Thursday, June 20, 2024

GenCon Report: ‘Evil High Priest’ Is The Anti ‘Call of Cthulu’

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“Cthulhu is coming, there’s nothing you can do about it.”- Sandy Petersen

The lost city of R’lyeh is not, as some have said, somewhere in the South Pacific, sunk beneath the crushing depths of the sea. Nor does it lay for eons until great Cthulhu and his hordes awake. Rather, it rises every year. In Indianapolis, Indiana. Right about August.

Or so it feels.

The Dread Exploited Cthulu

You CANNOT escape the big green cheese of the Lovecraft Mythos when you walk the halls of GenCon. Every year it seems that his hordes grow: Cthulhu the card game, Cthulhu the RPG, Cthulhu the dice game, Cthulhu the stuffed toy, Cthulhu the dakimakura (yes, it’s real). The combination of Victorian gothic aesthetics, creative possibility and, perhaps most important of all, public domain properties, means that it never takes long for a game company to take some stab at the mythos. And, in some sense, that can all be blamed on one man: Sandy Petersen.

Nobody understands the Big Squid-y Boy like Petersen. His creation Call of Cthulhu, released in 1981, changed both the whole RPG market and led to the Cthulhu mania that has swept the nation ever since. He’s been a fan of Lovecraft since he first read The Dunwich Horror and Other Weird Tales as a child. His love of Lovecraft comes out not just in Call, Evil High Priest, and Cthulhu Wars, but also in his game design for Doom and Quake and as an executive producer on The Whisperer In Darkness.  I had a chance to talk with Petersen briefly at his booth, Petersen Games, as he showed me his newest creation (and one of our Top 10 Most Anticipated Games): Evil High Priest.

The game is set during what is, essentially, the end times. Unlike in games such as Arkham Horror, or even his own Call of Cthulhu, Petersen says, the coming of Cthulhu and the Great Old Ones CAN NOT be stopped. It’s more subversive, he says, because there’s an almost nihilistic edge to the player’s goals. The world is ending and everyone is going to either die or become gibbering beasts…so we may as well suck up to the new bosses.

The players are all cultists working for the same cult, and they spend the game doing all they can to bring their dark lord (either Cthulhu himself of the dark fertility goddess the Black Goat) into the world. They gather gold, blood, artifacts, and followers as they work to remove the elder signs that constrain their master. It’s essentially a worker placement game, strategically using the cultists you control to gather or control the resources necessary for your nefarious ends. And like any good Lovecraft villain, the players must terrorize the sleepy New England town directly above their lair. But, not all is well. The pesky investigators from Petersen’s other Cthulhu games are coming to shut you down, and it becomes a race to hide the evidence and delay the investigators until the stars become right. 

Labor of Love

The boards, as is true for most Petersen games, is absolutely gorgeous. The art doesn’t use the dark themes as an excuse to skimp on color. Lots of greens and blues on the board, moody warm colors in town, and dank torchlight in the lair. The main board is two-sided depending on the god you worship, a green maze shaped like the head of Cthulhu or a black and red warren shaped like the Black Goat. Cthulhu is based more on big monsters and magic while the Black Goat is constantly spawning vile beasts to terrorize the world. The other boards are all vividly painted and stand out from each other, as are the very sturdy pieces provided with the game.

The game has an inherent dark humor to it, as any Lovecraft game does, but it doesn’t go into full-on parody like many others in the genre. Petersen is first and foremost a Lovecraft fan, and his love comes out in the deep knowledge imbued all through the game. From the pet Shoggoth of the Cthulhu cult to the advance of the Deep ones, even down to individual cards featuring more obscure members of the mythos like The King in Yellow, one would need to be a big Lovecraft fan to get ALL of the references in the game.

Retailing for $50 USD, Evil High Priest also has an expansion that adds cultists and cults plus some little extras to add more monsters, figures, and cards to the game. If you’re already a fan of Petersen’s Cthulhu Wars games, he has said that it’s almost a perfect companion to that game. You work as a cultist to release the Great Old Ones and end the world, then move to Cthulhu Wars to make those gods and monsters fight on an epic scale.

Sandy has been in the game for a while

Evil High Priest is available in limited quantities, but it should become available for the masses by October, perfect for Halloween play or as a gift for Cthulhumas.

You can pre-order the game here and learn more about Evil High Priest and other games at the Petersen Games website.

Images via Chaosium, Petersen Games

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