Mythos Mayhem: A Foul Wind Blows

Hello again, fellow Cultists, and welcome back to Mythos Mayhem, our series of articles breaking down strategies and gameplay in Petersen Games’ Cthulhu Wars! Now that we’ve talked about the gameplay basics and general strategies, let’s get down to the heart of the game – the factions. As an asymmetrical strategy game, each of Cthulhu Wars factions has its own unique units, Spellbooks, objectives, and strategies for world domination, and one of the most distinctive are the frozen forces of Windwalker – the brutally efficient beasts in service to Ithaqua, the ravenous, cruel spirit of the North Wind.

THE WINDWALKER FACTION
Ithaqua and his minions are an interesting combination of combat-savvy, but “slow to grow” units who start off sluggishly but snowball (haha) into an unstoppable juggernaut in the late game. On the surface, the Windwalker faction looks a lot like Cthulhu, but it has to sort of “thaw out” in the early and mid-game before coming an overwhelming torrent by the end. While this is quite different from how most other factions play in Cthulhu Wars, Windwalker is often considered by many seasoned players to be the game’s most powerful, thanks to its many combos, cascading Power and combat efficiencies, and ruthless Spellbooks that allow you to seize the game by the throat.

Faction Ability
Windwalker’s faction ability, Hibernate, is perhaps the most notorious and powerful in Cthulhu Wars. It allows you to voluntarily end your turn as an action, storing your remaining Power and gaining 1 additional Power per enemy Great Old One (to a maximum of your remaining Power) in the following turn.

On its face, Hibernate solves the age-old problem of what you do with that extra 1-2 Power between turns…but more importantly, it provides the faction with a vital tool for getting Spellbooks, and setting up one or two huge turns to crush everyone in its way. It also emphasizes the core undercurrent of the Windwalker faction; slightly-delayed gratification in exchange for ruthless advantage when you need it most.

Windwalker’s Units
The minions of the Windwalker are second only to Cthulhu’s in terms of raw combat efficacy – and late in the game, are even better. Like Yellow Sign, the faction also sports two Great Old Ones, both of which are pretty good in a fight, giving them extra punch that Hastur’s bunch decidedly lacks.

01-WW-Lineup

Monsters

  • Wendigo (Cost: 1; Combat 1): The basic WW critter/deranged muppet is a good basic combat monster on its own, but becomes really useful later in the game thanks to two Wendigo-oriented Spellbooks (rather than the usual one).
  • Gnoph-Keh (Cost: Special; Combat 3): Gnoph-Keh (pronounced “Noff Kay”) are the first critter in the game with a variable cost – Power equal to the number of Gnoph-Keh in your pool – which creates an dynamic of them getting cheaper the more you invest in them. Even at a cost of 4 Power for your first one, however, they are a good investment, since their 3 Combat dice are equal to other factions’ most powerful Monsters…and Windwalker has more of them.

Great Old Ones

  • Rhan-Tegoth (Cost: 6; Combat 3): Windwalker’s lesser GOO is still an impressive and essential piece in the WW early game. Rhan can be Awakened in either Windwalker starting Area, regardless of whether or not it has a Gate, which allows for all sorts of dirty tricks (more on that later). Additionally, Rhan’s Eternal ability allows you to shrug off a Pain or Kill inflicted on it for 1 Power; this not only makes it exceptionally tough to kill, but allows you to use Rhan to shield other companion units from the worst Battle results for a minimal cost.
  • Ithaqua (Cost: 6; Combat equal to half opponent’s Doom, rounded up): The North Wind is a savage combatant who becomes the singular most powerful GOO in Cthulhu Wars in the late game (against an opponent with 29 Doom, Ithaqua alone throws 15 dice in Battle!). Getting him into play is more costly just paying Power, since he also destroys the Gate through which he exits; however, you do not have to control that Gate to summon him.Ithaqua’s Ferox ability is useful if not thrilling, preventing your Cultists from being captured while he is in play. What it does do is free you from having to babysit your Gates – or at least, force opponents to Battle your Cultists and risk triggering your Cannibalism Spellbook (see below).

