Are you feeling good about yourself? Do you think you’re on top of the world? Is everything coming up roses? Are you pissing off everyone around you with your happy go-lucky attitude and optimistic outlook on life?
Then Arkham Horror is for you! Because nothing takes the wind out of over-puffed sails like spending four hours of your life under the impression that you’re the hero of your own story only to find out that you and all the people with you are abject failures who never stood a chance in hell and who, in the end, inadvertently helped to usher in the apocalypse.
Type: Cooperative Tabletop
Number of Players: 1 – 8
Release Date: 1987 / 2005
Publisher(s): Fantasy Flight Games
Arkham Horror as we know it is actually based on Chaosium’s 1981 RPG Call of Cthulhu. I’ve never played the original 1987 version of Arkham, so this review will strictly be about Fantasy Flight’s 2005 reprinted, revised edition of the game.
Arkham is based on the works of horror novelist H.P. Lovecraft. The scenario is simple enough: you and your crew are investigators in the 1920s who have each arrived in the fictional town of Arkham, Massachusetts for different reasons and armed with very different sets of skills. As you explore the street and locations of the city, gates to other worlds – horrible, horrible worlds – begin to open, loosing monsters and minions of all sorts into the streets and skies. You must then run, sneak, or fight your way through the hordes to gain access to the gates, journey into alternate dimensions, and return to your homeworld safely to close and ultimately seal the gates on your way out in order to make the town – and the world – safe once more.
But there’s a catch.
While you and yours are fumbling around with the minions, a powerful Ancient One (aka Great Old One) is waiting in the wings like some sort of hellish puppet master, influencing the town until it strikes terror into everyone so completely that it can no longer be contained and unleashes its rage on everyone. Note: we did play with the original rule which forced game over – literally and figuratively- once the Ancient One had broken loose; however, the revised 2005 edition actually permits players one last desperate stand at that point, which grants one final – albeit slim – chance to defeat the creature once it’s loose.
The standard game includes eight Ancient Ones (Azathoth, Cthluhu, Hastur, Ithaqua, Nyarlathotep, Shub-Niggurath, Yig, and Yog-Sothoth) and sixteen investigators (Amanda Sharpe, Student; “Ashcan” Pete, Drifter; Bob Jenkins, Salesman; Carolyn Fern, Psychologist; Darrell Simmons, Photographer; Dexter Drake, Magician; Gloria Goldberg, Author; Professor Harvey Walters; Jenny Barnes, Dilettante; Joe Diamond, Private Eye; Kate Winthrop, Scientist; Mandy Thompson, Researcher; Michael McGlen, Gangster; Monterey Jack, Archaeologist; Sister Mary; and Dr. Vincent Lee) from which to choose.
(1) Well, the first thing I have to give it props for is being based on Lovecraft’s works – love him or loathe him, you’ve got to give him this: the man was an underrated genius. As with his fiction, Arkham Horror doesn’t dazzle you with a campaign of shock and awe, nor does it try to disgust you with violence and gore; rather, it focuses on the vast unknown and does an excellent job of conveying ancient history, cultures, and civilizations for that unknown. As human characters within a Lovecraftian world, the Investigators are all loners and fairly insignificant in the grand scheme of things – plus sanity is a fragile, finite thing, so… just sit back and enjoy the free ride on the Crazy Train.
(2) It’s entirely cooperative, which is something I love. I don’t mind a bit of competition now and again, but my professional life is jammed full of competition, and when it comes time to enjoy some gametime I am all about working with people rather than against them.
(3) The utter hopelessness with which I enter this game never seems to diminish the amount of fun I actually end up having – nor do I ever cease to be surprised when something horrid happens to me, despite always having something horrid happen to me. Just when things seem to be going so well, inevitably our only true fighters end up sucked into vortexes and thrust into netherworlds, leaving the fate of humankind in the hands of (most typically) a scientist, an academic, or a homeless person. Yeah.
(4) If it seems throughout this review that I’m stuck on losing, well, it’s because it’s a huge aspect of this game. Huge. It’s so much a part of the game that if you sit down with it for the first time and win, you should probably check the rules and pop on YouTube to make sure you’re playing correctly. But losing is part of the fun – how you lose is part of the game.
The Bantha Poodoo
(1) I die. I die a lot. In fact, just about the only thing I do well in Arkham is die. The only way I’ve found to prevent a total loss before we’ve even begun playing is to have at least four Investigators on the board – and quite often necessity has required that each player maintain two or three characters each to ensure some potential for survival. And that might be the only issue I have with it, if I had to come up with something at all: most of the time I find it hilarious that the game is well-nigh unbeatable, but occasionally I am not in the mood to begin a game that I know is going to end in failure before I’ve even removed the board from the box.
Expansions & Supplements to Date
Curse of the Dark Pharaoh (2006): this is a rather small expansion which will add 22 Exhibit Items, 21 Spells, 26 Special cards, 45 Arkham Location cards, 27 Gate cards, 18 Mythos cards, and 7 Allies (David Packard, Dr. Ali Kafour, Erica Carlyle, Erich Weiss, Father Iwanicki, Sarah Danforth, and The Messenger).
