I love Cthulhu Wars and I loathe 2020. Honestly, it felt like Kassogtha herself touched the world in early 2020 and we all have been quarantining since. Large gatherings and personal contact were all on hold until who knows when. Gamers like everyone else have suffered without conventions and large gaming groups.
So, games like Cthulhu Wars have stayed on my shelf for what seems like forever because my group count is low. Some game companies have responded to these crazy times and to their fan’s needs. They’ve released some games with lower player counts for smaller gaming groups and have made many games more accessible to fans by lowering prices and providing more content digitally.
This brings us to today’s review Cthulhu Wars: Duel from Petersen Games. Yes, this epic game is now in duel form pitting The Great Cthulhu versus the Black Goat. Cthulhu Wars: Duel is an asymmetrical, area control, war game for 2 players that plays between 20-30 minutes.
Cthulhu Wars: Duel plays closely to the original Cthulhu Wars (see the BGQ review) but there are some differences that I will highlight below.
Set-up is much faster with only having 2 factions and the game uses cardboard standees instead of the epic Cthulhu War Sculpts. Overall look and feel are very much Cthulhu Wars just on a smaller scale.
There are still 4 Phases in Cthulhu Wars: Duel but some changes noted below.
1. Action Phase: players may create gates, summon units, move units, battle – all actions still have a power cost and play will start with the first player taking one action and then the next player until all player’s power is spent. A new rule for Cthulhu Wars: Duel is Decay. If 1 player has no power left on their turn then the other must first pay the decay cost to take actions on their turn.
2. Power Phase: Players will gain power depending on how many Cultists they have in play, controlled & abandoned gates on the map, and special faction abilities.
3. Determine First Player Phase: The player with the greatest power becomes the first player.
4. Doom Phase: Doom is still the VP for winning. Cthulhu Wars: Duel changes up the rules for earning Doom. You can still gain Doom by performing a Ritual of Annihilation but not from Gates you control. Players instead can gain additional Doom by killing or eliminating enemy Units and gain Doom equal to that Unit’s power cost.
Important things to note: Factions are no longer required to collect all 6 of their spellbooks to end the game but if they do this opens a new action: Unlimited Battle. This new action allows factions to perform an additional battle action instead of just one action on their turn.
End game: There are still two ways to end the game. The first is when a faction reaches 30 or more Doom, the game ends on the current player’s turn. The second is if the Ritual of Annihilation marker lands on the Instant Death space the game ends. Doom is then counted and the player with the most wins.
I didn’t know what to expect when I received Cthulhu Wars: Duel to review. It was missing the large, sculpted minis that I love and was basically a smaller scale game. But after reading the rules and getting this to the table it was as good as the original and different enough to stand apart. Cthulhu Wars: Duel keeps those successful elements that made Cthulhu Wars great like asymmetrical factions and different ways to win. It then pairs that success with a faster duel style gameplay and includes new Doom rules that encourage more conflict. I should note that the faction cards and spellbooks appear to be identical to Cthulhu Wars. Now, this might disappoint some, but I’m glad. The original cards and spellbooks were great so I see no reason to change them.
Since Cthulhu Wars: Duel is an area control game, it’s important to note that the map included is scaled-down and that works well with this 2-player game. Details like the edge spaces with matching magic portals are considered one space so there are not 6 spaces but rather only 3. Factions will not come out swinging like Cthulhu Wars because they need to build and spend power to get those units onto and move them on the map. Once players build their forces and expand, the amount of space is limited and with the new Doom rules, the map also encourages conflict. The last cool detail I want to mention about the map is that it is brand new and unique for Cthulhu Wars: Duel and is set in Lovecraft Country.
Now like I said before I love Cthulhu Wars but I have found over the years that there are many gamers that do not share my love. This is mainly for two reasons: the high price and size of the game. I can understand both because it’s a significant investment and game shelf space is always at a premium. Cthulhu Wars: Duel gives those non-believers what they’ve been asking for—a small game box and a low price point. Honestly, Petersen Games couldn’t have picked a better time to make this game. In this horrible, crazy year they made their flagship game accessible for all gamers and fans to try out and hopefully enjoy. Plus, they gave us a great new low player count option for quarantine gaming. Well played Petersen Games, well played.
The last positive I want to highlight about Cthulhu Wars: Duel is that the rules mention that there are other factions and maps to come and you can mix and match. The Lovecraft Country map already has starting spots for other factions so it’s hard not to be excited to get these. So, you’re not just stuck with only ever playing The Great Cthulhu versus the Black Goat. Now, without giving away any spoilers I counted about 6 additional (and there could be more) factions mentioned in the rules. I do like the option of getting to try out additional factions and using more new and unique maps. This gives expanded game content for Cthulhu Wars: Duel by increasing more variety of asymmetrical factions and potentially ups its replay value.
The downside of getting new factions and maps for Cthulhu Wars: Duel is, like most of 2020, you need to wait for this additional content. I think we’ve all had to be pretty patient as of late and I’m sure Petersen Games would love to get this out as soon as possible but I bet there’s too much out of their control (like Chinese printing and manufacturing). The rulebook teased that more content is coming but there’s no official release date mentioned. So, while it’s encouraging it’s also what we’ve come to expect this year; lots of wait and see.
If you’re looking for a 2-player game during quarantine gaming, then there’s lots to love about Cthulhu Wars: Duel. The strengths of the original Cthulhu Wars are still present with asymmetrical play and multiple paths to victory but has enough new rules—like the new Doom rule that changes the game to match a duel style of play. Cthulhu Wars: Duel gives you a smaller package but includes a map that complements the 2-player game and will also come in at a lower price point making this version more accessible to gamers than the original’s heavy price tag.
Fortunately, there are more factions and maps that are coming from what is outlined in the rulebook but unfortunately, there’s no release date. So, I’m sure like many gamers, I’m excited to get my hands on these but I will need to be patient and wait to find out when I can.
Final Score: 4.5 Stars – An excellent 2-player asymmetrical, area control, duel game that gives gamers a different and more accessible version of the original Cthulhu Wars.
• Additional content when?
Disclosure: An employee for Petersen Games also writes for Board Game Quest. He had no influence over the opinions expressed in this review.