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 for every faction, 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, so in this article we’re going to dig into the mysterious blue forces of the Harbinger of the Outer Gods, Crawling Chaos!
THE CRAWLING CHAOS FACTION
Nyarlathotep – the mysterious trickster god of the Cthulhu Mythos – is hands-down my favorite of all Lovecraft’s creations. But I’ve spend a long time (ever since I opened my copy of Cthulhu Wars for the first time 10 months ago, in fact) trying to figure out, what, exactly, was the uniting theme and playstyle of Crawling Chaos. Thematically, the faction seems like a mixed bag: the units, Spellbook requirements, and abilities create a playstyle that is very aggressive, but not really combat-oriented; Power-hungry without reliable ways of generating it; and whose Great Old One is a tremendous combat piece but monsters tend to shy away from combat! How does that all mesh together?
Then, playing the faction again last night, it finally dawned on me – Crawling Chaos is about opportunism and theft. Without special ways of earning Power legitimately the faction plays like a thief by taking its opponents’ riches (Power) to advance its objectives (even spending Power to get Spellbooks). The group has to “case” the enemy, waiting for the right time to strike, swoop in to get what it wants, and then run at the first sign of trouble. Nyarlathotep even mugs enemy Great Old Ones for Power or Elder Signs during combat! Sure, you can play it safe, but in the end, why earn what you can just steal?
Crawling Chaos’ Flight faction ability allows your units to move 2 Areas when you Move, rather than 1. While this is not the fanciest of faction abilities, it is certainly powerful – in fact, it allows the forces of Nyarlathotep to strike half the board from their starting Area! This really helps the faction’s aggressive-but-fragile nature – allowing units to zip in, steal a Gate or capture a Cultist, then leg it when the opponent arrives in full force. Considering everyone else is limited to one Area movement, it’s the perfect tool for a getaway!
Crawling Chaos Units
The faction’s monsters are strictly average in terms of cost and combat ability, especially since they don’t have any tricks like Great Cthulhu, Black Goat, or Yellow Sign that make them expressly better at combat or cheaper to summon. Rather, their Spellbooks transform Crawling Chaos monsters into interesting utility pieces, capable of pulling off really annoying tricks to undermine attacks and enemy strategies before Battle even begins.
- 3 Nightgaunts (Cost: 1; Combat 0): The “blue weenies” are the game’s most effective kidnappers, typically employed early in the game to capture Cultists and later, to Abduct enemy units prior to battle.
- 3 Flying Polyps (Cost: 2; Combat 1): These fleshy masses of eyes and teeth transform into force multipliers with the Invisibility Spellbook in play, able to pick apart an enemy’s offense while still contributing to a fight.
- 2 Hunting Horrors (Cost: 3; Combat 2): Your strongest combatants also are a great quick reaction force to support any battles you wish when you’ve got the Seek & Destroy Spellbook.
Great Old One
- Nyarlathotep (Cost: 10; Combat equal to number of Spellbooks on both side of the Battle): Nyarlathotep is a combat monster whose combat only grows as the game moves toward its conclusion, eventually making him the strongest of all the Great Old Ones by game’s end. While his Emissary of the Outer Gods Spellbook makes it seem he should avoid enemy GOOs, his Harbinger ability encourages you to fight them: when you Pain or Kill a GOO in combat, you gain either Power equal to 1/2 the cost to awaken that GOO or 2 Elder Signs! Needless to say, you’ll want to be very aggressive with the Bloody Tongue as he’s central to your ultimate victory.
Playing with Dad’s Toys, Part One
As is appropriate for the Emissary of the Outer Gods, Nyarlathotep’s faction benefits most when including the Azazoth expansion in your games of Cthulhu Wars. For instance, Azazoth’s monsters can be big boost to Crawling Chaos’ strategies and combat effectiveness. Dimensional Shamblers, with their ability to appear suddenly on the map and good combat, make great fighting and capturing units. Elder Thing nullify enemy Great Old Ones abilities, which is really handy if you’re fighting Cthulhu or running down Shub-Niggurath. Servitors of the Outer Gods are a way of crippling an opponent who’s monster-dependent like Black Goat or undermining Yellow Sign’s Desecration combos. And Star Vampires, with their ability to steal Power or Doom from an opponent when rolling Pains or Kills in combat, fit the “thief” character of the faction to a T. If you’ve got access to this faction box, you may find borrowing Dad’s favorite monsters opens up a world of new possibilities!
