It is a dark and stormy night. A lightning bolt has shattered the Elder Sign over the entrance to Miskatonic University's library, leaving open the path for unspeakable eldritch horrors to encroach upon our world. Are you an Academic, investigating these strange happenings and trying to preserve your school, yourself, and your sanity? Or are you the Cultist, secretly plotting the downfall of your so-called "friends"?
Cultists of Cthulhu is a game of mystery, investigation, cooperation, and betrayal. This game was inspired by the writings of H.P. Lovecraft and the many others working in the Cthulhu Mythos, such as August Derleth, Robert E. Howard, and especially Robert W. Chambers, and by boardgames like Battlestar Galactica, Last Night on Earth, Betrayal at House on the Hill, and The Resistance. Cultists of Cthulhu is a tense horror game where you never know quite who you can trust, until it is too late. "If you're a Lovecraft fan, you probably enjoy 1)imagining a world filled with unspeakable horrors, 2)vicariously experiencing madness, and 3)feeding your friends to the Elder Gods. On all three counts, Cultists of Cthulhu delivers!" Carlos Hernandez, designer of Banzai Sumo and Meriwether
Among the differences between the above mockup and the final version is that the mockup reuses individual tiles, whereas in the final version every tile is unique, the mockup only has 33 tiles, whereas the full game has 50, and the mockup only has one entrance/exit tile, whereas the full game has 5, meaning there can be multiple, non-contiguous buildings, with outdoors in between them.
I'll be adding more pictures, more information, and more awesome add ons as time progresses and we unlock them, so check back often!
InCultists of Cthulhu: Miskatonic University, each player controls a student or professor exploring the strange goings on in Miskatonic University. Characters move around the map of the University, working together to try to find useful tools, arm themselves, survive events, combat monsters, and accomplish the goals of the Scenario. However, unbeknownst to the rest of them, one of the players is secretly a Cultist working to kill the others. Cultists of Cthulhu comes with four Scenarios, each of which has several possible Cultists, so that the Academics never know exactly who they'll be facing off against. The Scenarios are:
The Fungi from Yuggoth: A wormhole is opening between Earth and the distant dwarf planet Pluto, known to its inhabitants as Yuggoth. The Cultist may be a Mi-Go, the eponymous fungi, a crab-like alien in human guise who will use this opportunity to speed up their plans to abduct and experiment upon the other players. Or they could be just too curious for their own good, and let through a swarm of Night Gaunts, those mysterious scavengers of the void of space. Or they could be trying to wrest control of one of the horrible slave-monsters known as a Shoggoth, to use it to reshape this world as they think best. Regardless, the Academic players must repair the Elder Sign to try to block the portal, and find the dread Necronomicon, and use a spell from it to seal the gate once and for all. Inspired by H.P. Lovecraft's 36 sonnet poem cycle of the same name.
The King in Yellow: The Miskatonic Players are putting on a rare play which the University just acquired: The King in Yellow. A strange and fascinating play, it seems to entrance and bewitch those who even glance upon a page. What horrid consequences would arise from actually performing the play? Inspired by Robert W. Chambers' collection of short stories of the same name.
The Esoteric Order of Dagon: Blood runs thicker than water, and when you discover your ancestry contains Deep Ones, and you start to develop the Innsmouth Look, quite a lot of blood will be running in the water... Inspired by H.P. Lovecraft's The Shadow Over Innsmouth.
The Cult of Cthulhu: The titular Cult has its tentacles in all levels of society: the hobo raving on the corner, the distinguished politician twirling an unusual ring, the overly curious student of ancient literature, all could be members of the Cult. And with the recent discovery of a strange, horrible statuette of a hunched, squid-faced figure, they are all converging on the University, trying to get what they consider theirs by right. Inspired by H.P. Lovecraft's The Call of Cthulhu.
Here is a gameplay video, where I demonstrate the setup, give an example round, and talk about the progression of the game. This video was made using the hand-drawn prototype, the final components will look very different, as you can see from the sample art on this page.
