March: 8 of 8

March was when we came home. Gone were the endless armies of midwives, the constant background noise from a dozen other babies, and the strange creaks and clunks of an ageing hospital.

Instead, we were back to just our little family at home – although our little family now included a tiny baby who doesn’t seem to think a lot of board games (or of sleeping, or being put down).

Once gain then, it was a very different month of gaming – there was still a fair amount of gaming happening, and a few more milestones reached, but with a definite shift.

8 of 8

7-Of-9
When I started drafting this article, I was on 7 of 9, which is somehow more satisfying…

Having reached 6 plays of 6 games in February, I was able to cross off the next level in March, with no fewer than 10 games making it up to 7 plays. By the end of the month, I’d gone even further, to 8 of 8.

Arkham Horror the card game was the first new game to cross the threshold this month. Arkham fits (just about) on the little folding table that goes in front of our sofa when our son is engaged in one of his mammoth feeds, so this was a relatively frequent appearance this month, being one of six games to tick past the “10 plays” marker. As an LCG, Arkham takes up more money than a lot of games, so it’s good to see it getting regular play.

Mummys-Mask-Card-Game-BoxPathfinder hadn’t really made it out of the box in 2017 prior to heading into hospital in February.

Once we were out though, I had the brand new Mummy’s Mask base set, set ready for reviewing (link will be added to the reviews section soon) – a return to form after a poor ending to the third set, this one leapt all the way up to ten plays in only a week or two. Lastly, the monthly Dice Masters meet-up rounded out the 8.

Aeon’s Beginning

aeons-end-card-game-boxI was also pleased that March saw Aeon’s End getting the table time it deserves, as I introduced it to my wife to generally positive feedback. After a victory in something roughly recreating the introductory scenario, we got thoroughly battered in most of our other games, but I still love the interactions, the decisions to be made, and the overall mechanics of the game.

There’s an expansion to this bubbling away on Kickstarter, and I must admit, I’m really torn: this type of marketplace game always thrives with more cards available, so getting this would seem like an obvious choice, but there are a few things about the project that I’m not thrilled by – I’ll talk more about that in a Kickstarter article I’ve got brewing elsewhere…

Turn of the Century: Zombicide

NecroAbom
Painting Zomnbicide has hit a bit of a backlog, so here’s a few older figures…

Due to its size (table space) and length (often 2-3 hours), Zombicide had fallen out of favour in February, and it only got 1 game in March. However, that single play was enough to take it not only to 10 sessions for the year, but 100 since we got it around this time last year. I’ve talked lots about Zombicide in the past, so I won’t wax lyrical any more today, but it’s still a fun choice when the baby allows.

Overall, I fell just short of having 9 plays of 9 games this month, but we’re definitely close, and I’m pretty confident that this year’s 10 of 10 will be done and dusted long before year end, probably by the summer – we already have over a dozen games played 6 times or more, and many of those will be looking to reach double figures soon.

 

Gathering Dust

Where March did see a big slow-down, was in games getting off of the unplayed list – with about 20 left to play, I’ll need to start giving this closer attention some time soon, as there’s only 1 or 2 I’d consider selling. Still, plenty of time left

 

What, How and How Much?

Investigators Book
I also picked up one of these recently – not a game, but a great tie-in product, and highly recommended to any Arkham Horror Files fan

In terms of theme and mechanic, March was something of a return to familiar ground. The thematic spread was fairly broad, with Lovecraft and Golarion being the biggest hitters, but there were significant appearances for Marvel, Tolkien, Zombies, Sherlock Holmes and a number of more generic settings

Cooperative was definitely the order of the day, with only a single game of Munchkin in the competitive column for most of the month, along with a scattering of Dice Masters and Zombie Dice as we reached the final days.

I sold a few more games in March, so gaming as a whole remains on a negative cost for the year. There are still some games which have dipped into the red in terms of value for money, with release schedules for Lord of the Rings and Arkham LCG getting ahead of us play-wise, and a rare re-stock for Mansions of Madness making me grab an expansion at a time when this rather lengthy game is struggling for table-time. As ever, I won’t be too worried, so long as I can drag things back on course long-term, but I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on those figures.

 

Looking forward

For the moment, it remains hard to guess how things will go over the coming months: predictability of nap times is a major factor in whether or not we can get games like Eldritch Horror back to the table any time soon, and feeds can take 20 minutes or 5 hours, which doesn’t exactly help with planning.

I hope that by the end of April, we will be back to something approaching a pattern, even if that’s a very different pattern to January and before. Who knows, maybe I’ll even get the chance to post a few proper articles, rather than just the monthly recaps…

February

 

February was always going to be a pretty important month for gaming in 2017. For one thing, this is often the time that New Year enthusiasm starts to peter out, and we get to see which games are going to have real staying power for the coming months. More importantly for us in 2017, February was going to be our last month of (relatively) undisturbed gaming, as my wife was expecting a baby in the middle of March. That made February a key time for getting games played, trying out anything that would be prevented by my being sleep-deprived, and generally making sure I didn’t have too many outstanding reviews left to do.

ned36
Not strictly a board game, but I like this picture, so I’m putting it in anyway…

It turns out that my son had different ideas. He decided that he didn’t want to wait for March 12th, and turned up on February 4th instead. That was something of surprise, to say the least. It also meant that February took place mostly in hospital, in the company of a tiny baby. Sadly, he’s been really quite ill, so had to stay in for a long while. Obviously, next to a child’s health, gaming is an incredibly trivial thing, That said, I’ve had plenty of time at home, trying to keep my mind busy, and my wife has barely been further from her bed than the hospital café in a month: in times like these, board-gaming is actually a really important distraction to stay sane.

 

With that in mind, February really hasn’t been a bad month gaming wise: by the time you factor in the month being 3 days shorter, overall numbers have barely dropped. That said, a whole new set of criteria have entered my decision-making process, including “Can I play this solo?” (already a slight consideration before), “Can I play this whilst hideously sleep-deprived?” “Can I play this on a tiny foldable hospital table?” “Can I safely take this somewhere without losing all the tiny pieces?” and “Can I play this without using my arms?” (Anything with a hand of hidden cards is out, but something like Carcassonne, where all information is public, works well).

sherlock-consulting-board-game-boxSan Juan, Race for the Galaxy, Dobble, and Star Wars Carcassonne, all scored highly in several of these categories, and made it to the table repeatedly. Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective, and its Lovecraftian sibling Mythos Tales also get a good mark on the “play with no hands” chart, and we had a few enjoyable, if drastically unsuccessful sessions of these. Other games like Coup and Braggart got briefer revivals, but proved to be fairly lacklustre with only 2 players. Still, along with single run-outs for a handful of other games, I’m now well past the half-way mark in playing all the games I own this year.

