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Time to grab your hooded robes as we delve into the Cult of the Deep


The Cult of the Deep box

Players: 4 - 8

Ages 13+

Game Time: 45-60 minutes

Cult of the Deep is the debut game from B. A. Games (which stands for Brothers Awesome Games), a studio formed by three brothers from California. Dave, Ed and Sam Stockton are all fully qualified geeks and one thing they all love is board games. In February last year (2021) they came together on Kickstarter to launch their hidden role game Cult of the Deep. This game was funded in its first day and certainly grabbed people’s attention. By the end of its funding period, over 800 backers had signed on to bring Cult of the Deep to life. This resulted in the game being just shy of 300% funded, an amazing achievement to be sure.


A successful Kickstarter is no guarantee of a good game, but when the team spoke to Sam Stockton back in Feb 2021 I was intrigued, to say the least. Which surprised me as normally hidden roll/social deduction games are not my thing. This being due to a number of factors, though mostly an inability to bluff/hide strategy or where game mechanics make it impossible to do so. Despite this, I was thrilled to be the one to put Cult of the Deep through its paces and review it for you to see.


I now don my hooded robe (well Jedi dressing gown anyway) and delve into the deep...

Normally, I leave the production quality section of my reviews to the end. This is for a number of reasons, such as literary, flow but also because game play is the most important aspect. However, when you pick up a copy of Cult of the Deep you can’t help but notice the quality of it. Firstly, the artwork is stunning and sections of text very clear. Both the box and card backs have spot UV gloss finish, which makes the details really stand out. The quality/thickness of the card and board components range from standard (cards) to above average durability (tokens and box). Since Cult of the Deep is a dice mechanic driven game, it is unsurprising to find that it contains custom D6 and D4 dice. As custom dice go, these are rather nice with clear embossed symbols and dark, yet semi opaque glitter infused finish. These look and feel great during game play, although personally I prefer slightly heavier dice.



Custom dice from the game Cult of The Deep

One set of components in particular stands out, and that is the ritual tracker boards. Unlike many tracker boards that use plastic cube markers these are double layered. This means that each marked location is recessed so that the marker sits in the board not on. A great defence against accidental table knocks and dishonest cultists. The production quality of this game truly demonstrates the love the creators have for both this game and the hobby itself. You really feel you are holding something that bit special, even with the base game edition. However, the Kickstarter campaign included plastic tokens and metal coins as component upgrades as well.




I do however have one small disappointment when it comes to the final components in the box, and it’s the five token bags. Whilst these are beautifully made drawstring bags with embroidered designs, once you’ve popped your tokens they don’t really pack away particularly well. I’m not sure if these are a Kickstarter exclusive or if they’ll make it to the retail version. Given that these serve no apparent in-game function and are for the storage of components this seems an impressive flaw. On one hand, you can use one or two for storage and the rest as dice bags or storage for other games. However, thinking as a buyer why pay for these items that aren’t being used?



An open box of the Cult of the Deep box that have been packed away, canvas bags can be seen sticking up slightly above lower box surface


So enough fawning over aesthetics, the real issue is what is the game like to play.


During set up, each player receives three randomly dealt cards; one Character, one Role and one Sigil. These cards play a part of each player's basic game play personality. A player's character is played openly, and each Character card gives you your starting health, power symbol (type) and unique special ability. The Sigil card is revealed only when played and grants a onetime use special ability. Then, most importantly, each player has a secret role card (except for the High Priest who plays openly). The various roles have different win criteria. To be honest, these pretty much revolve around who dies and when. But don’t worry death is not entirely the end – but I’ll come back to that.


The roles are High Priest, Faithful, repentant/vengeful Heretic and Cabalist. Some social deduction games allow certain roles to be revealed to their allies. This is not really the case in this game, as only the High Priest is known to all players. It's hard to say if certain roles have any true advantages or disadvantages in meeting their win conditions. For, example the High Priest and the Faithful only have to be the last ones standing to win. However, they are outnumbered by the Cabalists and Heretics. Yet, these roles have to attack the High Priest and Faithful without making themselves a target. Some characters can still claim victory after death if they are aligned with the winning faction.


So, with player set up complete, we set the table. First a pre-set number (based on player count) of Altar Boards are set up with tracker tokens and starting rituals drawn from the deck. The remaining Ritual cards then form a supply. Then the various tokens, dice and the Wraith cards are separated into individual supplies with players taking sufficient Life tokens to display their starting health. You are then ready to start playing.


