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Subject: The Good News: It Inspired Me to Read Lovecraft! rss

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Mike Mead
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The Bad News: I really did not enjoy the game.

Arkham horror was really my first foray into my boardgame geek inner sanctum. Before AH, a board game meant playing Monopoly, Risk, Life, or if I was lucky, the Farming Game. However, it was the first game that I bought at a FLGS (Game Depot in Tempe shout out). I had been to the boardgamegeek website before I bought the game, but it is what made me become almost a daily visitor. I am now starting to become an active contributor on the website, so watch out world.

"If Arkham Horror did all that for you, then why didn't you like the game?" Well, I praise AH for opening my eyes and helping me to embrace my inner geek. However, I really tried hard to like this game, but I couldn't. I couldn't understand what was wrong with the game for me. It drips with theme. It got me to read Lovecraft (favorite story is the Shadow over Innsmouth, which is also the only story that was published in book form while Lovecraft was alive for you trivia hounds). It is a beautiful game with a colorful board and a ton of chits. The production values are sky-high!

I tried really hard to like it. I tried to play it solo no less than 3 times. I tried playing it with my wife 2 times. I never finished any of those attempts. I did play it enough to get the whole feel for the game though to understand the mechanics. I read through the rules multiple times. I even printed out a flowchart to help with those rules.

Ultimately, the flow chart is what got me to realize why I didn't enjoy playing AH. Suddenly, a voice in my head told me what the problem was. My problem is that my niche game is no more than 3 hours in length, and ideally 2 or less hours. I like to be able to get to know a game, and then not have to constantly refer back to the rules. I need to play a game that does not require me to print out a rule flowchart for assistance. Alas, the game is too complex for my tastes. I think that the complexity is really what pulled me away from the experience, and thus removed the fun that the theme added for me. I think Fantasy Flight Games made a really gorgeous game that has a lot of followers, but I am not one of them.

Some of the specific aspects of the game that I didn't like were the following:

- The game length
- The tedium in the 5 phases for each round (aka, the need for a flow chart)
- The high amount of chits required to play (health, sanity, items, encounter cards, monsters, track markers, etc)

For those of you that really enjoy the game, please don't take offense. These are my problems with the game, and not the other way around. I think it is definitely a great game for someone who wants complexity in their boardgames. I do have to ask all the lovers of the game this question though - If you play the game with all of the expansions, how can you play it on a table that is anything smaller than a ping pong table?
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Martin Manning
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Great review. Arkham Horror is an enjoyable enough game for me, although I agree the complexity often ends up distracting somewhat from the theme. I'm often so busy thinking about how each mechanic works that I forget about the lurking horror. That's a shame, because the theme is a really good one. I sometimes wonder - if they'd designed the game so that it had a cthonic overlord player of some sort (a la Dracula, Doom, Descent) would that have made it simpler? It seems a lot of the complexity comes from having to manage a whole bunch of monsters and events in addition to your own character.

I've got two expansions (Pharaoh and Dunwich) and we've played with both. In some ways, I think Pharaoh, despite being a small box expansion, is better. It adds a different storyline, without adding a bunch of extra complexity. I may end up buying the other expansions eventually (I do have the table space), but it's not a high priority. If I ever play something that epic, it'll be more as a joke than anything else.

I've played some other games from FFG, and those have fared better - Battlestar Galactica and Doom both pull off their theme really well without getting bogged down in overly complex rules, so don't give up hope. Also, if you can get it, Space Hulk might be worth a go. Great theme, really simple (but deep) rules.
 
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Mike Mead
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Thanks for the response! Ironically, I actually do own Battlestar Galactica and Space Hulk. I love BSG, and it really gives you the feeling of the show. I loved the show too, by the way.

As for Space Hulk, I was one of the last lucky few to get it through GamesWorkshop. I just finished assemblying the mini's, and I hope to play it very soon. It certainly seems like my type of game.

I guess that is one other benefit of Arkham Horror - it really helped me to realize the type of game that I enjoy playing.
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I find AH to be deadly dull, lacking in tension, and with way too much downtime, (or rather, too many turns where you flip a card and lose your turn). Of course, one could say the same thing about Lovecraft's writing, (having just re-read all of his stuff myself).
 
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machosancho wrote:
The Bad News: I really did not enjoy the game.

