Roguelikeboardgamelike: Cryptic Comet’s Occult Chronicles

'Agent Mclovin', sigh

Good news, everyone. The Occult Chronicles, the latest game from Vic Davis, aka Cryptic Comet, aka creator of splendid video-based boardgames such as Armageddon Empires and Solium Infernum (be sure to revisit our infamous diary about that one), is now available to buy and play. This one’s a singleplayer game which finds a hopefully happy middleground between roguelikes and boardgames. It’s got a classical theme, in the grand old theme of boardgames such as Arkham Horror and Betrayal At House On The Hill: an occult investigator investigating a spooky mansion, wrestling with threats to his sanity as well as to his life. Hmm. Does ‘Occult Investigator’ pay well? If not, perhaps he should consider becoming a vet.

It’s akin to his oeuvre, but for the first time he’s very much pursuing a single character focus rather than his traditional army-based fare, and toning down (though not removing) strategy in favour of roleplaying. “I really wanted to make something for board gamers like myself who end up playing solo on the kitchen table at 2 am,” he tells me.

I really, really like the sound of it, and hopefully the practice too – I’ve got a copy here I’m going to take a look at later this week. Meantime, there’s a reasonably detailed breakdown of how it plays here.

The dev’s currently doing a ‘beta buy-in program‘, which means you’re paying for early access to an unfinished version, but while it’s pretty much feature-complete he’s grateful for any player input on bugs, balance and usability options.

So take a gamble if you like, or otherwise hang on for some impressions from me soon. Presuming you trust what I have to say, that is. You really should, I’m always right and honest. Also I can introduce you to this guaranteed get rich quick scheme I’m in. You even get a free iPhone 6 for joining, subject to terms and conditions.


  1. farouche says:

    Really quite annoyed they got the basic magical symbolism so wrong: swords should be mental challenges, pentacles physical, wands arcane, and cups… well I guess that leaves them with ‘combat’, but they should represent moral or ethical challenges, which I think (with ‘combat’ left to pentacles) would have made for a more interesting game.

    I also understand that 99.9% of the gaming community won’t be bothered by this at all.

    • Vinraith says:

      No game designer with any sense is going to make sword be mental, and pentacles physical. To anyone not versed in whatever particular mythology you’re referring to, that makes absolutely no sense.

      • farouche says:

        True – games must not try to edify, enlighten, or maintain the grossest fidelity to their sources materials in even the smallest, most basic of ways. That’s what makes them Great Art ™.

        • Vinraith says:

          “Magic not sufficiently realistic.”

          I kid. I understand the frustration, but surely it’s self-evident that a completely different attribute labeling system would be the only alternative.

        • Underwhelmed says:

          Wait I’m confused here, which symbol would represent autism?

  2. Anthile says:

    I’d like to think that was intentional to make it more intuitive. It’s hard to believe somebody could get it that wrong.

    edit: this was meant to be a reply to farouche

    • Kitsunin says:

      Now that I know about the whole tarot thing, it’s odd. It makes sense though, really. I would normally be really confused if swords were mental and pentacles physical, that just seems like the opposite of what makes sense logically, y’know?

      • Timmytoby says:

        Also: We are talking about Tarot symbolism here.
        It’s like being barked at by someone who believes in astrology if you choose the wrong colours for your zodiac mahjongg tiles. Or you have to endure a hour-long discussion about the “proper” way to administer homeopathic remedies or the correct sparkliness of fairy dust. *eyeroll

        • djriverside says:

          Those hour-long discussions are most irritating because of two factors: A) it’s not really important and B) the speaker assumes they are an expert and know the one right way of doing things.

          A similar situation applies to the zodiac mahjongg tiles, yeah? In that case the person is nitpicking at a small unimportant detail. Mahjongg has nothing to do with astrology, it’s just a light-hearted application.

          Buuuut, with this kind of game, or any game that centers around mysticism and the occult, why not go the extra mile and add some extra depth for players like myself, Farouche, and Anthile? It’s not like the game needs a perfect, esoteric knowledge of Tarot themes. I think we’re all fans of devs who have Shown Their Work, though.

