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Subject: Why this game is worse than Risk. rss

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I guess I should start this short review with a disclaimer about me and FFG: I love Descent and Twilight Imperium. While the second has some turtling issues with some players, I still consider it a very good game. It does what it's supposed to do, and Descent sure is one of my favorite - perhaps my favorite - boardgames.

This said; Arkham Horror is a complete design disaster. I consider it as random - perhaps worse - than the equally random exercise in nihilistic randomness, which is Risk. Why? I will now explain readers what a game of Arkham Horror plays like:


Why this is worse than Risk
Arkham Horror starts with everyone drawing random characters. You then draw random skills, items, and spells for these characters. Then the game begins! (Mind you, it's cooperative, so there won't be any player vs. player strategy. You win by beating the game, which is represented every session by a different random Elder God.)

So, you draw a random God, perhaps a random avatar for that god, helped by ten to twenty random monsters which move randomly, caused by random events drawn from a deck, while your characters walk around town, roll random upkeep costs, have random encounters, roll random results for skill tests based on randomly selected pregenerated characters.

The only decisions you will make during the game, is which random item or skill you will use, and whether you choose to use or not ignore a randomly drawn location event. Such decisions are, however, quite straight-forward. Another decision you will need to make during the game - if you are not "delayed" by one of the random events - is the choice of movement! Yes, you can choose where you will move to next. And that's about it, if you ask me. Player interaction is usually about exchanging cards or telling bored distracted players what they should be doing.


"Perhaps, but think about the horror!
What horror? What discomfort? What the hell are you talking about?
Never, at any point, have I felt - during any game - the same sense of distraught paranoid and defeatist depression which emmanates from Lovecraft's work. In fact, whenever I felt nihilism or agitated, it was because of the completely random nature of my character's "evolution" and the absurdity of this exercise. It feels nihilist, indeed, but rather because the whole ordeal plays me. Where's the strategy? Where's the tactics? Where's the feeling of actually doing something?

Yesterday, I played this horrible contraption with five others. We used the content of two expansions, but only used the Kingsport board beside the main grid. We had already spent four grinding hours closing portals and sealing portals, defeating monsters, gaining gear, losing gear, gaining money, losing money, and what not... In Kingsport nothing happened; no monsters, no players, no tokens to collect or unstable rifts. Then! God be praised; Some random event card moves the "first player" to "the strange high house in the mist." Well, right, ok, why not... but why? What for? Does this thing even have a function? Some guy gets a boat, and another gets a car. But what for? Since at least an hour, no new portals have appeared. We're just walking around, all six of us, collecting stuff or losing stuff - all of it random, exept these clue tokens, which also appear at random.

All the while, I wonder "Where's the horror? Where's the sense of urgency?" We're just walking around aimlessly, waiting for a gate to open - while some guy loses all his items in some Other World. I get bored, and so seem a few others. We decide to call up the Elder God and fight him. Seems best, we guess. Not really sure if we are able to defeat the enemy or not. Then Shutga appears - or whatever its name was - and we all roll 1d6 to lose a random amount of sanity, stamina, or clue tokens. Some people die, some don't. I'm not sure who does, and I'm not - because it doesn't really seem to matter. All of a sudden the whole board is ignored and the whole game is shrunk into one great dice rolling exercise. It feels random, it feels strangely abstract, and it neither feels like a victory or a defeat.


"Perhaps, but think about the theme!
Yes, Lovecraft! He wrote some good stories and they're all dripping with psychological and mythological brilliancy. Hence, even Lovecraft seems dissapointing when I play Arkham Horror. The setting is a grid, with many names and symbols which remind me of Lovecraft - but never do I feel like a "researcher" who investigates. Walking over to a house or a street and getting a clue token, or drawing a card, reminds me more of Monopoly than it does Lovecraft. What mystery are these clues supposed to unveil, anyway? Oh, no, wait - I gather them to seal portals, right? But what for? Can't we simply summon the Elder God instead, so we can blast him with our shotguns and magic swords? So much for the horror, here comes Arkham Hero... Which reminds me of the absurdity of the game's implementation of the theme; There's only a few cars in Arkham - it seems - which implies these investigators are doing everything on foot. Yet the bank stays open, whatever happens. Then, there's the concept of sanity and insanity - which is portrayed, like everything else, as a bunch of statistics on your sheet. Thus, when you discover a rotten human foot in a box, you lose one sixth of your sanity, but when an Outer God appears from the void - you fight him with your bullwhip. Oh well, at least the names remind me of the anxiety I'm supposed to feel.


