Board Game Review - Cult Following

I got a review copy of Cult Following plus expansions and had the opportunity to play a few games with 2 friends. Although ultimately the game didn’t hit for us, there’s a lot I like and appreciate about this game. The box and card art is good — minimal yet evocative. The game feels like something between Dialect and Cards Against Humanity, but carves out its own space, as a fast-paced funny creative game with emergent storytelling.

In Cult Following, 2-3 Cult Leaders create cults and face off to come up with the most compelling answer to the questions the Followers ask when trying to figure out which cult to join.

A three player game has 2 players be Cult Leaders and 1 player represent a group of followers, each follower getting to ask their own question. The Cult Leaders create their cults by choosing 3 out of 10 phrases drawn from a deck, and the Follower chooses 1 of 2 questions drawn from a deck. The Cult Leaders must improvise their answers to the Followers’ questions.

Something I appreciate about this game but that also frustrates me is that it demands a great deal of energy from its players. I love energetically intense games like Dialect and D&D. But those games are less emotionally exhausting than Cult Following because their narratives extend throughout the entire long game. In order to be funny and fun, Cult Following forces players to do the most exhausting parts of D&D, role-playing a character from scratch AND creating a world and story at the same time, and it asks players to do that over and over. Even the 2 people I was playing with—seasoned improvisers and role-players, felt exhausted after a 30 minute game. There is little sense of payoff in being the Cult Leader that any Follower chooses, as the game has an auto-balancing property wherein the Follower player wants to see the Cult Leaders perform as long as possible, and — at least in our group’s experience — will want to semi-arbitrarily split their votes to extend the end of the game to the last possible moment.

I wouldn’t recommend his game for casual players, although Cult Following seems like it was designed and marketed primarily for the kind of player that loves Cards Against Humanity. I think Cult Following fails in this regard, since it is not a fun game unless its players are willing to expand a ton of energy to go the extra mile. When they are, it’s pretty fun, but could be much better.

Personally, I wish the game were more geared towards serious creative role-players, and I wish that rounds lasted longer, with Cult Leaders only creating 1 Cult each game, and questions being designed not just for funny answers but to bring out complex emergent stories.

In any case, for the kind of game Cult Following turned out to be, it is cool but under-developed. I wish the game did just a little more to support players who may not have the energy to perform the way the game expect its players to. Cult Following tries to account for this problem by saying that shy players should just be followers, but—unfortunately—I don’t think that that’s enough. Maybe it would work if the group were 20 people large. At 3 players, we all had to play a role as the Follower, as well as Cult Leader.

Lastly, problems with the cards make the game hard to understand. Quite a few of the questions are worded in ways that confused us. Additionally, each card has 2 questions or phrases on it, 1 upside-down from the other. It took our group some time to understand that we should play our cards upside-down in order to make them readable to the other players. When we did this, though, we weren’t able to see our own choices easily. These cards feature small text, which doesn’t make the problem better.

Cult Following is fairly fun, but has problems and I think I’d need to be in a very particular mood to play it again.

2019 Reading Schedule

Thursday, March 28, 2019: SEMO Press Presents…

Mother Foucault’s Bookshop | 10pm | 523 SE Morrison St, Portland, OR 97214
(with Maureen Aitken, Jeffrey Condran, and Brad Aaron Modlin)
RSVP here!

Thursday, April 25, 2019: Word Thursdays

Bright Hill Press | 7pm | 94 Church St, Treadwell, NY 13846

A great week! :)

Glorious Veils of Diane, forthcoming from Carnegie Mellon University Press, was selected as one of five finalists for Omnidawn's 1st/2nd Book Prize!

A creative nonfiction piece, "Ghost Cams," was a finalist for London Magazine's essay prize!

The Poetry Review chose a line from one of my poems as their most recent issue’s tag-line!

Thank you to Phoebe Journal for publishing "Guess My Name"! Read it here!

Thank you to the Swarthmore College Bulletin for their feature on my chapbook No Mark Spiral and for publishing a new poem "Chess Game"! Read it here!

Thank you to Driftwood Press for publishing a poem from my RollerCoaster Tycoon book, "Erasure of Wikipedia Page on RollerCoaster Tycoon™"! Download the issue here!

