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Reviews - Building an Elder God
by P.J. Cole-Regis

Building an Elder God

Building an Elder God

Published by Signal Fire Studios (2012)
Designed by Jamie Chambers
Ages 6+
Time: 15-30 minutes
Players: 2-5
Contents: 104 Tentacle Cards, 10 Necronomicon Tokens, 5 Body Cards, 5 Mouth Cards, 5 Banishment Cards (optional)

As cultists following the Great Old Ones, you and your peers are attempting to summon an ancient horror back into the world of mortals. However these cosmic elder gods apparently never insist the values of mutual altruism to their followers. Players try to outdo one another's tentacle construct, blasting away at each other's abominations via double-barrel shotguns all the while.

Each player begins with a body – more like stump, really – of their Elder God. They begin with a hand of five cards and a couple of Necronomicon tokens. Every turn a player draws a card from the common draw pile and plays one from his hand. Each card represents a segment of the tentacle beast that connects with the body and one another to create a serpentine monstrosity. These sections can be horizontal, vertical, splitting, turning, writhing extensions, or eye stalks that end divergent growth. Once a player achieves a certain size of monster from the body stump onwards (this size depends on the number of opponents, i.e. 15 for 2 player, 12 for 3 player, etc.), that player caps the horror with a grotesque mouth and is declared the victor.

The real challenge comes from other players denying you this. Along with the segment cards are blasted segment cards that you can place over other people's monster segments, though the segments must match – if I have a blasted horizontal segment, I must play it over your horizontal segment and not the vertical one. When a section of your horror between body and mouth is damaged, the creature cannot be considered complete. You can heal your monster by placing another segment over the blasted section that matches the two below, or you can use up one of your precious Necronomicon tokens to heal and immunize that section from further accosting. Some segments glowing purple are inherently immune to tampering. All divergent tentacles must also be completed with an eye stalk before the primary tentacle is capped by the horrific maw.

As an optional rule, banishment cards with the elder symbol can be shuffled into the deck that makes up the common draw pile. These cards can be used to banish (read: discard) X number of segments from everyone's creature, including your own.

Components and Packaging
The box is solid and excellent, both sturdy with good minimalistic artwork and a great representation of the game on the back. The rules pamphlet is four double-sided pages and fairly unremarkable, black and white with no gloss. The cards themselves are thicker than most but thinner than a game tile. The artwork on the cards is also somewhat unremarkable, reminiscent of old 90's CGI. More than anything else, the overall quality of the material components inside the box is decent but the actual aesthetic of the content leaves a cultist wanting.

While the "take that" mechanic of breaking other people's monsters can be quite gratifying, I can see how that interaction can become frustrating towards the end when Necronomicons are out and the card options become increasingly limited. The interaction is less about passive denial on another's engine and more about breaking their hard-earned results and setting them back – this is exacerbated by the fact that the game runs long for the fairly straightforward decisions a player makes on his or her turn.

In the end it comes down to waiting to draw the card you need and every shotgun blast throws you back yet again into the queue of waiting longer for more of the right cards. This could be alleviated if the rectangular cards (only to be played portrait and not landscape) were square tiles that could be oriented in four different positions instead of the limit of two options a portrait-oriented card offers. Smaller squares would also take up less room as Building an Elder God requires a good amount of space already for each participating player to adequately cultivate their creature.

As a fan of Cthulhu and Lovecraftian horrors, the theme is great – I love playing any game with tentacles, shotguns, ancient runes, and evil books. However, the game play ran too long for what the game is, and what starts with thematic fun can in the end turn into an exercise in tedium at best and frustration at worst. House rules shortening the necessary segments and increasing Necronomicon token counts for each player could address this issue. This is especially recommended when utilizing the optional elder sign banishment cards which increase play time dramatically.  


Related OgreCave podcasts:

OgreCave GNU - KublaCon 2012 (Signal Fire Studios) - Jamie Chambers on Building an Elder God, Metamorphosis Alpha RPG, Pantheon and the twisted children’s book The Very Hungry Cthulhupiller. (recorded at KublaCon 2012)

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