Conclusion

This thing is worse than Risk. But I guess many solo gamers like it for the simple reason that it allows you to track and bookkeep a character's evolution or downfall. However, I don't need a game to imitate the fluctuations of my bank account, nor does this translate in any way what Lovecraft was about.

Yes, I'm sorry FFG; Having played this several times, you seem to have cost me at least thirty hours of my life. And all the time, I feel wondering why I'm not the one getting paid to design better games. Having played this, I can only feel more sure that many others should be given a change to design a better game. Perhaps because this is not a good gambling game nor is it a good roll&read novel.

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If you are "waiting for a gate to open" and lacking a sense of urgency, chances are you played it wrong. Gates should be opening nearly every turn. The doom track and terror level should be mounting. I've yet to play a game of Arkham Horror that was ho-hum. While I've won many games of it, they were usually close things (as were most of the losses). I've never found it to be dull, except the one time we tried the game with six players using only the base game (four players is the sweet spot, five makes the game harder but will still give everyone plenty to do).

If you want a faster "more challenging" game with a Lovecraft theme, try Witch of Salem, which I personally find drier and more lacking in theme (and downright frustrating) when compared to Arkham Horror.

Also, Arkham has all kinds of expansion goodness to give the game more flavor. Want a "point" to your character? Play with the Personal Stories from Arkham Horror: Innsmouth Horror Expansion. Want the game to be harder? Use the heralds provided in various expansions, the Difficulty cards provided in Arkham Horror: The Black Goat of the Woods Expansion and/or the Epic Battle cards introduced in Arkham Horror: Kingsport Horror Expansion and augmented in Arkham Horror: Innsmouth Horror Expansion.
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Gustavo Vazquez
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I want to be the first to congratulate you for your review. I just can't understand how Arkham Horror is so high on the bgg list. I believe Lovecraft is so good that anything with his name on it is, by chain reaction, good. But the fans forget about game mechanics... yuk

Of course some things are not random. I.e., in every game one, two or even three players sits at the antiques shop trying to get the Elder Signs. You just sit there and wait.

By the way, which kind of shop has a random selection of products, that changes after each customer? ninja

The expansions... well, if nothing is happening there, you just don't go there. Why bother?

If you are battling a bunch of monster and die, the Ambulance is right there to pick you up! Amazing! THEY should be fighting the monsters!

And, of course, the Sheldon gang can hit you, make you loose sanity, but a Great Old One many times don't...

People use to say that Eurogames are too much "paste anything in an abstract game". But not one of them can beat Arkham Horror! sauron

[EDIT]: Even so, it's a lot better than Risk. I gave AH 6, Risk should be 2 in my list.

[EDIT 2]: Too many mistakes. It's the last.

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Sadly, I have to be the fanboy to step in here.
First: I absolutly understand what you dislike about the game. Really - I fully understand that Arkham Horror is not for everyone. You don't like the game - that's fine with me and I won't dream of pushing it on you.
BUT two of your comments completely tick me off:

Neontek wrote:
This thing is worse than Risk.

What is this supposed to mean? That you *really* should conquer Australia or that a land war an asia is even more dangerous?
Basicaly this is like saying "The color green is worse than the taste salty" - it has no relevance whatsoever.

Neontek wrote:
Yes, I'm sorry FFG; Having played this several times, you seem to have cost me at least thirty hours of my life. And all the time, I feel wondering why I'm not the one getting paid to design better games.

Go ahead! I am looking forward to your design.
Let's talk again, once you designed a game that get's a top 100 ranking and gains over 800 fans here on BGG.
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vazquezramos wrote:
I believe Lovecraft is so good that anything with his name on it is, by chain reaction, good. But the fans forget about game mechanics...

From my experience, this game is so successful, because it also appeals to people who never ever heard of Lovecraft and couldn't care less about the specific setting. For them it just works as a 1920ies Horror-setting.
I introduced Arkham to about ten people who all loved it and quite a few of those bought the game afterwards. Only one or two of them knew anything about Lovecraft to begin with and I think only one read Lovecraft as a result of playing Arkham Horror.
So evidence leads me to believe, that there has to be something about this game, that appeals to people who can't be swayed by the name "Lovecraft" on the cover.
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Even though I like Arkham Horror pretty much, I think this review is very useful. It is just that there are far to few negative reviews around.
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Never read a single Lovecraft book. Love the game. Go figure!
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Tanakor wrote:

So evidence leads me to believe, that there has to be something about this game, that appeals to people who can't be swayed by the name "Lovecraft" on the cover.


I see. I say from personal experience - the only players I could convince to play a second time were Lovecraft fans. But I'm not saying this is a rule.

