Monday, January 02, 2012

Arkham Horror

The next random game from my collection to discuss is one that I have lots of experience with, Arkham Horror.  This board game is based on the stories of H.P. Lovecraft, many of which dealt with the creatures of what is now known as the "Cthulhu mythos" after one of the more memorable of the writer's monsters.  The game board depicts the fictional town of Arkham, Massachusetts, at some point during the prohibition era.  The players all control one investigator, chosen at random from the 16 different characters that come with the game.  During play, the players move their characters around the town, visiting different locations, finding clues, and having encounters with the townsfolk (or worse...) in order to stop the invasion of eldritch horrors from beyond time and space, just like is done in many of H.P. Lovecraft's stories.

One of the things that really sets this game apart from others is the cooperative nature of the game.  All of the players must work together to do what needs to be done in order to beat the game.  Either everyone wins, or everyone loses.  At the beginning of the game, you determine one a dozen different big bad guys that is trying to break through to our world.  Every turn, the player whose turn it is must draw a card from the "mythos" deck, which describes where an extra-dimensional gate opens, releasing monsters into the town.  Other events can also happen based on the card draws, such as shops closing, or police raids, or dozens of other possibilities.  After this is done, the players move around the town visiting locations, which have their own separate decks.  For each player character at a location, the player draws a card from that deck to determine what happens to their character.  Characters can also encounter the monsters released from the gates, either fighting them or trying to escape from them without fighting.  Some characters are better at the combat aspect, and some are better at finding the clues needed to close the gates, so part of the strategy of the game is assigning the right roles to the right player/character combos.

To win, the player characters have to close and seal seven different gates.  It's not as easy as it sounds, as you either have to have an Elder Sign (a unique item in the game) or five clue tokens, collected from around the game board, that you have to give up in order to seal the gate.  Of course, while you are working on getting this all together, new gates keep opening and monsters keep entering Arkham.  If too many gates are open at the same time, the big bad monster shows up.  You get to fight him, but the odds of winning that fight are not good.  Also, if too many monsters are on the board, people start to leave town, resulting in the closing of the shops on the board, which cuts down on sources of new items.  So it is a race against time, with it never being clear exactly how much time you have left to close seven gates.

The best part of this game is the tension that comes into play as the players try to work together.  There will be lots of yelling, and bartering, and general interplay between all of the players as they try to win the game.  Every time a mythos card gets drawn, the tension is just delicious as the players wait with bated breath to hear what terrible thing will befall them this turn.  And if the players win, the high-fives and cheering are pretty unique to this game.

The publisher, Fantasy Flight Games, has published over a dozen different expansions for this game, of which I own some.  Some of them add new towns beyond Arkham that can be traveled to, but they all add new rules and encounter cards to change up the game some how.  With these expansions, the game should never get old.  I consider this game to be one of the best I have ever played, and I always look forward to getting to play it again.

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