Charlie Kane, an overweight, slightly balding, middle-aged politician. One would wonder what he’s doing here, chasing ghouls and figments of his imagination. For him, though, Tokyo has always been his favourite destination. From here he can lean on people, curry favour, and even impress the locals, getting them to carry out his wishes, which at this moment in time means bumping off some foul beast that has just turned up through a gate in London. He can also use his influence to gain those much sought after resources, distributing them across the globe to his colleagues – never friends in this business, just colleagues. But, like any politician with a skeleton in the closet, he’s always on the verge of being brought down, in this case it came down to rolling a bunch of 3s and 4s instead of the much vaunted 5s and 6s. Now, he’s just a mad old man, promising to get even with everyone when he’s the next President!
Eldritch Horror, a co-op romp around the globe; closing gates, fighting monsters, and trying to keep the Doom at bay – all in a days work for these intrepid investigators.
Wanna get straight to my thoughts? Don’t become delayed, step through the gate and advance to, ‘So, what do I think?’
- Designer: Corey Konieczka, Nikki Valens
- Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
- Year Released: 2013
- Players: 1-8
- Playing Time: 120-240 minutes
- Ages: 14+
- Recommended Retail Price: £59.99
What’s in the box?
- Game board
- Reference guide
- 12 Investigator cards – 4″x6″ sleeve size
- 12 Investigator tokens and plastic stands.
- 4 Ancient One cards – 4″x6″ sleeve size
- 122 Encounter cards (America, Europe, Asia/Australia, General, Other world, Expedition, Special, Research) – Standard American sleeve size
- 51 Mythos cards – Standard American sleeve size
- 16 Mystery cards – Standard American sleeve size
- 14 Artefact cards – Mini American sleeve size
- 40 Asset cards – Mini American sleeve size
- 36 Condition cards – Mini American sleeve size
- 20 Spell cards – Mini American sleeve size
- 43 Monster tokens
- 78 Health and sanity tokens
- Lead investigator token
- 20 Travel ticket tokens
- 30 improvement tokens
- Mystery token
- 36 Clue tokens
- 20 Eldritch tokens
- 4 Rumour tokens
- Omen token
- Doom token
- 9 Gate tokens
- 4 Reference cards
- 4 Dice
- Active expedition token
The object of the game is to defeat the chosen Ancient One, usually by completing three mysteries before they awaken, or three mysteries and something else if they do!
Each player controls an investigator. The investigators are all different and each has two special abilities, one that counts as an action, and one that does not. They also have several stats – Lore, Influence, Observation, Strength, and Will.
The game is broken down into three phases – Action, Encounter, and Mythos Phase.
During the Action Phase investigators take it in turns to carry out two actions. They can Travel – move 1 space (travel tickets allow further movement along the appropriate lines – rail/sea); Prepare – gain a travel ticket; Acquire Assets – test influence and then purchase from the reserve items to the value of successes rolled; Rest – recover one health and sanity; Trade – trade possessions with another investigator in their space; Component Action – carry out an action listed on their investigator or possession cards.
Each action can be carried out only once per turn and some have limitations on where they can be carried out, such as in city spaces only.
The Encounter Phase sees each investigator encounter the space they are in, encountering every monster in their space first, one at a time. Then, if there are no monsters in their space, they encounter the Location or a token within their space, such as a Gate, Rumour, Clue (Research), or an Expedition. Location encounters often return something of value, as indicated on the space, such as Spells or Stat buffs.
The Mythos Phase. A Mythos card is drawn and resolved, initially by resolving the icons at the top of the card. These can: Advance the Omen – advance the omen by one clockwise and then advance doom equal to the number of gates on the board matching the current omen; Resolve Reckoning Effects – Everything with a Reckoning symbol is resolved in a set order, Monsters, Ancient One, Mythos cards in play, Possessions and Conditions held by investigators; Spawn Gates – spawn the required number of gates, each gate also spawns one monster; Monster Surge – spawn the required number of monsters at each gate corresponding to the current omen; Spawn Clues – spawn the number of clues on to the board; Place Rumour tokens – place a rumour token on the indicated space; Place Eldritch Tokens – place the indicated number of tokens on the Mythos card.
