Saturday, December 01, 2007

Arkham Waning

Tonight's 3-player session of Arkham Horror may well be one of its final plays. Although I lack experience with the distributions of encounters at the Arkham and Other World locations, I finally feel like I have a handle on the game mechanics themselves. And it's not pretty.

My main problem is that, when I play a game, the one thing that is absolutely necessary is that I have choices, and that those choices prompt appropriate results. This doesn't mean that I always get what I want or what I expected. But it does require that my choices matter. So let's look at Arkham Horror from this point of view.

There are 3 ways to win: seal 6 gates, close all gates and have gate trophies equal to the number of players, or defeat the Ancient One. Let's assume the first option is the easiest.

Sealing Gates

How do you seal a gate? One, you need to get to a gate. This requires moving around the board, and potentially fighting or evading monsters (see Monsters). Two, you need to survive 2 or more turns in the Other World associated with the gate (see Encounters). Three, you need to close and seal the gate (make a Fight/Lore check, then discard 5 Clue Tokens), or use an Elder Sign (see Items).

If you don't have an Elder Sign and fail your roll to close the gate, then you need to stay there and try again next turn. If you leave the location, you lose your opportunity and must make the entire trip again. If a monster that you cannot evade or fight happens to show up (perhaps a Hound of Tindalos), you are out of luck.


At the start of each turn, each player may adjust their skill settings to varying degrees. The encounters in the game often have you make skill checks based on skill settings that you could not have predicted before the encounter. Skills appear in 3 pairs of values running in opposite directions. So, for example, if you increase your Lore, you are decreasing your Luck. Going into an encounter, you never know if you will need either of these to be high. Finding a happy medium, say 2/2, if often bad because many of the rolls are at -2.


Most monsters move randomly. They can block your entrance/exit to/from a location, and can enter your space to force you to deal with them. Combat requires 2 skills: Will and Fight, which are on the same scale running in opposite directions.


With few exceptions you can never just go buy what you want. You might be able to draw an item and keep it, or draw 3 items and buy one at its face value if you have the money.

The Big Problem

With all this in mind, here's the big problem that seems to occur in every game I've played. I thought it was maybe just bad luck or inexperience the first few times, but it seems that this "problem" is by design.

You are standing in your current location. You have no money, no Clue Tokens, no Elder Sign, and insufficient weapons/items to fight anything on the board with any better odds than needing to roll a 5 or 6 on a single die. The best place to get money is the Newspaper, but that is blocked by a monster. So you go to the best location to get a weapon. You have an encounter there (draw a card) and have to make a random roll against a random skill, fail, lose 1 Stamina, and gain nothing.

More gates open. More monsters pour onto the board. You are still in the same situation, so you just sit there turn after turn just hoping you will get something useful before the store closes. Before that happens, some other random event forces you to fight or move. So you abandon the current plan to get a weapon and start wandering around to various places, just because you can get to them, hoping something good will eventually happen.

You might get 1 good encounter of every 4 you have. But if you really just need something specific like a physical weapon, it may take more turns that the game itself just to get one.

I have yet to feel that I was able to make even the simplest short-term plan and have it work. I've certainly had good luck, but that's got nothing to do with my choices. I enjoy the narrative of the game, but I want to be a more active participant in it.


At 7:54 PM, Blogger Melissa said...

But you've enjoyed what games you've played of it, right? It's just had a shorter life cycle than most games.

Interested because we have a 1st ed of this but I have never played it.

At 7:57 PM, Blogger ekted said...

We talked about it again tonight. I really want to like it, and haven't completely written it off. But I think it's time to shuffle in some other games and not play it as often.

At 11:05 PM, Anonymous ozjesting said...

I have enjoyed watching you "try to like it" ekted...but I have learned from some other engagements on this topic that people just want you to listen as opposed to convince them otherwise ;) So all I will say is this...I am fumingly annoyed at reading all about people who get to actually PLAY this game I adore more than almost all others while I am stuck on domestic duty!


At 2:13 AM, Anonymous Universal Head said...

I agree with you 100%. Arkham Horror frustrates me more than any game in my collection. There could have been such a good game here, but the game design is extremely dated, and no one bothered to update it. I want to love it, I love the bits, I love the feel, but it's such a luck-fest and the rules are so fiddly and messy it drives me insane.

Hold on, maybe that's the whole idea ...

At 6:17 AM, Blogger Ben Turner said...

A lot of what your saying is true - so my comment might seem to be picking holes - but the majority of starting characters have had a reasonable chance of dropping 75% of monsters of the board (albeit with nasty injuries). Most start with 4-5 items, many of which offer combat bonuses.

I think with 4 characters you should have one or two half-decent monster slayers in your team.

At 9:06 AM, Blogger ekted said...

Next time we play, we are going to choose our characters, and maybe even the Ancient One.

At 10:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a true "experience game" for my friends and me. I love the theme, and that certainly helps me enjoy it more that it probably deserves.

Sure we try to win, but the game is almost completely random, so unless you overwhelm the system with people - it seems 6 player games make it too easy - you never do. It doesn't seem like winning is the point of the game though; it seems to be more about the role-playing-ish aspects.

However, you're right about the frequency this game should be played - that is, very rarely.

At 1:38 AM, Anonymous Sprydle said...

I have played AH only 3 times so far, but on BGG a number of people claim their group(s) have a 75% or higher win percentage with the base game. If one assumes that all these people are not lying, it would indicate that you are indeed missing something. A win percentage that high indicates a fairly high degree of control.

At 2:13 PM, Blogger godfeather said...

I like Arkham Horror every time I play it. It is just that I don't want to play it too often. It is like someone else said that it is an experience game (I have similar feel with Betrayal at house on the Hill).

At 11:32 PM, Blogger Friendless said...

I completely agree with you. The game is just too frustrating with a small number of players and too long with a larger number of players.


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