Cults and Daggers is a turn basedgrand strategy game that takes place in ancient antiquity (the official timeline, according to the game, is between the death of the Buddha and the birth of Christ). The game was made by Chaphat. The basic premise is that you control a small cult that is attempting to save the world from some unspeakable, eldritch, world-ending horror (you know, the usual) while also competing with three other small cults that are attempting to do the exact same thing.

Although, it feels more accurate to say that you are competing with those cults for followers, control of cities, and money. Oh, and also the world might end if you don’t prevent said evil things from escaping. Which makes the backstabbing, framing, and (sometimes) wholesale murder of the other cults seem a bit counter-productive since you all appear to have the same end goal (You know, of preventing the destruction of literally everything). Maybe there was some hilarious, sitcom-ish “he said she said” situation that drove the four factions apart.

In any case, you set off to be the best world saving cult you can be. This is accomplished by giving your cultists orders that they will carry out during the following turn. Each of your cultists has a set of skills and varying degrees of proficiency at each of these skills. For example. you might have a cultist who is great at hiding and preaching to the masses, but more or less garbage at everything else.

Skill proficiency is measured on a 1-100 scale, with 1 being “If it’s a choice between you and that rock over there, you don’t always get picked” and 100 being “Absolutely the best ever”. Most of your cultists start in the 10-20 range, but will slowly get better at a skill as they do it (successfully or not).

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And that is, more or less, the primary game mechanic. You give each of  your cultists a command and hit the “end turn” button which advances the turn and resolves the actions of all cultists on the board. Each turn represents a month’s worth of in game time. Each game is divided into 7 ages, each comprised of about 40 months. Victory is determined by, at the end of the 7th age, the player that has won the most ages. To win an age, your cult needs to have the most Hope out of all the other cults at the end of that age. That is, of course, if the world hasn’t been destroyed yet.

Hope is one of the three primary resources you have to manage in this game; the other two being Faith and Occult. They are each accrued through a variety of methods and each have their own roles to play (although Hope is arguable the most important). Faith and Occult primarily function as resources for miracles, blessings, and curses. In other words, spells. Each of them has a numerical amount of Faith, Occult, or both that is needed to activate a miracle, blessing, or curse magic friggen’ power. These are one time use powers that grant your cult a slight boon or the other cults a slight bane, but none of them seem capable of tipping the scales to drastically in one direction or the other.

Aside from the few clicks it takes to assign each of your cultists a task, there isn’t much else that you really do in the game. At the beginning of each new turn, you are shown a slideshow of the resolved events that took place last turn. Each “slide” lasts long enough for someone who is painfully bad at reading to get through it before the next one takes its place. Luckily, for those of us who can read above a 2nd grade level, you can press the space bar to force the next slide to appear. But even with the use of the space bar, this part can feel tedious and long winded. The problem is that this information is an absolutely necessary and crucial part of the game play. Without it, you won’t be able to react accordingly or plan your next move effectively. But after months where a bunch of different things have happened, it’s hard to see this aspect of the game in a positive light as you mash the space bar over and over again.

In addition to that, when the game starts referencing specific cultists things can get a little confusing. For me, this was because the cultists all had (seemingly) period appropriate names. Like Essigra or Faceruc. You know, names that have absolutely no meaning to most people in the modern era and look like someone spilled alphabet soup and thought “Eh, that’ll work”. I would often find myself in thinking things like”Wait, Tsatoab killed Aobmoss? Were either of those mine? I thought I had someone whose name started with a T but I don’t remember there being that many vowels in the name…”

Each cultist has their own equally period appropriate character portrait, but even that isn’t much help because they’re all the same washed out “old” color (you know, that color that’s somewhere between dusty yellow and “pee colored”) and are either a close up on someone’s face or a full body picture of someone in a robe. It would have been easier if all the cultists had names like Bob or Frank or if I could just rename them cultist 1 and cultist 2. It would detract from the ambiance of the game, but would be significantly easier to track what’s going on when there are three murders and two blown covers in a single turn.

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The game’s UI felt clunky at the best of times. Eventually you figure out that the weird “semi-circle around fire” button brings you to the miracles, blessings, and curses magic screen, while the thing that kind of looks like an un-bloomed flower will repeat the slideshow and news for that turn. But, it takes a while to get the hang of it. By itself, it’s not enough to have a serious negative impact on the game, but when you combine it with the ponderously slow information feed and sort of awkward map interface, the game can get a bit difficult to play.

The idea of fighting a secret war for control of the world while also having to deal with an ancient evil is an interesting enough concept. The problem is that the mechanics of the game don’t lend themselves to the engagement of the player. I never found myself getting lost in the game and suddenly four hours of passed as is the case with other games. There just wasn’t enough to grab and hold my attention or make me want to boot up this game over the others I have.

All in all, Cults and Daggers isn’t wholly unenjoyable to play and I might even suggest giving it a try (but only if you’re into grand strategy games like a bee is into flowers), if it were the right price. But it’s not. The game has a $29.99 price tag on Steam when it should probably be somewhere in the $10 range for what you’re getting. Being visited by the grace of a Steam sale is the only way I would recommend considering this game, but even then it would be with some hesitation.

Overall Score
55 %

The game has a neat concept that is wrapped in awkward mechanics and mediocre "thematic" graphics. While the game lends itself to multiple play throughs, I had a hard time making it through one.

Story 50%
Graphics 40%
Fun 45%
Replayability 80%

About The Author

Things I love: Video games, comics, steampunk, space
Things I like: Cyberpunk, hard cider, not being in the sun, pokemon
Things I dislike: The sun

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