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Subject: Losing My Grip: An Investigation into Arkham Horror rss

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Arkham Horror



This review is intended to be comprehensive – below you can find detailed descriptions of the game mechanics, components, and theme, as well as my own thoughts on the game and what I like or dislike about it. A rules summary (not facsimile) is included, along with a breakdown of the game's components and their use. If you're curious about how each part of the game fits into the total package, peruse that part of the review at your leisure. If you’re looking primarily for an evaluation or recommendation of the game, feel free to skip past the nitty-gritty parts of the review.


Contents

1.) Overview
2.) Theme
3.) What's in the Box?
4.) Rules
5.) Components: Rules and Use
6.) Quality of components
7.) Thoughts on the Theme
8.) Thoughts on the Gameplay
9.) The Final Word


Overview

Arkham Horror is a medium-weight, theme-heavy collaborative game derived from H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulu setting. When I say the game is "medium-weight," I mean that the game creates an 'epic' experience in which players use simple strategies amidst a wealth of detail.
The game takes 4-5 hours to play and is for 1-8 players, though in practice it works best for 3-5. Players win or lose together, racing to prevent imminent doom!

Theme

Each player is a resident or visiter in the town on Arkham, Massachusets during the 1920s. The game's various player-characters, which range from gangsters to college professors, have each begun to notice mysterious and disturbing goings-on around town, and each has his or her own reasons for investigating further. They discover a nefarious cult attempting to awaken a great evil, and to prevent an invasion from other realms, they must seal off access to Arkham. In the process, of course, many foul minions try to thwart their efforts. To survive, players equip themselves with all manner of items, weapons, and spells, searching for clues to aid them in their mission.


What's in the Box?




Large Sheets: 5 x 7 inches

Ancient One Sheets
Investigator Sheets


Cardboard Tokens

Investigators (cardboard cut-outs + plastic stands)
Skill Sliders
Sanity and Stamina Tokens
Clue Tokens
Money (in $1 $5 and $10 tokens)
Doom Tokens / Seals
Terror Track Token
Gates
Monsters
First Player Token
"Explored" Tokens
"Closed" Tokens
Mythos Activity Tokens

Large Cards: 3 ½ x 2 ¼ inches.

Random Encounter Deck - Arkham
Random Encounter Deck - Other Dimensions
Mythos Deck

Small Cards: 1 ½ x 2 ½ inches.

Common Item Deck
Unique Item Deck
Spell Deck
Ally Deck
Skills Deck
Retainer Deck
Blessings / Curses Deck
Deputy Deck
Silver Twilight Lodge Membership Deck
Bank Loan Deck


Rules

There are quite a few rules in Arkham Horror, filling a full-color 24 page booklet which is available in digital format though the manufacturer (www.fantasyflightgames.com). As such, I will only cover enough to give readers a concrete sense of how the game works.


Dice

Players roll dice to determine most outcomes in Arkham Horror. To determine success or failure (in combat and other various situations), a number of dice will be rolled and a number of 'successes' - fives or sixes - will be required.

Investigators

At the start of the game each player chooses an investigator at random. Investigators have important strengths and weakness but all follow the same basic template. Each has two primary attributes, sanity and stamina, and a set of secondary skills including speed, sneak, fight, will, lore, and luck. Players must take care so that events/monsters do not drive their investigators insane or knock them unconsious. If both occur simultaneously, an investigator is "devoured" (dead) and the player must rejoin the game as a new investigator at the beginning of the next turn.

Stamina and sanity correlate with effectiveness in melee- and spell-based combat. Skills are paired inversely so that players face a trade-off when adjusting them each round. For example, if you want to move quickly, you'll be less able to sneak by monsters that you encounter. If you want to fight more effectively, you do so out of desperation, so your sanity is at risk. If you want to cast spells more effectively, you'll be less lucky that round (this pairing makes less sense than the other two). Finally, each character starts the game with certain predetermined fixed and random possessions, and each character has a unique special ability that is permanent throughout the game.

Ancient Ones

At the start of the game, players choose one of eight "Ancient Ones" at random (one of which is Cthulu). They will try to keep this Ancient One from awakening for the duration of the game. Each Ancient One affects the game in a different way, and some wake up faster than others. All but one may be fought if they do wake up, but victory in such cases is very difficult.

A Sample Round

Rounds in Arkham Horror are comprised of the following sequence. Players begin by adjusting their skills as allowed (some investigators are more flexible than others), and by taking care of other "upkeep" issues: seeing if a curse is lifted, drawing money from the bank, etc. Players then spend a moment planning their movement. Since everyone is working as a team, this usually involves voicing ideas and suggestions - "Meet me here and I'll give you this item;" "Why don't you try and seal that gate while I pick up some more clues" etc. These conversations allow players to emphasize their vairous strengths and bail out anyone who's in a tight spot. Once everyone has decided where to go (rate of movement is determined by the "speed" skill), players move their characters, pausing for combat if they encounter a monster on the board. Once everyone has moved, players who are in Arkham draw a random encounter card or exercise the option to buy items, heal, etc., if available. After these players have gone, players who are in another dimension draw random encounter cards. Finally, a single Mythos card is drawn at the end of the round which may open new gates on the board, spawn new monsters, spawn new clue tokens, cause monsters to move around, and have a unique text-effect on the game.

The phases described above are:

1.) Upkeep
2.) Movement
3.) Arkham Encounters
4.) Other dimension encounters
5.) Mythos.

Victory Conditions

To win, players must either

1.) Seal six gates to other dimensions

2.) Close every gate on the board, with the total number closed equal to or greater than the number of players. To achieve this victory condition, players must keep a minimum number of closed gates, rather than trading them in for rewards.

3.) Defeat the Ancient One in the event that it wakes up.


Closing and Sealing Gates

To close a gate, players must go through it to another dimension, spend a couple of turns exploring that dimension, and then come back to Arkham. Upon their return, players have the opportunity to close the gate and possibly seal the gate. Closing only requires the success of a die roll; once a gate has been closed, players may spend clue tokens or use a particular item (the "Elder Sign") to seal the gate permanently.

