Monday, July 16, 2012

Board game in review: Arkham Horror

Arkham Horror
    Today, I want to discuss one of my favorite board games. It is a board game about one of my favorite genre. Its a genre that few people try to capture in board game form because its incredibly difficult. It requires an incredible amount of difficulty yet you have to keep the ability to win just close enough to the player that they feel they can still win. It requires immersion into a world that should be foreign yet universal in feel. You often have to play a regular person thrust into a setting that is both crazy, yet set in some form of reality for the immersion to happen. This board game genre is the Horror genre. Arkham Horror is a board game that  exemplifies the Genre. It is based of the literary works of  H.P. Lovecraft. I will discuss the basics of the game and some of the more interesting features of this game.
   This may get long winded. If you want to the good,bad, and wierd, go to "get on with it!"
Setting
     Before I get into the game, I want to talk a little bit about the setting of this game. Its 1920's Boston area. That is as much of reality as this game is set in. The crazy section of this game is that Elder gods are slowly waking up and want nothing more then to destroy humanity as we know it because they have nothing better to do. Each god has his own story, his own motivation, and his own powers and advantages. Each one brings an element to the game that both defines fluff for the game as well as actual in game mechanics. Luck of the draw is important here because sometimes, the ridiculousness of some of these gods comes through. On god literally states, "When summoned, you and all the investigators lose." His attack is "The End is Near!". So the setting can be crazy, but is often grounded in reality.
    For this game to work, you need to have clearly defined methods for play and the currency used. Each player selects a character with a slider for stats. Each character sheet has a special rule most of the time. The stats are speed/sneak, fight/will, Lore/luck. Right out of the gate, we are faced with a decision. The higher one stat is, the lower the other stat is. If you have high speed, you probably aren't going to sneak for crap. The harder you fight, the easier you are to scare. The more you know, the less chance of lucky things happening. All these stats won't cripple you, but they can be difficult to overcome as you only have a set limit that you can change these skills each turn. The In-game currency you use is sanity, Stamina, money, gate tokens,clue tokens, and Monster Trophies. Sanity and stamina are your life. If you lose sanity (which can be done through casting spells, certain events cards,  or failing fear checks from monsters), you go to the insane asylum. If you lose all of your stamina( through damage from monsters and events cards), you go back to the hospital. If either of these happen, you lose a turn but regain all of the lost currency. Money is a currency that you gain through special rules such as trust fund special rule from the character sheet or you become a deputy which nets you 1$ a turn. Gate tokens are the currency you gain when you close a gate (will be discussed later). Clue tokens allow you to reroll one dice and with 5 you can seal a gate and make sure that a gate can never open at that location again. Monster toughness is the currency you obtain when you kill a monster. The tougher the monster the more it is worth.  Now that we have that out of the way, lets get into game play.
set up and a turn!
    You set the game up first by draw the elder god. These range from really weak gods to gods that can't be balanced. There is an elder god of "You Lose". After that, each player draws 3 face down character sheets and picks the one they want. You then get common items, spells, unique items, and skills that are associated with that character. Clue tokens are set up for players to go get and risk being sucked into another world.  Your character sheet has a starting location on the board. Place players, and its game time. Each player moves to a location that is within their speed. Then a gate randomly opens up on the board and kicks out a number of monsters based on the amount of players. You have to go around and close these gates or else bad things happen. At the end of the turn, each player gets a card from the color group for where they are. Each card has 2-3 different things that can happen based specificly where they are. When a player gets to a gate, they flip over the gate token to reveal which other world they go to. You have to travel through that world where you get effects that could be good or bad. There is one other world deck and you draw till you get the matching color. When you get out, the gate closes if you pass a lore check.  You have to close gates or else summon the elder god and fight him. If you lose, you are devoured. Devoured is permanent death. You win if you beat the elder god, seal ports equal to the number of players, or close every portal on the board( At least equal to the number of players.)




Quick! Get on with it!



I had to make the reference
 The Good
  • The game is incredibly fun and always worth a play. The amount of variety that can be had due to the utter randomness of the game is awesome.
  • The game is balanced to the point of being difficult to pick up and master, yet rewarding enough that you want to master it. 
  • Its difficult. Short and simple. This game was first described to me as a game you don't win. You just do better each time you play. 
  • Rich and full of character. There are books upon books about anything in the board game. As someone who has read a few of the books, I spot references all the time. We have people read their card to add to the fun.
  • Tons of viable methods for play. You aren't railroaded into any particular method for play. 
  • Nothing is more fun then watching other people get beat on. because there are more than a few people playing, you get to watch more bad for other people, than  bad for you.  We have people read their card to add to the fun.
  • Even though the game kills you, stomps you into the ground, and asks if you want seconds, It gives you the chance for seconds. Death isn't as permanent as it usually is. Even if devoured(Permanent death) you simply start a new character
  • Tons of expansions that are full of more awesome.
Bad guys never win....unless this is a horror story

The Bad
  • While the game is fun, it is long. You have to have people willing to stay the haul or else people get lost coming in.Also, randomness can backlash against a player with nothing they can do.
  • The game is almost too balanced. The group I started with missed one rule and the game was pretty easy. We haven't lost yet although its been tough and close many times. The group I found to play now has beat the game 4 times in 3 years of play. They missed one rule (a primary rule for how to get gate trophies which are the easiest currency to attain) and the game was nearly impossible. 
  • You probably should have a veteran assist you in playing for the first time. Like the article so far, set up and getting things ready to start that if you don't know what you are doing, you could take an hour or two to set up.
  • Rich and full of character can be simply to much for some people. Some people play the game to win. A lot can be missed
  • Tons of viable play methods can result in a steep learning curve for new players.
  • There are alot of methods to stop players. Gate opens in the area you are standing on, get sucked in and lose a turn. Die? lose a turn. die in another world? get sucked into a special spot on the board that makes you lose a turn, then come back and lose a turn. It can avalanche quickly.
  • expansions cost money
and the....Holy crap, there was a south korean version of this and it was awesome? Sweet.

The Weird?
  • Oddly enough, as hard core as this game is, it is a beer and pretzels game. You can't take it to seriously or else you won't play this game. 
  • When the world is strange, strange and awesome/dreadful things happen. They are cinematic just from the feel. You can take a character and play them any way you want and even give life to a piece of card stock. 
  •  While things can come from out of the imagination of one of the best horror writers ever (I love H.P. Lovecraft) , things are firmly planted in reality enough to not feel out of place. 
  • The game takes bad things and horrible timing and devastating effects and makes them fun.


Overall, the game is fun. Play it for yourself. It is worth a hefty price tag, but you get a ton of stuff. Its a game I want to play with all of my friends. You need the standard arkham horror set to play. It runs about 60$ and it is well worth it. More sets give you more cards and can even expand the rules. If you can find someone that has it, definitely ask to play. You want 3-5 players. It is about a 4 hour game. Get it. Try it. You wont be disappointed most of the time. Have fun and happy gaming. 

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