At a Glance: Arkham Horror is unadulterated Lovecraftian adventure. Exploring the unknown, fighting abominable monsters, seemingly insurmountable odds, and cosmic dread? Yes, please!
Arkham Horror is a cooperative adventure for 1-8 Investigators set in horror author H. P. Lovecraft’s town of Arkham. The object of the game is to close interdimensional portals that are opening up across the town, all while under the impending doom of a slumbering Ancient One, which is a formidable being that you do NOT want to wake up. Investigators will be using dice based on their traits to resolve different situations and picking up weapons, items, and spells along the way. In each round, players may first move their character around Arkham based on what their Speed is. Arkham is made of street spaces and locations. If you end your turn in a location, you draw an encounter and resolve it. Encounters are short narratives that usually involve some sort of dice roll based on one of your traits (e.g. if your Lore stat is 3, you would get 3 dice). Then, you have Other Dimension Encounters (more on that in a second). At the end of the round, you draw a card for the Mythos phase. These set the stage for the flow of the game. First, a Mythos card tells you which location receives an open portal (called a Gate) to another, terrible dimension. Each time a portal opens, an abominable monster appears there. Then, it lists where Clue tokens appear. Then, it tells you how the monsters move that round. Lastly, you read the text on the Mythos card, which may describe a temporary condition that will affect gameplay in some way. Various monsters will be roaming the town, and if you are in the same space as one or more monsters, you must either fight or evade them. Monsters have stats like Horror where you must successfully roll a Will check or lose sanity, and a Combat rating with modifiers. You roll dice based on your Fight trait, and if you are successful, you defeat the monster and take him as a trophy. If you fail, you lose Stamina, which is very bad. If you reach 0 in either Stamina or Sanity, you are unconscious or insane and must move to either the Hospital or Asylum respectively and lose half your items. One of the first goals is to Close and Seal as many Gates as you can. First though, you must go through the Gate to one of the Other Worlds, explore it (you will draw a couple Other World Encounters while you’re there), and return to Arkham mostly unscathed. Closing a Gate is not that difficult, but Sealing requires 5 Clue tokens. However, if you are able to Seal 6 Gates, that is one way to win the game. Also, if you are able to close all open Gates, you can win that way too, though it is incredibly difficult and requires some luck (I’ve never done it). As players try to survive everything thrown at them and acquire items, weapons, and spells, the Ancient One gets closer and closer to waking the longer the players take to try to win the game by Closing/Sealing Gates. Doom tokens are placed on the Ancient One every time a new Gate opens and if there are too many, the Ancient One awakens. If and when that happens, the Final Battle begins and players throw everything they have at the horrific creature. If they are able to defeat the Ancient One, they win.
I skipped over some of the smaller aspects of the rules, but the overarching idea is that you need to try to Seal those Gates, fight some monsters so the town does not get overwhelmed, and try not to wake the Ancient One. If it does wake up, give it all you got and try to blast it back to its freakish dimension! The learning curve is real, and there are quite a few moving pieces, but this is one that really pays off the more familiar you become with it. When I reached the point where I didn’t have to consult the rulebook for most things, it got even more immersive and enjoyable. The Encounters and Mythos cards provide a cool narrative, and the Investigators are created well enough that it encroaches on being a role-playing game if you so choose. Each character has their unique strengths and weaknesses, and it is awesome when your party has complimentary traits and the feeling of camaraderie under these intense circumstances is nearly unrivaled. The game length is fairly long, anywhere from 2-5 hours or so depending on player count and what happens in the game. The time investment is matched by strategic depth and complex decision-making. This game is pretty unforgiving and can be very difficult, even when the dice rolls and card draws are mostly going your way! You will lose often, BUT when you overcome the nameless evils and seemingly insurmountable odds, it feels oh so sweet. Certainly, it is satisfying and somewhat rare to win before the big baddie even wakes up by Sealing enough Gates, but games won in the Final Battle are often more epic, and even if everyone except one player is devoured, that is still a win, because the town is saved (for now).
The components are PLENTIFUL and very good for the most part. I appreciate that they used little tokens for money instead of cheap paper. A lot of bits and pieces means a longer setup time of course. You don’t want to play this game on a small table if you can help it. The artwork is a surprisingly good bonus, especially on the monsters, which look pretty creepy. Everything just comes together for an epically amazing experience. They have just recently released a 3rd edition that actually reimagines a lot of the gameplay, so that is an in-print version that you can get your hands on, though I can’t say if it improves on the older edition…I’m a bit skeptical. I own the 2nd edition and the first game was released way back in 1987, though was honestly a very different game. They released a ton of expansions, and I can vouch for the Dunwich Horror and King in Yellow expansions being excellent. Whatever you can get your hands on, if you are a Lovecraft fan, or a horror fan, or even if you just love thrilling fantasy adventures with a challenge, check this out! Epic.
Check it out: https://amzn.to/2SmJryo
New 3rd edition: https://amzn.to/2CEQDAv