 

6 of 6

Where February did prove a challenge, was getting games back to the table for the repeat play-throughs needed to get higher counts. I spent most of the month watching the 10 of 10 challenge languishing on 5 of 5, with Legendary and Arkham Horror failing to get that 6th game- this was particularly frustrating for Arkham, as this was the game that I’d spent the most money on this year, but there really are too many different piles of cards and little tokens to risk taking this one to the hospital. In the end, I made it to our Monthly Dice Masters meet-up on the 26th, to finally hit 6 of 6.

Elder Sign, a game which definitely pushes the limits of what’s practical for transportation, did make a couple of fiddly trips and was the first to pass the 10 plays barrier for the year. Zombicide will doubtless join it soon after we get home, and there are a host of other games which have been kicking their heels all month: Legendary – recently enhanced with the Deadpool expansion – the new Mummy’s Mask set for Pathfinder, and Mansions of Madness all still seem likely to hit the big numbers as the year goes on.

As I think about finishing this year’s 10 of 10 challenge (some months from now), I have been back to BGG and checked again – neither Peekaboo, nor Steal Your Nose has a Board Game Geek entry (to be honest, my son’s not very good at those games either, but they seemed more appropriate than Eldritch Horror.) At least we’re a few months away from grab-and-chew.

 

Something New

The unexpected baby made his impact felt on the reviews I do for Game Quest, just as much as it did on playing for domestic purposes. I managed to get a couple finished off in the early weeks of me being alone at home and mum & baby stuck in hospital, but others needed to wait a while longer: I don’t want to spoil the stories of Mansions or Pathfinder (as noted above, these were not practical for transporting to hospital) and that fat, dense rulebook is still sat there in the corner, just daring me to risk my sanity by taking on Star Trek Frontiers.

Amongst this brain fog of exhaustion there was something unusual though. It’s very early in the year to be touting a game as a potential “Game of the Year,” but I think that this might be it.

aeons-end-card-game-boxAeon’s End was a big Kickstarter last year that’s attracted a lot of hype. It’s a cooperative Science-Fantasy Deck-builder that can probably best be described as a cross between Dominion and Legendary, although it certainly has plenty of unique features of its own.

As always, go to Games Quest and read the full review there to get the big picture, but a few key highlights:

Legendary style, the players are working together to take down a big baddy, who will have his own stats and unique abilities, plus a deck from which he throws out some randomised pain at the players every turn.

Rather than a Legendary style HQ though, players are building their decks from a Dominion-style market: at the start of the game you select 9 cards (3 gems, 2 relics, 4 spells), and they’re all available to buy from the word go – until they run out.

The biggest twist in Aeon’s End is that you don’t shuffle your deck: once your deck runs out, you just flip over your discard pile to form a new deck – given the amount of time you spend shuffling in a standard deck-builder, this is a really big twist. The only shuffling that goes on is in the turn-order deck, which randomises when in the course of each round you get to act, and when the Nemesis (boss bad-guy) does.

It’s also worth noting that in Aeon’s End you play as a specific character, each with their own unique ability, and a different starting configuration of breaches – the portal used for casting spells.

I’ve not had a chance to do any more than scratch the surface of Aeon’s End yet – I got the higher-level Kickstarter edition of the game, which gives me extra gems, spells and artefacts for the market, extra Breach Mages to play as, and extra Nameless monsters to face down. From this first look though, it seems great, with loads to recommend it in terms of art, back-story, and above all game-play. The fact that it’s cooperative means that there’s a chance of getting to the level of depth in experimenting with market combinations and strategies that I could never manage with Dominion (due to a lack of opponents who wanted to play that much Dominion).

 

The Future

I have no idea what March will hold. I’m fairly optimistic that having our little boy at home won’t completely stop us from gaming (although right now, I’d prepared to give it up if that was going to get him better and home from hospital). Hopefully in a few weeks, I’ll be some way towards figuring out what “normal life” looks like now, and will be back to posting here a bit more frequently.

A new year: 5 of 5

2017 Gaming got off to a good start in January: 25 different games played, and already a few racking up repeat plays. I thought I’d offer a quick run-down of a few of the different things I’ve been tracking.

5 of 5

Not surprisingly, I’m still some way from getting anything up to 10 plays for the year, but I have passed a few mini milestones.

deadeyes
It’s good that this still gets lots of play. Maybe one day I’ll even finish the painting…

“Play 1 Once” I managed on New Year’s Day (Elder Sign being the first game out of the box this year), and “2 Twice” a few days later as both Star Wars Destiny and Zombicide made repeat appearances.

“3 of Three” took a bit longer to pin down – Legendary and Zombicide got there relatively quickly, but they had to wait for a third to join them (Eldritch Horror felt like it had earned a place on the list after a normal game with two of us, as well as an epic 5-hour, 8-player session but, as Gimli would say of the big game- “that still only counts as one.” Instead, it was beaten to the punch by Elder Sign.

“4 of Four” was where things started to get a bit skewed – some games were already past the mark, with 5 or more plays, but getting a 4th game past 2 or 3 proved a bit of a sticking point, especially when a game like Eldritch or Mansions needs several hours at a time to be played. In the end it was Destiny that got me there as I manged to make it to another meet-up.

By the time it came to “5 of Five” things were starting to look fairly familiar, with the usual suspects making up the list: Legendary, Elder Sign and Zombicide, got there first, with Arkham Horror and Eldritch Horror lagging just behind.

By the end of the month, it looked like this:

1 of 1 01/01/2017 Elder Sign
2 of 2 04/01/2017 Zombicide, Destiny
3 of 3 13/01/2017 Legendary, Zombicide, Elder Sign
4 of 4 Zombicide, Elder Sign, Legendary, Destiny
5 of 5 Legendary, Elder Sign, Zombicide, Arkham Horror, Eldritch Horror

 

Some of those games have made it up to 6 or 7, and there will be more to come from them in the coming months, no doubt.

2017 actually got off to a much slower start than last year, although with hindsight January 2016 does look like a bit of a freak occurrence – in the whole of 2016 there were only 17 instances of a single game getting played 10+ times in a month, and 5 of those came in January, with Pathfinder, Lord of the Rings LCG, Dice Masters, Legendary and Game of Thrones LCG all making it into double figures at the first attempt. It was the most prolific month of the year overall, with 90 total games played, and there’s really no disgrace in failing to repeat those numbers – 71 games for January 2017 feels more than respectable.

 

Un-played

As I mentioned when doing the 2016 wrap-up, I won’t be keeping a running “un-played” list in quite the same way as last year, if only because it would only have 2 games on it if I did (just for completeness sake, both have been crossed off). That said, I still want to keep track of the games I haven’t played yet this year, even if that will be “most of them” for the first little while.

The Hobbit and Trivial Pursuit found their way to the Charity Shop, 23 games actually got played, and I sold a handful of small games that were “fine” but unlikely to ever have people clamouring to play them. Not a massive financial windfall, but it frees up a little space, and hopefully the games have gone to somewhere they’ll be better appreciated.

The whole area of removing the un-played, by sale or by play, is the one place where I have out-done January 2016, and if I sustain this rate, I’ll have played everything I own by the end of March!

