Hello my name is Snamo Zont and and we are the Zontco Gaming Division. We are a standard party of four who have a voracious appetite for gaming in all its forms. This is a review in perspectives, a collection of thoughts on a game. By the way, if in reading our perspectives you happen upon phrases like "Earth games" or "Well, that's a very human way to look at it", just know that while I am human my friends are not. Cheers and the Great Zont favors you!
It's The Story : Snamo Zont
I brought Arkahm Horror by Fantasy Flight Games to our gaming table because it's one of my favorite games of all time.
The reason it's one of my all-time favorites is because it's roughly a million stories in a box. You start the game choosing from 8 characters, each with their own simple back story and motivations. On the board there are 26 city locations that your characters can visit throughout the game, each of these has 7 different story fragments (or Encounters) that can happen when your character lands there. Couple this with 8 Other World locations that have an encounter deck of 49 cards including more story fragments. Then toss this with 67 Mythos cards that are world events that occur each turn and you have a different Lovecraftian story every time you play.
But it's not really the numbers that have me hooked. It's turning over a card and reading things like this within the context of the character you've been playing:
Those are just Encounter examples. The last phase of every turn is the Mythos phase and that's when something big happens in the game world. These cards change the game state by opening Gates, triggering Monster moves, and bringing different weather environments. And each one is crafted to be part of the greater story.
It's the amount of love and care that went into the theme and story elements that make this game stand out for me.
An Open World : F. Zont
(translated by Snamo Zont)
It would be wrong to say that Zonts love games. Games are so much a part of our being that it's like saying we love breathing. But there are no games on Zont like Arkham. Our games are more akin to your Chess or Cards or even Settlers of Catan. Games built on the mechanics of chance or limited rulesets that allow for interesting strategy. Not that Arkham isn't built on the mechanic of chance, because obviously it is, but because we never thought to apply this level of story to a game. One day I'll have to figure out why that is. But for now we'll say that we are delighted to find new (to us) ways to look at games.
While I share some of Snamo's enthusiasm for the story elements, it's the bigger picture that I like most. Arkham isn't like many games in that it creates an almost open world experience. Instead of a ruleset that strictly determines your actions, the game has set of world rules that trigger as you explore that world. While the turn phases and the pace are set by Mythos cards, the feeling of adventure is still there. I am exploring and the rules come up as they're needed, like do I fight or evade the Dark Young? I wonder if there's a clue in the Witches House, or should I go to the Magic Shoppe and buy a spell? Should I use my turn to dive into this Tome, or should I pump up my Speed skill and go visit Ma's Boardinghouse? Maybe i'll just sit at the Twilight House for the next three turns and see what happens.
It's this feeling of freedom that keeps me coming back.
The Puzzle : J. Zont
(translated by Snamo Zont)
As much as Snamo adores the story and F. admires the sandbox, this game's backbone is brutal randomness. I understand that randomness can be bothersome to some humans, but for a Zont, it's a welcome friend. On Zont, Change both planned and unplanned is worshipped ( not the best word to describe this, but the only one that comes close in translation - Snamo).
In Arkham there are cards that randomly determine what happens in a location, what items your characters gain (or lose), or what happens to the world as a whole. Dice are used to determine the outcome for fights, evasion, tests of strength, will, intelligence and sanity. Your characters well-being is determined by a small pool of tokens that take a regular beating from the events that happen around you. In any given turn the good fortune you think you had can turn to dust, and with it a character lost in time and space.
It's in the face of this randomness that I smile and roll up my sleeves (as Snamo would say). If you take a step back, this randomness is actually the call of a puzzle. Each new development calls for another adjustment in the strategy, another evaluation of the situation. As a team you must decide how to react to Drake's loss of all his Clues in the Abyss, or to the Monster Surge that has just put a Star Spawn on Jenny's location. How does this change the plan now. Will Kate now change course to pick up the two clues at Hibb's Roadhouse? Or will Michael barge in to take out the Star Spawn and give Jenny a chance to escape?
Playing Arkham is like trying to ride a Bunt (a beast bigger than a horse but smaller than a Brachiosaurus). With a little determination, planning and the ability to shift your feet when it turns unexpectedly you can tame the beast, or at least, get it to barrel on in the direction you choose.
There is no Z in Team : T. Zont
(translated by Snamo Zont)
On my planet games are strictly a competition between you and the other players. Every Zont loves to compete so this "co-op" gameplay where you have to work together to beat a deck of cards and die rolls is about as alien as it gets for me. Apparently i'm a "loner" or a "grinder", whatever that means. So I like to find a Sword of Glory or Tommy Gun and just wander around the board killing monsters? To hell with clues! Why close gates when that's how we get more monsters! And if you close too many gates you won't be able fight the Elder God! The game will end! How is that fun? I like my teammates, don't get me wrong. But that "Arkham fist bump" that they all do when we win a game is not nearly as fun as seeing the look of defeat in their faces when I win other games. That's just my opinion.
Overall, if you couldn't tell, the Zontco Gaming Division Earth Office unanimously loves Arkham Horror. It's an experience in itself and if you're looking for a good reason to love board gaming, this could be a great place to start.
Marvellous review, thank you oh mighty Zonts.
Now I want to play Arkham Horror again as soon as possible.
I've been playing the game for over four years now and while I appreciated the entirety of your review, I especially liked the part about randomness and that with "Each new development" the players must make "another adjustment in the strategy, another evaluation of the situation." That's a brilliant insight. In so many other games, as the player figures out more and more, the chance of success either rises or plummets. In Arkham Horror, sometimes a win surprises everyone as an Other World card returns two Investigators early allowing them to seal the Gates...or the corollary in which (to turn a phrase) things are going well and the Investigators still manage to draw "failure from the jaws of success."