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An Ancient Evil is Rising: A Review of Arkham Horror

Arkham Horror First Edition (Fantasy Flight Games)Game Name: Arkham Horror

Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games

Designers: Richard Launius and Kevin Wilson

Artists: Anders Finér, Rafał Hrynkiewicz, Richard Launius, Henning Ludvigsen, Patrick McEvoy, Kurt Miller, Scott Nicely, Vlad Ricean, Brian Schomburg, and Kevin Wilson

Genre: Cooperative game of Lovecraftian horror

Year: 2005

Players: One to eight players

Ages: 12+

Playing Time: 2-3 hours or more

MSRP: $59.95 

Arkham Horror is, as the title suggests, a horror board game. It is based upon the “Cthulhu Mythos” literary works of Howard Phillips (H.P.) Lovecraft (1890-1937). If you are looking for a spooky night of gaming, this is the game for you.

The game is complex, however, and longer than many. Expect to spend 3-5 hours, unless your group loses quickly to the horrors breaking loose in Arkham, Massachusetts.

Arkham Horror is a cooperative game. The players are battling against the forces of evil, attempting to stop them from overrunning the city. There are forces at work trying to release one of the Ancient Ones from their slumber to release chaos on our world. Only our intrepid investigators have a chance to keep them from their goal.

The components and artwork for this game are top notch. There are no figures, the investigators are little pieces of artwork that you place in plastic stands. Frankly, I like the character stands rather than the unpainted miniatures that usually come with a Fantasy Flight Game. It helps the mood. If you’ve a mind to however, Fantasy Flight is currently selling excellent pre-painted miniatures for the game. There are hundreds of cards and tokens.

The board is large. You will need a fairly large playing space to play this game, especially if you add any of the many expansions available. It represents the town of Arkham, and each space is another location in the town. The edge of the board is lined with spaces that represent other dimensions that the investigators can be sucked into and must try to escape.

The rules are long and complex and in small type, but they are also dripping with theme and contain many illustrations and examples of play. I would suggest you attempt your first game solo, playing four investigators, so that you can figure out the rules before you play with friends.

Setup takes a fair amount of time, there are separate decks of cards for the many locations on the board which must be shuffled. You randomly select an Ancient One (of which there are eight) to battle against, and select an investigator.

The investigators have character sheets that list the sanity and health of each one. You receive little brain and heart tokens to represent each. You can go insane and also be killed in this game. There are horrors that some just cannot withstand. You simply get another investigator if yours is devoured. The sheets also list the investigators starting equipment and skills. There are weapons, items, money, magic items, spells, a vast array of things to aid you in your quest. There’s also some nice flavor text to give you the feel for your investigator.

After setup, you are ready to go. The game starts with a gate opening in a location in Arkham, releasing monsters into the city. The monsters are tokens that are pulled out of your own container (The “Monster Cup”).

Your goal is to either close all the open gates, close 6 gates total, or defeat the Ancient One if he awakens. The players must rush frantically around the board closing gates, fighting monsters, acquiring new items to help them, and facing the Ancient One in the all out Final Battle if they are unable to stop it.

Each turn, your investigator can move up to the number of spaces equal to your current speed as set on your character sheet. If you encounter any monsters along the way you must either defeat them, or sneak past them. Depending upon the monster, sneaking or fighting can be difficult or easy. Before you can fight the monster though, you must pass a horror check. Using your Will skill, modified by the monster’s horror rating, you roll a die. On a 5 or 6 you pass, otherwise you will lose sanity equal to the amount shown on the monster token. If you go insane (sanity = 0), you immediately go to Arkham Asylum and lose half of your items.

Rolling a 5 or a 6 is a skill check in the game. Any time you are called on to roll for something, you are looking for a 5 or 6. If you roll it, you pass. You can be blessed, which means you only need to roll a 4,5 or 6 to pass a skill check, but you can also be cursed, requiring a roll of a 6 only.

Once you pass the horror check, you would fight the monster, using your fight skill. It works very similar to the horror check, except you would lose heart tokens instead of brain tokens. Plus, you only need to make one horror check per fight, but you have to fight until either you or the monster are defeated. (You can also flee if you have to, it requires passing another skill check).

