Cult of the Deep
Designed by Sam Stockton and published by B.A. Games, Cult of the Deep is a dice-rolling hidden role game for 4-8 players. As you'll guess from the title and the evocative art from Maura Elko, David Li, Liam Peters, Janette Ramos and Charles Walton, players are cultists, tho in this game they're summoning the Kraken rather than Cthulhu.
Unlike most hidden role games, there's no Werewolf-style eyes-closed or 'sleep' round where some players identify themselves to others. There's always a High Priest but, depending on player count, there will also be various combinations of Cabalists, Faithful and Heretic. When the secret roles are dealt out, the High Priest reveals themself. All the other roles remain secret unless and until they are killed. In addition to their hidden role, all players are dealt a face-up character card which specifies their starting health and special ability; typically allowing you to take an action affecting another players' turn. Players also take a face-down 'sigil' card that is a single-use power. Timing well the play of your sigil card can seize a 'Hail Mary' victory from the jaws of defeat.
The High Priest and each of the hidden roles have their own objectives. The High Priest wants to kill all Cabalists and the Heretic. The Cabalists win if the High Priest is killed. The Faithful want the High Priest to survive and share his objective of killing all Cabalists and the Heretic. There are two types of Heretic with slightly different win conditions but, essentially, the Heretic wants to be the sole survivor.
On your turn, you roll five custom six-sided dice. You can take up to two re-rolls of any number of dice. Depending on the dice you roll and keep, your dice can dish out damage to another player, they can heal any player - or even take their health above their starting health - or they can contribute to any of the rituals in play. Rituals, when complete, trigger an extra action and may give a permanent extra power to the player whose dice completes the ritual.
If the core roles and gameplay sound familiar it's because Cult of the Deep has very strong echoes of Bang! The Dice Game (dV Giochi/DV Games) with the High Priest as the Sheriff, the Cabalists as the Outlaws, the Faithful as the Deputies and the Heretic as the Renegade. What Cult of the Deep does, however, is take the core mechanic of Bang! The Dice Game and give it a little more depth, nuance and player interaction, albeit that this makes it a much longer game. The key differences are the rituals, to which you can contribute dice, and the fact that you can keep playing even after your character is killed - these are all cultists after all. If a player's health is reduced to zero, they reveal their hidden role but they aren't eliminated from the game. Instead they play on as Wraiths - rolling fewer dice but using them to allocate to other players and so still able to influence play. We especially liked the fact that Wraiths come in a variety of types, each with their particular abilities, and you get to choose what type you come back as. And if you play as the Necromancer as one of the face-up player characters (an advanced-game variant), you can even fully resurrect yourself after you're killed...
Other features in Cult of the Deep are the coins that some characters start off with and which can be earned through rituals. These can be used to change a die roll or recommit a die that another player has allocated. As you might guess, these add still more to the interactive nature of the game.
As with most hidden role games, players will usually want to keep hidden as long as possible. That means if you're playing as a Cabalist, it will probably be unwise to immediately start attacking the High Priest. If it's obvious that you're a Cabalist, then the High Priest and Faithful will quickly turn their fire on you. The ritual boards offer places where you can spend your dice without giving yourself away; biding your time and building up your power while you try to figure out other players' hidden roles.
Production quality is high. All the cards are appropriately tarot sized, the ritual boards are dual-layer and the game even comes with velveteen bags for all the health tokens and coins. Our only gripe was that the health tokens show 1 health on one side and 5 health on the other; we'd have much preferred separate tokens of each value.
If you like hidden role games, and certainly if you enjoy playing Bang! The Dice Game, you're sure to get a kick out of Cult of the Deep. Just be warned that you must expect games to run at least three times as long as Bang's usually brisk 15 minutes.
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