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.