Arkham horror was really my first foray into my boardgame geek inner sanctum. Before AH, a board game meant playing Monopoly, Risk, Life, or if I was lucky, the Farming Game. However, it was the first game that I bought at a FLGS (Game Depot in Tempe shout out).


If this was my first game I played moving on from that list I would never play another boardgame again. Many more gateway games than this friend.
 
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Bryan Maxwell
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"The end is near. I hear a noise at the door, as of some immense slippery body lumbering against it. It shall not find me. God, THAT HAND! The window! The window!"
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Franklin Turner
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Don't give up on AH yet. It is only complex compared to the earlier games you were used to. Once you have several other games under your belt come back and try it again. The flowchart is helpful but not necessary. There are many games with more complex series of phases. Personally I find little downtime in AH and can play with only minimal reference to the rules. And if you still find AH to complex a year from now, then for God's sake stay away from Advanced Squad Leader, Advanced Tobruck System and Star Fleet Battle (ATS gas the shortest rule set at 60 pages with minimal explanations in the book).
 
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Mike Mead
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For the record, I am not a beginner. AH has helped me to realize the type of game I enjoy. I love Battlestar Galactica and Galaxy Trucker. I plunked down the cash for Space Hulk, and will be trying that one shortly.
 
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This game had the opposite effect for me. I hadn't read any Lovecraft before trying the game... Turns out that I love the game, but have absolutely no interest in reading Lovecraft because of playing the game. That whole chaotic horror thing makes a fun setting for a game, but seems waaaay too demented for me to choose to spend any time reading.
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I just so happen to have this game in my possession right now. My gaming group got together to play it, and after reading the rules a couple times found a couple guys we worked with that have and play all the expansions all the time. They also happen to be huge Lovecraft fans. This meant that we basically had to just follow what they said and they guided us through. First turn for all 7 players took about an hour, which is fine when you're learning what you're supposed to do.

I was some girl with a shotgun, so I went looking for trouble a lot, despite our leaders saying that being in a street was dangerous and I might not want to do it. In the 6 hours we spent playing (and still didn't finish) I fought maybe 2 things. Everything else was immune to physical damage and I had no magic. Only one person ever got knocked out/killed and our terror track was only at the first space where a shop closes. We also had only one more gate to seal. The game was boring, uneventful, and long. If I had a whole day to waste I'd try it again, but I don't.


Sure after you've played a few dozen turns you know exactly what needs to be done, but you shouldn't have to play a game a dozen times to figure out everything from the setup to the turn of events. UNLESS, you like that. I for one, do not.

Battlestar Galactica is about 100x times better

Someone that isn't accustomed to having 200+ pieces for a game should definitely not start with this game.
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Mike Mead
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Grudunza wrote:
This game had the opposite effect for me. I hadn't read any Lovecraft before trying the game... Turns out that I love the game, but have absolutely no interest in reading Lovecraft because of playing the game. That whole chaotic horror thing makes a fun setting for a game, but seems waaaay too demented for me to choose to spend any time reading.


You should give Lovecraft a try. They are all short stories, so you don't need to devote much time. I think Lovecraft is a very good writer, but many of the stories are not fear inducing for me. Similar to the game, there is way too much focus on sanity in his stories. Seeing that his stories are coming up on being almost 100 years old, I have to give Lovecraft credit for being a major contributor to the modern horror genre in writing.

I would highly recommend (again) the Shadow over Innsmouth. That was a literal page turner for me where I actually did feel my pulse quicken a bit.
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machosancho wrote:
Some of the specific aspects of the game that I didn't like were the following:

- The game length


Okay, so I've done my share of games (96 to date), but soloing with 4 investigators, going past 2 hours is very rare (normally 1.5h), when playing 2+2 investigators with a friend, going past 2.5h is rare.

Quote:
- The tedium in the 5 phases for each round (aka, the need for a flow chart)


Never used one. I just read and crammed the rules until I knew the game by heart. Once you get the rotation down, phases breeze by.

Quote:
- The high amount of chits required to play (health, sanity, items, encounter cards, monsters, track markers, etc)


More the merrier cool !

Quote:
I do have to ask all the lovers of the game this question though - If you play the game with all of the expansions, how can you play it on a table that is anything smaller than a ping pong table?


