Full disclosure: A preview copy of this game was provided by Mystic Ape Games. As this is a preview, I will mostly keep my comments limited to gameplay, as much of the art isn’t finalized. Additionally, some wording / imagery may be out of date, just by virtue of the preview copy / set of rules that I have.
Another Kickstarter preview! (September seems like a busy month for these sorts of things.) So let’s get into it.
Good news and bad news! The good news is that you’re very timely; but the bad news is that your timeliness is arriving to a bunker that should protect you from the impending end of the world.
A huge … space rock is hurtling toward the Earth and will probably wipe out everything that’s not in a bunker like yours. Thankfully, due in no small part to your timeliness, they’ve elected your group to be mostly in charge. Unfortunately, with great power comes the extreme discomfort of having to kick some people out of your bunker. Six people have shown up 12 hours before the end, but you can only let in four. To make matters worse, you’ve heard rumors that some cultists are trying to get in and sabotage the bunker as part of a doomsday prophecy, and people in your group want to help them. Can you avoid the traitors and exile the cultists before it’s too late?
So, you’ll want to start with the Doomsday Clock and the exile markers:
Take them out and put the red cubes on the 12 and 6, and cover the rest of the clock with the clear cubes.
Now, take out the Identity cards, which can be either Civilian or Cult Elder:
For the identity cards, you’ll use certain configurations based on player count:
- 2 Players: 1 Cult Elder, 4 Civilians (there’s a reason for this)
- 3 Players: 1 Cult Elder, 3 Civilians
- 4 Players: 1 Cult Elder, 4 Civilians
- 5 Players: 2 Cult Elders, 4 Civilians
- 6 Players: 2 Cult Elders, 5 Civilians
Deal each player one, face-down. Make sure they keep these hidden.
Next, you’ll take out the Survivor cards and the Trait Cards:
Shuffle them and place six of them blue-side up (it shouldn’t say “EXHAUSTED”) around the clock, such that there is a card at both the 6 and the 12. Shuffle and add two Trait Cards below each of the survivors according to the icon on the survivor’s card (some will be side-by-side; some will be stacked):
Last, each player should be given two Ability cards:
These give you a special ability during the game, so choose one and discard the other face-down and privately. Some are restricted to a certain player count, so if you get one of those, just discard it and draw another one. Once your play area looks like this, you should be ready to start:
So, in order to find out whether or not these survivors are secretly Cultists, you’re going to have to ask them some questions and find out more about them. How do you do that?
Well, when you question a survivor:
- Choose a survivor that is not exhausted (namely, they aren’t grey-side-up and it doesn’t say “EXHAUSTED” on their photo).
- Check their ability below their picture (for instance, the Geezer lets you look at a trait, but you must shuffle his two traits and randomly select one, and the Con Man lets you swap two traits). Note that not only can you not question an exhausted survivor, but you cannot affect that survivor with an ability, such as the Con Man or the Undergrad’s trait-swapping.
- After questioning them, if any survivor (except the Child) is currently exhausted, flip them over to the unexhausted side.
- Now, you’ve (usually) exhausted the survivor you’ve just questioned, so flip the survivor over to the exhausted side.
- Tell the group whether or not this survivor is a cultist (you can lie about this, if it suits you to do so).
- Vote to exile any survivor (even one that you haven’t questioned) by placing the next available exile marker on their card.
- If you are playing with two players, skip this step if you are going to remove the cube on the 2, 5, 8, or 11. That exile marker is removed from the game, instead.
- If you are placing a red exile marker, once you’ve placed that the survivor with the most votes to be exiled is removed from the bunker. Remove them from the game and keep their Trait cards hidden.
- Play continues with the next player, going clockwise, as in almost every game that isn’t Tokaido. If you are playing with two players and have just exiled your first survivor, deal both players a new Identity card. If they receive a Cult Elder, they are now a Cult Elder, not a Civilian.
But how do you know if someone’s a cultist or not?
Well, let’s talk about Trait cards.
As previously mentioned, everyone gets two, and they can vary:
- There are a bunch of useless ones, like “Rich” or “Genius” or “Clean Freak”. These don’t really do anything.
- There are Cultist cards. Unless told otherwise, if any survivor remains in the bunker with a Cultist card at the end of the game, the Cult Elders win and the Civilians lose.
- There are Prophet and Doomsayer cards. Both only take effect if the survivor with that trait is at the 6 or the 12 on the Doomsday Clock. If the survivor is a Prophet, they cancel the “Cultist” card on an adjacent survivor (one survivor on their left or right with no gaps from exiled survivors). If the survivor is a Doomsayer, they become a cultist if they’re at the 6 or 12. Be careful!
- They may have a Pet Dog or Pet Cat. People like their pets a lot, so if someone has a Pet Dog at the end of the game, it cancels the “Cultist” card on that survivor. So if someone is Cultist + Pet Dog, they’re no longer a Cultist! Well, unless someone adjacent to them has a Pet Cat. If the Pet Cat is on a survivor adjacent (again, with no gaps) to the survivor with the Pet Dog, the dog chases the cat out of the bunker and both traits get removed from the game. So be careful.
- One survivor is a Jerk. This means that if they have no exile markers on them, you must claim that they are a Cultist and place an exile marker on them. That can occasionally throw a wrench in your gears.
Again, you cannot specifically say what traits a survivor has, only whether or not they’re a Cultist.
