Review: Cultist Simulator Wants You To Join The Dark Side

By Yue Lynn on May 31, 2018

I have founded my cult. This is a step to greater power.

These words appeared before me, signalling a status change for myself; I’ve successfully become a cult leader. Darkness called to me from the beginning and I answered without hesitation, harnessing my burgeoning cult-ish tendencies in dabbling with the unknown and uncovering unholy mysteries. After procuring whatever I need and doing whatever it takes, the Mirror of Glory cult was born and I had my first indoctrinated pawn. My journey into darkness continues as I took my first step as a cult leader: tasked my Believer to abduct someone just because I can.

That’s the beauty of Cultist Simulator. Set in a 1920s setting, this Kickstarter-funded narrative-driven strategy card game nudges you into shaping your own devilish story. You start out as an ordinary person doing ordinary things but as your index finger goes clickety-clack, you will find yourself descending further and further into something sinister. In the beginning, the plot looks conspicuously harmless but as you progress through your gameplay, the game conveniently feeds and teases us with more information and content, all the while urging us to join the dark side.

You need to take care of a few main tokens (those squared-shaped objects on the table), namely Work, Dream, Talk, Study and Explore among others. Each token allows you to do different things when you pair it with cards. A timer is set off every time a token is paired with a card (or cards depending on the situation) and once the timer runs out of time, you will get something in return (cards) or you may need to pair another card with the token. This timer element certainly adds another layer of tension to the game, which I totally approve.

For example, when you pair a Passion card with the blue-coloured Work token, you will be working a job that you’re passionate about and you will get some Funds (money) cards after you finish the job. Working is a process you need to do repeatedly in order to get money as it can be used for a lot of things besides allowing you to survive day by day.

As we dive deeper into our story, the red-coloured Talk token (the one with the mouth symbol) will appear. This means that players have reached the point where they are ready for their cult-forming duties and can start to recruit some willing pawns and make acquaintances with interesting individuals.

If you’re new to these ‘digital card game’ type of adventures, fear not, because this is a simple game. Anyone who plays Cultist Simulator for the first time only has one option where you play as an Aspirant and you start out with one token and a single card. As a nobody with nothing much in your possession, you will die fairly early in your first game (I actually managed to establish a cult and even tried to secure a meeting with an adversary before succumbing to my death). Cultist Simulator is easy to follow and players will learn how the game works in their first Aspirant gameplay and after you die, you will unlock a few different legacies:

This is where the party actually begins! However, whether you’re a rich brat or you wish to play as a doctor or a detective, you will die in your gameplays, no matter what decisions you make. This is because Cultist Simulator expects you to die. Every time you play a new game after your demise, you will find more new content. This means that we can play as the same character twice or thrice and in each game, we will get never-seen-before cards that we can play with. For example, in my second time playing as the physician, I acquired two Scholar (Sanskrit and Latin) cards. I wasn’t even aware of this type of card’s existence (Scholar cards are used to pair with literature that needs translation). Basically, I’m enamoured with this game because it makes me want to play it again and again just so that I can get myself entangled with more shady cult businesses and troubles.

Cultist Simulator keeps their overall designs clear, cool and clean, despite its subject matter. Much praise to the wordings and writings that it incorporates in the game as they certainly invoke a brooding sense of unease. After all, you may be a cult leader but you certainly don’t hold all the cards.

One of the best things about Cultist Simulator is that it allows us freedom to do a lot of bad things unapologetically, from getting down and dirty in some seedy club or purchasing opium from a discreet pharmacist to straight-up planning a murder with your cult follower. You can enjoy doing some boring things too like selling and bidding for stuff in the auction house. Us cult leaders don’t just spend all our time ruining other people’s lives, you know?

If there is one tip I could give, it would be that one should always put thought into naming their characters:

When I played as the “Bright Young Thing”, I named myself as ‘Bratty Fella’. After ‘Bratty Fella’ kicked the bucket, I played as a physician (I named myself after a very famous doctor in the video game world) and lo and behold, I bumped into my past self, as seen in the above screenshots. A glimpse of the bigger picture, I see.

All in all, I think the replayability value is high for this one because it’s fun to uncover more of Cultist Simulator’s world and lore via each new game. While the game mechanics are simplistic and having too many cards on the table will make things look messy and confusing, the pros of Cultist Simulator definitely outweighs its cons. I’m extremely proud that I’ve already established four cults out of the nine available cults only after a few rounds of gameplay.

Even though I died in all of my playing sessions, I kept coming back to the game because I can’t resist the pull of forming a cult, obtaining power, manipulating subordinates to do my dirty work and just getting more of Cultist Simulator. Recommendable? Hell yes!

Cultist Simulator is now available on Steam (RM39). We got to play the game via a review code courtesy of the game’s developer, Weather Factory.

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This narrative-driven card game makes one feel powerful and vulnerable at the same time. You may have cards that allow you to order a kidnapping attempt or do a lot of deliciously malicious things but if you have no viable cards to sustain your health, you’re a goner and that’s what makes Cultist Simulator so thrilling: the realisation of not knowing what the game will throw at you.
The Good
  • Good Narrative-driven Strategy Card Game
  • Easy To Learn And Follow
  • Interesting Lore
  • High Replayability Value
  • Overall Cool Visual Design
The Bad
  • Takes Some Time To Get A Hang Of It
  • Dying Countless Times May Deter Players From Playing Repeatedly
Yue Lynn
About the Author
Eat, sleep and geek ;) Icon credit: Vale's emote by bakawoof (the artist)
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