Combat

Combat in Arkham Horror is dice-based. A player's fight skill, modified by positives (weapons, allies, spells) and negatives (depending on the monster), determines how many dice they roll. A monster's toughness determines how many successes (fives and sixes) need to be rolled.

Encounters

If players end their movement in a particular location ("Hibb's Roadhouse," "The Unvisited Isle," "The Woods," "The Train Station," etc.), they will have an encounter there unless the location offers an option for buying, in which case the player chooses one or the other. Encounters are drawn from the appropriate random encounter deck (there are several for different areas of the board), and players read the text on the card to see what happens.



Components: Rules and Use

Board



Arkham Horror features a large, six-section board with 27 locations in Arkham and six alternate dimensions along one side. Locations in town are color coded in groups of three to match nine random encounter decks. Each location has a red or green diamond above its name indicating whether or not the location is "stable." Gates never open at stable (green) locations, and at the start of the game, a clue token is placed on each red location. A small box of text underneath the location name indicates available commodities, if any. To the left and right of each location's name are two symbols showing possible rewards at that location. For instance, the symbols at the Newspaper are a magifying glass and a dollar sign, indicating the players might find clues or money if the visit the Newspaper. Such symbols only indicate what is possible, not what is likely. Each alternate dimesion has two or four colored dots by it, indicating which dimension encounter cards may be read from. Finally, the streets in Arkham have black and white arrows at the start of each segment; these are used throughout the game to determine monster movement (see below under "Mythos Cards" for more details).

Investigator Sheets




These show a player's sanity, stamina, skills, focus (ability to change skills at the start of each round), starting possessions, starting location, and special ability. Each has a portrait of the player on the front and a background story on the back.

Skill Sliders

These are used to mark a players current skill levels. They can be placed anywhere at the start of the game and may be adjusted at the start of each turn according to each player's "focus." For example, if your investigator has a focus of 1, you may only move a single skill slider one space to the left or right at the start of a turn.

Sanity and Stamina Tokens

These are used to keep track of players' sanity and stamina. Each player starts with the amount shown on his investigator sheet, and cannot exceed that amount.

Clue Tokens

Clue tokens can be used for two things. Five of them may be spent sealing a gate, or a single clue token may be used to add a die to any roll. May not be traded with other players.

Money

Used to buy common items, unique items, spells, and clues. May be traded with players in the same location. Available in denominations of $1, $5, and $10.




Investigator tokens

Placed on the board to indicate each player’s location.




Ancient One Sheets

These show how each ancient one affects gameplay, how quickly each wakes up, what happens when it wakes up, how damaging its attack is, and how difficult it is for players to hit.




Doom Tokens / Elder Signs

These tokens are double-sided. One side shows an eye, indicating that an Ancient One is closer to waking up. This is the doom token side. One side shows a pentagram, indicating that a gate has been sealed. This is the Elder Sign side.

Each time a gate opens (or the game otherwise indicates), a doom taken is placed on the ancient one's "doom track." These range from 10-14 spaces. An ancient one awakens when its doom track is full.

Each time a gate is sealed, an elder sign token is placed on that location, and no further gates or monsters may appear there.




"Closed" Tokens

As the terror level rises in Arkham, stores will close. These tokens are used to show that a store has been boarded-up; for the rest of the game, players may not enter that location for any reason. Other game effects may also close locations temporarily.

First player token

Players take turns being first player, rotating clockwise round. The first player initiates each phase of the round, and players proceed in clockwise order. First player also draws and resolves mythos cards at the end of a round.

Terror Track Token

There is a terror track on one end of the board. At the start of the game, this token is placed on the starting place on the track. Each time the terror level goes up, the token advances. When the terror level reaches it's maximum, the the monster limit is removed and each subsequent increase will add a doom token to the Great Old One.

"Explored" Tokens

When a player returns to Arkham from another dimension, he places an "explored" token next to the gate. This marker stays until the gate is closed or the player leaves the space. Players can only attempt to close gates that have an explored token next to them.


Mythos Event Tokens

Mythos cards often dictate special events at certain locations. These tokens are placed on those locations as a reminder that there is currently an active Mythos Card there.

Gates

Placed on the board whenever a gate opens. Each gate lists its destination along the top. A gate will show a positive or negative modifier indicating how easy or difficult it is to close. For example, if a gate shows a +1, then a player who is attempting to close the gate would choose either their fight or their lore skill, add one, and roll that many dice. A single five or six will close the gate. Gates also have a green symbol at the bottom center. When a gate is closed, monsters with a matching symbol are banished from the board. When a player closes a gate, they keep it as a "trophy" which can then be traded in for various advantages. For example, two gate trophies can be traded for an ally of your choice at Ma's Boarding House. Gate tokens cannot be placed on locations that have Elder Sign tokens on them. Also, there may not be two gate tokens at one location. If a gate is supposed to open at a location that already has one, a new gate does not open and instead a monster comes out of every gate on the board. This is called a “monster surge.”

Monsters




There are quite a few different monsters in this game. Each has a a horror modifier, horror rating, combat modifier, combat rating, toughness, evade modifier, and movement type. When investigators encounter monsters, they start combat by rolling a horror (will) check to see how frightened they are. If a player's will is 3, and a monster's horror modifier is -2, a player may only roll one die. If the roll fails, the player's sanity is reduced by the amount indicated by the monster's horror rating. After rolling a horror check, the same set of rules apply for combat. Players roll a number of dice equal to their fight skill plus any bonuses (weapons) and minus the monster's combat modifier. They must roll a number of successes equal to the monster's toughness to defeat it. If the monster is not defeated, it damages the player's stamina by the amount indicated by its combat rating.

Players may also attempt to sneak past monsters. To do so, they roll dice equal to their sneak skill minus the monster's evade rating. Each monster square has a color border that is black, red, blue, yellow, or green. These borders indicate movement types. Black monsters move only one space at a time, red move two, blue monsters are flying, yellow monsters never move, and green monsters have unique movements indicated on the monster square. When flying monsters move, they either swoop down on the nearest player in the streets, or move to "The Sky" if all players are currently at locations.

