Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

[Review] Arkham Horror

Expand Messages
  • Tom Vasel
    In the past couple years, I was introduced by some friends to the Cthulhu mythos, which for the uninitiated, is a literary universe begun by HP Lovecraft. The
    Message 1 of 3 , Aug 3, 2005
    • 0 Attachment
      In the past couple years, I was introduced by some friends to the
      Cthulhu mythos, which for the uninitiated, is a literary universe
      begun by HP Lovecraft. The stories are dark and horrific, involving
      monsters from beyond the deep - probably the most famous being Cthulhu
      himself and the terror, insanity, and destruction they cause. While
      not necessarily my cup of tea, I understood why some people were drawn
      to these tremendously dark tales, and so wasn't surprised to see
      Arkham Horror (Fantasy Flight Games, 2005 - Richard Launius and Kevin
      Wilson) being republished this year. Not only was the story behind
      the game of interest to people, but the fact that it was a cooperative
      game also caught people's interest.

      After several playings of the game, I confess that it is intriguing
      and fun. Some have compared it to Betrayal at House on the Hill,
      since both are horror-filled, but each fills a different niche.
      Arkham Horror (AH) is a game deeply rooted in the Lovecraftian mythos,
      with a fair amount of complexity. Betrayal is simpler and is based on
      "B" horror movies. AH is probably the most complex cooperative game
      I've ever played, yet the payoff is probably equal to the time put
      into the game. Instead of going over the rules (which are quite
      lengthy), I thought I'd just comment on parts of the gameā€¦

      1.) Rules: I'm not a fan of complex games, and AH is about the most
      complex type of game I would ever be interested in playing. The
      twenty-four page rulebook is very large - the same size as the box and
      each full-color page is packed with rules, diagrams, examples, and
      illustrations. Once a player learns the game, it's fairly easy to
      proceed; but I found myself referring to the rulebook often. After a
      couple of complete games, the dependence on the rulebook will shrink;
      but the huge amount of options offered by the game pretty much demand
      a rulebook of this size. If complex rule sets scare you, then this
      may not be the best pick for you; but I assure you that the end
      product is worth it.

      2.) Components: I don't know for sure, but I think that there are
      more pieces in AH than in any other game that I own, even the massive,
      component-filled Twilight Imperium 3. There are twenty-one different
      DECKS of cards, piles of money tokens, clue tokens, stamina tokens,
      sanity tokens, skill sliders, etc., etc. In fact, there are seven
      hundred and thirty-seven total components in the game! Now, that
      makes setup time a bit long and demands the use of plastic bags (the
      plastic insert holds the cards well, but not the multitudes of
      pieces.) But at the same time - WOW! - the game has so much inside.
      After one game, I mentioned to a person that we hadn't even seen 1/4
      of the cards provided with the game, and they mentioned that it meant
      replayability was high. All of the components are of high quality -
      the tokens are shaped in different shapes and are thick, two-sided
      tokens. The cards, which come in two different sizes, have different
      colors, icons, pictures, and text - all of which help differentiate
      between the two of them. There is a LOT of text in the game, enough
      that it would be a major problem for anyone who is not a native
      English speaker.

      3.) Setup and Time: Just a quick note - the game takes a LOT of
      space. Not only does the game take a while to set up, it also takes
      up a lot of room on the table. This isn't a game you're going to play
      at a moment's whim - a game can take anywhere from two to four hours.
      That isn't a negative assessment of the game - a person should just be
      prepared to invest some time when playing the game.

      4.) Cooperation: AH is a cooperative game, in that all players are
      working together to stop unspeakable evil from destroying the world.
      That's a noble goal and all, but some people just aren't going to like
      it. There is a method to get a final score, similar to Lord of the
      Rings, but in the games I've played - no won really cared - we won or
      we lost. Now how does the game compare to other cooperation games?
      It's not as simple and linear as Lord of the Rings; it doesn't have
      the traitor dilemma from Shadows over Camelot. In fact, I think it
      most closely resembles Vanished Planet, if Vanished Planet increased
      its complexity ten-fold. Much of the game is spent with players
      discussing what to do each turn. This wasn't a problem for me - I
      like deliberations in a game, but a few players felt like the game was
      playing us, rather than the opposite way.

