Arkham Horror, published by Fantasy Flight Games, is based on H.P. Lovecraft’s early 20th century horror fiction. Just like his stories, it’s a hoot. The players (1-8 of the lucky pikers), take on the roll of intrepid investigators and gang up to stop the town of Arkham from being overrun by an eldritch deity from another plane. A few of the protagonists may go insane or be hospitalized in the process, as often happened in Lovecraft’s stories as well (along with a fair number of suicides). But, it’s all in good fun!
A Blast from the Past
The Fantasy Flight edition is the second publishing; originally it was published by Chaosium in1987. I never played the original, but it is said to have had a cult following (pun intended). The wikipedia entry covers the game’s transformation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arkham_Horror. The Fantasy Flight re-release includes a significant rework of gameplay, and considerably improved art and components. Thanks to ShellDrake from The Miniatures Page for a photo of his 1987 version.
The new publication of the game contains a bonanza of beautiful components: investigator sheets, monster counters, ancient one sheets, in fact so much stuff that after you have set things up on your table to begin a game, there will be very little room to spare. We found that a roughly 3′ by 5′ table was a bit cramped once everything was laid out.
There are 16 investigators included to choose from. Each has different skills, starting equipment, sanity, stamina, and even a motivation provided on back of the investigator sheet. Don’t forget the starting equipment! The first game we played, we overlooked decking our investigators out with their starting kits, and not surprisingly we found the going difficult. There is nothing sadder than a gangster facing a slimey bug-eyed monster without his tommy gun.
Arkham Horror uses a neat paired skill system. There are three pairs of skills (speed/sneak, fight/will, and lore/luck). Each turn you can adjust a slider on the pairs. If you decide to make your investigator move faster by increasing his speed, for example, then you will be lowering his sneakiness. This introduces a nice little strategic element, and rewards those who plan ahead a bit on what they are going to be doing in upcoming turns.
So Much to Do, So Little Time
The gameboard has many street areas and locations. In each location you can have a random encounter themed to that location, and also in many locations you can acquire equipment, skills, spells, or even allies to help your investigator. Clue tokens appear on the board each turn, and these tokens are important since they can be spent to adjust dice rolls as well as seal gates permanently. There is so much to do, including keeping the monster population and gates under control, that the players feel quite a bit of pressure.
Two Tentacles All the Way Up
I’ve played four or five games of Arkham Horror, from solo to three player, and it is undeniably a blast. There are several expansions available, including an additional board for an outlying town, and these will be finding their way into my games closet this year. The game can be difficult with only two investigators – in fact the only game we’ve lost was one where there were only two players each with one investigator.
I have only one warning regarding this game. After playing several times, we took out the black plastic insert which holds game components so that we could use the box bottom to roll dice. Under the insert, we found a small flyer advertising one of the expansions. There was something vaguely disturbing about handling this flyer, and we turned it over to discover that, printed on the back, was an inscription in an unintelligible language that could have been written by no human hand!