Raising the Old Ones isn’t easy: there are rituals to perform, unpronounceable words to recite, and those pesky investigators keep raiding your sanctum. But when the last Elder Sign is broken, only one of you will become the Evil High Priest … just in time for the world to end, of course.
In “Reaping the Rewards,” I take a look at the finished product from a crowdfunding campaign. Evil High Priest raised over $97k on Kickstarter in December 2017, and has been shipping out to backers this winter.
What Is Evil High Priest?
Evil High Priest is a worker placement game for 2 to 5 players, ages 14 and up, and takes about 45–60 minutes to play. It retails for $59.99 and is available from Petersen Games and in game stores. The game’s theme and artwork seem to be the primary reason for the age recommendation (it is, after all, about being an evil priest) but the gameplay and rules weren’t too complex for my (experienced) 12-year-old to play—your mileage may vary, but I would say the theme may be more of a deciding factor in some cases.
Evil High Priest Components
Here’s what comes in the box:
- Double-sided Cult board (Cthulhu/Black Goat)
- Towns board
- Rituals board
- Card Display sheet
- 5 Priest sheets
- 5 Sanctum sheets
- 13 Elder Sign tokens
- 40 Treasure tokens (30 1-denomination, 10 3-denomination)
- 28 Blood tokens (22 1-denomination, 6 3-denomination)
- 23 Magic tokens (18 1-denomination, 5 3-denomination)
- 12 Spellbook tokens
- 5 Raid markers
- 1 Deep One marker
- 40 Chamber cards
- 15 Generic Monster cards
- Shoggoth card
- 5 Priest Cultist meeples (1 per player color)
- 30 Acolyte Cultist meeples (6 per player color)
- First Player token
- 3 dice
The components are kind of a mixed bag for me. The cardboard tokens are nice and sturdy and look great, and the artwork on the various cards and boards is creepy and gloomy, which is thematically appropriate. I will note that there’s at least one gruesome image on the Rituals board of a sacrifice that may not be appropriate for younger audiences—though the artwork is also kind of small and pretty dark, which means that we didn’t even really notice the details on that image right away. A lot of things are just a bit darker than necessary—particularly the “Skulk” location for a 5-player game, which is so dark that it’s nearly invisible.
The cultist meeples are nice quality, though their shape and bright colors remind me a little of Patrick, the starfish from Spongebob Squarepants, which undercuts the horror a little. Now, if you’re looking at those and thinking “but isn’t Petersen Games known for fantastic plastic miniatures?” … well, you’re right. There are two expansion sets that replace the wooden meeples with plastic miniatures, so that each player gets a unique shape and color for their acolytes (you only need one set for the game, but there are 10 different acolyte models available between the two sets). There’s also an expansion to replace the cardboard resource tokens with plastic components, in case you’d rather have 3 blood represented by a bucket instead of a larger cardboard disk.
I had a little trouble getting the boards to unfold all the way—the Town board and the cult board (depending on which side is used) both tend to bend upward, which can be a little annoying, though it hasn’t been a huge problem during gameplay. The sanctum and priest “boards” are actually cardstock instead of cardboard. The card display board (which is also just a cardstock sheet) is just to display three investigators, monsters, and chamber cards—but until you have some of the expansions, there are no investigators and all the monsters are the same, so you only need room on the table to display three chamber cards.
The cult board is double-sided, with Cthulhu on one side and the Black Goat on the other. The background art is nice, but it’s overlaid with a somewhat confusing tangle of arrows leading from space to space. The spaces are roughly laid out to match the background shape, but they would have been much easier to parse if it were a simple flowchart with straight lines. Cthulhu is a little easier to follow, but the Black Goat is all over the place.
The box and insert are a little strange, with some parts carefully planned out and some things that seem to be an afterthought. The plastic insert is clear, and there’s a sheet visible underneath with some Lovecraftian writings on it—but the sheet isn’t the full size of the box, so it slides around a little. There are lots of nested wells in the insert, so you put in the chamber cards, then several of the boards one at a time, each one covering up the well underneath it … until you get to the priest boards. They’re too wide to fit in the largest recessed portion of the insert, so they just go across. And, finally, there’s all the cardboard tokens that you punched out—the sheets were on top of the insert, but when bagged they’re just a little too thick to lay on top. I’ve taken to putting them under the plastic insert, though I have to shift them to the spaces where the wells aren’t as deep.
Overall, I have to admit that I’m not thrilled with many of the components themselves, but I put up with them because I did enjoy the gameplay—more on that later. There are also two expansions available—interestingly, the rules for these expansions are all included in this single rulebook, which is something you don’t usually see. That means you can get an idea of what the expansions include just by browsing the rulebook, and if you do decide to get them, you don’t need to juggle rulebooks during play. It’s something that works because those expansions were created at the same time as the base game due to Kickstarter; if any future expansions come along, I suppose those will have their own rulebooks.
