This is a review of the custom, large expansion for Arkham Horror, entitled "The Lovecraft Country Horror", by Jacob Busby
It can be found at http://boardgamegeek.com/filepage/65090/lovecraft-country-ho...
All credit is of course, to the highly talented author Jacob Busby.
The Short version:
Very good. The expansion board is fun and has been cleverly designed so that stuff always happens there and you always have to visit. There are also a ton of other bits and pieces (AO’s, investigators, investigator cards, whatnot) that add a great deal of replayability to the expansion and AH in general. The terror track is a particular standout that adds a ton to the game.
The only caveat is that it is quite complex, with lots of things to keep track of, especially when you start including extras like the many heralds or the terror track. I probably wouldn’t recommend it as the #1 choice for beginners or as a first expansion, but for the experienced players it is a goldmine of high quality content.
The Dramatically Less Short Version:
Terror track is particularly excellent
Great and flavourful writing!
With the board, new heralds, AO’s and investigators, has tons of new content that will keep you going for quite a while.
Covers a bunch of locations thus far shunned by expansions
Complexity level reasonably high.
I find some investigators a bit lack luster.
One neighbourhood is pink!
As a custom expansion, involves a lot of printing (although there is a minimal version which addresses this)
I downloaded the Lovecraft Country horror (LC hereafter) about eight months ago now, and it has been thrown into rotation with my group. We prefer to play one expansion board at a time, and it is a popular choice of the bonus board.
In short, the Lovecraft Country board and play experience is a little bit of everything. A board like Innsmouth or Vermont has a single big reason to come there, and most of the features of the board rotate around that. LC is not like that, it has a bunch of unstable locations, each with their own scary mechanics to keep track of and their own unique dangers.
It is also quite modular in design. It has a ton of items, AO's, investigators and so on. The board works nicely without them, and they work nicely without the board. There are many cases where the other cards have clearly been designed to mesh particularly well with LC, but they are not essential. We often use the terror track, investigators and AO's in normal games, because they're well designed, fun, and so modular.
On the other hand, if one doesn't want to do a tremendous amount of printing, there is a "Bare Minimum" version thoughtfully included, which is basically just the board and some tables which allow you play with a minimum of work.
Playing on the Lovecraft Country board:
The first question for an expansion board is why go there? What does it add? You have to go to Innsmouth to snitch on the Deep Ones, you have to go to Vermont to stop the Mi-Go mining, and you have to go to Kingsport because you'd rather have tea with old ladies than wrestle Shoggoths. A board that there's no particular reason to visit and experience doesn't serve a lot of purpose. LC definitely has a purpose, but it's a little more complex than the other expansions.
The first reason to go to LC is to handle the unstable locations, nabbing clues and sealing gates as normal. There are four unstable locations in LC. The LC mythos cards are kept separate and drawn when a row on the doom track is full, which is a very graceful way to ensure it gets some, but not too much activity every game. As well as this semi predictable gate opening in LC, each location also has its own special way to open. The Billington Estate opens if the terror gets too high, Akeley's house if you fail a rumour. This does not change gameplay that massively, as you usually try to keep terror low and rumours passed anyway, but it adds a lot of tension to them. Especially the terror track, which was a little ignorable in normal AH.
The other two unstable locations give you very pressing reasons to visit LC. First is the Witches Hollow, which opens whenever a monster drifts into the LC vortex. Monsters appear in LC both through gates and whenever the Outskirts clear, so it is a safe bet you will have to send an investigator or two here at some point to keep the monsters down. The last unstable location is Martin's Beach. Here there is a pile of clues that keeps the place safe. As monster surges occur the clues diminish, so you have to come and replenish them. If you don't a gate opens and a sort of mini-Dunwich horror comes out (less scary than the DH, but still a heaping of hurting) and starts raising terror (which rapidly makes the Billington estate open...). Between Martins Beach, killing monsters, and normal gate openings, we've found the board to get used quite a bit in every game. It doesn't overpower Arkham like Innsmouth can, and nor does it sometimes do nothing for the entire game like Dunwich can. A very nice piece of balancing overall there.