My current combination is everything but Kingsport, so base + 2 extra boards. Of course, my table is spelled "floor", so space isn't an issue !
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Good perspective. Although I really think the game is great, I am always fascinated to hear what doesn't work for people (since I am a board game pusher at my FLNGS).

Quote:
- The game length
- The tedium in the 5 phases for each round (aka, the need for a flow chart)


From my perspective, this is an interesting aspect. With my friends, I only break out Arkham Horror when the right people are NOT around. Rather, I find that we have some people in the group that drag down Arkham Horror. Without them, a group of three or four can finish the game in two hours (plus or minus thirty minutes). When they play, it easily goes over four hours. Strange. I cannot tell you why it works out that way but it seems to do just that.

As an advocate for AmeriTrash, I would recommend looking into A Touch of Evil. It's much less complicated and takes about an hour to play but has a similar horror flavor (although much less of the heavy theme that Arkham Horror provides).
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Paul Leigh
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If the game is taking six hours (excepting beginners), you must be getting something wrong. We consider it a long game if it runs on for three hours.

I don't mind a long game, provided that the game is interesting. There is not really a lot of downtime in AH as the phase sequences involve activity for most players. Also when something else is happening there is plenty of card or token management to keep your eye on as well as thinking about tactics and strategies.

I think the killer for AH is quite simply that some people don't get a buzz from handling a quintillion tokens and cards. I love it!
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Franklin Turner
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Never intended to imply you were a "beginner" Mike. But I have been gaming for over 30 years and my tastes have changed considerably over the years. In the 70's I disdained RPG's, in the late 80's I grew to love some of them, in the early 90's I broke down and regularly played the hated D&D (3d ed changed my perception of the game although still unfortunately class based). The high complexity wargames that were almost all of my gaming in the 70's are perhaps 10% of my current play as the quality of decisions to be made came to be my primary criteria for what makes a good game over the accuracy with which it simulated a given circumstance. I find that AH has a good decree of decision making (is this item more beneficial in my hands or one of the others? Is it worth the investment of two investigators time to travel to a common location to exchange the item. Etc.) in relation to the complexity of its rules. It is however largely a matter of taste.

PS Shadow over Innsmouth is also my favorite lovecraft story. My second favorite Mythos tale is not Lovecraft but the earlier The Yellow Sign by Chambers. It is available online. http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/YellSign.sh...
 
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Arkham Horror is a terrible gateway game, unless there is at least one extremely experienced player who will:

-Perpetuate the theme appropriately
-Do all of the behind-the scenes stuff, such as drawing monsters and gates, remembering to pay Retainers and reminding players about upkeep rolls
-Only introduce fiddly rules as they come up (such as combat with a monster)
-Read the encounters...and hide the results until a pass or a fail, or a decision is made. Improves the game notably.

The game's certainly not for everyone, but if you got interested because of BGG info, you might actually be able to turn around and like--or even love--this game. I'll offer a couple comments on some of your responses:
machosancho wrote:
- The game length

Yep, it can be long. But if you're teaching yourself and/or playing with multiple people, those factors increase the game's length. If you play solo controlling 1 or 2 investigators, you probably won't win but you'll start to become comfortable with the flow of the game. Also, the AO's doom track length plays a significant role in the length of the game. A track of 10 (Yig) or 11 will usually make for a shorter game: save Cthulhu, Hastur, and Azathoth for when you're comfortable with the rules and have some more time.
Quote:
- The tedium in the 5 phases for each round (aka, the need for a flow chart)

Same issue here. The game's rules seem complex and daunting at first, but when you get used to remembering the 5 phases and the order of events during Mythos, the rounds can actually fly by.
Quote:
- The high amount of chits required to play (health, sanity, items, encounter cards, monsters, track markers, etc)

Can't help here either. Setup can be a pain, especially when you're not used to organizing. But most of the time during play, you don't deal with too many of these factors. The encounter decks go unused until someone does have an encounter. You only really have to deal sanity and stamina and the sliders once, at the beginning of the game. After that you just remove and add sanity/stamina as characters gain/lose it.

You should give the game another shot or two--you said you are familiar with the mechanics. If you become fluent in them, then the game will be shorter and seem a lot less complicated too. I can play a solo game controlling 6 investigators with all 6 expansions, usually between 2.5 and 3 hours.

