Arkham was swarming with robed cultists, trying to bring down the end of the world. They were using the newspaper building to distract me with their depraved rituals, but I was able to foil their plans and ward the city against the blind idiot god coming down and destroying the world. Of course it was at the black cave, the nexus of their foul sorceries, where it all went down. The city was mad with anomalies erupting across neighbourhoods, but in the end it didn’t matter, because we live to fight anew. Azathoth has not claimed this world. For now.
Well folks, I had my second ever game of Arkham Horror (third edition) last night, and I somehow managed to win! I think it was almost entirely by accident, but I’m still claiming it as a success!
Arkham Horror is still a long game, I think it took me close to 3 hours to play it, but that did include roughly 40 minutes of set-up time. I was really surprised, I think, by just how quickly I seemed to grasp the rules this time around – considering my only other game was in January 2021, I can hardly say I’m an expert but somehow things just seemed to flow better. The rhythm of what I can do as an investigator, for example, was quite easy to get into, and the structure of each round quickly became ingrained so that I was just able to play the game, rather than continually looking things up.
I think my investigator choice helped here, though. I was playing as Jenny Barnes and Dexter Drake, and both of them had ways to take an additional action very early on in the game. Jenny, with her pistols, was a combat beast, and Dexter was able to keep doom in check for as long as possible. I can’t say enough how much it helped to have those additional actions though, and I think that was probably how I was able to play it fairly quickly.
Learning Point #1: You cannot take the same action twice in each round! At least once I had Jenny move twice, or move, kill, move, which probably explains why it felt a lot easier this time around!
Dexter was quite the beast at removing doom, as well, and I found it quite useful to send him into Anomalies to try to close those gates etc. Even when monsters found their way to him, he is able to evade them using his will attribute, making him quite impressive, I have to say! He’s a spellcaster, of course, but I found that spells just didn’t really come up for this game. He did pretty well as my clue gatherer, although I found that I had to focus his observation attribute to ensure he was able to spend the clues.
Learning Point #2: Focus tokens are only “spent” to re-roll dice, and not when you use that attribute! I was discarding the token when I took a Research action, but that doesn’t seem to be how it works!
As I’ve said, the structure of the game really seemed to flow this time around. It was useful having Jenny out hunting monsters, of course, because once the Action phase was done, there were often no monsters on the board to worry about. True, sometimes I was putting my investigators into a specific neighbourhood to get them to have an encounter there, in the hope of gathering clues – as such, once they had moved I found I was at a loss for the second (or third) action to take, and would just randomly focus an attribute, or get $1. Money is something I wasn’t really finding myself concerned with, as only a couple of encounters seemed to want me to have any, or didn’t really have any bad things happen if I didn’t spend any money.
Now, I did wonder if I was playing it wrong at first, when I was using Jenny to attack monsters. If she is going on the hunt and actively engaging them, it seemed quite easy to kill them by having her roll 6 dice. Maybe I got lucky, of course, but nothing really seemed to be a problem for her – of course, by the mid-point in the game she was taking an additional action, re-rolling one of the dice, +1 to a dice, and so on, so her attack suite was quite formidable! Even the monsters with four health she was able to pretty much one-shot, so it wasn’t much trouble. It’s only in the monster phase that they attack the investigators, though, so the fact that nothing survived to get there worked really well.
Ultimately, though, there are only five pages of rules, which set things out really well and enable you to work out exactly what you’re supposed to be doing and when. While the game might look complicated, especially in terms of its table presence, but also the fact I said it takes 40 minutes to set up, it plays really well, and I’m actually surprised that I haven’t played this more since I originally got it out last year. There’s a reputation, though, for Arkham games to be quite sprawling, and stuff like second edition, or Eldritch Horror, even the LCG, come with that feel of “this is going to take all day!” when you play them.
In comparison to second edition, I find third edition to be a real delight. The older game is one of the greats, don’t get me wrong, and you can really lose yourself in the mythos as you spend the whole evening playing. Games lasting 5 hours or more were quite common, and sometimes I quite enjoyed the fact that I could plan to play this thing all night. However, it does suffer from essentially being the same game each time, just with a different Ancient One and different investigators. The monsters are all the same, the encounters are all (mostly) the same, and so on. Adding in expansions does give you more monsters, more encounters, and more Ancient Ones, but you’re mostly doing the same thing each time. Later expansions tried to have different stuff going on as well, of course, but overall it’s very much the same premise.
Third Edition Arkham Horror is scenario-based, so whereas it could be said you’re playing the same scenario in the older game, here you’re tweaking almost everything to suit. The board layout is different, the monsters are different, the “mythos deck” / Codex is different, and so forth. You’re doing the same things, mechanically, but thematically you’re trying to accomplish different goals. I think having the scenario event deck is a great way to give more variety right out of the box, as otherwise you do only have 8 cards per neighbourhood, and we all know how stale that situation got for Second Edition. Having additional cards which get shuffled into the encounter deck when you’re investigating clues, which change given each scenario, is a great way to mix things up.
I think this game is a great addition to the shelf, and in many respects it has improved on the last one. I sold all of my second edition stuff a few years ago, so no longer have it to play with regardless, but I remember it well enough that I can positively say this is a real step up. It makes the game a story, which was definitely missing from the last game – it could be really quite random and becomes really abstract by comparison. Sure, this game is still representative of battling the eldritch mysteries of the cosmos, but it isn’t quite so random. The monsters feel right for what you’re doing, for instance, and everything pulls together really well to tell a good story of what you’re trying to do. Having that narrative backdrop is really key, I think, and it’s probably a good portion of the success of the LCG, which is supreme at giving that kind of narrative.
I’m going to make a real effort to play more of this going forward, and I think before the end of the year I’m going to want to pick up at least the first expansion, which adds more of the same. I’m not entirely sure, of course, but I think there are more encounter cards as well as more investigators and so on, which is always a welcome bonus. After the Silver Twilight expansion that came out last year, I think there’s a feeling that the game might be finished already, which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing as sometimes Arkham Files games can go on quite a bit! While I always love to have more game to play and enjoy, there is that danger of just repeating the old game’s line of expansions, so we can look forward to the Dunwich expansion, the Innsmouth expansion, etc. As much as I like the idea of getting more game to play, expansions for the sake of it aren’t the way to do this. I think that having stuff that adds more to the game, without necessarily cluttering the experience, is the way to go, and from my limited knowledge of the expansions for this game, it seems that’s what we have here. Arkham Horror third edition is a traditional FFG board game, where we have the base game and one expansion per year. As I’m getting older, with far less time for these sorts of things, that is exactly the kind of schedule that I think the company should keep to!