Recommend
13 
 Thumb up
 Hide
6 Posts

Arkham Horror» Forums » Reviews

Subject: A Chaotic Mess of Fun and Occasional Frustration rss

Your Tags: Add tags
Popular Tags: [View All]
David Anam

Oklahoma
msg tools
In this review, I will be trying to balance explaining both why this is the single most played game for my group, while also acknowledging its faults and why it won't be right for many people. There will also be some talk about the expansions.

OVERVIEW

Arkham Horror is a cooperative game in which gates to other dimensions are opening up all across the town of Arkham, and the players must race to find clues and then use these to seal these gates before the dreaded Ancient One awakens. If this happens, the players must attempt to fight the Ancient One, which could be easier or harder than sealing the gates, depending on the circumstances.

In fact, circumstances is the word of the day when it comes to this game, where you have very little control over the environment you are playing in. Games can be over in as little as 30 minutes (not counting time to set up) when players are pounded with the right combination of random events, or take 4 hours if they are well equipped to delay the Ancient One but can't seem to get all the clues they need. Games could be combat heavy with every character having guns, magic swords and powerful spells in plenty, or you could end up avoiding fights at all costs when the most combat-ready person is a drifter with a knife.

This lack of control is both the greatest and most frustrating thing about this game. It ensures that almost every game has a different pace, different challenges and often different outcomes, but it also means that every once in a while, a player could end up doing basically nothing the entire game because he ends up in a bad situation.

There is also a fairly major problem which is really only fixed with house rules or expansions, which is that magic-using characters often tend to get the short end of the stick. While there are a couple of spells that are fantastic, the majority are either too situational or too costly to be worth the effort, while using weapons and magic items are often just as useful and more reliable.

EXPANSIONS

With expansions, the spell deck is fleshed out with some truly great options and the item decks find additions of many tomes that are designed for spell-casting characters. This does wonders to balance out the roles more and ensure that every character at least has a decent chance of being useful.

The two types of expansions are the "small" expansions, which mostly add new items, spells and some optional rules, and the "large" expansions which include similar things plus additional characters and expand the board to include new areas. The small expansions I would generally recommend as they almost always add interesting elements with no real downside, though don't be surprised if the new additions don't change the game all that much.

The only large expansion I have much experience with is Dunwich Horror, which adds wonderful new characters and many fun items and spells, while lessening the penalties for falling unconscious or going insane. This helps make the game less frustrating and was our favorite part of the expansion until we started getting used to it and realizing that this also had the effect of making us generally unafraid of danger. In essence, it changes from a game of suspense to a game of action. Though you could always play without it and still enjoy everything else the expansion offers. The additional game board is nice for larger groups, as it gives the players a new threat to keep under check, therefore keeping everyone active. But this can be too much for a smaller group to handle and because the same number of monsters appear, they are now more spread out across both boards which effectively makes it easier to avoid monsters, reducing some tension.

THEME

How well that tension comes through tends to be hit or miss. The cards have some thematic text explaining an encounter in detail, though they often come down to simply rolling some dice and half the time nothing happens. The feel of monsters wandering the streets while the players avoid or engage them comes across very well when it works properly, but the rules for monster movement are very abstract and it's not as rare as you'd think to see a game where the monsters don't move at all.

During your first couple of games, you may have trouble seeing the point of it all. Stuff is happening, but there doesn't seem to be any reason for it and the overall course of events may be lost to you. This becomes better with experience, as you start to recognize the flow of the game and know the difference between an immediately dangerous monster, a wimp, a looming threat, or an opportunity. Similarly, you'd become familiar with the other dimensions and which ones are particularly nasty. You'll dread venturing into Yuggoth and be excited to take a trip to the City of the Great Race, but this only comes through familiarity with the kinds of events that happen there.

One of the things that we find ourselves torn on is how there are some things that you will almost never see happen. You can become arrested, infiltrate a cult, turn on the other players or join a gang (in an expansion), but all of the things I've just mentioned combined I have only seen happen about 5 times in over 50 games. And trust me, we really want to join that gang. On one hand, this keeps these things exciting when they do happen simply because they are so rare, but on the other hand, it's frustrating when you play a 2-3 hour game and didn't have a chance to experience the best parts of it.

LAST THOUGHTS

The primary complaints about Arkham Horror are that it is too long for such a random game and that the rules and components tend to be excessive and fiddly. These are valid arguments and there is no getting around the fact that this is not an elegant game. Nothing in it works in such a way that would make you think this is an intelligent or clever way to design a game, as there are many elements that are hit and miss, others that feel they could use some fleshing out and you'll often wonder why some particular card is even in the game.

Yet out of this messy framework comes a game with a great amount of variety and weird unpredictability that works to make this game come alive in a way that many don't. There is a horrible beast right next to you, and the rules for monster movement are so clunky and strange that in all probability he will just sit there for the rest of the game until someone bothers to kill him. But he might not. And that uncertainty is what makes every choice an interesting one. In a more elegant or "clean" game, choices tend to make more sense, strategies are more obvious and what just happened to you probably had some sort of reason for it, but not here.

This is a strange, unfair and twisted sort of game where half the time you have no idea what the right course of action is, but you don't have time to wait for certainty. If that sounds exciting to you, then this is your game.
14 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Tom Volpe
United States
Evanston
Illinois
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Very nice review.

I view Arkham Horror as an "experience" rather than a "game" but what a great experience it is!
5 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Mike Beiter
United States
Tonawanda
New York
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Nice review. I would have titled it, "A chaotic mess of frustration, and occasional fun."

