Calvin Wright was a very disturbed man. The dagger he held in his hand dripped thick, red liquid, slowly at his feet. His eyes bulged with all the horrors he had witnessed; his breath stuck in his throat.
The beast that had appeared before him had come to claim its price, the price Calvin had been happy to ignore not so long ago. The thing reached out what, in only the loosest terms, can only be described as a hand.
“It is time. My part in this pact is complete. Now it is up to you to pay the price – step into my world.” With that, the beast opened its maw and devoured the desperate soul – Calvin’s reckoning had arrived!
- Designer: Nikki Valens (Original Game design Richard Launius, Kevin Wilson)
- Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
- Year Released: 2018
- Players: 1-6
- Playing Time: 2-3hrs
- Ages: 14+
- Recommended Retail Price: £59.99
Arkham Horror first hit the scene way back in 1987, and after a highly successful reimplementation, in the form of a second edition, its back again… and this time it’s modular!
Play the part of the investigators as they deal with the horrors planning to overwhelm the district of Arkham. Frantically trying to ward off the ever-present doom, whilst searching for clues on how to bring the evil to an end, is all wrapped up an a thematic and progressive story line.
Let’s take a look at whether it really is, ‘third time lucky!’
What’s in the box?
- 12 Map tiles
- The following 101 x 127 mm cards
- 4 Scenario sheets
- 12 Investigator sheets
- The following Standard American cards
- 6 Reference cards
- 32 Headline cards
- 40 Archive Cards
- 36 Anomaly cards
- 96 Event cards
- 72 Encounter cards
- The following Mini American sized cards
- 12 Ally cards
- 28 Item cards
- 10 Spell cards
- 26 Special cards
- 37 Starting cards
- 12 Condition cards
- 62 Monster cards
- 48 Clue/Doom tokens
- 42 Damage tokens
- 42 Horror tokens
- 40 Money tokens
- 5 Anomaly tokens
- 30 Focus Tokens
- 6 Dice
- 24 Remnant tokens
- 18 Mythos tokens
- 10 Marker tokens
- 6 Activation tokens
- Event deck holder
- Learn to play guide
- Rules reference
How does it play?
If you’re familiar with how the game plays, then feel free to spend a clue token to travel down to, ‘So, what do I think?’
Setup is fairly straight forward – setting up the board, mythos cup, monster deck, anomaly deck (if required), and codex as per the chosen scenario sheet.
The scenario specific event deck is shuffled and placed in the holder, and the relevant encounter decks are shuffled and placed next to the board.
Ally, Item, and spell cards are shuffled separately and placed next to the play area with the top five item cards revealed to create the ‘display’, the special cards and condition cards are also placed within easy reach.
Thirteen Headline cards are selected at random, shuffled, and placed next to the play area.
The tokens are separated by type and placed next to the play area.
Each player chooses an investigator, decides upon starting assets, and places their respective investigator token on the starting space, as indicated on the scenario sheet. Deciding who will be the lead investigator they each take an activation token with the leader taking the one for lead investigator.
Three clues are then spawned by drawing, one at time, the top three cards from the event deck, and then shuffling them into the top two cards of the respective neighbourhood encounter deck, placing a clue token in the centre of that neighbourhood.
Doom is spread by revealing the bottom card of the event deck and placing a doom token (or possibly two as indicated on the card) in the indicated (by the use of a doom icon) area of that neighbourhood. The revealed card is placed in the discard pile next to the event deck holder, and the indicated area now becomes the ‘unstable space’.
Game play Overview
The aim of the game is to successfully complete the chosen scenario. How this occurs may become apparent as you play, as will how you lose the game!
A round consists of four phases – Action, Monster, Encounter, and Mythos.
During the action phase the investigators can take their turn in any order they wish, but must take their actions consecutively.
An investigator cannot preform an action more than once per round, and the available actions are –
- Move up to 2 spaces; paying a dollar will allow you to move an extra space up to the total of two dollars.
