So, two Shoggoths walk into an opticians…
April 16, 2019 10:26 AM   Subscribe

In Cultist Simulator, Death Is Only The Beginning [Kotaku] “The most fun thing to do in Cultist Simulator is die. Cultist Simulator is a new game about running a cult, interpreted as a virtual card-based board game. There are no instructions for what to do, really, so you begin picking up cards, putting them in different slots, and hoping for the best. Sooner or later, you’ll die—usually as a sacrifice. Then the game opens up. You play the game by putting cards in slots and then waiting for them to resolve.” [YouTube][Trailer]

• Half the fun of Cultist Simulator is simply figuring out how it all works [PC Gamer]
“But Cultist Simulator is the rare game (I'd throw Crusader Kings 2 into this category) where it's still immensely fun to play, and lose, without really knowing what the hell is happening or what went wrong. Plus, over the course of each game, I'd always get a little bit further, last a little longer, and learn a bit more. Most importantly, in each game I played I'd get a glimpse of just how much more there was to learn. Maybe just before I perished, I'd meet a character I'd never seen before, or I'd come into possession of a mysterious new item, or discover a new location card. This meant each time I failed and died and watched my lovely collection of cards turn to ash, I'd feel eager to immediately dive back in, intrigued by the new possibilities I'd seen in the last game, ravenous to discover those new cards again and uncover their meaning and purpose. It's a dark, murky, mysterious game, and that mystery goes on and on, even dozens of hours later.”
• I’m obsessed with Cultist Simulator, even after it made me a cannibal [Polygon]
“Serving the themes of mystery, cults and the disquieting unknown, Cultist Simulator leaves tempting gaps in information. Even as you scratch your head about how to proceed, figuring out which cards go where and what you’re missing, the game gently guides you without giving too much away, allowing an aspect of discovery. It’s addicting work because, as long as you put in the effort and learn from mistakes, you’re always rewarded in some manner. It’s an approach that Weather Factory’s developers likely learned from their old work with Sunless Seas, and while it’s risky on paper, it leaves players wanting to explore the world. And like with Sunless Seas, it’s extremely easy to fail if you aren’t paying attention or get unlucky. You die and restart many times, starting from scratch each go with only better intuition about the game and its world. Suffering and failing so routinely only made my successful save file that much sweeter. Between my wild micro-management skills and the draws of curiosity and achievement, I’d created a wonderfully delicious pursuit, and I refused to give that up.”
• Cultist Simulator: the transcendent bliss of unravelling mysteries wrapped in enigmas [Rock Paper Shotgun]
“Stripped down to its skeleton-patterned underwear, it’s a game of time and resource management, of crafting and experimentation. By combining cards with tiles that represent verbs like ‘explore’ ‘talk’ ‘work’ and ‘dream’, you’ll gradually uncover mysteries, gain arcane knowledge, and learn to effectively blend certain combinations to give you the results you’ll need to survive and progress. One of your earliest tasks is to form your own cult. Some cards represent acquaintances, curious but unversed in the dark arts. Some are scraps of lore gleaned from tattered books. There are manifestations of your passion, and of your ability to reason. Begin to combine one or more of these with the verb tiles, and you’ll set timers into motion. When the timers run down, you’ll flip the tiles, and check the results. This sense of progress propels you. Timers tick and brew and search in the dark. They meld and meddle and unravel. They can tell stories in themselves, sometimes. Long, plodding work days in boredom haunted offices or hurried jaunts at secret clubs. Occasionally, they’ll turn up answers. Mostly, though, they’ll just produce ever more maddeningly fascinating questions.”
posted by Fizz (35 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
I bought this and bounced off it so hard. Didn’t refund it because I wanted to support the dev but it’s... yeah, an odd duck. I might try it again and see if something clicks
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 10:35 AM on April 16, 2019 [3 favorites]

I gave this a go via the apple app store, as they gave it a great write-up, and after five or six hours of playing I had managed to get the same two or three endings again and again and again. It's a nice idea, looks amazing, but after sinking that much time into the game and getting nowhere I really have nothing good to say about it
posted by The River Ivel at 10:39 AM on April 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

