Spotlight on Sleeper
Cthulhu Wars is widely praised for its wide-open, Ameritrash play style. It is freewheeling, with sudden changes of fortune, overclocked powerhouses, and fast action. But the fact remains that it also stands up to carefully analysis. We’re going to do that with Sleeper so you can see what I’m talking about. This is a long Design Corner with a lot of technical stuff. You might want to go bone up on Sleeper’s spellbooks & abilities before reading the rest of this. I’ll wait here <whistles and swings his legs>
Ah, you’re back? Excellent. Well then, every faction has a particular means of gaining extra Elder Signs. Sleeper, however, is in a peculiar position in this regard. His Elder Signs come via his Demand Sacrifice spellbook, which means he only gets them if his enemy agrees. Naturally, a sapient foe only coughs up the Elder Signs if Sleeper seems to be behind in Doom points. So While this power is useful as a catch-up bonus, it won’t solidify or gain a lead. As a result, Sleeper has to rely entirely on gate control and Rituals of Annihilation for Doom. This takes a lot of Power. Plus Sleeper has to spend at least 9 Power to earn three of his spellbooks. He has to do a Ritual of Annihlation for a fourth. Finally, his Great Old One takes him 11 Power to awaken (counting the Formless Spawn you need). That’s at least 25 Power that is not being spent on building your own conquering enemy Gates. Since a typical game of Cthulhu Wars lasts only 5 full turns, if we figure Sleeper earns 8 Power the first turn, 10 the second, and 12-14 for the last three turns, this is a mere 50-60 Power for the whole game, almost half of which is going towards spellbooks and Tsathoggua.
However, Sleeper’s situation is far from hopeless. Remember his advantages! First – he is a cheap faction to play (perhaps only Yellow Sign is less costly). His movement is half-price. He gets a free monster every Doom phase (basically a 2-3 power boost per turn). He needs to guard fewer Areas, because one Gate is off-map. Second, he is the most flexible faction in terms of choices. Lethargy lets you sit back and observe your prey waste energy till you wish to strike. Energy Nexus and Ancient Sorcery give you many possibilities.
The first thing you need to do in every game as Sleeper is consider your opponents and think on their unique abilities. Which abilities do you want to borrow via Ancient Sorcery? And when? Know your plan. Remember that Ancient Sorcery has two uses – if it is the last part of the Action phase and you’re not sure what to do with remaining Power, Ancient Sorcery transfers that Power to the next turn for you!
The bottom line here is that while Sleeper is cheap and flexible, he doesn’t earn extra Power – he just hangs onto what he’s got for longer. This (again) means he needs to rely on board presence and Gates. Too often Sleeper sits back in his corner and slowly builds up his forces – this is death for him. He needs to get out there, building or capturing Gates, setting himself up for more Power, more Doom, more choices. He must use his abilities – not just hoard them in the corner, chortling over his box o’ tricks. The more Power you earn in the first few turns, the more options you have later on, once your spellbooks start kicking in, and your Power savings come into effect.
How to use Tsathoggua – he is weird, because his Combat is based on the enemy’s current Power. This seems to conflict with Lethargy. You see, if he waits till the end of the turn to go on a rampage, then Tsathoggua won’t get many dice (because the foe has 0 Power). But if goes into battle early, what use is Lethargy?
Here is how to use it properly – if you need fight the bad guys, do it early in the turn. THEN use Lethargy. At the end of the turn, use Tsathoggua to Capture Monsters & Cultists rather than battle. This sets you up for an awesome following turn.
Here is a sample plan for Sleeper, to show you what I mean. (There are many ways to go. This is just one idea.)
TURN ONE – build two Gates. Build two Wizards to guard them. Build a Serpent Man.
TURN TWO – You have 10 Power. Get a free Serpent Man; earn 2 Doom in the Doom phase. In the Action phase, spend 3 Power to earn the Cursed Slumber spellbook. I like to see if Yellow Sign is willing to make a deal – desecrate my Area, but don’t capture any Cultists, in return for 3 Power. If not, screw it – pick the requirement that makes everyone lose a Power). Spend 1 Power to fire your Gate off into space. Spend 3 more Power to build a third Gate in the now-empty spot. Spend 2 Power on your third Serpent Man. You have 1 Power left over. It’s unlikely anyone will mess with you yet. You had five monsters to guard just 2 Gates, which is plenty for turn 2.
TURN THREE – assuming no one was able to mess with you, you now have 12 Power & 3 Gates. You still only have 2 Gates on the map to guard. Take your free Formless Spawn and earn 3 more Doom. Awaken Tsathoggua and either take Ancient Sorcery or Capture Monster, depending on where the other players’ units are. Then Lethargy till they are drained. If the enemy is foolishly close, go Capture their Monsters. If not, send all your Serpent Men out via Ancient Sorcery. Remember if Yellow Sign Desecrates one of your territories, use Ancient Sorcery to copy him – you’ll get an extra Power via Feast!
