Timing and Opener
Some factions in Cthulhu Wars are harder to figure out than others. This is not to say that any faction is trivial to master – my previous design corners on Cthulhu & Sleeper are meant to show this. But after all, people “get” the basics of Cthulhu and Sleeper right off the bat (which is not to say they can then immediately win with them). Two factions people are likeliest to struggle with are Yellow Sign & Opener of the Way. My experience is that typically, about halfway through their first game, a Yellow Sign player suddenly smites his forehead and exclaims, “NOW I get it! I’ve been doing it wrong all along!” And of course they still lose, because they wasted the first half of the game, but in the SECOND game as Yellow Sign they do fine. To be fair, some players can’t seem to figure out Black Goat at first, too. They just can’t wrap their head around it. But I would say at least half the people who play Black Goat can see how she “flows” from the start.
With Opener, most players take about a game and a half before that “Aha!” moment. So they flounder around the whole first game and halfway through the second. Starting with the third game, they are a force to be reckoned with. At that point Opener works like a well-oiled machine. This has its drawbacks. When everything is going right, Opener pulls off fabulous victories far beyond any other faction (as we shall soon see). But when things go wrong, Opener doesn’t so much fly as … plummet. Opener is rarely middle of the pack (a position that Cthulhu, for instance, often holds).
To pull off an Opener victory, you need correct timing. Which makes sense, because Yog-Sothoth surpasses space & time. You have to learn to apply that time effectively. This timing issue occurs throughout your faction and your spellbooks, but it is most recognizable with the two Dragon spellbooks, and Million Favored Ones.
The Dragons are obvious – you can only use each one once per game, so if you save them till the last minute, they might not have much of an effect, whereas if you pull them off early, you may have “buyer’s remorse” later on.
Million Favored Ones is less obvious. The way it works is that your units promote after Battle, (kind of like Pokemon). A beginner blunders by summoning say, a Mutant, then Battling to promote him. Now he has a 3 cost monster! But what he isn’t noticing is that it cost him 3 points to get that monster (2 for the Mutant, then 1 for the Battle), so he’s saving no Power. Of course he also got to possibly inflict a Battle result, but so did the foe. What I’m saying is that Million Favored Ones doesn’t save you summoning Power unless you battle with multiple units at once, so you can promote them all together. The problem then becomes trying to set up that mass battle. If you just start summoning Mutant after Mutant at someone’s Gate, planning to instigate a big battle, long before you finish your task, he will respond – launching his own counterstrike or preparing defenses. If instead you move a big army to an Area, then any Power saved on summoning is wasted by the Move action.
Look at it this way. If I summon two Mutants in an enemy Area, then declare battle, even if both my units survive, the result is that I spent 5 Power to get 6 Power worth of Abominations. Yay(?) But I had an opportunity cost too – I only rolled 2 dice in the Battle – If I’d straight-up summoned Abominations, I’d have rolled 4 dice.
Time your battles properly, even with Million Favored Ones. If an enemy blunders into one of your Areas, seize the moment & strike, promoting a ton of guys at once. Or figure out when and how a Battle advantages you. Don’t depend on Million Favored Ones as a way to get heavy units into play – apply it as a tool, and a threat – you’ll find that enemy factions are leery to attack you, because you promote. Sometimes you need to battle anyway, so why not promote? But if you seek out battle for the purpose of promotion you have it wrong way round.
There is an infamous Play-By-Forum game on Boardgamegeek called Dimensional Shift. It was actually the 3rd forum game ever, and set up a PR problem for me, which I will get into.
This game consisted of Great Cthulhu, Opener of the Way, Yellow Sign, and Sleeper. Here in its liveliest awfulness, is what Opener of the Way perpetrated on the other (mostly experienced) players.
TURN ONE – started in South Asia. Moved a cultist to Arabia, build a Gate, summon Mutant to Arabia, move the Mutant to Europe (Yellow Sign’s home). That’s 8 Power.
TURN ONE ANALYSIS – this is a straightforward opening move. Yellow Sign isn’t worried about the Mutant, because he doesn’t really care if his Cultists are killed or captured. There is as yet no sign of the oncoming storm.
TURN TWO – start with 10 Power & 2 Doom. So does most everyone else (except Yellow Sign, who has 9 Power & a desecration). Cthulhu starts off building a third Gate, so there are now 8 gates and Opener gets the spellbook They Break Through.
Now Opener summons a Spawn of Yog in Sleeper’s home territory. On his next action, he awakens Yog-Sothoth there and takes Dragon Ascending as his spellbook. He is now at 0 Power, but then IMMEDIATELY used Dragon Ascending to rise from 0 Power to 9 Power (which is what another player had). He then summons an Abomination to a Gate in South America (6 Power left) and takes Million Favored Ones for being at two Gates (he did this late – should have done it when he summoned his Spawn in North America). Opener now uses Beyond-One to move the Gate in North America (with Yog) to North Asia (5 Power left). (Sleeper responds cunningly by using Cursed Slumber to save that Gate.) Then his Abomination captures a Sleeper cultist in South America (4 Power left), and Opener uses Beyond-One to move the South American gate (with cultist!) to North Asia, after which he captures the cultist (3 Power left).
