Tery Noseworthy: Cthulhu Wars Duel

DESIGNER:  Sandy Petersen

PUBLISHER: Petersen Games


AGES: 8 and up

TIME:  20 – 30 minutes

TIMES PLAYED: 3, with a review copy I was given

Hey wait, this is where I live!

Cthulhu Wars Duel is a 2 player game based on the game Cthulhu Wars that came out in 2015. If you’ve seen Cthulhu Wars you know it is a massive game, with a huge number of plastic figurines and a large board.  Could a smaller, redesigned version of the game for 2 players, with a smaller map and no minis keep the same feel?

Black Goat and minions

Inside the much smaller box you find a map as well as cardboard cutouts and plastic stands for two factions – Great Chthulhu and the Black Goat as well as their respective minions. Both factions have six acolyte cultists; Great Cthulhu also has four Deep Ones, two Shoggoth and two Starspawn while the Black Goat has four Fungi from Yuggoth, three Dark Young and two Ghouls. Each player also has a Doom token and a set of spells

There is a supply of gates and Elder Sign trophies as well as markers for the Ritual of Annihilation track and Decay, and ten D6s.

Each player starts with zero Doom, and the Ritual of Annihilation track starts at five, the lowest level. The Elder Sign Trophies are placed face down on the table or in a cup/bag (not provided).

Each player puts a gate on the space on the map that has their glyph;  they also place all of their Acolyte Cultists on that space, with one on top of the gate.

Great Cthulhu is always the start player.

The game starts with the action phase. The active player chooses an action and takes it, then the other player does, and then lather, rinse and repeat.  However, it costs you power to take actions. You start the game with eight power. When you take an action you deduct that much power from your power track and if you have power left on your turn you must take an action.  If you don’t have power left, you move the decay marker one space and end your turn. The other player now has to pay extra power equal to the amount of decay before they can take an action.  

What are these actions? 

Well, for one power you can:

  • Place one Cultist in an area on the board where you have another piece. Yes, all of your Acolyte Cultists start on the board, but they won’t all stay there for long because you can
  • Capture an opposing Cultist in an area where you have a monster or Great Old One and the opponent only has Cultists. Put that Cultist on your player board for now.
  • Move a unit into an adjacent area. You can move multiple units, but you have to pay one power per unit, and you can move each unit only once per turn.
  • Start a battle in an area where both you and your opponent are present, and you have at least one piece with a combat ability/More on how battles work later.

For more power you can:

  • Put a new gate on the board in a spot where you there is no gate AND you have a Cultist for three power
  • Summon a monster to a spot where you control a gate for the amount of power listed on your player board.
  • Awaken your Great Old One for the cost listed on your board, following the steps listed.

You also have two unlimited actions available to you at any time during your turn. 

– You can claim an unclaimed gate in an area where you have a Cultist or abandon a gate if you wanted to have that Cultist available to move elsewhere.

– You can perform an Unlimited Battle once you have six spellbooks.

What’s this about spellbooks? Well, on your player board you have six spell book spaces and a deck of spellbooks specific to your faction. When you meet the criteria that is printed on the board (having X number of units on the board, having your Great Old One awakened, for example) you can immediately play a spell of your choice. Spells can adjust a current action, give you an additional action to  choose from or provide an effect.

Let’s get ready to rumble. . . .

Let’s take a look at how battles work. 

First, you look at any spellbooks you have in play to see if you have a pre-battle ability.  Each player does this in player order.  

The next step is to calculate combat. Each player rolls the combat value of all of their pieces in that area (the combat values are listed on your player board). So, if my combat value is five, I would roll five dice. 

Any sixes that are rolled are kills, and any fours and fives are pains. Any other results are ignored.

Kills are evaluated first. The player whose pieces are being targeted decides who to remove if there is a choice and those pieces are removed from the board. Pains are evaluated second; those pieces that were pained must retreat to an adjacent space that does not contain enemy units; if this is not possible you must eliminate one piece and the rest remain where they are.

You earn Doom equal to the combat value of any opponent’s piece that you eliminate or kill; this Doom is tracked immediately on the Doom track.

