I have played two games of Arkham Horror in the past few days, and the experience has been interesting.
The first thing I learned was, yes, “Arkham” is a Lovecraftian reference that Batman utilized for Arkham Asylum. The second thing I learned is that the game is definitely in the Axis & Allies level of board game setup. Well, maybe not that long, but it still requires a dozen or so stacks of cards and such.
I do like how physical the game feels. For example, each character gets X number of dollars, and said money is represented by little rectangular pieces. Characters have their own sort of character “sheet,” but they also have cardboard character pieces that are placed on the board standing up; monsters have the same sort of thing.
The gameplay flow is… kind weird. The premise of the game is to basically close gates (to other dimensions) before the Eldar God wakes up. Alternatively, you can try and shoot the Eldar God in the face, generally with predictable results. Having played twice and looked through the various cards/abilities, I was struck with a sense that the game is remarkably balanced – nearly every system in the game has an “Eldar God wakes up” failsafe built in. On the other hand, the second game I played ended up with the Big Bad waking up on like turn 6. We actually ended up beating said god through unique circumstances – the Lurker Beyond the Threshold and a crowbar/carbine combo was da real MVP – but it was a close thing, with 2 of the 4 characters being devoured.
As I was saying though, the gameplay decisions end up being a bit weird. Outside of a few character abilities there are very few ways of regenerating health and sanity. The success system is basically rolling 5-6 on a standard six-sided die, so the odds are generally that each encounter with leave you bleeding a bit. This means that most characters can’t undergo more than two encounters before having to make pit stops in either the hospital or Asylum to recharge, and since closing gates requires you to get hit with special “other world” encounters (which can be anything, but could be nasty monsters), most of the time it feels like there is never enough time to do anything.
Which is a good thing, I suppose, when you are trying to simulate the urgency of people running around stopping an Eldar God from awakening. Still, I kinda felt like that it put an absurd dependence on A) the characters you picked to play as at the beginning (we did a shuffle, deal 3, pick 1 deal), and B) what random items you were dealt. Everyone have a weapon? Awesome. Everyone get some bullshit tomes? Welp, maybe it’s worth starting over.
Beyond all that, I can see it being a good game to play with a group of friends, if you all have 2-4 hours to kill. One of the best aspects of the game is that it is entirely cooperative, which I think is fairly unique in terms of board games. Getting straight-up devoured isn’t even Game Over either, as there are rules for you grabbing a new Investigator to play as, assuming the game isn’t over via Eldar God thrashing yet. There are numerous expansions to the game, including literal expansions to the game board, so between that and the games themselves not lasting long (in terms of not using all the card text) the sense of the unknown is preserved pretty well.
On a final note, this is absolutely one of those games that I feel could be 100% digitized with little lost. I mean, I supposed by definition most board games could be digitized with little lost, but at least here with Arkham Horror there isn’t much interaction with the vast majority of the cards in a vast majority of the decks, such that a computer spitting out outcomes wouldn’t remove much of anything. And even if everything but direct player interaction was removed, the game itself would still take an hour or two.
So… yeah. Arkham Horror. Played it in Japan, and now I might see if there are any open spots at GenCon.