The setup is designed to be lightning-fast and should never take more than 10 minutes. The map is built out of room tiles (see below for one example, or click here to see a lot more) in real time, like a cooperative Galaxy Truckers. Then you as a group pick which Scenario you would like to play, each player picks their character, and is then assigned a Role Card, saying whether they are an Academic or Cultist, and for the former, describing the manner in which they will descend into madness, and for the latter, describing which particular Cultist they are. Each Scenario comes with several distinct Cultists, and only the Cultist player knows which one they are and what they're up to, and how high they need the Star Chart to reach before the Stars Are Right for them to reveal themselves and wreak havoc.
The game is played in rounds: each player takes a turn, then the starting player moves any monsters which may be on the board, draws two University Cards (which are all bad for the Academics, but in varying ways and to varying degrees), plays one and shuffles the other back into the deck, passes the starting player token to their left, and a new round begins. The University Cards offer astute Academics a chance to learn more about the other players, and clever Cultists a chance to bluff their way into harming the group.
On your turn, you draw and resolve an Event appropriate to your location (inside the University, or wandering the campus grounds), and then take two actions: Move, Fight, Search, Steal, Trade, Use an Item, or do a Scenario Specific Action.
As in many thematic games, most things you attempt require Ability Checks. Ability Checks tell you which ability score to use (Brawn, Finesse, Reason, or Focus), and give you a difficulty, and a set of possible results depending on how many of the different faces show up. Ability scores are made of different colored custom dice: Green are the best, followed by Blue, with Red being the weakest. You roll the dice as determined by your ability score and the difficulty of the check, and then make a single reroll, picking a face and rerolling all the dice that show that face. This forces you to pick between trying to avoid danger to yourself, and possibly putting the group as a whole in harm's way! This is another opportunity for a clever Cultist to make an impact, surreptitiously saving themselves and sacrificing the safety of the other students, whom they supposedly support.
The following is a list of game components that are currently complete. I want to add more content in all of these categories, so this is not even a minimum for what you can expect.
50 Map Tiles
35 Indoor Events
50 Outdoor Events
4 Unique Scenarios
Multiple Cultist Role Cards for each Scenario, describing the secret ways you can betray your friends
13 Academic Role Cards, describing the ways you may go mad
60 unique Items
7 unique Monsters, including the Shoggoth, Mi-Go, and Deep Ones. Rather than having tons of monsters that don't necessarily make sense together, each scenario has a very restricted set of monsters that are used in only that scenario, emphasizing the specific, unique story you're telling with that particular game
24 University cards
12 Unique Characters (one of which could be you, if you choose the Alumnus backer reward!)
A 15 minute mp3 of original theme music, for use with the "Music Department" optional rules
All the tokens you want, and none you don't
Hopefully Miniatures! (This one is up to you! I'm doing the best I can to make the miniatures affordable, and I'm very happy with the sculpts that Micah Nichols is showing to me, and I can't wait to share them with you, but we can't afford to make them with just the base level. So spread the word, tell your friends, and let's get those miniatures!)
We have a number of milestone goals that we'll be unveiling as we approach them. The first is a scenario based on Herbert West: Reanimator, which as you may know, was one of the first stories to depict zombies as created by science. You can probably guess what that scenario will be about!
The ultimate milestone, of course, will be miniatures! To whet your appetite for them, here is the sculpt for the Deep One, as sculpted by Micah Nichols.
"That was really intense. I think that might be the first time I've actually been scared by a boardgame." - Raul H.
"This has the most evocative dice rolling ability check thing I've seen in this kind of game. Very nice, very nice. I don't typically like Cthulhu stuff, but this really drew me in. I felt the danger, it didn't just feel like an abstraction." - Josh C. "[Cultists of Cthulhu] is going to hit my table probably every week. I would buy it right now if I could, even without the art. It's as flavorful as Betrayal at House on the Hill," - Mark B.
[after her first 3 hour game, on a Thursday] "That was amazing! Can we play again Saturday?" [all the other players agree! Then, after that game] "That was even better than last time! There's a boardgame meetup on Tuesday, can you bring it to that and we can play again?" [again, unanimous agreement. After that game] "It suuuucks that you have to go back to New York. Make this game already so I can buy it and play some more!" - Sam H.
Can't get enough horror? Add any of these to any pledge. Cultists of Cthulhu: Miskatonic University is a complete game, and everybody who gets the base game will get everything they need. We figured, though, that anybody who wants to support us more, and get a bit of extra, optional content for their trouble, well, we'll be happy to cooperate. All of the new game material here is optional, and not required to play. These are for the discerning gamer who wants to add a little extra to their game.