The text of the Mythos card is then resolved and the card discarded, unless it has an on-going effect.
When asked to carry out a test, such as a test Will, the investigator rolls the number of dice indicated on their card against that stat – possessions may grant extra dice or re-rolls. Under normal conditions any 5 or 6-counts as a success.
Encountering a monster sees a combat round take place. This consists of a Will Test followed by a Strength Test. The Monster token will indicate any penalties to the test, such as -1 die, as well as a horror, Damage, and toughness rating. Carrying out the Will Test, the result is compared to the Monsters Horror. If the Monsters Horror is greater, then the Investigator loses sanity equal to the difference between the number of successes rolled and the Horror rating. The Strength Test is similar, with the Investigator taking damage if the Monsters Damage rating is greater than the number of success. The monster also loses Health equal to the number of successes rolled.
Finally, some Encounters are classed as Complex Encounters. The Encounter card is split into three, Initial, Pass, and, Fail Effects. After carrying out the Initial Effect Test the Investigator then moves onto either the Pass or Fail, depending on the result of the test.
That’s the core principles covered, there’s plenty more to the game but that should give you an insight into the mechanisms in employs.
So, what do I think?
As with all the Arkham Files games the artwork on the box hit the nail on the head. It was thematic, humorous (the old boy in the loco clutching his hat whilst trying to read from a tome!), and captured the tone of the game – in this case, chaotic horror!
The artwork used throughout captured the feeling of the game: a glimpses of a monster, a suggestion of a spell, the invincibility of a Great One, and it blended in, adding to the playing rather than becoming a distraction.
The game board was a good size, 84x56cm, which provided plenty of room for everything going on, unless approaching max investigator count, where things could get a little crowded at times. Everything on there was clear and easily understood.
Cards and tokens were all good quality with a linen finish and I didn’t have any issues with the graphic design. Icons were used but obvious in what they represented and kept to a minimum.
I liked the background stories on the investigator cards, though after a few plays they never got looked at again, even when playing a new investigator!
Another thing I thought was good to see: there was enough plastic stands to account for all investigator tokens, so I didn’t have to keep swapping them over. It saves wear and tear on the tokens too, which, whilst a small thing, matters to some.
I would like to have seen at least two more dice, but thankfully the game uses standard D6’s so it shouldn’t be an issue to rustle up a few more – I found 7 per player saved passing dice around all the time.
The monster tokens went in a bag, and it is something I always gripe about – if something should go in a bag, then one should be provided! I get fed up with having to hunt for, buy, or make a bag every time I buy a new game – Just one of my little pet peeves!
Unlike Mansions of Madness and Arkham’s living card or board game, the theme here wasn’t so narratively driven – it didn’t follow a story with a predetermined path. The theme came from what the players did, the cards they drew, and the monsters they fought, basically, anything could happen and usually did!
So I expected it to be a little disjointed, but surprisingly it all fitted together quite nicely. Each Ancient one used it’s own specific decks for Research, Mystery and sometimes Special occurrences, and these added constants, such as a specific person kept cropping up when researching clues, but they didn’t direct the story as such.
The Mystery card set a current objective and something to aim for, but the rest of the theme was built up by random encounter and Mythos cards. For example: sitting on Tokyo I drew the appropriate encounter card and did a dodgy deal with a Japanese gang who then bumped off one of the monsters on the board, providing I passed the influence test that was, otherwise they were looking to break my legs instead! Likewise, Mythos cards caused gates and monsters to spawn, rumours to spread, and such like, and it added to the story that the investigators themselves created – of course, a sliver of an imagination was also required!
