It’s time for another game day here at spalanz.com, and today I’m taking a look at the new Arkham Horror LCG from Fantasy Flight Games, having finally gotten around to playing through the campaign last week!
As a warning, this is a story-driven game, and I will be discussing some mild spoilers, so if you want a totally fresh experience, you might want to skip to the end!
I was off work last week for the annual pre-Christmas break, so finally spent some time learning the game. I think one of the reasons why I haven’t really gone in for a lot of new games recently is a bit of laziness on my part, as I can’t really find the time to settle down properly with a game and investigate how it all works. However, I gave myself an afternoon to work out Arkham Horror LCG and, I have to say, it all went off like a dream!
I’ve already talked about a lot of the mechanics in this previous blog, so I don’t want to re-hash the rules again now. What I will say, though, is the similarities with the Lord of the Rings LCG are surprising – though both games were designed by Nate French, so I suppose in retrospect that shouldn’t be such a surprise. However, here’s a brief summary that should allow the rest of this blog to make sense…
You play an investigator looking into the mysterious goings-on in Arkham, and have three actions you can take on your turn, such as moving between locations, drawing cards and fighting monsters. When you’re done, any monsters engaged with you will fight you, then you get to draw a card and gain one resource (used to play these cards) before the Mythos Phase, where the evil agendas of the cultists are advanced and a card is drawn from the Encounter deck. These Encounter cards are either monsters or, more frequently, threat-style cards that can either have a one-time effect or a more persistent effect.
There is an Act deck that the investigators advance by spending clues, gained from investigating the locations on offer. Each scenario you play comes with specific Acts (usually three, from what I can see) and Agendas (varying numbers), as well as a scenario-specific Encounter set, then a bunch of other Encounter sets much like how Lord of the Rings scenarios are built. You need to advance the Acts before the Agendas have advanced, whereupon you determine the Resolution. There is a campaign included in the core set, Night of the Zealot, which is made out of three scenarios that build up a story of cultists trying to raise up an Ancient One out in the woods (what else?), and each scenario features rules and events that are based on what you did as investigators in the previous scenario.
So, let’s talk about the game!
I just want to get this out there from the off: I absolutely love this game! I bought it a fair few weeks ago now, and can’t believe I’ve had it just lying around unplayed for so long! While saying “it blew me away” sounds a bit hyperbolic, but I can’t remember the last time I was this genuinely excited for a game. I took about an hour and a half to play through the first scenario, The Gathering, because I read through the Learn to Play booklet fully, and looked up everything to make sure I was doing it right, but quickly got into the swing of things – before immediately plunging into part two, The Midnight Masks, and following up with the final part, The Devourer Below, the day after.
I don’t know if it’s because of my long history with Lord of the Rings, but I found the game to play very intuitively after the first round or so, and from what I can tell, I wasn’t playing anything incorrectly. The cards are very straightforward in what they do, and while there are a number of keywords to keep a look out for, it’s not an insurmountable task to cope with them all. A big factor here was the fact I was playing solo, as there are a few mechanics that move monsters to the closest investigator, or the investigator with the lowest health – but that would always be me, so the choices were greatly reduced. I do credit the fact there are a lot of similarities with Lord of the Rings that allowed me to think of the mechanics in terms of the older game, which I suppose allowed me to get to grips with things quicker than otherwise possible.
The theme really comes out strong in this game. The Encounter decks are primarily event-type cards rather than monsters, which I feel better reflects the source material of HP Lovecraft’s stories, which are much more full of strange goings on than battles with hordes of gribblies. The investigator decks also feel quite thematic – I’ve played through with Roland Banks’ deck, using the starter deck suggested by the rulebook, and the mix of combat-orientated cards and investigative-orientated cards really felt right for a Federal Agent. The mechanics, as I’ve mentioned, are quite smooth and intuitive, and overall, I really love this game!
But there’s got to be a down side, right?
Unfortunately, right. The fact that this is a story-orientated game is both a great asset and its greatest downfall. I mentioned earlier that I played through the core set campaign over the course of two nights; I no longer feel a need to play this game again. Sure, it might be different if I’d not won, and I can always go through it again with a different investigator and see if I get one of the different Resolutions this time around. But it’s very much a once-and-done feel to it. Even before the game was released, the standalone Curse of the Rougarou scenario had been announced, and earlier this month a second scenario, Carnevale of Horrors, has also been released. This seemed a bit odd – delightful, but odd – before I’d played the game, but now that I’ve run through the core set, I can see why such standalone games have been put out. I’m not planning to play the Arkham Horror LCG again until I get a new scenario to try, either one of these print on demand jobs, or else the upcoming Dunwich Legacy expansion.
I know I’m not alone in this, as there are plenty of folks on boardgamegeek and the like who have been talking in similar terms, and it does lead me to worry for the future of this game. Not in some kind of sky-is-falling “the game is over!” kind of way, but rather because I worry the designers are going to make subsequent scenarios super difficult to keep players attempting them while waiting for the next one to hit. After all, no game publisher wants their game to be played once and then forgotten about.
Of course, I think this will be a really great experience, and I look forward to getting the expansions as they come out. I really hope that they continue to make these expansions thematic and not monster-kill-fests, as I feel that would be the best way to stay true to the spirit of the source material.
At any rate, we’ve got two new scenarios coming in The Dunwich Legacy, which kick off the next campaign that stretches across the six packs of the subsequent cycle. Interestingly, we get five new investigators in that deluxe expansion, but the subsequent cycle doesn’t seem to offer any more – at least, it doesn’t sound like it from the previews we’ve seen. The Miskatonic Museum and The Essex County Express have both shown some really interesting player cards are coming our way, however, while the scenarios themselves would work well as standalone games as much as they’re meant to be integrated into the overall campaign.
I think it’s safe to say this card game is going in a really fascinating direction, and I’m really glad to be along for the ride!