- Gather resources; gain a dollar.
- Focus: Gain a focus token for a chosen skill. You can focus as many skills as your focus limit allows, but each skill can only have one focus token on it at a time.
- Ward: Resolve a lore test and for each success remove a doom token from your space. Removing two or more doom gains you a remnant token.
- Attack: Choose a monster in your space and engage it by placing it on your investigator sheet. Resolve a strength test, applying any modifier indicated on the monster card, and for each success rolled deal damage to that monster. When the damage dealt to the monster is equal to, or greater than its indicated health then the monster is defeated and you gain a remnant token if indicated on its sheet.
- Evade: When engaged by one or more monsters you can attempt an evade. Test observation, again applying any modifier indicated on the monster sheet (if engaged with multiple monsters only apply the modifier that sees you rolling the fewest amount of dice). For each success you roll you disengage and exhaust one monster. If you evaded all engaged monsters then you may preform one extra action.
- Research: Test observation. For each success place one of your clues on the scenario sheet.
- Trade: All investigators in your space may exchange any number of assets with another investigator.
- Component action: Take an action as indicated upon one of your assets as indicated by the word ‘action’ in bold. Usually found on item, spell, and ally cards.
Tests are carried out by rolling a number of dice, as indicated by the skill you are testing plus any modifiers, and any 5 or 6 rolled indicates a success.
The monster phase sees non-exhausted monsters move and attack, or carry out a special action, as indicated on their monster card. Most monsters move towards the unstable space, but some may head for other places, such as the one with the most doom.
If a monster enters a space with an investigator, then it engages that investigator. It then attacks, dealing damage and horror as indicated on its card. Finally, exhausted monsters ready, and will engage any investigator in its space ready to attack next round.
During the encounter phase investigators that are not engaged, draw an encounter card that represents the neighbourhood they occupy, unless there is an anomaly in that area, in which case they draw from the anomaly deck instead.
The encounter cards are broken down into three, one for each neighbourhood space, and the investigator encounters their space. This will often lead to a test being carried out and the option to gain a benefit. The benefits usually obtainable are indicated in the individual spaces on the board by icons. If an event card is drawn, indicated by the clue icon, then there is also the chance of gaining a clue from the centre of that neighbourhood.
The mythos phase has each investigator in turn draw and action, one at a time, two mythos tokens from the cup. Mythos tokens include – Spread doom by drawing and discarding the bottom card of the event deck; Spawn a monster; Read a headline card; Spawn a clue by drawing the top card of the event deck and shuffling it into the respective neighbourhood deck, don’t forget to place a clue token in the centre of that neighbourhood; Gate burst – Take the top card of the event deck and place one doom in each space of the indicated neighbourhood then shuffle the card into the event discard pile and place them together on the bottom of the event deck; Reckoning – resolve all reckoning events as indicated by the reckoning symbol, usually found on the scenario sheet, some headline cards, or condition cards; drawing a blank token means you get away lucky, this time! The mythos tokens are not returned to the cup until it is empty.
Play continues until the scenario has been resolved successfully or not, as is usually the case!
So, What do I think?
Starting with the box – It has some pretty neat artwork on the cover, which I think captures the theme excellently, especially that of the investigator’s expression in the car. The box is linen finished, so it all adds up to a quality looking product.
The modular board comprises of neighbourhood tiles and street tiles, all double sided. These are made of 2mm, punch-out, high-density grey board, and are of good quality, although they are a tight fit, which has resulted in the edges starting to delaminate where they push together.
The art on the neighbourhood tiles is dark and atmospheric, and when you look closely, actually quite detailed. All the icons on the tiles are nice and clear, it just may take you awhile to get used to what they represent!