The horror was quickly built and really captured the chaos of the Lovecraftian setting – it put pressure on the investigators and a feeling of despondency crept in as they faced off against odds that surely couldn’t be beaten. Okay, that might not sound particularly positive, but believe me it is. The theme of going up against an Ancient Old One should make you feel despondent, like there’s no way you could possibly win; this being is immensely powerful and likely to turn you into a gibbering wreck with a glance, but the continuation of mankind is dependant on your little band of investigators to pull it off and so, against these great odds, you battle on with hope in your heart… or at least in your dice!
It’s Fantasy Flight Games so just as you’d expect there’s a Rulebook and a Reference guide.
In terms of the Arkham Files games I found this the simplest to learn – It was also the first one I ever played.
The Rulebook did a great job of getting across what is a simple round sequence. At 16-pages you could say it was longer than it needed to be, but there were pictures galore with lots of examples to highlight specific rules.
The components list at the front was a godsend, as it showed the backs of the decks identifying what they were. It was something I referred to constantly during the first few games, as I could never remember which deck was which – my own shortcoming I know!
The Reference guide was handy and backed up the Rulebook, covering things in more detail. It had an index, always a plus, a section of FAQs, a look at investigator abilities (well worth a look when playing a new character), and some optional rules, including scoring – if you win that is, for me a bit of a rarity and I’ve never bothered with it!
The only issue I’ve ever had with the rules comes from adding expansions. These add new rules that aren’t in the original Reference, and so you end up having to keep and refer to the rules that came with the expansion, fine until you have several added to the game!
There is updated FAQs on the Fantasy Flight Website, though, as well as an amalgamated rulebook on BGG, both very useful.
For me, there were two main aspects of this game – mitigating the dice rolls and priority control – both of which are many layered.
Virtually every encounter will see you rolling dice to make a skill check and so you want to make sure you’ve got the best chance of success, obviously. There are several ways to accomplish this such as improving your character’s stats, acquiring equipment or allies, making use of an investigators special abilities, or gaining a boon; sounds simple, yes?
In reality, things aren’t quite that easy. First temptation is to move to locations where the encounter will boost a stat, but you’ll probably never get there, as something else will likely draw you away first – maybe a rumour begs attention, or a gate pops up – and before you know it the game is charging away from you and the chance passes you by.
Acquiring equipment and allies can be done in the same manner, moving to specific locations, but you can also take an action to test your influence in the hope of purchasing something from the reserve, though you can almost guarantee you never quite roll enough successes for what you want (at least that’s what happens to me!). There’s always the temptation of the Bank Loan, but of course, we all know nothing good comes from borrowing, eh!
Of the twelve investigators in the box, five of them can either boost their own or another investigators chance of success. This is achieved in a few different ways: Improving stats, allowing more dice to be rolled, or allowing an additional die to be rerolled if spending a clue. Most of these come with a caveat of having to be in the same space.
Finally, and probably best of all, you can gain a Boon. Becoming Blessed gives you an increased chance of rolling a success with 4’s now counting, so each die returns a 50% chance of coming up good.
All these different ways to increase your chance of success and mitigate the luck of the roll gives you options, rather than having to rely on a single means. So, when you are distracted from heading towards a possible stat boosting location you can always try and come up with another plan, one that fits in with your current predicament.
You’ve probably heard the saying, ‘No plan survives first contact with the enemy,’ well, in this game plans don’t survive more than one round! I love it, the fact that you constantly have to reassess the situation and refocus on how to achieve your goals. You constantly have to change priorities.
The turn of a Mythos card can bring a whole new way of looking at the board. One minute you’ve been focusing on the main mystery and then, all of a sudden, you find that a rumour has spread and if you don’t clear it up pronto you’re all going to be dog meat!
And what about all these gates? If we have to advance the omen next turn Doom is going to progress big style! And most of the gates are filled with monsters! (Now imagine the pitch of voice getting higher). And I need to rest; I’ve only got 2 Health and 1 Sanity left! And Silas is delayed! And… and… and it goes on!