But, alas, if the game is truly too complex to be enjoyed, I understand completely. It surely isn't for everyone. There is something to be admired about a game that can leave an impression in only 1 to 2 hours (Puerto Rico or Agricola or Power Grid, for example) while remaining mechanically simple. But the one thing such a game can't replicate well is a story, even a "random" one-- which is Arkham Horror's best feature of all.
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Mike Mead
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All very good points, and I appreciate the suggestions. I did give my game to a friend to spread the wealth, but if I ever have the chance, I will give it another try. It has to be with experienced folks, though, like you mentioned.

I didn't describe this too well in my original review, but part of the issue has to do with my playmates (for lack of a better word, no I am not Hugh Hefner). I ended both games with my wife as a mercy kill because she was just not having fun. Thus, her dislike simply meant that I was not going to have a chance to play it with her. We often play shorter games such as Ticket to Ride, Mr. Jack, New World Carcassonne (see my recent review), and even more standard fare like Scategories or Banagrams. I do get to geek out every once in a while, with my current fave of BSG. I will be introducing Space Hulk soon too .

As far as your solo adventures with all six expansions, is your table also spelled F-L-O-O-R? The space issues and how people solve them intrigue me.
 
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machosancho wrote:
All very good points, and I appreciate the suggestions. I did give my game to a friend to spread the wealth, but if I ever have the chance, I will give it another try. It has to be with experienced folks, though, like you mentioned.

I enjoy teaching new people this game. I even have a regimen for which boss they fight and which expansions to use during the course of seven games (first game: Azathoth, and none).

Quote:
I didn't describe this too well in my original review, but part of the issue has to do with my playmates (for lack of a better word, no I am not Hugh Hefner). I ended both games with my wife as a mercy kill because she was just not having fun.

Hear ya there. My girlfriend doesn't like it, and my regular gaming group didn't like it. It literally took me years to find two people who enjoy the game and will play it with me. My old gaming group loved it, but they're hundreds of miles away now (which makes it more fun when we do get together).

Quote:
As far as your solo adventures with all six expansions, is your table also spelled F-L-O-O-R? The space issues and how people solve them intrigue me.

Actually, I specifically selected my 83" table from Ikea because I had Dunwich and there was a rumor that Kingsport was in development. Luckily it fits Innsmouth too, but I actually had to create foamcore divisons to store everything in just two boxes; the cards can actually be left in the box during play if the space is required:

 
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OK, so I love this game. However, my wife and I vary the phases. We play that mythos phase is first, the player one goes through each of the other phases in order, then the second player goes through each phase, etc. This way each player feels like they have a turn with a mythose phase each round.
 
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Franklin T wrote:
Don't give up on AH yet. It is only complex compared to the earlier games you were used to. Once you have several other games under your belt come back and try it again. The flowchart is helpful but not necessary. There are many games with more complex series of phases. Personally I find little downtime in AH and can play with only minimal reference to the rules. And if you still find AH to complex a year from now, then for God's sake stay away from Advanced Squad Leader, Advanced Tobruck System and Star Fleet Battle (ATS gas the shortest rule set at 60 pages with minimal explanations in the book).


I have to agree with Franklin here. Don't give up if you're still ambivalent! I really didn't like the game the first few plays, but something finally clicked and now I very much enjoy it. FWIW, I play games across all styles and genres, but not much other co-op.

I also agree that you should dump the flowchart - I've found that it can sometimes hurt more than help! The outline of phases on the back of the AH booklet is a good basic reference to keep handy.

All you need to know is that each player does the following:
1) Upkeep
2) Movement (including combat)
3) Encounters
4) Mythos

That's it! You literally keep repeating that all game, the only break being that you start the game with a non-Rumor mythos, and if the GOO awakes. The game actually plays pretty fast, really, once you get the hang of it. Most of the rules not related to phases are mostly about skill checks, which again are pretty simple. You do have to remember what happens in each phase, but again, each of those is anywhere from 2-4 bullet points.

One other major contributor to fun in AH is really understanding *how* to play well. Until one has some familiarity with the game, AH can feel passive, as players basically guess their way through their options. Once players understand which encounters and equipment are likely at various locations, planning becomes much more interesting. The icons on the board help provide a basic understanding of what's likely, and where.

Finally, it definitely helps to have friends and/or significant others who play, as it simply adds to the group fun factor. Playing some solo games can limber you up on the rules, which can help with newer players.

