Cthulhu Wars Faction Development

There are a lot of considerations that go into developing a Cthulhu Wars faction. So much so that I’ve only done it 9 times in 5 years! (By comparison, I developed 17 factions in just over 18 months for Age of Empires II.)

Some of these considerations are sort of “unwritten rules”, which I would probably be willing to break if the result seemed worth it. Others are hard-and-fast and I would never violate them. While I don’t have time or space to go over every piece of the puzzle in developing a faction, I can throw out a few general rules, some rather simplistic, and others more subtle.

Faction Monster Structure

One of the fundamental aspects of a faction is its structure in terms of what monsters are available to it. If you look at the 9 factions I’ve done so far, you’ll notice that every single faction has a different arrangement of monsters at each price level. Most factions have a cost 1, cost 2, and cost 3 monster. Let’s look at how this breaks down for every faction:

  • Great Cthulhu – 4/2/2
  • Crawling Chaos – 3/3/2
  • Black Goat – 2/4/3
  • Yellow Sign – 6/4/0
  • Opener of the Way – 0/4/3/2 (the top end monster costs 4, and there are no cost 1 monsters)
  • Sleeper – 2/3/4
  • Windwalker – 4/0/4
  • Tcho-Tchos – 0/6/0
  • Ancients – 3/3/3

I did it differently in every case, and this wasn’t arbitrary – the number of monsters in each category is always carefully considered and crafted for that faction’s needs. For example, let’s take Great Cthulhu – 4 Deep Ones is the perfect number to provide a sort of dynamic balance for his cultist management (playing off Dreams & Devolve against each other). He “only” has 2 Shoggoths, but you really only need 1 in any particular battle, thanks to the nature of Absorb. And those who are experienced with Cthulhu know that if he had 3 Starspawns instead of 2, he would be way too dangerous. He’s severe even as it stands. In the same way, I have had beginning players ask me why I only gave Black Goat 2 of those puny “useless” ghouls. I won’t answer this here – ask any experienced player what kind of nightmare scenario would ensue if Black Goat had just one more ghoul!

Spellbook Requirements

Every requirement of a particular faction is different from every requirement of every other faction. This is one of those “hard-and-fast” rules I referred to. Yes some of them seem similar – for example, you always get a spellbook for awakening your Great Old One (another hard-and-fast rule). But of course Great Old Ones are … different. Sure both Tsathoggua and Yog-Sothoth earn you a spellbook when you finally plop them down, but the steps you take to get to that point don’t compare.

Some spellbooks at first glance seem related, upon consideration are not as close. For example, Great Cthulhu gets a spellbook for controlling 3 Gates in the Ocean, while Crawling Chaos gets a spellbook for controlling any 3 Gates. But in actual play they cause different behavior in their owners, plus they have differing alternate requirements (for Cthulhu, any 4 Gates in the Ocean, and for Crawling Chaos if he reaches 12 Power).

Spellbook requirements are also a useful tool for forcing factions to behave in a desired manner. For example, Black Goat’s requirements force her to move her units out and around and mix it up with the enemy. In the long run, this is also good for Black Goat as a faction, so when a beginner plays her, he gets the idea that she is expansionist.


I didn’t just create spellbooks that I thought sounded neat, or powerful. I wanted these spellbooks to fit into the faction’s milieu, and seem unique to them – crated specifically for their needs. Two guides I generally followed were to give a faction’s units something special.

For example, of Cthulhu’s 6 spellbooks, there is one each for their Deep Ones, Shoggoths, and Starspawn. He has two spellbooks which mention Cthulhu, and these are actually set in a kind of opposition to each other. One (Y’ha Nthlei) makes you want to keep Cthulhu alive. The other (Submerge) affects how he moves and fights and tends to put him in harm’s way. In this manner, players can craft their own strategy, balancing these against one another. Of course, this is a relative thing – no faction in Cthulhu Wars should ever be truly passive – but there is a difference between Cthulhu relentlessly attacking at every chance, and engaging in a couple of key strategic attacks per turn, then putting Cthulhu somewhere safe for the Gather phase. Both of these strategies can work – you just have to know what you’re doing.

I also try to give a faction some abilities or spellbooks that really makes other player’s eyes bug out when they first hear it. It makes that faction’s player feel cool and empowered and just makes everything about that faction more fun. The “cool” spellbook doesn’t even have to be that most important or most-used. For example, when I am explaining why Opener is neat to Cthulhu Wars players who are asking about the faction expansions, I always mention that Yog-Sothoth IS a gate. They immediately understand why that is amazing. When I add to this that his faction can move gates around, and summon units at other people’s gates, and their mind boggles at the greatness of Opener, plus they start to realize that Opener is a highly-themed faction, that all works according to that theme.

Something New

Because one of the most appealing aspects of Cthulhu Wars is the amazing asymmetry of the factions, with every faction I have to think up something new and cool. Windwalker has the Horde Army under control, so I will never do another faction with that as their theme. (Yellow Sign has a horde, too, but no one is really afraid of it in battle.)

For the Ancients I decided that the cool new thing would be to make their spellbooks actually WEAKEN their monsters – no faction yet has had that feature! And of course I gave them their cathedrals – no other faction has ever had the ability to Build a structure beyond a Gate (unless you count Yellow Sign’s Desecrations).

In another example of how my mind works, early on, I feared that the Ancients would be vulnerable to capture by enemy Great Old Ones (since they had no ruler of their own), and this would be problematic. So one of their first spellbooks gave them the ability to recruit back a cultist who had been captured, thus evading the inevitable sacrifice in the Gather phase. This was a cool ability, but in the end I decided to drop it. Not least because both the Tcho-Tchos AND Windwalker already had anti-capture spellbooks of their own. I also decided that it was way more thematic to make the Ancients vulnerable to such capture. If they don’t like it, they can defend themselves with diplomacy, Cathedrals, and their mighty terrors. This puts the Ancients on the knife’s edge, which is fun. They must be daring, yet not overreach.

Also, in the early stages, I had the Un-Men be cultists instead of monsters – they were not capturable however, because of their gaseous form. This was kind of cool, but then it led to all kinds of complicated FAQs and problematic rules issues. Making them monsters solved all that. And also, once more, had the desirable effect of leaving the Ancients vulnerable, yet dangerous.

Well that’s enough for now. I hope it was useful.