My only issue with the tiles, and it’s one that is shared with the event and encounter cards, is the colour. The Rivertown, Uptown, and Northside tiles are all a very similar colour, and playing under anything other than bright lighting makes them appear almost identical, the same applies to the Merchant District and the Miskatonic University. Yes, they have it written upon them, but all to often we found we’d drawn the wrong encounter card for the neighbourhood we were on – It’s only a minor gripe, but one worth mentioning.
All of the cards are really good quality with a linen finish, and those familiar with Fantasy Flight’s other Arkham Files games will recognise a fair amount here. The Investigators are the usual crowd, and whilst it’s nice to be able to play your favourite character, it would have mixed it up a little if a few new faces had been included.
The artwork is great; it is detailed, colourful, and thematic, with the only issue being the event and encounter cards, as I already mentioned.
I’m a fan of the mini cards, though I know the general consensus is mixed. Providing they don’t have to convey too much information, which these don’t, then I think they are ideal for things like spells, equipment and conditions, and save a lot of space on the tabletop.
The cardboard tokens are standard FF fair, and do the job well enough, so no issues there. And before I forget, I also like the cardboard event deck holder, what a neat idea. It enables you to draw cards from both the bottom and top of the deck, and it looks quite cool standing beside the board.
I do wish they would include a bag to put the mythos tokens in – it’s the same with Eldritch and The Living Card Game, you have to go hunting for something suitable, and I for one dislike using a cup! The majority of games these days that require you to draw tokens/dice/whatever from a container, include one in the box, so why can’t FF?
Finally, the rules, and these are typical of Fantasy Flight’s previous games being a ‘Learn to Play’ and a ‘Rules Reference’ guide book. I have always liked this format, I find it works well, and this is no exception. If anything, they have continued to refine things as these look extremely professional.
Good use has been made of the sidebar in the learn to play book, and it’s simple to follow, getting you up and running in the shortest possible time. There are lots of pictures, often with important information highlighted, and I found the whole experience easy to get along with.
The rules reference booklet looks very polished, with the rules broken down by paragraph and subparagraph, all with a detailed index at the back.
I found all the questions I had were contained in here, and at no point did I feel the need to consult the internet for anything, which makes a refreshing change.
Used as intended – play the game with the learn to play book, consulting the rules reference when you come across something you’re unsure of or that isn’t mentioned, and it all works really well, though I know this isn’t everyones cup of tea, and if you like to know everything before even setting up, then you’re in for some heavy reading!
On the whole I though all the components were of very high quality. There’s plenty of tokens, so you’re not going to run short, and I didn’t feel there was anything added just for the sake of it.
Of the four scenarios included, Approach of Azathoth is the one recommended you start with… Don’t! Unless you get lucky and win the game early, something happens that makes you go ‘what!’ and the game becomes very difficult from there on in; not the ideal introduction into the game, but it is an exciting challenge once you are more familiar with things.
Other than that though, I really like the scenarios and they way they progressively unravel as you play, and this is down to the codex. The codex builds the story card by card, and you’re never quite sure where things are going to go – placing clues usually progresses things in a good way, whilst doom, well, that’s just bad!
The anomaly deck, like the event deck, is tailored to the scenario you are playing, and helps give the story a little more depth, especially as there are event cards that relate directly to the contents of the anomaly deck.
The modular board enables a different set up for each scenario, and along with the differing monster deck, keeps things fresh; it also looks great on the tabletop.
The investigators are varied, and I particularly like the role summary on the reverse of the card, this gives you an indication of how the character should be used in their primary and secondary role – a great idea, especially for those new to this kind of game.
I also liked the dedicated starting items for each character, of which you usually have one as a given, and the choice of another from the two remaining. The choice isn’t always easy; some of the items aren’t immediately obvious in how well they will assist you, but if you give them a go then the penny often drops, and you go, ‘Ah, that’s how you use it!’
