Arkham Horror the Card Game is finally back in print after selling out over lunch hour earlier this year. I managed to find a copy over this weekend (or maybe there are more than enough copies now with a more aggressive 2nd printing). So, let's talk about it. Or, I will talk about it.
Not only is Lovecraftian horror an overused theme in gaming, it's driven to over use by Fantasy Flight alone. The original Akrham Horror, the streamlined Eldritch Horror, the diced based Elder Signs, the card game with booster packs Call of Cthulu, and the dungeon crawl Mansions of Madness. And don't let Tom Chick get started on the expansions all the tangentially related franchises have. And what do all these games share? Artwork, I think.
OK, so I've only played Eldritch Horror and Elder Signs. The latter was an OK push your luck dice game. Eldritch Horror, when not being ruined by expansions, was a great way to spend time with my brothers, albeit fiddly once the board started to fill up. It's like you needed an accountant to figure out all the events when a reckoning occured. Anyways, because I am a sucker for card play and hand management, and a glowing review from those jokers, I wanted to try this one out. So, $40 plus tax later...
The game comes with a) a lot of cards, b) three separate rule books, c) a bunch of cardboard tokens, and d) a fantasy flight insert which needs to be mentioned just for how bad it is.
That seems to be OK value for the money. Players are now represented by a deck of cards. You will be drawing cards from that deck, and playing them for affects. Instead of a board, each scenario provides "location cards." Some more cards serve as agendas (bad) and acts (good). Every turn, players draw from a Mythos Deck, which can put monsters into play. There is no dice. Instead, players will draw some numbered cardboard tokens out of a bag (not provided) or some other opaque object.
So, I think I've paid more for less components. HOWEVER, in terms of gameplay you are just buying 1 campaign with 3 scenarios which I'd estimate take 60-90 minutes apiece. It isn't necessarily a one and done campaign, but I suspect most players will get most enjoyment out of the first run. Furthermore, it only comes with the cards for two players to have a deck. The box isn't lying, it said right up front 1-2 players, but boy does that feel limiting. It suggests you can play 3-4 simply by combining another core box, but that's also buying a ton of redundant cards so you can have the ~60 cards needed for extra investigators.
Does this play well solo? Well, in my infinite wisdom I ignored the recommended starting solo player and tried "the drifter." It did not play well solo with her. The lack of a combat ability meant I got overrun quickly, and couldn't complete scenario objectives. More than that, I don't think the game balances player count perfectly, meaning more players could make the game easier, but that is theoretical for the moment. And at 1 player, there is just no room for error. Get trapped by a monster, you are in trouble.
So, here we have a game that really should be played with multiple players, but only the necessary stuff for 2 of them.
Which, brings us to the business model. This is just a "core set." You buy it to learn the game, and have a little fun, but the hope is you will go out and buy the next campaign... the Legacy of Dunwich which comes with 2 scenarios. Wait, two? That is less than the base game. What's going on here?
Well, the core set starts you off, and the big box expansion kicks off another campaign. However, you need buy the rest of the scenarios in the campaign as $15 boosters. There are a total of 6 for Legacy of Dunwich. So, for the $40 core set, with the $30 expansion, and the 6 $15 boosters, you get two campaigns with 11 scenarios and STILL not enough cards to reliable play 3 players (that's $160 MSRP). Oh, you can probably scrape together the cards for a 3rd player at some point. You are encouraged to build your own character's deck after all. Maybe use a proxy?
Anyways, that's work. Do people really want to go through the process of choosing a balanced set of cards to include with an investigator, when the real joy of the genre is dealing with the unknown?
So, is there good news about the game? Yes, card play works wonders compared to the Eldritch Horror. On your turn, your hand of cards gives you a options and opportunities. Managing those options means you have more interesting decisions. There is of course luck of the draw, but far less "forced" moves than rolling dice and hoping for the best. So, gameplay wise, I do see an improvement.
It's the business model, though. Why is it so hard to get a third player? With all the expansions and boosters planned, none of them are simply to increase the player count. Is that hard to sell ~35 cards as an independent investigator to join the escapades?
So, whose this for? If it's just going to be you, then why are into board games? If it's you and one other person who enjoys some Halloween style horror (as in nobody is actually scared), then MAYBE this is for you. Do you want a game you can take off the shelf twice a year to have a spooky adventure? OK, buy the core set. Or, do you want "narrative" gaming experienced and are willing to commit your budget to this goal? Provided its just you and that other person, I can recommend this.
Otherwise, I'd say just get Eldritch Horror and a small box expansion or two, and you are set. Or, get some other game focused on deck management such as the Quartermaster General games.
Still, I will probably try out the next expansion, it comes with five new investigators! Just not the cards to actually build their decks.