 

Money for Nothing

2017 has also started well for keeping above the red line in terms of the cost of my gaming. I’d already started scaling back my Memoir ’44 collection in the autumn, and I sold another couple of bits in January – thanks to them being out-of-stock, I got about double what I would have originally paid for these, meaning that gaming is a hobby I’ve actually made money from at this point. I don’t expect this to still be the case by the end of the year, but it’s certainly nice to be given a bit of a head-start in game-play over spending.

lovecraftjan
I can’t even find the Dunwich box, so instead, here’s the Elder Sign expansion I got my wife for Christmas…

Mid-January saw a wave of new Arkham Files content – Beyond the Threshold was the first “proper” expansion for Mansions 2nd ed., (the others were technically “tile and figure” packs) and there were multiple releases for the LCG, with both the Dunwich Legacy deluxe box, and the Curse of the Rougarou stand-alone scenario appearing. I managed to resist getting Dreamlands for Eldritch Horror, and picked it up as a review copy, along with Beyond the Threshold, so it was only the LCG where I actually shelled out a significant amount of money.

the-dwarves-board-game-4th-defenceI also picked up the Combined Might expansion for The Dwarvesthis is a fun little co-op based on a set of German Fantasy Novels, with a number of clever and innovative mechanics that really make it stand out. That said, there are a few pinch-points in the base game – 90% of the Quest cards which drive the flow of the game are the same every time you play, and the expansion was well worth the tenner it cost to more than double the number of possibilities in this area.

In the immediate aftermath of buying the new stuff, all the games I had spent money on were looking like bad value for the year – fortunately this was generally in pretty low numbers, and aside from the LCG, everything was clawed back to within a fairly small margin of difference by the end of the month. I know from experience that LCGs can get expensive quickly and whilst I’m not too worried about having shelled out on the first 2 expansions at once, I will be keeping a careful eye on this one, just to make sure it continues to justify its place.

 

Themes

destiny-villains
Thanks to a spot of trading, I can finally put together a viable villains deck

Zombies maintained their strong positions from last year, with Zombicide remaining the most-played game, and spanning some fairly hefty sessions to boot. Overall though, it was Lovecraft that dominated January, thanks to that flood of content: It ultimately accounted for well over a third of sessions, and nearly half of all gaming time in the month. Comics and Fantasy were still notable elements, but definitely a smaller portion of the time spent gaming than in previous years.

Mechanically, Surviving the Monsters was a full third of what we did (up to 45% when measuring by time). Mystery Solving was a consistent 22% whether measured by time or by session. World-saving, Quest Completion and Villainous Plot-stopping were the other significant activities. “Kill the other side” was also a more significant chunk than has previously the case, thanks to Destiny – 13% by session

Closing Thoughts

Obviously, I don’t expect these trends to continue all year, particularly not the crossing off of ‘unplayed’ games – After all, it’s much easier to play a game on the list when all the games are on the list. Some games will always be more of a struggle to get to the table than others and as the year goes on it becomes more-and-more likely that those are what will be left on the list. I don’t know right now whether it’s possible to make a profit out of gaming for the entire year, but I certainly intend to keep new spending a lot lower than previous years. Lastly, spread-sheets or otherwise, I’ll be continuing to stay mindful of what actually gets played, and looking at what needs to happen to those games which don’t.

Play it again

 

[Warning: This article contains extensive Spoilers for The Night of the Zealot Core Box Campaign in Arkham Horror the Card Game]

Play it again

And again?

Leaving aside the recent trend towards “Legacy” games, very few of us go out and buy a board or card game, expecting to only play it once. For one thing, the complexity of many modern games means that you need to play it once before you’re fully comfortable with the rules, mechanics and interactions, and for another, it would be an incredibly inefficient use of money and storage space.

For a lot games, that isn’t a problem – No matter how many times you play Pandemic, Carcassonne, Dominion or Ticket to Ride, the game remains basically the same, and the nuggets of information that you gather (what worked well last time, what is player X likely to be trying to achieve when they do Y) are fairly abstract, and equally available to all.

nightofthezealotFor a game drive by narrative though, this can be a very different matter. If part of the thrill is about uncovering a mystery, how is that going to play out once the mystery is no longer mysterious? Taking the initial campaign, Night of the Zealot from the Arkham Horror LCG Core set, I want to consider some of the practicalities of this.

The Gathering

The first scenario in the game, The Gathering, starts off with everyone gathered in the study of the first investigator – they have no choice in where they gather, because the door has vanished!

As we will no doubt see in a lot of scenarios over the course of the game’s life, in order to advance the act from this first stage, players need to gather a certain number of clues (2 per investigator). Once they have done this, they can read a brief bit of flavour text about the door mysteriously reappearing underneath the rug, and advance to the next stage, adding in the Hallway, Cellar and Attic locations. So far, no bother- the narrative detail here seems fairly limited in impact.

atticecellar2Moving on to stage 2, players need to explore the cellar and the attic to find clues: due to extremes of heat and cold, you can expect to suffer physical and mental damage when you enter these places and, on a second or subsequent run-through, you might want to avoid sending a particular investigator to the place which will hamper them the most. That said, the number of clues required means that you will have to visit both locations at some point, and unless you want your party very thinly spread, you might just have to suck up that damage and horror in order to reach the parlour.

ghoulpriestThe final stage of The Gathering is where the spoilers start to come thick and fast. For one thing, the rather large and unpleasant Ghoul Priest is going to spawn in the Hallway, and having advance knowledge of that is likely to impact where you position your investigators immediately prior to paying the clues to advance.

In the parlour itself is the mysterious Lita Chantler – with a big enemy like that in play, can you afford to use an entire turn evading the Ghoul, then moving to the Parlour and then performing an Intelligence check of difficulty 4 in an attempt to take control of her? First time round, we didn’t bother: Roland had Dynamite, and a beat-cop which was enough to put a good-sized hole in the Ghoul Priest without using that many actions in hope of gaining her “+1 to combat” “+1 damage to monsters.”

There is also, of course, the option to resign at various points in the game. Do you cut your losses and run? Well, once you know that at least one possible resolution leads only to death, you’re unlikely to bother with that one. Knowing that a surviving Ghoul Priest will find his way into the Encounter Deck for all future games is also likely to give you pause before turning your back on him.

Burning Down the House

yourhouseBy far the biggest issue for me with re-playing this campaign, is the question of burning down the house. In our first play-through, I reasoned that a by-the-book Fed like Roland was very unlikely to torch his own home, merely on the word of a strange woman who had appeared in his kitchen. The house remained standing, and we were rewarded with an extra XP for Roland, and the chance to start the second scenario at “Your House,” a location with clues, a low shroud value, and a powerful action ability to draw cards and resources at once.

The second time through, we torched the house. Obviously, there’s an element of wanting to just explore the different possibilities, but in all honesty, we were mostly motivated by the challenges we faced in scenario 3. We wanted to have Lita on the team, and correctly guessed that burning the house would bring her to our cause. No bonus XP, no “Your House” for scenario 2, and 1 mental trauma for Agnes, but in return we had a powerful ally who might prove… useful, in scenario 3.

