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Subject: Lovecraft Ameritrashed rss

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Albatros
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In the mid-1980s, my friends and I played a lot of the RPG, Call of Cthulhu (1st Edition). In the spirit of Lovecraft's novels, the adventures usually centered around sleepy little villages with horrible secrets. The investigators did a lot of investigating, a lot of sneaking around, reading dusty old tomes and trying to maintain their sanity. They quickly learned that open confrontations with Lovecraft's monsters usually went bad and victory could only come through thoroughly understanding what they were up against.

I bought Arkham Horror knowing that while it was based on Lovecraft's novels, it was going to play more like a Hollywood horror movie than a Gothic novel. The game had been on my "radar" for some time; my gaming buddy was also a fan of Lovecraft and though he often talked about buying Arkham Horror, he never did pick it up. After my wife indicated that she wanted to try a cooperative game, I finally gave in and purchased it myself.

What I received was a heavy box full of cardboard counters and cards; and one very large game board. All professionally illustrated and with text that was well written and well proofed. The one thing I dislike about the counters though, is the "linen" finish. After 20 some games that I've played, they are wearing on the edges. On the other hand, the cards are holding up very well even without sleeves.

Since returning to board gaming a few years ago, the bulk of my games have been Euros. So, no surprise, Arkham Horror plays like no other game that I own. Players take the role of a single investigator (although in some case, a solo player or two players might take multiple roles). Each investigator starts the game with some basic equipment (guns, magical artifacts, or spells) and each has some special ability and skills.


An investigator. Photo by Nodens77.

As a character, each player wanders the streets and locations of Arkham searching for clues about a "Great Old One" whom is slumbering somewhere in another dimension. For the most part, these clues are easy to find; they're just sitting at a location. Others can be found through "events" as read from location cards. The main function of these clues is to close gates to the other worlds as the closing of these gates ensures the Great Old One doesn't wake up.


A clue token and an Elder Sign. Photo by Nodens77.

Clues also act as a "second" chance when a player's die rolling goes bad - sacrificing a clue will give a free roll. To use a clue for a reroll or save it for closing gates is one of the more important decisions to make in the game.

Of course, where the investigators wander is also an important decision. Every location in Arkham has some special function - some like the hospital and asylum are obvious (they restore physical and mental health). Others are less obvious but can be gleaned from the icons at that location. For example, a location with a clue icon is more likely to have events that result in the investigator receiving clue tokens, a location with a common item icon is more likely to have, well, common items. When an investigator is in a location, the player reads an event card associated with that location and follows the instructions on the card - sometimes the investigator has a choice as to attempt an action or not, sometimes the event happens and the investigator just has to take his/her lumps.


An investigator at Arkham Asylum. Photo by Nodens77.

A lot of the time, dice rolling is required at this point and the player must roll a 5 or 6 on at least one die to succeed at whatever he/she is doing. The number of dice rolled is dependent on a number of factors including special equipment (often weapons) but almost always it's based on the skill level of the investigator. This skill level has a minimum and maximum range and is paired with another such that when one is high, the other is low: for example, SPEED and SNEAK are paired. So if you want to be fast, you can't be sneaky. The other pairings are FIGHT and WILL, and LUCK and LORE.

At the start of each turn, the player can shift their slider for each of the three pairings, but only up to their maximum "focus". This setting of the sliders can be one of the more important decisions of a turn and can often determine whether an investigator has any chance fighting or evading a monster or whether they will end up in the hospital or insane asylum.

Usually random "monsters" lurking in the locations or parading down the streets of Arkham are the main reason an investigator ends up at St. Mary's Hospital or the Arkham Asylum. Monsters in Arkham Horror range from cultists and maniacs to "common" ghouls and zombies to truly Lovecraftian delights like "Dark Young" and "Migo". Some can drive an investigator insane, some can rough them up. Some can banish them to the netherworlds and some can take/destroy their items. For the most part though, monsters can be defeated or evaded; it's very rare for an investigator to find himself/herself in a truly doomed fight - although it does happen. It's rare simply because most encounters with monsters are initiated by the player and not the other way round.


Monster bag w/monsters made by my wife.

Combat usually consists of two phases, the first is mental - can the investigator stay sane in the face of the monster? The second is physical - still sane, can the investigator defeat the monster? The irony here is that the slider that determines the investigator's WILL to resist insanity is inverse to his ability to FIGHT physically. While it makes for an interesting decision as to where to put the FIGHT/WILL slider, it's a bit gimicky because you'd think that if you were mentally focused to fight, you'd be just as mentally focused to face your opponent no matter how horrible it just happens to be.