At this point only Opener has Power left. So he uses his last 3 Power to: Move Cultist from South Asia to the Gate in North Asia, Battle in Europe (he rolls a kill!) upgrading his Mutant to an Abomination, and capturing one of Yellow Sign’s cultists. (Yellow Sign had passion, and was able to do things after the Kill & Capture of course. But didn’t try to stop Opener, since Yellow Sign kind of likes it when his cultists die.)
TURN TWO ANALYSIS – This is the turn where Opener ruled supreme. He saw his chance (used his timing) and leapt into the lead. See and marvel. He “only “got 9 Power for Dragon Ascending but he spent 19 Power on this turn. No wonder he’s ahead. But the problem for Opener is how to stay ahead, since this is a trick he can only do once. Watch and see.
TURN THREE – Opener starts with 16 Power (four gates, including Yog-Sothoth; six cultists; 2 captives). Second-best is only 12 (it was Cthulhu). Opener has 6 Doom, but Rituals for 4 more (final total 10 + 1 Elder Sign). No one else Rituals. (Rare in turn 3 for most players, but made sense for Opener here).
Opener now moves Yog to South Asia (his homeland) and his European Abomination to Arabia (9 Power left); then summons a Mutant to South Pacific, where Cthulhu just awakened(!) (7 Power left); then moves Yog & a cultist to the Indian ocean (5 Power left – Yog’s safe because Cthulhu, who has units there, is out of Power); Opener now captures Cthulhu’s cultist in the Indian ocean, and takes the Gate (Cthulhu could have devolved the Cultist to save him, but then Yog could have taken the Gate with his own cultist for free).
At this time, Opener has 4 Power left, and no one else has any. He proceeds to: move a Cultist from South Asia to Arabia, and then the Arabian one to East Africa (2 Power left). Then he moves Yog-Sothoth to South Pacific, taking the Dragon Descending spellbook for having Yog in the same area as another great old one (Cthulhu).
TURN THREE ANALYSIS – Opener uses his lead effectively to stay ahead, and keep the other factions suppressed. Note that he doesn’t use Beyond One at all this turn, though it was the key to his success in Turn Two. Now he no longer has to depend on it.
TURN FOUR – Opener starts with 17 Power and 15 Doom! (5 Gates now, including Yog-Sothoth). He rituals, adding another 5 Doom and an Elder Sign PLUS he uses Dragon Descending to add yet another 5 Doom for a total of 25 Doom. This does cost him 6 Power. He then declares battle in South Pacific, and his Mutant is killed, so he gets his 5th spellbook. (He doesn’t care if Yog-Sothoth is killed.) As his next action, he builds a Gate in East Africa, which makes 12 gates on the map, and takes his last spellbook. He then immediately reveals his two Elder Signs, which are a 3 & a 2, for 5 and he immediately wins, going to exactly 30 with 6 spellbooks.
TURN FOUR ANALYSIS – he lucked out on his Elder Signs, but the win was locked in, so really this just saved the other factions some pain. The others were of course all plotting to band together against Opener this turn, but it was clearly too late – unless they could knock him down to 0 Gates, Opener had this game in the bag. The other factions only had 6, 7, & 8 Doom respectively at this point. (With, admittedly some Elder Signs. Still.)
Sandy’s Ensuing Problem
The response of the average person watching what Opener perpetrated in this game was *eye-twitch*
Unsurprisingly, it seemed to some that nothing could have been done and that Opener was grossly unbalanced and unstoppable. The players discussed it for a while post-game, and concluded that he could indeed have been stopped – the players needed to have immediately recognized that when Opener used Dragon Ascending in Turn 2, this gave him a 19 Power turn. Of course, they really couldn’t have stopped him in Turn 2 – they needed to cooperate and move on him in Turn 3, which was their chance. They formed their anti-Opener cabal just one turn too late.
This of course, can also be true for other factions, Many a game I’ve won as Sleeper, or Cthulhu, or Black Goat because the other players united against me a turn too late.
And of course a lot of factions have a broken-seeming sure-fire way to win. Whether it’s a Turn 2 Hastur 3rd Eye rampage, or a Yog Sothoth Dragon rampage, or a turn 4 unmolested Windwalker rampage, or a Turn 3 Flying Burrowing Tsathoggua rampage doesn’t really matter.
These things tend to only happen one or two times in a particular gaming group, because there are easy ways to prevent such attempts, if not outright punish the user. They only look unbeatable. When the stars are right, any faction can be a powerhouse. Watch for it, and at least now you know how Opener pulls it off.