As well as fighting the Mythos, there are also some nice reasons to visit LC. In the grim town of Aylesbury you can trade time for money, time for clues (by the clever Music mechanic), or money for trophies. Best of all is the doomed town of Deans Corner which has a stock of specific items you can buy on demand. The stock is depleted as the game goes on, but new items appear when you close or seal, so it always pays to keep an eye on it.
That is the core gameplay of LC, and it stands up well. You always have to visit LC at least a few times, and because of the vortex you can’t let monsters here get out of control. As well as having to throw clues at Martins Beach and shopping at Deans corner, you have plenty of reason to explore the exciting new board. It is tense, unpredictable, a more than a little evil – perfect, in my books.
Difficulty wise it is not as harsh as Innsmouth, but it’s not too far off either. It’s reasonably innocuous if you keep the monsters and gates under control, but if you let it slip for even a little... I remember in one game I failed a rumour that caused Akeley’s house to open. This spawned a Shoggoth that then ran straight into the vortex causing the Witches Hollow to open. A poorly timed monster surge made more monsters to go into the vortex, which caused Martins Beach to open and the horror to spawn. And the horror then raised the terror, which caused Billingtons estate to open and us to lose rather dramatically. All of this happened in three rather unfortunate turns! Much like a regular intake of dietary fiber, it is easy but catastrophic to ignore!
There are four ancient ones included, each of which is interesting and cleanly designed. There is a devoted "newbie" AO in Gloon, but my favourite is Magnum Innominandum, which basically means all monsters are guaranteed to move every turn! This makes the skies much more dangerous and also that any board with vortexes (such as, say, LC) becomes far more dangerous. Elegant yet game changing, I absolutely adore this AO and use him a lot with or without the LC board. Cool phantom monster art, too.
Investigator Cards (Skills, Spells, Unique Items, Common Items, Allies)
LC contains about 80 of these, all told. I have an aesthetic distaste for mixing real cards with printed ones, so I only use these in LC games, but so far I have been impressed by the quality of these cards. Some do very interesting and thematic things, and some are so obvious and excellent you wonder how they weren't already in the game.
Some highlights for me are Mathematics, which lets you reduce sanity costs of spells if you roll well, the nifty Voorish sign that refreshes all your other spells and gear and the thematically great Unspeakable Oath. Tindalosian Ichor lets you teleport but at the risk of summoning a pack of Hounds (and you thought one hound was bad...), and the very cool Silver Ball stores three one shot spells. Other favourites are Ceremonial Robes, Der Hexenhammer, Warp Time, Mustard Gas, the Moon Lens, the Voynich manuscripts and Body Warping. And finally poor doomed Walter Gilman is in the game!
A sweep of sixteen, ranging from the Lovecraftian (the Widow, the Gypsy, the Amnesiac, the Priest) to the esoteric (the Baseball Player, the Ballroom dancer, and the very familiar looking Union Organizer). Personally, I feel the investigators are a little uneven, some have abilities that rarely come up (the baseball player, the warlock and the factory worker) and in my opinion don't play that interestingly.
On the other hand, there are some that I find a blast, like the masochistic Widow, the excellently named Freightcar Frankie, the complex ballroom dancer and the downright amusing Model. My absolute favourite is the Amensiac, who slowly gains and loses skills over the game, making him an entertaining gamble.
This is a very neat feature, aimed at making the terror track more of a concern. Essentially, you start the game with ten minor advantages to do with the city and its people (many of which add extra roles to underused locations), and every time the terror level increases one is flipped over to a minor disadvantage. For example, you can deposit items in the bank for other investigators to pick up. At terror 5, this card is flipped into a crime wave that has a chance to steal some of your stuff!
This increases the importance of the terror track (as it desperately needed), makes many locations you didn’t often visit more important, and is also very flavourful, as the services of the city break down as its population runs away or is eaten. The one downside is that all the little abilities are a fair bit to keep track of, but it is well worth the pay off! I heartily recommend this feature, but only for players who are already very familiar with the game.
And the Rest
LC also contains a swathe of gate cards and two new OW’s (Ulthar and Kn’yan). There are also a bunch of new monsters (including some who were conspicuous by their absence like Shantaks, Leng-men and Zoogs), my favourite of which are the Oathswearer of Dagon, Lodge Initiate and One of the Thousand. These are special cultists tied to respectively Innsmouth, the Silver Twilight Lodge and the Cult of the Thousand, elegantly making these elements of the game get extra play.
