Be the bad guy in digital card game Cultist Simulator

I've always sympathized with the people who worship elder gods. In H. P. Lovecraft's stories, and the endless fiction and games that have followed in his footsteps, incomprehensible alien entities rule the universe and we're worthless by comparison. The cultists who devote themselves to these beings are perfectly sensible if you think about it. They're the ones who've read the books, know what's really going on, and have embraced the true nature of reality rather than deluding themselves. And that's what I'll be screaming as the investigators break down my door to burn my many blasphemous texts.

Cultist Simulator lets you play the head of a Lovecraftian cult, gathering followers and deciphering grimoires and eventually performing rituals that summon things better left unsummoned. It basically lets you be the bad guys from Call of Cthulhu or Arkham Horror.

Cultist Simulator is also a single-player digital card game. It's Cthulhu Solitaire, or perhaps Reverse Eldritch Horror is a better comparison. Everything from Secrets and Hangers-on to your own Reason, Passion, and Health are represented by cards on a table surrounded by infinite darkness. Also on the table are verbs like Study, Explore, and Talk, each one a puzzle box you feed cards into and then see what comes out.

Adding the card representing a bookstore and one for Funds to the Explore box gives me a new book. Studying that book gives me a Secret, and then popping that Secret and a Hanger-on into the Talk box transmutes the Hanger-on into a full-blown Follower. Every step makes your cult bigger and better. Discovering combinations and sequences more esoteric than this pretty obvious one is what Cultist Simulator is all about.

It takes time to do all this Exploring and Studying though. Once you add cards to a hungry verb a countdown begins, telling you how many seconds until the outcome is revealed. You can pause and fast-forward whenever you want, but some cards vanish after a certain amount of time. Cultist Simulator eventually becomes a game of spinning plates. I'm trying to Study using Reason to get some Erudition but then I keep having to add Reason to my Work so I don't lose my lucrative day job as a clerk, and meanwhile The Passing of Time is devouring my Funds one by one.

Philippa played an earlier build of Cultist Simulator back in March, and a few new things have been added since then. One is explorable locations, and with enough cultists and money you can send expeditions into spooky hospitals, tombs, and so on. Then they'll demand more money to overcome each obstacle they face, until you've thrown everything down a hole and they all come back dead.

The more arcane combinations of cards are fun to figure out, but in this pre-release build I've had to look up quite a few of the basics. For instance, you can use Passion with Work to create paintings to sell, but then you'll be prompted to add a Lore card as well. Doing so seems to make paintings of philosophical value that are too horrible to sell. It took me a while to realize I could ignore the empty space and not add a second card at all when I just wanted to make some quick cash.

Clues hidden in the text accompanying certain cards point you toward the enigmatic stuff like the rituals that can win the game. It's in this text that it becomes obvious this is a game from two of the minds behind Fallen London and Sunless Sea. It may be less verbose than either of those games, but there's definitely a common tone to phrasing like, "There is a proverb among practitioners of the invisible arts: 'Glory visits the house without walls.' I would like to know about glory."

Figuring out the mysterious combinations that unlock the depths of Cultist Simulator is fascinating, forcing me to experiment with the many uses of Dream and Dread and Furtive Truths. I find myself getting hung up on the more practical side of things, though. I spent so much time trying to min-max my career to keep the cash coming in that I accidentally settled into a comfortable life and retired from the blasphemy caper altogether. I failed at being a cultist and nobody's going to come burn my books after all. What a tragedy.

Cultist Simulator will be available from May 31 on Steam, Humble, GOG, and itch.io.