CRAWLING CHAOS’ SPELLBOOKS
Of all the core factions, I think Crawling Chaos likely has the hardest time earning all six of its Spellbooks (relatively), since the faction’s success is based on earning and spending the game’s most essential resource: Power.
- As your Action for a round, pay 4 Power *
- As your Action for a round, pay 6 Power *
- Control 3 Gates OR have 12 Power
- Control 4 Gates OR have 15 Power
- Capture an enemy Cultist
- Awaken Nyarlathotep
* You may earn both these Spellbooks at once by paying 10 Power.
These requirements push you to take an aggressive, thief-like mindset, where “get (Power) rich or die tryin’” is the order of the day. Effectively having to pay Nyarlathotep’s awakening cost a second time to get 2 Spellbooks is brutal, so you’ll need to take every opportunity that presents itself to gain the upper hand. Fortunately, Crawling Chaos’ Spellbooks enforce the faction’s deceptive and misleading character, providing many underhanded tricks in combat and against your fellow players.
Playing with Dad’s Toys, Part Two
The neutral Spellbooks provided with the Azazoth faction box also offer a ton of new options for Crawling Chaos to dominate the field. While other core factions need most, if not all, of their faction Spellbooks to run on all cylinders, the “nice to have” nature of Crawling Chaos’ monster Spellbooks lets you mix things up without crippling the faction’s core strategies.
Umr al-Tawil, for instance, lowers Gate costs to 2 Power, making it far easier to earn your Gate-controlling Spellbooks, while The Stars are Right lets you reveal Elder Signs to Power equal to their Doom, making it easier for you to get your “Pay 4/6 Power as an action” Spellbooks. Even Recriminations, with the ability to exchange a chosen Spellbook for another is huge when you need to boost up specific monsters on short notice. Try swapping these out for your monster-oriented Spellbooks (Abduct, Invisibility, and Seek and Destroy) and see what happens!
This Spellbook allows you to effectively sacrifice a Nightgaunt to force an opponent to eliminate a monster or Cultist before the battle is engaged (as the Nightgaunt snatches up the chosen model and tickles it to submission…true to HPL’s fiction!). On the surface it may look like a mediocre trade – sure, you basically get a Kill, but you lose one of your own – but digging deeper Abduct certainly has its dastardly applications.
This Spellbook is most useful when facing elite combat units Cthulhu + Star Spawn, or Opener’s Abominations or Spawn, where your trade of a 1-point model for one that costs 2 or more swings both the total Power investment and combat dice in your favor. Though most players use Abduct defensively (since Nightgaunts are Combat 0), it’s even better when used on the attack, since the attacker’s abilities resolve first during each part of Battle (meaning the model you Abduct will not be able to use any pre-Battle abilities itself) – as in the rest of Cthulhu Wars, the good offense proves to be the best defense!
Emissary of the Outer Gods (Ongoing)
This butch Spellbook reduces all Kills Nyarlathotep receives to Pains, so long as an enemy Great Old One is not in Battle. The implications of this are straightforward – once you get this Spellbook, Nyarlathotep becomes the toughest GOO in the game which you can throw him battle against Cultists and monsters with total impunity. But you can also use it creatively to increase your movement – simply take the first Kill suffered in battle on Big Blue, then retreat to an advantageous Area, setting yourself to capture a Cultist or a Battle against another opponent. Adopting this mindset also statistically increases the combat dice required to get a Kill against your unit with your GOO present to 12 (there’s only a 1:6 chance normally, and Nyarlathotep is taking the first one), making everyone around him virtually indestructible by normal monsters.