Anyway, in most cases, if you defeat the monster, you get to keep the monster's counter (as a "monster trophy"). These trophies can be traded in a certain locations for money, clues, "blessings", or allys. How you drag a "Gug" around the streets, however, is beyond me? And why the police don't arrest you for murdering cultists and maniacs - this sort of disregard for the law would never have happened in Call of Cthulhu.

Monsters are usually spawn from gates. Gates appear during the "mythos phase"; the last phase of a turn. A "mythos" card is read and the results applied - almost always this includes the opening of a gate at a location, the addition of a clue token at another location (if there is no gate there) and some other (usually) minor event. Gates can only be closed after investigators enter them and survive a couple encounters in them. If enough gates are closed and sealed, the Great Old One doesn't awake and the investigators live happily ever after. If too many gates open, the Great Old One awakes and the investigators usually end up devoured by it in one last hopeless fight. For the most part, my gaming group ditch the Hollywood finale; if the Great Old One wakes, it's game over.


Devoured by Azathoth...again.

In addition to the base game of Arkham Horror, there are now over a half dozen add-ons. I own two. The great thing about the add-ons is that you can really pick and chose what parts to use and what not to use. For example, I like using "Blight" in Arkham Horror: The King in Yellow Expansion; it increases the difficulty of the game as the game goes along; but I hate the "Act" cards. Who wants to lose because simply because the "Third Act" appears at random from the deck? (Yes, I'm simplifying the effects of the Act cards, since really it's about mitigating the risk of the Act cards when they do appear). Of course, the add-ons increase the complexity of the game and, more often than not, the difficulty of the game so I'm not sure I'd want to use more than one or two at any time. There are also a ton of unofficial add-ons for this game which I've barely begun to examine.

My impressions of Arkham Horror? In spite of it being my most played game since I started tracking plays, it's not the game I want to play when someone suggests a board game. In fact, more than anything I play it because my wife and our friend enjoy it. Personally, I do not find the tension builds that much in the game as the gates open up and the Great Old One starts to wake from its slumber. Often our wins (and our loses) feel completely anti-climatic; and I just don't care either way. In one game, I distinctly remember it dragging on and on; it felt like we were going in circles and we'd never win and never lose. It all felt very hopeless and for the first time, ironically, I felt a bit of a Lovecraftian theme happening. But "hopelessness" is not an emotion that I really want to feel playing a board game.

I like the decision making and problem solving that happens in the game; the cooperative aspect of agreeing on who does what and when. Although, for a cooperative game, it drives me nuts that players can't move together and fight together. Doesn't the box art of the game show a group of investigators combating one monster from their seats in a car?!? Talk about misleading advertising.

Also, for a cooperative game, it plays better with less people. I prefer it with three or, at most, four players. Any more, and the game just bogs down too much for me and for my wife - who has no absolutely no patience for people with analysis paralysis.

Now that we know the game better, I also appreciate that the game is about playing the probabilities; which locations are more likely to have gates open than others (so close them first to stop monster swarms). Which gates being closed will result in which monsters being banished back to the monster bag. Which locations are more likely to have events that result in money or clues or items. It's also about having a laugh or two thanks to the little absurdities that sometimes develop - like when the Merchant District is closed for a parade and it just so happens that a giant "D'hole" is trundling down the same streets. Do the parade watchers think he's a mechanical monster float?!?

All in all, I've learned not to take the game too seriously. It's not Lovecraft, it's Ameritrash. The sense of dread is not internalized, it's externalized by a track and some chits. The monsters don't lurk in dark corners of your mind, they trundle up and down the streets. The police don't care if you murder the townsfolk so neither should you. So get out your tommy gun and your copy of the Necronomicon and start wasting the cultists and their gate-spawn today.

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Nate Dray
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Nice. I love this game. But when I explain it to people I tell them it isn't based on Lovecraft . . . it's based on Chaosium's (COC RPG) interpretation of Lovecraft. A purist Lovecraft fan (without a sense of humor) will most likely be disappointed by the game.
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Paul Franklin-Bihary
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I don't agree that 'Ameritrash' is the best denotation for this game. It is much too complex and has far too little plastic to be part of that grouping.

That said, it is not hardcore Lovecraft by any means. It pulls locations and names and ideas from his work, but doesn't reproduce the stories directly at all.

It IS an incredibly replay-able, fun and expandable game. It's funny...you say you came to it from the world of Eurogames...I think it has a lot more in common with Euros than Ameritrash.

To each their own...
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Bern Harkins
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I'm no expert on what differentiates Euros and Ameritrash, but I thought it chiefly was a matter of design philosophy... and bits.

Euros end at a specified point, and victory points are counted. Ameritrash has victory conditions. Arkham Horror has victory conditions.

Euros seek mechanical elegance, with "theme" being an afterthought. Ameritrash starts with the theme, and constructs (often cumbersome) mechanics to simulate, or at least suggest, that theme. Also, special case rules related to theme, called "chrome", abound. Arkham is clunky and chromey. (Clunky chromey deliciousness imho, but clunky, and chromey).

