First Thoughts on Arkham Horror: The Card Game

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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???

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Kanagawa, Bruno Cathala & Charles Chevallier

Published: Iello 

Illustration: Jade Mosch

Plays: 2-4

Duration: 30-45 mins

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Let me start by saying that Kanagawa is now firmly placed in my ‘chill AF’ game category, which previously didn’t have enough games to be construed as a category, but at this point I think there are just enough, and Kanagawa fits into it quite nicely. If there were ever a game to give you enough to concentrate on but also the headspace to sit back and just enjoy playing then this is it.

Having read a few glowing reviews and watched the promo video I pretty much knew I was going to like it from the get-go and thankfully it didn’t disappoint. I unboxed it to find a traditional Japanese style play mat, chunky ‘diploma tiles’, little paint pots and square ‘lesson’ cards depicting various pretty images that really set my heart a-fluttering. And amongst all this cute stuff is a very good little game, and attractive components aside, that’s what it’s really all about isn’t it?

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Kanagawa is a worker placement & set collection combination with a bit of card drafting and press your luck thrown in, that works beautifully and plays super smoothly. The rules are fairly simple, but the choices are tough without making your head come off and therein lay the chill factor. You find yourself enrolled in painting school on a mission to prove your art-worthiness to old Master Hokusai. You achieve this by making prints and claiming diploma tiles. You begin with a starting tile; on the top side is your canvas, on the bottom your skill board. The start player (or Grand Master) draws cards from the deck and lays them in a face up/face down arrangement as shown on the mat (your art school). You draw two at a time and the start player decides if they want to stay in school i.e. wait to see what cards are drawn next or to take what’s already there (say you desperately want a lesson card with the landscape painting skill) and the next player will take what’s left. Which isn’t always a bad thing.

You choose to place your cards in two ways: 1/ With your skills; this will acquire you more painting abilities, points, further paint pots, ability to move your pots a number of times or to gain the start playing marker. 2/ With your canvas; prints mean points just by being placed, but you cannot paint them without having the skills and the paint pots to do so.  (The bottom of the lesson card symbolises the skill you need, e.g. two blue ocean painting skills). You increase your Harmony Points by collecting sets and pinching your desired diploma tile before your opponent. Valid sets include people and buildings of different types, combinations of animals and identical landscapes. It’s very much a game of deciding what to do for the best in the moment. Are you aiming to collect tree or people prints? Maybe you want to try your hand at all of them. Should you go for a diploma tile now or wait until next turn to get the better one? What if your opponent nabs it before you? Maybe you want the lesson card with multiple painting abilities, but it will lose you two Harmony Points. Perhaps you can gain them elsewhere…but how? Have you paid attention to what seasons (top right of the lesson card) you are painting? An identical sequence of seasons will score you bonus Harmony Points (although if you gain a skill awarding you a storm token you can use it to substitute any season for a greater sequence.) For a seemingly simple game the options to explore are so varied that you want to play again immediately after you’ve finished to see what else you can do. And that is the mark of a really great game.

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In a two-player game the end is triggered when the lesson deck is empty or a player reaches eleven cards on their canvas. Scoring is based on number of prints, Harmony Points on skills and prints, diplomas, longest sequential run of seasons and a bonus two points for the last player with the Grand Master pawn.

In case you hadn’t already guessed I highly recommend Kanagawa. I love having lots of options, I adore satisfying end scoring and I enjoy games that play like fillers that are a bit fuller…and when it’s over you’re like ‘well that was lovely wasn’t it?’ which is exactly what I’ve said after every game of Kanagawa so far.

Thanks for reading!

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Terraforming Mars, Jacob Fryxelius

Finally, I have a chance to review Terraforming Mars. Well I say review; I am a reviewer in a very casual sense. I play games that I mainly buy myself and I know I’ll like, so it’s rare that I’m ever going to pan anything. This year I think there have been two games that I’ve had to hold my hands up and say ‘look, I made a mistake’ and I think I’ve made that pretty clear in my past posts (namely A Study In Emerald and Tiffin). I’ve never been mean or negative, but I have to say when I’m genuinely baffled, frustrated or disappointed. My reviewing ‘style’ is usually to chat about the game, basic game play and what I thought. So that clears up my ‘reviewing’ style.

