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RE: [Unity_Games] [Review] Arkham Horror

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  • 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 1 of 3 , Aug 3, 2005
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      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!


      -----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."

      Unity Games webpage: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Unity_Games
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    • 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 2 of 3 , Aug 25, 2005
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        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.
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