Miskatonic University Diploma A signed and certified diploma made out to you., on gorgeous paper, looking as official as can be. Suitable for framing. $25
Art Gallery There is a gallery showing at Miskatonic University, and the campus is covered in pieces of art. Some are beautiful, while some are horrifying, but all will leave an impression. This contains a new type of card, the Work of Art, which are spread around the map. Examining them can grant you bonuses, or scare you out of your wits, depending on how discerning your taste is. Contains 25 Art cards, 1 Cultist Card (Pickman's Model). A subset of art cards are placed face down in rooms on the map, and when examined, are revealed, and have an effect on everyone in that tile, and remain for the duration of the game. $20
Music Recital Old folks may disapprove of it, but college students know that there' s just something magical about that Jazz. Includes an alternate deck of 13 Music Cards and a new, original 15 minute jazz composition by Brent Hengeveld. Music is an optional rule: play the 15 minute soundtrack, which functions as a timer. Every 15 minutes a loud, easily noticable sound will prompt you to draw a new card from the Music Deck. Music cards can be good or bad for the Academics, and are resolved by whoever the current player is. $20
Tomes and Spells There wouldn't be much point in having this amazing library if nobody ever read anything in it, right? Includes Forbidden Book Cards which are hazardous to read at best, and at worst, outright maddening to try to understand. If you do understand them, though, you just might get access to the new selection of Spell Cards. Contains 4 new Artefacts: the Book of Eibon, De Vermis Mysteriis, Unaussprechlichen Kulten, and Cultes des Ghoules, as well as an alternate version of the Necronomicon. Also contains 13 Spell Cards and rules governing how to use them. $20
Want to get into the Cosmic Horror mood? Looking for something to help you pass the time before your copy of Cultists of Cthulhu arrives? Here are a few of my favorite stories from the Cthulhu Mythos that I offer as suggested reading. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.
The Call of Cthulhu. There's a reason the whole thing is named after this story. It's a really great, gripping yarn, with a broaderscale than you might expect.
The Dunwich Horror. This story gave us our first glimpse at the Miskatonic University library and its dread contents, including the fabled Necronomicon.
The Fungi from Yuggoth. This is actually a collection of sonnets. Poems about space monsters!
The Colour Out of Space. This is a delightfully creative story that really puts the focus on the "Cosmic" part of Cosmic Horror.
At the Mountains of Madness. This is probably Lovecraft's best story. It's certainly my favorite. It really captures the sense of dread at things unknown and alien. Strongly recommended.
The King in Yellow. I should probably put at least one non-Lovecraft story on here, and this collection of short stories by Robert W. Chambers fits the bill nicely. The stories are interconnected through the titular play, and the effect is to create the same scale of dread that surrounds the Necronomicon all in one go.
Risks and challenges
Cultists of Cthulhu: Miskatonic University is Sixpence Games' second project. My first game, Professor Pugnacious, was kickstarted in December 2012, and has been successfully delivered to backers. I have learned a lot since then, and I am confident I will be better at handling the game production this time around. Given that I succeeded the first time, I am very confident that nothing will go wrong that I can't handle. I am prepared for delays, but I predict nothing will happen that could actually break the project and make it impossible to fulfil your rewards.
In terms of design, the game mechanisms are finished. The rulebook linked above, while unedited and in need of visual design and layout, contains the complete and final rules. The art you see here is all of the art which has been done: the rest is awaiting completion of the kickstarter, so that I can, y'know, pay the artist, Joshua Wright.
Possible problems include Joshua getting sick or injured, in which case I will find a replacement artist, the manufacturer being flooded with requests and therefore slower than we would want, in which case I would determine whether it's best to find a new manufacturer or wait for our first choice, and finally, I, Thomas Eliot, could get hurt, in which case the design document would be passed on to Joshua the artist and Allison the developer, who would finish the development and production on their own.
EARLY ADMISSION - You've been accepted for early admission into Miskatonic University! Accept now and pack your bags for freshman year, or someone else may take your spot. One copy of Cultists of Cthulhu, plus any milestone rewards we meet.