      5.) Theme: In theme, AH is going to be compared to Betrayal at House
      on the Hill more than any other game, as both are cooperative (kind
      of) horror-themed games. But the horror factor is different in each.
      In BaHotH, the horror is the in-your-face, "jump" type horror you'll
      often find in a "B" horror movie. In AH, the horror is more subtle
      and sophisticated and is of the type that drives people mad, rather
      than slashes off their head. I thought the theme worked really well.
      The amount of flavor text and good illustrations work well. I'm
      assuming that the game would work better with Lovecraft fans, but I
      played the game with many people who had no idea who Cthulhu even was,
      and they still enjoyed the game.

      6.) Characters: One thing that AH has over other cooperative games is
      that each player controls a completely different character. Of all
      the aspects of the game, this is one that impressed me the most.
      Every character has different statistics, starting possessions, and
      different special abilities - all that seem to fit quite well with
      their back story. And every character has something that makes them
      special. So far, no one has complained about a character; for while
      some are weak in a particular area (say - physical combat), they are
      strong in another (perhaps magical ability). The divergence of
      investigators is so great that the game pretty much has a role-playing
      game feel, with each of the players striving to use the characters
      that they have to the best of their abilities, to help the party as a
      whole.

      7.) RPG: In fact, while I haven't seen AH advertised as a
      role-playing experience, that's what I feel it works best as. Players
      must work together as a team to beat the game; and since each player
      controls a unique character that brings some sort of special ability
      to the table, all are important. In one game I played, one player
      used Joe Diamond, the private eye, who with a couple of guns, walked
      around like a killing machine for a while. But Joe, as tough as he
      was, couldn't handle creatures that had physical immunity and had to
      depend on the "weak" Professor Harvey Walters to handle them.
      Together (this was a two-player game), they managed to make a
      tremendous team, stopping the evil.

      8.) Players: The box says that the game handles from one to eight
      players. So far, I've played with 1, 2, 4, and 5 players, and all of
      them seem to work well, although it does appear that the number of
      players does affect the difficulty. I don't think I'll play a solo
      game that often, because it just seems like a lot of work to set up a
      game, where I am the only participant (I have the computer for that).
      But with two or more, everyone seemed to have a blast. Because
      everyone is interested in everyone else's encounters, there doesn't
      seem to be a lot of downtime in the game.

      9.) Difficulty: This is a HARD game, but it is beatable. I think the
      final, evil enemy that is randomly chosen for each game has a major
      impact on how hard the game is. Some of the enemies, like Azathoth,
      must be stopped before they enter the fray with the players, others,
      like Cthulhu himself (itself? herself?) put difficult restrictions on
      the players, causing them to have a difficult time when attempting to
      complete the game. The game is difficult, which is important for a
      cooperative game; and AH leaves players with enough choices so that
      when they DO win, they can congratulate themselves on a game
      well-played, and yet not feel as if they've "solved" the game.

      10.) Monster Movement: There are a lot of interesting mechanics in
      the game, but I really enjoyed the monster's movement. At various
      points in the game, monsters roam throughout the streets of Arkham.
      Each monster has a symbol on it, denoting what alternate dimension
      they are from. At the beginning of each turn, a Mythos card is turned
      over, which has a variety of effects on the game, including the
      monster movement. On the board, each space is connected to other
      spaces by white and black arrows. Each Mythos card shows what type of
      monsters move, and whether they follow a black or white arrow. This
      gives monsters a random movement that can't be determined yet follows
      some general patterns. I thought this was exceedingly clever, and
      hope to see it in some form in other games.

      11.) Monsters: The monsters themselves are a very varied lot. Some
      of them have different movement abilities (a chart for these would
      have been nice), some are immune to magical weapons; others can't
      really be killed (they'll show up again), while still others can't
      hurt investigators but can scare them half to death. I thought the
      range of monsters was really neat, although players will often be
      turning the counters over to examine the special abilities and stats.

