1-6 players, Cooperative, Story Based Cthulhu Themed
Designer: Nikki Valens
Artwork: Justin Adams, W.T. Arnold, Anders Finer
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
So, this is the 3rd edition of Arkham Horror to be released and my first foray into this particular series as I have never played the 1st or 2nd editions. However, I do own Eldritch Horror (which I still need to pop a review out for….) and have partaken in other Cthulhu themed games such as Elder Sign, so I had a decent glimpse of what to expect with this one. Over the past few weeks I’ve been playing quite a bit of Elder Sign and have been enjoying it but I was craving just a bit deeper of a game so I finally bit the bullet and grabbed up Arkham Horror 3rd edition. Let’s see if it has quenched my craving for a deep Cthulhu themed board game.
Overview of Gameplay
In Arkham Horror you and up to a total of six players will be working together to basically prevent an Elder God from entering our world and destroying it. To do this, players will be moving around a modular game board performing two actions each such as fighting monsters, removing those dreaded “doom” tokens and collecting clues to unravel the mystery of how to stop the old one from awakening. Once all the players have used up their two allotted actions, the monsters that are on the board or engaged with players will activate and move about or carry out their attacks. After that players will each go through an Encounter Phase which consists of reading a specific card drawn from a specific location deck that they reside in. Pass or fail the encounter, once all players complete those, that ever ominous Mythos Phase happens which causes players to each draw two tokens from a bag and resolve their effects which are for the most part not good.
And that’s the basic gist of the game, sounds easy peasy right? Well hold your horses here, this game is anything but easy. First of all, there are specific objectives players will be needing to work together to complete which usually boil down to collecting clue tokens and removing doom tokens. These objectives are told through a series of cards that are read to the players and set out to reference at the beginning of the game. If too much doom pops up on the board then bad things can and will happen that will usually cause a new card to be brought out that will enhance the Elder Gods schemes or awakening. However, if players can successfully collect enough clues and research them (through an action) that will activate a different card that will further the story and give players a new objective to complete to try and defeat and or disrupt the awakening.
If players don’t work together to formulate a good strategy on how to tackle the constant wave of monsters and doom, well they are bound to lose their world. On the flip side, if players can stem the tide of doom tokens and at the same time collect enough clues and complete other beneficial objectives then they may actually pull through this dread time and survive, although the world may be changed forever. In other words, there are no victory points to gain here and no clear way to win or lose spelled out to you when you start playing. All you know is that you need to try and ward off as much doom as possible while at the same time search for clues to the impending problems.
You know I probably own more Fantasy Flight published games over all other publishers and can say that their components have gotten better over the years. I mean the tokens are pretty standard but the cards all have a really nice linen finish and look fantastic. And yes, there are even a bunch of those mini cards included that Fantasy Flight loves. There are no miniatures to represent the characters you play as, instead your character is a standee which honestly for these kind of games is just fine. If you happen to own Mansions of Madness 2nd edition you can probably dig out all the miniatures from that game and use them here as they use the exact same characters throughout all of their Arkham files games.
There are a plethora of different tokens to scatter about around the modular board and of course there are no baggies included with the game other than the few that the cards come in so you will need to provide quite a few of your own bags to store all the tokens. This is always a minus in my book.
Now the modular game board is fantastic. There are five double sided tiles that make up the neighborhoods of Arkham and within each neighborhood is three different locations that you can visit. Connecting each tile are little passages which are represented by bridges and streets and parks. I really love how the game is setup and have always loved modular games like this as it enhances the replayability. The setup will differ with each different Elder God that you play as (there are four in the base game). Overall, I am very pleased with the component and board quality!
However, not as much with the box and storage solution. I see that nothing has changed in this department as the game is packed and shipped with an insert that is meant to hold the punch boards and nothing more. Once you get all the tokens and tiles punched out you will need to supply most of the baggies to bag them up. Also, the insert in this particular Fantasy Flight game just gets in the way as the board tiles are too big to fit under it or sit on top. Some of their games such as Star Wars Outer Rim or Fallout you can slide the board tiles under the insert for storage but not here. So, once you toss the insert and bag everything you are left with an empty box that admittedly is very slim and does hold everything just fine.
BUT setup is such a chore considering the amount of different tokens and cards that need to be setup different based on whichever scenario you are attempting. This is yet another game that would benefit greatly from a nice insert to ease setup and put away.
Visual Appeal /Theme
This is where the game shines. Visually the game is stunning with incredible detail and artwork going into each board tile. Different areas of Arkham are on display in all their grandeur and when you perform encounters at these locations the cards really help bring out the theme of not only the overall game, but the specific location you are visiting. For example, you can travel over to the church to try and ease your weary mind (cure insanity) or check out the general store (buy items), perhaps take a stroll through one of the connecting park tiles and meet a blubbering drunk that rubs his sweaty face all over your shirt. I mean the possibilities are endless here.
