Andrew Uchenick
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Fantasy Flight Games is one of my favorite game publishers. Their games are a pleasure to look at and hold, they're about as thematic as you can get, and every time I look at a new one, I feel an instant urge to immediately purchase it.

When Arkham Horror was released in 2005, I couldn't wait. I've always enjoyed the stories of H.P. Lovecraft, and the idea of a desperate attempt at survival against an Ancient One sounded like the best board game ever. I immediately drove an hour from my little college apartment to the closest game store, and purchased a copy. I tore it open, dove into the rules, and tried to get my girlfriend, who had been playing a lot of Runebound (First Edition) with me, to play it...

We didn't get very far.

Like one of Lovecraft's protagonists, when you get into Arkham Horror, you too are burdened with an unspeakable knowledge; that somewhere in this mess of rules, cards, and a sprawl of a setup is a game that you want to like. It calls out to you in the middle of the night, "Set me up! Shuffle 12 decks of cards! Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!" But every time you do, a little piece of your grip on reality slips away.

Arkham Horror currently lives in a shelf my closet, taunting me, like a cardboard Necromicon. When I open up the closet to get a jacket, I hear its tormented whispers, just begging me to spend an hour setting up cards and piles of tokens. But I'm strong, and I resist the call, because I've got things to do and need the table to eat dinner on eventually.

I thought that FFG's Arkham games just weren't for me. They're too arcane, they take too long, they require too much effort for not enough payoff, and despite being playable solo, I just never felt like spending the time doing it.

Fast forward to 2015, and I joined the 1 Player guild, and while browsing their monthly GeekLists, I kept seeing Elder Sign appear. Immediately, I was interested. Gates opening across the city of Arkham? Gathering equipment, slaying monsters, saving the town to stave off invasion of a terrible ancient deity?! 60 to 90 minute playtime?!?

I immediately purchased a copy of Elder Sign and its expansion, Gates of Arkham, and I couldn't be happier that I did.

OVERVIEW

If you're here, you probably know how Elder Sign works, so I'll go over what's new. Of course, there are new investigators, equipment cards, monsters, and Ancient Ones. But what really makes this tick, and turns this game with its expansion into one of my top board gaming choices, is the new Streets of Arkham mode.

In Streets of Arkham, the Adventure Deck and Mythos Deck are completely replaced, and an Event Deck is added. Instead of being able to go to the gift shop of a museum, which inexplicably sells Elder Signs, The Ruby of R'lyeh, and a Shotgun, Adventure Cards will populate face down, each representing a different location. Different locations allow you to do your normal shopping tasks by trading trophies, or advancing the clock. Some of them have nasty "At Midnight" effects, representing real threats that need to be addressed quickly. Instead of an Entrance space, the Arkham Streets allow you to spend monster trophies to get rid of some of these cards and trade them out for new ones, or flip one over to see what's there before you walk into it.

Additionally, the Other World mechanic is completely changed. Now, gates to other worlds represent an actual threat, just like Arkham Horror, locking you out of the benefits of an Arkham location until you resolve its matching Other World.

In short, you no longer have the ability to perfectly plan out your situation. You're going to go into adventures underprepared, taking great risks. The game is going to beat you up a little bit, because you never quite know what's coming at you next, and the fun factor goes way up because of it.

IMPRESSIONS

This expansion turns Elder Sign from a fun little dice game into one of my favorite gaming experiences I own. It is everything I love about Arkham Horror with absolutely none of the bloat. The concepts are still there, you have to deal with gates opening in the city. You have to figure out where in the city you can go to get what you need in order to deal with the ever increasing threat. The "board" is always changing, and sometimes you have to put yourself into dangerous situations because it's the only choice that you have.

Another thing I really enjoy about this game is that it's hard. I mean, REALLY hard. I've played about 10-11 games of it so far, and I've won one of them. Sometimes, you're going to have a board full of adventures that will be extremely difficult to resolve. Sometimes, you're going to be ready to close a gate and earn some Elder Signs, and an event card locks your dice and it's impossible. Sometimes, Arkham will be so full of monsters that the Doom Track is growing at an alarming rate, and there's nothing you can do about it. And despite all of these ways that the game can slap you around a bit, it's never impossible. You are rarely in a situation where it is impossible to accomplish anything, but you're often in ones where success is very unlikely.

