Arkham Horror is the classic horror board game printed by Fantasy Flight. A pure co-operative board game, players play against the board in an attempt to stop the Ancient One’s from rising and taking over the world. Arkham Horror is a classic for a reason – it’s chock full of theme, it’s mechanics are generally well balanced and the game has a ton of replay value in it. There are issues, but it’s definitely a game to be tried out by any serious Ameritrash gamer.
Appearance: Arkham Horror is a well designed, large game. Even though it comes in a standard board game box of 12″ * 12″ * 6″, the game is quite heavy as there are a ton of cards, boards, monster chits and pieces. As you can see in the picture to the left, there’s a lot going-on.
However, the game is overall quite well designed, with easy to read cards, a well laid out map and cool character arts.
However, let’s discuss the minuses – there’s a lot of cards. If you are looking at sleeving the cards (and yes, they will start looking worn) it’s going to cost quite a bit. In addition, there are a ton of tiny pieces from your skill markers on your sheets, the clue markers, the monster chits, etc. so get a series of ziplock bags ready.
Rules / Ease of Learning: I won’t lie to you here, Arkham Horror is a relatively complex game. There is a lot of rules to learn, with the main part broken up into two parts – the rules for dealing with your character & his actions and the board rules (monsters, their movements and how they appear). If you are learning the game the first time, it’s easiest to learn with another player teaching you just the character rules. If you are teaching, just teaching the rules for the character will make starting the game and finishing it easier – though it does mean you’ll be handling all the rules yourself.
As a player, in Arkham Horror, you are provided a character in the beginning. Each character has a set of 3 linked stats that they may adjust at the beginning of each turn based on their ‘focus’ ability (i.e. amount that each stat can be adjusted). These stats dictate the ease a character may complete a task, with some characters more suited for certain tasks. In addition, each character receives a special ability.
During their turn, characters may move around the board in an attempt to locate more clues and initiate encounters, they may use special abilities on the board or even enter gates so as to eventually close them. To aid them in this, characters will be able to purchase or find items, gain retainers, take out loans or even gain specific professions throughout the game.
At the end of a player’s turn, a mythos card is drawn and the card dictates movement of monsters, the opening of gates and the release of even more monsters and the movement of the terror track. If too many monsters appear, the citizens flee Arkham and locations close. If too many gates open or the players run out of time, the Ancient One appears and players may have one last chance to ‘punch Cthulhu in the face’ to win.
This is the extremely short version of the rules, there are additional rules on how many clues are placed, when they are placed, which cards to use, how movement in outer gates occur, but all can be found in the rulebook.
Gameplay: Alright, so we’ve discussed the rules, but how does Arkham Horror play? As a ball of highly thematic fun. Arkham Horror is chock full of theme, from the descriptions in the card to the way characters go insane to how hard the overall game is. It’s also quite a long game, with a game taking at a minimum two hours with experienced players, but more likely three to five hours for most games.
Each turn, there’s a lot of agonising decisions and the use of a die roll for many of the results keeps things tense. It often feels like you won’t succeed at winning, and it’s quite possible you won’t; but that’s in line with the entire Lovecraftian mythos anyway. The fact is, the journey is what makes the game fun and Arkham Horror provides that in spades. The fact that at a certain point, players will have to decide to focus on shutting down the gates or potentially fighting the Ancient One in combat adds another layer of complexity to the game.
So what are the bad parts? Set-up time is high. Actual game length is high. It’s not an easy game to teach (though not the hardest); but there are a lot of moving parts. There is the possibility of one player coming to dominate the game and the other players action (though the complexity of the game itself helps reduce this potential) like most co-operatives.
Lastly, there are balance issues – one game could have gate after gate appearing, shutting the entire game down in only a few rounds. Another balance issue deals with the characters – some characters are just much more powerful than others. For some players, being stuck with a lousy character can make the game quite unfulfilling.
Conclusion: Overall, Arkham Horror is definitely a fun co-operative. It is still a classic co-operative game and stands up well even after the release of so many more co-ops recently. It continues to provide hours of fun for game groups around the world and is a game that players need to try at the very least.