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Cthulhu Wars: Windwalker Expansion Review


I cannot begin to describe the horrors that awoke that day while we traversed the eternal, arctic waste. The sun - what little showed itself on those white, dreary plains of snow - nearly blinded us with its wicked glare, forcing our eyes to squint so as to nearly render us completely blind. From such a wicked light we could nary see but five feet to our front. The howling wind was our only companion in the snow-bleached wilderness, which incessant howling grew louder and more ominous by the minute.


MacTavish, one so full of strength of will and might, threw himself to the ground and wailed, a sound not unfamiliar to us, as it was all too reminiscent of the horrific, screeching wind that surrounded our souls with each lumbering step. Duncan followed MacTavish’s lead, as did two others of the company. Their unearthly wailing pieced my mind with gruesome visions of long-forgotten entities. My mind screamed in dreadful fright as it conjured up creatures emerging from the snowy depths before us, although it wasn’t until I had left the place that I realized it had all been in my mind. The wailings of my comrades ceased almost immediately, leaving echoes in the frigid, arctic air. Without a word, our entire company picked themselves up and returned to our ship, still locked in place by solid ice; any fate seemed better than what lay ahead, as evidenced from our deranged thoughts. The visions of those Great Old Ones sleeping restlessly below the snow’s surface haunted my waking dreams, and the thought of putting my back to that unholy place was the only solace for my frenzied mind.

Fast Facts:
Designer: Sandy Petersen
Artist: Sunny Bundgaard, Stephen May (II), Neil McKenzie, Gary Morley
Publisher: Green Eye Games, Petersen Games
Players: 2-5
Age: 12+
Playtime: 90 minutes

Note: This review is for the Windwalker Expansion for Cthulhu Wars; the base game will be discussed briefly, but will not be the focus of this review.

Objective:
In Cthulhu Wars, players must collect 6 spell books and collect points (via the Doom Track) in order to be remembered as the greatest and most powerful faction of horrific races of aliens and gods that inhabit the earth (and sleep in its depths).

Setup:
Setup for Cthulhu Wars is pretty straightforward; simply follow the setup instructions on each faction’s player card. Windwalker sets up after everyone else has set up, with the exception of Opener of the Way. Then, begin with 8 power, 6 Acolytes, and a Controlled Gate in one of the two areas marked with its faction’s Glyph. Windwalker may begin at either the North or South pole.


Gameplay:
Since this review covers the Windwalker expansion, those reading this will most likely already be familiar with the base game of Cthulhu Wars. But, in order to give a proper review of this additional faction, a little must be said about the base game as well.

Cthulhu Wars is an interesting game of area control in which there can be quite a bit going on, and yet is still fairly straightforward and easy to understand, even for a beginner (which is great). During the game, players must control Gates with their cultists, which gates are then used to summon monsters (for a cost of power). Monsters then roam the globe, capturing enemy cultists, and fighting other monsters for control of an area.

When a battle between monsters breaks out, each monster rolls a number of dice associated with that particular monster (i.e. each Wendigo rolls 1 die per battle, whereas a Gnoph Keh rolls 3 dice). A “6” result is an instant kill, whereas a 4 and a 5 count as pain (which force monsters to retreat). Die results of 1-3 do nothing.

This roll consists of one kill (6), two pain (two 5's), and four useless results.
Thus, with this in mind, rolling more dice is beneficial to mitigating a bad roll and getting some 6’s on the table. This will be important in discussing the Windwalker faction later on.

To make a long story short, a round consists of 1) gaining power, 2), deciding first player, 3) moving up the Doom Track, and 4) performing actions.

For the sake of this review, I’m going to refrain from discussing these phases in depth. Instead, let’s get on with a look at the Windwalker faction in all its fear-inspiring glory.

The gang's all here.
Review:
The Windwalker faction, in a nutshell, begins weak but ends powerful. I was afraid that I would be overrun near the start of the game because summoning my good monsters (Gnoph Keh) cost quite a bit initially. However, it all evened out in the end. You see, the cost to summon Gnoph Keh is equal to the number of those creepy-looking things remaining in your pool (i.e. not in play and available to summon). So, to begin with, my first Gnoph Keh cost 4 power, whereas the last one I summoned only cost 1 power. I wanted to get those creatures out early, but by doing so would mean I couldn’t take other important actions, including spreading my cultists across the map and building more Gates to control. But, my Gnoph Keh army became easier to field with each additional Gnoph Keh I summoned. To make things even better, they roll a whopping 3 dice during battle.

These three Gnoph Keh and the Wendigo are protecting their cultist.
Despite being slow bloomers, the Windwalker faction wasn’t about to get overwhelmed from the start. Wendigo is cheap to field and, once you start collecting spell books, can come in quite handy in forcing opposing monsters to retreat before a battle even begins.

Rhan Tegoth, one of the Great Old Ones of this faction (that looks like a massive crab-like thing that locals of Brandon Sanderson’s Way of Kings might see on occasion), costs only 6 power to summon, and once in play, is nearly impossible to kill. By paying only 1 power, you may cancel a kill or pain that Rhan Tegoth received during a battle. 1 power is a lot cheaper than spending 6 more to bring it back to life once it’s been killed. But, unlike many of the other Great Old Ones, Rhan Tegoth only rolls 3 dice during combat. Still, for a practically Eternal critter such as Mr. Tegoth, only 3 dice is a small price to pay.