Due to all the elements mentioned it is just too much frantic chaos for my tastes.

I find that with four to five players, you do alot better.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Jim Kiefer
United States
Fremont
California
flag msg tools
badge
It's all about the theme!
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
DavidAnam wrote:
There is also a fairly major problem which is really only fixed with house rules or expansions, which is that magic-using characters often tend to get the short end of the stick. While there are a couple of spells that are fantastic, the majority are either too situational or too costly to be worth the effort, while using weapons and magic items are often just as useful and more reliable.

I believe this was intentional at the beginning and FFG is trying to change it as they deliver new expansions. In the role playing game that AH is based on and the Lovecraft literature, spells are generally reserved for evil people and last ditch efforts. That's why the early spells has such high Sanity costs. But not everyone wanted that kind of "reality" or so the spells have gotten much more usuable as the expansions came out. Some of us purists aren't really so happy about that.

So-called magic users can face down the mythos with ease and backed up with a good weapon, do fine. On the other hand, so-called fighters often go insane and check their tommy guns in at the Asylum door or have a special room reserved from them there. I'm looking at you Monterey.

Quote:
The small expansions I would generally recommend as they almost always add interesting elements with no real downside, though don't be surprised if the new additions don't change the game all that much.

The later small expansions (Lurker and Black Goat of the Woods) have gate breakers which can make a big difference.

Quote:
The only large expansion I have much experience with is Dunwich Horror, which adds wonderful new characters and many fun items and spells, while lessening the penalties for falling unconscious or going insane. This helps make the game less frustrating and was our favorite part of the expansion until we started getting used to it and realizing that this also had the effect of making us generally unafraid of danger. In essence, it changes from a game of suspense to a game of action.

Is this a good thing or bad thing?

Quote:
Though you could always play without it and still enjoy everything else the expansion offers. The additional game board is nice for larger groups, as it gives the players a new threat to keep under check, therefore keeping everyone active. But this can be too much for a smaller group to handle and because the same number of monsters appear, they are now more spread out across both boards

Actually the same number of monsters are in Arkham Town no matter how many boards you play (based on the number of investigators) and there is no limit to the monsters in the small boards.

Quote:
THEME How well that tension comes through tends to be hit or miss. The cards have some thematic text explaining an encounter in detail, though they often come down to simply rolling some dice and half the time nothing happens. The feel of monsters wandering the streets while the players avoid or engage them comes across very well when it works properly, but the rules for monster movement are very abstract and it's not as rare as you'd think to see a game where the monsters don't move at all.
True. Each non yellow monster has a 1/6th chance per turn of moving. Flyers can sometimes be stuck circling in the sky for a whole game.

Quote:
One of the things that we find ourselves torn on is how there are some things that you will almost never see happen. You can become arrested, infiltrate a cult, turn on the other players or join a gang (in an expansion), but all of the things I've just mentioned combined I have only seen happen about 5 times in over 50 games. And trust me, we really want to join that gang. On one hand, this keeps these things exciting when they do happen simply because they are so rare, but on the other hand, it's frustrating when you play a 2-3 hour game and didn't have a chance to experience the best parts of it.

This is a major irritation to me too. Though I can live without being arrested and the Gang membership probably isn't as good as you appear to think it is and you'll have a very good chance of experiencing being arrested.

Quote:
LAST THOUGHTSThe primary complaints about Arkham Horror are that it is too long for such a random game and that the rules and components tend to be excessive and fiddly. These are valid arguments and there is no getting around the fact that this is not an elegant game. Nothing in it works in such a way that would make you think this is an intelligent or clever way to design a game, as there are many elements that are hit and miss, others that feel they could use some fleshing out and you'll often wonder why some particular card is even in the game.

Yet out of this messy framework comes a game with a great amount of variety and weird unpredictability that works to make this game come alive in a way that many don't. There is a horrible beast right next to you, and the rules for monster movement are so clunky and strange that in all probability

83%
Quote:
he will just sit there for the rest of the game

Probably not for the rest of the game. On the other hand, he just might be sitting right in the way of location you want to enter.

Quote:
...until someone bothers to kill him. But he might not. And that uncertainty is what makes every choice an interesting one. In a more elegant or "clean" game, choices tend to make more sense, strategies are more obvious and what just happened to you probably had some sort of reason for it, but not here.

This is a strange, unfair and twisted sort of game where half the time you have no idea what the right course of action is, but you don't have time to wait for certainty. If that sounds exciting to you, then this is your game.

This is my kind of game. Very nice review and very well written.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Bern Harkins
United States
Buffalo
New York
flag msg tools
Do the right thing. It's usually obvious.
badge
I Has a Stick! A Tiny Green Stick!
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Excellent review- well thought out, informative and entertaining.

I guess I'm one of Kiefer's "purists" on spells. Yes, spells are costly, limited and often frustrating. That just makes it all the more satisfying when you use one effectively. Sure, magic items are generally more useful... but you may not HAVE magic items, and need to make do with spells... in which case that's what you do... make do, fearing for your sanity, not strutting around like a D&D mage.

It's saving the world with totally inadequate resources that gives the game its distinctive tang.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Michael Sweazey
United States
Powder Springs
Georgia
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Your summation sounds like the world of Lovecraft to a tee! That's why I love the game...as complicated and finicky as it can be, it is like stepping into the town of Arkham when all sorts of things that just aren't logical start to happen!
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Front Page | Welcome | Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms of Service | Advertise | Support BGG | Feeds RSS
Geekdo, BoardGameGeek, the Geekdo logo, and the BoardGameGeek logo are trademarks of BoardGameGeek, LLC.