Arkham Horror has had a long and often turbulent history. First released in 1987, the original game bears little resemblance to the latest, 2018 release, but it was the 2nd, 2005, Edition that really sparked a ‘cult’ following.
Personally, I never played the 2nd Edition, opting for Eldritch Horror instead; a decision similarly made by those who had concerns regarding Arkham’s apparently hit or miss game experience. When you read/watch the reviews of the game it certainly appears to split opinion, but generally the game was very well received and is still ranked in the top 100 thematic games on BGG.
The 3rd Edition, designed by Nikki Valens (Eldritch Horror, Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition, and Legacy of Dragonholt), caught my eye with its modular board and it’s apparent inclusion of game mechanisms taken from the other Arkham files games in Fantasy Flight’s line up, albeit in a cleaned up and refined manner.
I’ll be writing this as I go, so without further ado, let’s take a look at what’s in the box…
Well actually, let’s take a look at the box first!
The artwork is very reminiscent of the 2nd Edition and really sets the scene for the game. I have found the current crop of Lovecraftian games from FF to sport some pretty top-notch artwork, and this one doesn’t let the side down. It’s thematic and involving; just take a look at the expressions of the three investigators making a break for it in the car – The elderly gent in the rear peers backwards with a look on his face that says, ‘This is going to be close,’ and all the time clutching two things obviously close to his heart – his (spell?) book, and his hat! The driver peers through coke-bottle glasses, concentration written across his face. Meanwhile the young woman fires her Thompson with a look of utter calm on her face, ‘Steady lads, I have this all under control!’ There’s certainly plenty going on if you look… and imagine!
The rear of the box depicts a game in play with the emphasis definitely focused on that modular board. There’s some flavour text and a brief description of the gameplay type and setting; basically – co-op, H.P. Lovecraft, horror, save the world. It also points out that it’s for 1-6 players, ages 14+, and plays in 2-3hrs.
The box is just shy of 30cm Square, 7cm deep, and is of good thick card with a lovely linen finish.
Opening up the box we find a set of six punchboards wrapped together, and also two rulebooks – pretty standard for many of FF’s games – a Learn to Play guide and a Rules Reference booklet, I’ll return to these a little later.
Separating the boards, which are 2mm compressed grey-board, I can see a few familiar sights – the usual health and sanity tokens, focus tokens, and clue/doom tokens, as used in other FF games, and plenty of recognisable investigator faces. There are also money, Anomaly, Remnant, Activation, Marker, and Mythos tokens – all with simple but functional graphics.
The highlight of the punchboards though, is the 5 neighbourhood map tiles. These are segmented into three locations and are double sided. Each has its own background colour, and the illustrations, though dark, are very well done – when in play, it’ll be interesting to see whether this adds or detracts from the experience, being as dark as they are.
Underneath the rules and boards there’s the familiar card inlay, which says to me, ‘Expect expansions!’ There are also several bags containing cards, dice, and the investigators little plastic stands.
It’s nice to see they’ve stuck to conventional D6 for the game because you can bet your bottom dollar you’re going to need more than what’s included in the box, so that’s a plus.
There is a pack of larger, 126x100mm, cards that are divided up into 4 scenario and 12 investigator sheets.
Looking at the scenario sheets the front artwork bears a close resemblance to the mystery cards used in Eldritch Horror, and I notice that there is a symbol used for ‘reckoning’, again similar to Eldritch. This is an event that occurs under certain circumstances, and causes anything bearing the reckoning symbol to take effect. Turning over there is a diagram showing you how to lay out the map tiles – all the scenarios are different – and there is a sidebar explaining set up: Monsters to include, tokens for the Mythos cup, and some final setup procedures. The Mythos cup is drawn directly from the Living Card Game, but with the inclusion of dice I’m guessing that it may be used slightly differently, we shall see. There is also a reference to the ‘codex’, which at this point I have no idea what this is!
The investigator cards have a familiar feel to them with the usual statistics on display – Lore, Influence, Observation… and so on. The artwork for the investigators is the same as is used across the Arkham files games, which gives it a nice reassuring feel; like you’re about to set out on your adventures with an old friend.
I notice there is now a limit on the number of skills you can focus, and it varies from investigator to investigator. There’s the usual bit of flavour text on the rear, well worth reading if you like to do a bit of role-playing with your character, and there is a list of starting possessions, some of which are now optional. I like the fact they have included the investigators primary and secondary roles, i.e. Guardian or Rogue, along with a short explanation, as this can be beneficial to those new to the game. The investigators unique actions appear to be varied, and it should be interesting experimenting with different party make-ups.
