Mar 212007

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: 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.

Chaosium Arkham Horror

Horror Reanimated

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.


Beware the Ancient One Arkham_elder_one

At the beginning of the game the players choose an ancient one to struggle against. Each ancient one has unique powers that affect game play, and also has its own method of close combat – should it come to that. Each turn of the game, a gate may open at unstable locations on the gameboard which allow entry of monsters into the streets of Arkham. The investigators must scramble around the board trying to close and seal these gates before Arkham is overwhelmed or the ancient one is sufficiently awake to appear in Arkham. The investigators can win the game by closing all gates on the board, sealing six gates permanently, or by defeating the ancient one in combat. They can lose the game only by being eaten by the ancient one, and there are a variety of conditions that can cause the ancient one to descend onto Arkham. The primary trigger for the ancient one to fully awaken is a “doom track” that is printed on the ancient one’s card – each ancient one has its own number of slots on the doom track, so some wake up quickly, some not so quickly. Whenever a gate opens on the gameboard, a counter is placed on the ancient one’s doom track. The ancient one can also be fully awakened if there are too many gates on the board, or too many monsters on the board.

So Much to Do, So Little Time

Arkham_BoardThe 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!



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