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Arkham Horror: The Card Game» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Arkham Horror - Or when it's time to mess with Cthulhu rss

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Benjamin Tharin
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Very mild spoilers, no story spoilers

Relevant Background
-------------------------------
- Played it roughly 5 times, also saw it played with 2 / 4 people.
- Played between 20 - 30 games Lord of the Rings: LCG
- Storeowner, we have all Cardgames from FFG and we get to play them fairly often.
- NOT in love with Lovecraft

Overview
-------------------------------
We received Arkham Horror the Card game last week and got to play it quite a bit with various playercounts and were able to gather feedback from the community.
I will outline several aspects in regards to Lord of the Rings as it is clearly a big inspiration for the mechanics that we find here but the review is in general geared towards any mortal soul, i will not go into details though how the game works as there's enough ressources for that, but i will mention what is only evident after you played it.


Components
-------------------------------
Tokens and Cards are of good quality - i highly recommend though to sleeve them immediately as the cards will move around quite a bit on the table due to the games mechanics and the quick nature of the game. The card art is stunning and although it's recycled art from other games if i'm not completely mistaken i love what i see here.
A dice bag is sorely missing though, you will need to find something there you can also just throw the tokens into a cup or something similar.


Game Mechanics

-------------------------------
The game borrows alot from Lord of the Rings - mostly the good things and they work really well. It reinvents and changes mechanics where it's needed though:

Your investigators are represented by small cards who physically move around the various locations that are connected through various ways with each other. Not only will you use those pathways but also your human / monster adversaries while they chase you down.
This mechanic works very well because you are in complete control on when and how you are about to enter a possibly dangerous location - while time is pressing regardless of course.
It's an exciting mechanism that gives you options and fixes something that was a bit wonky from it's bigger brother Lord of the Rings where Locations came up randomly.

Your Investigators also are limited in what they can have out in play. 2 Hand Slots, one for a necklace, one Ally etc at any time. This limits the space and helps alot with transparency as you will not be able to put out 15 cards on your side. It also forces you to make difficult decisions when you suddenly get a good ally but are also attached to the one you have currently.

As you go and try to investigate and beat the scenarios you face numerous skillchecks which are essentially solved by comparing your skillevel to the difficultyrating of your location or cardeffect, plus whatever you boost it with minus what you pull randomly out of a collection of tokens that you assemble before going into the scenario. The main reason for this approach is it's dynamic adaptability and it works fantastic.
You can adjust the difficulty of the scenarios very easy by changing this pool according to what the campaign suggests without having to errata any cards, shuffling them in or out or other shenanigans. Some of the Tokens also have symbols on them which have different effects depending on what scenario you're playing (and what difficulty setting). Personally i love this mechanic, its great, it doesnt require dice and it keeps tensions high all times while being very fluid and quick.

One little detail that i feel is missing is something to count the actions that the investigators have spent. Sometimes you do something that takes some time and when you're finished you ask yourself "Is this my 2nd or 3rd action ?". Use some makeshift tokens to keep track of that. Otherwise this is not a big issue.


Campaign Mechanisms
-------------------------------

Every scenario has different outcomes which have to be noted in the campaign log. These have unique consequences for the subsequent scenarios that are coming up along with experience that you earn or trauma. Experience can be spent for purchasing new cards and trauma are drawbacks you keep during the mini campaign.
The campaign game straight from the box provides more replayability than you might think because of this, and scenarios feel much more connected as a result. Even if you know the scenarios it's fun to see what different stuff might happen with a new friend / group you play this with. I enjoy this aspect probably the most as the storytelling is really well done through the agendas and act's you play through. It's better than in Lord of the Rings in my opinion because the encounter decks are much smaller and therefore more controlled in what might and is coming up.
You also often face the difficult decision of pulling out prematurely from a scenario as it's becoming to dangerous (otherwise you get Trauma). There's not just Win or Lose, you could still progress through the scenario with all investigators defeated (or resigned). Together with the top notch writing this provided are very cool experience so far, because you will feel these defeats in the coming scenarios.



Difficulty & Deckbuilding
-------------------------------
As already noted, adjusting the difficulty is very easy to your liking, however i strongly discourage people from playing on hard difficulty especially if you just have 1 coreset. You will be limited to basically one investigator that has a fighting chance in some scenarios and you will be still dependent on the unfortunately high luck of the draw. Wait until you have a meaningfull cardpool to reduce the luckfactor.

