And this is just the base set, you need a big ole' table.

And this is just the base set, you need a big ole’ table.

A few weeks ago I mentioned that board games are an amazing way to trick and lure your non-geeky friends into engaging in completely geeky activities. In that article I made a number of references to Arkham Horror (from now on will be referred to as AH) and if you listen to 9ES you’ll remember that Jono and I both considered AH to be an honourable mention in our made up “Game of the Year” category in our 2013 year in review. It would have be a clinch if it had come out in 2013, we gave it an honourable mention on the grounds that we spent far and above more time with AH than any other game in 2013 that we played as a group. The fact that it didn’t come out in 2013 sort of disqualified it from a real win though.

How did we get into this game in the first place? I’m a firm believer in getting someone presents instead of money during a gift giving event. If I do receive money I make sure to spend that money on something cool that I would normally not spend money on. If you give me cash for something, rest assured, I will not spend it on groceries. I had read a little bit about AH on various board game forums and I’m pretty sure I had even eyed it being played at PAX at one point or another. I have long since been a fan of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu lore (something about ancient beings who exist outside of our comprehension terrorizing the 1920s is amazing) so was down with the setting. The other thing that had instantly drawn me to it was the fact that the group of players played against the board. We’re a competitive backstabbing bunch (we’ll be touching on Diplomacy and Battlestar Galactica board games eventually) and the idea of a game where we’re not fucking each other over constantly seemed like a refreshing change of pace. With $60 of Christmas money in my hand I decided I would take a chance on this fancy board game I hadn’t actually played yet. The fact that there were 8 expansions of varying size available to me was also a big draw, since if we had fun with it we’d have plenty of room to enhance our experience.

So I crack it open and right away I’m overwhelmed at the components. There are multiple decks of cards in multiple sizes: Locations, Mythos, Other World, Common Items, Unique Items, Spells, Skills, Character Cards, Great Old One Cards. A huge variety of tokens: Money, Stamina, Sanity, Clues, Elder Signs, Monsters. The rulebook is at least 20 pages long. If that sort of thing makes your head spin and sound like too much to take in, no lie, this game isn’t for you. If that sounds awesome and exciting, then you should totally pick it up. It delivers in a big way the feeling of a “big game” with lots of variables. Those variables do a good job of mimicking the feeling of playing against an intelligent enemy, or at the very least a challenging dungeon master. Also, once you have a good handle on the rules it only takes about 10 minutes and a round of play to get a new player into the mix.

After playing one or two sessions, we were hooked. Jon went out and bought the Dunwich Horror expansion and within a month or two we had bought ALL the expansions. So how does the game play and why is it so compelling?

The gameplay itself is pretty straightforward. Without getting too much into play mechanics here’s the gist of the game. Each character has a set of stats that they can manipulate (or “Focus”) a little bit during gameplay (ie: you can sacrifice a bit of speed to increase your stealth), and they also have items and skill cards that give various buffs. You wander around the city of Arkham trying to better yourself with Clues, items, etc. and having random encounters in each location you end your turn in or fighting off monsters from the Other Worlds escaping into the streets. Throughout the game gates open up to Other Worlds and the investigators need to then explore the Other World, return to Arkham and try to close or seal the gate. All the while there is a “Doom Track” filling up that relates to the Great Old One that is currently trying to invade Arkham. Close enough gates before the Doom Track is at full and you win! Fail to do so and you have to endure an epic final battle against the Great Old One.

That alone would be a pretty fun game, but where AH shines is its own ability to expand and vary the gameplay within those guidelines. Each Great Old One (or GOO) modifies the game slightly, buffing some monsters and adding an additional rule or two. Each expansion comes with another set of minor rule tweaks. There are also Heralds who can tweak things a little more. Combining all these (and the enormous variety of characters that become available to you) you end up with an absolutely massive amount of variation while sticking to the core rules and themes of the game. The goals and strategies of the players can (and pretty much have) to be flexible and the strategy that annihilated one combination might be completely ineffective against another.

So far we’ve only ever added one big expansion and one small expansion to our game at once. So if we were inclined we could make our experience even “bigger” if we wanted to. The fact that we’ve been playing on a regular basis and still haven’t even come close to exhausting its possibilities is crazy. Add to that there are some official “Scenario” rules that modify gameplay and a whole host of fan-made scenarios and you end up with an incredibly replayable game.

With that being said, you absolutely don’t need to buy all the expansions, although once you start you may want to. There’s a lot of fun to be had playing the base game for sure. I would recommend maybe buying one of the big box expansions if you’re having fun (my biggest recommendation would be Dunwich Horror) since once you get the hang of the base game the difficulty goes way down without an expansion in the mix.

Hopefully this makes you want to play because seriously guys, this game is tits.  Can I say tits? Is that misogynistic? Should I say amazeballs instead? I know I’m not supposed to say “retarded”. Even though the Black Eyed Peas can say it.

Image from Fantasy Flight Games.

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