If you’ve ever wanted to get a taste of cult life without the pesky problems that come along with actually being in a cult, you’re in luck, because there’s a sim for that. In Cultist Simulator, you’ll play as a cultist tasked with building an ideology and spreading your gospel all while keeping up the façade of a normal life. Cultist Simulator was a Steam game published by Humble Bundle back in 2018 that’s now getting a fresh port and additional content and coming to the Nintendo Switch. In Cult Simulator, all the tools and strategies you need to have a successful cult life are wrapped up into a single player card game experience. This setup provides lots of variability with jobs, tactics, followers and more, but can also feel like too many plates spinning at a time.
The game starts you off with one job card per character you choose to roleplay as, and a job box with a card slot. This acts as an activity within Cultist Simulator’s gameplay. Inserting your job card will start a timer, allowing the action to play out and produce rewards, money and your job card back. Following that, you’ll acquire a living card that takes away that money for rent with a timer. As in real life, this now gives you a necessity to constantly be making money. Timers for these various events are what moves the game forward, but these timers can be paused so you can try to read further explanations.
The job and life activities are two of many plates it’s necessary to juggle while expanding your cult empire. Activities include dreaming, exploring, conversations and even some basic mental activities. These cards are designed to be used with cards that appear in your hand as you progress. Dreaming can give you passion or reason cards, that when used with the steady activity will give you glimmering cards. What each card does, and in what activities they can be used is often a mystery and it takes an immense amount of trial and error to suss out which cards are necessary or what cards can progress you into the next tier of objectives.
Herein lies the crux of Cultist Simulator. The activities require cards, but the game makes it very unclear what cards are necessary and why. When clicking on the empty slot for the activity, you’re shown which cards can be input, but with little reasoning behind the why. Each card has detailed information, but the informative parts are Lovecraftian in context with little direct explanation. This can be frustrating, giving Cultist Simulator a false sense of challenge–the game isn’t actually difficult, just difficult to parse. It took me three runs before I had stumbled into actually starting my cult successfully and another three runs before I had a recruit. In fact, Cultist Simulator boasts about its lack of tutorial, but failing without explanation can leave you feeling cheated.
There is fun to be had in being a Cultist once you’ve passed the large barrier to entry, though. The 1920’s atmosphere and fun scenarios you can set up lead to interesting rolls of the dice. Assigning your cult follower to take out a suspicious police officer can be a nervewracking but fun gamble. Finding the perfect book at the occult bookstore and using it to summon a creature from beyond is a rewarding experience. There’s also plenty to explore within dreaming to the Manses, a labyrinth of hidden psychic powers and discoveries. The different styles of cults, varying cult members and activities also mean a lot of potential for replayability. The art style and writing is cryptic, but provides that gothic flair. With the Nintendo Switch port there are even new jobs to select from the start that bring new scenarios to the card table, though the Switch’s small screen gives the activity board a cramped feel. While playing, I didn’t even realize that a second table was created to house newer activities that I needed to tab over, because all the activities couldn’t fit into a single frame.
Cultist Simulator is a plate spinning card game that brings a Lovecraftian twist that can be both addicting and frustrating. It’s depth is uncanny with high replayability potential but it seems almost purposefully obtuse instead of aiming for onboarding new players. While I would recommend this game to those looking for an in depth table top card game experience, I would not for those looking for a lighthearted easy going game.
Cultist Simulator: Initiate Edition is available now on Nintendo Switch.
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