Game Basics

Object of the Game

At the end of the game, the player who has placed all 6 of their Spellbooks on their Faction Card and has the highest Doom on the Doom Track will be declared the winner. See Victory: Ending and winning the game for more details.

Phases of Play

Cthulhu Wars is played out in four distinct Phases:

  1. Action Phase
  2. Gather Power Phase
  3. Determine First Player Phase
  4. Doom Phase

Play begins with the Action Phase and will proceed through each Phase as listed above, returning to Phase 1 after Phase 4. This cycle will continue until the end of the game is triggered (see Victory: Ending and Winning the Game here for more details). A typical game of Cthulhu Wars will take approximately four to six cycles through these four Phases.

The Map

The Map is divided into Areas. Each Area is printed with its name and represents a single part of the world and is defined as either ocean or land. On the Earth Map, ocean Areas consist of the North Pacific, South Pacific, North Atlantic, South Atlantic, Indian Ocean, and Arctic Ocean. All other Areas (including Antarctica) are counted as land. For most game purposes, there are no differences between ocean and land. Any Units can freely Move between land and ocean, perform Actions in either type of Area, etc. However, abilities may occasionally distinguish between ocean and land (notably Great Cthulhu’s Y’ha Nthlei and Submerge). In certain expansion maps, the terms ‘sea’ and ‘ocean’ may be used interchangeably. In game terms, seas and oceans are identical—any ability or text referencing one is read to include the other, as well. Note that the Areas on the far right of the Map connect directly to those on the far left because the Earth is round. For example, you can Move a Unit from the Indian Ocean directly to the South Pacific.

Note that the North Atlantic is directly adjacent to the North Pacific!

Units and Faction Pool

Each player has a Pool, in which they keep Spellbooks and plastic figures (Units) of their player color that are not currently in play. (Yellow Sign’s Desecration Markers are also part of its Pool.) Players’ Pools should be set up near their Faction Cards.

Each Faction has 3 categories of Units: Cultists, Monsters, and Great Old Ones. In the Core Game, the only type of Cultist is an Acolyte Cultist; every Faction has exactly 6 of them. Each Faction has more than one type of Monster, and each of these has different characteristics. No two Factions share the same type of Monster. Great Old Ones are individual beings, and thus every single Great Old One has a unique name; no two are the same.

The number of Units available to you is limited. For instance, you can never have more than 6 Acolyte Cultists in play, nor, for instance, can Great Cthulhu have more than 4 Deep Ones. During play, if all of your units of a particular type have been placed onto the Map, you cannot place another until one has been returned to your Pool.

Units in your Pool are not considered to be in play, and vice versa. A Unit can be removed from play and returned to your Pool by being Killed during a Battle, or by otherwise being Eliminated. Eliminations can result from Actions, abilities, or as part of Battle.


Each player starts the game with a Controlled Gate, meaning that one of their Acolyte Cultists has been placed atop that Gate, identifying its Controller. A Gate can never have more than a single Cultist on top of it. Thus, a particular Gate may only ever be Controlled by a single Faction. Gates can also be Abandoned, as indicated by the lack of a Cultist on top. Monsters and Great Old Ones cannot Control Gates, and they may never be placed on top of them (with the exception of Black Goat’s Dark Young, once their Red Sign Spellbook is in play).

More Gates will be Created throughout the course of the game, and no Area can ever hold more than a single Gate. Gates are highly valuable, as they provide both Power (which enables you to perform Actions) and Doom (which enables you to win the game).

Controlled Gate with Controlling Cultist.

Abandoned Gate without a Controlling Cultist.

Special Abilities and Spellbooks

Sources of Special Abilities

Each Faction in Cthulhu Wars is strikingly different, largely due to their unique abilities. These are derived from three sources:

  1. Unique Faction abilities, found on Faction Cards and available from the start of the game
  2. Spellbooks, which are unique to each Faction and become available during play
  3. Each Great Old One has its own unique ability, available while that Great Old One is in play and described on each Faction Card

Types of Special Abilities

Every Special Ability belongs to a category that determines when that ability takes effect.

There are five basic types of Special Abilities:

  1. Actions: These are abilities you can use during the Action Phase (detailed here).
  2. Battle: These take effect only during a Battle (detailed here).
  3. Gather Power Phase: These abilities take effect in each Gather Power Phase (detailed here).
  4. Doom Phase: These abilities take effect in each Doom Phase (detailed here).
  5. Ongoing: These abilities can be used to benefit your Faction at any time.