Trying to work out the best plan of action is a fascinating puzzle, one that can lead to lengthy group analysis paralysis, as these things often need to be worked out as a team – if you do that, and then you do that, and then I can do this, voilà, we achieve! This AP isn’t a bad thing though, it’s part of the game and in my opinion one of the best parts; it can be highly rewarding when you pull of a well-executed plan.
So, you’ve mitigated the dice rolls and prioritised until the cows come homes, what other juiciness waits to pounce?
Well, to start with there’s the variance of investigators. Each one feels different, unique in some way, and it can be a difficult decision just choosing one to start with. It’s easy to become attached – I have my favourites, like Charlie, who I would include in any team when playing solo – but don’t become too attached though, as they’re most likely to go ‘wibble’ at some point!
Movement is often a dilemma; it’s another part of the puzzle. Unless you have a travel ticket normal movement is restricted to just one space, which is never quite enough to get you where you want. So, you have to be armed with travel tickets, but of course, you’ll need the right one – train or boat – dependent on where you’re heading.
Preparing to travel, or in other words buying a ticket, often feels like a waste of an action, but stocking up to the maximum of 2 tickets whenever you can, will pay back later on.
Gates and monsters pop up all over the place and it’s great that some monsters spawn to certain locations rather than at the gate, it keeps you on your toes. Leaving a gate too long can see a horde gather, which makes it more difficult to close the gate (all monsters have to be defeated in order to encounter the space you’re on). This is another part of the puzzle, working out how to defeat so many monsters on a single space.
For a single investigator to charge in and take them all could basically be described as suicide, unless they’re armed to the teeth and capable of bolstering all their dice rolls, that is. But there are other ways to do it. Certain locations can pick off monsters, whilst some Investigators have abilities that can help, but usually it will come back to rolling dice.
It’s at these points, when the investigators are up against, that the gameplay excels. Tension really ramps up as everything starts to overwhelm and those dice rolls need to be made. It creates those stand up moments, rolling to save the game, to take down the big bad, or to simply stay sane. Everyone joins in the excitement, egging the player on, and likewise, they all share the misery when a bunch of 1’s and 2’s are rolled.
It isn’t all a bed of roses, though, there are a few things that rock the boat. The game can be torturous. As a player you get moments that can really deflate you, such as constant flow of conditions, or more usually a stream of bad dice rolls – I for one often roll despicably badly when playing. This can get some people down, especially if everyone else is doing well, and could put new players off the game completely.
Investigators being defeated is all part of the game, again tying into the theme, but it can be a bit of a pain creating new investigators when you’ve been playing for a couple of hours already, especially when you know the end is near and you’re most likely going to lose. It’s also gut wrenching when you’ve had the same investigator all that time, built them up, formed a bond so to speak, only to see their health/sanity be ripped from them by a myriad of unfortunate events, one after the other. If you like to get attached to your characters then this game is going to hurt!
The Mythos cards may also be a concern for some, especially in the way they can ‘bite’. For instance: ‘Unexpected Betrayal’, each investigator with at least 1 Ally Asset loses 3 Health and discards 1 Ally asset, or ‘All For Nothing’, which can see a solved mystery shuffled back into the deck. It can make you feel like the game is out to get you, and actually, it is really, that’s part of the theme here after all. Read any of Lovecraft’s books and you’ll know that the idea is to feel despair, like you have no chance at all, but who else is out there is going to try?
Difficult Mythos cards can be removed from play to make the game easier – Unexpected Betrayal isn’t one of them – but for me that’s not what the game is about and so I persevere with them in.
Finally, I should mention the main aim of the game; to defeat the Ancient One. Doom is the ever-present, loudly ticking timer, counting down to the inevitable awakening of whichever foul beast you decided to go up against. Whilst it can be held up for a while, there are very few opportunities to reverse it and so you have to ensure you make some inroads into completing the mysteries. But the clever mechanism of rotating the Omen track when certain Mythos cards are drawn, advancing Doom a number of spaces equal to the number of matching gates on the board, it becomes a balancing act between completing mysteries and clearing away relevant gates.