On the other hand, I'm sure the fans I known wouldn't play AH if it was Carcassonne Horror. arrrh They would probably complain about mechanics they just accept in AH.

I'm not saying AH is a bad game. I even like to play it now and then. But the mechanics are typical of Ameritrash games.


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I'd like to echo Tanakor. You make some comments that destroy your review by making it not only absolutely one-sided and ranty, but also extremely unintelligent at times.

First, comparing AH to Risk is absurd. I understand your 'randomness' rant, and see that similarity, but these games are NOTHING alike in any other way than the fact that you roll a lot of dice all the time. Even though Risk is not the best area-control world domination game, there IS a lot of strategy involved if you want to win it. You don't just sit there and roll dice for no reason. Also, AH is not that way either. I don't think you've played the game enough to see the strategy needed to win. The players MUST communicate well, create plans and constantly alter them in order to succeed. There are a lot of random elements in the game, to be sure. But how boring would the game be if everything was scripted, if you got the same choices at the store, if the same monsters showed up at the same time every game? THEN the game would be a waste of time. Also, if you like Descent, how can this even be an arguement? Descent has randomly selected treasure, too!

I also agree that you must have been playing the game wrong if you felt no sense of urgency. Whenever I play this game, portals open constantly, and monsters pour out of them like soda pop from a 7-11. You must be doing something wrong if you are sitting around for an hour with no new portals.

Your rant about theme is disturbing. This game DRIPS with theme, and just because it doesn't fit your idea of a well-designed game does not make that fact less so. Every card, every corner of the board, everyTHING in this game oozes Lovecraftian/20s-40s/noir/horror goodness. Take the time to read the italics on the cards and monsters, for christ sakes.

To finish, if you don't like a game, fine. That is your perogative. But if you want people to take your reviews seriously, you need to rant less and be more logical. Lay out a compelling arguement, look at both sides of the debate. Don't just rally around one simple idea for an entire review. It doesn't work.

I think AH is one of the best games of it's type ever created, and many of your complaints are things that I think give the game an unending replayability that most other games like it don't have.
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Strangely, I like the randomness of it... Randomness is really a big part of any cooperative games... since you are not playing against a player.
There is no other way to add a persistent challenge.

Look at Pandemic, touch of evil, etc...

It also keeps the game interesting. You manage the randomness by making choices based on the potential risk.

But I also see your point.
Decent review, except Risk is not totally random. The better player will likely win.

Better examples of almost entirely random games are War (the card game), Killer Bunnies, and Flux.
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Why do you guys resist to see that he is not talking about Risk as a boardgame but about all the negative associations that are obviously linked to it and which are transmitted on these site over and over again. The term is used to refer to these negative emotions and is therefore a very effective stylistic device. Your posts just proof that point.

Looks like some guys need some coaching in polemics. whistle


No offense
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This review made me really want to see a cooperative game with no luck in it. It must be very exciting to play.
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Fortunately there are tens of thousands of other games out there for you.
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the problem with a cooperative game with no luck, is that once you have won it, you know how to win it. Nonrandom games like chess and Go are interesting because you are playing against a human, who constantly changes up his moves based on your moves, the day of the week, new strategies, mistakes, fatigue, anger... etc.

if a game has no luck (no randomness), then it has only one solution. Imaging playing tic tac toe against a computer that always plays the same way. An entirely cooperative game is very similar to a solo game in that you dont have to outthink a human, just figure out the system.
A cooperative (or solo) board game needs at least some randomness to be fun more than a few times after you have beat it.
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Risk is not random.
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Those of use who like the game like it because of its randomness. All the random elements make the game highly replayable and puts your wits to the test. Taking calculated chances and risks is fun

What you are missing with the random elements is the category of each one. For example, to gain an item, you're not going to one location and randomly drawing from a pool of all things in the game (i.e. skills + unique + spells + common), you have the choice of going where you think it will help you and your group the most. Should I go to the Unique Store and hope for an Elder Sign? Should I go to the University for a nifty skill? etc. Nothing random about that.

Anyways, no game is for everyone, but this game is for most

-shnar
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I really love this game so obviously I don't agree with your assessment. The one place I do strongly agree with you, however, is that very little of the game itself is lovecraftian. There may be pictures of giant things with tentacles all over the place but the game itself doesn't play out very lovecraftian.
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You might want to try a variant where you roll for movement, maybe that is what you are missing.
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Good review. It echoes my feelings on the game precisely. The randomness didn't bother me so much as the lack of meaningful decisions to make in the game.
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Neontek wrote:
Yesterday, I played this horrible contraption with five others. We used the content of two expansions, but only used the Kingsport board beside the main grid. We had already spent four grinding hours closing portals and sealing portals, defeating monsters, gaining gear, losing gear, gaining money, losing money, and what not... In Kingsport nothing happened; no monsters, no players, no tokens to collect or unstable rifts.


