The High Cultists are basically the Cthulhu faction in Conquest of Elysium. They gather sacrifices from human settlements and spawn freaky hybrid soldiers from wells in coastal towns. They can summon powerful horrors that wreak havoc, hopefully in the direction of hostile enemies. You can’t really tell a horror what to do. To paraphrase Woody Allen, the horror wants what the horror wants.
High Cultist cultists have access to a spell called Soul Slay. It’s a pretty simple spell. It overrides all but the most powerful magic resistance, ignores a unit’s armor value, and paralyzes its target. It also does 1-999 points of damage (pictured!), which makes the armor negation and paralysis pretty much irrelevant. Given that a typical general has 10 hit points and a giant has maybe 125 hit points, you can safely assume Soul Slay will kill anything it hits.
So it’s pretty much game over for any faction going up against a few cultists with Soul Slay, right?
After the jump, spells in this game are out of control. Literally!
What balances the power of spells like Soul Slay is that, like combat, magic is mostly hands-off. Spellcasting units, which have all sorts of fancy ways of unbalancing if not outright breaking the game, will randomly cast their spells at random targets. So while Soul Slay is a great spell, there’s no way to aim it. It’s just as likely to hit some poor spearman as it is to hit the powerful wizard leading the enemy army.
What’s more, you have very little control over whether Soul Slay will even be cast. When you hire a new spellcaster, he comes with random spells. Most factions can cash in resources to level up their spellcasters, at which point they learn a few new spells, randomly determined. When you find a library, you can pick up new spells there, again randomly determined. But at any given time, a spellcaster will memorize only a few of his spells. And when his turn comes up in combat, the spellcaster will randomly cast one of his memorized spells at a random target.
I know what you’re thinking: I’ll just tell my cultists to only memorize Soul Slay. Nice try, but when a battle starts, if a spellcaster has attempted to memorize fewer or more spells that his allotted number, he’ll just memorize or forget randomly to fall in line with the correct number of spells for the duration of battle. There’s never any point to memorize more or fewer spells that your caster is allowed.
The result reminds me of a card game. Each spellcaster’s suite of spells is like his card collection. His allocation of memorized spells is his deck. And on any given turn, he randomly draws a card and casts that spell. It’s not a perfect analogy, as the deck is shuffled each round. But it taps into that same trick of playing the odds that drives card games. And when you assemble a group of spellcasters — this is a core part of playing races like the High Cultists — there’s a great sense of optimizing randomness, which is what makes card games card games even more than the actual cards.
Many times, I’ll draw Soul Slay when it’s not particularly helpful. Overkilling a spearman is only mildly satisfying. But on those times that Soul Slay hits some powerful enemy, basically one-shotting what should have been a boss fight, I couldn’t be happier with how magic is wonderfully out of control.