The reason for this is a common FFG thing: If you want to build relatively good stuff you need 2 coresets (at least for the moment, there's nothing else) as every card comes just as 1 copy. While the decksizes are capped at 30 it still means with just 1 copy that you will very likely never see the card that you absolutely need to have a fighting chance and the options for deckbuilding are almost 0 with just 1 set.
As soon as you have 2 coresets you start to have options and you can really tweak your investigator, but without a second one don't expect to deckbuild at all save for between scenarios where you can buy better, additional cards.


Playercount
-------------------------------
I always felt that in Lord of the Rings higher player numbers don't scale very well. With 4 players the complexity of the quest phases and other stuff starts to be muddled unnecessary and the game devolves into a crawl at times. I don't recommend to play LotR with new players in higher numbers, whereas Arkham Horror i absolutely do.

Arkham Horror does it right here, wether you play with 1,2, 3 or 4 investigators (you NEED a 2nd coreset for 3 or 4), the game scales very well. Only investigators who are at the same locations can help each other and due to the limited slots each player has the board stays transparent. With more players interesting mechanics surface as well, some monsters (Prey Keyword) target specifically certain players which puts them under pressure while you face the decision of helping them or rushing towards the scenario goal.

It has to be noted that some Investigators feel outright not suited for a solo run through the campaign. While i don't think this is bad, don't expect to have a complete experience if you play this solo with every of the 5 investigators. Some of them shine in groups and maybe oddly in scenarios that aren't yet in the rotation.


Value & Buying Advice
-------------------------------

This is a difficult one, i can recommend Arkham Horror without reservations unless you expect to stop after the coreset either way. Do not expect a complete gaming experience like you would from a boardgame that you can play over and over. First of all, if you like the game you WILL want more, what we have here is a blast and it shows amazing things to come. Also consider taking 2 Core sets from the get go if you want to see how the deckbuilding works.

Although, deckbuilding is definitely lighter than in other games due to the small decksize (30 cards) and that you keep your investigator through scenarios (you can't change the deck once you started).

Also, this game lives in big parts from it's storytelling and while i see how you can replay certain scenarios at some point i've seen all outcomes. For a new scenario you will have to buy scenario packs and deluxe expansions which don't come necessarly cheap. Be prepared to drop some coin into this one, but having said that... i think it's absolutely worth it, this is a fantastic system that oozes with theme and you clearly see that this has modern game design written all over it.
It's well structured, easy to play and yet you get meaningfull decisions througout the game.
A coreset will definitely give you enough of an impression to see wether you will be along the ride for longer.


Partner value
-------------------------------

I struggled somewhat to excite my partner for Lord of the Rings as the deckbuilding aspect is a big thing for that game and she simply does not enjoy that. LotR is also heavier in complexity
With Arkham this is different, your decks are locked in, and you progress together through the Story, it's also more pleasant to "look at" when things get hairy. I'm convinced that this game will manage to pull in many non-gamers into the card game universe of Arkham because the story is gripping and you want to find out what happens next at every turn while not being unnecessary heavy.

It feels alot like Mansions of Madness which according to many customers strikes the same chord, it's a game that sees alot of playtime with the partner. You really feel as if you are on adventure together and try to solve a mystery as a character YOU play.


Hype and Final Rating
-------------------------------

I'm not a fan of the lovecraft universe, i find it silly and sometimes downright ridicoulus, however what i've seen so far in terms of storytelling felt "right" even as a non lovecraftian and i enjoyed the story alot especially because it's not just what's written on the cards but also what's happening on the board that ties so well together. This is not a good story because of some mindblowing revelations, but because of how you progress through it. It's like a movie that is just very well made with a great story where the characters are the stars and the universe around them helps them to develop and not take the spotlight from them. Or do you remember any game where you could throw a stray cat into the face of a monster just to escape it ? Thought so.

I wasn't hyped personally for this so far but after i've seen and played through the coreset i'm excited to see what's coming next.

I rate this personally 8.5 / 10, if you are into lovecraft you probably will devour it and you can add 1 to the rating.

Good Job FFG, good Job.
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Justin Gortner
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Quick but very important question that I think makes this game a purchase for me: so you can NOT change your deck through the campaign at all? You don't have to try and tweak it for every new one like LOTR?

