I’m a tad humbled to tell you at this point I have only played Arkham Horror a handful of times and tragically we are still fighting to beat Night of the Zelalot, the first campaign in the series. So it would be trifle unfair to review a game where I’ve barely scratched upon the surface. However, I did want to write up some initial thoughts and perhaps answer a few questions for anyone who is considering getting into this. Here I will touch on a few points that certainly went through my mind before and since playing.
Arkham Horror: The Card Game is the first in a new series of ‘Living Card Games’ by Fantasy Flight, a co-op horror immersed in Lovecraftian Mythos. For anyone who isn’t familiar (and bear with me because this is quite a convoluted explanation) a LCG is like almost like a trading card game without the randomisation, where new packs and expansions will be released as an ongoing series that you can choose to add to your repertoire as and when. Available so far we have: Arkham Horror- a two player card game that can play 1-4 with additional core sets, followed by Carnevale of Horrors- a standalone scenario pack that can be added as a sideline to the core game. Last week the expansion to Arkham, The Dunwich Legacy was released, which has several ‘Mythos’ packs lined up that integrate with both games. Are you still with me? I hope so. The concept of these games is to play along with the campaigns, survive intact and gain experience points that will allow you more cards to use in the next part of the story. You set up your game by each choosing a character and corresponding deck, with agenda/location/encounter cards and token bag at the ready. You have a starting hand of 5 cards (that can be increased to a maximum 8) that include assets, skills and weaknesses. You investigate locations, draw new cards, pick up clues, fight/evade monsters and advance the agenda cards to assist you in completing the campaign. Much of your success hinders on randomly drawn ‘Chaos’ tokens that will effect your action (e.g.- you play a willpower skill and need 4 willpower to succeed, your character has 3 and you draw a +1 Chaos token- success!) You are aiming to get to the end before the dreaded Doom tokens advance on the agenda before you do, then everything goes from bad to worse to dead and/or insane.
I’m always a bit wary of LCGs, my main concern is once they are all played and achieved will I want to go back and play again, and the answer is probably not. Do I really want to pump money I haven’t really got into this Fantasy Flight moneymaker? This is the nature of a LCG, you either take it for what it is, enjoy the ride and spend the money, or say ‘nope, not for me’. I’m still very much in two minds. Part of me wants to get my moneys worth, but the greedy gamer in me says ‘but I want to try all of them’. And I certainly think part of the fun is looking forward to what’s coming next, mastering the game, exploring newly acquired decks, and building your own. But in terms of game play it’s an unusual experience- the thrill and intrigue of a campaign can be fantastic, but it will only come once then it’s lost. Until the next one.
I come to realise this after my first couple of games of Arkham Horror, because apparently we kind of suck. Don’t get me wrong- I love a challenge. But the initial thrill of the first game has already got tired and I am concerned with how bloody annoying it’s going to be given a couple more failed attempts. The first play we read the narrative aloud to candlelight, delivered with dramatic flair, excited for the horrors in store. A couple of games later it was a bit (ok a lot) less enthused; ‘here we are in the parlor … again … sigh’. The problem is you want to persist and you desperately want those experience points. But if you already find making time for gaming difficult well let me say that Arkham Horror is an all-consuming time-eater.
Let’s move on to a positive note; what I loved about those initial first games and am excited for still is the story unfolding. Much like in a great work of fiction or good video game, the story starts slowly as you’re finding your feet and checking out your surroundings. During this time you are accumulating cards/resources, investigating locations and revealing further narrative. There’s no denying that the story telling element is strong here and when coupled with the evocative card art -a family game this is not. The real action begins when diabolical horrors starting spawning on locations left, right and center, and you soon find yourself in deep s**t with a hell of a lot to tackle. This is the part that I found really clever and wonderfully thematic. As soon as your sanity and health start chipping away it’s an uphill struggle to stay alive, sane and advance your agenda.
I also wondered if this would be ‘just another Lovecraft game’. I am actually a huge Lovecraft fan, but at this point there are so many board games and RPGs surrounding the Cthulu Mythos that it has become a little stale for some people, myself included. But the great thing about Lovecraft is that there is a wealth of material to inspire, so it doesn’t have to be all Shoggoths & Cthulu. So far Arkham Horror seems to be slightly subtler, with a focus on hidden horrors, a steady building madness and disorientation where your locations are transformed into ghastly backdrops, stuffed to the gills with the most horrible things a mind could conjure. Y’ know…as far as I can tell from attempting one campaign.
I was also considering if this would be too similar to Eldritch Horror, a game that I’ve played quite a bit these past couple of years. But as I’ve touched on already I think it’s the clever story telling that sets it apart, and being a card game lends it a far smoother feel. I love the simple mechanics, and the way that you can move from one phase to the next with minimal fussy business in between. Aside from all the creatures trying to kill you.
Lastly I think that you really need to be willing to co-op to play, which seems like an obvious statement, but sometimes it’s easy to forget that you need to be utilsing your character’s skill set to help each other and take the focus away from yourself somewhat. Apparently we haven’t mastered this yet, and maybe that is something to do with not playing co-op games too often that we haven’t fully grasped how to co-op to win yet. Interesting.
And with that I’ll draw this post to a close.
In summary, Arkham Horror is a chilling co-op game with a lot to offer if and when you get to the good stuff. If you don’t mind an experience that needs repeated refreshing, that will eat into much of your gaming time and you’re happy to keep buying then you’re probably going to have a lot of fun.
I’m still on the fence contemplating…wish me luck for my next game???