 

Midnight Masks

cultistrevealThe second scenario is a fairly confusing one first time out, just because it is so open ended. At least with the current card-pool, I think it must be near-on impossible to defeat all the cultists in the deck before Doom causes the Agenda to advance at least once. Of course, having it advance from stage 1 to 2 is no bad thing as you quickly discover when you realise that the back of the first Agenda card is one of the 6 cultists you seek.

The first time we played this, we were very uncertain a lot of the time –how long could we spend investigating? How many cultists did we need to find? We defeated 4 in the end, and called it a day.

The instant you set up the third scenario, a lot more about the second one becomes clear: any cultists who survive are going to reappear looking for a fight just at the moment you need to get past them to the Ritual Site. Cultists still at large will also mean starting the third scenario with Doom already on the Agenda, effectively cutting the amount of time available to you there. Perhaps more to the point, you realise that there is no real drawback to allowing the agenda to advance once in Midnight Masks (as noted above, it can be a blessing in disguise, providing a cultist to defeat at the cost of zero clues). If you do run out of time, going “Past Midnight” leads to a simple cards-in-hand penalty at the start of the next game: certainly not something an investigator would wish for, but a price you may decide to pay if you think it will mean the difference between taking down that last cultist or leaving them to roam free.

The Devourer Below

At last then, you come to the third and final scenario of the campaign. First time round, Roland and Wendy were both in full health, and we had arrived ahead of Midnight. However, we then found ourselves in all manner of trouble – Doom was advancing fast, Roland got stuck in the twisting paths, and when it was time to head to the Ritual Site to stop the dark deeds underway, the way was blocked by 2 Cultists. Wendy was able to get past them thanks to the help of the Cat Burglar, but by the time Roland had cleared them out and joined her, all they were able to do was to die together.

umordhothhighlightedPlaying The Devourer Below crystallised things about the earlier scenario for us in a way that no amount of actually playing the earlier stages could have: we knew that we needed to be much more successful in defeating cultists first time out (Wolf Man Drew is a particularly nasty one to have to deal with). Agnes and Skids felt a lot more optimistic going into their attempt at Scenario 3 knowing only Victoria (pay resources) and Herman (discard cards) would be standing in their way.

Above all though, coming face-to-face with Umordhoth made it clear to us that we needed Lita in the party: obviously our investigators are decent folk and will do what they can to win the investigation properly, but knowing that there’s an ally we can throw under the bus makes a big difference.

Locations and Encounters

Away from the meta-narrative there will, obviously, be variation in every game of Arkham Horror that you play. The encounter deck is randomised and, even if you shuffle as badly as I do, that will mean some variation between whether you have to pass a skill test, sit hampered by a treachery you can do nothing about, or fight an enemy.

southsideOn top of the pre-existing randomness built into the mechanics of the game, there are some elements where additional unpredictability is built in through randomised cards: choosing between the 2 different versions of Downtown, or the different Southsides for example. That said, it’s still important not to get too carried away: there are exactly two versions of each of these locations, and even drawing at random, it won’t take that many plays to get through all of them.

twisting-pathsArkham Woods in the 3rd scenario is a little more complex: even though you will fairly quickly get to know all 6 of the locations on the revealed side, you still never know from game to game which one is which or where. Given the different challenges that these offer, this can make for a lot of variety in the final scenario, even if it also leads to a lot of frustration (Roland wasting 3 entire turns trying to get out of the twisting paths springs to mind).

Overall I think location variety is a good way to stop you from reaching a point where you have “cracked” a scenario, and it no longer offers any challenge, or reason to play again. However, I’m not convinced it really compensates for a narrative that has become sufficiently well-worn to feel excessively predictable.

Reflections

Overall, I enjoyed Night of the Zealot. At times, we found the difficulty really frustrating, but that’s a lot to do with the limited deck-building options you have from a single Core Set. No doubt in time, a couple of properly rounded-out decks will make the easy mode feel just that: easy. At that point, we’ll probably try it on a higher level (standard at least, we may not be going near “Hard” for a while yet).

Overall though, I do wonder how much re-play value this campaign will have. I’ve played it a fair few times now and I’m pretty confident that I know all the different ways it could play out. At that point, it’s very easy for the game to shift from being a narrative, role-playing experience, to a mechanical puzzle where theme is a slightly secondary consideration. That isn’t necessarily a problem – the game can scratch two different itches on early / later replays, but I think it’s important that we don’t have unrealistic expectations: the outcomes and possibilities within a given scenario or campaign are finite, and we’ll only be setting ourselves up for disappointment if we expect any different.

Cthulhu Redux

Back in the summer, I wrote an article about how I hoped that 2016 would the year where we finally saw some good Cthulhu Mythos games hitting the table with regularity. A few months on, that prophecy has been fulfilled, and I thought this would be a good moment to take a look back at what the year has brought.

Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu

pandemic-cthulhu-board-game-boxThe announcement of this game was probably what re-ignited my interest in this area, as it had been a while since I read any Lovecraft or played any Cthulhu-themed games (I think I played 1 game of Munchkin Cthulhu last year, but I’m not convinced that counts). I managed to play a sneak preview of this game at UKGE, and was really impressed. I then managed to get my hands on a copy of my own in late August, and it didn’t disappoint.

As I’ve said several times in various places, this game is both Pandemic and not Pandemic at the same time. There are many aspects which are remarkably familiar, at the same time as the game brings in elements that are unique. The sanity dice leaves you spending most of the game fearing that you may lose your mind and, if enough Old Ones awake, there is absolutely nothing you can do about it before you eventually go mad and the world is destroyed.

Being a Z-Man game, the characters in Reign of Cthulhu are not the familiar faces from the FFG set of Cthulhu games, they are merely generic figures. That said, they still offer varied gameplay styles, and for a standalone game that seems unlikely to warrant an expansion, it still feels like it’s got plenty to offer. Not the most involved from a thematic/narrative standpoint, still a good game.

 

Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition

mansions-madness-board-game-boxMansions was the surprise appearance of the summer. It was announced about a week before its release, and it’s one that I was lucky enough to pick up a review copy of: with a retail price somewhere in excess of £80, this isn’t one I would ever have been buying, but I think it does a remarkably good job of justifying the price tag. The miniatures are a bit naff out of the box: excess casting and clunky bases, but they scrub up well, with both monsters and investigators looking the part after a quick paint job. The tiles are already a very high standard, and the various card decks are all good.

mansions-madness-board-game-puzzleApps in board-gaming were one of the first things I ever wrote about on this blog, and I was pretty lukewarm on the idea at the time. Mansions changed my mind: the app is really well done – it takes care of a lot of the bookkeeping, but I never felt like I was playing a computer game instead of a board game. The limit of only 4 scenarios to begin with was somewhat restrictive, but having not paid for the base game, we were happy enough paying for the first tile/miniature pack, and will doubtless invest in at least the first digital scenario or two, due to appear for around $5 sometime very soon.