WINDWALKER’S SPELLBOOKS
The faction’s Spellbook requirements are a mixed bag of the standard Awakening ones and “slow boil” conditions that require or actually encourage you to pick up a number of Spellbooks late in the game:

  • A Gate exists in the Area marked with the Windwalker Glyph in which you did not start
  • You are the starting player
  • Another Faction has six Faction Spellbooks
  • Take this Spellbook at any time. For each enemy player with six Faction Spellbooks, gain 1 Elder Sign
  • Awaken Rhan Tegoth
  • Awaken Ithaqua

In practice, you can only get 4 of these Spellobooks without other players being close to game’s end (the remaining which trigger on opponents having 6 Spellbooks are a matter of timing). But Windwalker’s Spellbooks balance out the fact they take a long time to get by providing you tremendous Power discounts in return, which really helps your army snowball seemingly out of nowhere. From making movement amazingly cheap to giving you free units to making Rituals of Annihilation an “every turn” possibility, Windwalker has tons of options for quickly ending its opponents – and the game – with brutal efficiency and ease.

Arctic Wind (Ongoing)
The faction’s only Ithaqua-dependent Spellbook is simple but game-changing. Arctic Wind allows any models sharing Ithaqua’s Area to move along with him at no cost. Not only does this give Ithaqua unmatched ability to move massive armies and encourage him to have a huge bodyguard, it also gives him the most cost-efficient movement in the entire game.

Considering that the most costly proposition in attacking opponents in Cthulhu Wars is moving your Units into position, this Spellbook presents an unparalleled Power discount and hypercharges Windwalker’s ability to go on offense. It’s not out beyond reason to think that Ithaqua using Arctic Wind along with a handful of Monsters could engage in 5 to 10 Battles – the number most factions get into over the course of a game – in a single turn. There are few factions that can stand up to such an onslaught, allowing Windwalker to single-handedly unseat the leading (and perhaps, second-highest-scoring) player at will.

02-Arctic-Wind

Berserkergang (Ongoing)
The faction’s Gnoph-Keh Spellbook is what I call the “murder-suicide Spellbook,” forcing an opponent to Eliminate one monster or cultist for each Gnoph-Keh killed in a Battle. Considering these critters throw 3 Combat dice each, there’s a pretty good chance they’ll contribute plenty of damage before they go out, and Berserkergang just piles on the damage. The Spellbook has some crucial tactical elements that may not immediately jump out at you.

The primary trait to keep in mind with Berserkergang is the cost-benefit ratio. Since Gnoph-Keh’s cost is equal to the number in your pool, and so get cheaper to replace the more you have in play, this Spellbook can be very useful in the mid- to late game for eliminating enemy units for very low cost. Effectively paying 1-2 Power (to replace the G-K when you have 2-3 in play) and an action (to summon the G-K again) is a steal, particularly when doing so will break an opponent’s attack or mess with their plans.

03-Berserkergang

The second important aspect is timing. Berserkergang works like a post-Post-Battle Spellbook, giving you the ability to see a Battle play out before you choose whether to use it (by choosing one of your Gnoph-Keh to die). Say one of your Gates is being attacked by Cthulhu, a Star-Spawn with Regenerate and a Cultist, and you manage to inflict 2 Kills, which will either take out just the Star Spawn or the Cultist and “half” the Star-Spawn; in this case, using the Gnoph-Keh to finish off that Culist or Star-Spawn will create a situation where Cthulhu is both without a bodyguard to absorb Kills and unable to take your Gate. Pretty sweet!

The final aspect to consider with the book is wording. Berserkergang Eliminates, rather than Kills, the enemy monster or cultist, which will disrupt Spellbooks relying on Kills.

Perhaps more importantly, because this is an ongoing Spellbook rather than a Post-Battle Spellbook, its effects occur in the phase when your Gnoph-Keh are killed – while generally that will only matter during the main Battle phase, it’s worth keeping in mind for other corner-case situations.

Cannibalism (Post-Battle )
This Spellbook is a cousin to Black Goat’s Necrophagy, allowing you to spawn a Wendigo or Acolyte in an Area in which an enemy unit was killed. Like Necrophagy, Cannibalism is most useful during fights between other players, since it gives you free units out of turn, lets you further complicate battles, and sets you up for attacks on vulnerable Areas (particularly after a bloody fight).