TURN FOUR – you still only have 3 Gates, but you should also have captured units and/or have Serpent Men returning to the fold, bringing Power with them. In any case I’d guess you’d have around 14-15 Power this turn. You get ANOTHER free Formless Spawn and 3 more Doom (total of 8 Doom). Do a Ritual of Annihilation – it’s still early, so might be the first one, only costing 5 Power. At most it should be 6. You now have 11 Doom, an Elder Sign, and 9-10 Power, plus you got a new Spellbook from the Ritual (Demand Sacrifice or Tunnel?). Still, you only have 3 Spellbooks total, so it’s time to earn more. Lethargy as desired or an opportunity presents. Then go to battle and steal a Gate. Use Tunnel to make your attacking move cheap. If no one is near, use Ancient Sorcery to copy Crawling Chaos’s Flight to reach them. The fight nets you another spellbook (since you should roll 6 dice in Battle). Your own Gates are still safe – you have no less than 7 monsters in play plus your Great Old One. Spend 3 of your remaining Power for yet another spellbook (perhaps Demand Sacrifice or Energy Nexus, to make attacks easier). You now have 5 spellbooks, 4 (maybe 5!) Gates, and probably 2-3 Power left. If you can use your remaining Power to capture another Gate (Lethargy makes it easier), do so. If not, use Ancient Sorcery (perhaps copying and using Hibernate, if Windwalker is in the game) to shift your Power to next turn.
TURN FIVE – you should have 14-16 Power from Gates & Cultists, plus 3-4 Power from captured units and Ancient Sorcery. Total 16-20 Power. You gain 4-5 Doom, giving you a total of say 15. Then absolutely Ritual again, bumping you from 15 to 19, plus you now have 2 Elder Signs. You still have 8-12 Power left. Blow 3 for your last spellbook. All your monsters are now out except one Formless Spawn. If you have enough Power, go ahead and summon him – your Spawn will roll 5 dice apiece. Terrifying, eh? Lethargy, capture enemies, rely on Demand Sacrifice to keep you safe, and build or capture a fifth Gate. Tsathoggua can go on a rampage with a Wizard and he is quite safe – if anyone tries to attack, first use Energy Nexus to Move Tsathoggua & his Wizard out of the battle area. With Tunnel, the evasion move only costs 1 point. Now Tsathoggua only fights when and where you please.
FINAL DOOM PHASE – You should have been able to score a 5th gate last turn, in which case you are looking at (including the Ritual) ending the game with 29-30 Doom and 3 Elder Signs. That’s a solid shot at victory. Of course your chances are even better if you remembered, when stealing gates & capturing Monsters, to pick on whoever is the biggest threat.
How to Lose as Sleeper
Now, a common approach for a Sleeper player is as follows:
TURN ONE – build a Gate & summon a Formless Spawn and a Wizard.
TURN TWO – 10 Power, earn 2 Doom and a Wizard. Summon Tsathoggua. Lethargy for a while, then use your remaining 2 Power on something trivial.
TURN THREE – Still only 10 Power (you still have just 2 Gates!). Doom rises to 4. At least you have Tsathoggua. Spend 3 Points on a spellbook. Take Tsathoggua into battle to get your 6 Combat dice spellbook. Summon two Serpent Men in a failed attempt to earn a free Formless Spawn next turn.
TURN FOUR – still only 10 Power & 2 Gates. Get your last Serpent Man. At least he was free. Suddenly remember that you need to a Ritual for a spellbook, and do it quick, while it’s still only 5 Power, so your Doom goes up to 8 this turn and you get an elder sign. With your remaining 5 Power, get another 3 point spellbook and then try but fail to capture a gate.
TURN FIVE – 10-11 Power & 2 Gates. Your Doom rises to 10, but you don’t want to pay for a Ritual, instead spending 6 Power on your last two Spellbooks. With your remaining Power you luck out and manage to capture a Gate.
FINAL DOOM PHASE – you have 3 Gates. Ritual and your doom goes up to 16, plus 2 Elder Signs. You might not even break 20 Doom. The other players, meanwhile, are all all far ahead. You lose miserably and curse Sandy’s incompetence in designing Sleeper. “This faction’s totally lame. I’m going back to Crawling Chaos!”
There you have it – the same faction played with an eye to exploiting its advantages, or just flailing around. It’s like night and day. I could do an analysis like this of all the factions, frankly. And I might. Also again, to make myself plain – the plan I wrote up here for Sleeper is not the One True Way – he has many many different roads to victory. But all of them involve knowing how Sleeper works and a modicum of planning ahead. The take-home lesson is that with Sleeper, I think it is a mistake to awaken Tsathoggua on the second turn. This can work for Cthulhu, Nyarlathotep, Yog-Sothoth or the rest, but you need that extra turn of growth to prepare for Tsathoggua’s arrival. Remember – he is the Sleeper. Don’t awaken him too soon!