One of the biggest things that Mansions did, was to get us mentally invested in the setting, and interested in the investigators, which definitely enhances the experience of the other games.

Elder Sign

insanityElder Sign is a game I’ve had for several years. I didn’t play it all in 2015, but I dusted it off back in the spring, and even picked up an expansion to review. It’s a game that requires you make a bit more effort with the flavour – it’s too easy to skip over the flavour-text and focus straight in on the dice you need to roll: in the past, I think I’d been trying to push this one on people with no real interest in the Mythos, and it had fallen a bit flat.

Now feeling a bit more like I know the characters, from other games, or from some of the tie-in fiction, it’s easier to get a bit more invested, and I feel like I’ve enjoyed the games I’ve played. I’ve still only played it solo and with my wife, but we’ve played it quite a bit and enjoyed doing so.

Eldritch Horror

Eldritch Horror is another Fantasy Flight Game, a very highly-rated globe-spanning board game. It’s fairly long (although probably no longer than a lot of games of Mansions), and has a lot going on – I picked up a copy in a Maths Trade.

eldritchEldritch was released a few years, and landed during a time period when my first attempts at finding a good Cthulhu game for us had petered out: as a result, I just never really looked at it that closely. Most reviews I did read seemed sharply divided between it being “the streamlined wonder-game that Arkham Horror should have been” or “a vile exercise in dumbing down that is an insult to the Arkham name.” (ok, neither of those are actually quotes, but they capture the feeling of an awful lot of BGG threads…)

Having played this a few times, I’m not sure I’d agree with either of those assessments. It’s a fun game, with a lot going on, but once again, I think the length is such that it wouldn’t wash with people who hadn’t already been hooked on the Mythos via Mansions.

I liked Eldritch, and am in discussions with Santa about how best to approach the backlog of expansions (I have neither the time nor the money to get all of them). That said, it’s still not a perfect game. Having come into this off the back off a lot of Mansions, I was almost overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff there is to keep track of: in both of our early plats, we missed various rules and triggers, and in the second game, that may have even made the difference between victory and defeat. Aside from the sheer length, I think a major factor stopping this game going from “fun to play now and then” to “played all the time” is that excess bookkeeping, and having too many things to keep track of.

I also want to mention quickly the scaling issues this game has – we’ve only played it with 2 players so far, and the first couple of times, we took a character each, spending most of the game charging about frantically, and failing to get to places on time: having gone at it again with 4 characters (2 each) it felt much more balanced, and I think that’s how we’ll play it in the future.

Arkham Horror LCG

magali-tokensArkham Horror the Card Game is the most recent offering in Fantasy Flight’s “Arkham Horror Files Series” and the second ever cooperative Living Card Game, it was released in early/mid-November. Coming from several people involved in the Lord of the Rings LCG, it very clearly builds on those foundations, but has various unique features of its own, both showing where lessons have been learnt over the past 5 years, and showing a conscious effort to make the game feel like a part of the Arkham Family (aside from the recurring characters and settings, the Chaos bag in particular feels like a direct homage to the earlier titles in the series).

The announcement of this came with near-perfect timing, as I finally succumbed to the inevitable and parted with my Call of Cthulhu LCG collection – a good game, but a competitive LCG that I could never find opponents for. Arkham seemed set to not only fill the gap, but to offer a better fit than its predecessor had, both in terms of thematic coherence and in terms of the co-op gameplay.

timeandspaceBeing a Living Card Game, there will be a lot of content available for this going forward: FFG have already released some playmats one of which has an especially stunning piece of art that I like. I’m not going to say too much more about it here, as I’ve already done a review of the Core Set, along with some articles for Mythos Busters on how we can enjoy losing Lovecraftian Games, and started to look at issues of character class and deck-building. Overall, I plan to do a few odds and ends on this over the coming months, so stay tuned.

Books

It’s also worth mentioning the tie-in novels that exist for Fantasy Flight’s Arkham Horror range – the physical copies can be slightly hard to track down, but the Kindle Format is readily available from Arkham, and I’ve been really enjoying them: not all of the characters are game-play regulars, but several are, with others making cameo appearances here and there.

novels

So far I’ve read the Dark Waters trilogy and whilst it’s not about to win any literary prizes, I’ve found them really enjoyable – capturing the sense of Arkham as a place, the challenges and dangers driving our investigators, and an awareness of the pulp origins of many Mythos tales. Reading about Amanda Sharpe’s dream of lost R’yleh has already inspired me to play her in a game of Elder Sign, and seeing how he handled himself in a fight, was the inspiration for giving Silas Marsh a run-out, an inspired decision for the game of Eldritch Horror where we faced Cthulhu out at see. I plan to continue wading through these over the coming months and hope they continue to be enjoyable.

investigatorsbookFantasy Flight have also announced The Investigators of Arkham Horror, a book filing in background details on all the 52 Investigators who appear across this suite of games. It’s going to be a large, 264 page+ colour hardback, so it will cost a pretty penny and, sadly, the delivery cost to the UK will more than double that $60 starting figure.

I’m really hoping that our FLGS will be able to pick these up, ideally the deluxe edition that comes with a Play Mat for the LCG and a chance to get hold of Marie Lambeau plus her signature Asset and Weakness for the LCG, not arriving in normal retail releases until sometime next year. Either way, it looks like it’ll be a good addition to the shelf.

Closing Thoughts

Overall, it has clearly been a golden year for all things Lovecraft in the world of gaming. Arkham Nights, FFG’s annual Cthulhu gaming weekend, sold out for the first time ever, and the whole IP really feels like it’s riding the crest of a wave with upcoming expansions announced for all of their games which I’ve mentioned above. I’ve already talked on here about some of the issues which Mythos gaming sometimes provokes, but overall, I’ve really enjoyed most of the games from this Mythos that we’ve played this year, and I look forward to many more in the future.

The Baggage of the Mythos

Some Musings on the place of Lovecraft in Lovecraftian games in the 21st century.

A little under a week  ago, I stumbled across some of the rumblings generated by a recent article published by Cynthia Hornbeck. Hers was not a name I’d heard before, but both Hornbeck’s own blog and the Board Game Geek news article which brought it to my attention, describe her as a former employee of Asmodee North America, (the umbrella organisation who are now behind other big names you might have heard of such as the publisher of a lot of my most-played games, “Fantasy Flight” and the UK distributor, Esdevium).

conan Hornbeck’s article took aim at the recently released Conan board game, which she cites as being an abysmal example of sexist, racist stereotypes. She also argues that acquiescing to something like this in board games helps reinforce misogynistic, racist norms in society at large.

I haven’t seen the new Conan board game itself, so I’m not going to get in to the details of the claims she makes about the game (for those who are interested, amongst all the shouting, the comments section below this article has a few people taking issue with some of the factual claims Hornbeck makes about the game.)

