Capsule Review: Cultist Simulator
Cultist SImulator is a game from Alexis Kennedy (Fallen London) that is, on the surface, a card game. It isn’t. It’s a trick. Hell, it isn’t even really about being a cultist.
Players have a series of cards to pursue a few basic life elements. You must have a job that provides you with the means to survive, you must investigate haunted texts that reveal small details about the universe, and you must try to build a following that allows you to investigate these cosmic horrors further. Almost none of this matters, because in practice, Cultist Simulator is about spinning plates. You need to play cards into various goals/rooms to start clocks that accomplish said goals, resulting in new cards. Within the first few minutes, the game become near-unmanageable, and Kennedy’s excellent and dark, dripping prose becomes impossible to enjoy because the game has no patience for you. A few small delays end in death. And then you must start again.
It’s difficult to peg Cultist Simulator to any one genre, because the application of its systems requires stretching beyond your comfort zone in any one type of game. There’s a card game but there’s a time management sim and there’s a cookie-clicker element but also the rules of the game are never explained and you’ll spend a solid three hours just trying to understand how to play. It’s a game based on some of the most harsh, logical rules I’ve ever encountered, but the game itself is about the application of ethereal dream logic; both the joy and the infuriating hindrance of what Cultist Simulator wants to be. I understood exactly how to explore a new location and extract hints about long-dead gods from an auction house; I never figured out how to convince my character to crack long-dead secrets in their dreams without using other dreams and, sure, a small amount of opium. (Back off, dad! I’m trying to bring about the end of the world.)
There’s some quick failings to make note of: the UI is absolute garbage and, while I appreciate the effect, the complete absence of any guide for what you’re trying to do here is teeth-grinding gatekeeping that I only suffered, knowing that a worthwhile experience was waiting for me on the other-side.
But my biggest compliment is that Cultist Simulator is actually a brutal take-down of creative careers. See, within Cultist Simulator, you try to investigate terrible dark secrets from other worlds, but you’re still a human being. You have to work and keep your sanity and health up, and the easiest and most common death you’ll face here is working yourself to death or not being able to keep yourself healthy or mentally/emotionally stable. Sound familiar, friends? In other words, Cultist Simulator’s greatest victory is convincing you that maybe you should quit Cultist Simulator and also, perhaps, your day job.
Yes, if you're big on creepy eldritch horror atmosphere; Probably Not, if punishing systems and bad UI are a tearing point for you.
Main takeaway: It's not about being a cultist so much as spinning plates.