If either player has all six spellbooks in play this unlocks Unlimited Battle and a player can choose to do an Unlimited Battle action for one power and do one battle in as many areas as they like.

The next phase is the Gather Power phase. The Decay marker is reset to zero, and players determine how much power they will have for the next round of actions. You earn the following:

  • One power per active Cultist
  • Two power for each gate you control
  • One power for each abandoned gate on the board
  • One power for each captured Cultist (who is then returned to their owner)
  • Any power tied to a spellbook or special ability.

Next up is the Doom phase, which is optional. Beginning with the start player, each player can choose to spend power equal to the value of the Annihilation Ritual Marker to earn 1 Doom per Controlled Gate and 1 Elder Sign token for your Great Old One. If a player chooses to do this the Annihilation Ritual Marker is moved up one space.

The game ends when one player reaches 30 or more Doom. That’s not as straightforward as it sounds though. Remember the Elder Sign tokens I mentioned earlier? Those are drawn blindly for a few things throughout the game and each token has a value of one, two or three Doom points. Those are kept face down, so only the player who drew them knows their value. At the point that they realize the value puts them past 30 they reveal them and the game ends.  Both players reveal all their Elder Sign tokens and the player with the most Doom wins the game.  The game could also end if the Ritual of Annihilation track gets to the last space; the player with the most Doom would still win, even if no one had reached 30 yet.


I love it. This game packs a ton of strategy into a 20 – 30 minute package. While it does seem that each Great Old One included in the base game has a path they should take to win, there are a lot of decisions to be made along the way that can affect the outcome. Trying to get your spellbooks in play is key, but what spellbook do you play when for maximum effect?  Should you bring all your minions on the board, or just go straight for the Old One? How much territory do you need to control first?  There is a lot to think about, and a wrong move could ruin your chances, but your opponent’s play affects what ou need to do, too.

The power track is also interesting; if you spend your power to do something big you make things a lot more expensive for your opponent, but is having limited actions worth it? I love the fact that there is so much to consider and balance, but that it all happens so quickly. It’s a quick snack with the staying power of a long meal.

I have only played the original once, so I don’t know a lot about how much it differs in play. The rules do devote 2 pages to this, but it seems most of the rules are the same and if you’re familiar with the original you could be up and running in minutes.

The box is a lot smaller, which is great for those of us who struggle with storage space for games. It is a sturdy, well made box that is very attractive; the art is very nice.

The rule book is very thick, but don’t let that deter you – the actual rules are mostly clear and very straightforward; there is some flavor text as well as lots of clarifying examples.  If you’re already familiar with Cthulhu Wars you really only need to read one small section. For the rest of us, read the examples and the summary on the back of the rules and you’ll be good. There is also a summary of the phases of the game on the back.   Our first game took an hour or so by the time we figured out what we were doing, but subsequent games have been between 20 and 30 minutes.

The components are well-made. The cardboard player markers, while certainly not as cool as the minis included in the original game, are well-made and attractive. My only quibble is with some of the lesser minions, whose shapes could maybe have been a little more different to distinguish them, but it is minor.  Also, the rules in some editions refer to a first player marker, which does not exist. You don’t need a first player marker, so there is zero problem other than the fact that it says there is one. 

The board is cool.  One thing to keep in mind is that the bodies of water on the edges of the map count as being the same area, even though they physically aren’t. There are symbols to help with that, so it’s easy enough to remember.  

The player board is nice because much of the information you need is right there.

The rules mention future expansion plans,  which I look forward to. The game is really fun as is, but I can see that it could start to feel repetitive after several plays with the same people and same characters. It would be interesting to see different combinations of Great Old Ones.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it! Tery
  • I like it. 
  • Neutral.
  • Not for me…

About Tery Noseworthy

Boardgamer. Baker. Writer. Disc Golfer. Celtics Fan.
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2 Responses to Tery Noseworthy: Cthulhu Wars Duel

  1. Seana says:

    Thanks, Tery. I’ve been eyeing this game for a while now. I’d only played the original game once, too. I enjoyed it, but I don’t own it. Looks like I’ll have to pick this one up!

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