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