Cult Of The Lamb’s Internal Clock Makes Running A Religion A Stressful Balancing Act
Being alive eventually brings with it the knowledge that, someday, you will not be alive. And religion, in its many different permutations, attempts to provide an answer for what will happen when that inevitably comes to pass. In Christianity, that looks like heaven. In Buddhism, it looks like reincarnation. In Mormonism, it looks like heaven, too, but with more family time on the planet you run together. Mortal life brings with it the reminder of time's passage, through the ticking of the clock, the wrinkling of your skin, the brittleness of your bones.
In that way, religion is a lot like social sim games. In Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley, the clock is always ticking. The Animal Crossing games make the clock the same clock governing time in our own world with time passing by slowly but surely as you play, in lockstep with the world outside the game. In Stardew Valley, it's the internal clock, ticking by at an accelerated pace that compresses a day into the span of roughly 14 minutes.
Cult of the Lamb, which combines religion and social simulation, borrows from the Stardew Valley model. As you attempt to build an indomitable cult, you will need to work around your villager's schedules. They need to go to sleep every night and get some solid winks. If you wake them up from their slumber for a ritual, they'll be grumpy with you and a bit of their devotion will trickle away. When enough time passes, they get hungry and, after they eat, they need to poop. Leave them unattended and they may lose faith in the cult, bust out a megaphone, and start preaching against you to your villagers. Once enough time passes, they'll grow old and die. The process of playing this game is a lot like flipping over a dozen hourglasses with varying levels of sand, then trying to flip them back before they fill up.
Time inexorably marches on for your villagers. And, because you need a certain amount of them to unlock Cult of the Lamb's dungeons, their mortality is your problem. You can't just ignore your cultists and allow your base to fall into disrepair. You need their devotion to upgrade your base and your skill set. So while you might want to just focus on dungeoneering, Cult of the Lamb demands that you get good at plate-spinning.
This might be my favorite design element in the game, because it ensures that CotL is never boring. There is always something urgent you need to get done and a limited amount of time in which to do it. Like parents planning a trip to the store around their newborn's sleep schedule, each task in Cult of the Lamb has a strict timeline. If you want to play a few rounds of Knucklebones at the Lonely Shack or fish at that nearby settlement, you better plan those trips for when your cultists are asleep.
If you spend too long away, you might return to dissenters in your midst. They may have even corrupted the minds of once obedient cultists. If you had been there, you may realize, you could have stopped it. But, you weren't there. You were in the middle of a rousing dice game. You were fighting enemies in a dungeon. You were trying to catch the elusive lobster.
This gives the game a great (and stress-inducing) sense of cohesion. While Cult of the Lamb is functionally two games smashed together, the halves exist in a delicate equilibrium, less two separate entities in close proximity and more two ends of a seesaw. The gods may be on your side, you may realize, but time is not. At best, you can hope that, if only for a moment, both sides are above the ground.
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