Theme and What is it?
*Note* Copy of the game provided by the publisher for review purposes.
There are dark forces in the universe. Things so ancient and great that we are to them as ants are to us. The sight of a mere portion of one of these entities power will kill the lucky ones. Those of us that survive the experience have had our minds destroyed. Our sanity shattered like a mirror being smashed with a hammer. They have agents among us. Cultists and other, more exotic followers. They herald in the doom that comes for us. Few stand in the way. Victory is fleeting. We never stop them. Only delay. Maybe not us but one day a generation will be born that can stop these ceaseless gods. Gods? Until, we delay. We hold. We hope.
Arkham Horror is set in the fictional town of Arkham. Something bad is happening. It’s up to you and a band of stranger to step in and see if you can save the day. Using action selection, card management, and a bit of luck, you’ll face some of H. P. Lovecrafts horrors. Can you save the day? Maybe. It won’t be easy. Some of you may not survive. But that’s okay, there are others who can help. Let’s hit the streets, follow the clues, and do what we do best. Survive.
Arkham Horror uses a couple of simple mechanics to guide you through a collection of four scenarios. Each of these things fold together to help you gather clues, advance the investigation, and halt the problem. However, an event deck and a doom pool are always there to push back against your efforts. What can you do? Well, let’s take a look.
On your turn you’ll may perform two actions from a pretty decent list of actions: Move, Attack, Evade, Focus, Gather, Trade, Ward, Research, and any action that appears on a card. I won’t go into all of them but here are a couple. Gather allows you to take money from the bank and add it to your supply. Ward removes Doom tokens from the board. Focus lets you add a +1 counter to a stat; you can also spend the counter to reroll a dice. Research allows you to move gathered clues from your character to the scenario; one of the necessary steps to win.
Players take their turns in which ever order they feel best helps them. Then the monsters take a turn. Monsters are represented by small cards and have their instructions printed on the front. A monster could move towards a specific hero or location, summon doom tokens, or just lurk in an area causing problems. Monsters that are engaged with heroes will deal damage and horror to the hero. This causes them to lose health and sanity.
After that is the Encounter phase. Heroes who are not engaged with a monster will draw an encounter card form a series of decks that represent the different neighborhoods, streets, and anomalies. The cards are broken up to give each possible location a narrative event. Some of these will reward players with clue tokens; a resource used to defeat the evil.
After this is the Mythos phase. Each player will reach into the Mythos cup and draw two tokens from it. These tokens can cause events, newspaper headlines that effect the player who drew it, monsters to spawn, or doom and clue tokens to appear on the board. Every scenario has its own cup inventory and you can adjust these to flex the difficulty a little by adding more good or bad tokens.
There is an encounter deck which has a couple of different uses. If a clue is placed on the board then a card is drawn from the top of the deck to find which neighborhood the clue goes into. That card is then shuffled into the top of that neighborhood’s deck. Doom is placed in a location by drawing the bottom card and discarding. An anomaly explosion is drawn from the top of the deck and places doom in every location in a neighborhood. That card and the discard pile are then shuffled and place on the bottom of the deck. In this way the longer the game goes on the more stacked the bottom of the deck becomes insuring that Doom tokens keep piling up in the same locations. Too many tokens in an area and something very bad happens.
Another piece of play that comes into effect in this game is the use of scenarios, an Archive, and a Codex. The Archive is a collection of cards that advance the stories for each of the scenarios. At eh beginning of a scenario you’ll be instructed to take a couple of cards from the Archive and add them to the Codex. The codex is the cards you’re using for that particular scenario. Each card will have a bit of story, a new rules, and usually a condition that once met will add more cards from the archive to the codex. In this way each scenario advances and reveals itself to you as you play. It also means that you don’t actually know what you need to do to win at the beginning of the game. You have an action that helps you and when you do it enough it will reveal more of the story. But you may not even know what you’re up against in the beginning.
You play the game until the game wins or you do depending on the actions you take and the doom that is thrust upon you.
I really enjoy Arkham Horror 2nd edition. I also enjoy the living card game that I’d heard this took a lot of cues from. For those reasons I was very excited to try this game. I was also looking for a more streamlined experience. I think 2nd edition can be a bit unwieldy even with only the base game. After opening the box and going through the rules, I was still very positive of my future play experience.
Game Build Quality
As always Fantasy Flight Games does a bang up job on the components. I think the monster cards are a little small but this is so they’ll fit on the board. It’s a bit of a quality of life vs mechanical necessity so I get it. The cards are the same quality FFG usually puts out; no complaints there. Everything was top notch.
