Cthulhu Wars: Duel A Sandy Petersen Game Review

Cthulhu Wars is a Sandy Petersen Game.

Cthulhu Wars: Duel is a Sandy Petersen game for two.

The former has an MSRP of $200, four unique factions in the box, and enough available expansions to take up an entire closet of space. Also a heap ton of plastic.

Cthulhu Wars: Duel is the two-player only we-got-rid-of-the-garish-minis-because-you-asked-us-to edition. Its MSRP is $30 and you’d be hard-pressed to fill even one shelf in the closet with it.

The original Cthulhu Wars is the best dudes on a map/meeples on the map/peoples on the plane game in existence. It works on a strict action point system that allows for careful planning, chess-like back and forth tempo trades, and ultimately devolves into utter chaos as players unlock abilities & faction-specific units, and push for the endgame victory points aka DOOM. 

For those who have not been wanting or able to plunk $200 dollars to romp around with Mr. Cthulhu and friends, there are many standout systems in Cthulhu Wars that lead to massive replayability—the spellbook system being one of them, with each faction chasing six unique objectives. 

Upon completion of an objective, one of six spellbooks is available that unlocks an ability that can radically alter the game. Mr. Cthulhu himself can unlock a Dreams ability, allowing you to eat other player’s acolytes and replace them with your own. This feels like video game achievements in board game form. It’s the perfect antidote to what-should-I-do sprawl, as you can always look to your player board to remind yourself of the six things you must do to increase your abilities and power.

Over the years, many people have have asked for the standee version of the game, or even smaller mini version of the game at a more reasonable price. But rather than port the multiplayer experience to a new form factor, they have turned this war into a strictly two-player affair, relegating you to only the Great Cthulhu faction and the Black Goat faction. These factions are great, and a smart introduction to the system, but the product itself isn’t what people have been asking for. It’s more akin to recent skirmish games like Unmatched and Funkoverse. What we’ve been given is the minimum number of dudes necessary for it to qualify as dude(s) on a map. It is exciting that the game is more accessible than ever, with a two-player mode that works, and a price point that is reasonable. It’s just so close to what we actually wanted. Actually.

For longtime veterans of the game system, the move to two players does come with small changes that mix up the experience more than you might expect. A decay system prevents any one player from hoarding power to take 6 turns in a row, as actions get more and more expensive while one player is out of power. Doom is now rewarded for killing enemy units, incentivizing more aggressive combat maneuvers and nerfing the power of just strictly controlling gates across the map. Oh and you no longer have to unlock all your spellbooks to be eligible to win. These changes, while perhaps necessary for the adjustment to just two, all seem like small concessions dragging on the system.

Still that doesn’t detract from what is a marvelous game system full of surprises and life. Most people will find things to like, whether it’s strategic sneak attacks, upfront dice-chucking, or manipulative fake-outs.  There is a ton of mileage packed into a $30 package. The prospect of more incoming stuff is also tantalizing, and I can promise you that with Cthulhu Wars, there is always more stuff coming. I’ll happily drag out Cthulhu Wars: Duel, a Sandy Petersen game with each new release of more factions.

Cthulhu Wars: Duel is an easy recommendation because you get 80% of the flavor of Cthulhu Wars for 15% of the cost. It’s an immensely satisfying game that somehow blends euro-like precision and dice-chucking. It’s a very easy play-it-once, switch sides, and then play-it-again proposition. While I may always prefer the big brother for the additional diplomacy elements that the 3+ player games offer, this duel delivers more than enough to qualify as a Cthulhu War.

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