APPLICATION ACCEPTED - Welcome to Miskatonic University! Pack your bags, and don't forget your pencils, flashlight, and protective amulets, because you'll need them. One copy of Cultists of Cthulhu, plus any milestone rewards we meet.
SCHOLARSHIP STUDENT - You got in with a nice grant, making the cost of tuition a bit lower for you than your classmates. They'd never be so jealous as to stab you in the back over it, would they? One copy of Cultists of Cthulhu, any milestone rewards we meet, and any one add-on! Choose from the Art Gallery, Music Recital, Tomes and Spells, or any of the others we may unlock as the campaign progresses.
FRESHMAN - You know your way around the University now, and you need to declare your major. One copy of Cultists of Cthulhu, any milestone rewards we meet, and any one add-on! Choose from the Art Gallery, Music Recital, Tomes and Spells, or any of the others we may unlock as the campaign progresses.
TA - You got a job teaching undergraduates, letting you have access to things a little early and a little cheaper, and every penny counts when you're living on plain noodles. One copy of Cultists of Cthulhu, any milestone rewards we meet, and any two add-ons! Choose from the Art Gallery, Music Recital, Tomes and Spells, or any of the others we may unlock as the campaign progresses.
SOPHOMORE - Expand your studies and choose something to minor in. One copy of Cultists of Cthulhu, any milestone rewards we meet, and any two add-ons! Choose from the Art Gallery, Music Recital, Tomes and Spells, or any of the others we may unlock as the campaign progresses.
SUMMER SCHOOL - Hey, whatever helps you get a leg up on your rivals. One copy of Cultists of Cthulhu, any milestone rewards we meet, and any three add-ons! Choose from the Art Gallery, Music Recital, Tomes and Spells, or any of the others we may unlock as the campaign progresses.
JUNIOR - You'd better get cracking, finals are coming up soon, and you don't want to know what happens to people who flunk out of here. One copy of Cultists of Cthulhu, any milestone rewards we meet, and any three add-ons! Choose from the Art Gallery, Music Recital, Tomes and Spells, or any of the others we may unlock as the campaign progresses.
EARLY GRADUATION - You've made it! A full degree in three years. Good for you for acting quickly! One copy of Cultists of Cthulhu, any milestone rewards we meet, and all four add-ons! You get the Art Gallery, Music Recital, Tomes and Spells, and EVERY ADD-ON WE UNLOCK AS THE CAMPAIGN GROWS!
SENIOR - You're almost out of here. Can you survive until graduation without going crazy from the stress? Yes, the stress, that's what's driving you mad. One copy of Cultists of Cthulhu, any milestone rewards we meet, and all four add-ons! You get the Art Gallery, Music Recital, Tomes and Spells, and any one of the others we may unlock as the campaign progresses.
THEY NAMED A BUILDING AFTER ME: Get your name on one of the building tiles or event cards! You'll work with us to name one of the game components, so everyone who ever plays the game will get to admire you, and wonder if you only got in to the university because there's a building named after your family. Includes one copy of Cultists of Cthulhu shipped anywhere in the world.
THEY NAMED A BUILDING AFTER MY GRANDFATHER: Get your name on one of the building tiles or event cards! You'll work with us to name one of the game components, so everyone who ever plays the game will get to admire you, and wonder if you only got in to the university because there's a building named after your family. Includes one copy of Cultists of Cthulhu shipped anywhere in the world.
FOUNDER OF THE COLLEGE: You will get the original playtest copy of Cultists of Cthulhu, drawn on blank playing cards with a sharpie. Comes complete with sketches drawn by one of the playtesters! Signed by me, Thomas Eliot, and Gabe and Tycho of Penny Arcade, who are not affiliated with this campaign or game in any way except that I got them to sign the prototype at PAX East. Free shipping to anywhere in the world.
ALUMNUS: You get to be one of the characters! Working with the artist, Joshua Wright, we will get your face on one of the characters, so everyone who ever plays the game will get to admire how handsome and/or beautiful you are. Includes one copy of Cultists of Cthulhu shipped anywhere in the world.
MAD POET: Design a Scenario! Do you have a Lovecraftian story you've been itching to tell but never managed to? Do you absolutely need to make sure your favorite creatures are in this game? Pick this option and work with us to make exactly the scenario you want! Includes one copy of Cultists of Cthulhu, shipped anywhere in the world.