One wonders if cultists really know what they’re doing. Summoning monstrosities is a dangerous job, and you need to make sure you have skilled people doing everything just right.
If Fhtagn! has taught me anything, it’s that cultists just kinda wing it and hope for the best.
Many thanks to Design Imps for the review code.
LOVECRAFT, BABY LOVECRAFT
Upon choosing your cult, you are thrown into the action on the verge of summoning your chosen ancient monstrosity – either the Great Dreamer (Cthulhu) or the All-Mother (Shub-Niggurath). Over the course of six turns, which represent an unclear period of in-game time, you will prepare yourself for the ritual and choose the role that best suits your skillset. Be warned though, the All- Mother requires a sacrifice, so pray to Azathoth that doesn’t end up as your role!
Much like Cultist Simulator (which I reviewed recently), Fhtagn! is primarily a narrative experience coupled with some strategic elements. Unlike the former game however, this game is far less intimidating and much easier to deal with as a casual experience. Despite a completely overwhelming tutorial blurb that only really makes sense once you know what you’re doing, the gameplay is actually surprisingly straightforward to pick up.
After choosing your avatar, you will be greeted with a lively cartoonish world map containing various locations. Each location provides a choice of two tasks that you can choose to undertake: for example, the Asylum allows you to experiment on patients, or to check yourself in as one. Each option can provide you with various skills that you may need for the role you wish to play in the ritual, and the key skills you can obtain are indicated by the coloured diamonds above each task. Using our previous example, both tasks can raise your knowledge skill; however choosing to become a patient will see you gain an increase in your sanity, whereas experimenting on others will result in you losing it.
Once you choose an option, a random story event will occur. These are short, but humourous and well-written. These events will then present you with a choice, which then branches out into a further story event. Some of these choices have skill checks, and passing or failing them will also lead you down an alternate path. There are many different story events that can occur for a given task, meaning that you can theoretically spend all of your turns doing the same task and everything will be different.
As touched upon earlier, the whole point of these tasks is to build up a specific skillset for the role you wish to play. Role descriptions are viewable at any time, and the descriptions for each will provide clues as to what requirements you need to succeed. Bear in mind that things might not necessarily turn out your way, so it’s also good to have a backup plan just in case things start going south. After the six turns are up, the ritual will begin and you have to select your role. If you meet the requirements, things will go swimmingly and the end of the world will come about! Good job! If you don’t, however, things will go wrong resulting in an embarrassing cock-up. The failure blurb also contains hints as to what went wrong, so it’s good to pay attention in order to find out why you failed. One of my losses was due to lack of money, and the story described how my character knocked together a replica of an artifact that she was unable. At that point it was clear that I needed more moolah in order to secure that particular victory. These endgame hints are written well enough as to be clear without being overly explicit. They’re also entertaining enough for you not to feel too bothered about any kind of loss – which is also helped by the game’s short running length.
Once the game ends, you unlock points that can be spent on role cards or in-game events, revealing the skill requirements needed. They’re completely optional and are in there for those who need things spelled out a little more for them. I would recommend turning them off as it can make things a little too easy, but they’re certainly good for newcomers who want to secure an initial victory or too while they get the hang of things.
TRUST ME, I’M A CULTIST
Despite how it sounds, the game is actually designed as a multiplayer co-operative experience for up to four players. It’s not online, so you’ll need friends to hand for couch co-op. Not ideal during a global pandemic, but it is what it is. Players take turns to choose the task they wish to undertake for that turn. Doing so will lock that location out for the remainder of the turn, so there’s an element of teamwork involved as you decide how you want to play and where you want to go. Success depends on all cultists achieving their role’s requirements, so working together is a necessity.
The advanced cult is where things get trickier. Not only are there alternative roles to choose from, but the All-Mother demands a sacrifice for the ritual – meaning that you will need to vote on who gets the chop before the ceremony starts. Succeeding or Failing events will determine how many voting points you have available, which can mean the difference between being ‘it’ or passing it to some other poor sod. For the unlucky soul designated as the sacrifice, they’ll be able to choose from a separate set of cards in an attempt to change their fate. It’s a nice twist that makes the co-operative experience slightly more competitive, and even the solo player will be able to experience the sacrifice mechanics with AI team-mates. You don’t need to watch them play out their turns, but you do get to see how many points they’ve earned and who they vote for.
This multiplayer element brings me to the frustrating thing about the game: how it sells itself. I didn’t buy this game precisely because it sells itself as a couch co-op experience. Imagine my surprise as I delved into my review copy as a solo player and realised that the game is an absolute blast regardless. For fans of Lovecraft who are interested in a laid back choose-your-own-adventure narrative experience, this is an absolute must buy. I’m sure the game is a lot more fun sat with a group of friends, but given the asking price and the great writing, it is absolutely not essential for a good time. It’s a shame that the Switch version doesn’t have any achievements to help extend the gameplay experience for friendless gamers like myself!
Honestly, I feel like Design Imps have shot themselves in the foot by selling this as a couch co-op experience – especially given the current climate. With a charming visual style, upbeat music (that admittedly wears thin after a while), and wonderful writing, there’s a lot of fun to be had for the solo player. Given the low asking price, if you are after a lighthearted Lovecraftian narrative romp, you can’t go wrong with Fhtagn!