This really needs to remain your top priority throughout, thought it is difficult. Things will be thrown in front of you that may end the game more rapidly, but take your eye of the mysteries and the doom counter, and there will only ever be one ending. When Doom does hit that dreaded zero you get to flip the Ancient One’s card and see what challenge you now face, including instant defeat. From this point, the game can draw to a close very quickly indeed. Defeated investigators will be eliminated (at least in most cases) and whenever Doom should be advanced it does something equally wicked to you instead.
Whilst this can lead to a climatic, tension filled, finale, it can also kill the atmosphere dead. If you’re nowhere near completing 3 mysteries then it can feel like a chore to finish the game because you know you’re pretty much dead in the water at this point – sometimes it’s better to just end the game here rather than drudge through to the expected.
Obviously, there’s still so much more I could talk about in this section – flipping cards like spells, advancing the omen, reckoning, etc. – but I’ve prattled on long enough to advance my own Doom several spaces already. So, moving on…
Balance and scaling
Balance is a tough one. Each investigator had some merit, but some were definitely more versatile than others. Certain Characters worked really well when teamed together, whilst others were useful, but more of an individual than a team player.
Some investigators were particularly helpful when going up against certain Ancient Ones and things could be made slightly easier (just a tad!) if the Ancient One is selected before players choose investigators, and then they tailor their choice to the Ancient ones play style.
At times, especially when facing an Ancient One I’d never encountered before, the choice of Investigators required for the task was way off, making it feel like a right uphill struggle.
In terms of player numbers, well, I’ve played with everything up to 5 and it works. I like the banter the game creates with more players, but it’s also nice to sit and work out the puzzle with just another player, or on your own. Time can be an issue, but I found that at whatever player count I played at, and it varied with how the game progresses itself – sometimes it flows fast and furious, at others it’s slow and ‘thinky’. Either way, it was always enjoyable.
The game is difficult at the best of times and you’re most likely to lose an investigator or two in the process. If this happens early enough in the game it can be quite useful, as you can choose a new investigator to meet the needs of your current situation. Maybe you’ve realised you don’t have enough combat heavy Investigators, or you’re severely lacking in the Influence department, now’s the time to do something about it.
So, if you do end up with an unbalanced team for a specific Ancient One, then you could consider making the ultimate sacrifice – throwing your investigator at a particularly difficult monster in order to diminish it’s health whilst hoping that you get defeated and can choose a new, more useful investigator!
As I say, the game is difficult, it wouldn’t be a Lovecraft setting if it weren’t, and that’s part of the appeal of the game – it always feels possible to beat it, but a win always seems just out of reach!
It is possible to adjust the difficulty by removing all the easy or hard Mythos cards before assembling the Mythos deck. Does this work? No idea as I’ve never tried it! I like the level that the standard game gives, and I very rarely pull off a win – when I do though, it feels magnificent!
This is a game I regularly come back to; there’s tons of replayability because no two games are the same. Even if you use the same investigators and go up against the same Ancient One things will work out so differently.
Saying that, though, it doesn’t mean that you can’t formulate a strategy that will beat a certain Ancient One, it just means your plans have to be flexible.
We often found ourselves finishing a game and thinking, ‘if only we’d taken this approach, or next time we need to concentrate on this’, and that made us want to play again. Maybe not immediately, though, as I did find the game ran long and was an energy sapper in terms of the constant tension and involved thinking.
Throw in the expansions and you may never play the same investigators against the same Ancient One again. It opens up into a game that you want to explore all the possibilities; to see what happens when you team up Charlie and Diana with Wendy!
Can I play it… all on my own?
I regularly play solo. I tend to use 3 or 4-investigators when I do, as I find any less makes the game even more difficult and any more is too much to handle comfortably – too much admin and it’s easy to miss something.