So which unit should you spawn, and when? While the answer depends in large part on what units are in your pool, there are some favorable moments. When a Battle leaves an Area with only a Cultist controlling a Gate, or with a key unit stranded far from other friendly units, I usually take a Wendigo to set up a Capture on the cultist or an attack on that vulnerable unit (and if I already have Howl, one can be even more cavalier since attacking a Wendigo with a single unit is completely pointless). If, on the other hand, a Pyrrhic fight leaves an empty Area with a Gate, or an empty Area near to a Gate you want to capture, consider spawning the Acolyte instead.

But in cases where throwing the unit out there would leave the spawned unit totally stranded or on the wrong side of the board, I suggest you forgo using Cannibalism entirely. Windwalker has little cheap movement short of Arctic Wind, and it’s superior to have a Wendigo or two in the pool to spawn backup (including to replace casualties in Battles in which you’ve caused a Kill) than to have one stuck out in the sticks and doing nothing for the rest of the game. Plus, always having something to spawn keeps your opponents guessing just what and where you might bring them into play!

04-Cannibalism

Herald of the Outer Gods (Ongoing)
The Spellbook is probably the easiest of all Windwalker’s to explain; it sets your cost to perform Rituals of Annihilation to 5 Power, regardless of the current cost on the Ritual track. While Herald seems to be more limited than other Spellbooks since you can only use it once per turn (and typically you only perform Rituals for half the game), it reduces the most important opportunity cost of using Rituals – Power – to the point where it fundamentally reshapes your entire endgame strategy.

Herald’s effectiveness is based primarily on the faction’s composition; in the hands of another faction, the Spellbook would merely be handy. But Windwalker has a number of key factors that make Herald far more useful. First, since the faction has 2 Great Old Ones, both of which only cost 6 Power and are each hard to remove from play (Ithaqua for his huge bodyguard from Arctic Wind; Rhan-Tegoth due to Eternal), each Ritual will likely net you an average of 3.5 Doom from Elder Signs, in addition to any from Gates. Since this is just 5 Power, that’s puts your Power: Doom conversion rate very close to 1:1 – way above my cardinal rule of 2:1 – which is basically impossible for any other faction. On top of that, you have Hibernate, which means you’ll often be able to generate extra Power quite easily as more and more enemy GOOs hit the table, further reducing the drawbacks that Rituals present other factions.

The end result is a seismic shift in how Windwalker uses Rituals; with just a little planning, it’s essentially trivially easy to perform a Ritual of Annilhiation in addition to having enough Power to still perform a “normal” turn’s worth of actions. You’ll literally double or triple your scoring rate, while having the option of rushing towards the endgame (by pushing the Ritual track towards Sudden Death). This lets you exert downward pressure on all players on the table to get their Spellbooks, lest they be shut out entirely from winning…a great psychological advantage you can exert ruthlessly (*cue evil laughter*).

Howl (Pre-Battle)
Windwalker’s second Wendigo-oriented Spellbook takes these critters from decent combatants to one of the most cost-efficient fighters in the game. Howl is a Pre-Battle ability that allows you to force an opponent to retreat one Unit from a combat where a Wendigo is present. While this is obviously good at first glance, the true value of Howl becomes most apparent once you look at the aggregate effect produced by all Windwalker’s abilities running at the same time.

05-Howl

The base Wendigo has the 1:1 cost to combat ratio that defines good “fighting” Monsters (Great Cthulhu has the same ratio). Then you have the Cannibalism Spellbook, which allows you to deploy around the board, Gate-free and off-turn, you have the opportunity to set up Battles where opponents are already weakened. Howl is a force multiplier that pushes the disruptive effect of Cannibalism even further. When you attack with this Spellbook in hand, you will also drive at least one opposing body out of the Area, reducing the opponents’ chances to absorb casualties and possibly reducing the total Combat dice he throws at you. Even better, Howl makes your defense substantially stronger – that lone Wendigo you summoned via Cannibalism will now force an opponent who tries to Battle you to commit at least two units to fight you, which means a higher investment in Power, opportunity, and so forth…maybe too much to remove that one itty-bitty Monster!