Euros have been closing the bits gap in recent years, but its still an Ameritrash signifier.. and Arkham has got bits, oh yes, plastic or not.

I've also heard it argued that cooperative games are inherently more Euro, but since Arkham was cooperative even in its first edition decades ago, I have to reject this.

Very nice review, clear and complete, thank you.
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Liam Liam
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Good review.

P Low wrote:
The sense of dread is not internalized, it's externalized by a track and some chits.


I think this is a wonderful sentence and my experience tallies with your own.

Additionally I would agree with your Ameritrash categorisation.
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Ernest Chua
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Lowengrin wrote:
If too many gates open, the Great Old One awakes and the investigators usually end up devoured by it in one last hopeless fight. For the most part, my gaming group ditch the Hollywood finale; if the Great Old One wakes, it's game over.


Appreciating your other views, how do you reconcile GOO awake = players lose with the fact that the GOO are different enough such that their different 'abilities' actually impacts game play?
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Albatros
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smaug007 wrote:
...how do you reconcile GOO awake = players lose with the fact that the GOO are different enough such that their different 'abilities' actually impacts game play?

Each GOO has different abilities both during its slumber and when it's awake. When we decide which GOO we are going to confront (and, no, we don't take one at random), we take its "slumbering" abilities into account. There are some like "Yig" where it's almost certain to end in a final battle so we don't ever play with them.

The reasons we don't (usually) play out the final battle are two fold. One, it makes the end just a big dice fest. Two, we found that GOO's like "Yig", we would just prepare for the final battle and not even try to keep him from waking. As mere mortals, how should we know from the outset, what we would need to defeat a GOO? That is one of the better things about the Dunwich Horror, you're never sure what "his" abilities will be until he appears.
 
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Ernest Chua
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Fair enough. I've only played the base game, so have only read about but not experienced the effect that the expansions give. Each to their own-I don't mind the occasional dice fest (when I play Arkham, I consciously take it into account).
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Patrick
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monkeyhandz wrote:
Good review.

P Low wrote:
The sense of dread is not internalized, it's externalized by a track and some chits.


I think this is a wonderful sentence and my experience tallies with your own.

Additionally I would agree with your Ameritrash categorisation.

Its ok. We don't mind being told we play Ameritrash. :-D We tend to embrace such attempts at insults. hehe.
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Ethan Van Vorst
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Radulla wrote:

I'm no expert on what differentiates Euros and Ameritrash, but I thought it chiefly was a matter of design philosophy... and bits.

Euros end at a specified point, and victory points are counted. Ameritrash has victory conditions. Arkham Horror has victory conditions.

Euros seek mechanical elegance, with "theme" being an afterthought. Ameritrash starts with the theme, and constructs (often cumbersome) mechanics to simulate, or at least suggest, that theme. Also, special case rules related to theme, called "chrome", abound. Arkham is clunky and chromey. (Clunky chromey deliciousness imho, but clunky, and chromey).

Euros have been closing the bits gap in recent years, but its still an Ameritrash signifier.. and Arkham has got bits, oh yes, plastic or not.

I've also heard it argued that cooperative games are inherently more Euro, but since Arkham was cooperative even in its first edition decades ago, I have to reject this.

Very nice review, clear and complete, thank you.


Good observations! I've been struggling with trying to quantify the two groups, and the closest comparison I can find seems to be this.

Euro fans are like engine mechanics. They love the clean design of a properly operating motor, admire the way the pistons move in concert with each other, and enjoy the precision performance the machine provides. This is their millieu. Of course in order for the machine to have any use you have to attach a body to it, which we'll call Theme. Theme is not so important as how beautifully the mechanical parts and gears are working together, producing a simple, aestheticly pleasing, and finely tuned experience. A Porsche doesn't need a 5 hour trip to demonstrate its capability, either, since the job can easily be done in less than an hour. You can squeeze in lots of trips the Euro way. Euro Motto: "Finely tuned = fun"

AT fans don't know the engine mechanics so well. They just love to climb in the car and go sightseeing, be it in a Porsche or a Pinto. They understand that the engine is important only in that it provides power to transport them across the landscape. Ironically they love to have a pretty chassis and sometimes that lures them more than the performance of the engine. That landscape, boy, it's like escaping to another world and it's just enjoyable to cruise around and see all the sights, and that's the draw here. And sometimes the longer the trip the better. AT Motto: "The journey is the most important thing"

Well, that's the best I can come up with, although I think I'm hitting pretty close to the mark. Personally I've only had small exposure to Euro's, and they're nice, but it's the theme that I want to dive into when it comes to boardgaming. At least so I've discovered since I joined BGG a couple of years ago.
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Nate Dray
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It ain't AH without random GOO. We remove recently encountered defeated/lame GOO from the draw mix.
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Nate Dray
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Euro is chess. Elegant. Symmetrical. Beauty. Ameritrash is aggression, Murphy's Law and desperation. Much like real life. IMHO.
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Nate Dray
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Meticulously researched historical simulations aren't Euro, but may be included in the Ameritrash category. Look at the games designed by graduate studenst of King's College London's MA in Strategic studies. Ameritrash. I mean, I guess they are by the standards I hear all over the place. Abstraction is minimal. Luck is the law, though random they are not.
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pippinite wrote:
It ain't AH without random GOO. We remove recently encountered defeated/lame GOO from the draw mix.