Hm. I love the subject matter but am not a card game fan.
posted by doctornemo at 10:42 AM on April 16, 2019

I would hardly call this a card game...
posted by Pendragon at 10:46 AM on April 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'm going from descriptions, since I haven't played the game yet. Those accounts emphasize card play.
If there's more, I'm more interested.
posted by doctornemo at 10:51 AM on April 16, 2019

I bought this and played it a bunch and had a bunch of different endings (most bad), and generally thought it was a great game. So: yay!
posted by aubilenon at 10:54 AM on April 16, 2019

and metafilter sells me another iOS game. I may give up on this within the hour due to the unbearable wee smallness of its text on my phone, but for now I'm enjoying explaining the rules to myself as I figure them out ("you put the FAT CARD in the CHUNK BOX to make TIME HAPPEN so you can collect RESOURCES")
posted by prize bull octorok at 10:59 AM on April 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

I have to admit, this seems squarely in my wheelhouse mausoleum. And it’s available for mobile....
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:01 AM on April 16, 2019

If you first tried this when it originally released, there have been a number of balance changes since which greatly affect the risk/reward dynamic of several tasks, I would say in the long-term favour of the player. If you were put off by difficulty previously, it's worth having another go.
posted by Lykosidae at 11:03 AM on April 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

It better not be Alithea ascendant every time.
posted by ursus_comiter at 11:03 AM on April 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

Lovely game, but I think the only two ways to react to it are to either bounce off it or lose 60 hours to it. I haven't touched it in a while, and some of the recent updates have modified the mechanics quite a bit.

Making the rules opaque and only discoverable via experimentation (or uncovering arcane knowledge in forbidden, eldritch wikis) is a bold choice but it works with the narrative framing, I'll give it that.
posted by figurant at 11:08 AM on April 16, 2019 [4 favorites]

I don't have my own cult yet, but I do have an office job and am pretty good at sleeping, so this is me_irl: The Game so far
posted by prize bull octorok at 11:20 AM on April 16, 2019 [10 favorites]

Maybe a silly question but is this playable without sound? I know a lot of games that don't quite make the cut where more than just atmospheric sounds a really important part of gameplay, and that doesn't work for me on mobile.
posted by Carillon at 11:46 AM on April 16, 2019

It's been a while since I've played it, but IIRC there's a lot of waiting for processes to finish and there are sound cues when they do and it is helpful to be able to hear them but you could do it all visually if you're paying a little more attention.
posted by aubilenon at 11:54 AM on April 16, 2019 [4 favorites]

Has anyone played this on a phone? Might grab it on Google Play, but I'm wondering if the screen will be too small.
posted by Ragged Richard at 12:05 PM on April 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

I feel it's less of a solitaire card game and more of a clicker/time management game where the widgets are movable on a tableau. (In case anyone is bouncing off the "cards" aspect.)
posted by Anonymous Function at 12:39 PM on April 16, 2019 [3 favorites]

Maybe a silly question but is this playable without sound? I know a lot of games that don't quite make the cut where more than just atmospheric sounds a really important part of gameplay, and that doesn't work for me on mobile.
It does indeed have sound. Check it out. [YouTube][iOS / Android Gameplay]
Has anyone played this on a phone? Might grab it on Google Play, but I'm wondering if the screen will be too small.
I'm playing on a Galaxy S8 and I've been very pleased, it's easy to move in and out of and you can pinch and zoom too.
posted by Fizz at 12:52 PM on April 16, 2019

Somehow I have starved to death by impatiently trying to tap away a stack of "you can't place that card there" dialogue boxes.
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:21 PM on April 16, 2019 [4 favorites]

Thank you, Anonymous Function.
posted by doctornemo at 1:48 PM on April 16, 2019

I gave this a go via the apple app store, as they gave it a great write-up, and after five or six hours of playing I had managed to get the same two or three endings again and again and again.