Some monsters have "resistance" or "immunity" to either magical or physical weapons. Resistance reduces the bonus afforded by a weapon by half, whereas immunity fully negates it. Particularly powerful monsters may also be "nightmarish" or "overwhelming," meaning they can still do minor sanity or stamina damage to players even when players make successful die rolls. Monsters, like gates, are kept as trophies when they are defeated and may be traded in for advantages. They also have symbols on the front bottom center that match symbols on gates / mythos cards.

Mythos Deck

A card is drawn from this deck at the end of each round. When looking at a mythos card, players resolve it in the following order:

1.) Open Gate
2.) Place Clue Token
3.) Move Monsters
4.) Read the text on the card

Mythos cards always have a black and white rectangle on the bottom right portion of the card. One or more symbols will be in both the black and the white sections. If there are any monsters that match these symbols on the board, they move (according to their type of movement) in the direction indicated either by the black or white arrows leading out of their locations.

There are three types of Mythos Cards: Headlines, Environments, and Rumors. Headlines take effect immediately and are discarded. Environments stay in effect until the next environment mythos card is draw. Rumors stay in effect until players find a way to get rid of it (if they ignore it, something bad will eventually happen and the rumor card will then be discarded). Unlike environments, current rumor cards cannot be displaced by new rumor cards.




Other Dimension Deck

These cards are drawn when players are in another dimension. Each contains text for three dimensions and is color coded to match the board.

Location (Random Encounter) Decks




There are nine random encounter decks for each region on the board. Each deck has seven cards. Cards in each deck contain text for all three locations in each part of Arkham. After moving to a location, players draw an encounter card at random and read the text for their location. The card is then shuffled back into the deck, so that seven encounters for that location are always possible any time a player draws.


Common Items

Items available for purchase at the general store. Each card describes the item's use or advantage, indicates how many hands it takes to hold/use, and lists the purchase price.


Unique Items

Items available for purchase at the curiosity shoppe. Each card describes the item's use or advantage, indicates how many hands it takes to hold/use, and lists the purchase price.


Spells

Available for purchase at the magic shoppe. Each card describes the spell's use or advantage and indicates how many hands it requires to cast. All spells cost the same amount to purchase at the magic shoppe.


Allies

Available for recruiting at Ma's Boarding House (also may join investigators as the result of random encounters). Each card describes the advantages provided by an Ally. Each time the terror level goes up in Arkham, an Ally that has not yet joined the investigators leaves town (is permanently removed from the game).


Skills

Available for purchase at the administration building (University region). Most skill cards provide a +1 bonus to one of the six skills listed on investigator sheets (sneak, speed, will, fight, lore, luck). These skills also make clue tokens twice as effective when used to roll extra dice in a relevant skill check. Other skills allow players to do things like re-roll a skill check that has failed.

Curses / Blessings

Blessings are available for purchase at the church. When players are blessed, fours count as successful die rolls in addition to fives and sixes. When a player is cursed, only sixes count as successes. Blessed/cursed players roll a die at the start of each round, and on die-rolls of one, the curse or blessing is discarded.


Retainers

Available from encounters at the Newspaper. Investigators with retainers receive two dollars at the start of each turn. After receiving the money, players roll a single die. If they roll a one, the retainer is lost.

Bank Loans

Obtainable at the bank. Players receive $10, but have a %50 of owing $1 of interest at the start of each round. If they cannot pay the interest, they must discard all items as well as the bank loan (declare bankruptcy) and may not take out additional loans for the remainder of the game.

Deputy Cards

Players may trade monster or gate tokens for the deputy position at the police station. There are three deputy cards, all of which are received by a new deputy. One is a revolver. One is a car (allows unlimited movement in Arkham). One is a $1 retainer.

Silver Twilight Lodge Memberships

Gained from encounters at the Silver Twilight Lodge. Members who have encounters there may choose to have their encounter in the Inner Sanctum (a third location in the region not shown on the board).





Quality of Components

The presentation is what makes this game. Arkham Horror is a sight to behold: there is an astonishing attention to detail and all of the various tokens and cards are sturdy and attractive. This board game probably has the highest production values of any that I've seen. Thankfully, the manufacturer cut down on costs by keeping everything 2D - there are no miniatures packed into the box, which seems to make the game about $30 cheaper than other full-fledged Fantasy Flight productions like Descent. Both the artwork and flavor text for each monster are interesting, and using cardboard squares instead of miniatures also allows unique qualities (movement type and rating, damage modifiers and ratings, toughness) to be printed on the square instead of in the rulebook or on a player aid. The rules themselves come in a large glossy rulebook with illustrations, an index, and a quick reference sheet on the back cover. Though certainly adequate, the rules could have been better organized, clearer, and more concise. Fantasy Flight Games deserves cudos for packing all these components, along with a substantial board, into such a modest box (the storage in AH makes me raise an eyebrow at my decennial edition of El Grande). Exemplary components all around.

Thoughts on the Theme

So how does the Theme 'feel' while you're playing the game? For one thing, players will certainly feel like things are going from bad to worse. Any time a gate opens, the ancient one is one step closer to waking up, and if a gate doesn't open, that usually means monsters are flooding onto the board. As the monster population grows, the three shops on the board will close one by one, and the allies available in the Ally deck will start to leave town. Once the terror level in Akham has risen a notch, there is no way to bring it back down, and if it reaches its apex, the ancient one immediately wakes up. Combat in the game is no easy affair, and should not be undertaken unless players have a better-than-average chance of victory. Random encounters will frequently go horribly wrong. Players will feel like they are fighting an uphill battle; even if you luck out and start the game with two powerful unique items, you'll still feel like the underdog for quite a while.

Going off and doing your own thing will only get you killed and keep the group squarely behind the 8-ball. To beat the odds, players have to make decisions as a team, and indeed the group-huddle, crunch-time feel of Arkham Horror shines more than any other element of the game. At first blush (which for Arkham Horror probably means two 4-hour games), the theme here is compelling.