The crab-like Rhan Tegoth jostles for position in the Arctic (that lone cultist never had a chance).
Ithaqua, the other Great Old One (that looks vaguely reminiscent of a Dementor from harry Potter), is Awakened on a Gate located on Windwalker’s Glyph, and the gate need not be controlled by one of Ithaqua’s own cultists. Ithaqua destroys the Gate from which it emerges, which is actually pretty hilarious if another faction has control of it. Ithaqua isn’t one to Awaken early on, however. Because Ithaqua’s attack power equals half the Doom total of your opponent (rounded up), Ithaqua is practically useless the first few rounds, but devastatingly powerful during the end game. Another perk of having this wispy guy in play is that Monsters and Terrors may not capture your Cultists, which can be irritating if an opponent is looking for an easy scoop.

Ithaqua faces down the great Cthulhu himself!

Power became an issue at times, but Windwalker’s Unique Ability to Hibernate makes up for it in a rather powerful way. To Hibernate, simply add 1 power for each enemy Great Old One in play. You may no longer perform actions this round, but at the beginning of the next Gather Power Phase, instead of losing any unused power that was left when Hibernation was activated, add that leftover power to this next round’s accumulated power during the Gather Power Phase. This way, one round consisting of a decent amount of power can make the next round one of immense power! The unfortunate part of Hibernating is, of course, not being able to perform anymore actions, so it can be a bit risky. Hibernating every other turn seemed like a good strategy, so long as I wasn’t in any dire situation that needed to be taken care of.

While it was a little nerve-wracking early on (with other factions deploying all kinds of monsters) it didn’t take long before my monsters could fend for themselves. A few rounds before the game ended, my horde of monsters and Great Old Ones were a force to be reckoned with. Yes, they start out slow, but man oh man, Windwalker is quite literally a sleeping giant, and has no qualms in terrorizing the world once all the other Great Old Ones have had their go.


What I Liked
The strategy behind Windwalker is interesting, but can be frightening to build up so slowly. Yet, doing so has amazing benefits during the late game. While monstrously powerful, I felt it was balanced enough that Windwalker wouldn't decimate the opposition, while at the same time giving them a run for their money throughout the game.

Windwalker’s Spell Books weren’t too difficult to obtain (for the most part), and once acquired, offered some amazing perks (one of which was adding a Wendigo to the board following a battle, whether Windwalker was a part of it or not). These spells worked nicely with the overall strategy of Windwalker, and were part of the reason Windwalker can become über powerful later on in the game.

Faction board with all 6 spell books.

I very much enjoyed the Hibernation ability, and using it effectively kept my head out of the water when things started getting a little rough. It was difficult to make myself Hibernate at first, since foregoing additional actions seemed counter intuitive. However, these are Great Old Ones, and they do not follow the same mindset as I do.


What I Didn’t Like
Let’s talk about the “miniatures” for a moment, shall we? Many people may actually like this factor about the game, but the miniatures—especially of the Great Old Ones—were horrifically large. As in, during one battle, one of the players had to remove his monsters and Great Old One from the board during a battle because there just wasn’t enough room in that area. Moving them to the side, he made note of the area in which they were battling, and returned them to the board once combat had ended. I love a good miniature, don’t get me wrong, but I feel as if they’re just too big. Still, they’re good looking sculpts, and I’d rather have an oversized behemoth of artistic brilliance over a skimpy little cardboard cutout. That being said, their massive size doesn't really impact gameplay, and the size of the Windwalker miniatures match those of other factions, so it was necessary for consistency's sake.

These miniatures make things a wee bit crowded at times.
Windwalker didn’t come with a regular token for keeping track Doom Points on the Doom Track like the other factions had. Instead of what looked like a tiny stalagmite to keep track of points, Windwalker had a flat, circular token. I think consistency would have been nice, but it’s not going to ruin the game for me.

One of these things is not like the other...
Final Verdict:
Of all the factions available, with all their unique abilities, Spell Books, and the like, Windwalker is one I would certainly not hesitate to play again. That being said, I probably wouldn't want to play as them each and every time. All things considered, though, I really had a blast managing my power early on so I wouldn’t be overrun, and then trouncing around the board with a feeling like, “Careful who you call weak in high school, punks!” Really, I don't have much negative to say about this expansion, other than it can be a little difficult to get started, and if things go awry, it could very well be an uphill battle. But, risk and reward, right?

Windwalker is a fun faction. The monsters are great and come with fun abilities, and the Great Old Ones (two of them!) make for a very interesting strategy. If you’re a fan of Cthulhu Wars, then I think it’s safe to say you need Windwalker in your life.

As an expansion, I give Cthulhu Wars: Windwalker an 8/10.


Check out Cthulhu Wars: Windwalker Expansion on:

           

The Windwalkers faction is part of the Cthulhu Wars Onslaught KICKSTARTER going on now until August 14, 2017.  


About the Author:



Benjamin Kocher hails from Canada but now lives in Utah with his wife and kids. He’s a copywriter, social media manager, freelance blogger, and SFF author. When he’s not writing, Benjamin loves to lose himself in the wonderful world of tabletop games, especially those with a rich, engaging theme. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminKocher and read his board game-inspired fiction (and other works) at BenjaminKocher.com.



Cthulhu Wars: Windwalker Expansion Review Cthulhu Wars: Windwalker Expansion Review Reviewed by Dane Trimble on July 20, 2017 Rating: 5

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