Random GOO and random investigators are the only ways to go cool . Cherry-picking is for, well, sissies .
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Patrick
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pippinite wrote:
Euro is chess. Elegant. Symmetrical. Beauty. Ameritrash is aggression, Murphy's Law and desperation. Much like real life. IMHO.

That is exactly why I love Ameritrast games. The best laid plans of mice and men....
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Bern Harkins
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Dam the Man wrote:


Random GOO and random investigators are the only ways to go cool . Cherry-picking is for, well, sissies .


Our group includes a sissy. He does not, nor would he ever condone non-random assignation of Investigators or of the GOO.

He is, admittedly, a rather fierce sissy...
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Rauli Kettunen
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Of course, the level of sissiness depends on which investigator s/he is picking. If it's Joe/Patrice/Mandy/Wendy each and every time shake . If forced to pick, I'd be picking Trish or Mary. But I can't stand playing the same investigator (or same deck in card games) two games in a row, so I do use a mulligan rule and redraw any investigator that was used in the previous game (which gives decent turnout, playing solo with 4-investigators).
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Appears my little Arkham Horror group are all sissies. We always chose our characters as we don't want random chance dictate what strategy we'd like to play on any given night. For example, if I feel I'd rather sneak around and gain clue tokens and jump through gates, I'll chose one character. If I want to rumble with the monsters, I'll chose another.

So, when it's all said and done, I'm happy being a sissy. shake
 
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Rauli Kettunen
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Lowengrin wrote:
as we don't want random chance dictate what strategy we'd like to play on any given night.


Randomness in AH, heaven forbid ! As for strategy, game already dictates that for me, goal is to seal 6 gates ASAP (if the chance arises, close all gates). Thus, focus is solely on getting 5 Clues, then sealing, anything else (monsters mainly) is just distractions to be skirted around, not confronted or bothered with. Hence, regardless of which investigators one gets, each one of them works in that framework. Random investigators sometimes adds difficulty (total clues between 4 investigators: 0-1 laugh especially with Hastur as GOO), sometimes makes things easy (Patrice + Mandy in a game yuk ), but any combination of investigators can win. Trick for me is getting to the finish line, even with a group of utter crap (Amanda, Dexter, George, Vincent would be my all-time "Worst Team Ever"). But it's a challenge to make the most of what you get, less difficult when you cherry-pick your tools.
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Lowengrin wrote:

It's not Lovecraft, it's Ameritrash. The sense of dread is not internalized, it's externalized by a track and some chits. The monsters don't lurk in dark corners of your mind, they trundle up and down the streets.


I think I understand what you mean but that's too hard on a boardgame.

Lovecraft texts are about lurking fears that grow as the story unfolds.
But the action is secondary to a mental build up of utter fear and then pure shock and despair, increasing with the actual knowledge of what is undercover. That should be best left undisturbed.
Now asking a boardgame to convey those feelings while you are comfortably in your living room tossing dice with friends, that's very hard. And in fact depends much on what you are emotionality willing to invest on the theme.

I think this game could be better, true:

- Less aberrations strolling over Arkham.
If you need fights to spice things a bit playwise add more cultists and fanatics, less core spawn.

- While in the Out World you could let the true monsters get loose, beucause in the realm od dreams anything is possible, but there the risk should be your sanity, not primarily your health.

- What you are should influence more where you go and what you find.

- The player, like in most novels, should succumb to faltering sanity and allowed to end in plain utter madness: that would be the true epic endgame.
Sometimes even die.
But being devoured is not the way of Lovecraft.

- The terror level should increase less because of action in the streets, more because Clues. That is, increasing the knowledge should correlate with sanity loss.

- Finally obvious scalability problems should be addressed like when playing a single investigator (Rumors always come to mind).

Therefore a much better game for me would be had by increasing the starting levels of sanity and stamina, but let those wear down.
Typical end game should be losing your mind - literally - not some anti-climatic gastronomic extravaganza.

This said and for a boardgame the work done was excellent and AH does merit its popularity and success. No, not just 'any-trash', there is enough quality wrapped inside.







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