All this said, maybe AH just isn't your cup of tea - understandable, as I mentioned that it didn't click with me either, initially. And everyone is different in their tastes and preferences. The great thing is that there are a lot of other brilliant games to try. And you could always come back to it after exploring some other games.

But personally, AH is one game I'm glad I stuck with. If you ever have any game or rules questions, feel free to PM me.

PS: If you do end up playing the game further, I highly recommend the Dunwhich Horror expansion once you have the feel for the base game. Lots of great additions, without complicating the game much, or adding play time.

PPS: I see you gave the game away... Doh! BSG is a great, newer group game if you're leaning less RPG-ish, and more tense, witch-hunt style negotiation game.
 
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I've got similar complaints, but I'm totally hooked on AH. It's the best solo board game I've ever played, it's easily as beautiful as Kingmaker and it's a way to immerse myself in HP's world of unspeakable horrors for half a day. A way to quasi-roleplay without other people... And it still amazes me that I can post my gane experiences online where a handful of people will read it! I just can't get over that, never had that in the 80s with Samurai or Civilization.
Glad you've delved into the Master's written works, watch out for the racial undertones...

Yeah, you lose a lot of turns.

Yeah, there's a hundred markers for everything- but there are plenty of shortcuts, like using dice instead of markers for Sanity and Stamina.

Yeah it takes 3-5 hours.

One way to speed up the game is to use the Black Goat Herald- yeah, it'll shorten your game alright... the world'll end before you know what hit you.

 
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As with all games you will have some that like it and some that don't. Nothing wrong with that, With so many games out there we just need to find the games that we enjoy.

I was never a Lovecraft fan, never read any of his stories until last year. A friend gave me a copy of the video game Call of Cthuhlu, dark corners of the earth and I was hooked. What a fun game and the setting was extremely creepy. Then I read Shadow over Innsmouth and decided to buy Arkham Horror.

I found the learning curve very steep. The game seemed overly complex. My wife and I tried twice to play it together but I spent too much time looking in the rules. Then one night I decided to play solo and use the flowchart. Once I got a few turns under my belt the system became fast and easy. I looked in the book less and less. And I only looked at the flowchart for the movement / combat flow. But I can see not even needing that in a game or two.

I find the setting of the game very cool and I could feel the pressure and terror mounting as more gates opened and more monsters roamed the town.

It took me just shy of 3 hours to play a solo game using 2 characters which I think is pretty good for a first time. The rules no longer seem complex. But I did have to go through the learning process which did hurt my head a little : ) . I'm planning on running a game this weekend with my wife and it will be interesting to see how she likes it.

Brian

PS: I just wish the movies were as good as the game.
 
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Brian C wrote:


PS: I just wish the movies were as good as the game.


Tell me about it...seems to be the consensus with all HPL fans
 
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I'm a little late to the party, but I figured I would still add my 2 .

My experience with Arkham was very similar to the OP. My very first game with my girlfriend was a complete and utter dud. We couldn't figure it out and the sheer amount of components made her eyes gloss over simply from setting up the game. After about 45 brutal minutes I told her we could quit and that I would read the rules to get a better understanding of the game. It didn't help though...my next game with four players was another epic failure. I was so frustrated that I put the game away and didn't touch it for months.

Despite not playing the actual game I still poured over the rules, FAQs and lurked the AH forums here on the geek. Eventually my desire to conquer this beast made me bust it out again. Well something finally clicked and I found myself having a blast playing solo. What once seemed like a insurmountable amount of complexity was surprisingly easy. Best of all I was able to finish a game in about two and half hours. I lost, but I had fun. I continued doing this a few more times and I finally convinced my girlfriend to give this another shot. She complained throughout the entire game, until we got close to winning. Then she suddenly took things much more seriously (she's kinda competitive and doesn't like to lose...even to a inanimate object). We ended up sealing the sixth and final gate winning the game. As we put the game away she admitted that the game was actually pretty fun.

So my ratings have been a roller coaster of high and low numbers. However, after about 2 years I've finally tamed this beast and can highly recommend it to anybody that is willing to invest the time needed to commit to this game. It's not for everybody, but I'm certainly glad I stuck with it. Arkham is one of the richest and most rewarding games I have in my collection. Best of all I've become familiar enough with the game that I can finish a game in two hours or less.

~ Bones
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Well done Bones. You kept at it and it rewarded you.

Many happy gaming sessions still to come for you.
 
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