Lastly, as I mentioned, there are a bunch of Ability cards that can be played at some point on your turn or another player’s turn. Not much else to say about that.
A survivor is exiled at 6 and at 12, and then the remaining survivors have their trait cards revealed to the entire group. If any of those survivors are now cultists, the Civilians lose and the Cult Elders win! If not, the Civilians win!
Player Count Differences
At two players, the game is a bit odd since it’s kind of hard to do two-player bluffing / deduction well (though I will again assert that I think Cake Duel did pretty well). I’m not particularly over the moon with the whole “you might change teams halfway through the game” (since both players get dealt a new identity card), so I’d say two’s not for me.
Other than that, it’s just about keeping the teams mostly balanced during the game as the player count increases. The Cult Elders don’t know each other, so that’s not a huge problem as you add in more Cult Elders (and usually there’s only 1, anyways), but a well-placed Cult Elder can swing the game in favor of the Cultists. It feels pretty balanced, though.
Additionally, at higher player counts you can use some Ability Cards that aren’t in play at lower player counts. Those are about all the differences, as far as I’ve seen. Other than two, I don’t have any issue with any player count, though you do personally get more turns at lower player counts.
- If you’re looking for a good player to exile at random, generally the player on the 6 or 12 isn’t a bad idea. This is because they might also have the Doomsayer card, which would make them slightly more likely to be a Cultist. That said, you probably don’t want to exile them if they’re the Prophet. It’s also not a bad idea to try for the Scientist, since you can only look at one of their cards (without using another survivor’s ability).
- Be mindful of the Jerk. If someone says that a survivor is a Cultist, they might just be a Jerk. If you don’t see a Cultist card when you investigate, it doesn’t mean that player is a Cult Elder; they may have just had no choice.
- Watch out for the Child. The Child can only be questioned twice per game (they’re exhausted until a Survivor is exiled). Generally don’t let the same player question them twice unless you’re sure that they’re on your team.
- Cult Elders might find the Geezer / Undergrad useful. It’s not a bad idea to claim the Geezer or the Undergrad are Cultists, since they get cards shuffled (Undergrad shuffles their traits with a trait from another survivor) and it’s a pretty simple claim that the cards the next player sees just aren’t the same ones you saw.
- Civilians: Keep track of the pets. You do not want the cat and dog next to each other, as that could lose you the game if you exile the wrong person.
- Use your Ability Card wisely. Sometimes it’s helpful to remove an exile marker from a survivor or question an exhausted survivor or block another player from placing an exile marker, and these are all things Ability Cards can potentially let you do. When done well, this could potentially swing the game for your team.
- Cult Elders: Sometimes it might be time to just go for it. Usually a big play from the Cult Elders can swing the game, but there’s also totally a valid strategy around having the Cult Elders be subtle. It’s actually pretty similar to Saboteur in that sense.
- Block players you don’t trust from questioning survivors with strong abilities. You definitely don’t want a Cult Elder (or a Civilian, depending on your team affiliation) to be switching Trait cards around in the late-game, so trying to exhaust (or exile, honestly) the Con Man or Undergrad might be a solid strategy to prevent that.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Cool theme. I think this is a really interesting game / gameplay mechanic, and it works pretty well.
- Pretty fast and light. I can play this pretty quickly (usually < 30 minutes), and it’s a nice warm-up for more intense / heavier games.
- Pretty social. It’s not quite as accusatory as say, Secret Hitler or Avalon (though some players are clearly bad), and there’re a lot more opportunities for team-based collaboration (like figuring out how to structure your turns to prevent a bad player from getting access to a good Survivor ability).
- Good at most player counts. I also have difficulty finding bluffing games I like at smaller player counts (I’m becoming less enchanted with Coup, lately, and a few people in my group are not Spyfall fans, even though I am), so it’s nice to have something that works.
- Solid replay value. Even from the preview copy, the mixture of the Trait cards, the Survivor cards, and the Ability cards makes every game play different (especially if you’re on different teams each time). I imagine in the Kickstarter that it’s going to be cranked up a bit with additional cards, but I’m honestly satisfied with the current state of the game.
- Easy to transport. You can take this pretty much anywhere, given that’s it’s basically a deck of cards and 12 cubes. You don’t even need to use the cubes, if you want to play it electronically. It might be hard to spread all the survivors out on, say, a plane, but I usually tuck this into my bag before I go places, just in case I want to play something.
- I think the Jerk is a solid card. I like that there’s a card in the game that forces you to act outside of your team’s interest (if you’re a Civilian, at least). It’s a good add, and it’s also a nice bit of theme.
- Kind of slow if there are no Cult Elders. This can happen in smaller player counts, but if you aren’t dealt a Cult Elder there’s not as much intrigue because no player really benefits from lying. Then it’s a bit more of a low-key puzzle game to try and figure out where all the Cultist cards are.
- Not a huge fan of the two-player variant. It just didn’t do it for me. Not a big deal, though, I’d just prefer it at more than two players.
Overall: 8 / 10
I actually enjoy The End Is Nigh a lot! I think it’s got a cool theme (pre-apocalypse, which I generally like), and I think the gameplay is small, sure, but tight enough that I’d argue it works pretty well. I like the social components of it (as there are more opportunities for lying than “you played a Fail!” “no I didn’t!”), as it allows for good conversations but still lets players be sneaky and commit acts of subterfuge. Generally I’d say if you’re looking for a good game to open a bluffing / deduction game night, you might want to consider starting with The End is Nigh.