I did review an older Conan game a few months back, and as I read back through my review, I think I would stand by the main thrust of my argument – roughly: there’s some dodgy stuff in here, but the game is so abstract that most of the time you don’t really notice.

Reading it with Hornbeck’s article fresh in my memory, I can see how people might want me to make more of this aspect, but I think that I’d assumed anyone considering a Conan board game would be sufficiently into the Conan theme that they’d be aware of/ have already made their decision on this type of thing.

Despite that long-ish intro, I didn’t come here today to talk about Conan. If you’re interested in the topic, I’d recommend having a look at Hornbeck’s original article, which is certainly thought-provoking, even if it feels hyperbolic in places, and some of her conclusions seem stretched. There’s also the article on Kotaku which brought the original blog piece to a slightly wider audience, and gives the company behind the game a chance to respond.

What I wanted to pick up on though was a single line near the start of Hornbeck’s article, which struck a bit closer to home.

Conan is closely based on the books of Robert E. Howard, who was coincidentally a close friend of another highly influential author racist, H. P. Lovecraft.”

As I’ve mentioned more than a few times lately, the second half of this year has seen a heavy Cthulhu-Mythos theme to it in our house. Whilst some of Hornbeck’s conclusions seem a little strong to me, and her comment on Lovecraft felt a bit lazy, I did come away from the article feeling challenged by one of her exhortations towards the end.

“As a gamer, start refusing to purchase or even play a game that objectifies women, excludes women, excludes non-White people, makes non-White people the enemy, etc.”

Am I playing games like that? I don’t think so. But then, I am a white, middle-class man. It would hardly be unprecedented for one of us not to notice this sort of thing. I decided then, to take a look back through the games and see how it felt they were doing at creating a world which captures the mobsters and monsters feel of an Eldritch 1920s without having to import a 100 year-old worldview.

Lovecraft

h_p_lovecraft_alone Starting with Lovecraft himself, I think we can say without argument that H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) said, wrote, and (presumably) thought a lot of things that would be considered ignorant, rude and at times, even downright racist in today’s world.

Beyond that, it gets a little more complicated – and people who have done far more research than I, have already spilled many gallons of ink on whether Lovecraft was simply a product of his time, or whether he should be regarded as a bigot, even within his own historical context – overall, it seems to me to lean towards the latter, but there are advocates of both sides.

Personally, when I read Lovecraft, I can wince when a leading character has a cat called “N*gger Man” or at some of the derisive offhand descriptions of Blacks, Asians or other characters, but by-and-large, that doesn’t stop me reading his work – some of it is very good, other bits feel tortured and overblown, and I’d certainly say I’m more drawn to the ideas he had and the world he created than to his particular craft as a writer. Lovecraft’s crimes against women are largely by omission rather than commission – i.e. it’s not so much what they say or do, so much as the fact that they often don’t appear at all.

Mythos

necronomicon2 It’s important to remember that the Cthulhu Mythos is not simply the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft himself was heavily influenced by writers who came before him, such as Edgar Allen Poe, and also borrowed things directly from earlier works such as Carcosa and Hastur, taken from Ambrose Bierce, via Robert W. Chambers The King in Yellow.

Within Lovecraft’s lifetime, his works interacted with those of others: Robert E. Howard (yes, the Conan guy)’s The Children of the Night, features a character reading The Necronomicon, and there were other writers who interacted with the world he had created. However, it was only really later, and largely through the work of August Derleth that the Mythos expanded, becoming something which numerous later writers could contribute to, and which has seen the setting expand beyond Lovecraft’s original works. In recent times, writers like Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore (who would be unlikely to make anyone’s list of bigoted or narrow-minded authors) are among those who have cited Lovecraft and his Mythos as an influence on their writing.

michaelmcglen For me, the appeal of the Cthulhu Mythos setting is a little hard to describe, but I think that there are definitely some key elements to it: I’ve already used the phrase Mobsters and Monsters, and I think there’s something about that 1920s aesthetic which has to be there – jazz and prohibition, the horrors of wars past, and the optimistic decadence which looks to a brighter tomorrow. It’s also, as has been well explained over at Mythos Busters amongst other places, the idea of battling cosmic forces too powerful to comprehend: the aim is survival, and a fully triumphant victory is simply never on the cards. Lastly, I think that there’s an element of forbidden knowledge – the idea of things that Man Was Not Meant To Know, that your mind is in as much danger as your body when you look in to these things.

The fact that most Cthulhu games do offer some hope of victory, however hollow, says to me that we are dealing with the wider Mythos, the version imagined by Derleth rather than simply Lovecraft’s starting point. I think that this Mythos has been developed broadly enough that it’s possible to have a game that feels “faithful” to the setting without being dependent upon outdated ideologies.

From Theory to Game

All of that is well and good, but establishing that something is possible and establishing that it has actually happened are different things, and I wanted to move on next to look at the actual execution of these ideas in the game.

Arkham Horror Files

I’m mostly going to concentrate on Fantasy Flight’s Arkham Horror Files range – this is the umbrella term that covers Mansions of Madness, Eldritch Horror, Elder Sign, Arkham Horror the Card Game, and various others.

Play the Man

There are 52 different investigators who appear across this range of games – I’ve collated a list of these as best I can, and by my reckoning there are 23 female investigators and 29 male: it’s not a completely even split, but it certainly doesn’t feel like this is just token representation.

femaleinvestigators
The female Investigators from Mansions 2nd Edition (Core Box + Recurring Nightmares)

In terms of the roles that these investigators play, there is a fair amount of breadth for both genders: yes, the Secretary and the Dilettante are female, but so are the Spy, the Scientist and the Martial Artist. The PI, the Fed, the Soldier and the Gangster are all male, and there is a noticeable tendency for those in the more influential position to be male – the Senator, the Professor and the like, but this is still supposed to be the 1920s and it’s probably more of a stretch to imagine a woman being given that kind of senior academic appointment back then than it is to suggest that there might be ghouls and monsters hiding in the shadows.

Not every investigator appears in every game – in fact there is nobody yet who appears in all of them – but for any of the games, picking up the Core Box (this is Fantasy Flight, all the games have expansions…) will give you a broad spread of options across the genders.

All White?

Race is a slightly different question: at a rough guess, only 5 of the 52 investigators are non-Caucasian: Akachi Onyele, Lily Chen, Minh Thi Phan, Rita Young, and Jim Culver. They are respectively a Shaman, a Martial Artist, a Secretary, an Athlete and a Jazz Musician, which suggests a certain amount of tropery in linking race and occupation.

Rita Young is a source of particular controversy: a character whose backstory involves persecution in the Deep South, particularly at the hands of the KKK, pictorial depictions of her have covered a fairly wide range of skin tones, with her pre-painted miniature looking decidedly white.

rita
L-R: My attempt at painting her miniature, the character card from Mansions 2nd Edition, and the Pre-painted miniature as sold by FFG

Personally I went for a skin tone that seemed more in keeping with the bio when I painted the miniature and, whilst it came out slightly darker than I’d intended, it makes more sense to me.