Already during setup is where things went wrong for you. KH is the worst expansion for AH (worst expansion ever I say !). Extra board, with 0 unstable locations. I play with everything but KH mixed in (since I don't own KH) and I know at the start I'll have 14 turns in which to slap down 6 seals or the GOO wakes from the doom track filling. With DH and IH extra boards and their Mythos cards in the mix, there are 20 unstable locations (vs 11 with just base game, or base + KH), you can easily have 13 gates in 13 different locations, meaning you have to attack the gates hard and fast, but still find time to collect 5 Clues (since mixing everything from the expansions dilutes the Elder Signs, which are too frequent IMO with base).
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BEST AH review ever!!!
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I would say about 50% of the things you claim are random either explicitly are not random or do not have to be. I don't know what game you have been playing...
But that 50/50 strategy/fate mix is what is exciting in most games and I think Arkham Horror delivers it well. It is like life, you prepare as well as possible to face an unknown series of events in a mostly understood environment. That pretty much sums up my existence. If you want to know the meaning of life then forget the Buddha because I just told you.
And it is Arkham Horror.
Oh Yeah.
Baby.
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vazquezramos wrote:
I want to be the first to congratulate you for your review. I just can't understand how Arkham Horror is so high on the bgg list. I believe Lovecraft is so good that anything with his name on it is, by chain reaction, good. But the fans forget about game mechanics... yuk


Nonsense. thumbsdownthumbsdownthumbsdown
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To those of us who actually like Risk, "why this is worse then Risk" is a very logical statement.

For some of us [and probably a minority based on what I have read here] Risk was, and is, still a great experience for us. Perhaps not the best game, but considering its history, its significance in our development of board games, and its availability in nearly every house one visits, it is near the top for top games in my own opinion. That being said, there are MANY games that are worse then Risk... and that isn't necessarily a bad thing.
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I agree with your observations, but disagree on the conclusions...

- The game has many random elements. Yupp. It has, because it's not an exercise in strategic thinking like Chess or Axis & Allies or whatever. The random elements are there for replay value and for fun. They add to the chaos. That may or may not be anyone's cup of tea, but it's not an objective general flaw (or every game that involves dice would be flawed).

By the way, if you don't like random investigators and GOOs, why don't you just hand-pick them? Because the game gets too easy with a team of kick-ass investigators and a weak GOO? Go figure.


- Lack of meaningful decisions. Well. There are quite a few decisions to make, like "which gates need to be closed/sealed fast", "who of us is going to accumulate clue tokens for 'standard' gate sealing", "who gets the money we need to buy some elder signs", "who's lurking around the church trying to bless someone", or maybe even "who of you armed bastards can take out that monster that's too tough for my lame nun and forces me to take long detours? Nobody? Well, ok, maybe I'll go for a nice fast police car than...".

You may notice that these decisions rarely are "what is my individual strategy to max out my character's impact"-type decisions, but mostly group coordination decisions. That's because this is a co-op game.


- There is no sense of horror or deep Locecraftian mythology. True. But who cares? In my opinion, there's just no way *any* boardgame that's played with friends will *ever* really scare me, or induce horror, like a book or movie can. It's simply not what I expect from any game. The theme fits the game and brings up some funny pictures(like a cross-wielding nun of death with her monster-killing whip , that's enough for me.

By the way:

Quote:
There's only a few cars in Arkham - it seems - which implies these investigators are doing everything on foot. Yet the bank stays open, whatever happens.


I won't even start saying that in Chess, there's rooks walking fast over the battlefield, because clearly Chess is meant to be abstract and AH is not. But what about... Monopoly: Why would I spent a night in an expensive hotel when I own the place right next door and am low on cash? Or... any Dungeon Slasher: Yeah, right, somebody put anything that has some value into chests in a cellar filled with monsters when he could have hidden that stuff in a more accessible and convenient place with his obviously powerful trap-laying and magic abilities (and yeah, a common sewer rat will drop a broadsword when killed). Or what's with storing electricity that's needed in almost all parts of a spaceship in one central room so that, if you're running low on power for the rear lasers, somebody better get up and hurry downstairs?

When I reached this point in your rant review, I felt you're stretching it a bit too far. Nothing wrong with disliking a game (I dislike a lot of them), and it's always refreshing to read a good negative review. But yours, it just doesn't feel like you seriously wanted to show the negative points of AH, but just diss it for whatever reason.
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