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I didn’t think I’d be disappointed with Terraforming Mars. When you’re on a tight budget you kind of have to vet the games out fully to make sure it’s not going to be a colossal waste of money and time. Made that mistake and never again as far as I’m concerned. Of course it’s bound to happen again at some point because sometimes you just don’t know if you’ll be into the vibe until you play. Anyway, there is so much out there on Terraforming Mars that I think it would be very tedious to give you a full break down of the game play as I’ve done in the past. I kind of reserve that now for games I don’t see getting a lot of attention, like maybe a game that’s not had a lot of coverage or I think deserves like a full work up, rules and all. But Terraforming Mars is not one of those games. It seems that it’s a very enthusiastic thumbs up from everyone and a lot of videos and blog coverage. So I just want to focus on two things; is it worth the hype and what do I like about it?

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Yes. Yes it is. It’s a very clever game with what seems like infinite ability to replay at this point. In a two player game it seems that there are cards constantly coming up that you didn’t see the first two times you played, so I can imagine that with two player plus this would happen all the more. The cards represent so many things you can do to steam ahead, and I love the way they work together. Admittedly in my first game I was just buying what I thought looked good, but by the second I was more switched on as to what I was doing and employed a good amount of strategy into what I bought and why. The cards thematically link in different ways so for example you may want to go down the plant life route or the city building route to head up the score track and generate lots of ‘credits’ (the game currency). The cards synchronise by the ‘tags’, and you can use these cards to generate credits and build up a storage of titanium, steel heat etc and use these as payment for other cards. You can build on plant life and animal cards which will score you tons of points.You can be an amazing scientist. You can be a top biologist. It’s a good idea to get cards with end of game bonuses, and please, whatever you do, try to remember everything. I really thought I had the last game in the bag, I was ahead on the terraforming track, I was set to win some ‘awards’ but I forgot that land tiles on the board will score you end of game points, and I made a bad bet on an award at the last minute, not foreseeing that actually my opponent was going to end the game before I could fully achieve it. So I lost, and not by too much which was really frustrating. That’s the thing with this game, you have lots to think about and work at, but you need to remember that it’s all going to come together at the end.

I like the way you have to work with your opponents somewhat to bring the game to a close, and you have to do this by meeting the three end trigger conditions; all sea tiles placed and oxygen/heat leveled up. It takes a surprisingly long time in a two-player game, around 2/2.5 hours. But you know it’s a good game when the time has flown by and you feel like you’ve only been playing ten minutes.

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Overall, it’s fun, it’s challenging, it’s a bit of a brain burner, but not hard to pick up and learn. It’s having the full mental capacity to see it through that’s the tricky part.

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As an aside, it is a gorgeous game; beautiful big board, clear and concise cards, some with realistic photographic print, some illustrated. Shiny and transparent cubes which I love to look at (however I think my criticism would be that they are slippery little devils and a bit fiddly to handle) I would also say that I was mildly disappointed that with all the other very obvious effort put into the game I wish the player mats had been solid cardboard and not thick card, which is prone to warping. But you know when that’s your only real complaint, and it’s nothing to do with the game play, it has to be overlooked to an extent. So yes, if you have to pre-order and wait a while, or pay a little over the odds for it, I say do it. It’s worth it.

My last comment, a genuine thought and something that has been really bothering me….did the designer start this design before The Martian or was it inspired by the film? I would ask him, but I’m too embarrassed.

To find out more about the game play, rules and full details, go to the BGG page and follow all the links.