The components are also a thing of beauty. Sure, the counters are tiny, especially the ones representing the investigators, but most of the time you'll be interfacing with the dice and the cards. The dice feel great, and the custom symbols give me that nostalgic feeling of playing HeroQuest with my dad, and rolling for skulls to defeat the nasty gargoyle. The cards are full of great flavor text, fantastic art, and are great at evoking both the theme of the game, and the feeling that you're playing a version of Arkham Horror.

Elder Sign also plays great solo, which is always of interest to me. The clock mechanic essentially scales the game, making sure that the investigators get as many actions as they would in a normal four player game, even if you're only controlling one investigator. Some people believe that playing as a single investigator makes the game too easy, as all your resources live on one player, but I enjoy it. I've also played solo with two investigators, and found it enjoyable and not too difficult to keep track of.

ISSUES

There isn't much to dislike about this game. The difficulty is high, of course, but that's what I want from a game like this! I want impossible odds, I don't mind a body count of player characters, and I want to be genuinely excited when I win.

Another common criticism of Elder Sign is that it's Cthulhu Yahtzee. Personally, I don't see this. Yes, you are rolling dice to match symbols printed on a card. Personally, I don't see a difference between rolling a certain number of skulls and scrolls to pass a challenge at Miskatonic University, and rolling a certain number of 5's and 6's to defeat a shoggoth. The luck factor is high, but can be mitigated through careful acquisition and management of resources in the game. Sometimes you'll still lose, but you'll go down trying, and if you're like me, that's enough to make you shuffle up the adventures, pick another investigator, and give it another go.

CONCLUSION

Elder Sign: Gates of Arkham takes the elements I liked from Arkham Horror, leaves out all the ones I didn't and abstracts them as dice rolls, and has easily become one of my favorite games that I have ever played. The sheer amount of cards ensures a different experience each time. You'll travel around Arkham, meeting strange people, solving mysteries, defeating monsters, and getting stronger, and the whole time, the game will fight you back. It will beat you down, but it makes every victory that much sweeter. And this time, there's room on your table for a beer, and there's time to play it more than once in a night. If you have any interest in a difficult cooperative or solo game, you don't mind a little bit of abstraction, and if the theme resonates with you, then you need to immediately purchase it from the retailer of your choice.

November 1st, 2015. Midnight. Baltimore.

Arkham Horror's calls from my closet have finally silenced, but my mind feels no less at ease. A new voice rings out from the void, vibrating within my very bones. A voice that chills to the core, yet burns to be heard. I return to my studies, tend to my life, but I find myself less and less able to resist its call...

"Cthulhu fhtagn," it says. The words mean nothing to me, but I fear that I'm finally learning what it wants from me.

It wants me to roll more green dice.
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patrice lalet
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Thx for this nice review, just purchased ES + UF a few days ago, my first step in chutulu. I have to wait until 2016 for a french Gate of arkham.
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Great review of one of my favorite games. I cannot think of an expansion that updated and redefined the gameplay of its original game in more and better ways than Gates of Arkham did for Elder Sign.

By the way, the Arkham Horror standees from the board game or the painted minis make great replacements for the little cardboard investigator counters. The little Cthulhu figures from the big bag of Cthulhu expansion also make great Doom tokens.
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Ben Bosmans
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Not trying to derail the thread ... but ...

Try Eldritch Horror too.

EH has the BEST written rule book of all FFG products. You will not be dissapointed.

In fact the 4 different HP Lovecraft games can exist quite well next to each other: the museum, the mansion, the city and the world.

Each fill in a different kind of focus. I would consider the basic ES game different from ES+Arkham expansion, which makes even for 5 games.

I think the story telling balance, easy rules, time played, difficulty challenges are the best in Eldritch Horror, but each player will have a different view on this.

Edit: I bought the basic box of ES twice, so I could split/play the game in its 2 incarnations, the museum and the city. I still think the AH expansion is way too hard though for a dice game. So it is a 50/50 of which version I want to play.

Great review.
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Andrew Uchenick
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Ben_Bos wrote:
Not trying to derail the thread ... but ...

Try Eldritch Horror too.

EH has the BEST written rule book of all FFG products. You will not be dissapointed.