On top of these characters, you can add a few others like Finn Edwards, Marie Lambeau, and “Skids” O’Toole who are still decidedly white, but not Anglo-Saxon, which seems to have been where Lovecraft drew the line.

I think it’s possible to go too far with trying to make characters in a game “representative” – to the point where the designers are more concerned with making sure they’ve got enough of type X or Y, and not enough with an interesting concept / backstory – in that respect, I don’t really mind that I haven’t found an exact 50:50 male/female, and 50:50 white/non-white split. Could they have created more non-white characters? – absolutely! Do I think it would be good if, were they to expand the roster of characters, more of them came from non-white backgrounds? – Yes! Do I think the games as they are feel like they lack options in character choice? Not massively.

Who We Are and What We Do?

ranzakIf I’m picking a character to play in a game, whether it’s Arkham, Pathfinder, Lord of the Rings (gender in Tolkien is a whole other article, and this one’s already getting long…), or any other, I’m generally a lot less interested in their gender or the colour of their skin than I am in their ability, what they’ll actually be like to play – I’ll confess that in Pathfinder, I’m drawn to the more obscure races (Goblin, Tengu etc) but there’s no real parallel for games set in New England (although if Fantasy Flight want to let me play as a Mi-Go who has decided to side with the humans, I’ll definitely take them up on the offer).

It’s kind of cool that Grazzle, my current Pathfinder character is Lizardfolk, but I’d quickly have got bored with that if it weren’t for his phenomenal healing ability. I am neither a waitress nor (as far as I’m aware) the reincarnation of a powerful sorceress, but that doesn’t stop me from having fun playing as Agnes in the Arkham LCG.

minh_thi_phanIt’s worth noting that the descriptions and occupations are about the characters’ backstories: whilst they will influence their strengths and weaknesses, they don’t limit them in an absolute sense. Yes, in the LCG Daisy Walker sucks at hand-to-hand combat, but she can still toast ghouls with a copy of shrivelling or two. In Mansions, my wife mostly plays as Min Thi Phan – a bookish woman she can identify with – but with agility and observation 4, she can gun down cultists with the best of them.

Finally, it’s worth remembering that this is still a game and part of why we play games is because sometimes the Hail Mary pass comes off: Agatha Crane probably wouldn’t have been our choice to face down the Priest of Dagon, but somehow she rolled the 3 successes on 3 dice needed to slide across the floor through his legs, and whack him in the groin with the pickaxe: that moment, where the little old lady KO-ed the boss monster still stands out months later as one of the best moments playing this game, in a way that it simply wouldn’t have if Michael McGlen the Gangster had rolled 2 successes on 5 dice to cave the monster’s head in with a crowbar.

 

Other Games

In terms of what I’m familiar with, there aren’t that many other Cthulhu Mythos games out there which go that heavy on characterisation – Mythos Tales is a very flavourful experience in Arkham, but there’s never really a moment where we’re concerned with who “you” the player are.

pandemic-cthulhu-board-game-hunterPandemic: Reign of Cthulhu has “roles” – more a character class than any kind of backstory. She may not look like me, but the Hunter is generally my first pick for her un-paralled ability to take down Shoggoths. The Reporter (also female) is another key figure, able to get round the board better than pretty much any other character. As I say, it’s not the most thematic / role-play-y of Cthulhu games, but there are multiple female characters, and they include the most powerful / hands-on.

Obviously, there are dozens, if not hundreds more Cthulhu games out there. However, I don’t know the RPG well enough to comment on it, and things like Munchkin Cthulhu or Smash Up: The Obligatory Cthulhu Expansion are light enough that I don’t feel any real need to go too deeply into their characters.

Conclusion

Overall, whether you read Lovecraft’s work or not (I do, periodically, but I think a lot of the other stuff, including some of FFG’s tie-in fiction, is as good if not better), I think it’s perfectly possible to play Cthulhu games without affirming any of Lovecraft’s more dubious views. In a way that may not be true for Conan, there is enough scope in this world for game designers and game players alike to create varied characters: characters who give everyone an opportunity to play as a character they can relate to, if that’s what they want.

As noted above, I am white and male: it’s possible that I’m not the best person to be making these judgements – that’s why I’d really like to hear other people’s thoughts: are Lovecraft’s views an issue for you when considering a Mythos Board game? Do you agree that the world these games inhabit is a bigger, more creatively open space, an acceptable place for us to game in? Or are there aspects you struggle with? Perhaps you disagree with Lovecraft’s views but are happy that a game is just a game, and aren’t even bothered about how far they carry over to your table-top experience.

I’d be interested to know people’s thoughts in the comments.

Arkham Horror LCG – Single Core Set Review

Utter Madness

Warning: This article contains some minor spoilers in image form

arkham-lcg-contentsArkham Horror the Card Game is the latest release from Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) in their popular Arkham Horror Files range. It is a Living Card Game, meaning that the Core set released last week is just the first in a long line of products planned for the game, but before we go ahead and take out a subscription for everything yet to come, let’s take a look at what we get for starters.

Your Investigator

wendy-token
It would be nice to use miniatures for all the characters, sadly there’s not much crossover yet between this game and Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition

First of all, the basics. In Arkham LCG, you control a character represented by a mini-card that you move around to track your location, a larger card showing your stats and powers, and a deck of 30ish cards that you draw from during the game in order to assist you in the various tasks and challenges that you undertake.

Your character has stats for their Willpower, Intelligence, Strength and Agility. They also have a health value and a sanity value. At various points throughout the game, you will be required to perform checks using these stats: to do so, you take your stat, add any modifiers for assets or other game effects in play. You then draw a random token from the “Chaos Bag” which will modify your total (usually downwards). Finally compare this total to the difficulty of the check: if your result is equal or higher, you have passed the test and can reap the reward.

Each investigator performs three actions per turn. Ideally you will want to use these for gathering clues, but you will also need to move, deal with enemies, and invest in acquiring tools for the tasks that await you, by drawing cards, gaining resources, or playing assets.

The Scenario

The pace of Arkham is driven by two decks: the Agenda deck and the Act deck. The Agenda deck is the game trying to execute its dark plan, and the Act is you trying to solve the mystery or stop things first. Although each deck is a separate pile of cards, they are designed to sit side-by-side, so that they give the impression of a single book.

act-agenda-book

study Each scenario sets up with a series of locations. These are double-sided: a blank side, and a more detailed side that is revealed once the players enter the location. It costs an action to move between locations, and there are coloured symbols at the bottom of each location showing you where it connects to. Once revealed, most locations will have a certain number of clues (often scaled based on the number of investigators in the game), and a “Shroud” value, indicating how difficult it is to discover clues at that location. To investigate, you perform an intelligence check against the shroud value, and if you are successful, you take one of the clues from the location. Typically, you will need to acquire a certain number of clues in order to advance the Act, although sometimes there will be other conditions like defeating a particular enemy.