How to Play Evil High Priest
You can download a copy of the rulebook here.
The goal of the game is to earn the most favor with the Great Old One by the time the Elder Signs are broken … in other words, score the most points before the game ends.
Place your chosen cult board in the center of the table, with the 13 Elder Sign tokens on the appropriate spaces. (The Cthulhu board also includes a space for the Shoggoth card and the Deep Ones token.) Place the Towns board and Rituals board nearby, with the Rituals board face-down. Treasures, blood, magic, and spellbook tokens should be placed nearby as a supply. Shuffle the chamber cards and turn the top three face-up to form a market, and place the stack of monsters nearby as well.
Each player gets a Priest board and a Sanctum board, and all the meeples of their color. Place the Priest (the large meeple) and two acolytes in the “Cultist Pool” section of the Priest board, and the other four acolytes in the chairs of the asylum on the Sanctum board. Give the First Player token to a randomly chosen player. Each player gets treasure tokens corresponding to their turn order—first player gets 1, second player gets 2, and so on; these are placed in the top left area of the Sanctum boards.
During each round, there is an action phase and then a preparation phase. The action phase starts with the first player, and each player takes one action at a time until all players have used up all of their available cultists. If you run out of cultists, you just pass your turn.
There are many spaces on the various boards where you can assign your cultists to take actions; typically, each space may only hold one cultist, and once it’s taken you must wait until it is cleared before you can take that action again. Icons outlined in red above a space indicate the cost that must be paid to use the action; icons outlined in blue below the space indicate what you get when using that space. For instance, on the Towns board pictured above, you may go to Mistkatonic University and spend 1 treasure, 1 blood, and 1 magic to obtain 1 spellbook. The Towns board also has a special “Skulk” space at the top (or two Skulk spaces in a 5-player game). Placing a cultist here will allow you to visit a Towns space that is already occupied, but only at the end of the action phase.
Most of the rewards include resources like treasure, blood, magic, and spellbooks, but there are also spaces to gain chamber cards, monster cards, and take the first player marker.
On the Cult board, most of the spaces allow you to take the adjacent Elder Sign token if you can pay the cost—these spaces may only be used once in the game. You must follow the arrows, starting with the “Start” space; you cannot use a spot unless all of the Elder Signs leading up to that spot have been taken. A few of the spaces have additional actions attached, which may be taken immediately after taking the Elder Sign if you can pay the additional cost. After taking an action on the Cult board, you might trigger a raid if there are gun icons in the space.
On the Cthulhu board, there is a special action to sacrifice a cultist to take the Shoggoth card, which is a special monster worth 10 defense—but other players may steal it from you using this space, too. The left side of the Cthulhu board also has a Deep Ones track, which advances every time a raid occurs. Some of the reward spaces are tied to the Deep Ones track.
The Rituals board is unavailable until after the first raid occurs, but then is flipped up. You may place a meeple on one of the named spaces, paying its cost, but you do not get an immediate benefit. Instead, during the preparation phase, the cultists follow the arrows, gaining the printed benefits. These are generally better payouts than from the Towns board, but they tie up your cultists for a few turns. For instance, the Dragon Ascending track at the bottom takes several turns to complete, but if you pay in 2 treasures, you will eventually net 18 treasures if you stay there long enough.
Finally, your priest board has a few actions available to you, but they may only be taken by the priest, rather than the acolytes. (The space marked “Priest” is for special player power cards from the expansion.) You’ll notice that the Priest board also has lairs for up to 3 monsters, a turn order reference, and an “Escape” space. Whenever a cultist is sacrificed (to pay an action cost), it is returned to the Asylum (on the Sanctum board), but if there isn’t room, it is placed in Escape. When you gain a new acolyte, it is pulled from the Asylum into Escape.
Chambers are placed onto your Sanctum board in any open spot. As you gain resources, you may place them directly into available chambers, but anything that doesn’t fit is placed in the “exposed resources” section, which is basically like the lobby of your hideout. (You may also rearrange resources when you purchase a new chamber.) Chambers may not be moved around once placed, but if you fill up all of the spaces, you may discard an existing chamber to place a new one in its space.
Each chamber card shows its defense value (against those nosy investigators) and the number of resources that may be stored in it. Some can only store a particular type of resource, and some cannot hold any resources at all. Some of them have special effects—for instance, the Pit Trap can store four of any type of resources, but its defense is equal to the number of treasure tokens in it.
Any time an action on the Cult board includes gun icons, the investigators raid all the players, potentially confiscating your resources … if they can find them. First, the active player rolls a number of dice equal to the number of gun icons, and everyone sets the raid strength at the bottom of their Sanctum boards.