The Dunwich Horror (2006): this includes an add-on game board, 24 Injury cards, 24 Madness cards, 15 Common Items, 25 Unique Items, 21 Spells, 11 Skills, 5 Allies (Ammi Pierce, Corinna Jones, Earl Sawyer, Professor Rice, and Zebulon Whateley), 8 Sheldon Gang Membership cards, 8 Rail Pass cards, 4 Condition cards, 63 Locations, 42 Dunwich Locations, 36 Mythos cards, 32 Gate cards, 28 Monster markers, 4 Gates, 4 new Ancient Ones (Abhoth, Glaaki, Shudde M’ell, and Tsathoggua), and 8 new investigators (Diana Stanley, Redeemed Cultist; Jacqueline Fine, Psychic; Jim Culver, Musician; Leo Anderson, Expedition Leader; Marie Lambeau, Entertainer; Mark Harrigan, Soldier; Rita Young, Athlete; and Wilson Richards, Handyman).
The King in Yellow (2007): this smaller expansion includes 19 Common Items, 22 Unique Items, 15 Spells, 13 Blight cards, 7 Magical Effect cards, 36 Arkham Location cards, 24 Gate cards, 27 Mythos cards, 3 Act cards, 3 Riot Monster markers, 10 Yellow Sign tokens, and, of course, the herald the King in Yellow.
Black Goat of the Woods (2008): besides the herald which serves as the namesake for this expansion, this set also includes difficulty level selections and adds 11 Common Item cards, 11 Unique Item cards, 4 Spells, 8 “One of the Thousand” Cult Membership cards, 32 Corruption cards, 24 Cult Encounter cards, 36 Locations, 24 Gate cards, 23 Mythos cards,the Black Goat of the Woods herald, plus nine Monster markers (3 Dark Young, 1 Dark Druid, 2 Goat Spawn, 3 Child of the Goat).
Kingsport Horror (2008): this one brings a new add-on board to the game, as well as three Guardians (Bast, Hypnos, and Nodens), 14 Common Items, 12 Unique Items, 11 Spells, 12 Skills, 11 Allies (Asenath Waite, Basil Elton, Charles Dexter Ward, Dr. Herbert West, Foolishness, Granny Orne, Professor Morgan, Terrible Old Man, Thomas Olney, William Bain, and Young Zoog), 52 Specials, 36 Location cards, 56 Kingsport Location cards, 22 Mythos cards, 32 Gate cards, 16 Epic Battle cards, 45 Ancient One Plot cards, 28 Monster markers, 3 Rift markers, 4 Gates, 48 Brood tokens, 2 Aquatic markers, 2 Heralds (Ghroth and Tulzscha), 4 Ancient Ones (Atlach-Nacha, Eihort, Y’Golonac, and Yibb-Tstll), and 8 new Investigators (Charlie Kane, Politician; Daisy Walker, Librarian; Lily Chen, Martial Artist; Lola Hayes, Actress; Luke Robinson, Dreamer; Rex Murphy, Reporter; Tony Morgan, Bounty Hunter; and Wendy Adams, Urchin).
Innsmouth Horror (2009): this is yet another expansion that provides a new add-on board, but instead of Special cards we get a big boost to Investigators and Ancient Ones. There are 96 Personal Story cards, 36 Arkham and 42 Innsmouth Location cards, 36 Mythos cards, 16 Gate cards, 24 Ancient One Plot cards, 32 Monster markers, 6 Uprising tokens, 8 new Ancient Ones (Bokrug, Chaugnar Faugn, Cthugha, Ghatanothoa, Nyogtha, Quachil Uttaus, Rhan-Tegoth, and Zhar), and 16! Investigators (Agnes Baker, Waitress; Akachi Onyele, Shaman; Finn Edwards, Bootlegger; George Barnaby, Lawyer; Hank Samson, Farmhand; Minh Thi Phan, Secretary; Norman Withers, Astronomer; Patrice Hathaway, Violinist; Roland Banks, Federal Agent; Silas Marsh, Sailor; “Skids” O’Toole, Ex-Con; Tommy Muldoon, Rookie Cop; Trish Scarborough, Spy; Ursula Downs, Explorer; William Yorick, Gravedigger; and Chef Zoey Samaras).
The Lurker at the Threshold (2010): another small expansion, Lurker includes 4 Common Items, 4 Unique Items, 12 Spells, 12 Relationship cards, 24 Dark Pact cards, 36 Arkham Location cards, 24 Gate cards, 22 Mythos cards, 28 Reckoning cards, 35 Power tokens, and the Lurker at the Threshold herald.
Miskatonic Horror (2011): this is a big-box expansion and, to put it simply, just adds a ton of new cards (try almost 450 new cards, actually) to other expansions. It adds very little to the standard game, and if you don’t have any of the other expansions or you’re new to Arkham Horror it does you practically no good at all. Miskatonic is for Arkham vets, as it works with the previous expansions, and using it with the board expansions (Dunwich, Kingsport, and Innsmouth) increases the odds of drawing an open gate at those boards, which is a big improvement in my opinion.