Arkham Horror

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Arkham Horror

Post  steveygee on Tue 05 May 2015, 16:01

This thread has gone a bit quiet, so to encourage some new reviews I thought I'd add this one I wrote about 18 months ago on BGG.


The first time my friend pulled out Arkham Horror was back in the bad old days of our first steps into this hobby, when we used to think Zombies!!! was a good game and that Puerto Rico was too complicated. With this in mind, you can imagine our reaction as deck after deck of cards came out of that box, followed by hundreds of counters and chits and cardboard standees. I think it’s fair to say that we were not ready for this experience and after two abortive attempts to play it correctly my friend packed it up sadly and took it away.

Fast forward five years. We are now fully immersed in the world of board games. Our games of choice are Race for the Galaxy, Shogun, Pandemic, Battlestar Galactica and Powergrid. We’ve played Twilight Imperium a couple of times and although it wasn’t a massive hit we didn’t have too much trouble understanding the rules and grasping the complexity. After missing a few game nights due to the birth of my son, I arrive one evening to find Arkham already set up and my friend grinning. Apparently, they’ve been playing nothing else for weeks. We sit down to play and after a couple of hours we’ve had our asses kicked by a Great One and are all feeling good, laughing at the sheer craziness of what we’d just experienced.

Even then, though, even then, something was niggling at me. Sure it was fun to rush around the board, frantically trying to shut the portals to the Other World, whilst trying not to either go insane or being disembowelled by a thingy. It was a laugh to flip over the location card and see what encounter you had. It was exciting to roll the dice and hope you managed to kill the cultist. But for such a complex and involved game, had it felt a bit...light? How many decisions had I actually made? Was I deciding what to do or was the game directing me, like a character in a Lovecraftian story, towards the place I was always destined go? Sure if we’d done things differently we might have won, but equally if we’d made all the same choices and simply rolled better, wouldn’t we have still have won? I dismissed these doubts as I’d had a good time with friends and at the end of the day, isn’t that what boardgames are all about? Over the next few game nights we played Arkham again. And again. And again.

Now, I should point out that our group has had a habit of getting obsessed with a single game to the exclusion of all others. It happened with Race for the Galaxy, it happened with Pandemic, it happened with Blood Bowl Team Manager and it happened with Arkham. And Arkham’s a long game. It takes more than 2 hours, every time. Often over 3. Occasionally 4. It’s probable that the designers never expected anyone to be playing this game every week for months. It’s likely that the game was ruined for me simply because we had sampled everything it had to offer.

The more I played it, the less I liked it. Despite it’s shedload of bits, it began to feel repetitious. That original sense of a lack of control over my fate grew and my enjoyment waned. The encounters, though thematic, didn’t really build a coherent story. One minute you’d be watching a strange blood ritual, the next a bookcase would fall on you, followed by a detour into helping out a gang of bootleggers. It was disjointed and once we began to learn the game and started winning regularly it began to feel like we were going through the motions. For instance, when you’ve played the game a few times you begin to notice at which locations the portals are more likely to appear. One of the characters special abilities says that portals can’t open in a location she’s in. So I have actually spent a whole 3 hour game of Arkham standing in one spot on the board, preventing portals opening there, whilst everyone else plays the game. Now, I know this is my own fault, there was nothing to stop me running off and doing other things but this is a co-op game and the consensus was that this is what my character should be doing. I didn’t want to be That Guy, so i stuck to my task. We won but I didn’t really feel part of that victory.

The more you play, the less important certain components begin to feel. Spells, for instance. There are 40 of them in the base game. I’m not sure i’ve ever used one. I’m sure i’ll get comments below from people telling me how great they are but I would just rather have a pistol and a magic sword. And yes, as I write that sentence I realise how cool it is to have a magic sword in one hand and a pistol in the other.

And that’s the contradiction at the core of this game. It is full of cool things. The fact that if you go insane, you have to go to the asylum until you’re sane again. The opportunity to join the Silver Lodge, a secret society of wizardy types. Guns, magic, demons, gangsters, journeys to otherworldly dimensions and trips to the local store. But the cool things never come together into a proper game for me. After repeated plays it feels mechanical and, worse for such a long game, anti-climactic. It’s better if you fail to close the gates and have to fight the Great One, but even then he can just kick all your asses in one turn and never give you a chance to get invested in the face off. If you win before then, there’s often not as much of a sense of triumph as i’d like. Sure you get games where it’s down to the wire and comes down to one roll of the die and everyone’s on their feet yelling and hollering and that’s great, that’s what you come to the game for. But those games are too few and far between.

Positives

Arkham Horror can create a tense, exciting atmosphere, especially the first few times you play. It’s an experience game and can produce a great adventure. It has a good amount of variety and lots of stuff, good looking stuff at that. If you have a good game, filled with incidence and a close ending, it can be great fun. Learning what makes a good overall strategy can be rewarding when you first start winning regularly.

Negatives

It’s very easy to have a bad game where nothing happens and after a while you just win, or lose, shrug and put it away. It takes a long time and much of it can feel repetitive and directionless. Not all that stuff is worth your time, but it’s still there, clogging up the board and making things messy. Decisions points can often seem few and far apart and when they do come up they can be of the ‘one obviously right choice’ variety. For all it’s decks of cards, monster counters and status tokens it can begin to feel samey after a few plays and it’s pricey for a game that can feel played out so soon.

Conclusion

I have a love/hate relationship with this game, as you can probably tell from the review above and I think that even more than most games, whether or not you enjoy Arkham will be down to personal taste.

When you’re having fun in Arkham, when things are getting out of control and you’re frantically rushing around the board from place to place desperately trying to stop Cthulu’s coming, it’s a game that few others can match for pure entertainment. But the other times, when you plod around for three hours, waiting for portals to open or when you’re stuck in one location for turn after turn because a monster you can’t possibly kill is parked on the street outside and you just can’t get anything from that bloody deck of cards to help, or when you play for a couple of hours waiting for the game to get going and then realise you’re about to win no matter what, then Arkham Horror can be a grind. If you can afford the price tag, don’t mind chaos and aren’t going to overplay it then go for it. If you like strategy, depth and control, and a game that stands up to heavy play, this ain’t for you.
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Re: Arkham Horror

Post  Aneurin on Tue 05 May 2015, 17:11

I hate this game so so very much. I will never play it again! Open gate - close gate - open gate - close gate - repeat ad nausea - get owned by giant monster - yawn.

On the other hand - Mansions of Madness I love...
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Re: Arkham Horror

Post  steveygee on Tue 05 May 2015, 17:25

Aneurin wrote:I hate this game so so very much. I will never play it again! Open gate - close gate - open gate - close gate - repeat ad nausea - get owned by giant monster - yawn.

On the other hand - Mansions of Madness I love...

Yes, this how I feel about it now. Took me a while to reach that conclusion though.
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