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Legendary: Big Trouble In Little China, Rob Heinsoo

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If you watched my unboxing video then you may have got the distinct impression that I was just a tiny bit excited about Legendary: Big Trouble in Little China. This was announced at Gen Con last year and I knew I was definitely going to be buying it right off the bat. This was so greatly anticipated for me, because I knew Legendary to be a good game. I enjoyed Legendary: Marvel, I wasn’t hugely ‘into’ it (I have enjoyed a Marvel film on occasion but I’m not massively into the franchise) but found the game to be really fun and to play really well. So it didn’t matter that I wasn’t superfan familiar with all of the characters. Now, I absolutely love the movie BTILC so I was stoked to play a great game with a theme that I knew I’d love.

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I don’t know why I love the film so much, I guess it’s because I watched it as a child and some movies just stay with you. Which as an aside is why I’m also excited to get Legendary Encounters: Alien because those films were just a huge part of me growing up. I thank my Dad that I grew up watching awesome films that perhaps other young girls didn’t like Blade Runner, Terminator, The Running Man, Predator, basically anything with Arnie, or directed by Ridley Scott or James Cameron. Anyway, I’m going waaaay off topic.

The good thing about the Legendary games is that you don’t have to be familiar with the content to enjoy the game. But if you are then it’s even more enjoyable, because you recognise the scenes and characters, and you can get behind the game further.
If you’ve never played a Legendary game I’ll sum it up as briefly as I can. It’s a semi co-op deck building/combat game. When I first played it reminded me strongly of Dominion, it’s just a classic deck builder only with far more fighting. You have a board (or in BTILC’s case a playmat, and various decks of cards (400 cards in total to be exact) and you use these cards to form ‘hero’ and ‘villain’ decks. There are many factions to choose from here, heroes such as Jack Burton, Gracie Law, Wang Chi, Egg Shen, and Miao Yin. Each faction has different cards with varying costs and abilities. In the villain factions we have the Wing Kong Exchange, Warriors of Lo Pan, Monsters, the Wing Kong Gang and more.
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Each game you choose a Mastermind that pairs up with a Scheme. The Mastermind (the ultimate baddie that you must defeat) has a ‘master strike’ condition and each scheme has its own set of playing conditions. Each turn a player must draw a villain card and add it to the ‘city’ i.e- playmat. The villain cards move along the city spaces each turn until they ‘escape’ the city. And then bad things happen. If you draw a scheme twist or a masterstrike from the villain deck then further bad things will happen that start to wear down your chances of making it out alive. Depending on your chosen Mastermind and scheme you will lose badly unless you work together to fight all the baddies and destroy all the Masterminds.

How? You must recruit heroes using your starting hand of ‘mediocre heroes’ (cheap and disposable cards) to pump up your deck. The more you cards you recruit the more powerful you become, and playing certain cards in succession means special abilities are triggered. Then you can start fighting left right and centre. Your own personal victory points lie in how many villains you KO throughout the game and their value. If you win the game against the villains it’s then down to the final cards in your hand and how many villains you’ve taken out. This will give you personal victory over the other players and win you the game. So it’s a really great balance of co-op and competition.

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It’s amazing how each game can be different depending on which decks you use, and this gives Legendary a huge amount of replayability. The overall system is just easy to pick up but it can be time consuming yet fun to execute. If you’re a fan of the franchise you’ll spend lots of time spotting characters and scenes, appreciating the flavour text on the cards and enjoying the special abilities that relate to the character. I’m a particular fan of Egg Shen’s Unpredictable Magician card which allows you simply flip a coin to gain plus 2 damage or coinage. There are cards that pit you against one another slightly, cards you can trade between players…so many lovely cards. I appreciate the way that the cards work together and intertwine so well, and how much planning goes into executing your moves as the game gets ‘bigger’.
The box art, the vibrant playmat and super cool vivid art work really bring the spirit of the theme to life. I can’t really praise the Legendary system enough, I just love it. If you like deck builders, combat, semi- cooperative then you’ll probably love this as much as me! 10/10, obviously. More info here.