When playing with a lower player count there were certain investigators that seemed in constant demand – Dexter Drake and Tommy Muldoon, to name but two, with others coming into their own when used with a greater number of players. I wouldn’t necessarily say this is because there is an unbalance between the investigators, it’s just that some are able to hold their own better, whilst others preform at their best in a supporting role.
Talking of balance – The game appears to be pretty well balanced for player count, and this is due to the mythos cup. Unlike Arkham the Card Game, when mythos tokens are drawn they aren’t returned to the cup until it is empty. In effect this cleverly balance the game for player count – with two investigators it usually takes 7 full game turns to empty the cup, so monsters aren’t appearing every turn and doom is a little slower at spreading, so with just two investigators you are able to plan and deal with things. Now take 4 investigators, and the cup empties every other turn, so monsters are appearing left right and centre, and doom is spreading like there’s no tomorrow, and maybe there won’t be if you don’t clear it up!
The game does feel more frantic at the higher player counts, whereas you get a little planning time when playing with two players; but this isn’t to the detriment of the game play.
Similarly to Eldritch Horror, it helps if you take the time initially to build up your investigators strengths. This is done by either taking the Focus action or by ending your turn on an encounter that will (hopefully) be beneficial to you – gaining a spell, or item of equipment.
This can be two-fold if there are clues in the neighbourhood – gaining a clue and improving your character is a great way to start the game. As the event cards get shuffled into the top two encounter cards for that neighbourhood, you can work in areas that give you the best odds for drawing and gaining a clue, and a good strategy is combining all this in an area where there is doom – So, you move there, ward to remove doom, draw and encounter that turns out to be an event card. You gain a clue and hopefully something to strengthen your investigator – nice work, if you can get it!
The gate burst mythos token mechanism gives a nod towards Matt Leacock, and his games like Pandemic and the Forbidden series. This sees you taking the top card from the event deck, placing a doom token in each area of the indicated neighbourhood, and then shuffling it into the discard pile, which then goes on the bottom of the deck ready to be drawn for doom. It works really well, and is an exciting part of the game – as you go through the mythos cup you have to constantly keep an eye on what card is at the top of the event deck, because too much doom in a neighbourhood may cause an anomaly to appear – it really builds the tension up.
There are, however, a few things I’m not so keen on. Spells feel very underwhelming for the most part, mainly due to the fact you have to take horror to cast them (unless you offset this by using a remnant token), and that they just don’t seem very powerful.
I often had a handful of spells, but the cost to the investigator in horror meant I couldn’t use them often enough to make a difference. I often ended up chasing other investigators around trying to trade their remnant tokens, or land on encounters that gave them too me.
Items are also a bit of a give away – You can land on encounters that give you the option to buy an item from the display, some of which may cost $6, but then someone else will get an encounter that enables them to choose a common item for free, making the cost of the item a bit of a farce. This is where I’m coming from – If an item, like the pocket watch (enables you to take an additional action during your turn), is deemed to be a powerful item worth $6 (and is indeed a great asset to your collection), why call it a common item that can often be selected for free – surely this should be a rare item, or an uncommon at least!
Actions – why can you not do the same action twice? Both Mansions of Madness and The Living Card Game allow you to repeat actions as many times as you like, and for me this feels more thematic. Okay, Eldritch only lets you take an action once, but the way encounters with monsters is handled is different, and I think that works. But here, I just find it frustrating, especially when engaged with a monster. You are limited in your choice of actions when engaged – Focus, attack, or evade – and if you’re already at your focus limit you’ll have no choice but to attack and evade – Throw a punch then leg it! Why, oh why can’t I attack twice?
But, my biggest annoyance by far is the headline cards. I understand why they are there – they act as a timer for the game, activated through the drawing of the headline mythos tokens. Once you draw one of these tokens, and the headline deck is empty, you have to place a doom token on the scenario sheet, thus speeding up your inevitable demise.