After defeating any monsters in your path, you can visit a location. At each location you can either have an encounter (can be good or bad) by drawing a card from that location’s deck, or use that location’s special ability (healing lost heart tokens at the hospital for example). If there is a gate there, you are sucked into another dimension, where you explore for two turns having encounters along the way. If you make it out intact you can attempt to close and then seal the gate.

Meanwhile there is a terror track that slowly rises during the game. As it hits certain levels, different locations become inaccessible as the stores close down when their owners flee the city in terror. Once it becomes full, the monsters come out in droves and the Ancient One will soon awaken. The Ancient One also has a doom track, which goes up each time a gate opens. Once it is full, he awakes and the final battle begins.

The players must cooperate and divide tasks as they move around the board sealing gates and killing monsters, either you all win or you all lose.

After the players have all has their turn, the Mythos creatures have their chance. A card is drawn from the event deck. This tells you if a new gate opens, if bad things happen, and where to move the existing monsters on the board.

There are so many options to this game that it is impossible to list them all without duplicating the rulebook. You can become a deputy, or gain membership to the Silver Twilight Lodge, buy weapons, find spells that you can use to defeat certain monsters immune to weapons.

Many times it won’t be enough, and you end up facing the Ancient One. You will need all of the investigators to even have a chance of defeating it. Even then, it is not the preferred way to win the game, they are pretty tough.

This is a great game. It will take a few plays to get the hang of it, but it is worth it. Both luck and strategy play a big part in the game. You can have a bad game by simply getting bad die rolls or drawing the wrong monster or card at the wrong time. Don’t let it discourage you, overall most games successfully build tension and feel like you really accomplished something if you win. Even losses can be fun if it is close.

Each of the expansions make

the game harder once you get used to the original game. They also add more depth and increase your play options. As of this writing, there are seven separate expansions.

Notes:

The secret to this game is mood. Put on some good haunting music, play at night, maybe during a thunderstorm (well, it is pretty cool).

The gates can spawn quickly, get somebody on them as soon as you can.

If you are interested in the works of HP Lovecraft, listen to the podcasts available at HPPodcraft.com . The hosts, Chris Lackey and Chad Fifer, examine each of Lovecraft’s stories in a very entertaining and informative manner.

To add more adventure to your game, try one of the free scenarios available at Arkham Investigations as they add more plot and are fun. There are two free expansions and 4 cases for investigators to solve.

What I want: I wish there was a Ancient One stand, that you could use to hold up the Ancient One and his associated stuff in a nice themed stand. Also a card tray to hold location cards along the edge of the board would be cool. And I would love a nice holder for the gates, that would hold them upright and look like an appropriately evil gate.

Elliott Miller

4 Comments

  1. Elliott,

    This is the game that solidly established my interest in board games. A huge game to review! Nice job.

    And thanks for the link to Arkham Investigations. Really interesting tweak(s) to the game.

    James

    Reply
  2. Thank you James, yes this was a big one. Perhaps you will be reviewing some of the expansions soon?

    Reply
  3. Could you expand a bit more on the solo aspect please (I note the box says 1-8 players)? I’ve recently purchased some original pulps from the 1930’s with Lovecraft’s work, and they’re just amazing to read (along with so many other classic authors of the period like Robert E. Howard). The LotR Card Game plays very well solo, so I’m wondering how AH compares. Thanks in advance…

    Reply
  4. It is a good game in solo play. Basically, you would take on the role of four investigators, and play each one in turn. While it is by no means the same experience as playing with multiple players, it is still a decent game. It would of course be suicide to play with a single investigator, I would recommend even using two investigators each in a two player game. I’m looking forward to trying the Call of Cthulhu LCG, so I’ll let you know how that plays solo too.

    Reply

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An Ancient Evil is Rising: A Review of Arkham Horror

This is a great game. It will take a few plays to get the hang of it, but it is worth it. Both luck and strategy play a big part in the game. You can have a bad game by simply getting bad die rolls or drawing the wrong monster or card at the wrong time. Don't let it discourage you, overall most games successfully build tension and feel like you really accomplished something if you win. Even losses can be fun if it is close.
9
10
Excellent

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