Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Arkham Horror

This post should be titled "Game Night", but when one huge game oozes in, gets comfortable, and won't leave, I have to make an exception. Tonight, I broke out my brand new copy of Arkham Horror to test drive with a friend. It was the monster that I expected.

I had read through the entire 24-page rulebook twice before buying, and the FAQ, and the clarifications, and the FFG and BGG forums, so I knew what I was getting into. I was somewhat prepared for the evening and didn't expect we'd finish our first game in 4 hours.

We did not. The first hour was just setting things up. I expect this to be more like 10 minutes next time. The second hour was playing through the first turn. I expect this to be more like 2 minutes next time. When we called it, we had played through maybe 10-12 turns.

The problem is not the game; it's the rules. They read like a "Choose Your Own Adventure" book. Not only do cards break the rules, the rules break the rules. I think Arkham Horror is not anywhere near as complicated as the rules make it out to be. In typical FFG fashion, they do not organize their design before putting it on paper. So when a card directs you, for example, to move your Investigator to a location that has a gate and a monster, you find yourself having to consult sections of the rulebook that have nothing to do with the Encounter Phase to try to guess how you are supposed to resolve the situation.

It's sad, because the game is a lot better than the rules. I'm just not sure I'll ever play it as intended, because the answers to the endless stream of questions over the years are mostly specific clarifications rather than an overall cleanup of the system (which would in no way change the game itself). For a really good and well-researched synopsis of the entire system, check out UniversalHead's incredible Arkham Horror Rules Summary.

We drew everything randomly. We got Amanda and Mandy versus Hastur. In a 2-player game, there can be only 5 monsters in Arkham at any given time, and only 6 in the Outskirts before the Terror Level increases.

A gate appeared in The Woods. We started on our mad rush for Clue Tokens, basically ignoring what the various locations offered. A second gate appeared on Unvisited Isle. Then we drew a card that put 5 extra monsters on the board that would keep building up every turn until we defeated them all. That got our attention. Fortunately (?) the next Mythos card was Unvisited Isle again. This caused a monster surge, but opened no gates and caused no Doom increase...

There are so many options available to you, it was hard for me to decide what to do. I got caught up so much just playing out my current turn that I wasn't really paying attention to the big picture. I know this will change with experience. For example, Mandy got sucked into a gate, survived her 3 turns (one of those exceptions) in the Other Worlds, but returned with only a single Clue Token remaining. I was looking for way to get to a location with a Unique Item symbol so I could perhaps rush her an Elder Sign if I was lucky enough to get one. Was this even a good idea? So much to do. So little time...

The physical design is pretty good. The board is very functional, although a little busy when full. I think I can even make the insert work, but it's not perfect.

Overall, I would have enjoyed playing out the 2-4 more hours that it seemed we would need to finish the game. I like the gradual, and sometimes sudden, buildup of monsters and gates. I like that you can go to locations with specific plans or wants. I like that you can tweak your skill levels each turn. And I like that you get to use a lot of cool items, spells, and skills even though some may go away after one use. There's plenty more where those came from...if the shops are still open.

I think this was a good choice for a nice long immersive solo game. For a comparison of Arkham Horror and 5 other cooperative games, check out this post.

Arkham Horror image by Nodens77


At 9:20 AM, Anonymous Mark Christopher said...

We've gotten 5-player Arkham Horror games down to around 2.5 hours, and I *think* we're playing correctly. As you say, the rules are a huge hurtle to what's a relatively uncomplicated game. I hope you'll be able to give it another try. It took us a few games to bring the time and comfort levels down to what's reasonable.

At 9:08 PM, Blogger ozjesting said...

"We started on our mad rush for Clue Tokens, basically ignoring what the various locations offered."

Not sure I understand what you mean hear mate. Offered as in Gates and/or monsters? Stores? Location Encounters?

You can take the clue tokens on arrival and still do whatever you wish in the location; encounter or shop.

Just curious.

But glad you seem to be on the way to enjoyment! I agree that the rules can bog you down if worried over too much...but once you relax them to your level of fun I think this may be my favourite game going!

At 10:56 PM, Blogger ekted said...

"Not sure I understand what you mean hear mate. Offered as in Gates and/or monsters? Stores? Location Encounters?"

What I meant was that we paid attention to the Clue Tokens much more than planning our destinations based on what we wanted to collect. I assume that once you understand all the various options, that there will be a desire to go to various locations for what they have to offer in addition to munching on Clues a la Pac-Man. :)

At 12:00 AM, Blogger Friendless said...

IMO there's not much point trying to get what's offered by the locations, as you never get them anyway. Usually you just get shafted in some way and end up Lost In Time And Space, broke and pissed. Nothing nice ever happens in this game!

At 6:38 AM, Blogger Mark said...

In our first game, we couldn't find out what the icons on the gates meant. They matched up with the monsters and event cards, but we scoured the rules, and couldn't find any reference to them.

I checked out BGG later, to find that when closing a gate, any monsters with the matching symbol are "sucked" through the gate and removed from the board.

Yea, I gotta agree, the manual is terrible.

At 8:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have played Arkham seven times. The index is not long enough. The rules are disorderly. The first part of the rules shows the game parts and raises questions not available in that section. The second section glosses over the game turn and the goals. When the third section returns to these items there isn't enough of the original turns' structure to expand the detail into an understanding of that section. The last section is a shotgun blast of odds and ends. I had many an argument over rules that are realy core items and should not be so hard to find. If the writers of the rules increased the index that would be an improvement. I have to admit I hated the game when the first, second and third time I played. Arkham is a tuff game to get, because it eats even smart players. Why play it? I was drawn to the games' artwork, component quality, subject and the feeling that buried under the disjointed rules was a great game. It also burned me that I could not win and continued to read that dam manual over and over till my son and I beat it on the fith try. I still want to play it. The horror isint at Arkham it is the rule book. Michael Selvaggio

At 2:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Keep at it everyone. This is a great game. We play with 4-8 players on a bi-weekly basis (sometimes weekly) and have really got the hang of it. We have all the expansions and we mix and match regularly and it rarely takes more than 3-4 hours, even for 8 players.

The rules take some getting used to but once you do it will go smoothly and you will start developing personal and team strategy that will give you a better chance to win.

I actually like that its so hard to beat though. As a Lovecraft fan it fits perfectly the mythos. Your not supposed to win lol. Even if you do its only temporary.


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