Most important to note, however, is Howl’s wording: it affects Units. That means your Wendigo can scare away anything…including Terrors and Great Old Ones! If you’re defending, there are still chances where Howl may not work – for instance, a lone Wendigo trying to stave off an attacking Cthulhu or an opponent who uses the Shriveling Spellbook, since attacker Pre-Battle abilities are resolved prior to defender’s – but IIRC this is one of those very rare instances where GOOs are not immune to the abilities of a Monster. This makes Howl a great hard counter to sneaky factions like Crawling Chaos (who use Nyarlathotep to punch down at lightly-defended Areas), and make Wendigos a great bodyguard to include when you attack Areas protected by only a few monsters yourself.

Ice Age (Action: Cost 1)
The only “spell” in Windwalker’s Spellbooks is an excellent utility power which emphasizes the faction’s Power efficiency in a different way. Ice Age allows you to place an “iceberg” token which increases the Power cost of all actions made by opponents ending in that space by 1…even those without a Power cost. While this is a pretty technical-sounding Spellbook, it can have huge implications when used aggressively or on the defense.

Most players will immediately twig to the defensive uses of Ice Age; since it doesn’t affect your Units, you can safely use it to increase the opponent’s cost to Battle or capture Cultists in the affected Area to 2, and increase the cost to take the Gate if she wins to 1. Tripling the cost of conquest is certainly a great counter to those Power-light, fight/capture-happy factions like Crawling Chaos and Great Cthulhu, and will annoy Opener to no end.

06-Ice-Age

You can also use Ice Age on the offense, such as to protect a combat unit from intercepting your army en route to a fight, “freezing” the most likely Area where your target opponent will flee ahead of your Battle to cut off his escape, or simply increasing your chances to initiate the Battle yourself (and thus getting Howl off before an opponent pre-Battle abilities go into effect). Just using Ice Age to meddle with the Power calculations essential to turn planning is often enough to force opponents into little errors, like accidently burning up all their Power moving and having none to attack when they arrive.

Ice Age is also a hard counter to the various 0 Power “stalling” abilities that exist in the game, such as Sleeper’s Lethargy or Black Goat’s discounted Ghoul summoning using The Thousand Young. Having last action is always a tremendous advantage in Cthulhu Wars, and since you’ll be Hibernating often, you’re more subject to abuse from the last player than other factions. Just remember that Ice Age only affects abilities that require Actions, which are tied to models or Areas, and which stop in the affected Area. Thus, you can’t use Ice Age to increase the cost of moving from the affected Area (since that action didn’t stop there), nor to increase the cost of Spellbook “As an Action…” requirements (since they are not tied to a particular Area on the board).

STRATEGIES FOR WINDWALKER
Your general strategy in Windwalker’s early game is to establish yourself as quickly as possible so you can start fighting in the mid-game. The primary goals thus are to bring out Rhan-Tegoth, establish a base of operations at both Windwalker start areas, and if possible get your Starting Player Spellbook – all those things that are not directly in service to annihilating the enemy – in the early game. Done correctly, you can spend most of the mid-game building your forces and negging your opponents before slamming the door on the enemy using Rituals of Annihilation and Battle at the end.

Opening Moves – “The Snowball” (Turns 1–2)
My preferred strategy is what I call the “Snowball;” building a solid Power base then steamrolling everyone in the mid- to late-game. The key with this strategy is to not overextend yourself…you need to judiciously use Hibernate to build your advantage and build your forces until you are ready to go on the attack.

The Snowball’s primary objective in Turn 1 is set up for your Starting Player Spellbook in Turn 2. The most Power any other faction can get short of capturing Cultists (really, just the purview of Crawling Chaos) is 12 Power (having 3 Gates + 6 Cultists), so your primary objective is to get 13 Power in turn 2 using this strategy. This will incidentally set you up nicely for grabbing up to 2 more Spellbooks in Turn 2, freeing you to start kicking in teeth in the midgame.

Setup: Set starting Gate in Area farthest from Crawling Chaos or Great Cthulhu, in that order.