Now the theme is very heavy Cthulhu style so if that isn’t your thing or you have just grown tired of this then you might as well look elsewhere. Personally, I enjoy a good Cthulhu romp every now and then, balancing my insanity on a pinpoint to try and defeat just one more Night Gaunt.
I was extremely impressed with the rule book here. This is the standard Fantasy Flight system where there are two books, one “Learn to Play” book that explains setup and basic actions to get you up and going and the other “Rules Reference” that is basically a giant index of all the stuff you will need. They did a great job of getting me playing quickly although the “starting” scenario they choose is basically the hardest scenario of the four the game comes with (personal opinion). Personally, if you want a good starting scenario, I would choose the “Feast of Umordhoth” scenario as you don’t have to deal with the Anomalies mechanic with that one.
Player Interaction/Fun Factor
TONS of player interaction here as the game is fully co-op. Beyond that fact if you want to win the game you WILL need to talk and strategize with the other players at all times. Heck even at the beginning of the game when everyone is selecting their starting characters you will want to discuss optimal character selection. On the back of each character card it shows that specific characters primary and sometimes, secondary roles. This will usually help players craft up a nice rounded out team to thwart those pesky cultists plans.
This also lends to the fun factor as you are actively rooting for everyone else just as much as you are trying to succeed. You can also, as an action, trade your stuff to other players in your space so you can all work together to create the most optimal situation. And you will be needing to do all this if you hope to win as this game will tear you apart and toss you aside in mere moments if you let it.
Optimal Player Count/Replay Value
So, the way the game balances player count is pretty clever. You see, you can easily just whip the game out and play it solo with zero rules changes, using just one character if you want. The only thing that changes is the amount of drawn Mythos tokens at the end of every round. Since each player draws two tokens you can have just a couple possible negative things or up to 12 things happen every round. And there are a couple good tokens in there that place some more clues but overall they are not helpful to your objective. Of course, playing with more than one also opens up the amount of ground you can cover AND items you can acquire and trade. I think playing a solo game with two characters is fun but have also had a blast playing with 2 players and also 5. I haven’t tried with a full six yet but honestly don’t think it would be too terrible considering there is very little downtime. You see during the action phase each player only gets two actions and they are very quick usually. Not only that but there isn’t exactly a player order per say as players can talk amongst themselves and choose the order they want to go depending on their situation. Because of this, the game keeps everyone engaged very well.
The only time I really felt the game started to slog was actually during the encounter phase. During this phase there will be quite a bit of reading that only pertains to each specific player, one at a time. That said, the game does an incredible job making it interesting by having the player next to them read the card to them and keeping the outcome secret until they make their encounter choice. That is a nice touch. Because of that I think a three-player game would be optimal to keep everyone engaged.
As far as replay value goes this game has lots of it. Let’s see where to begin……There are four different scenarios with four different elder gods to choose from starting out that each have a completely different setup and specific event cards pertaining to their story. The game board tiles are double-sided and each one has its own specific deck of event cards that goes with it. On top of that each tile has three different areas so that when you draw an encounter card, you will only read from the specific area you are in of the three. This creates a bookoo of variability between plays even if you play the same scenario twice.
Going a bit deeper into the scenarios you will see some branching paths in each as well. For example, you start with two story specific objective cards, one to gain a certain amount of clues and the other to monitor your doom token build up. If the doom builds up to a certain amount before you can gain the required clues then new cards come out and some cards might go away. There are also choices you will need to make in some stories that can drastically alter what ends up happening with the story. Now all that said, it’s still the same every time, stop or kill the elder god or die trying. It’s just the journey that changes a bit.
So overall I am impressed with the replayabilty as this game did impress me enough to play it four times over the course of three days, enough to experience each scenario the game comes with. And frankly as I write this I’m wanting to set it up again and try to beat the two scenarios that I failed.
The Fuzzy Llama Golden Seal of Eternal EXCELLENCE
Positive Final Thoughts
All in all I can honestly say this is my new favorite pure Cthulhu themed board game. Mansions of Madness 2nd edition is amazing but that one is a bit different considering you need a digital application to play it. Arkham Horror 3rd edition wraps a great thematic play style around some very fun mechanics. On top of all that the story bits on the encounter cards and even the items are extremely well written and a joy to read aloud when playing with a group. One thing that I know some might hate is the randomness of the dice rolls when performing skill checks. For me however I quite enjoy it as it creates a massive amount of tension that I think fits well with the game. Also, I LOVE that you can play solo AND up to six players! Good 6 player games are very few and far between.
Negative Final Thoughts
The game play does start to feel samey after a few plays though. Beyond all the differing story bits you will find yourself usually trying to do basically the same things every time regardless of what scenario you play, collect clues and ward off doom. The storage solution is not great, well, non-existent actually. Also, and this one is only a small gripe, I feel that only four scenarios in the base box is pretty slim pickings. Heck just playing a few times over this past weekend I already beat two of them although I’m sure I haven’t seen ALL the variable paths either.