Thoughts on the Gameplay

Unfortunately, this intense, "let's-kick-some-ass" vibe only lasts until players glimpse the details and game mechanics underneath the game's surface. After playing this game the third and fourth time (which, granted, is already a 16 hour return on my investment in the game), I felt like one of the investigators who sees something he isn't supposed to see and starts to go insane. So what did I find? Well, for one thing, I began to realize that when you draw a random encounter, there is a 50-65% chance that something bad will happen. Not might happen. Will. Your skills, equipment, and ability to make intelligent decisions are all basically forfeit when you draw an encounter card, because odds are you'll be worse off than before (and if something good happens, you'll rarely feel like you can take any credit for it). Certainly, this plays a big factor in the appreciable 'plans-gone-terribly-awry' effect I described above. But here's the problem: as an experienced player, you begin to realize that perhaps the most intelligent decision to make in Arkham Horror is not to have an encounter unless your reward is guaranteed before you draw the card. And the game lets you do this (see strategy description below).

A lot of potential role-playing is lost once you realize that there isn't point in going for a walk in the woods if you're a photographer, robbing the bank if you're a gangster, going to the boarding house if you're the salesman, etc. You can think up these decisions ad infinitum and none of them will make sense given the way the game works. The random encounter cards don't know you're an author or a magician or a psychologist. And more importantly, they don't give you room to behave as if YOU know. If you're not the role-playing type, but instead are simply curious, a time or two through the game will teach you that, no, you don't actually want to know what will happen if you go hang out at the Library. Curiosity kills the cat in this game, and the cat doesn't have a say in the matter.

By way of comparison, consider the classic encounter-based game Tales of the Arabian Nights. In that game you encounter a random category of person/creature/thing (princess, djinn, slave, ne'er-do-well, hunchback, etc.) the type of which is then randomized (cunning, powerful, wicked, insane, etc.). Based on what you've encountered, you can then choose a reaction from a matrix (rob, attack, honor, grovel, trick, court, and so forth.). Basing that choice on your skills gives you a decent shot at a desirable outcome, though the game is by no means predictable or transparent. In Arkham Horror, the simple ability to affect the outcome of a random encounter is almost non-existent. Sure, some encounters involved being attacked my monsters, and players who are equipped with powerful weapons will usually win in such situations. Most of the time, though, you'll have no such impact.

There is essentially only one practical way to win in Arkham Horror, which is to seal six gates. (If you appreciate games that provide varied paths to victory, Arkham Horror is not for you). Sealing gates requires clue tokens or elder signs. At the start of the game, a single clue token is placed on about half the locations on the board. At the end of each turn, an additional clue token may appear at a random location, and inevitably, there are often locations which have two or even three clue tokens on them. Two or three clue tokens are worth the effects of nearly any random encounter card, so as I said above, you can guarantee a suitable reward before drawing a card, treating any consequences as either a price or an unexpected and irrelevant bonus.

Furthermore, several locations on the board allow you to purchase items, clues, spells, etc. Only two of these things matter: clues and unique items. The unique items are better than the common items, so there is no incentive buy the latter. Most spells are useless (the major exception being Find Gate), so a trip to the magic shop is not likely to be worth it. To get unique items, you need money, and players gain access to money via surprisingly narrow paths. You can 'cheese the game' and follow a perfectly legal bank-loan / default strategy (though on the BGG forums, designer Kevin Wilson says this will be ruled out in the next edition of the game) or you can go to the Newspaper. That's right, the town newspaper is the primary font of wealth in Arkham. For no apparent reason, the newspaper is also the only location in Akrham where there is only a 1/7 chance that something bad will happen to you, and as bad things go in this game, it's a pretty negligible outcome. Despite all of the atmosphere and varied locations, it's hard to want to go anywhere when you know you need money, you know where to get it, and you know where to spend it, especially when tantalizing possibilities turn out to be a sham.

Want to win a game of Arkham Horror? Apply the following simple strategy. Always have someone pick up pairs and triples of clue tokens. Have everyone else get money from the newspaper and buy unique items from the curiosity shop. Always buy Elder signs first, 'King in Yellow' tombs (equivalent to 4 clue tokens) second, and weapons third. When Elder signs are purchased, hand them to the person with the least clues and send them to explore and seal a gate. When any player amasses five clue tokens, send them to send them to explore and seal a gate. In the meantime, kill all monsters of one or two toughness (should be easy with weapons from the unique item deck) so the town is not overrun. You should be able to avoid tougher / rarer monsters and they'll probably end up getting banished when gates are sealed.

The flow of events will vary from game to game, but when the above short paragraph is governing your decision process for four hours, it can be hard to stay interested, even in a game as admirably atmospheric as this one. Still, for the time being I would be willing to play this game if someone suggested it, though only infrequently, only with people who are fun to be on a team with, and preferably with a six-pack of guiness in the refrigerator. Even if your approach is, at bottom, a bit inflexible, it can still be a lot of fun to zoom up to a fellow player on a motorcyle, toss them a Sword of Glory and catch an Elder Sign in return, though keep in mind that moments like these do get old within a four-hour playing time.


Exceptional Combat

To it's credit, Arkham Horror features a notably sound combat system with lots of monster variety and a decent set of rules for moving monsters around. Defeating monsters is, in general, neither easy nor punishingly difficult. Monsters do not appear too quickly or too slowly. Because even weak monsters are often able to frighten heavily-armed investigators out of their wits, muscle alone will not be the deciding factor. Victories are often traded for minor sanity losses, which accumulate. Since monsters can, in the long run, wake up the ancient one through the presence of sheer numbers, players cannot ignore combat. Finally, losing in combat carries fairly serious consequences (loss of half of all items and clues), but players can spend a turn recharging health and a smart group usually chooses to bear losses collectively (quickly re-equiping fallen team-members). Combat is one of Arkham Horror's saving graces.

The rules for monster movement are perhaps a bit too elaborate given how infrequenly monsters move, but they do move often enough to throw up the occasional road-block or unexpectedly trap players in a certain area.