Playing on my own gives me chance to mull things over. Those moments when you’re faced with a choice, A or B (quite often C, D and E too!), where either has the potential of killing you off; those are the moments I relish. I can think things through: what happens if this Mythos affect takes place at the end of the turn? How many turns before that rumour is going to finish me? How much is Doom likely to advance and can I close some gates to reduce it? Ah, juicy choices!
I also like to experiment using different investigator combinations, it can be enlightening seeing what works and what doesn’t.
Surprisingly, even with all that hard thinking, the game often plays quicker solo, probably because there’s nobody else to convince that what I’m doing is the right thing to do – or anyone to tell me I’m about to lose the game by doing it! I get into a rhythm and I’m more aware of what each of my investigators can do, so getting the best out of them can be easier – playing with others it’s easy to forget what items, spells, or special actions their investigator can do, so you have to be in constant communication otherwise you can miss something.
That said, the game loses out on the tension generated by other players. When those critical rolls need to be made and everyone is egging you on, or just when you think you’re getting the upper hand only to reveal that ‘horrible’ Mythos card and everyone groans in desperation – it’s those kind of things that really push this game to a different level.
It’s long, it’s difficult, and it’s occasionally frustrating, but boy, does it create some wonderful stand-up moments.
If you’re already a fan of the Arkham Horror Board game and haven’t played this yet, then I’d say it’s a no brainer, play it now. But do you need both in your collection? Hell, Yes!
Eldritch feels like Arkham zoomed out. You’re not focused on a specific storyline but are trying to combat the evils flooding across the world, branching out, each causing problems in their own way and preventing you from concentrating on the mission to stop the Ancient One rising up.
If this is all new to you then you’re going to have to like the theme, and if you know your Lovecraftian lore so much the better, as you’ll recognise a lot of what comes up on the cards. It’s an emergent narrative with the emphasis on the players to put a story around the individual happenings; it doesn’t feed you a storyline to follow.
It does contains a fair amount of randomness, especially with the card draws, though the dice rolling side can be mitigated, you just need to work at it, both individually and as a team. The game pretty much centres around this dice rolling and making sure you get the best odds when making a roll, which may not appeal to some.
There’s also the pretty problem of having to prioritising what to deal with first, which builds up tension as the game progresses and more things start to get in your way of the main goal, but can lead to overly long game times, as analysis paralysis, even as a team, can set in.
As a co-op, it really does promote teamwork and you’ll soon find yourself egging each other on, sharing the highs and groaning at the lows. Played solo it becomes immersive and you find yourself deep in thought, working through your options and hoping that today isn’t going to be a bad day for rolling dice!
Players: I’ve never played with more than 5, and it works. Playing solo, I tend towards 3 or 4-investigators, though you can play with a single investigator, though I found it even more difficult!
Playing Time: I’d say, on average, it plays long, usually over 3 hours if not 4, though you do get the odd game that goes like bat on nitrous, over in under an hour and usually to a quick demise!
Age: 14+. I introduced my daughter to this game when she was 12, and she didn’t enjoy it. She didn’t like the puzzle of the game, the prioritising, thinking a whole turn through before anyone acts. Then, at 14, everything clicked and it’s now up there in her top 3 games (Mansions and Arkham being the other two – says a lot about her, eh!). So, don’t be afraid to let them dip their toes in, just be patient and see what happens.
Expansions: So far I have two, Strange Remnants and Forsaken Lore. I intend to get more. They expand the gameplay, both by increasing the number of cards and by introducing new rules. One or two are starting to get difficult to find, but I’m sure a reprint will soon be in the offering. Personally, I can’t get enough; love the game!
Expect to Pay: Around £45 (£44.95 at time of writing on Chaoscards.com)
Official site – Fantasy Flight Games
Recommended video review – Not Bored Gaming
BoardGameGeek page – HERE