That was more or less exactly my experience with both Reigns and Reigns: Her Majesty. Still enjoyed both of those, FWIW, up until the point where I got stuck in a recurrent loop I couldn't see the way out of without a walkthrough.
posted by tobascodagama at 2:15 PM on April 16, 2019

I got this near the beginning of the year and lost a *lot* of time to it. It was really interesting to play a game where I got to sit there pushing a button to make my character make art and do occult research instead of pushing a button to make them kill things; given that it came into my life not too long after I started working on trying to make a reprint of my Tarot deck happen, I was kind of playing a game about being me. I've put it down for a while because I'm busy with a move, and I've found myself finally reading a lot of books about Occult Matters and taking tentative steps to stop being an armchair magician. I don't know if that was Weather Factory's intent but it amuses me to see this happening.

Some advice for new cultists:

🤘🏾 Play this on the BIGGEST SCREEN YOU CAN. Figuring out how you want to organize all the cards you have to deal with is an important part, and if you have a big screen it's a lot easier to see all your plans without scrolling around.
🤘🏾 PAUSE. Pause pause pause. Don't try to move cards around with the clock ticking, don't try to read flavor text with the clock ticking, and especially don't try to work out what the hell's going on with all these cards appearing and disappearing and flying around with the clock ticking. Pause. And once you have the hang of things start using the fast-forward too; pause the game to do a thing, then let it run at double speed to do it.
🤘🏾 Watch your Despair. By far the most common way for me to die is to lose track of how much Despair has built up.
🤘🏾 IMHO the best way to earn money in the early game is to become an artist. Drop a Passion card into the Work verb. You'll get back a Glimmering. Put that into the Study verb and you will get back the level one Artist job. Unlike most of the other jobs it doesn't require you to do it on any regular schedule; it is also a great way to get rid of Restlessness before it turns into Despair. It has its downsides - my second-most common death is losing track of the Notoriety that making paintings about magical matters generates, and having the Detective turn that into Damning Evidence - but it is a surprisingly effective way to keep the financial ball rolling, especially once you've upgraded it a couple times.
🤘🏾 There are card slots that magnetically pull a certain card into them. They cannot, however, pull it out of your grasp. So if you've gotten sloppy and have no way to consume that third Despair before it gets grabbed and kills you, you still might have a chance: pick it up with your cursor and don't let go until it expires. You can pause, put it down, do stuff, pick it up, and unpause. (You can of course only hold one card at a time, so if you're holding your third Despair and the Detective is about to upgrade some Tentative Evidence to Damning Evidence, you're kinda fucked.)

I could make a list of more things to watch for but they will just confuse you, you'll have to die to a thing several times before you really see what the interactions are.

So far I've only won once, and it was the Dancer victory which is a different path than most of the rest of the victories. I put it down for a while, and when I started to get the urge to pick it back up I'd taken down my big monitor to pack for my move. Maybe once I've got the studio set up again I'll play it some more...
posted by egypturnash at 2:17 PM on April 16, 2019 [15 favorites]

Also, a warning:

You know how there is this space in a clicker game when the numbers are just starting to really take off, and the amount of time you have to wait for the results of your actions starts to stretch *just* long enough that you feel it eating time but it's *just* too short for you to say fuck it, I'm gonna stop playing this and get some stuff done?

Cultist Simulator is carefully tuned to be right in the middle of that zone for its entire duration, and if you are vulnerable to losing a lot of time to a clicker game, you *will* lose a lot of time to Cultist Simulator. Perhaps you, too, will come to wonder why you're sitting here pushing a button to make your character research Occult Wisdom instead of digging through old and new books on magic.
posted by egypturnash at 2:31 PM on April 16, 2019 [7 favorites]

I wanted to like this game a lot more than I do. The idea is cool and the writing is cool, but the gameplay makes me feel like i'm running against a treadmill moving backwards.
posted by demiurge at 3:00 PM on April 16, 2019 [4 favorites]

They killed the demo, which is annoying. This FPP made me want to try it again to see if it was less clunky than in alpha, but I guess that was deemed too accessible!
posted by praemunire at 3:36 PM on April 16, 2019

MetaFilter: Watch your Despair.
posted by doctornemo at 4:29 PM on April 16, 2019 [8 favorites]

Interesting idea, and I just bought and played a little, but god, the font is so tiny! There's a zoom UI option, but it only zooms *some* of the font. Decreasing resolution just makes everything pixelated without zooming in! I don't like having to lean in to my laptop just to read the text.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 8:03 PM on April 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