Unfulfilled Potential

To wind-up the review, let me note a few places where I think Arkham Horror has tremendous but unfulfilled potential. For one thing, there are ten decks of cards that provide players with various advantages, and only two of them are of any consequence. After playing my fourth game of Arkham Horror, I was so certain of this that I went through each deck, card by card, putting them in piles of "fun and useful," "OK / a little bland," and "totally worthless / filler." Note that when I say "bland" or "worthless" I'm not trying to imply that I'm only happy with items that make investigators uber-strong monster slayers. Rather I'm trying to say that "bland" or "worthless" items fail, in numerous potenial ways and along numerous potential lines, to add much or anything to the game.

With the major exception of spells, which are almost all in the "OK" or "Filler" category, the problem is not so much with the decks themselves as with their level of circulation in the game. Common items, for example, are not common. Usually, nearly the only ones that make it into the game (unless players buy them at the General Store, which they have no reason to do) are the ones that players begin with. They would add more to the game if encounters were constructed to include them more often as possible outcomes. Bank Loans are essentially an interesting idea with no impact on the game, unless you have all players defraud the bank, which, loophole or no, I find rather amusing. Blessings are rarely of consequence, though they are nice to have around if an unusual number of difficult monsters make it to the board in a short amount of time. Silver Twilight Lodge Memberships are of no consequence whatever, since the lodge itself is like any other location with the crippling disadvantage that clues cannot be placed on it. Becoming the deputy is fun for the heck of it but has very little impact. Allies, though another "cool idea" and somewhat useful, only come into the mid-to-late game and don't impact the basic strategy described above. The same is true of skills: you may acquire them for a slight boost in momentum, without impacting decisions or creating varied strategies. Spells (broken), Unique items (easy to buy) and Common items (unecessary) aside, you'll spend four hours looking at the other seven player-advantage decks, only drawing from them rarely.


The Final Word

Arkham Horror is a strange beast of a game. Ultimately, some fairly simple things may predispose you to like or dislike this game. It is a collaborative game, and as one of my gamer friends put it "I'm too much of a jerk to play this game" (he's not actually a jerk, he just likes to thump me at Caylus). Play times are also extraordinarily long. If you've got five hours, go for it, and hope to finish in four. Nobody likes to struggle against an incomprehensible evil for three hours and then, bleary-eyed, admit to themselves that they have to go to work bright-and-early in the morning. Arkham Horror is not necessarily slow-moving, but unless you've got a really well calibrated team of experienced players, it won't be brisk either, and something will definitely be lost if everyone is rushing ahead as quickly as possible. More than anything else, if you are someone who genuinely 'plays the theme,' or, to put it more exactly, likes to immerse yourself in a game's atmosphere with only mild concern for mechanics, than you'll love this game (provided you like long and collaborative games). If, like me, you're a fan of rich themes but can't help seeing those themes vitiated by mediocre mechanics, then this game will probably begin to rub you the wrong way.

The game contains a staggering amount of detail, but proportionately little depth. Not all games should be deep, but the time buy-in for this one is rather high for what it offers in return, and I, for one, expect a modicum of complexity when I see an abundance of detail.

Components: 10/10
Theme: 9/10
Gameplay: 6/10 (fits poorly with the long playing time)

Overall: 6/10*

*The first time I played Arkham Horror, I would have rated it an eight. The second two times, I would have rated it a seven. The fourth time (in which, incidentally, we defeated Cthulu, the most challenging ancient one), I my rating slipped to a six. I can no longer separate the game from how it plays. I might be able to if did not take four hours to play. As it stands, BGG's “6” description accurately pegs how I feel about this game: “some fun or challenge at least, will play sporadically.”

  • [+] Dice rolls
Hugh G. Rection
United States
La Mesa
California
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Wow, now that is one comprehensive review! Great job!

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This is a fantastic review, one of the best on the geek IMHO! I loved how detailed it was, yet because of the excellent organization it was very easy to read. The pictures and formatting helped a lot as well. Thanks so much for taking the time to write this up. It was very helpful.
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Great detailed review, though I disagree with some of your problems with the game. For me, AH is more about arming up, going insane, & having a laugh. Played that way (with like minded people) I find few games can beat it for sheer fun. I don't think its a game to be played with a clear, clinical strategy from the start.
The 4+ hours can soon come down to about 2-3 if played with the same familiar group (of 4-5) a few times.
You may find the Expansions add to your experience (Dunwich Horror in particular), but overall it seems like it may just not be the game for you.

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Dion wrote:
Great detailed review, though I disagree with some of your problems with the game. For me, AH is more about arming up, going insane, & having a laugh. Played that way (with like minded people) I find few games can beat it for sheer fun. I don't think its a game to be played with a clear, clinical strategy from the start. The 4+ hours can soon come down to about 2-3 if played with the same familiar group (of 4-5) a few times.
You may find the Expansions add to your experience (Dunwich Horror in particular), but overall it seems like it may just not be the game for you.



You may be right; in fact, I'm considering selling the game to a friend who is more into it than I am. He's pretty fired-up about Dunwich Horror.

I'd like to play Arkham Horror in the manner you describe, but, for me, the game doesn't seem to reward or facilitate the kind of adventuresome spirit that I'd like to bring to it. Still, I wouldn't mind taking a look at the expansions.
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Very complete review, but I will take serious issue with "the only way to win". We more often win the game by closing all the gates (and having at least as many gate trophies as players) and have succeeded in defeating the Great Old One, once he arrived, on a couple of occasions. We very rarely buy items from the shops, and certainly don't focus on it, we do it when it is the best option.

Common items can be very important, as added combat punch is often vital.

I would agree that the encounters would be more fun if there was some sort of logical way you could take them on. Some sort of location/character lookup might be interesting. I like the ratio of "bad things happening" from the encounters, however, as they are a big part of the feel of the game, and sometimes the "bad things" end up being good.

The game can get too easy, especially without the expansions, so we use some of the variants to toughen it up some.

I would agree that 3-5 is the perfect size. As my son and I are the two gamers in the house, we usually play with 2 investigators each. We play it fairly often, and my son plays it quite a bit with his friends. It is definitely the most played game at our house.
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I agree with Alan. Almost all our groups 'wins' have come about by closing all the gates. Remember the win is the instant all the gates are closed not at the end of the turn...

