Cultist Simulator provides a unique board / card game experience. The single board provides all of the actions you can complete, and the resources you have to complete them. Cultist Simulator provides multiple paths to victory. You have minor victories, such as getting a job and living a normal life. It’s the major goals that get more interesting, as you’ll grow your cult and complete rituals to become immortal. Playing with power is dangerous, and weaker minds may be overcome by the dark forces they seek to control. If your mind is strong enough to resist the urges of the occult, you still need to beware, for if you find yourself attracting attention from the Suppression Bureau, an organisation dedicated to silencing the hidden arts, you might end up disappearing forever.
Every action that you complete in Cultist Simulator involves dragging a card onto a tile on the board. The tiles are referred to verbs, as they represent actions that you are able to complete in the game. Verbs can have one or more slots to place cards in, depending on the action that you will be performing. All of the verbs are context sensitive, with different actions ocurring depending on which cards, and how many are played.
Everything in Cultist Simulator is a resource. Money, Items, locations, followers, and even emotions like Dread or Contentment. Even your primary stats are resources that can be spent, traded, or lost. Every resource is represented by cards in game, so keeping your board organised will be key to success, and maintaining your ever-growing cult.
Some resources are time-limited. If they aren’t spent before the timer runs out, they may disappear from the board, or change into an entirely different resource. This can result in unexpected detrimental resources appearing in large numbers if you aren’t careful, and it can really put a stop to your plans when trying to accumulate enough of specific resources to advance.
There are a few main Verbs which you will interact with throughout most of the game.
Work – Normally the way that you will earn money, but can also be used to conduct rituals for your cult.
Study – This can be used to study occult texts and increase your characters stats.
Dream – Dreaming with each of the primary stats provides different results, but each will yield resources that will be helpful throughout the course of the game.
Explore – Allows you to visit various locations around the city to find places of interest, or explore hidden cultist sanctuaries.
Talk – You can interact with your cult, followers, and even talk with the general public about the unseen arts.
There is a verb called “Time Passes”, which requires one fund to succeed. This verb activates every minute, and if you don’t have the funds for it to consume, Time Passes will consume health, as your character will become starved or sick.
Time Passes has what is known as magnet slots,, which take the resource from anywhere on the board (even another slot) as soon as it becomes available. This can put a wrench in meticulous plans, as these magnet slots can take anything they please. Most verbs will only take generic resources that you’re likely to have a lot of, but sometimes the magnet slot can take something truly important.
When the Time Passes verb is resolved, it will advance what is known as a “season”, which creates another temporary verb. These seasons will test your resolve, which usually involves a magnet slot taking negative resources, and stockpiling them. If these negatives build up too much, it will cause the game to end. In order to manage these seasons and prevent a premature death, you will need to keep negative resources to a minimum, and generate positive resources to counteract them when required.
All verbs are able to be run at the same time, and they all operate independently. This allows for Cultist Simulator to move at a reasonable pace, and keep the player on their toes. Whilst being able to multitask is of great benefit, when performing actions on a verb, the verb will hold the resources that are required for up to 60 seconds per phase, sometimes for many phases at a time, so the player needs to be careful what they’re placing where, else they might find they lack crucial resources during a potentially deadly season.
Part of what makes Cultist Simulator so difficult, is that progress is often made by completing actions that will cause negative resources to be created. Although these negative resources are time-limited, just like the positive ones, advancing too aggressively can result in a large buildup of a resource that will destroy you. As a result, it is important to pursue progress whilst maintaining balance in order to succeed.
Cultist Simulator allows the player almost as much freedom as any game can. The player is free to choose how they will approach victory, what resources they will prioritise, how risky they would like to play, and every other minute detail, down to how they organise the table on which they play. Every single resource and verb in cultist simulator can be dragged and placed anywhere on the table, which for some, might cause a headache if everything isn’t organised just so. It’s likely that if you got a screenshot from each player’s board, all of them would differ at least a small amount.
When launching the game, a message appears: “Explore. Take Risks. You won’t always know what to do next. Keep experimenting, and you’ll master it”.
This is a key part of the Cultist Simulator experience. There are no tutorials, and no guidance. You will be provided with verbs and resources, and it’s up to you to figure out how to go from a nobody, to the leader of a mysterious and powerful cult.
If the player enjoys the game, there are lots of natural ways to gain guidance and learn how to play from the User Interface in game. For example, if you click on a verb, to open it, and then click on an empty slot, it will highlight all of the cards that can be inserted into the slot. Or, if you get a new card, and not sure how it can be used, you can click and hold the card, and verbs where it can be placed will also be highlighted.
At first, it will seem like there is no reason that some cards can be played in specific slots when others can’t, but eventually, you will learn that this comes down to each resources properties, known as aspects.