There is also a range of Heralds and Guardians, only two of which I have played with, but their quality suggests the others would be a blast too. These are the Brotherhood of the Yellow Sign, which is a very interesting, sanity eating change to Hastur. The other is Lilith, who causes a constant stream of Ghouls and Ghasts to appear in LC. She is more or less LC’s equivalent to Dagon and Hydra, making an already tough board brutal.
Of course, as well as the mechanics a good expansion has to have a good feel to it. Dunwich has a creepy hillbilly atmosphere, Innsmouth is a damp xenophobic hellhole, and playing Kingsport creates a tangible feeling of boredom. In LC the vibe is a very social and political feel. All the Mythos cards talk about the people of the Arkham and Aylesbury and how they are reacting to the various terrible things going on, which creates a nice atmosphere. Many of the encounters in Aylesbury (especially the tenements) also let you into the rather harsh lives of these people, and living on an occult apocalypse isn’t helping matters much.
The writing on the encounter cards is also top notch (and there are a tremendous number of cards, so they stay fresh). My personal favourite so far is the chilling “Something lives amongst the soot-lined chimneys, preying on the weary and the weak...”
Another excellent addition are the lead encounters that place clues on the board. For example, in Aylesbury you can talk to an accountant who suggests you follow the money, which places clues on the bank. This gives a very excellent sense of being part of an investigation, and I really love getting these encounters. There are also a great number of in-jokes and references on the cards that have made us smile on many occasions. Particularly the one needling “The Horror at Red Hook”.
The artwork and visual presentation is also solid, particular in the investigator cards. My one pet peeve is the fact that the Hinterlands neighbourhood is a rather jarring pink and the Martin’s Beach horror is a little smaller than you’d expect from a monster of its magnitude. I changed the art on that one in Strange Eons to something more apocalyptic. Take this as meaning every single other card and component is great looking!
Yikes, this got long fast! That should indicate how much quality content there is in this expansion! As I said before, the board is fun, cleverly designed, thematic and well balanced. All the additional cards and investigator and AO’s are good on their own, and good with the board, easy to mix in to the level you wish.
I would recommend this expansion whole heartedly to anyone, but with the one caveat that it is a little on the complex side, so if you are new to the game it might be a little overwhelming to begin with. Other than that, it is top notch!
One last thing – I know it can seem like a huge investment to print out and stick together this volume of content. And it is a lot of work. However in this case, I would suggest if you are a little tentative try just printing the "Bare Minimum", which is just the board and a page of cards, that’s all you need. It’s not that much work, and if you decide you don’t like it then you haven’t lost much. If you, like I, am impressed by the quality of design, you may, like I, decide that the rest of the content is well worth the time it takes to print.
Also, the terror track is F&%*ing awesome.
Also also, if you are thinking about printing the board, try http://boardgamegeek.com/article/9676468#9676468 for a way to make it look great.
Also also also, for a look at how the expansion plays, try http://boardgamegeek.com/article/9530688#9530688
Also^4, congratulations to Jacob on this excellent quality expansion, and thank you for causing so many of my hours to pass with it.
I LOVE the look of this expansion, but I don't think it would be possible for me to print it at high enough quality to make it work. How much work would be involved in making it available as an extension for the Vassal module? There are already several tankard expansions on there, but it oz missing this (IMO) most essential one.
If someone has the time, energy, and commitment, I would recommend talking to FFG to see if they want to produce it. If not, see if you can get a license to market it under their name and use their resources. If they don't move on the license request, I would recommend launching a Kickstarter project to raise the funds to get it printed professionally.
Thanks for all your kind words. It's great to learn that other people are getting pleasure from Lovecraft Country.
@kittenhoarder: To my knowledge there is no Vassal plug-in for Lovecraft Country Horror yet, although anyone who wishes to generate one has my blessing. If it's any use, most of the images required for the project can be found on photobucket at:
@The Professor: If FFG want to get in touch, I'm certainly willing to listen what they have to say. However, there may be all sorts of legal practicalities which wouldn't necessarily apply to a freely available article where no-one is making any money (1), but which might apply to a commercial product.
(1) In the event that anyone does want to make a donation -- and please do not feel obligated to do so -- please give the money to Cancer Research instead.