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Cult of the Deep Review

Designer: Sam Stockton
Artist: David Li, Liam Peters, Maura Elko, Janette Ramos, Charles Walton
Publisher: B.A. Games
Year Published: Kickstarter in 2021
No. of Players: 4-8
Ages: 14+
Playing Time: 45-75 minutes
Main mechanic / Theme: Deduction, bluffing, dice rolling

Cult of the Deep brings anticipation and caution to the hidden role genre- Keep an eye on your friends and the other on your enemies for not everyone wants to see your faction bring the deep old ones to life.

Find more information on BoardGameGeek
Find more information on Kickstarter

Disclaimer: The publisher, B.A. Games provided a prototype of the game for this review.

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Overview:

As a cultist, you are trying to bring your faction to power by completing and fighting over various rituals to bring forth mystical monsters from the deep. Doing so will bring victory to your faction and win the game. However, others within the cult may be trying to reach the same or different goals, or, to prevent the cult itself from reaching victory. In this hidden role game, you'll roll dice to attempt to complete rituals to help or betray the other cultists.

Each player has a specific hidden role that helps determine victory. The good news is, unlike a few other games, that if you are found out, you can still continue to play and take action within the game as a wraith.

The game does a good job of sowing paranoia and distrust among the players as each tries to decide who is a friend or a foe; perhaps the player is alone within the cult and they must reach their goal without help from anyone else!

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Gameplay and mechanics:

Similar to other hidden role games, Cult of the Deep uses secret identities to grow the seeds of distrust and to bring the mechanics to an interesting conclusion. Players will be given the roles of a high priest, the faithful, cabalist, repentant heretic, or a vengeful heretic. Each role has specific victory conditions such as being the last one alive or winning if you are the last cultist alive while. An interesting addition to the game is that being “killed” doesn't mean you are out of the game. You can still win as a “wraith” in the game and sometimes your victory conditions change after you die. Deducing who is on your side or against you is primary in leading you to victory. The number of players determines how many of each hidden role should be included in the current game.

There are four things that occur on a player's turn. Those range from rolling your dice, giving those dice to yourself or other cultists based on the matching symbols on the die result, allowing players a chance to respond to your donated dice, and resolving the symbols currently showing on the dice.

The symbols found on the dice have varying effects, such as forcing a cultist to lose one or two health points, gaining one life point, or triggering special abilities based on matching power symbols on your character cards.

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Deciding where to donate and give dice to is an interesting and intriguing option. You MUST try to find out who your allies are and which cultists are against you. Forcing various players to lose health or gain health and noting their reactions and responses will help you- unless of course, the other players are bluffing!

Committing dice to rituals moves the rituals closer to completion and also gives you an in-game benefit. Completing a ritual allows you to collect the ritual card to become the “Keeper of the Ritual.” Some rituals give immediate effects while others are ongoing. You have to decide which rituals you want to see come to fruition, or, which rituals you want to keep from being completed based on your hidden roles. Rituals, once completed, are replaced with new rituals. Interestingly, being killed means that your rituals get transferred to the player who killed you- gaining power may have consequences!

Keep in mind, determining where to commit your dice is key to deceiving or hinting at your role or affiliation. You may need to heal your allies but you may accidentally heal a cultist who wants to see you dead!

Rituals have various effects and may add different components to the play area such as dice and coins. Most rituals have two powers. My favorite ritual is Sea Hydra is you can give or take life points from any living cultist. As it's Keeper power, you get to roll two additional dice, and then allows you to discard one of your rolled dice. The benefit of the Altar power plus the Keeper power gives the player more options while helping or hindering other cultists- Although, it just may give your hidden role away!

In addition to the benefits of ritual cards, you'll have character cards that provide in game abilities as well. Some of those include characters such as a Blood Mage, Assassin, or Librarian. The Blood Mage allows you to roll one additional die if you pay 1 life point. The Librarian allows you to respond to die rolls by changing specific symbols into any other symbol.

Just be aware of which characters are in play and what their abilities are- You'd hate to assign a die and have another player respond and change the facing on you!

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Theme, Artwork and Illustration, Graphic Design and Layout (optional)

The theme of Cult of the Deep gives a very Lovecraftian vibe. Every person who I have shown the game to immediately calls up impressions of Cthulhu or Yog Sathoth. B.A. Games has done a great job of bringing the setting and world of Cult of the Deep to the visual mind of the player. In some cases, though, calling an immediate thought of another IP may not always be the best thing. In this case, though, the art and illustrations are highly appropriate. Most of the cards have unique for the characters and rituals. I found myself just browsing the cards after gameplay to read each one and to look at what the powers and effects were.

The layout of the iconography definitely helps. It's done well and it's easy to see what other players have in front of them. There aren't any weird or unexpected icons, nor were they placed in weird or unexpected areas of the cards. You can confident that you'll learn the layout of each component and what is what in each location fairly quickly. If you are having a bit of trouble, though, B.A. Games include some reference cards to help ease any learning curve.

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All in all, the art direction, theme, style, and illustration on the components is nice and holds a bit of mystery and excitement within the cards. If the art on the cards weren't compelling enough, the box cover itself should draw a lot of people into the world that's been created.

Although not normally discussed, the quality of the prototype provided was very well done. The coins have a good feel to them and the rest of the included components, for a prototype, are very sturdy and well done. If the quality of the prototype is any indication of publishing quality, don't be worried about  

What worked:

The game does what it intended to do- Bring suspense, suspicion, and interesting decisions to gamers. Of course, if hidden role games are not your favorite you may not enjoy this game as much as other games. However, I believe that most players would enjoy playing at least one or two games of Cult of the Deep. Since there is no player elimination, people aren't left waiting for the game to end. Bringing that sense of enjoyment through mystery and suspense always kept me at the edge of anticipation, waiting for the chance to roll my dice and see what happens next.

Final thoughts:

Cult of the Deep can't be mistaken for anything else than what it is- A hidden role game bringing a sense of mystery, betrayal, fidelity, and more to each player. The unexpected comes when someone you thought was an ally turns out to be your betrayer and vice versa. Winning is always great, but, enjoying the experience of the game should outlast the few seconds of either winning or losing.

The gameplay is interesting without being overly complex nor are there many levers or pieces of chrome added to the game. I enjoyed the fact that the experience provided is created with a good, well-run design. Cult of the Deep has reached its funding goal and is continually adding more backers. The Kickstarter will end on Tuesday, March 2nd.

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