Turn 1 (8 Power):

  • Move 2 Cultists 1 space closer to your non-starting Windwalker Area (2 Power)
  • Build Gate (3 Power) then Hibernate (0 Power; save 3 Power for next turn)

07-WW-Turn-1

Turn 2 (13 Power)

  • Gather Power: Become Starting Player (Spellbook: Herald of the Outer Gods, or Ice Age)
  • Awaken Rhan-Tegoth in opposite Windwalker starting Area (6 Power; Spellbook: Cannibalism)
  • Move Cultist to Rhan-Tegoth twice (2 Power)
  • Build Gate in Rhan-Tegoth’s Area (3 Power; Spellbook: Howl) then Hibernate (0 Power; save 2 Power + up to 2 more Power from enemy GOOs for next turn)

Depending on the disposition of opponents, you might want to spend a bit of that 2 additional Power to summon a Wendigo on top of your non-starting Area Gate and/or drop Ice Age there to hold it until next turn, but assuming no one messes with you and at least 2 opponents have their GOOs in play, you’ll be looking at a whopping 16 Power in Turn 3!

Keeping the Snowball from Melting
The Snowball is predicated on the notion that you won’t be facing concerted, direct opposition in the early game. However, experienced opponents may be all-too-aware of the consequences of leaving you alone for even a little while, and go on the offensive early. The good news is, you can still pull off the Snowball even when someone’s trying to stop you.

In games with High Priests: If you’re using High Priests, keep in mind other players can get to 13 Power in Turn 2 via 2 Gates, a High Priest, 6 Cultists, and sacrificing the High Priest during Gather Power, so you’ll need to get to 14. Adjust your Turn 1 strategy by moving 1 Cultist (1 Power), building a Gate (3 Power), recruiting a High Priest (3 Power), then Hibernating; you’ll start Turn 2 with 12 Power, then sacrifice the High Priest during Gather Power for 2 more Power to earn the Starting Player Spellbook. If you don’t end up needing to sacrifice the High Priest to get Starting Player, so much the better!

When facing attack: It may be an opponent tries to stop you from getting Starting Player by capturing or Zingaya-ing your Cultists in the early game. But, if you lose a Cultist to capture or Battle, you can recruit them in Rhan-Tegoth’s space instead of moving them…in effect, saving you Power! Take Cannibalism (or Ice Age, if facing the Zombie Outbreak/Zingaya Start) instead as your first Spellbook, and use that extra Power to summon a Wendigo or two to stop the shenanigans. Even if they succeed in stopping you from getting Starting Player in Turn 2, you will almost certainly be able to earn it in Turn 3 if you stick to the plan.

08-Rhan-at-South-Pole

A Note on Spellbook Choices
The fact you won’t likely have more than 4 Spellbooks until Turn 4 is an interesting situation, in that it limits your options in sculpting your overall gameplan. This prisoner’s dilemma is one of the consistent struggles I see Windwalker players stumble into during their first few plays, as they realize the only way to build the combos they want relies on making some other, suboptimal decision.

If, for instance, you take Ice Age instead of Herald of the Outer Gods in the early game, you’ll be in a better defensive position but you won’t have access to cheap Rituals of Annihilation when you want them most (when both your GOOs are out so you can get 2 Elder Signs), unless you’re willing to give up Arctic Wind when you Awaken Ithaqua, which is a pretty bad idea.

On the other hand, having Herald early is great if you plan to start Ritualing in the mid game, but you’ll effectively have a “dead” Spellbook for 1-2 turns while you build up enough Power and units to afford to Ritual. You could always trigger your Spellbook you can take at any time…but in doing so you’ll be giving up other Elder Signs you can get. Obviously, none of these choices are ideal.

In most cases, my Spellbook order usually goes like this:

  1. Herald of the Outer Gods
  2. Cannibalism
  3. Howl
  4. Arctic Wind
  5. Ice Age
  6. Berserkergang

The thinking with this order is that I can tolerate having one “useless” Spellbook for a turn or two, before I have both my GOOs in play, so long as I get other highly useful Spellbooks in the meantime. Arctic Wind is an auto-take when Ithaqua is Awakened, so it always marks the midpoint of that scale.