The issue with the cards is that they feel like a last minute addition. The headlines themselves I found oddly written, but that could be an Americanism compared to how we usually write headlines in the UK. Also, the actual effect of the card often bares no resemblance to the headline itself, and can be really harsh. I just felt they could have developed the headlines to represent the current scenario, like they have with the anomaly and event encounter decks.
Can I play it… all on my own?
I had a good time playing solo, and I found the turns whipping by in frantic succession, unlike playing with others where things slow down as a fair amount of discussion can often take place.
It’s also nice to have it all your own way, no need to bow down to the ideas of others… of course, this does have it’s draw backs, like the fact it’s so easy to get fixated on a single idea and miss something completely, which may have been obvious to another player – but then that can be a common occurrence when playing on your own.
It’s an easy game to become immersed in the story, and you find yourself acting out thematic plays – Michael McGlen ramming his ‘Ol’ Boiler’ into the Servitor, then jumping out and racking him with his ‘Chicago Typewriter’!
The puzzle of the game also demands some thought, and on the whole presented a fair challenge to a single mind.
I found three investigators to be the best experience – four I found to be a little too much in terms of housekeeping, whilst with two, you really have to ensure you have the right investigators, and build them up quickly at the start. Losing one of them and having to create another, has a big impact playing with just two, especially late on in the game, as you just can’t take the time to build them up to anywhere like they need to be to cope with the ever increasing threats.
I really enjoyed playing the game; I like the way the story unfolds as you play, and the four scenarios all feel quite different. The amount and variance of the investigators keeps repeated play interesting, though after having played each scenario through a couple of times in quick succession, I did find my interest waning, but a good gap between plays can bring back that initial enthusiasm.
But this is a game that offers itself exceptionally well to expansions, especially with its modular board, and I can certainly see the game developing as more scenarios are released, which will keep replayability nice and high.
It’s certainly one for the H.P. Lovecraft fans or horror lovers in general, though it isn’t particularly scary, and I’d put the 14+ age recommendation as a little high (maybe 12+).
There’s also a lot packed into the box so, even though there is only four initial scenarios, I think it’s pretty very good value for money, especially if you shop around.
It is a game that could be prone to the take over of an ‘alpha player’, but we never really experienced this as we found the investigators fitted in quite well to their individual roles – dealing with monsters, warding doom, researching clues, etc. – so everyone knew where their priorities lay.
I did find it played on the long side of its stated play time, with the majority of our games, including solo, coming in around the three hour mark, and set up can take a while – setting up the modular board, sorting out specific event and anomaly decks, but once you’ve done it a few times you’ll find around 15 minutes, if not a little quicker, is average.
So, whilst I can recommend this game, it isn’t going to be for everyone. The way it plays does feel a little narrow – your choices are limited by the story narrative, you feel like you’re being pushed along in a certain direction rather than making the choice yourself. Personally, I didn’t mind this, as thematically it works very well.
The other reason you may be cautious of buying this is that you own other Arkham Files games. Having never played the Second edition of Arkham Horror I can’t say if this would replace it or not, but in terms of some of the others I think it would depend upon how you feel about Eldritch horror.
Eldritch horror presents some similarities in terms of game play, but the choices you make in Eldritch feel very much like your own, and there is a lot of choice, as you try to juggle all the bad things that always seem to be happening at the same time! However, the story is stronger in Arkham, at least in my opinion, but as I mentioned, the offset of this is the more limited freedom of choice to progress the game. I think if you are already well invested in Eldritch and its many expansions, then you’ll probably want to give this a miss but, if you’re a fan of Mansions of Madness or the Living Card Game, then this one is definitely worth a look.
Arkham Horror provides a great story driven, thematic experience, as well as setting a pretty puzzle to solve. Well worth the investment, especially as this is a Fantasy Flight game, and that means plenty of expansions will be appearing over the horizon anytime now!
Official Site – Fantasy Flight Games
Recommended Video Review – With Zee Garcia
BoardGameGeek Page – HERE
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