of the dungeon deck doesn’t change, as noted, so there’s a careful balance between taking damage to Get Cool Stuff (XP so you can hold more stuff, potions so you can live long enough to get stuff, or use special abilities in your quest to get stuff, stuff adds to your dice, skills to more easily turn crap dice into good dice, so on so forth) and knowing when it’s good to Just Run (The Wraith, for example, I generally avoid or potion out of if I can. No stuff for you, mister Wraith, only meeeee.) The feeling of being fair is important, and, for all that it is, at its core, a game about rolling dice and hoping for high numbers, One Deck Dungeon mostly feels fair.

Could it be more fair? Quite possibly. As implied, without a bit of luck, some good stats, and preferably a potion stashed away, the bosses of each of the five dungeons will mercilessly muller you. But then again, I’ve come so close… So close… So I know that these bosses can be killed, they can be beaten. Is it fair enough to keep me coming in without a friend to play with? Maybe. It does have a two player local mode at the moment, with each player’s stats and Heroic Abilities halved in effectiveness, but a good mix (Warrior/Rogue, for example, has served me well so far in Yeti’s Cavern) goes a long way, and that “X skills/items per character” wears thin slower (normally, in a single player run, I don’t bother going for items on higher floors.) I can even build synergy, so it helps.

5 Classes, 5 dungeons, and the only one I’ve not felt cool with so far was the Paladin. I more put this down to being a vaudevillain than any mechanical demerit with their play, though…

Overall, One Deck Dungeon explains itself and its rules quite well, seems mostly balanced and fair (for a given value of fair), and, if there were anything I’d maybe get tired of, it’s the main dungeon deck. Oh, right, another Goblin. Two flame traps in a row? Yaaawn. Still, it’s an alright pick if you like two player local play, or a single player game where you’re relatively free to expand your tactics in interesting directions. We’ll see how that progresses as time goes on.

The Mad Welshman appreciates well how the appearance of fairness is just as important as actually being fair. The game, thankfully, is both.

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Lost In The Dungeon (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £4.79
Where To Get It: Steam

Lost in the Dungeon is one of those games where the art is quite nice. The intro cutscene is a short motion comic, and it’s nice. The card art is nice. The music, while a little bland, is nice. Obvious work has gone into the assets.

I will die in two turns, counting this wasted one. I feel, somehow, this sets the mood.

It’s just a terrible shame that not nearly as much was put into the game. Let’s start with the basics: Sound control? Sort of, you have music on, music off. That’s your lot. Windowed mode? Sort of, you can alt-tab to have a full screen window instead of full screen. Accessibility? Well, here, it sorta wins out, as it’s a turn based game, everything is via the mouse, and there are few enough options (with “Click again to confirm” on things like quit) that it doesn’t take terribly long to learn them. Forced tutorial every single time you start a new character, with no option to turn it off? Yup!

These are minor niggles, it is true. But these are, if you will, an aperitif, a little starter, for, regardless of your character class, the difficulty curve begins at “No fuck you.” And it surprises me how the characters fail in the early game, more than the fact that they do.

Mood.JPG.

The warrior, for example, does great damage. Hell, when he has the energy to use his best attack, and rolls well? He cleans house, taking even the armour of giant spiders off (That’s 7 armour at start, as an aside.) But his own armour is very prone to coming off, not just because, when energy is low, he’s unable to do more than defend, but because enemies like removing armour in the first dungeon, and one of his best early options for quickly barrelling armour… Costs armour. This is before we factor in that poison and bloodsucking, two abilities common to enemies in the very first dungeon… Completely bypass armour. Hope you’ve got an antidote card handy for that damage over time with your health, friend, and hope the snakes and spiders don’t decide to poison you all over again, because antidotes and potions cost 5 gold a pop, even if you got ’em in your hand of 3 cards!

Okay, how about the mage? Usually, when the warrior suffers, the Mage makes bank, right? Well, they have superior armouring options, and a good spell for removing armour… But when it comes to damage, somehow, fireball does bupkiss. It’s got some damage over time, but you’re not going to get very far when nothing is dying and everything is still poisoning or leeching or attacking you. Welp.

Be it vendor trash or new, good or not, the same, flashy presentation awaits your hard earned chests. There’s a lootbox joke in there somewhere.

I get where the game’s going with this. It wants me to grind those first few rooms of the first dungeon, again and again and again until I have Good Stuff, enough money for my potions and antidotes not to embarassingly run out (along with my money, making for a potionless grind of… The first few rooms), and some extra, better cards under my belt from its limited toolset (perhaps mixing classes, since there appears to be no restriction on that beyond… Well, starting from First Cards of varying utility. Thing is… I don’t want to do that. I don’t particularly care if it Gets Better Later (and I’m informed it does) , because what I’m experiencing now is some of the most painful, joyless grind I’ve experienced in a long time. And I’m not down for that.

The Mad Welshman is an adventurous type. He just prefers to be able to conquer early dungeons fairly easily. As tradition dictates.

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