23 November 2019
Where Gods (and noobs) fear to tread
The heavens roar and beings of unimaginable power clash in a bid to determine the fate of the cosmos. Primal deities face off against one another in the heavens. Legendary warriors do battle with twisted beasts. Temples to mad gods ring with prayers wrenched from harsh, guttural throats. This is Glorantha, the new strategy game from Peterson Games, creators of Cthulhu Wars.
Mechanically speaking, Glorantha is a direct sequel to the Cthulhu Wars series, recreating the same gameplay system with a few tweaks here and there. The game essentially revolves around scoring victory points whilst accumulating and spending power to do so. Power is most commonly used to do one of four things; creating or upgrading buildings, summoning units, moving said units or engaging in battle against opponents. Each round is broken down into a number of phases, each of which comes with sub-systems of varying complexity. The game is highly asymmetrical, and understanding how your faction works is absolutely crucial to victory. However, Glorantha features a number of passive mechanics (such as ensuring that the player with the least amount of power each round isn’t left too far in the dust) that prevents any one player from steamrolling the others, such that even by the late game things can still prove tense.
One big missed opportunity is the lack of story. Make no bones about it; Glorantha is a game that’s gone out of its way to look pretty, with lovingly rendered artwork and a host of trophysized miniatures ranging from mighty thunder gods to macabre monstrosities that wouldn’t look out of place in Kingdom Death (minus the gratuitous nudity). But the problem with this is that whilst the striking imagery speaks of a rich background lore, nowhere in the 124 page rulebook are players given an insight into it. That’s not to say that no lore exists. In fact, it’s quite the contrary the book even informs players that the setting has been around since 1975 and has an extensive list of books, art and games to its name. The problem is that considered as boxed experience in and of itself, new players are given no foothold into this world, and as such have no context for the action unfolding on the tabletop. This is something that would be fine for Cthulhu Wars since Lovecraft’s mythos is pretty much common knowledge these days, but in this case the absence of fluff only underscores the fact that Glorantha is essentially a game for those already part of the club.
This in a nutshell is the core criticism of the game, if criticism it can be called. Glorantha is the kind of game that could only ever exist thanks to crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter. It’s a game made for enthusiasts by enthusiasts, for the type of player who’s used to meaty games like this, who already has an established gaming group and who’s nearly certainly played Cthulhu Wars. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with giving players more of what they want per se, it comes with the inevitable downside that new players who might otherwise have approached the game are going to feel left out in the cold and give a pass. This is a shame, because the level of tactical depth, careful resource management and need for diplomacy amongst players makes for an experience that’s absolutely capable of sucking them in across multiple playthroughs.
PLAY IT? YES
Designer: Sandy Peterson
Artist: Rich Fleider
This review originally appeared in the December 2019 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.