      12.) Skill Checks: The combat system and skill check system are
      fairly simple, WHEN you know them. I found them a bit difficult to
      explain, as I'm not sure I've played any game that had a system like
      this before (modifiers affected the number of dice rolled, not the
      number on those dice). Once players get the uniqueness of the system
      down; however, it's pretty simplistic. I thought that the fact that
      two of each character's stats were tied together. If one stat was
      raised, the other lowered, and vice versa. This meant that no
      investigator, no matter how powerful, was always weak in something,
      and kept players on their guard. There are some "lucky" and "cursed"
      cards in the game that are crucial for these tests, and Ally, skill,
      and item cards also enhance the tests. In this regard, the game
      reminds me slightly of Duel of Ages. Both games, taken clinically,
      are a series of tests that are resolved by die rolls. Yet the
      thematic events behind these tests keep them from becoming dry or
      boring for me.

      13.) Final Fight: If players don't accomplish one of the victory
      conditions of the game (shutting down gates, etc.), eventually the big
      bad bruiser of an enemy will attack players. In our games, we almost
      hoped for this; because this final confrontation, while long and hard,
      has such a rewarding benefit and is a climatic ending to a tense game.
      Still, rushing to shut down the last gate before this beast of evil
      is released also brings a lot of tense fun to the game.

      14.) Cards: Apparently the original game had a reference book that
      players looked up when having an encounter. AH uses several decks of
      cards instead, and I think that works fairly well.

      15.) Stress: Good cooperative games have a nice level of stress in
      them - will you finish the game? In this one, the stress is that
      players must save the world from Evil So-and-So. And it never seems
      that players can keep up. If they shut down one gate, another opens.
      If they kill one monster, two more appear. The terror level keeps
      rising, driving away valuable allies and shutting down useful stores.
      And that stinkin' Cthulhu is just sitting in the background, laughing
      and waiting to come in and sweep the invaders away. I LOVE this level
      of stress - it's a lot of fun and bands the players together in a way
      that even Shadows Over Camelot didn't achieve.

      16.) Fun Factor: There are dozens of other factors that I could talk
      about when discussing this game, because there is so much involved in
      the game. AH is definitely a "meaty" game. And, if you enjoy the
      theme and the various decisions to make in the game, it's a lot of
      fun. Some people, who don't care for horror themes or cooperative
      play, will not be interested in this game. Others, especially those
      who want to play an RPG like game with horror thematics, will have a
      great time.

      This is certainly a game that you should try before you buy if you
      can. If you are a Cthulhu fan or love cooperative games, then it's a
      no-brainer - get it! The good amount of complexity, the massive
      amount of pieces, and the various options may not be for the
      fainthearted, though; so you should check it out and see if that's
      your cup of tea. For me, I really enjoyed it. Arkham Asylum was one
      of the games that I lay awake at night, wondering what would have
      happened if I had done something differently. It's one of those games
      where we didn't talk about the mechanics afterwards, but rather the
      story. It's one of those games where everyone stands up and
      high-fives each other when something good happens for the team. That,
      my friends, is a game I'm glad to own.

      Tom Vasel
      "Real men play board games."
      www.tomvasel.com
    • Andrew Young
      Thanks Tom. I just picked this up (never read any of the HP Lovecraft stuff) because I m dying to play it- complex games to me are great if they work. Just
      Message 2 of 3 , Aug 3, 2005
      • 0 Attachment
        Thanks Tom.

        I just picked this up (never read any of the HP Lovecraft stuff) because I'm
        dying to play it- complex games to me are great if they work. Just takes a
        bit of time investment to get the rules/mechanics into one's head. I love
        cooperative games but also ones that have an element of personal goal mixed
        in; ie Republic of Rome by Avalon Hill. This one looks demonic!

        Andy

        -----Original Message-----
        From: Unity_Games@yahoogroups.com [mailto:Unity_Games@yahoogroups.com] On
        Behalf Of Tom Vasel
        Sent: Wednesday, August 03, 2005 3:28 AM
        To: Tom Vasel
        Subject: [Unity_Games] [Review] Arkham Horror


        In the past couple years, I was introduced by some friends to the
        Cthulhu mythos, which for the uninitiated, is a literary universe begun by
        HP Lovecraft. The stories are dark and horrific, involving monsters from
        beyond the deep - probably the most famous being Cthulhu himself and the
        terror, insanity, and destruction they cause. While not necessarily my cup
        of tea, I understood why some people were drawn to these tremendously dark
        tales, and so wasn't surprised to see Arkham Horror (Fantasy Flight Games,
        2005 - Richard Launius and Kevin
        Wilson) being republished this year. Not only was the story behind the game
        of interest to people, but the fact that it was a cooperative game also
        caught people's interest.

