You have seen the black towers rise. You have glimpsed the tattered mantle. He is coming! He is coming! Gather your cult and bring forth Carcosa – home to the King in Yellow! With His gifts and the right stars, you can bring it here. In Carcosa – from designer Nigel Kennington and published by One Free Elephant – you will summon the city of the Tattered King, one tile at a time! You will use your cultists to tap leylines, conduct rituals, and explore the districts of Carcosa itself. If your cultists displease you, you can sacrifice them to the dark waters of Lake Hali for the pleasure of the King. Only the most devious leader will be able marshal his cult through The Coming of Carcosa and earn the right to wear the Pallid Mask!
Carcosa is a tile placement game for 2-4 players ages 14 and up that plays in 45-60 minutes. Players will take turns placing tiles to build the city of Carcosa and utilizing their cultists to lay claim to parts of the city and gain power from the various landmarks throughout in order to stabilize your tiles and cast game-changing spells.
There are 84 tiles that contain leylines, districts, ritual sites, confluxes, and Lake Hali. Remove the 4 Hastur tiles that depict the heart of Carcosa and arrange them in a square int he center of the table using normal placement rules. Take the remaining 84 tiles and separate them into piles based on the number of players (4 piles in a 2-player game, 5 piles in a 3-player game, and 6 piles if playing with 4 players). These piles should have an equal number of tiles in them. Note that in a game with 3 players, one pile will have 16 tiles, while the rest will have 17). Place these piles on the cult mat in the indicated positions. Give each player 10 cultists, a Chapter House card, a Forbidden Lore card, and a set of ritual stones (numbered 2-7). Players will place their ritual stones, number side down, in front of them. Then each player will place cultists in the following starting positions:
- One cultist standing up in the center of the Yellow Sign (on the cult mat). This is the Prophet.
- One cultist standing up next to the Occult Power Track on the cult mat. This is the Oracle.
- Three cultists lying down in the center of the Yellow Sign. These are cultists who could potentially be recruited.
- One cultist lying down in the Asylum area of the Chapter House card. This cultist begins the game insane, but will recover over time.
- One cultist standing up in the Recovery Room area of the Chapter House card. This cultist has recovered from insanity, but is not yet stable enough to be trusted.
- All players should then have three remaining cultists, which will be kept in a “ready pool.”
Determine a first player in a way that would please the king (maybe the last person to dream of the stars or wear a mask). Starting with the first player, and proceeding clockwise around the table, players will take the following actions.
- Recover sanity – move any cultists in the Recovery Room to the ready pool. Then move any cultists in the Asylum to the Recovery Room.
- Select a tile – A tile must be taken from an unoccupied stack on the Yellow Sign. Place your Prophet on top of the stack from which the tile was taken. Tiles may not be taken from a stack that has a Prophet on top of it.
- Place or replace a tile – The active player may look at both sides of the tile, but must place the tile once they’ve looked at it. They do not have to show the tile to anyone else. The tile is then placed, unstable side up, to continue the landscape. The placed tile must share a side with at least one other tile and all leylines, districts, and water must connect. The new tile can also replace an already placed tile, as long as it does not break any placement rules. The replaced tile is placed at the bottom of the stack with the fewest tiles.
- Place a cultist – The active player may place one cultist from their ready on the tile they just placed. Placing a cultist will not only keep that tile from being replaced by another player, but can also generate power for your cult.
- Resolve tile – Each placed tile may cause various effects, from gaining power to devouring unfortunate cultists. Tiles will become stabilized based on their type. Leylines will stabilize when they are connecting two confluxes and/or ritual sites. Ritual sites become stable once they are completely surrounded by other tiles. Districts stabilize when all they are completed (meaning the wall around the district is complete and unbroken).
- NOTE: At any time during a player’s turn, that player may trigger an effect from any imbued ritual stones they may have. The ritual stones have various effects that can switch up the gameplay. Players can use ritual stones to do things such as return insane cultists to their ready pool, examine tiles in a particular stack on the cult mat, and return a Prophet to their ready pool until the next time they select a tile.
The game ends immediately when either two stacks of tiles are completely depleted (A Cult Ascends) or one cult summons the King in Yellow (The King Rises).
A Cult Ascends
When two stacks of tiles are depleted (and their tiles resolved), all players will gain power according to the following rules:
- Each open leyline controlled is worth one power per tile.
- Each incomplete ritual site is worth one power per adjacent tile.
- Each incomplete district controlled is worth one power per tile.
- Each sacrifice not devoured is worth one power.
- Each imbued ritual stone that has not been used is worth one power.
After final scoring, the cult with the most power takes control of Carcosa and may wear the Pallid Mask (i.e. they win!).
The King Rises
When an Oracle reaches the end of the power track, they cannot gain or lose power and must conduct the Summoning Ritual. From this point, whenever a cultist from that cult is driven mad, instead of sending them to their Asylum, they are placed standing up on the Yellow Sign. If a single cult manages to get three cultists standing up on the Yellow Sign (before two tile stacks are depleted), they have completed the ritual and the King in Yellow comes forth to survey his new domain!
Carcosa is an absolutely solid game. It takes Carcassonne and adds some new mechanics that increase the depth of strategy involved with placing tiles. The decision to not randomize the tiles by pulling them from a bag and instead give players multiple tiles to select from really adds a new level of planning to the game. Players must decide which tile will benefit them the most, while not leaving openings for their opponents to grab tiles that will benefit them.
The theme is handled very well and doesn’t feel even remotely pasted on. Cultists go insane when performing rituals or other tasks to summon the King in Yellow, and require time to recover before they can be used again. This makes thematic sense. Tapping into leylines to gain power in order to perform occult spells also fits the theme.
Since Carcosa is based around the familiar mechanics of Carcassonne – tile placement, meeple/cultist assignments, and different types of tiles – it is incredibly easy to learn. A player need only learn a few extra rules and they can dive right into the game. I also found that the game plays very well at all player counts. It scales incredibly well, and the play time does not suffer from a higher (or lower) player count.
I would absolutely recommend Carcosa to gamers looking for an easy-to-learn game that still offers a good depth of strategy. The Kickstarter campaign is still ongoing until 7pm ET on June 30. You can learn more and back the project now by visiting https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1707132801/carcosa-a-lovecraftian-board-game-of-cults-and-mad