I'm getting two books published!!!

I’ve been dreaming of this moment for years! When I got the call my car was stuck in a snowdrift in North Syracuse, Ariel was with me, and we both almost burst into tears, we were so happy:

Carnegie Mellon University Press will be publishing my book Glorious Veils of Diane! I’ve been reading their books since high school and I feel crazy honored! I feel especially thrilled because they want to see (and hopefully work with me on) future books!

Also! Southeast Missouri University Press will be publishing my book Inside Ball Lightning! The book was a two-time finalist for their contest, and I'm really grateful to them for now giving it a home!

With my whole floating heart I want to thank everyone who helped me, who offered their love and time and energy! Ariel Chu for being my first reader and amazing, talented partner and giving brilliant feedback on every draft I showed her. All my teachers, who kept expanding my ideas of what poetry could be, who sat with me for hours going over these manuscripts. All the journals that believed in these poems. My friends and cohort, for inspiring me with their talent and critique. My family, for never flagging in their support of my work.

I'm totally ecstatic and totally grateful to you all for all the myriad ways you have supported my life and work. With so much love, thank you!

A sweet new string of acceptances!

Over the past two weeks I’ve been thrilled to receive acceptances from a number of journals!

Blackbird, poems translated from Sophia Parnok

Bat City Review, poems translated from Sophia Parnok

Mid-American Review, poems from my manuscript Glorious Veils of Diane

Phoebe, a poem from my chapbook manuscript “Pink Dress / Dark Green Trees”

Big Muddy, poems from my manuscripts Inside Ball Lightning and Moss on Rollercoaster Tycoon

Thank you!

"This space is how much I love you"

Thank you so much to Trish Hopkinson for inviting me to write about No Mark Spiral for her blog, where this piece was originally posted:

When I was eight years old, my brother Mark, then four and a half, followed me everywhere.

We had a game where I would stand inside the yard of the play-house in the corner of our living room, and he would open the mailbox, and peer inside, shout (loud as if I wasn’t right there) into its milky dark tunnel, “I’m home!”

And there’d be a back flap of the mailbox I’d open and when I did that the light would pour in and he’d see my face and shout “I see you, let me in!”

And I’d put my face to the hole and block out all the light again. I’d say “I’m right here!”

And that’s how it would be—both of our small faces pressed into the open ends of the mailbox, close enough to feel the heat of and smell each other’s breath, both blocking out all light, unable to see each other, but oh so incredibly close…

He’d pull away from the mailbox and I’d see his face in the light, he’d say—“I’m coming in!”

And I’d jump over the playhouse’s pretend fence and hide behind it, then Mark would enter to the spot I had just been, and he’d say “I’m home, where are you?”

And I’d come around to the outside of the mailbox and look in. But then he’d say, “Stop running away, Jacob, I just wanna play with you.”

And I wouldn’t know what to say, so I’d run outside of our real house and he’d chase me but I’d be hiding in a bush and as he ran blinking into the sun I’d jump out and scare him and he’d start to cry and I’d say “please don’t cry, I love you.”

*

After our grandmother died a long month after a cancer diagnosis, Mark started to get terrified. Suddenly, everything, including himself, was mortal. He lay in bed, eight, and I sat beside him, eleven and a half, and he asked quivering questions to the ceiling, no light except for the occasional blue blinking of his computer’s power button:

“What does it mean to die?

“When will I die?

“When will you die?

“Where do we go when we die?

“Why do people have to die?”

And to all these I would answer, “That’s very, very far away, don’t think about it now.”

Then I’d go back to my own bed, walking through the hallway with my eyes closed, in case I saw her ghost. Some nights I would have nightmares.

The worst dream I had I was in Mark’s room with Mark, and he was asking those questions, and then her ghost appeared, suddenly, leaning over a lamp. I pointed to her, and Mark turned around, but he didn’t see her…

*

We were like turtles in the dark, wanting to swim up towards the moon’s shape on the surface of water. But we kept mistaking each other’s pale lit shell below us for the moon, and so we’d spiral back, and back.

*

Here is a poem from the collection, which I set to music:

memask.png