Invisibility’s effect is probably a bit different from what you think it is. Rather than just turning your Flying Polyp invisible, it also allows you to turn any monster or Cultist invisible, excluding them from the battle entirely. New player tend to use this defensively, but I find that to be a subpar use of the ability, as it reduces the bodies you have to absorb casualties. Used offensively, Invisibility can have a huge effect against opponents who rely on fewer, more elite monsters during combat – allowing you to nullify 2 or more dice on the opponent’s side while still contributing 1 per Polyp – and becomes even more more potent when you’re the attacker by allowing you to shut the selected model before it can even use pre-Battle abilities.
Another important point to note is that Invisibility allows you to choose which model is affected, rather than your opponent – an extremely rare occurrence in Cthulhu Wars. Thus, you can (and should!) use this Spellbook to remove powerful combatants and/or key combos your opponent relies on, such as removing Cthulhu’s Star-Spawn bodyguards, shutting down Opener’s Million Favored Ones monster-upgrade-engine, or disrupting Windwalker’s annoying Howl and Berserkergang Spellbooks.
Madness is, without a doubt, the most annoying Spellbook in Crawling Chaos’ arsenal…at least, for your opponents. It allows you to control how where all opponents retreat from battle, even if you’re not involved! While this Spellbook can slow the game down a wee bit if you’re the indecisive type (since you need to pay attention to every Battle as soon as the Spellbook is in play), it is a devious tool for creating the many opportunities you need to dominate the map.
I use Madness most with Battles in which I’m not participating to help me earn Spellbooks. For instance, when an enemy Cultist is Pained and I have a monster nearby, I will retreat ONLY the Cultist into that monster’s space for an easy capture. Or, I might use the chance to separate a Cultist from its monster bodyguard by 2 spaces, making it much easier for me to capture the Cultist and/or take the Gate later. If Nyarlathotep is nearby, I can even crowd all the Pained models into his Area so I can initiate a Battle and kick that opponent while they’re down. In games with 4+ players, I even use Madness to foster fights between different opponents by pushing retreating units into a third, uninvolved opponent’s space, giving them a “golden opportunity” to start a fight without spending Power to move and in turn creating even more attrition – all to my advantage, of course! The more opponents you have, the more useful this Spellbook becomes…so you’ll probably want this as early as you can get it.
Seek and Destroy (Pre-Battle)
This Spellbook looks a good bit like Yellow Sign’s Shriek of the Byakhee, in that it enables your Hunting Horrors to swoop into a Battle area from anywhere on the map. However, the key difference is timing – Seek and Destroy triggers before the Battle, rather than after – and it’s free! Your primary use of this Spellbook will be to turn your Hunting Horrors into jet fighters, capable of backstopping any of your fights on the map with 2 extra bodies and 4 additional combat dice whenever you need them. This is a great deterrent to would-be attackers, especially those hoping to beat up on your hapless Cultists and Nightguants. Note since this is pre-Battle, it cannot be used to swoop in and defend against captures, nor does it allow you to go to Battles in which you are not involved like Necrophagy does (a mistake I recently made).
The Thousand Forms (Action Cost: 0)
Saving the best for last, we have The Thousand Forms – a diabolical Spellbook that allows you to roll a die while Nyarlathotep is in play to either cause your opponents to lose that much Power (if they can agree within 1 minute) or grant you that much Power (if they can’t). Considering the generally contentious and competitive nature of Cthulhu Wars, and the critical importance of Power as fuel for action and victory, this Spellbook is tremendously powerful and wickedly effective for undermining the plans of your opponents.
The most obvious use of The Thousand Forms is, of course, to fuel your quest for the “Pay XX Power” Spellbooks without having to come up with all the Power yourself…which is all fine and good, but I think overlooks the more underhanded utility of the Spellbook: exploiting distrust between opponents to your own ends. Typically, when you roll a 1-3, your opponents will just let you have the Power to avoid the inevitable debate, but when you roll 4 or more, they probably will opt to lose that much Power amongst themselves rather than give it to you. However, this can easily get contentious when the Power can’t be split evenly – who’s willing to take the hit for the group, when there is not real “greater good” in Cthulhu Wars? This question only gets harder when the game is tight, as no one will want to give up any Power unless they’re certain it will prevent you from holding the lead. Either way, you win!