Each round, after the players have had their actions, all enemies engaged with them will attack, then everything refreshes, each player draws a card and a resource, and a new round begins with the Mythos Phase. The Mythos Phase is when the dark forces which oppose you do their work. First of all, a Doom token is placed on the Agenda deck, which may cause the Agenda to advance, then each player reveals a card from the encounter deck – either an enemy or a treachery.

Ending

resign The end of an Arkham LCG scenario is more complex than a simple win/lose check. You may have the option to resign and even if you do not, there are likely to be 2 or 3 different possible outcomes, creating knock-on implications for later scenarios in the campaign. This variable outcome structure adds to the replayability of the game, but it also lends weight to the designers’ assertion that the game is best played in campaign mode rather than just cherry-picking individual scenarios.

At the end of a scenario, assuming that you are not dead, various things will happen: you will be told to log certain pieces of pertinent information, and may gain cards or benefits, or suffer trauma that will affect you in future games.

survivor-upgrades You will also be given experience points (XP) based on cards you have defeated or objectives completed, and these can be spent on upgrading your deck. At the start of a campaign, all the cards in your deck will be “Level 0” but you can replace them with more powerful cards as the campaign goes on: the “Level” of a card (0-5) is the same as its cost in XP (although it always costs 1XP to swap a card, even if the new card is a level 0 as well).

When you finally reach the end of the campaign, you will be given an ultimate resolution – typically either a hollow victory that leaves you permanently scarred in mind or body (this is Lovecraft, after all) or outright death and destruction. The detailed consequences of the “positive” outcome are there for the particularly masochistic individuals who want to take their already-harrowed investigators onto a further campaign without starting anew.

First Thoughts

signatures
Roland and Daisy’s Unique Cards

Overall, I think that Arkham Horror LCG is a good game. It feels like the designers have learnt a lot from 5 years of experience with Lord of the Rings, along with ideas borrowed from elsewhere. Having smaller deck sizes increases the chance of you seeing a given card, whilst the 2-copies-per-deck limit for cards (as opposed to 3x for most other LCGs) keeps deck-building interesting. Signature cards are also a nice touch: these have had fairly haphazard implementation in other games, so having each investigator always start with 1 unique asset and 1 unique weakness in their deck levels the playing field and allows the character’s narrative to truly influence their gameplay.

magali-tokens The aesthetic of Arkham Horror is good: the iconography on the locations take a little getting used to, but is actually quite intuitive. The investigator art is particularly high-standard, with many of the characters depicted by Magali Villeneuve, everyone’s favourite artist from LotR.

The components generally are high standard too – including the trademark hearts and brains common to most of FFG’s Arkham games. It’s a little sad that they didn’t include an actual bag for drawing chaos tokens, but it’s easy enough to find a substitute.

Places

rooms-away
Roland will need to spend an action to go from Cellar to Hallway, and another from Hallway to Attic, before he even thinks about fighting that Ghoul.

The separation of locations from the Encounter deck allows the designers to convey a really good sense of place: you are always at a location – if you’re two rooms away from another investigator and they need help, expect it to take time for you to get to them. Making the locations double-sided, and having more copies of some locations than you use in each game allows them to retain an element of mystery of what you will find when you go there.

Having an encounter deck of 2 card-types from the outset (rather than 3 in LotR) reduces some of the variability in terms of what the encounter-deck throws at you, and thereby improves the overall sense of balance. LotR has had lots of location issues over the years, and having this approach from day 1 feels like a smart move.

Play it Again, Sam

dunwich I’m planning on writing a lot about this game over the coming weeks and months – I certainly want to take an in-depth look at the question of just how much replay value there is within a given campaign, but I think that will work better as a full-spoilers piece.

For now I’m just going to say that whilst you can play through the same campaign repeatedly, once you’ve done it a few times, and seen all the different resolutions, the narrative surprise is going to be significantly reduced: decisions which you take first time round from a purely narrative standpoint may become non-decisions once you know exactly what the gameplay outcome will be.

Obviously the nature of an LCG is that FFG expect people to buy into the game in a long-term fashion, and the replay value will grow with time: once we have the full Dunwich Legacy campaign, and the option of taking a detour to deal with a Rougarou, the scenarios should feel a lot more varied, and hopefully it will be easier to stay in character as you play.

Nothing to Build.

guardians
Roland & Skids – both want the Guardian cards, but there aren’t enough to go round

The Core set comes with 5 investigators, and allows you build legal decks for them – but only in certain combinations. For each character, you will be using all of the level 0 cards from both their primary and secondary classes at the outset, meaning that they cannot investigate alongside any character who shares one of those classes. In practice, each Investigator has to choose one of two others in order to start their investigation.

Once you have chosen your pair of investigators, the decks largely build themselves: take all of the level 0 cards from both classes, and top up with level 0 neutral cards. There is some scope for customisation here, but again the options are limited – by the time you’ve given everyone a couple of knives, a couple of flashlights and a couple of emergency caches, you’re only really picking skill cards to round out the numbers.

agnes-shrivelling There are a number of ways round this, of course – with a second Core Set you can combine any pair of investigators (or play with 3 or 4 players). If you stick to the suggested pairings, a second Core gives you actual decisions to make about which cards to include. Aside from allowing you to play around with deck construction, a second Core makes some characters a lot more viable. Take Agnes for example – her base combat stat is a fairly weak 2, but her willpower is 5, making her a much more viable combatant once she has an attack spell out. Sadly, with only 1 copy of shrivelling in a core box, and only 4 uses possible, she’s going to really struggle until you can bulk out her card pool.

cold
This encounter set is used in both the first and second scenarios – a second Core saves you a few seconds having to fish them out when moving from one to the other.

Even without the second core set, the card pool will grow over time, and players who don’t want to acquire the dead cards from a second core will see their options grow over time. (there is some labour-saving between scenarios to be had from a second set of encounter cards, but those duplicate acts, agendas, and unique cards are basically dead cardboard).

I think there’s a good argument for hanging fire until we’re seen what the Dunwich Legacy will offer us in terms of player-cards, (I think it’s due out before Christmas, so not long to wait) before deciding on a second Core set. Deck-building is going to be another area I look at more in the future, so I won’t go into any more detail here.

Overall thoughts

I think that Arkham Horror LCG is going to be a good game. We had fun playing it, even though our initial run-through of the campaign ended in death and destruction (and that was on easy mode). As an LCG Core Set, I think this offers a good starting point, and shows that the designers have crafted some solid mechanics, which offer a lot of potential for the future.

That said, as a stand-alone product, this feels very limited: the restrictions on deck-building mean that you are pushed strongly towards the lower-end of the difficulty level and for our purposes hard/nightmare might as well not exist. We played it 7 times over the first weekend we had it, and will probably play another half dozen or so times, but once I’ve taken all the characters through the initial campaign and done a mix of solo and 2-player (well, completed it 2-player, and gotten fed up with dying in solo), I’m not sure how much life is going to be left in it.

TLDR: A good start for an LCG. Very limited as a 1-and-done.