Closing 6 gates seems to me the hard way to do the deed.
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flapjackmachine wrote:
I agree with Alan. Almost all our groups 'wins' have come about by closing all the gates. Remember the win is the instant all the gates are closed not at the end of the turn...

Closing 6 gates seems to me the hard way to do the deed.


Thanks for your comments Robert (and Alan). So, are you saying that when you win the game using the 'close all gates' condition, you've closed less than six gates total? I'm surprised by this.

Let's say you're playing with three players. (I was when my group defeated Chtulu).

The game begins with one gate open.

Round one. Player 1 enters the gate, and a second gate opens during Mythos phase.

Round two, Player 1 is in another realm. Player two enters the new gate. A third gate opens.

Round three. Player one comes back and closes gate 1. Player two is in another realm. Player three enters gate 3. A fourth gate opens.

Round Four. Player one enters gate 4. Player 2 comes back to Arkham and closes Gate 2. Player three is in another realm. A fifth gate opens.

Round Five. Player 2 enters Gate 5. Player 3 comes back to Arkham and closes gate 3. Player 1 is in another realm. A sixth gate opens.

Round Six. Etc. Etc.

This model is simplified and ignores particulars like monsters surges and player defeat. But it in my experience, monsters surges are not likely early in the game, and if one did happen to allow players to close a gate without a new one opening, it seems just as likely that a player will be tied up in the other realms (defeated altogether, or delayed for a turn, as some of the random encounters indicate). This model also assumes that players spend no time in Arkham and always immediately go through open gates.

How many players are in your group? Can you close all of the gates with a 4-5 player group without closing six or more? My experience has been that enough things go wrong to make closing, as opposed to sealing, a riskier, less effective way to go. I've played two 5-player games, a 4-player game, and a 3-player game.

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Remember victory is SEALING six gates (well technically 6 elder signs on the board, much harder if playing with the expansion sets gate bursts) OR simply closing all open gates.

Getting all the clues or unique Elder signs to seal 6 gates (generally 30 clues) is considerably harder than getting the 20 clues and/or unique elder signs to seal four gates. Only 10 clues start on board.

Well here's an example of of a recent game:

Dexter Drake the Magician(starts in Ye Olde Magick Shoppe) just happens to start with the spell Find Gate.

The game starts with a gate open in the Woods (hmm..10 Mythos outa 67 cards are Woods gate cards so 1 in 7...not an uncommon start).

Turn one: Dexter moves to the Woods sneaking easily past the monster 'guard'(2 speed, 4 Sneak) moving through the gate. The Outer Worlds yellow 'other' encounter sends him back to Earth after a successful LUCK check. The mythos card is a Woods gate resulting in a burst and second monster, the first moving away to the street.

Turn Two: Dexter evades the monster guard, then using his 5 Lore closes the gate during the Arkham Encounters Phase. If he wasn't lucky in the outer worlds he could have also used his Find Gate spell to return on turn two's movement.

BINGO, one player victory before turn two ends.

Another example of a game a few months ago.

Again with Dexter Drake and a starting gate in the Woods (10 chances in 67 Mythos cards) plus Kate Winthrope the Scientist starting in the Science building.

Turn one: Dexter moves and sneaks through the Woods gate and survives the Outer Worlds Encounter. Kate (speed 3) moves to the Witch House and survives the Arkham Encounter with Luck 4 (luck being the MOST important skill during Arkham Encounters). The Mythos card is a Witch House Gate (10 in 66 Mythos cards) which doesn't open because of Kate's built-in flux stablilizer.

Turn two: Dexter moves and survives the Outer Worlds Encounter. Kate moves to pick up clues at the Unvisited Isle (Speed 4) again being successful during the Arkham Encounters with Luck 4. The Mythos card is a Woods Gate producing a Monster surge (woods/surge or Isle/flux cards stop making up 19 of the remaining 65 Mythos cards or 29% chance).

Turn three: Dexter moves back through the Gate while Kate travels to Independence Square (one of the four most common Gate locations). Dexter then close the Woods gate with Lore 5. A Gate opens at the Historical Society ( 2 outa 64 Mythos cards).

The following turns: Dexter goes through and closes a second gate that opens up in the Historical Society (now with two trophies) while Kate manages to lock down next 2 gate cards showing up in Independence Square with the flux stabilizer (10 out of 63 and 9 out of 62 cards).

Victory on turn 6.

A third example:

Late in a four player game, Terror level 10, 13 monsters on board, 6 gates open..all seems lost. A Blessed Dexter Drake moves to the Science Building pulls an encounter and gets the Dimensional beam machine rolling 4,5, or 6 six times in a row and closing all the open gates. Victory.

Note the common theme here (no not playing with Drake or being lucky but...). The Woods, Unvisited Isle, Independence Square, and the Witch House make up 40 of the 66 Mythos Gate cards. With Kate locking one of the locations down and the rest of the gang moving and closing the other 3 odds are pretty fair that some Monster surges are going to occur leading to a break and thus victory. Sealing any or all of the above 4 pretty much ensures victory without having to seal 6 gates.

With 6, 7, or 8 players sealing the four gate common locations then closing the odd other gate location (the other 27 out of 67 gate cards) is actually pretty easy ensuring victory with worrying about other 'seals'. It is the Rumor cards that can sometimes be a real headache for smaller groups of players.

You may be underestimating the useful Arkham encounters many of which require the LUCK skill. For example in the base game 1 in 7 Silver Twilight Lodge Inner Sanctum cards CLOSES any gate on board, another gets ANY unique item (ie. Elder Sign), another kills ANY monster on board (ie. Star Spawn or other hard to kill gate guard), a fourth gets 3 clues, of the remaining 3 'bad' encounters two only require LUCK skill or $3 to overcome and the final is a monster which could be good if one wants a monster trophy (or simply evade if too tough). Of course getting the membership is a pain (2 in 7 lodge cards). There are many other locations besides the Newspaper that are worth the 'risk' if one's LUCK is up to it. LUCK skill is generally more useful than LORE skill when facing encounters. 3 out of 7 Arkham Encounter cards in every location requires lUCK, only the very odd one requires LORE. LUCK is the most common required skill in the Outer Worlds encounters as well (well FIGHT or SNEAK needs to be up there as a close second to deal with monsters).