The real strategy of The Thousand Forms is not whether to use it, but when. Most folks rush to use it early in the turn to ensure it disrupts the opponents’ plans – but in my experience, using it when the enemy is flush with Power is a bad idea. Instead, try triggering the Spellbook mid- to late-turn, when your opponents are committed to their plans for the turn and down on Power. This puts them in a difficult position: do one or more of them accept they can’t build that Gate or summon that monster they planned for, just to prevent you from getting more Power? Or do they accept your round is going to go on much longer than expected, allowing you to potentially run the board when they have no chance to escape or retaliate? The increased likelihood of disagreement greatly increases your chances of getting the Power rolled for yourself, setting you up for late-round Gate steals and other shenanigans.
STRATEGIES FOR CRAWLING CHAOS
As an aggressive, “opportunist” faction, the strategies for Crawling Chaos are really dictated by which opponents are nearest by. When playing against just the core factions, you don’t have terribly aggressive opponents in the opening turns; Black Goat will be slowly building, and Yellow Sign will be moving away from their starting area to summon the King in Yellow, which gives you the option to focus on building Gates and build a strong Power base in the early game to help get your (very expensive) Spellbooks. On the other hand
Conversely – and, in my mind, preferably – you can take a very aggressive stance against nearby opponents by summoning a Nightgaunt and going for an early Cultist/Gate capture and quick Spellbooks; with some good timing, you might even pull it off!
Opening Moves (Turns 1–2)
My preferred strategy is to get Nyarlathotep out in Turn 2 to start beating up opponents who haven’t got their GOOs yet. While my normal preference in Cthulhu Wars is to start Turn 2 with 10 Power, with Crawling Chaos I try to get to 12 (and/or 3 Gates) in order to earn a Spellbook and leave me enough Power to do something with Nyarlathotep when he hits the table.
Turn 1 (8 Power)
- Summon Nightgaunt at starting Gate (1 Power)
- Move Nightgaunt and Cultist to enemy Gate (2 Power)
- Capture Cultist (1 Power; Spellbook choice: Madness); if you clear the Gate, take it (0 Power)
- Move Cultist from starting Space (1 Power)
- Build Gate (3 Power; Spellbook choice; The Thousand Forms)
Turn 2 (11–13 Power)
- Summon Nyarlathotep at Gate closest to enemy (10 Power; Spellbook choice: Emissary of the Outer Gods if you already have The Thousand Forms)
- Use The Thousand Forms (0 Power, possibly netting you 1–6 Power)
- With your remaining Power:
- Move Cultist (1 Power) and build Gate (3 Power; Spellbook choice: Abduct if you already have Emissary of the Outer Gods); OR
- Capture Cultists to earn you the “get 12 Power” or “get 15 Power” during Turn 3 Gather Power phase (Spellbook choice: Abduct if you already have Emissary of the Outer Gods).
If all goes according to plan, you should enter Turn 3 with at least 12 Power, a Nyarlathotep that can go into most fights without fear of dying, and the ability to siphon off Power and direct retreats from every battle on the map. While there are a lot of “ifs” in this plan, fortunately the first three Spellbooks you should always grab are:
- Madness – People will want to fight you to keep you out of their Areas. Use Madness to protect yourself and expose them to your predations.
- The Thousand Forms – You’ll use this every turn once you have Nyarlathotep in play, even more so than Emissary of the Outer Gods (since you can use this without Battling)
- Emissary of the Outer Gods – Transforms the Bloody Tongue into a grade-A beatstick; don’t go to war without it!
Mid-Game Moves (Turns 3–4)
With Nyarlathotep in play, it’s time to go on the offensive in Turn 3. I like to use him as a wrecking ball, either by capturing Cultists despite their monster guardians, or, if there are more than 1 Cultist or a lot of models in the space, by starting Battles to clear off and take Gates myself. Emissary of the Outer Gods makes Nyarlathotep nigh-unto-unkillable in these situations, and I often also use him to absorb Kills, transform them to Pains, and move him somewhere else in enemy territory to continue to wreck havoc.
