Designers: Nate French, Matthew Newman
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Players: 1-2 Players (up to 4 with an additional copy of the game)
Ages: 14 and Up
Time: 60 – 120
Times Played: 3
I am a sucker for a good Cthulu game. You want to travel all around Arkham, narrowly avoiding unspeakable creatures and risking being lost in time and space? I’m your woman. You’re ready to race through a creepy old mansion, opening doors that are clearly best left closed? Sign me up. You want to boogie with Nyarlathotep? Just let me grab my purple d20 and we’ll be off.
However, much of a fan as I am of Arkham Horror, Eldritch Horror and the like, I am not able to get these games to the table very often. They are long, they can be fiddly and they just aren’t to everyone’s taste. When I heard about Arkham Horror: The Card Game I was intrigued and couldn’t wait to try it.
This is a cooperative card game. Players work together to achieve the objective for the scenario they are playing. Each player takes on the role of an investigator of their choice and assembles a deck for that investigator; the game rules provide some suggested starter decks, or you can choose to make your own. You start the game with a hand of five cards.
Evil also gets some cards. The first deck is the Agenda deck, which represents the passage of time and the progress of evil; players do not want this deck to advance. The second deck is the Act deck; this deck represents the players’ progress and players want to move through this deck quickly in order to win the scenario. The third deck is the Encounter deck; each round players draw from this deck and carry out the instructions.
Each round of the game has four phases. In the Mythos phase, players are subject to the evil forces of the Mythos. A doom token is placed on the top Agenda card; when the number of doom tokens on this card equals or exceeds what is listed on the card the agenda advances; players follow the instructions on the new card and move on. Each player then draws a card from the Encounter deck and follows the instructions; these cards are generally not good and require the investigators to perform various skill checks or fight enemies, similar to location encounters in Arkham/Eldritch Horror.
In the Investigation phase each player takes 3 actions of their choice from a list of actions; these actions let you play or gain cards and resources, investigate your location or move to another or deal with enemies you may encounter. The goal of most of these actions is to collect clue tokens that you can use to satisfy each Act card and move to the next.
Once the players have taken their turn the enemies get their chance to fight back, following the enemy rules. Any enemies engaged with investigators will fight back and potentially cause damage and insanity.
Once the enemies have wreaked horror on the investigators, the investigators get a chance to recover in the Upkeep phase. Cards that were used are unexhausted, and players take one card and one resource.
If the players reach the end of the Act deck, there is a resolution that will tell the players the outcome of the scenario. If the players reach the end of the Agenda deck, they will also learn their fate, but it is likely not a good one. The game can also end if both players are eliminated either by dying or going insane; players also have the option of resigning a scenario,
This game will feel familiar to anyone who has played Arkham Horror or Eldritch Horror; it also comes with a “learn to play” scenario that will be useful to anyone who has never played any of the games before. The rules are relatively clear, although you will spend some time going back and forth between the different rule books; there is an index that makes this easier. There are also some helpful FAQs on the Fantasy Flight website. In addition, the game gives you the option of adjusting the setup so that you are playing at an easy, medium or hard level. I have only played the medium level, and it was plenty challenging; I can’t imagine playing at the hard level, but maybe in time I will try it.
The base game contains 3 scenarios. This does mean that the basic game has limited replayability, since you would play through each scenario a limited number of times; you could potentially play through them again using different characters, but you’d soon have seen all of the information. There are several expansions available now with more to come. This does drive the cost of the game up, but as an entertainment cost it is acceptable to me. Others may find this is enough to turn them off the game, since you could spend well over $100 for the base game and expansions at this point.
The components of the game are well done. The art is similar to Arkham and Eldritch. The card stock is high-quality and the component pieces seem well-made and sturdy.
I enjoyed this game and look forward to playing it again. It scratches the itch for Arkham or Eldritch without the time commitment or the additional players; the designers have done a good job of distilling the original games into a card game format. You’re still traveling to different locations, fighting monsters and having unusual experiences, both good and bad. You’re still choosing an investigator and using fun special abilities and allies. It’s not at the same in-depth level, but the trade-off for the shorter playing time and smaller number of players is worth it.