This is what killed LOTR for me - too much upkeep. But just building once at the beginning and then riding it and seeing what happens sounds much more pleasant.
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Emily Dickinson
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jgortner wrote:
Quick but very important question that I think makes this game a purchase for me: so you can NOT change your deck through the campaign at all? You don't have to try and tweak it for every new one like LOTR?

This is what killed LOTR for me - too much upkeep. But just building once at the beginning and then riding it and seeing what happens sounds much more pleasant.


AHLCG has an experience system - you get a few points at the end of each scenario and use them to buy different cards or upgraded versions of your beginning cards. The core set already includes higher level cards that no one is allowed to put in their deck until after they have gone through at least one scenario. So there is tweaking, but it is tightly restricted within the campaign.
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trevor

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Great review!

My biggest thing that I love about this game is the campaign/deck building and how your deck grows and evolves throughout the campaign.

My really only problem with LotR was that really you just customized a deck to beat each scenario, there is really no continuity between your deck and the campaign. It was off putting for me, though I still love LotR
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jgortner wrote:
Quick but very important question that I think makes this game a purchase for me: so you can NOT change your deck through the campaign at all? You don't have to try and tweak it for every new one like LOTR?

This is what killed LOTR for me - too much upkeep. But just building once at the beginning and then riding it and seeing what happens sounds much more pleasant.


Played as per rules, you don't just sign on for one adventure in Arkham Horror -- your character signs on for a campaign.

The only time you have freedom to make your deck as you want is at the start of the campaign.

After that, each and every card you choose to change will cost you 1 XP. And you don't get much for XP each adventure. Then you dive into the next adventure, and see how bad things get.

Occasionally cards will be added or subtracted to your deck by the campaign results; those won't cost XP. But tweaking your deck, including buying the much more powerful higher level cards with XP, all does cost your precious XP.
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Ed Knight
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The point about character slots limiting footprint is a really good one. LOTR can end up taking up a huge amount of space once you have your deck up and running. This is much more manageable.

The comment on deck building is also spot on. I've got a single core and the opportunity to tweak the starter decks is essentially non-existent. It doesn't bother me. With five characters there's more than enough variety. I'm going to hold out for Dunwich Legacy to get more player cards.

Have played through the first scenario a couple of times and the full campaign once. This game is fantastic.
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Benjamin Tharin
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As others have already answered: no you can't change your deck significantly aside from the experience aspect which allows you to maybe buy 1 or 2 cards tops, thats it. Which is something you'll probably do right when you finish the scenario because it's exciting to spend points.

So lets say you pick the game up in a couple weeks again you still have a good point to go on from.
 
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Thanee
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jgortner wrote:
Quick but very important question that I think makes this game a purchase for me: so you can NOT change your deck through the campaign at all? You don't have to try and tweak it for every new one like LOTR?

This is what killed LOTR for me - too much upkeep. But just building once at the beginning and then riding it and seeing what happens sounds much more pleasant.


You build one deck and it grows with you while you progress through the story. After every game, you can (and probably will) switch out a card or three, but that's about the extent of it.

For example, there is an ally, which has two different versions. The starter version, and a more experienced version. The difference is minor, the card simply costs less to get into play in the more experienced version. So, once you have earned some experience, you could switch the old one out for the new, thus making your deck a little stronger without changing it much. Of course, you can also switch out cards for different ones (which is, most likely, the more common thing). The changes overall are more slight and subtle and less drastic.

You are definitely not building entirely new decks for each scenario, you should look at your deck as the skills and assets of an RPG like character, which grows and evolves the further the story unfolds.

Bye
Thanee
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Andre Suwanda
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Good review. I am on the brink of buying. As always FFG makes the initial purchase kinda hard.
 
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Simon Taylor
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Thanks for the review Ben - great work, and interesting read!
 
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Gil Winters
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Very nice review Ben - there's been a lot of focus on BGG as to the value of the game, whether or not FFG should have included more cards in the core set, etc. - I like the way you covered this aspect without it overpowering the rest of the review.

And I agree with most all of your opinions/assessments.

(And since I'm "into Lovecraft" I would, like you suggested, "add 1 to the rating". making it a 9.5 for me.)
 
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