You Should Play | Arkham Horror

Do you like cooperative board games? Do you like HP Lovecraft? Do you not mind reading a giant rulebook before you play a game? Do you like a game where everyone can lose? Do you laugh in the face of danger? Do you have a giant table and at least three friends?

If you answered 'yes' to these questions, then Arkham Horror is the game for you! Read on for the Arhkam Horror review!

Set in the city of Arkham in the year 1926, this co-operative game is based on Lovecraftian lore. Players play as investigators trying to get to the bottom of the strange and horrible happenings in Arkham. Monsters roam the streets, gates to other dimensions appear, and a terrible Ancient One stirs in its slumber...

The goal of the game it to prevent the Ancient One from waking, or to defeat it if it does. You prevent the Ancient One from waking by either closing all the gates on the board (you need at least one closed gate per player to win) or by sealing six or more gate locations. If the terrible Ancient One awakens, all investigators must fight it. Should they fail, the game is considered lost... to say nothing of the universe.


How many of you judge books by the cover?

You have nothing to fear here; Arkham is a beautiful game. The illustrations are top-notch, and all the chits are high quality and printed on both sides. The detailing in the artwork is incredible and it does a great job of bringing the Lovecraftian universe to life. (Not that you'd actually want that.)


This is the most complex game I have ever played. We've played this game more times than I could count, and we still have to check the rules. There is a lot of information to keep track of, from simply remembering what certain symbols mean, to counting the number of monsters on the board, to remembering to roll for cards on the upkeep phase, to using your investigator's special abilities, to keeping track of rumors and environments. The gameplay is so dynamic and interactive that it creates quite a few edge cases whose resolution can come down to a single word in a description, or - in the worst case - can be solved only by searching through the FAQs on Fantasy Flight's website. This game is so complex that it really should be a computer game... there's no way that mere humans can keep track of everything that needs to be remembered.

So, this game is not for the casual player! Even after all this time, I'm still not sure we play correctly. Just last week we realized we had been forgetting a rule which would have removed monsters off the board every time we closed a gate. Forgetting that rule has definitely cost us a victory or two. Add on a couple expansions, and there's no way you could play this game as anything but stone sober and with no distractions. This game is not a party game!

"Arkham Horror at FFG booth, Origins 2005" by Tom "Snicker Daddy" Pancoast

Bringing in new players is also a daunting task. The number of cards and chits laid out on a table is enough to scare away any new player, and then when you start to explain the rules they often go cross-eyed. When bringing in new players, you should expect to babysit them for their first few games - not just over gameplay like how to interpret monster chits and make skill checks, but also strategy, such as what items to buy and what locations to travel to. With a few rounds of practice, the basic rules become familiar and then you should only have to check the rulebook for the tricky bits. :D


As you can guess from the complexity, Arkham isn't a fast game. You should expect to put a solid couple hours into it. The first few games we played lasted hours and hours, as we were getting used to the turn phases, fights and movement. We played two games last night over the course of about three hours, with one running shorter than usual at about 45 minutes. The thing that's tricky about Arkham is that shit can go to pot very quickly, but you can also completely turn a bad game on its head and emerge victorious. A game that you've been struggling with for hours can suddenly terminate in your favor; a game that had a strong beginning can instantly take a turn for the worst. It's very difficult to predict how long a particular game will take. That leads to:


Many people dislike randomness in games. T is one of them, but he loves Arkham. There is dice rolling for skill checks and most of the items, skills, and spells you obtain are randomly or pseudo-randomly chosen, and the terrible events like monsters, rumors, and gates are also randomized. But, even for a game that is so heavily random, Arkham is quite balanced. Rather than reducing the game to a skill-less dice game, the randomness of the events forces you to constantly evolve your strategy. It turns the game into a thrilling, by-the-seat-of-your-pants adventure where even the best-laid plans have the potential to fail gloriously.

(Personally, I think this captures Lovecraft's universe perfectly - the gods and Old Ones care not about the plans of mere mortals!)

Even so, there are plenty of ways to protect yourself from the random whims of the dice or card deck. You can spend clue tokens to re-roll failed dice; you can get blessed so that rolling a 4 counts as a success, in addition to the usual 5 and 6. You can pimp up your character so that you're rolling fistfulls of dice at a time. You can combat the random cards with special skills and items. The game has hundreds of neat and tricky cards that can be just the thing to pull you out of a sticky situation.


The most fun part about the game is that it's set in a universe that doesn't care about your existence or your actions. Things happen around you, or to you, and you have to use all your skill and a bit of luck to survive until the next terrible event happens. It's a dynamic, evolving and challenging game that is just a total blast to play. There are so many terrible, horrible monsters and weird items that you can't not have fun.

Most importantly, when you die you can make a new investigator and jump right back in again, possibly even better off than before you died. Character stats don't irreversibly snowball, so a new investigator is just about as useful as one that has been with the game from the beginning. I think that's the main feature of the game that turns it from something that's frustrating and impossible into something that's enjoyable.

Replay value

A very important feature of expensive board games is their replay value. Arkham has a massive replay value, because there's just so much stuff and variation! The main point of variation is the horrible beastie Ancient One you're playing against and the investigators you use... but an infinite amount of variation also comes from things like spell and item combinations and the order of game events. And if you ever start to get tired of the base game, there are (as of the time of writing) 4 board expansions and 4 card expansions that add completely new game mechanics, monsters, Ancient Ones, areas and cards. Arkham has the most replay value of any game I've played, and I think that comes from its complexity and the powerful way it harnesses randomness.

So go on, give it a shot! You never know, you may enjoy being devoured!

2 things about

You Should Play | Arkham Horror
  1. This young one speaks truth. More mortals should devote their time to this arcane ritual. Each passing moment draws you further into our world, and we delight in the strain of your minds against our influence.

    1. Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!


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