        After several playings of the game, I confess that it is intriguing
        and fun. Some have compared it to Betrayal at House on the Hill, since both
        are horror-filled, but each fills a different niche.
        Arkham Horror (AH) is a game deeply rooted in the Lovecraftian mythos, with
        a fair amount of complexity. Betrayal is simpler and is based on "B" horror
        movies. AH is probably the most complex cooperative game I've ever played,
        yet the payoff is probably equal to the time put into the game. Instead of
        going over the rules (which are quite lengthy), I thought I'd just comment
        on parts of the game.

        1.) Rules: I'm not a fan of complex games, and AH is about the most
        complex type of game I would ever be interested in playing. The twenty-four
        page rulebook is very large - the same size as the box and each full-color
        page is packed with rules, diagrams, examples, and illustrations. Once a
        player learns the game, it's fairly easy to proceed; but I found myself
        referring to the rulebook often. After a couple of complete games, the
        dependence on the rulebook will shrink; but the huge amount of options
        offered by the game pretty much demand a rulebook of this size. If complex
        rule sets scare you, then this may not be the best pick for you; but I
        assure you that the end product is worth it.

        2.) Components: I don't know for sure, but I think that there are
        more pieces in AH than in any other game that I own, even the massive,
        component-filled Twilight Imperium 3. There are twenty-one different DECKS
        of cards, piles of money tokens, clue tokens, stamina tokens, sanity tokens,
        skill sliders, etc., etc. In fact, there are seven hundred and thirty-seven
        total components in the game! Now, that makes setup time a bit long and
        demands the use of plastic bags (the plastic insert holds the cards well,
        but not the multitudes of
        pieces.) But at the same time - WOW! - the game has so much inside.
        After one game, I mentioned to a person that we hadn't even seen 1/4 of the
        cards provided with the game, and they mentioned that it meant replayability
        was high. All of the components are of high quality - the tokens are shaped
        in different shapes and are thick, two-sided tokens. The cards, which come
        in two different sizes, have different colors, icons, pictures, and text -
        all of which help differentiate between the two of them. There is a LOT of
        text in the game, enough that it would be a major problem for anyone who is
        not a native English speaker.

        3.) Setup and Time: Just a quick note - the game takes a LOT of
        space. Not only does the game take a while to set up, it also takes up a
        lot of room on the table. This isn't a game you're going to play at a
        moment's whim - a game can take anywhere from two to four hours.
        That isn't a negative assessment of the game - a person should just be
        prepared to invest some time when playing the game.

        4.) Cooperation: AH is a cooperative game, in that all players are
        working together to stop unspeakable evil from destroying the world.
        That's a noble goal and all, but some people just aren't going to like it.
        There is a method to get a final score, similar to Lord of the Rings, but in
        the games I've played - no won really cared - we won or we lost. Now how
        does the game compare to other cooperation games?
        It's not as simple and linear as Lord of the Rings; it doesn't have the
        traitor dilemma from Shadows over Camelot. In fact, I think it most closely
        resembles Vanished Planet, if Vanished Planet increased its complexity
        ten-fold. Much of the game is spent with players discussing what to do each
        turn. This wasn't a problem for me - I like deliberations in a game, but a
        few players felt like the game was playing us, rather than the opposite way.

        5.) Theme: In theme, AH is going to be compared to Betrayal at House
        on the Hill more than any other game, as both are cooperative (kind
        of) horror-themed games. But the horror factor is different in each.
        In BaHotH, the horror is the in-your-face, "jump" type horror you'll often
        find in a "B" horror movie. In AH, the horror is more subtle and
        sophisticated and is of the type that drives people mad, rather than slashes
        off their head. I thought the theme worked really well.
        The amount of flavor text and good illustrations work well. I'm assuming
        that the game would work better with Lovecraft fans, but I played the game
        with many people who had no idea who Cthulhu even was, and they still
        enjoyed the game.