You may discard a monster to reduce the raid strength: generic monsters reduce it by 5, and Shoggoth reduces it by 10. If there’s still strength remaining, the investigators take everything in your exposed resources area (putting it back into the supply), and then move through the chambers, going across and then looping around in a U-turn. As they enter each room, the raid strength is reduced by the chamber’s defense value. If there’s strength remaining, then they confiscate whatever is in that room, and continue. Once the raid runs out of strength, the raid ends and you keep whatever is left in your chambers.
At the end of the action phase, once everyone has placed all of their meeples, the players on the “Skulk” spaces may take their actions by moving to any occupied town space (except Providence, which is marked with a “No Skulking” sign). Then it’s time for the preparation phase.
First, cultists on the Rituals board move forward one space. If a cultist is already on the last space, this is when it returns to your pool. All cultists on other boards (Priest boards, Towns board, and Cult board) are returned to your pool, including those in your “escape” space. Everyone may now rearrange their resources among their chambers and exposed resources sections. A new round begins, starting with whoever has the First Player marker.
The game ends immediately when the last Elder Sign token is removed from the cult board (and the raid is resolved, if applicable). Players score as follows:
- Elder Signs: 10 points each
- Spellbooks: 5 points each
- Magic: 2 points each
- Blood: 1 point each
- Treasure: 5 points for the player(s) who have the most treasure; 0 points for everyone else
The highest score wins; there is no tie-breaker rule.
Why You Should Play Evil High Priest
My middle daughter (pictured above in her Halloween costume) latched onto Cthulhu pretty early, mostly just through games and other pop culture. Her roller derby name is Cthu-Liu, and any game that involves Cthulhu tends to pique her interest. So when Evil High Priest arrived, she was eager to give it a try.
My initial impression of the components wasn’t terrific: the boards don’t lie flat (a problem that seems to be more and more common these days), and I was surprised at the simple meeples because I associate Petersen Games with plastic miniatures (though they’re available as add-ons). However, once we sat down to play the game, we found that we really enjoyed it.
There are parts of it that will seem familiar and are fairly easy to grasp: you use your cultists as in a standard worker-placement game, sending them to locations to gather resources or take actions and blocking other players from taking those actions. There’s a bit of exchanging these resources for those resources, and usually what you’re ultimately trying to do is get what’s required so you can break one of the Elder Signs.
One of the things that sets Evil High Priest apart is the Sanctum boards, where you keep all your resources. Because of the investigator raids, your resources (even those valuable Elder Signs) aren’t safe. Setting up your chambers to provide protection and storage becomes a crucial part of the game. It doesn’t matter if you break the most Elder Signs if all of them get confiscated by investigators before the game ends.
You’ll have to choose which chambers to use, what order to put them in, and which items to put in them. Typically you’ll want the heavier defenses up front, and the bigger storage in the back, but some of the chambers have special abilities so it’s not always an easy decision. For instance, the pit trap can provide up to 4 defense, but only if it’s full of treasure. The dimensional gate lets you keep up to 10 items (a whopping number) but they all have to be the same type, and it provides no defense–so if the investigators reach it, they’ll take all of it. Is it a good idea to put all your eggs in the same dimensional gate? That’s something you’ll have to decide for yourself.
Another difference is the way that the number of your workers can grow and shrink during the game, due to actions that sacrifice acolytes (sending them back to the asylum) or the Rituals board, where your cultists are unavailable for multiple rounds. In most worker placement games I’ve played, you start with some number of workers and may be able to increase it during the game, giving you more and more actions. Here, it’s even more important to get new cultists, because they’re somewhat expendable. (“Another day, another Doug.”)
There is a bit of luck involved, but not too much: primarily it’s in the chamber cards that are revealed and the results of the dice rolls for investigator raids. Other than that, all the information is open and it’s simply a matter of figuring out what actions to take and what actions your opponents may take. Everyone’s resources are open information, so you know who’s capable of taking which actions. It’s important to be ready for the raids before somebody breaks an Elder Sign, but you never know the exact strength of the raid until it happens. I’ve seen some really high rolls that wiped out a lot of resources, and I’ve also seen people build up a lot of defenses for a 3-dice raid, only to have improbably low values that don’t get past the first chamber. The more actions you spend fortifying your Sanctum, the fewer you have left to gather the resources to put inside. That risk-reward tension is what makes Evil HIgh Priest a lot of fun.
I haven’t played with the expansions, which will add other types of monsters, investigator cards (which will have additional effects whenever a raid occurs), and unique player abilities, but they sound like they’d add some fun variability (and more randomness) to the game. There are also additional cult boards, so that you can summon other Ancient Ones. And although the plastic miniatures don’t change the gameplay itself, I think they’d change the atmosphere of the game a little from the somewhat cartoony meeples.
Overall, I think Evil High Priest is a fun game despite some quibbles about the components. If you like Lovecraftian themes and worker placement games, you might enjoy adding this treasure to your own sanctum… er, game shelf.
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.