As with all of FFG’s releases the game comes with a learn to play and a rules reference. The learn to play rules are written well and get all of the necessary information across in the order you need it. The rules reference is a detailed FAQ with an ample glossary that answered all of our questions.
The game is filled with the typical FFG Arkham art work. It’s thematic and fits the setting though I wouldn’t call it beautiful. It does help to immerse you into the story and the world. They’ve been making these games for a long time and know what helps fill out the universe and use that knowledge well.
This is a very difficult coop with some puzzle elements. There are some narrative elements that move the game forward and focus the game play. There is some luck in the game and a bad dice roll, shuffle, or cup pull can wreck an entire turn. It can be mitigated and never felt like the game was solely based on luck but it was a factor.
Age Range & Weight
The box says 14+ and I think that’s pretty accurate. There are some tough decisions to make. The mechanics can get a bit wonky at times. If you have a bad turn it can be a real set back and some younger players might have a problem with that. I think it’s easy enough that some slightly younger players might be able to play but some of the thematic elements might require a parent’s discretion on whether someone younger can play.
I like this game. I found it a lot of fun.
When I set out to learn a new game I set it up and play through it solo. I do this even when the game requires more players by simply playing multiple characters. After I’ve gotten the rules down I put the game back in the box and wait until I get together with friends. There are a few rare occasions where I play the game alone again. This is one of them. I left this game set up for three days and played it by myself once or twice a day until I had my gathering.
Things I like about this game. It’s a challenge. This game is hard to win especially when you’re not sure what you’re supposed to be doing. Playing through the story gives you clues to what you’ll need to accomplish but never lays it out for you. The first mission has four stages before you know what you need to do to win. At the same time failure is also a multi stage process. Things get a little tougher with each failure, but only in degrees. Maybe Doom comes out a little faster or a monster spawns. These things make the game more challenging but never ratchet the difficulty to a point on hopelessness.
I like the system for placing Doom on the board. Yes it smells of Pandemic but it works so well here. It also feels thematic. Places where awful things happen cause more awful things to happen. It also meets that nice edge of a sense of danger but never overwhelming.
I think the Doom Cup and how it goes together is very well done. Since each player draws two tokens at the end of the round it helps the game scale well. You’ll have more encounters and monsters in a four player game than a two because you’re drawing the counters faster. It also helps build a sense of reprieve. Because you know exactly what tokens are in the cup you can plan your round. You know that here are three minsters tokens in the cup so once all of them are drawn you don’t have to worry about more until the cup gets refilled. It lets you have very brief moments of respite.
There is one slight drawback. While I never found it to over the top, there is an element of luck in the game. With drawing cards, dice rolls, and token draws you can have one a couple of turns where everything goes right or horribly wrong. For the most part I felt like this self-balanced but I can see it being overwhelming for some players.
I’m also not a fan of having two actions but only getting to use any given action once. It can make sense for some things but if you start your turn facing off against a monster or two or four and con only fight one of them. That can get rough, especially if you don’t have a high enough observation skill to evade effectively. This is also amplified by having only three actions you can use while engaged with a monster: attack, evade, and focus. Being able to attack twice in a turn would have been nice. The fact that we couldn’t was one of the few things that took us out of the game and the story.
I mentioned 2nd edition earlier and eluded to the massive number of expansions. So many that FFG released an expansion for the expansions. This game feel like mechanics of adding expansions were considered when they built it. I mean this in a good way, though for some that won’t be such a great thing. Each scenario comes with its own decks of encounter and event cards. It also has specific cards built into the archive. Because of this FFG can add expansions to 3rd edition by simply adding a new scenario with all of its cards. They could even through in a new hero or two ad possibly a neighborhood without effecting the price too much.
While I appreciate the idea that there will be expansions that add to the game. I like the stories that are here now. The game has a nice feel and I’ve already replayed scenarios. I can honestly say knowing what was coming didn’t affect my enjoyment at all. Even having played through the recommended starting scenario I still had fun. This game considers replays and does it well.
In the end I still recommend that you try before you buy if possible. That said if you like the rest of FFG’s Arkham line you’ll find that they have a lot here that is a more streamlined way of entering the game. Hit up your local FLGS or convention and see if this is in the library.
Until next time, there’s something in the corner I need to go deal with…now where did I put those elder sign instructions…