        6.) Characters: One thing that AH has over other cooperative games is
        that each player controls a completely different character. Of all the
        aspects of the game, this is one that impressed me the most.
        Every character has different statistics, starting possessions, and
        different special abilities - all that seem to fit quite well with their
        back story. And every character has something that makes them special. So
        far, no one has complained about a character; for while some are weak in a
        particular area (say - physical combat), they are strong in another (perhaps
        magical ability). The divergence of investigators is so great that the game
        pretty much has a role-playing game feel, with each of the players striving
        to use the characters that they have to the best of their abilities, to help
        the party as a whole.

        7.) RPG: In fact, while I haven't seen AH advertised as a
        role-playing experience, that's what I feel it works best as. Players must
        work together as a team to beat the game; and since each player controls a
        unique character that brings some sort of special ability to the table, all
        are important. In one game I played, one player used Joe Diamond, the
        private eye, who with a couple of guns, walked around like a killing machine
        for a while. But Joe, as tough as he was, couldn't handle creatures that
        had physical immunity and had to depend on the "weak" Professor Harvey
        Walters to handle them.
        Together (this was a two-player game), they managed to make a tremendous
        team, stopping the evil.

        8.) Players: The box says that the game handles from one to eight
        players. So far, I've played with 1, 2, 4, and 5 players, and all of them
        seem to work well, although it does appear that the number of players does
        affect the difficulty. I don't think I'll play a solo game that often,
        because it just seems like a lot of work to set up a game, where I am the
        only participant (I have the computer for that).
        But with two or more, everyone seemed to have a blast. Because everyone is
        interested in everyone else's encounters, there doesn't seem to be a lot of
        downtime in the game.

        9.) Difficulty: This is a HARD game, but it is beatable. I think the
        final, evil enemy that is randomly chosen for each game has a major impact
        on how hard the game is. Some of the enemies, like Azathoth, must be
        stopped before they enter the fray with the players, others, like Cthulhu
        himself (itself? herself?) put difficult restrictions on the players,
        causing them to have a difficult time when attempting to complete the game.
        The game is difficult, which is important for a cooperative game; and AH
        leaves players with enough choices so that when they DO win, they can
        congratulate themselves on a game well-played, and yet not feel as if
        they've "solved" the game.

        10.) Monster Movement: There are a lot of interesting mechanics in
        the game, but I really enjoyed the monster's movement. At various points in
        the game, monsters roam throughout the streets of Arkham.
        Each monster has a symbol on it, denoting what alternate dimension they are
        from. At the beginning of each turn, a Mythos card is turned over, which
        has a variety of effects on the game, including the monster movement. On
        the board, each space is connected to other spaces by white and black
        arrows. Each Mythos card shows what type of monsters move, and whether they
        follow a black or white arrow. This gives monsters a random movement that
        can't be determined yet follows some general patterns. I thought this was
        exceedingly clever, and hope to see it in some form in other games.

        11.) Monsters: The monsters themselves are a very varied lot. Some
        of them have different movement abilities (a chart for these would have been
        nice), some are immune to magical weapons; others can't really be killed
        (they'll show up again), while still others can't hurt investigators but can
        scare them half to death. I thought the range of monsters was really neat,
        although players will often be turning the counters over to examine the
        special abilities and stats.

        12.) Skill Checks: The combat system and skill check system are
        fairly simple, WHEN you know them. I found them a bit difficult to explain,
        as I'm not sure I've played any game that had a system like this before
        (modifiers affected the number of dice rolled, not the number on those
        dice). Once players get the uniqueness of the system down; however, it's
        pretty simplistic. I thought that the fact that two of each character's
        stats were tied together. If one stat was raised, the other lowered, and
        vice versa. This meant that no investigator, no matter how powerful, was
        always weak in something, and kept players on their guard. There are some
        "lucky" and "cursed" cards in the game that are crucial for these tests, and
        Ally, skill, and item cards also enhance the tests. In this regard, the
        game reminds me slightly of Duel of Ages. Both games, taken clinically, are
        a series of tests that are resolved by die rolls. Yet the thematic events
        behind these tests keep them from becoming dry or boring for me.