Every single resource in the game has at least one aspect that determines how it can be used. Physical posessions are often sellable, and can be traded at an auction house to gain funds, for example, but not every aspect makes that much sense. There are a lot of Aspects in game that relate to the arcane, and these appear on all manner of resources such as books, lore, and even cult followers. Only through lots of trial and error will the player be able to solve the mysteries that Cultist Simulator provides.
In addition to cards and verbs being highlighted, and the list of aspects, when placing a card into a slot on a verb,, the flavor text will change, which oftentimes provides clues as to what the result will be if the action is completed, or why the action can’t be started with this combination of cards. Unfortunately, these hints are not always super clear, and many combinations of “valid” cards results in generic text as though you had placed nothing in the slots at all.
This can create some frustration at times, as the game does recommend experimenting, but there are a lot of actions that can be completed that provide absolutely no result, and many ‘valid’ resources that can be placed in a slot, but won’t allow for an action to take place on a particular verb.
These small frustrations are perhaps a price to pay for a game that allows so much freedom, and so many options. The general discovery of trying, trying, and trying some more is addictive, and it’s easy to get lost within Cultist Simulator whilst working towards goals and attempting actions to find out just what will happen.
Another rewarding part about Cultist Simulator is that whilst there is so much to take in, it doesn’t take much playtime at all to find yourself making progress. At first, you know nothing, and everything is confusing and death comes swiftly and frequently. After an hour of play, you’ll find yourself understanding the basics of the game, and sustaining yourself relatively well whilst learning how to really grow and expand your cult.
With that in mind, dying in the early game is not punishing at all. Cultist Simulator is quick to restart and getting back into the action is painless. A death in the mid-to-late game is a far larger blow, however, as I found myself creating a large mental checklist of things I wanted to do before I started toward a victory in my next attempt:
- Increase the three primary stats as high as possible
- Purchase all of the books from the store
- Study all of the books to to gain lore.
A risk-taker would find a lot of satisfaction in completing this checklist simultaneously, whilst still working toward a victory, but as Cultist Simulator is punishing, many players are likely to take the safer route like I did, which can burn over an hour of gametime, which can be very tedious, especially when in the previous playthrough, you may have thought you were on the cusp of a breakthrough.
Cultist Simulator does have multiple professions that you can start the game as, however, which will help alleviate some of the tedious feeling, as each has a different way to approach the early game in terms of occupation. The core of the game remains the same, with the player needing to level their stats and acquire lore from books in order to be able to make progress to the mid-game.
A large part of Cultist Simulator revolves around a cult-dimension known as The Mansus, which is found by dreaming. This dimension has many doors to unlock, and unlocking higher level lore will allow you to explore further into the Mansus, where the rewards are greater, assisting you on your journey to victory.
This journey will be filled with a lot of mis-steps. The player is aware that the final goal involves growing a powerful cult, but not what to do with it, or how to do whatever it is that needs to be done. Exploring The Mansus in the dream-state is one way to progress, but at the same time, you are also able to level your followers into disciples and beyond. You need to manage your interest in the power of the cult, leveling it up to greater and greater levels of obsession, and you are also able to explore hidden cultist places of worship in order to find even more lore and items. You are also able to conduct rituals, learn more rituals, and even then, applying different resources to these rituals will provide different results. All of these actions provide progression, and there’s really no way of knowing what it is that you should be doing in order to achieve victory. Do you need to do all of them? Are some only for the benefits of the resources they provide? There’s no way for the player to know, without more and more time spent doing each and everything until you discover what does work.
Visually, Cultist Simulator is clean and tidy. The table and everything on it is the only thing that you’re going to be seeing in game. There aren’t going to be any monsters appearing, or any cuts to the dark dungeons that your cultists are sent out to explore. There is a lot of quality writing to be read, though. Each time you place a resource in a slot, and every time the timer on a verb completes, you’ll be provided with yet another glimpse into the world of Cultist Simulator. This writing is by no means a required read if you’re impatient, although at times there are hints and advice on what to do, so it’s always worth a skim.
Sound design is also another strength here. Every action, such as picking up a card, slotting it in, entering The Mansus, timers counting down, and more has a unique sound effect that adds some nice feedback to completing actions, which are already smooth without sound as it is. Not only that, but the music of Cultist Simulator is utterly haunting. I feel like the soundtrack is going to be featuring in my nightmares for weeks, simply because of the atmosphere that it creates.
Cultist Simulator has a lot to love. When completing certain actions, the board reacts, burning dark images onto the table, which may represent the ascension of a follower, or the impending loss of your mind to the darkness of the arts that you are attempting to control. As mentioned earlier, at times the game can feel tedious, and the player can feel like they lack direction, but the unique gameplay, and the enjoyment it provides is worth a little bit of teething pains whilst playing through.
Due to the way that it plays, it is obvious that Cultist Simulator won’t be for everyone, but for anyone looking for a unique and interesting gaming experience, Look no further than Cultist Simulator.