          The situation is not much different from a Star Wars fan wanting a related game to at least have some basic understanding of Star Wars beyond the movies, is it?

  3. Bo Steed says:

    There’s something about an Indiana Jones lookalike named “Agent McLovin” fleeing from zombies that amuses me.

  4. X_kot says:

    While perhaps not on the same footing at Armageddon Empires or Solium Infernum, Vic’s Six-Gun Saga was a pretty nifty card game based in the Wild (and Weird) West. I really like how he’s exploring all of these different settings and experimenting with different mechanics each time.

  5. Reapy says:

    Look of the game reminds me of mansions of madness, not that that is bad. Seems interesting.

    Also, I bought Solium and never played it due to that damn diary, never had anyone to play with and/or learn how to use it, but it sure is a good read if anyone has missed it.

  6. The Random One says:

    This might be something that will hold my interest in light of the fiery plane crash of Kingsport Cases.

  7. Severian says:

    I picked up the beta yesterday and played four games last night. Here are some quick thoughts for those of you curious:

    1. The art is lovely. I’d probably say it’s my favorite art of all his games. Very clean, very fun. Also, there’s a ton of good, fun, pulpy writing in here. I shudder to think of how much time he put into writing each of the vignettes.
    2. If you’ve played Mansions of Madness or Arkham Horror and like the “feel” of those games, you’ll like this.
    3. It is difficult, as a rogue-like should be. I didn’t come close to winning in my various plays, but my most successful character lasted for around 1.5 hours. At that point, I was feeling pretty confident but then fell into a pit that landed me in the lowest basement level and I quickly died to the first creature I came across. I predict that a winning run will take around 3-5 hours playtime. My shortest run was 15 min and it taught me that if you can’t fight or flee (e.g., egghead professor), you’re screwed.
    4. There are a lot of different encounters (100’s), but after you play a few times, you’ll see the same ones pop up. Since you’ll see the main floor of the mansion the most, those “simple” encounters will eventually get pretty boring. But this is only a minor concern.
    5. The quests are fun and provide nice mini-goals to help your character progress and level up.
    6. The character creation process and leveling up mechanics are somewhat unintuitive. Not like your typical RPG. Yes, there are “classes” (like mages, fighters, thieves, sort of) but they aren’t called that and you can’t lean too much on your archetypes to guide you through. For those of you who played SI, do you remember how some builds were just terrible? Like, you needed to put 3 into Charisma to be competitive? There’s some stuff like that here. It feels very Vic Davis and that’s not a bad thing, just janky.
    7. The most contentious issue will be the card-game mechanic itself. You might like it or find it very repetitive and uninteresting. It only really gets interesting once you have a few special ability (like spells) which help you modify outcomes. For most of the early game it will just feel like flipping cards over and hoping for the best. I wish there was more to it, but it periodically does feel like a very heavily over-designed and overly-complex dice-roll.
    8. Vic is committed, as always, to improving the game based on player feedback. If you’re interested in the concept, get in now and have a say in how the game design changes.
    9. I recommend it. I enjoy playing it and it definitely captures the solitaire boardgame feel, without all the set-up and fiddliness.

  8. mwoody says:

    Is it still written in Director, or whatever awful engine he was using before? Don’t get me wrong, my wallet opened so fast of its own accord that it tore off my back pocket, but I’m just curious if I’m going to have to deal with stability issues and an inability to play full screen.

  9. amateurviking says:

    This looks lovely. My finger was hovering over the buy button, but I think I shall await your opinion.

  10. golem09 says:

    iPhone 6 you say?

    Tell me more…

  11. zachforrest says:

    ahh you guys should do another huge diary sometime. Can’t you get every RPS lag old and new together for something sometime?

    I’ll chuck in a tenner to cover loss of other income…

  12. Scelous says:

    I bought Solium Infernum, and while I absolutely loved the concept, the execution was a bit lacking. The whole “no multiplayer except through email” is pretty lame. I want to like Vic’s games, so maybe one day there will be one that clicks for me.

    • Underwhelmed says:

      The game had hot seat play, so there was that too. It sort of counts.