Jess: Ah, dang it, not them again. Ok, I’ll go get the shotgun, you start painting Elder Signs above all the doors and windows. If we can manage to figure out which great old one they are trying to summon, we might be able to…why aren’t you painting Elder Signs yet?
Fate of the Elder Gods is an area influence/worker placement game from Fabled Nexus. It’s also a bit of a twist on the classic Cthulhu Horror gameplay that we’ve widely come to expect. Instead of intrepid investigators working to subvert the end of the world at the hands of the nefarious minions of the darkness, we are said minions, who will be as nefarious as possible in our attempts to bring about the end of the world.
Each cult is racing to summon their elder god first, accomplished primarily by sacrificing their witless pawns (which is to say their valued members) in the name of that great evil – each sacrificed cultist draws them closer to the 9 points needed to summon their monster boss and win the game. Along the way, they will need to avoid the meddling of investigators, and each other.
The main thrust of gameplay in Fate of the Elder Gods will be that each turn, players will move the Fate Piece around the board, adding cultists to various locations in order to activate the location’s core function. If the active cult has enough members on site (and holds a majority there), then they will be able to gain additional benefits from the location’s power.
Each location has a unique function and a majority function:
- Other Worlds – It is here that your cultists will off themselves in an attempt to curry favor with the Elder Gods and summon them to this world. Controlling this location will potentially allow sacrificed cultists to return from the void (presumably to be sacrificed again).
- Museum – This location lets you draw on the power of artifacts, which convey powerful, rule-bending advantages to those brave enough to use them. Controlling the Museum lets you wipe the current artifacts before choosing new ones, as well as sacrifice cultists to destroy Elder Signs (more on those in a bit).
- The Ceremony – Each Elder God gifts its cult with a unique power, and the Ceremony is the key to activating it. Controlling the Ceremony also lets you advance on your summon track.
- Streets of Arkham – Nobody likes a snitch, but the Streets of Arkham lets you distribute investigators to your opponents and trigger immediate raids on their lodges.
- The Gathering – Like some sort of Uber of the Damned, this location lets you return cultists from the abyss and redistribute them around the board. Controlling the Gathering lets you move more cultists for the same action….like some sort of UberXL of the Damned.
- The Library – This storehouse of arcane knowledge lets you draw extra spell cards and ready two spells on that turn (instead of the usual one). Controlling the Library will let you ready any one spell for free.
Jess: Cults have control of an area if they have at least 3 members there, and also have the most cultists there. It requires a bit of forethought and planning to get control, but it’s valuable to do so.
Aside from just shuttling cultists around the board like a particularly evil soccer mom, players will also be prepping and casting spells. Spells produce a variety of powerful effects, and are usually prepared by taking advantage of the cards which accrue at the various board locations to move the Fate Piece.
Andrew: The spell-prep system is actually really clever – since players add cards to locations to determine the Fate Piece movement, what they are simultaneously doing is seeding that location for future spell preparation. Each spell has some symbols on it, and in order to prepare it, you will need to go to a location with those symbols. It adds one more strategic layer that I think is really cool!
Jess: Especially once you remember that your prepped spells also contribute their own symbols, so it’s possible to build some really cool combos and then UNLEASH YOUR NIGHTMARISH WILL UPON THE WORLD!!!
Which actually segues nicely into the next little wrinkle Fate of the Elder Gods throws at you. Of course, all this cultish activity is bound to rouse some suspicion on the part of feeble mortals who are invested in keeping the world at large intact (or, as we think of them, protagonists from other games). In Fate of the Elder Gods, this suspicion is represented by the growing number of investigators who show up every time your cultists arrive at a location. When enough investigators are present in a location, going there will trigger a raid on your haven, with the would-be do-gooders potentially dropping those aggravating Elder Signs all over your base.
The Elder Signs present you with two threats. Firstly, if a cult manages to screw up enough to have a 10th Elder Sign added to their track, they immediately lose and end the game (with the winning cult being the one with the fewest Elder Signs among the survivors). However, Elder Signs can also cause your cult to become cursed, and that’s where things get really interesting.
Curses come from spells as well as artifacts, in addition to the Elder Signs that get added to your summoning track. And for each time your cult gets cursed, one of the other players will draw a curse card for you. Each curse has a specific gameplay trigger and an effect that happens as soon as you meet those conditions.
The effects range from inconvenient to catastrophic, so players who do get cursed will want to do everything in their power to avoid the trigger conditions…
Andrew: It’s a simple thing, but I love the impact that the curse cards have on gameplay. As soon as you draw one, you don’t know if or when it will go off, nor what might happen. And since another player does, they sort of have something over you, creating this odd little spike of tension between you.
Jess: And from the other side, it can be downright inconvenient to have to watch another player’s actions to keep track of whether they have triggered a curse you’re holding for them. That’s another layer of this playful resentment that the game subtly puts between you, making it even more satisfying when you have a chance to mess them up!
Normally, we don’t love games with a strong take-that element, and Fate of the Elder Gods most assuredly has it. You will blast other cultists, mind control their minions, lead investigators to raid their bases, and more or less do everything you can to disrupt their efforts. And for the theme, that makes perfect sense.
Andrew: My only real complaint about the take-that nature of Fate of the Elder Gods is that it is totally possible (and likely) for the player in the lead or on the verge of winning to get piled on by the other players. In my experience, there is little more frustrating than making lots of progress in a game only to have it ground down by the group when you get too close to the win.
Jess: That’s fair. It can also be really frustrating for you to be an action away from winning, only to have the Fate Piece always where you need to be. Since the piece must move, you will often find yourself unable to take the action you need, so you spend a round spinning your wheels.
We enjoyed Fate of the Elder Gods for precisely what it was – mostly quick, frequently clever, and entirely playable. Though we did have a few quibbles, the overall experience was really clean and fun, made all the better when we leaned into the cut-throat nature of its core. In the race to end the world, it’s entirely acceptable (and necessary) to trip up the other runners, and Fate of the Elder Gods makes it satisfying to do so.
So is Fate of the Elder Godsfor everyone? Nah, some folks won’t like that core aspect, and in all fairness, we’ve seen a million games based on the Cthulhu mythos. But Fate of the Elder Gods successfully combines clever gameplay, solid presentation (great minis, gorgeous art), and just enough fresh twist on perspective to make it stand on its own.
(Gameosity received a review copy of this game. We were not otherwise compensated.)