I hate this thing where developers (of games, websites) never seem to test their thing on smaller screens. I have a 13" Macbook, which is surely an extremely common thing to have. AND YET
posted by vibratory manner of working at 8:16 PM on April 16, 2019

Oi gadzooks! It is candy crush, only finely tuned to appeal to a pseudo intellectual such as myself... I am doomed. Time elapsed since this post, minus 4 hours for sleep, is how long I have been playing this. I hope I do not lose my job.
posted by Meatbomb at 1:01 AM on April 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

I spent far too much time on this game (about 90 hours, according to steam - but spread out over various early access iterations). Looking back, I regret this. After my last lengthy session back in June, I felt like I had binged on a huge pack of Wotsits (or Cheetos) for breakfast.

There are some very delicious words, and there is a lot to explore – but most of this is hidden behind very grindy and very dull loops. Moreover, one small mistake (or just bad luck) can cost you hours of work. Yes, this is part of the design philosophy. But after a while, the fact that the only reward for hours of grinding is one box of new text (that is very hard to read on a laptop) does not feel very rewarding.

As egypturnash pointed out, the game is carefully tuned. In fact, it is optimized to eat up your time and attention, for very small rewards (and that's intentional, for artsy reasons). Wait for this counter, one more cycle of that counter, react to this thing... and suddenly, one Saturday is gone.

But! Alexis Kennedy himself said that you have his permission to "cheat". Not that one should need that permission anyway (death of the author and all that); but this might help some. Just be aware that even with cheating, it can still be quite dangerous and habit forming.

I stopped playing it. Instead, I read the data files. My text editor even allows me to set the font size.
posted by erdferkel at 5:58 AM on April 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

There are some very delicious words, and there is a lot to explore – but most of this is hidden behind very grindy and very dull loops.

This is the problem with Alexis Kennedy games in general, I think. I built up a very powerful Fallen London character. I was glad to throw it all away to seek the Name, but. Then I realized I was going to have to grind incredibly just to get to a point where I could continue the process of stripping myself of all I possessed, and I fell into despair.

There's a reason this mechanic hasn't spread too far.
posted by praemunire at 8:26 AM on April 17, 2019 [3 favorites]

Agreed on fonts, vibratory manner of working . I loathe that.
posted by doctornemo at 9:01 AM on April 17, 2019

I found the zoom, but I can't seem to activate it consistently, which is frustrating
posted by vibratory manner of working at 10:03 AM on April 17, 2019

Half the fun of Cultist Simulator is simply figuring out how it all works

At least from my perspective that is the majority, the vast bulk of the fun. I have made it to mid game a couple times, and now that I understand the basics it seems like getting a bulletproof character early on is fairly straightforward, I will likely give it another day, but the cow-clicker aspect gets tedious pretty fast.
posted by Meatbomb at 11:22 AM on April 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

OK so not to turn this into my personal blog or anything, but day 3 (4? time is racing by) and it still has its charms and depth. I have not been fired yet, a couple strategic bursts of 45 minutes or so of very productive work stave off the real world.

I have found not so much a bug, but an interesting aspect to the mechanics. Lizette the socialite was able, through initial physical work, to somehow keep the "life timer" out of the picture for years and years. I guess she was squatting in her old man's garden shed while she applied herself to scholarship and physical perfection. It seemed like not jumping right to the ciphered notebook allowed her to live in this nether time, all the way up to superman like levels of lore knowledge and personal development. Fascinating, and trying to duplicate it again.

What a game. I know that it will lose its sheen some time soon, but I think I can preempt my existential angst this time. Yes, it is all meaningless. Yes, my days are passing by. This is how I live, this is how I play, it is all OK.

I'll report back later y'all.
posted by Meatbomb at 6:34 AM on April 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

This game has started haunting my dreams. I received a surprise delivery of a book the other day (fortunately, it was something pre-ordered and forgot). Who knows what terrible revelation is at hand? Thanks a lot, Fizz, Hunters are hanging around my neighborhood now....
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:17 PM on May 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

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