Each player (starting with the High Priest) takes turns that are split into four stages:

  1. First, players roll their supply of dice and may reroll any number of their results twice.

  2. Second, players declare how the results will be applied to various actions.

  3. Third, the other players may use any abilities or effects to change or replace the assigned dice to a different use for that dice.

  4. Finally dice results are resolved.

Dice results can attack other players, heal your character, and activate abilities, these are fairly self-explanatory. The other thing you can spend your dice results on is contributing to ritual progress. This means you move the tracking marker towards 0 and get a onetime effect (or prevent an effect). For some rituals, when the marker(s) reach 0, have an ongoing ability that goes to the player who completed it. One benefit from taking part in such rituals is acquiring tokens that can be used to change dice results. However, players can also receive Kraken dice. These are four-sided dice and players can acquire more than one each. This is not a good thing. Each turn they must start by rolling all accrued Kraken dice and minus the result from their health. Since this particular effect can make you very dead very quickly, I think it’s time to explore the afterlife of cult of the deep players.


When you die in this game you are not eliminated. Instead, you reveal your hidden role card to the group before then returning to the game as a Wraith (assuming your death doesn’t trigger the game's end). Dead players choose which type of wraith they will become. They then lose any rituals they have obtained but keep their Sigil (if not already used) and tokens. Wraith players don’t play in quite the same way as the living characters but can still influence the game dramatically. Each turn they roll their dice and may do two rerolls as normal. However, they do not play their dice on their turn. A Wraith must wait for a living player's turn. Here, they may use their dice to replace or remove those of the living. Once one of the player's win conditions have been met (aka when enough of the right people are dead), the game ends and the surviving players gain control of the cult.


Wraith ability cards from the game Cult of the Deep

So that’s a brief overview of how the game works. There are a few variants that may be played, but overall, the rules remain the same. So how do we rate Cult of the Deep?


I’ve actually found this quite a hard question to answer. There are many great elements to this game; you have the quality of all the components, the semi-Eldritch theme, and overall, a good game experience. However, I think there is something missing here. While the use of dice rolling and result manipulation can mask a player’s intentions/role, certain actions are very overt signs of allegiance. For example, it makes very little sense given the story and playing with the High Priest revealed for anyone to attack him. A Faithful gain little other than briefly blending in at the cost of harming their chance of victory. Or a Cabalist/Heretic will quickly show themselves and be attacked by the High Priest and Faithful (as well as allies hoping to hide). I think what this game would benefit from is some roles being revealed to others. For example, if the High Priest is secret but knows who the Faithful are or vice versa. Then, some Cabalists know each other while the rest of the players are initiates who have no idea who is who. While this could for some make it too similar to other titles, having the High Priest exposed doesn’t quite work in my opinion.



Role cards from the game Cult of the Deep - photo shows Faithful, Repentant Heretic, Cabalist and Vengeful Heretic


I feel that the Cabalist players have the hardest time of it. They must kill the High Priest but ideally need to root out the Faithful and/or Heretics who will be slowing this down and turn the table against them so that the High Priest has no allies for the showdown. While I really like the dice mechanic, what this game lacks are an in-game mechanic to do this properly. This would take the form of either a no lying system, like in Psychobabble where players don’t know if they are the bad guy, or a more traditional set up where players know some of the allegiances but not the whole picture such as One Night Werewolf or Secret Hitler.


Additionally, while this game claims to have a four to eight player count, the four-player game is actually a variant where the High Priest is automated based on a set of preset priorities. To me this isn’t actually a true four-player game it is a five to eight-player game with a four-player mode slipped in. Regardless of how you feel about the four-player variant, it is certainly true that the best thing for this game is to max out the player count. It’ll take longer but will allow better balancing and more opportunity for subterfuge/social intrigue. However, this is not easy for many audiences to manage.





A D6 die face showing four pips

If I were judging based on theme and production quality alone this game would be getting top marks. However, the game is the thing that we must ultimately judge. If you love social deduction games and can regularly get enough players to gather a full cult of eight players (hooded bathrobes optional) then this would likely score a 5/6 for you. Personally, I admit to not being the greatest fan of the genre but there are for me at least some elements missing, and my personal score is a respectable 4/6.


Sam-Wise


So just wanted to give my 2 pence, I am a fan of dice games and especially when the games are finished beautifully and this ticks the box for sure, my only criticism is the steep learning curve, it is not a game that is quick to pick up especially if you've been drinking. Fun for sure and the elements of social deduction and dice are great for me! No Bluffing required TBH.


Mr Chris


Cult of the Deep reached fulfilment in July this year (2022) and the brothers from B. A. Games are already advertising their next kickstarter Forges of Ravenshire as coming soon so do check that out - https://bagamesco.com/ravenshire

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