A Labor Of Love: Thoughts on “Cults And Daggers”

On February 14th, 2015, game developer Rod Humble took to the internet to ask you not to play his game.

“Hey there! Thank you for considering buying my game. Please let me take a moment to try and talk you out of it!” he said. “Cults and Daggers is a niche strategy game I made by myself about a subject I am interested in. It very clearly is not for everyone, heck it is not even for all turn based strategy gamers.”

It was a Valentine’s Day gesture on par with that time your girlfriend beat the snot out of your ex-girlfriend because “ain’t no one gonna break up with my man.”

It was also incredibly fair. Fair on a level that you won’t often see from game developers in this day and age.

And that is because Cults And Daggers is all about love.

The Electric Slide has been going on for millennia...

The Electric Slide has been going on for millennia…

Based on the vague, religious age between the death of the Buddha and the birth of Jesus Christ, Cults And Daggers covers a time that, frankly, just isn’t focused upon by as many strategy games as you’d expect. It’s a niche product of the highest degree: a game meant to entice a small population of micromanaging, theosophy-loving old-school gamer nerds who aren’t content with the “religion equals happiness” dynamic of Civilization and various other world-building games.

In Cults And Daggers, you play the founder of an ancient cult, and must dance your old-world marionettes through the vicious regions of a pagan landscape, spreading the good word of your fictional god as you go. Will you murder and manipulate your way to the top, overtaking the popularity of Jesus of Nazareth before he even winks into existence? Or will your prophecies fade into obscurity, lost to the archaeological texts of tomorrow?

This is not a game for everyone. And, frankly, if your strategy experience goes no further than the camp of “Sid Meiers is pretty much flawless” then I’d recommend you stay away. No–this game is for the older sort. Honestly, it reminds me most of the Play-By-Mail games of old.

That’s right, you young punks: Play-By-Mail. Not Play-By-Email (although Play-By-Email games are largely dead as well, aren’t they?). There was indeed a time that you could play a game of chess or Diplomacy or any number of made up games through that archaic institution known as the Post Office. You received your weekly or monthly package, observed the movements of those you were playing against, marked down your own choices just so, and mailed it back to an anonymous Game Master who calculated, adjusted, and then sent out the latest situation to you afterward.

It was a primitive time.

But it was also a time that you could really absorb a game–a time that you could take your… well… Time.

Cults And Daggers is not a slick game. It is not an easy game to whirl your time away within. It is thoughtful, slow, laborious, and very, very specific to its audience. It is a labor of love meant for a very niche audience, just as Humble warned us it would be.

And that’s why I think it’s worth looking into.

Because if you have read anything I’ve said thus far with any level of intrigue or excitement, then Mr. Humble has made this game for you. Do yourself a favor and give it a shot. If slowly, deliberately devouring the minds of your followers through intrigue, malice, and fanaticism holds no interest to you, then this is not for you. If you require speedy rewards and flashy cut scenes–stay the hell away.

If none of what I’ve said interests you, then go ahead and ignore Cults And Daggers, and do it guilt free. After all: Rod Humble himself encouraged you to leave it alone.

But if you’re interested in the slow, methodical burn of strategy games of times gone by, you could do worse than give this one a look.

2 thoughts on “A Labor Of Love: Thoughts on “Cults And Daggers”

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