WWI: Arkham Horror

ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!
ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!

The Elements: This is a complicated cooperative boardgame, for one to eight players. You attempt to stop horrors from the eldrich realms from invading earth. I'm assuming correctly that you're at least passingly familiar with H. P. Lovecraft. If not, what are you doing here?!

Answer me that!

The Crux: It's complicated.

Everyone gets an investigator card. This is your character. Each one has sliders that change their stats every turn, along with a special ability, gear, skills, spells, money, clues, and an indicator that tells you how much to change your stats.

Each turn has several phases.

Upkeep where you change your stats and do upkeep stuff.

Movement where you move around the board. There are main streets, and 'event areas'. You also do all your fighting in this phase.

Encounter, where you draw cards and close portals

and then the Mythic phase (referred to as the 'F&C* You phase) where gates open, monsters on the board move around randomly, and strange events complicate the situation.

All of this horror continues until enough gates open to summon the evil horror, enough gates are sealed (requiring 5 clue tokens), or there are no open gates on the board. (good luck!)

The Countenance: So let it be noted that there is no irony in a game about a baroque setting has baroque gameplay.

Also, it's important to say that getting your investigator and the way you power her up is very fun. I mean, like I want to do it again tonight levels of fun.

However, the game is too complicated for anything but fairly die hard groups. There are a number of issues with this.
  • Tracking your stat changes slows down upkeep to a crawl. 
  • Keeping track of movement phases and the fact that combat happens in them, versus event phases and the sheer number of things that trigger during the turn is difficult.
  • Adding new monsters requires you knowing the monster total, equal to the number of players on the board. The board is .  . . very busy and that takes time to get an accurate count.
  • Finding all the monsters to move them is equally difficult. 
  • The vast number of things that require multiple turn tracking (a fair number of mythos cards, shops closing, various other random events) make it difficult to make sure they all process.
  • The fact that only certain cards are of use in certain out-lands and other dimensions mean that you end up having to shuffle through multiple cards to find one that applies to you. This doesn't take a long time, but is an example of the type of design decision that ends up taking extra time and effort to recall and process.

The Genre: It's a turn based boardgame, but it clearly has Exploration and Conflict elements, and because it's a real world tabletop game, it is a strategy game, putting this according to the grid, as an RPG.

Though I'm sure this seems strange (It's clearly a board game!?), I actually think it's pretty accurate. It's not much different then a small dungeon with a big boss and lots of little side quests. My general impression of it, paying attention to the setting detail and how the game built up, is that it was very much like a Call of Cthulhu game, just with an arbitrary DM determining the activities of the eldrich horrors by random chance.

The Detritus: Clues allow you to seal portals, and reroll dice, which gives a high value to their utility, but they come and go quick. I was fond of skills, since they are permanent increases in your character utility, but in the final analysis, they were not as useful as they could have been. I am uncertain (since we only played once) if that is due to the ones I picked or skills in general.

There are lots of options and cards to explore. It could be played ten or so times at a minimum and still be finding new things.

The Final Counsel: This game has a number of serious design issues. There are many things that could be done to address these issues, (house rules, familiarity with play). Several of these issues would seriously inhibit me playing this type of game with someone who isn't already the type of person who would play Rolemaster.

But what this game is, in spite of all the above, is fun. I look forward to playing it again.

So buy it - it's pretty affordable for what you get, and I look forward to using it on a week I need a break from running.

Platforms: It's available in boxes, at places with games. Also Amazon.

1 comment:

  1. I've played Arkham once or twice. It's a bit too complex for my tastes, but the complexity also makes it seem near-emergent at times—like the game has a strategy to get the players. It goes more smoothly if one of the players knows the game well enough to guide the others.


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