Hey folks! I’ve been thinking about where I want to go with this blog lately, and I think a bit more order might be in, well, order. So, every Tuesday I’m (hopefully) going to feature a game that I’ve been playing lately, or that is one of my favourites but I don’t get to play that often, much like I’ve already done (with Carcassonne and Street Fighter). A sort of overview/review/general musing. Plus, Tuesday has got to be one of the most boring days of the week, so I’m really doing this as a civic duty… ahem…
So this week I’d like to ramble inanely about Eldritch Horror, a Lovecraft-themed boardgame from Fantasy Flight Games. “A Board Game of Global Mystery and Terror” is how FFG describe it (did you check the link?!), and it’s pretty much that. Released just before last Christmas (I bought it for myself as a present – I’m so good to me like that), it’s a sort of re-imagining of the classic Arkham Horror on a global scale. I’m a very big AH fan, and it’s a given that one of these blogs will feature the behemoth of a game, but as I’ve most recently been playing EH, I’m starting with this one.
Eldritch Horror is a co-operative game for 1-8 players, where you play the role of investigators going against one of the Great Old Ones of the Cthulhu mythos. There are only four of these in the base game, something that was a major grumbling point when the game was released, but future expansions are already showing that there are more on the way. We have probably the four classic Elder Gods of Lovecraft’s world: Azathoth the blind idiot god; Shub-Niggurath the black goat of the woods; Yog-Sothoth the lurker on the threshold, and of course, Cthulhu himself.
The object of the game is to solve three mysteries, which will allow the investigators to gain enough knowledge to lock the Ancient One away once more. There is a deck of mythos cards which acts as a sort of timer, and if you don’t manage to solve these three mysteries before the deck runs out, the investigators lose the game!
The investigators move around the board and have encounters, which will usually give them benefits following a test of one of their skills (some encounters can test multiple skills, particularly Other World and Research encounters – more shortly). You move around the board, usually only one space at a time, but you can pick up boat and rail tickets which will allow you to move an extra space by sea or by land on a subsequent turn. Unlike in Arkham, there is no real currency in the game, you usually get stuff by gaining it from encounters, but you can also buy from a ‘reserve’ of common items displayed on the board, which involves a test of your character’s influence skill. It seems a bit strange at first, but one of the early selling points of the game was its streamlined ruleset, as opposed to AH’s well-known rules labyrinth.
So, investigators trot around the globe and encounter cities, or monsters, or clue tokens, which allow them to have a Research Encounter. This is a special deck unique to the particular Ancient One you’re fighting, and will determine whether you gain that clue or not. This is a fantastic amendment to the rules in my opinion, as you do actually feel like you’re doing something, you’re not just going around the board and collecting tokens as in Arkham. Research Encounters are complex encounters inasmuch you carry out one skill check, then depending if you pass or fail you then go on to have another skill check. Even if you fail the first, you might pass the second and escape lightly. Research Encounters give you clue tokens, which you need to complete the mysteries to win the game.
Once the investigators have all acted, there is a mythos phase, where all manner of stuff can happen. Gates don’t automatically spawn every mythos phase as in Arkham, but each mythos card will determine what happens that specific mythos phase. If a gate is spawned, it is placed on the board and a monster emerges from it. You can choose to go through the gate to have an Other World encounter, which are complex encounters similar to Research encounters, and usually if you pass the skill checks you close the gate. Unlike in AH, you never seal that location, so it can always return! Gates have a symbol on them which, if it matches the omen track (in the top right corner of the game board), will advance the doom track (the track along the top of the board). If the track reaches 0, the Ancient One awakens, and thus begins the final battle!
Final battles in EH aren’t as awful as they can be in AH. While I have never yet managed to win this game when it has come to this stage, it does feel at least possible. Instead of a direct confrontation between the investigators and the Ancient One, there is usually some other condition that must be fulfilled, with the AO actively working against you. The result is a game that is in much more flux right until the end, which I for one greatly appreciate!
Similar to AH, there are all manner of things that can happen to your investigator during the game. From the core set we have conditions this time, which range from mental illnesses to physical incapacities that adversely affect you. What I particularly liked, though, was the way investigator elimination is handled. There is still the possibility of being devoured, which is never good, but if you lose your sanity or stamina, your investigator has a little bit of story on the back of their sheet that describes that injury or that psychosis really dramatically! For a RPG player, this is a fabulous idea, though of course it doesn’t stop you from inventing your own little stories if it happens a lot!
Something else that I really liked is the Dark Pact conditions, which are always there, ominously lurking next to your character if you’re ever given one during the game. There are two cards, with different effects, and in my last two games I’ve encountered each one. (SPOILER ALERT maybe) One will cause your investigator to be devoured, the other forces you to chose another investigator to be devoured. It’s always been a really tense moment for me when those cards have to be turned over!
There are also several other ways you can lose the game, from the Rumor cards within the mythos deck. As described earlier, the mythos deck determines the ebb and flow of the game by bringing out more gates, more clues, more monsters, etc, but also with some kind of announcement or test that (usually) adversely affects the players, such as restoring all monsters to full health. There are also Rumor cards in this deck, which have ongoing effects, often bringing out epic monsters that have to be fought. These Rumors have a number of tokens placed on them when put into play, and throughout the game these can be removed – if they all go, then it might be curtains for the investigators! My most recent game (on Sunday, in case you’re intrigued) ended because I neglected this!
So many ways to lose! So much going on! It’s really an awesome game.
And I really like it. When it was first announced, days before GenCon 2013, there was a lot of negativity with regard to an “Arkham Horror lite” and such, but I think this is a poor criticism to make. AH is a great game, and so is EH. It’s as simple as that, for me. The comparison is of course a bit unfair, because Arkham is currently on its third edition, and has had a whole raft of expansions to create an awesome experience. Eldritch, by comparison, is in its infancy, the first edition game with an expansion released just days ago as of the time of this post. The base game of Arkham, to me, is pretty bland, because there has been so much added to it over the years. I’m fairly positive that Eldritch will see the same level of fabulousness as the years march on. While I’m not sure how the game can expand fully, given the fact that the base game has a map of the world, I’m sure we’re in for some awesome stuff!
But forgetting about the earlier game, by itself Eldritch Horror is a great night’s experience. You get to travel the globe, solving mysteries and defeating classic monsters from the Lovecraft stable. The components have perhaps the right level of background text to promote storytelling without demanding it, leading to some wonderful times with the right group of folks. I feel that it is as immersive as its older sibling, with enough going on that it’s not difficult to keep track of, but it’s the right level of fun. So go out and grab yourself a copy, and let the horror begin!