Summer grasses / All that remains / Of soldiers' dreams. - Basho.
We played two games last night. Four of us had played the game at least twice before. One was familiar neither with the game nor the Mythos.
Arkham Horror is a game not to be approached lightly. In addition, if you have players who are not in the mood to play (as I suspect we did last night), do not, under any circumstances, try to force them to play. The game requires you to keep a brisk pace and make quick decisions on your turn or it slows into the morass of dullness that any North American-style boardgame can fall into (too many rules, too many exceptions, too many things decided by die-roll).
I fear that I dragged people into a game they didn't enjoy last night, which is my personal anathema for a game evening.
Arkham Horror is a game where a single card draw (especially some of the mythos cards like "Good Work Undone" or some of the more powerful Great Old Ones, like Hastur or Cthulu) can turn what is usually a challenging game into a brutal one. This makes it difficult to justify the hour or two you might have already invested in playing being turned upside down by random chance. This, coupled with poor dice rolling, can make a gaming session singularly unfun.
I have had lots of fun with Arkham Horror in the past. Last night was average enjoyment for me, but from the reactions of some other players, terminally boring or frustrating for others.
I think I have learned a few things about Arkham Horror after one solo play and five multi-player plays.
1. Only play Arkham Horror when everyone is in the mood to play.
2. Only play Arkham Horror when you have a solid block of 3-4 hours in which to play it. Do not attempt to squeeze in a game if you will run out of time. You cannot finish a game in under two hours unless you are really lucky or have very few players (who are also game veterans). You can (we have, anyway) finish it in two and a half hours, but you have to be lucky and have people who've played before. I should have not tried to play the second round last night with only one and a half hours remaining. I realize now as I write this that when I made the decision to play the second game, I made a critical math error. We usually stop at 11, and it was 9:30 when we finished the first game and started the second. Somehow that made 2.5 hours in my defectively quick mental math.
3. The gate/other world exploration mechanic can be big drag on the game and should probably have been differently developed. You have two (and sometimes, with a number of cards that delay you in the other world, three or more) turns where you make virtually no decisions and random, mostly bad things happen to you in which your only reaction is to roll dice (this is especially bad if you were sucked in unprepared (no clue and no elder sign) and the experience will be for nought). One unfortunate player was stuck in Celeano for four encounters (!) as a result of two trap-type encounters last night. Coupled with the fact that gates are usually opening at a rate where you will lose in six (at minimum) to eight (average) turns (in a five player game) if you don't close a gate almost immediately, you will lose. The amount of time spent in other worlds seems overly much - given the few options available to the player. I actually remembered a rule incorrectly for the first few gate encounters - we should get sucked into the other world where we then have a other world encounter on the same turn, instead of waiting until the next turn. This made an important difference in our first run through last night, and I should have caught the mistake earlier. I believe it affected two gate exploration attempts. The effect of having no decisions to make and simply watching as things happen to you in a game (as can happen in the Other Worlds) is a "locked on auto-pilot" feeling that is the exact opposite of enjoyable gaming. I will have to think of other games where this occurs, because it is not exclusive to Arkham Horror.
4. The FAQ version of monster introduction rate (two monsters per gate with five or more investigators, and monster surges of monsters = # of investigators or number of gates, whichever is higher) should only be used with experienced players for a greater challenge. It seemed overly challenging with four experienced players and one rookie last night.
5. I propose that one possible aid to play is the ability to trade clues. Aside from a game mechanic point of view, I don't see why (thematically) investigators wouldn't trade clues. In fact, thematically, they SHOULD trade clues. If you cannot close/seal a gate unless you explore it, if you are sucked through a gate and no one has elder signs to trade, you are stuck with the option of closing the gate only. Another alternative is that you can close a gate with clues or elder signs if at least one investigator in the space has an explored marker. I don't know; this might make the game too easy.
Coming away from these games, I still feel like I want to play again. Oh, I forgot to mention - we were all devoured by Cthulu in the first game (lost by a long shot - we didn't have a chance), but we made decent headway in the second against Hastur before we ran out of time. I feel that with many repeated plays, you might get a situation in which you feel you've explored all possibilities, but I definitely haven't reached that level yet after six games. I almost feel like I want to play this game two or three times in a row with a dedicated group of players to fully appreciate it, but I don't think that will happen with this group. In my opinion, Arkham Horror requires either dedicated North American-style game afficianados or Cthulu-mythos fans (or combinations thereof) to be a frequently revisited game. Our gaming group does not match this description (three Mythos fans, one of which is a North American-style game fan, so only 60% of the group)
As a final side note, I find it interesting to note that the two players who appeared least enthused about the game were also the ones most distracted by comparisons of which illustrations had the sexiest women (Jenny Barnes, "cleavage girl" (forgotten her name) and the Witch) and also happened to be the youngest players (well, still well over 25, but...). Low attention-span blipheads! Can't you see the importance of focusing your attention on a board game based on the lunatic/paranoid writings of a semi-racist New Englander* for three hours? I blame MTV. Kids today... *mutter mutter grumble*
* Yes, yes, I know. His views on miscegenation and racial purity changed over his lifespan, and toward the end of his life he had changed many of his viewpoints. Doesn't change the fact that a lot of his early work was undoubtably racially prejudiced.
- Last edited Thu Jul 27, 2006 3:55 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Thu Jul 27, 2006 3:53 pm
Yeah, I think you're completely right. I don't bring out Arkham Horror for my regular game group because, honestly, I think it's the sort of game that mainly former role-players will find fun. Compared to a role-playing game, it's short and simple, but still sort of scratches the itch to fiddle with character sheets and make combat rolls and trade items and that sort of thing. I could see it being pretty painfull for people who don't buy into the idea of a cooperative gaming from the start.
So true. Our first game went for three plus hours before we packed it in, completely frustrated by the experience. Of course, it didn't help that we were closing but not sealing gates and so spending an inordinate amount of time on the Other Worlds.
In my experience, to have a good time all players must:
1- admire or at least be familiar with Lovecraft's writing or the Call of Cthulhu RPG.
2- be highly tolerant of fiddly, exception-filled, and complex game play.
3- have at least three hours set aside just to game (no distractions).
4- be willing to play cooperatively and not just randomly move their investigator around "exploring."
5- be willing to play the game even when all seems lost without poor sportsmanship.
6- totally be in the mood for meeting up with hideous, nameless things from beyond.
Sadly, if even one of these criteria are not fulfilled by all players, then a fun time becomes ever harder to grasp. In my case this usually mean solitaire play...
One big mistake I've made repeatedly with Arkham Horror is to treat it as a "social" game, you know, a game you can play at a party while all sorts of drinkin' and carryin' on happens all around. AH is not in any way a social game; it is a solitary practice that ultimately leads to madness (just like that other solitary practice)...