We usually play with a house rule for 6 or more players that victory comes after the end of the turn (ie. after the last Mythos card) making the game much harder. Most of my groups games are with 6 or more.

The most horrific game...12 investigators devoured even before the old one awoke... Note: it doesn't actually say in the rules that a player has to wait for the next turn to start a new investigator.

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flapjackmachine wrote:
Well here's an example of of a recent game:

Dexter Drake the Magician(starts in Ye Olde Magick Shoppe) just happens to start with the spell Find Gate.

The game starts with a gate open in the Woods (hmm..10 Mythos outa 67 cards are Woods gate cards so 1 in 6...not unexpected).

Turn one: Dexter moves to the Woods sneaking easily past the monster 'guard'(2 speed, 4 Sneak).

Dexter (Arkham Encounters phase) moves through the gate then activates the Find Gate spell moving back to Arkham at the gates location, finally using his 5 Lore closes the gate.

BINGO, one player victory before turn one ends.


Find Gate is a movement phase spell. You weren't in the movement phase when you went through the gate.
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Right you are, the gate closing actually occured on turn two.

Checking with my son he pointed out it was because of a 'Other' yellow Outer World Encounter card LUCK check sending Drake back on turn ONE and had nothing to do with the Find Gate spell. I guess I remembered planning to use the spell and forgot the actual game details. Damm personal Sanity loss affecting memory.

I've edited the above game example...

The point is that four Arkham locations make up the bulk of the Gate locations and that a Monster burst on turn one is slightly less than a 1 in 7 chance as a result. Certainly uncommon but not as rare in the early game as Jack M describes.

The second point is a general practical one that really only a certain four Arkham locations need to be sealed to procure victory not six. The other six possible gate locations can be closed, not sealed, without too much risk to ultimate victory.

A common strategy is to coordinate gate closing attempts to occur all at the same time. This requires some sitting and successful fighting/evading for a number of turns by some investigators.
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flapjackmachine wrote:
Right you are, the gate closing actually occured on turn two.

Checking with my son he pointed out it was because of a 'Other' yellow Outer World Encounter card LUCK check sending Drake back on turn ONE and had nothing to do with the Find Gate spell. I guess I remembered planning to use the spell and forgot the actual game details. Damm personal Sanity loss affecting memory.

I've edited the above game example...


It doesn't really sound like a real game anymore.
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Daren,


Thanks for your in-depth response. I was aware, when I posted the review, that I might raise some hackles (but hopefully just eyebrows) among the game's considerable fanbase. I'm glad to have some discussion going with somebody who rates the game an 8.


dcjackso wrote:

On a more critical point re: your approach to the game, why on earth would you go over every possible card to compute event outcome likelihood? I think I would become uninterested in AH if I carefully went over all possible location cards, computing % likelihood of good/neutral/bad events; similarly I haven't looked through all the item/spell/skill cards in my spare time--isn't part of the point to explore Arkham?


I don't, in fact, want to go over the game and compute every possible likelihood. Just as your group noticed that Independence Square was "a particularly haunted place" after playing for a while, it was only after four times through the game that I could say, with confidence, that the newspaper was a particularly forgiving place. When I started to write this review, I decided to go check and see how forgiving it was. I then rifled through other decks for comparison. I know that's sacrilege in a random encounter game (I've never looked through the Book of Tales in "Tales of the Arabian Nights" in the years that I have owned it), but as I said in my review, Arkham Horror pretty much killed my curiosity. Also, looking through the encounter decks didn't spoil much for me because I'd already seen most of the encounters during play. Just for the record, If I played with your game group, I wouldn't be able to tell anyone anything about ratios, percentages, or probabilities, with the exception of the newspaper. My main point here is that I completely agree with you that a big part of the fun in “experience” games is discovering what the game has to offer as you play. Had I been enjoying myself more, it would never have occurred to me to rifle through the game trying to get a handle on what was bothering me.


dcjackso wrote:

re: your strategy for winning, sure, it's fine, assuming everything goes your way, which it never does.


It's a reliable winning strategy, not one that prevents bad things from happening to players. Things go wrong in Arkham Horror all the time, as I noted in my review.


dcjackso wrote:

BTW, how do you have so much money that you can shop for every unique item that you need, when you have to buy *something* each time you use this option is lieu of having a location encounter?


You may be slightly overestimating the speed with which my group is acquiring unique items..., or underestimating how much money 5 retainers adds to the game. Either way, when I listed off purchasing priorities, I did not mean to imply that players should sit around leeching all elder signs, kings in yellow, and weapons from the deck and then set forth to beat the game all at once. As soon as anyone is able to seal a gate, they go through it, and in the meantime of course they're accruing money until they lose their retainer. There may be a larger misunderstanding here. In the paragraph in question, I was not suggesting that readers should go out and apply the strategy described. Rather, I was attempting to express how irritating it is, to me anyway, once you realize that you can.


dcjackso wrote:

And if you are going through gates so quickly at the beginning of the game, how do you have time to window-shop in Arkham at all?


Is this in response to my review or my reply to Robert? The answers are “I'm not,” so “I do.”


dcjackso wrote:

Also re: your strategy, it can be tricky when you are also trying to keep the Dunwich Horror from emerging, trying to balance the gate/monster ratio (sometimes it's a blessing when monsters surge--at least the terror track stays the same...) Good luck sealing 6 gates, as stated earlier, at least with the first two expansions in play.


Well..., as I say at the end of my review, I haven't played with the expansions. (??).


dcjackso wrote:

A few other points: you complain that mostly bad things happen during encounters. You remember that this is Arkham, right?


You remember that I acknowledge this, right? In my review, I try to give credit for the “bad to worse” vibe that the game creates but also explain, in detail, what I think is lacking about the random encounters.


dcjackso wrote:

Also, to state that common items are useless is silly. Although many creatures are physically resistant or immune to common items, many aren't; I typically fare better against monsters, on average, when I have a gun and my handy pair of brass knuckles.


