Friday, July 28, 2006

Review: Arkham Horror

Arkham Horror is a boardgame by Richard Launius and Kevin Wilson which is published by Fantasy Flight Games. The taglines on the box read "the classic game of Lovecraftian adventure" and "a Call of Cthulhu Boardgame." That should let most postGeeks know immediately what the game is about, but for those who haven't figured it out, this is a boardgame set in H.P. Lovecraft's Mythos universe. A world he wrote about in the 1920's where there were many things that "man was not meant to know," where elder gods slept, and where evil cultists sought to wake them from their slumber to bring about the end of the world.

The premise of the game is that the boundaries between our world and those of the elder gods are weakening in the city of Arkham. Gates are opening up and creatures are coming forth as one of the elder gods stirs in its slumber. The players take the role of individuals who are struggling to close those gates before the boundaries become too weak and the elder god awakens.

The game is a cooperative game. The players either win or lose collectively. This makes it ideal for those who don't like to play confrontational games. At the same time, the game is not easy to win, so those who seek a challenge will still find one here.

Many of the mechanics are similar to a role playing game in that everyone has a character with stats and equipment. These characters are either chosen or picked randomly from a deck of sixteen characters. Some starting equipment is assigned by the character card and some is drawn randomly from a deck. In fact, most of the gameplay is driven by the random draw of either cards or chits.

The basic turn structure is that everyone in Arkham moves in turn, then everyone in the outer worlds, then everyone in Arkham draws an encounter card in turn (if they are in an encounter area) and follows the directions on the card, then everyone in the outer worlds does the same, then finally the first player draws a mythos card which usually results in a new gate opening and/or more creatures arriving. The next player then becomes the "first player" and everything happens all over again.

As gates open, the elder god gets closer to waking up. If the god awakes then the players get one last chance to win the game by defeating the god in a final combat. If they fail then they lose the game and Arkham is devoured (if not the entire world). If the players manage to defeat the elder god, or if they manage to close all the open gates before the god awakes, then they win the game and save Arkham (and possibly the world).

There is no way for a player to be completely eliminated from play prior to the final battle with the elder god. Even if their character should be devoured (removed from play entirely), then they simply draw a new character to play with. I consider this to be a big plus for the game since no player ends up getting left out.

Another plus is that while this game is very fun with a group, it's also playable solo. Since you play against the game and not other players you simply pick a character and play. Beating the game solo is considered to be a bit more challenging than beating it in a group, but it's still quite fun.

One of the few complaints I have with the basic game is the small number of encounter cards per Arkham encounter area, but that has been fixed with a new expansion called Curse of the Dark Pharoah that doubles the number of those encounter cards as well as adding many more cards of different types and some new factors to the gameplay.

The game is temporarily out of print, but you can probably still find it for sale from either your local store or online. It should also be reprinted soon if for some reason you can't find it. FFG is still supporting the game, and has yet another expansion planned.

I should mention again that this is a horror game. The game recommends ages 12 to adult. Use your own judgement as to whether or not the themes are appropriate for your children. Violence is abstracted, but it is there, and your characters can both be hurt and driven insane during the game.

If you want more information you can check out the FFG site. Suggested retail price is $49.95.

I've only played the game twice now (once solo and once in a group), but based on those experiences I highly recommend this game.

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