Mid-Game Moves (Turns 3–4)
Windwalker really starts to get going in the mid-game, as the efficiencies provided by its powerful GOOs and highly-efficient Spellbooks start to compound. Assuming you’ve taken the Snowball strategy to heart, you should have half your Spellbooks, making your Wendigo excellent utility pieces, and either Ice Age to throw a monkeywrench in opponents’ stalling or combat plans or Herald of the Outer Gods to start running up the scoreboard and putting pressure on your opponents.

The one Spellbook you should earn before an opponent is at 6 Spellbooks is for Awakening Ithaqua – and that Spellbook should absolutely should be Arctic Wind – so your first order of business is to get him into play. And once Ithaqua is in play, your midgame will be about going to Battle.

09-On-the-Attack

When fighting, scoop up those Cultists not at a Gate (since the others are protected from capture by Ferox) and maybe Rhan or a Wendigo using Arctic Wind, and go after lightly-defended Gates. Howl is very handy to improve your odds of winning fights, since Doom scores (and thus, Ithaqua’s Combat) will be low. When enemy units die, summon more Wendigo using Cannibalism; if some Cultists die, no biggie, since you can bring them back via Cannibalism or recruitment as needed.

Meanwhile, always be planning for your next turn. You definitely want to keep some Power in reserve for using Rhan-Tegoth’s Eternal and to make use of your Rituals of Annihilation. If you have both your GOOs in play, you’ll be racking up at least 2, and statistically 3.5, Doom per Ritual above and beyond points for Gates, in addition to putting a lot of downward pressure on your opponents to get to 6 Spellbooks (and thus triggering your last Spellbooks). If you have any leftover Power, also start summoning your first Gnoph-Keh; as with most other Windwalker traits, they start out OK but with patience and commitment they become game-turning once they reach critical mass.

Late-Game Moves (Turns 5+)
By the late game, you should have plenty of pieces of your opponents stuck in your claws, teeth and…other orifices, putting them on their back feet as they recognize Windwalker’s true power. If you’ve been making the most of Herald of the Outer Gods, they should also realize the end of the game (world?) is coming on fast, as you’re running up your score with Elder Signs and bonus Doom. Your endgame is more about locking other players out as fast as possible…once you have at least one competitor with all her Spellbooks.

By Turn 5, at least one of your opponents should have 6 Spellbooks, at which point you should feel free to twist the knife. Ruthlessly use Rituals of Annihilation (once you have Herald of the Outer Gods) to exclude opponents with fewer than 6 Spellbooks from winning…or to motivate them to get 6 Spellbooks before you trigger your last Spellbook and collect an Elder Sign for every opponent with a full set.

10-Rhan-and-Instant-Death

Remember that grabbing your sixth Spellbook also makes Battles unlimited, so grabbing the last requirement at a less-optimal time will also allow you to really go nuts with Ithaqua and friends, and perhaps to stop an opponent from hitting 6 Spellbooks…which is what Battle is really all about. Steal Gates and try to block your closest competition from hitting a full set of Spellbooks if at all possible so you can protect your lead. Spend that extra Power you won’t be using in Battle to fill out your set of Gnoph-Keh and replace casualties, particularly if you’re using Berserkergang to inflict even more punishment.

If you see a chance to get yourself over 30 Doom – say, when you’re sitting at 27 or so – don’t worry about triggering this last Spellbook to collect just one or two Elder Signs, reveal your tokens, and end the game in the main phase; if you wait until the following Doom Phase, you also invite everyone to score their Gates one last time and perform another Ritual before the game is over. Better to lock them out of victory if at all possible.

I’M FROM THE LAND OF ICE AND SNOW…
So that’s it for the Windwalker faction – perhaps Cthulhu Wars’ most brutal and efficient faction of all. While Ithaqua and his minions are not as easy to pick up as, say, those of Great Cthulhu or Black Goat, they are undeniably potent in the hands of the patient player. If you like a heady mix of long-term strategy, tactical choice, and pinpoint aggression, Windwalker is an excellent fit for you!

…but maybe not this guy

…but maybe not this guy

Next time on Mythos Mayhem, we’ll dive into the reality-warping keepers of the Silver Key, the purple forces of the Opener of the Way! Until then, fellow cultists!

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