The use of all Special Abilities is considered optional, unless designated as mandatory in the description. This means that at the moment you would use the ability, or when the ability’s effect would do something (including an Ongoing ability), you may choose for the effect to not take place. Because Special Abilities are intended to help your Faction win, it is usually better to use them at every opportunity. However, you may occasionally encounter a circumstance in which you may not want an ability to take effect. Some abilities are not optional, and they must take effect at the appropriate time. In such a case, this would be made clear in the text of the ability.

Target Chooses Unit

If an ability targets an enemy’s Unit, the victim typically selects which of his Units is targeted by that ability. (There are some rare exceptions, which are stated in the text of the ability.) If the ability does not specify who chooses the Unit to be affected, then the choice belongs to the Unit’s owner.

Earning Spellbooks

Earning Spellbooks is similar to earning achievements in video games. When you fulfill one of the requirements written on your Faction Card, you must cover that requirement with a Spellbook from your Pool. No particular Spellbook is ever tied to any particular requirement; you may choose any Spellbook to cover any slot. Spellbooks may never be lost, even if their requirements are no longer true—once earned, Spellbooks remain on your Faction Card and may be used throughout the game.

It is possible to earn more than one Spellbook at a time, as long as all requirements are met at that time. However, there are some Spellbooks that can only be earned simultaneously if performed in a specified way. In such a case, this will be explained on the Faction Card (see the Faction Cards for Great Cthulhu and Crawling Chaos for examples).

Important Note:
If you gain a Spellbook as part of, or during, a Battle (for example, Great Cthulhu’s requirement that demands a Devour and/or Kill in Battle), you do not receiv at Spellbook until the Battle has been fully resolved.

Black Goat has a requirement which states “Have Units in 4 Areas.” As soon this requirement is met, Black Goat gains a Spellbook and places it over that slot on her Faction Card. Even if on the very next turn someone drives Units into three or fewer Areas, Black Goat retains the relevant Spellbook for the rest of the game.

Each individual Spellbook enhances your Faction significantly, and therefore a major part of your game strategy is tied to h order you obtain your Spellbooks.

Elder Sign Trophies

Elder Sign Trophies symbolize the shattering of the bonds that once held the Great Old Ones in check. Throughout most of the text, these will simply be referred to as “Elder Signs.”

Whenever you earn an Elder Sign, take an Elder Sign token from the Cloth Bag and (without revealing it to other players), place it face down by your Faction Card. You may freely examine your own Elder Sign tokens, each of which is marked with a number 1, 2, or 3. These numbers indicate that Elder Sign’s value in Doom. There are 18 Elder Signs worth 1 Doom, 12 worth 2, and 6 worth 3 each.

While these numbers indicate the Elder Signs’ Doom values, this Doom is not immediately marked on the Doom Track. Instead, it is up to players to decide when to gain Doom for their Elder Signs. To do so, players must reveal their Elder Sign(s) and then advance their Doom markers an appropriate number of spaces along the Doom Track.

This may be done at any time: during any of the four Phases of play, or even at the very end of the game. It is typical for most Elder Signs to remain unrevealed until the end of the game, thus concealing each player’s true Doom.

When revealing an Elder Sign to gain Doom, do not place that Elder Sign back into the Cloth Bag. Place it back into the box; it is gone and may never be redrawn.

In the unlikely event that all Elder Signs have been earned and a new Elder Sign is to be drawn, simply give that player 1 Doom instead; this would not be kept secret.

Faction Cards

Your Faction Card contains a great deal of information.

  1. Faction Name
  2. Faction Portrait: A handy spot in which to place any Cultists you have Captured.
  3. Power Track: This is where you will keep track of your available Power throughout the game.
  4. Unique Ability: This describes a Faction’s unique ability, which is available throughout the game.
  5. Set Up Information and Faction Glyph
  6. Cultist and Monster Information: Provides information on your Cultists and Monsters, including their name, silhouette, Cost, and Combat, plus any notes. Next to each Unit’s name is a number indicating how many of that Unit are available in your Pool.
  7. Great Old One Information: Shows your Great Old One’s silhouette, Cost, and Combat rating, plus notes. All Great Old Ones have extensive notes that describe how to Awaken that Great Old One, provide its Combat formula (if any), and describe its special ability.
  8. Spellbook Requirements: Each of these spaces describes the requirements which must be met in order to place a Spellbook in that particular slot.