In fact the 4 different HP Lovecraft games can exist quite well next to each other: the museum, the mansion, the city and the world.

Each fill in a different kind of focus. I would consider the basic ES game different from ES+Arkham expansion, which makes even for 5 games.

I think the story telling balance, easy rules, time played, difficulty challenges are the best in Eldritch Horror, but each player will have a different view on this.

Edit: I bought the basic box of ES twice, so I could split/play the game in its 2 incarnations, the museum and the city. I still think the AH expansion is way too hard though for a dice game. So it is a 50/50 of which version I want to play.

Great review.


Eldritch Horror is on my wishlist! I keep waiting to see if I'll catch it on a deal, or if someone wants to part with their copy for a nice price.

The only thing that has kept me from pulling the trigger is that I'll have a hard time convincing my friends to play it, as they've been "burned" by Arkham Horror. They'll look at the similar box and title and probably be completely uninterested, no matter how much I try to convince them that it's a different game. It's quite possible that it could turn out to be a solo experience for me, which I wouldn't hate, and a lot of people on the SGOYT GeekLists seem to enjoy playing it that way.

I'm also glad that the rule book is written well, because that's usually NOT the case with FFG games. As much as I love them, they can take a while to decode.

As far as the difficulty of Gates of Arkham, I'm actually okay with this. I played a solo game in the Streets mode last night. Had the Doctor, and was going against Yig. I managed to collect a number of elder signs, and decided to push my luck going into the blue gate, to see if I could get past a nasty At Midnight effect that would end up adding two counters to the Doom Track. It didn't work out as I intended, because the good doctor was devoured, and I have exactly 2 Doom Counters left to get three Elder Signs, and had to pick a new investigator!

Currently, that's where the game stands on my table right now. Had to go to bed and then go to work today. But at some point tonight, I'll be drawing a new investigator and seeing if I can seal Yig once and for all.

EDIT: And thank you! This is only my second review, but I felt so strongly about this game, I decided that I needed to write about it!
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Joe Pilkus
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Andrew,

Great write-up! I had reservations about picking this one up, especially after the initial introduction to the concept. I had been recruited by Sam to be a play-tester, but when that didn't come to fruition due to some internal FFG policies, I watched from a distance, communicating with a friend and collaborator on the project.

One of the big turn-offs for me was that it fundamentally changed the game and left quite a bit of the base game and the first expansion's material unplayable. Recently, however, I've read some great threads where other players have successfully merged all of the material into one seamless game. While there are detractors to the idea, I simply focus on those who have provided a very positive 'variant' for including, vice discarding material.

Your review is spot-on and I'm glad to have run across it in reading the literature on this particular expansion.

Cheers,
Joe
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Samuel Bailey
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Hello Joe,

Sorry about that playtester fiasco. For the record, I very much wanted you part of the playtest!

I hope you end up enjoying Gates of Arkham, despite it kicking you out of the Museum
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Joe Pilkus
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Hello, Sam!

I'm sorry that we didn't have a chance to work together. Hope some day you'll have a project to which I can lend my service and support. I'm currently working on the development team for Mike Strickland's TAU CETI ~ it's been nominated as one of the top 50 games from among 374, and right now is sitting in 10th place during the voting for the Top 20 Most Anticipated Games of 2016.

I'm looking forward to making Gates of Arkham part of my collection as I'll incorporate it with the base game with no issue.

Cheers,
Joe
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Samuel Bailey
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Glad you found a cool game to work on I will have to check it out!
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Arvid Alfredsson Grahn
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The Professor wrote:
One of the big turn-offs for me was that it fundamentally changed the game and left quite a bit of the base game and the first expansion's material unplayable. Recently, however, I've read some great threads where other players have successfully merged all of the material into one seamless game.


Hi Joe!

I'd very much like to read about those play variants. Do you have a link?

/Arvid

PS. Thanks for the great review, Andrew!
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414448 wrote:
I'd very much like to read about those play variants. Do you have a link?


Variants

Skim the threads and you'll find plenty of variants including Gates and the core game!
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Joe Pilkus
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Arvid,

Thanks for the kind words. Julia beat me to the punch.

Julia,

As always, thanks!

Cheers / Ciao,
Joe
 
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Arvid Alfredsson Grahn
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Thanks Julia and Joe!
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