        13.) Final Fight: If players don't accomplish one of the victory
        conditions of the game (shutting down gates, etc.), eventually the big bad
        bruiser of an enemy will attack players. In our games, we almost hoped for
        this; because this final confrontation, while long and hard, has such a
        rewarding benefit and is a climatic ending to a tense game. Still, rushing
        to shut down the last gate before this beast of evil is released also brings
        a lot of tense fun to the game.

        14.) Cards: Apparently the original game had a reference book that
        players looked up when having an encounter. AH uses several decks of cards
        instead, and I think that works fairly well.

        15.) Stress: Good cooperative games have a nice level of stress in
        them - will you finish the game? In this one, the stress is that players
        must save the world from Evil So-and-So. And it never seems that players
        can keep up. If they shut down one gate, another opens.
        If they kill one monster, two more appear. The terror level keeps rising,
        driving away valuable allies and shutting down useful stores.
        And that stinkin' Cthulhu is just sitting in the background, laughing and
        waiting to come in and sweep the invaders away. I LOVE this level of stress
        - it's a lot of fun and bands the players together in a way that even
        Shadows Over Camelot didn't achieve.

        16.) Fun Factor: There are dozens of other factors that I could talk
        about when discussing this game, because there is so much involved in the
        game. AH is definitely a "meaty" game. And, if you enjoy the theme and the
        various decisions to make in the game, it's a lot of fun. Some people, who
        don't care for horror themes or cooperative play, will not be interested in
        this game. Others, especially those who want to play an RPG like game with
        horror thematics, will have a great time.

        This is certainly a game that you should try before you buy if you can. If
        you are a Cthulhu fan or love cooperative games, then it's a no-brainer -
        get it! The good amount of complexity, the massive amount of pieces, and
        the various options may not be for the fainthearted, though; so you should
        check it out and see if that's your cup of tea. For me, I really enjoyed
        it. Arkham Asylum was one of the games that I lay awake at night, wondering
        what would have happened if I had done something differently. It's one of
        those games where we didn't talk about the mechanics afterwards, but rather
        the story. It's one of those games where everyone stands up and high-fives
        each other when something good happens for the team. That, my friends, is a
        game I'm glad to own.

        Tom Vasel
        "Real men play board games."
        www.tomvasel.com


        Unity Games webpage: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Unity_Games
        To unsubscribe send email to Unity_Games-unsubscribe@yahoogroups.com
        Yahoo! Groups Links
      • dnadig
        Thanks for the reviews on Arkham Horror. I picked this up at Gencon and thought I d make a few points: Setup: if ever a game needed those little half sized
        Message 3 of 3 , Aug 25, 2005
        • 0 Attachment
          Thanks for the reviews on Arkham Horror. I picked this up at Gencon
          and thought I'd make a few points:

          Setup: if ever a game needed those little half sized ziplocks, it's
          this one (War of the Ring is a contender here too). Once organized,
          setup is really only about a 5 minute process.

          Complexity: I give this a replay factor of 2 - meaning, once you
          play the game through twice, you'll rarely need the rulebook again.
          This is on par with something like Game of Thrones, but below, say,
          We the People. It takes a little bit more to figure out strategy,
          but that's half the fun.

          RPG: If you've got a group of Hams (and I do) then this can be a
          tremendouse amount of fun. We play closed (meaning, the other
          players draw your cards for you). While some of the flavor text is
          good, much of it ("A Monster Appears!") is non-existant. We make a
          big deal out of game-mastering these situations. When we pull
          a "dreamlands" card, the reader might do a 2 minute long build up
          covering a journey across a plain of skulls to find a wrapped item
          on an alter before asking for the action required: "Make a Lore -1
          check, you get a unique item if you succeed."

          In the cases where a decision is required: "you may..." we don't
          let the person know the consequences, we just allude to them. While
          you would think that this would become less fun as cards are
          recycled (particularly the Arkham cards, where there aren't that
          many per location), if the group is creative, you can spin whole new
          tales around each location.

          The characters are also so well drawn that there's plenty to go on
          in terms of really really roleplaying your chosen investigator.

          To me this is what the game is really about - collaborative telling
          of ghost stories - and it's just an incredibly fun RPG/storytelling -
          lite good time.
        Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.