Cultist Simulator is probably one of the most obtuse games I have ever played. There is no tutorial and the game just throws you into the fray without giving you a single helping hand. I have yet to master even the most basic elements of this game but from what I’ve experienced, the basic game play loop breaks down into a timer management sim.
The game consists of multiple timers going on simultaneously. Each must be managed in a timely fashion or some sort of negative consequence will occur. For example, you start the game by simulating a work cycle to earn money. You do this by putting a work card onto the work tile and the timer will start. Once the timer is finished, you can collect a card representing money. Sometimes you will get a random card to spawn as well.
Meanwhile, another tile will spawn once you start working. This one will automatically remove a money card when the timer is finished. If you do not have a money card, it will negatively affect your health. This represents the need for money to continue to support your own health and living expenses.
The game does a good job of representing the eternal struggle of having to work to make ends meet. Later on, you will lose your work card so you will have to use other means to earn money. You can use your health card to do manual labor at the risk of deteriorating your health. You can use passion card to do some creative works with the trade off of having your passion card on cool down. And this is where the game becomes difficult.
The game does a very poor job of explaining what cards can be used where. It’s not very intuitive at all. Combine this with the fact you are constantly managing timers and this becomes a messy nightmare very quickly. The very design of the game is hostile to you learning the mechanics. You simply don’t have enough time to get a grasp of what is going on or experiment with different things. On top of this, certain cards are temporary and have timers as well. So you can imagine how hectic it would feel for a new player to come into this game and have constant timers going off while not having a clue as to place which card on what tile for what reason. The game can be put on pause but this doesn’t really help as you still won’t have a clue as to how to generate certain cards.
The game definitely isn’t for those who don’t have the patience to try and learn the game. It’ll only end with frustration. But if you are willing to give the game some time, it does slowly start to make sense after constantly dying over and over again. You start to see some basic loops you can manage in order to spawn cards you need.
As you play, certain events seems to trigger as well. For example, on most of my play throughs I met a lady who needs a sacrifice. A long timer begins and before it ends you must find a person to sacrifice or you will become the sacrifice and the game will end. There are conversation mechanics, study mechanics, dreaming away depression with contentment cards and so forth. There’s just a lot going on but it essentially boils down to repeating loops to obtain desired cards and using those cards to satisfy timers before a negative consequence occurs while repeating other loops to obtain cards to satisfy whatever objective it is you need to meet.
I just wish the game had some sort of tutorial or direction so I could get to learning how to play more quickly. The game did feel more enjoyable and less frustrating as I started to learn more about how certain things worked but the rate at which I learned felt too slow. It’s not that the mechanics are difficult to master, it’s just that you just don’t know how things work period.
Overall, Cultist Simulator is definitely an interesting game to play but will take many hours of frustration before you get to a point where you can enjoy it.