I typically fare better than you do, because I buy unique items instead.


dcjackso wrote:

I do applaud your review in terms of writing style and completeness. Well-done! Although maybe a good title would be "AH for bean-counters..."


Ouch, and I thought my title was so clever! laugh Seriously, though, I must protest that I'm not a bean-counter. I like a wide range of games in different genres and of varying complexity. However, I believe that any game's mechanics encourage players to probe, explore, and mold their gameplay in ways that the game fosters. As I said in an earlier reply to another user, I would like to bring an adventuresome spirit to the game, but when I do I end up feeling like I'm going against the grain. My review is in no way intended to criticize Arkham Horror for being the wrong kind of game. On the contrary, I think that, as an experience game, it could be better.


dcjackso wrote:

Like most "experience" games, the players bring (or leave behind) much of the appeal of the game. Our group does try to bring out the RPG aspect of AH, at least a bit. Usually this takes the form of really emphasizing the utter horror of nearly everything that happens in Arkham...


I'm all for this.

dcjackso wrote:
...combined with not "cheesing the game," as you put it.


If this refers to the bank-defraud loophole (which it should, since that's where I use the phrase “cheese the game”), then I must observe that there is enormous potential for narrative creativity when everyone decides to rip-off the Bank of Arkham, whether or not it's a hilariously over-powered and obviously overlooked move.

dcjackso wrote:

Re-reading that last paragraph, I wonder if our disagreements our based simply on different approaches to this game (or "experience" gaming in general): wanting to win by studying the cards and memorizing "facts" to which your character would certainly not be privy (an odd tactic, BTW, given your complaints of the lack of RPG specificity in location encounters), vs. playing to have a good, scary time.


I can see how this might not have been clear in my original review, but let me just say that winning games isn't particularly important to me (I'm known in my group for having a blast while losing), and that I don't study cards or memorize facts to do so. My goal in looking at the cards in AH was not future victory, it was clarifying my sense of frustration and writing this review.

I'm not sure exactly what you're saying at the end there... but I approached AH wanting to have “a good, scary time,” and after 16 hours of having a “mediocre, scary time,” I decided to write this review. My heart was in the right place, I swear.

dcjackso wrote:

Thanks for the review.


Thanks for reading it!

Jack
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Dion wrote:
Great detailed review, though I disagree with some of your problems with the game. For me, AH is more about arming up, going insane, & having a laugh. Played that way (with like minded people) I find few games can beat it for sheer fun. I don't think its a game to be played with a clear, clinical strategy from the start.
The 4+ hours can soon come down to about 2-3 if played with the same familiar group (of 4-5) a few times.
You may find the Expansions add to your experience (Dunwich Horror in particular), but overall it seems like it may just not be the game for you.



Kudos for the very thorough review! Even though I've played AH about 10 times the review gave me some new perspectives on locations and cards.

I often play AH with Dion and 2-3 other gamers. I agree with Dion that AH's success heavily depends on the group's spirit more than any other game I've played. If you have the right group then losing badly against the GOO can still be a lot of fun, although inept player choices can sometimes be frustrating for other players.

For me, AH fills a niche for gamers that want to spend 2-3 hours on working together against an emerging set of random events. I wouldn't take AH to a group of committed eurogamers or wargamers, although it might generally appeal to RPGers.

Having said all this, I agree with the original reviewer's point that there are a lot of locations that seem to be consistently avoided in most of the games I've played. Also, there is a surfeit of spells and common items of low value, and most of the missions don't really seem to be worth achieving either. These items only appear to be useful as ballast when fighting a Rat-thing!

However, I think that the original review underrated the value of the Silver Twighlight Lodge's, particularly to the Reformed Cultist. Also some spells (find gate) and common items (flamethrower) are useful, though, and not all unique items are useful. However, not everything found has value is part of AH's appeal and adds to its replayability.
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Great review... though I disagree with it. 10/10 for me - Arkham is one of my absolute favorite games.
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Great review... after reading it (before finishing actually) it occurred to me that you might be able to suggest a set of house rules to tweak the game to get it the way you like. One place to start would be to suggest a large amount of cards to eliminate from the decks?
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Excellent review even if i disagree with your conclusions.
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Unicorniclops wrote:
Excellent review even if i disagree with your conclusions.


Glad to know people are still reading it.
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I'll give you a thumbs up just because you didn't spell it "loosing."

Seriously, though -- great review.
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Com-pre-hen-sive

Good work.

Your review takes almost as long to read as the game does to play.
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JonJacob wrote:
Your review takes almost as long to read as the game does to play.


It took longer to write.

Although maybe a 7-8 player game would take longer. zombie
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Probably a bit late for this but, well, the review is still on the first page, so...

You mention multiple times in your review that the AO wakes up right away when the terror track reaches the maximum. This is wrong. What actually happens is that the normal monster limit is doubled, and when that amount is reached, then the AO wakes up. If the terror track would be raised again (with a Mythos card or whatever), the doom track raises instead.
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uXses wrote:
Probably a bit late for this but, well, the review is still on the first page, so...

You mention multiple times in your review that the AO wakes up right away when the terror track reaches the maximum. This is wrong. What actually happens is that the normal monster limit is doubled, and when that amount is reached, then the AO wakes up. If the terror track would be raised again (with a Mythos card or whatever), the doom track raises instead.


It's possible this was an error on my part, although it's hard to know exactly what happened since the rulebook I was working with over three years ago is not the fully updated edition currently available on FFG's website. Regardless, I'll edit the review to reflect the current rules on the terror track. The great old one does not awake instantaneously, but instead each increase in the terror level above 10 adds one to the GOO's doom-track. As for the monster limit, the current rules contain this wording:

Quote:
If the terror level reaches 10, the town of Arkham is
overrun by monsters and the monster limit is completely
removed from the game. There is no longer any limit on
the number of monsters that can rampage through town.



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I had to look for it, but there's also this:

Under 'The Ancient One Awakens!':

Quote:

5. Terror Level 10 and Too Many Monsters

The Ancient One also awakens if the terror level has reached 10 and there are monsters in play equal to twice the normal monster limit (for example, 16 monsters in a five-player game).
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