If you’re a fan of the genre, I recommend that you give it a try. If you’re new to the genre, it is a good way to see what you think of it.
Thoughts of Other Opinionated Gamers
Patrick Brennan: By way of disclosure, I was involved in early playtesting and assisted with card and rules editing (though they did change further after I’d finished).
I’ve played AH and EH, to which this is thematically linked, but my comparative point of view is more towards other LCG’s as this is the framework from which the game was built. Some will be attracted to the game by the theme despite not being card-heads, others because they love the rich depth and extensive replay that the LCG deck-building world provides, where an Arkham based co-op fits their idea of a fun space to explore. To that end, I have some form, having been a playtester and editor for Star Wars LCG and Warhammer Conquest LCG, and played 500+ games of LotR LCG, which is similarly co-op.
The deckbuilding is limited with just the core set (as is always the case with LCG’s until you invest in expansion packs), but it gives you enough to tinker with and a few ways to play so as to earn the value of each type of card. As you progress through each scenario, you earn XP and spend them to swap out a card for either a stronger version of that card (typically), or maybe a different stronger card. If you think of your deck as representing your character, then this represents levelling up your character. (In practice, this campaign style is not dissimilar to how we do our LotR campaigns, keeping the same heroes and restricting ourselves to a limited number of deck changes each scenario. It’s just that it’s a forced structure here.)
In terms of gameplay, the aim of the game is spend as many investigate actions as you can to gather clues – getting the requisite number of clues enables the win. The game then throws as many obstacles in the way to limit your opportunities to do so, be it by introducing monsters that need fighting, forcing you to move to different locations for new sources of clues, giving you “weakness” troubles that require actions to clear, and so on. I’ll confess I wasn’t a big fan of the mathy nature of this structure – each turn I ended up reducing the results of the “introduce badness” phase to how many required actions were just added to the quest. But this structure does provide the necessary fuel around the deck-build – what percentage of the deck will you use to help with clue-gathering, what percentage to fighting monsters and clearing the way, etc.
The other element that ended up turning me away from the game was the calculable nature of resolving any task. All tasks – like investigate a clue, or fighting a monster – require you to reach a given target number using icons on your cards. After you’ve determined how many icons to commit, you draw a chit from the bag that adjusts the target number. The bag is a fixed and known quantity with every draw. So by way of example, I currently have in play the same number of icons as the target number. My chances of success might be 3 in 16. If I throw a card from my hand to add 1 more icon, it increases to 7 in 16 say. Throw in another card with an icon and I’m up to 10 in 16. And so on. Every decision is a calculable risk / reward equation. And when you throw enough in to get a 14 in 16 must–win shot and still lose, it’s not the only thing that gets thrown around the table!!
This mathy-nature led me to losing thematic immersion and was where the game lost its magic for me. I much prefer the non-calculable nature of LotR. But it’s exactly why this game has taken a different approach – it offers a different feel that will appeal to a different set of gamers, hopefully broadening the LCG player base and limiting the cannibalization of the LotR player base.
Having said all that, I’m a fan of the LCG genre as it inherently generates interesting and hard decision making both pre and during games, and this iteration is no different. So even though it’s not my preferred taste, I’ll still enjoy it if it hits the table. I know from past LCG experience that the game will broaden and deepen, and the playing experience will grow richer. Combine that with a wildly attractive theme, and I’m sure the game will prove rewarding for those it appeals to and who invest ongoing.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it. Tery Noseworthy, Patrick Brennan
I am NOT into Cthulhu, nor am I much of a fan of cooperative games, but I’m still very pleased that this game is doing so well. The reason is that co-designer Matthew Newman is the son of my good friend Al Newman (who is also an excellent game designer). I bet that’s one proud poppa!
I did not realize that Matthew was Al’s son – that is awesome!
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