There are three hefty packs of wrapped cards to open, two are standard American size, and the other is mini American, again familiar to anyone who’s played a few FF games.
Opening them up and scanning through – the ones that really stand out are those with the same artwork as the neighbourhood map tiles, and as the same backed cards aren’t all gathered together I’m guessing there may be some order to the cards, so I’m trying to avoid mixing them up. I’m also not going to pay too much attention to the fronts of the cards, other than a quick peek; I don’t want to spoil anything for when I play the game.
What I can say is that they’re all typical of Fantasy Flight’s other games – good quality, linen finished cards. The artwork is, for the most, very thematic, otherwise it’s graphically functional – being easy to tell at a glance what the deck represents. There are individual decks for allies, spells, items and special items; there also appears to be individual item cards for each investigator judging by the fact that they have individual investigator images on the back.
The spell cards aren’t double-sided as they are in Eldritch and Mansions, and I think that’s a good thing. Thematic as it is – I hated casting a spell only for it to cause me more damage than the enemy! There also appears to be fewer conditions that one can obtain, but I’m sure more will appear with future expansions. I like the monster cards, which are double sided, one side contains information on their type and how they behave, the other has their stats; both sides are really well illustrated.
Well, that’s a quick look over the components; let’s take a quick flick through the two rulebooks.
First off is the ‘Learn to Play’ booklet. I have to admit to liking the way they split the rules into two books, and I think they’ve managed to improve the system with every new game they release. Hopefully, this one will be no different. At the start there is an overview of the components, and it is here I notice that an Event Deck Holder needs to be assembled, which apparently allows you to draw cards from both the top and bottom of the event deck – the pieces are on the punch boards. All the decks are pictured so it is easy to recognise which is which, though the event cards and encounter cards both share the same card backs (the neighbourhood artwork), and a note saying not to sort until setup, so I’m glad I didn’t mix the cards up when I took a look through them.
It then runs through setup, and there is a handy sidebar used throughout the rules to highlight various points of interest. There seems to be a fair amount to do during setup with lots of individual decks to gather and tokens to sort; I’ll probably individually bag each deck as some are only used in certain scenarios.
Aah, thought so – ‘Create Mythos cup… The mythos cup is an opaque container… such as a dice bag, a bowl, or the lid…’ Once again I have to go searching through my other games for a dice bag I can use. Why, oh why, can’t Fantasy Flight provide one with the game? So many other publishers out there seem to manage it, especially when it’s integral to the game play.
There is a display to create, much like Eldritch’s reserve, only it appears you can buy things with the money tokens this time. There’s also an archive deck, which drives the story through something called the codex. I’m sure all this will become clear once I play the game, but it looks interesting, and I think it may work in a similar manner to the act and agenda cards in the LCG.
Skill tests are utilised in the same way as they are in Eldritch, rolling a varying amount of D6’s with 5’s and 6’s as success’, and you also encounter the space your investigator occupies, again the same as Eldritch Horror. The Mythos phase sees you drawing from the mythos cup, but interestingly you don’t return the tokens to the cup until it’s empty – so I guess you can plan next turn to deal with whatever is left in there.
From what I can gather, as the actual scenario objectives are hidden within the archive, is that you need to travel around Arkham reducing the constantly re-occurring doom whilst also trying to discover clues. Once you have discovered some clues you can then research them, which if successful sees them placed upon the scenario or codex cards. As doom and clues mount up on these cards they trigger other codex cards to progress the scenario, revealing more of the story – clever!
The rules reference looks a much more professional and serious guide than that of previous games with each rule given a paragraph and sub-paragraph number (some go even further than that!). There’s no artwork or fancy graphics here, it’s just 23 pages of information, with an index at the rear. I really don’t mind this kind of thing, as long as it is concise and easy to understand. I will only be able to judge it once I’ve played the game, and undoubtedly made several incursions into it.
The similarities in artwork to the other games in the Arkham files tie them all together nicely, giving a warm sense of familiarity. All your favourite investigators are here, well most of them anyway, which is great if you like to play the same one in all the games, forming a continual thematic experience.
It is plain to see the influences of Eldritch, and the Living Card Game, (and maybe a tiny bit of Mansions in there too), but on first glance they have taken aspects of those games and refined them into something that little bit different. Once again I can’t give a full opinion on how these will play out until I’ve delved into the game, but it all looks rather promising.
I’m hoping it has the story driven excitement you get from the card game, along with the panic of trying to prioritise the many incidents of Eldritch Horror, and finally the inspirational co-operative play of Mansions of Madness. If it can go some way to providing these things, well, I’ll be a happy little gamer for sometime to come!