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The Horror! The (Arkham) Horror! [Review]

So I finally played Lupus In Tabula (a.k.a. “Are You a Werewolf”) at Further Confusion, and last night we finally broke out Arkham Horror. I suppose now all that’s left will be to play Settlers of Cataan and my initiation will be complete. (NOTE: I may have actually played that and forgot.)

What to say about Arkham Horror…? Well, first, it’s long. Really long. Really, really long. Being a bunch of newbies, we chose Yig, the Ancient One specifically mentioned as making for a “shorter” game, and we still went from 7:00ish until midnight.

Have I mentioned that it’s long?

The other thing is that it’s complex. Really complex. Pointlessly complex. Why bother with money, for instance? With all of the “Gotta find a clue! Gotta seal the gates! Gotta get back home from the Plateau of Leng — again!” going on, the time spent getting to a shop and then actually shopping there, hardly feels worth the effort for what you get out of it. There are lots of other ways it’s pointlessly complex, but that was the one that most felt like extra baggage to me.

This is a game that’s packed to the gills with stuff. There are something like 16 characters, each with their own sub-rule, eight Ancient Ones, each with their own sub-rules, 10+ different decks of cards that all do different things, six different skills to make checks on, modifiers to every check, rules about how many monsters can be on the board, rules about how to fight or evade monsters, horror checks to see if monsters drive you insane, rules for which shops close down in which order as monsters start to take over town, rules about what order you have encounters in, rules about which player goes first on any turn, rules about how many times you may change your characters’ skill allocation, rules about different ways the different monsters move, fight, or lurk around — oh, and the cultists all have different stats depending on which Ancient One you’re fighting, and so on.

And yet, with all that, we still ran into situations where the rules didn’t cover it and we had to come up with an answer. Specifically, at one point my character (the nun) encountered a monster. Being a nun, my character couldn’t fight worth a tiddlywink and the only weapon she had was a cross — which was only useful against undead. But she did have a spell that negated damage from a single source, and cast that. So she couldn’t hurt the monster, but the monster couldn’t hurt her, either.

And so … what? The combat system in the game assumes that the monsters generally beat the snot out of you unless you manage to single-shot them. So normally if you can’t hurt a monster, it just means you get mauled. They don’t seem to have a contingency for what happens if the monster can’t hurt you either. We took a vote around the table and decided to treat the encounter as if I’d evaded the monster instead, just to keep the game going.

During the first hour or so of the game, half of the people around the table were saying, “This should be a computer game!” because of all the fiddly stuff to keep track of. Honestly, tho, I can’t imagine it being a very fun computer game, even if I can totally see how that would work. Progress is too slow and too nebulous — “Am I doing well? Am I doing poorly? Am I just wandering around wasting time because I don’t know what I should be doing?” I realize that, being based on Call of Cthulhu (which is in turn based on Lovecraftian horror), that “slow, nebulous, and uncertain” is exactly what they’re going for. But y’know, I could get that just from running an actual game of Call of Cthulhu and do a lot less dice-rolling and card-shuffling.

So, net result? Unless people specifically ask for it, I doubt we’ll be doing Arkham Horror again; the amount of fun delivered doesn’t justify the amount of work.

-The Gneech

Originally published at gneech.com. You can comment here or there.


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 30th, 2011 03:59 pm (UTC)
I have some friends who have this and at least two expansion sets. The nights we play this are expected from the outset to be epic and long. (Heck, it takes us about an hour just to set up the gameboard!)

But it's fun - because we build food and drink into the equation - and as the evening wears on and the sanity grows thin... well, you know...
Jan. 30th, 2011 04:08 pm (UTC)
Randomly off topic, did you hear WotC is apparently making D&D 4.5 and that it's coming out soon? Apparently a whole new system and everything. One of my friends who runs a Pathfinder game mentioned it to me the other day that they were.
Jan. 30th, 2011 04:15 pm (UTC)
Your friend might want to check his references. :)

WotC is coming out with a bunch of D&D-themed boardgames at the moment, this may be what he's thinking of.

Alternatively, he might be thinking of the "Essentials" version, which came out last year and has rebuilds of the classes and a ton of errata, which is more-or-less considered by most people to be "4.5".

(Deleted comment)
Jan. 30th, 2011 04:22 pm (UTC)
Heh. When it said round, I assumed it meant the game round. Hardly seems worth burning a point of SAN for a spell that only works for one round of combat.

FWIW, I had a hard enough time wrapping my head around the "simple" version ... the thought of expansions makes one of my eyelids twitch. ;)

Jan. 30th, 2011 06:14 pm (UTC)
My group of friends and myself play this game at least once a week. We have all but one expansion pack.

We friggin love it. We have well over 30 Characters to choose from, and we let the First Player pick out three random ones for the rest of us at the beginning of the game.

We like it because it's the first game we've played where it DEMANDS teamwork to win. It's not just "every player for himself". The spell caster will go through gates, the heavy will punch monsters, and we usually get one moneybags character (Jenny Barnes or someone with a Retainer) to go around and shop for weapons, items, and spells to give out to those who can use it best.

Just wait. Give it a few more goes. After a few games, it will totally grow on you like an unnatural lichen on a slick cavern wall.
Jan. 30th, 2011 10:29 pm (UTC)
It should be noted, that until near the end of our game, we were pretty much acting as if it was every man for himself, with little to no interaction of actual characters. Heck, we didn't even realize stuff could be traded until we were fighting the awakened Baddie. -Frisk
Jan. 31st, 2011 05:03 am (UTC)
Oh, when it comes to fighting the Great Old One we're all masters of the "Go-on-without-me" "Looting-the-bodies" swaping of items and stuff.

"Here, take my Shotgun...I'm done for"
"Screw you, I'm lifting it from your cold, dead body. No noble death for you."
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 1st, 2011 05:23 pm (UTC)
The one I recommend is I Drank What?, it's a good party game since it plays 4-10 and gets better the closer you get the the higher end. And you don't always end up with a winner, some of the best games I was in had everyone dead in the end. Games run less then 30 minutes (I was in one with a full table where everyone was dead in ten minutes/two rounds, and everyone laughing their heads off. n_n).
Jan. 31st, 2011 11:19 am (UTC)
I loves me some Arkham Horror. Yes, it can be long and dull, but it can also be fun & fast if your group cooperates towards a single goal.

Shopping is kinda secondary to the game, yeah. It has the advantage of getting you some extra stuff to help survive trips to the outer planes, though.

Also, remember that your nun can attempt to run away from the monster. That's one reason to use the spell, to survive the first round if your attempt to run fails the first time.
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