Having Nyarlathotep in play also gives you the opportunity to fight other GOOs before they’re at full strength to get Power or Elder Signs via his Harbinger ability. This is your only way to earn Elder Signs short of a Ritual, and the Power you get will easily get you those pricey Spellbooks, but the trick (like any thief) is not to get too greedy. Remember Nyarlathotep is very expensive and much more vulnerable in fights with GOOs, and losing him will really sting. Always use The Thousand Forms before you take him up against another GOO – remember this Spellbook stops working if he gets killed, and if you lose the fight, you’ll want all the Power you can get to bring him back into play!
No matter my strategy, the one thing I always do is use Nyarlathotep with a purpose…generally, to try and control 5-6 Gates for at least 1 turn so I can perform a big Ritual of Annihilation. You’ll also need a lot of Power to earn your two hardest Spellbooks – “As an Action, spend 4/6 Power” – without crippling yourself in the process. Use The Thousand Forms to amp your Power (or cut down your opponents’ – either works) then buy the most expensive Spellbook once you’re in a good, defensible position. Don’t be surprised if you still don’t have both of these by the end of Turn 4; they are quite expensive and may be out of your reach if you’re being constantly assaulted by multiple opponents. While it’s possible to get both these Spellbooks by simply spending 10 Power at once, you should only do so if another player has got their 6 Spellbooks and are close to 30 Doom; doing so at the wrong time will likely mean another turn with no Ritual of Annihilation and very few other actions (giving your opponents a chance to trap you).
Monster-wise, you should summon the monsters you need to support your basic strategies. Fortunately, they’re all equally fast so it’s a matter of preference, really. Typically I go light on the monsters (mainly Nightgaunts) until I have my “Spend 4/6 Power” Spellbooks, as these are both huge investments of a turn’s total Power. Remember: Crawling Chaos is an aggressive-but-not-combat-oriented faction, so you should focus on picking up only the monsters you need to protect your Cultists and stave off enemy attack.
Speaking of which, you’ll probably end up getting your monster Spellbooks in the mid-game. You should choose these Spellbooks in whatever order benefits you most, based on the conditions on the table:
- Get Abduct if you already have Nightgaunts in play or are focused on capturing Cultists, to deter folks from attacking them.
- Seek and Destroy is best when you can afford Hunting Horrors or are tight on Power, when you can benefit most from the free movement and misdirection they provide.
- Invisibility is most useful when you’re under constant attack or facing opponents who rely on few, elite units during battle.
Late-Game Moves (Turns 5+)
With some diligence, you’re likely to enter the late game with all 6 of your Spellbooks, at which time your need for Power slacks a bit and you can (and probably should) be sending Nyarlathotep off (supported by Seek and Destroy Hunting Horrors) as an Elder Sign-earning cruise missile. Send him in to fight Great Old Ones and earn Elder Signs via The Harbinger – this ability triggers when you Kill or Pain an enemy GOO, so as long as you’re rolling twice as many dice as there are models in that Area, you have a really good shot of earning 2 Elder Signs.
If you happen to lose Nyarlathotep in these late game fights, it’s probably OK – The Thousand Forms will have lost some of its utility due to the overall higher amount of Power possessed by all players, and reawakening him is expensive anyway. So long as you earn 4 Elder Signs before he dies, you’ve made a good investment and are well positioned to reveal those Signs and win the game during the Action Phase…maybe right after a fight where he died!
Should Nyarlathotep die in the late game, you might be better served by summoning your monsters and regrouping to prevent their attempts to push you off your (many) Gates. With your superiority settled, you can start playing the spoiler; keep on using Rituals, capturing Cultists, picking off weak and isolated monsters, and using Madness to scatter your opponents and disrupt them after every combat. As always, there’s no reason for Crawling Chaos to fight when you don’t have to, and when you do, it should never be on the other guy’s terms.
HERALD THE END TIMES!
The forces of Crawling Chaos are a tricky faction, requiring both aggression and restraint, ruthlessness and deceit to truly master. But if you’re a player who enjoys bamboozling your opponents, playing the spoiler, and exploiting every opportunity that presents itself, the forces of Nyarlathotep can be great fun indeed. Just learn to think like a thief, and you’re halfway there!
Next time on Mythos Mayhem, we’ll cover the final core Cthulhu Wars faction – the devious forces of Yellow Sign! Until then, fellow cultists!
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