DESIGNER: Yves Tourigny
# OF PLAYERS: 1
AGES: 12 and up
TIMES PLAYED: 5, with a copy I purchased
As a child I often would set up games like Monopoly and Life and play them solo, taking on the roles of three or four players. Thankfully as I got older I found friends who would play games with me, but I still find myself drawn to multiplayer games that have a solo variant. Invariably, though, I find myself disappointed; even if the solo version of a game is pretty good, it’s never as good as playing the game with one or more other players. While doing my Essen research I came across Arkham Noir, a game specifically designed for only one player, and I was immediately intrigued.
In Arkham Noir Case File #1 you play private investigator Howard Lovecraft; you have been hired to investigate the death of several college students from Miskatonic University
The game components consist of solely of cards. In the box are 50 Clue cards, 6 Victim cards, 1 Professional Contact card and 3 Player Aid cards. In addition, there are 4 Reference cards that help you with set-up and keeping track of things during the game.
You start the game with two open cases and a hand of three cards. Every turn consists of an action phase and then a maintenance phase; play continues until one of the game end conditions is met.
On your turn, you take one action. Your action always starts with taking the first clue card in the “Leads” row. You then decide what to do with it; options include:
- Put the card into your hand. This will allow you to use it at a later time, but you can only have three cards in your hand at any one time, so you might need to discard another card if you take this action.
- Play the card to one of the open cases. You can only do this if a symbol on the left of the card you are playing matches at least one symbol on the right of the card you are playing it on. If the card has a lock, you must also have played a card with a key on it earlier in the case.
As soon as you play the card you must resolve the effects, if any, on the bottom of the card. Some effects are good and some are not; some are mandatory while others are voluntary. They may cause you to draw or discard cards, take a penalty or perform a stability check. Also, if you play more than 7 cards to a case you will have to perform a stability check every time you want to add a card. To perform the Stability check you draw the top card of the draw stack. If the card has the stability icon in the bottom right corner (and only that corner – the rules don’t specify this, but the designer has in a FAQ). you must place it in your stability penalty area; otherwise you discard it (more on stability penalties later).
- Discard the card and play a card from your hand to one of the cases, following the same rules for playing a card in the bullet above.
- Discard the card and close one of your open cases. In order to close a case you must have at least five different clue types (indicated by an icon on the top if the card). Ideally you will have at least one card with a puzzle piece icon on it; if you can remove this card and still have at least five different clue cards on your case you can score that card; five puzzle piece cards will win you the game.
- Discard the card and pass.
Any time you discard a card you look at the card to see if it has a time penalty icon on the bottom right of the card; if it does you discard it to your time penalty area rather than the discard pile.
Once during the game you may use your Professional Contact card to take a special action; the card in case one lets you either play a lock card without a key card or exchange a card from your hand with one of the available clue cards.
Once you have taken an action you begin the Maintenance Phase. The following steps occur in order.
- Check your Big Picture area. If you have five or more cards with a puzzle piece icon there, you win! The game ends immediately.
- Check your Stability Penalty Area. If you have five or more cards in this area, you lose. The game ends immediately.
- Check your Time Penalty area. If you have five or more cards in this area you must draw a new victim card and start a new open case below your current case(s); you also discard the Time Penalty cards. If you cannot draw a victim card, you lose.
- Refill the Leads row by moving all cards to the left and then filling in any empty spots. If you ever run out of cards you must start a new case by drawing a victim card; if you cannot you lose. You would then shuffle the cards in your discard area and start a new draw deck.
The rules give you several suggestions on how to make the game harder or easier, by adjusting the number of cards in play or cards needed for win/loss conditions. I went with hard once. Once.
MY THOUGHTS ON THE GAME
Let’s start with the theme. As you can guess from the title, the game is based on the Arkham mythos; . Case #1 is based on a combination of several HP Lovecraft stories. You don’t have to necessarily be a Lovecraft fan to enjoy the game, though. This game could have been made with a different theme, and the theme isn’t really integral to the game. As someone who likes the theme, it works well for me; I tell myself a little story in my head about my investigation as I go along, but that isn’t necessary – you could just play this a hand/resource management puzzle without caring one whit if Cthulhu is involved or not.
The rules are clear and mostly complete; I was confused about when/how to count time and stability icons until I found a clarification on Boardgame Geek from the designer but otherwise was able to read the rules and play the game right away.
The game play itself works well. I don’t mind the occasional multi-player solitaire game, so a truly solitaire game is fine. The interactions between the cards are interesting, and trying to manage when and what type of card you can play without incurring a penalty is a fun puzzle. There is some luck involved, since you are reliant on random card draws, but it’s not a problem; after the first turn you can see what cards will be foist upon you well in advance, and while some cards might force a negative on you, you can also see that in advance. It’s all about balance.
I’ve only managed to win once, so it’s not too easy. You can make it harder or easier; my one win in my 5 plays was on one of the easier settings, but I look forward to winning on normal and then perhaps hard. I also so far haven’t found that they game loses replayabilty after several plays; since victims and clues come out randomly so far I haven’t felt I can see a clear path to victory, although I suspect that will eventually change.
This brings me to the one thing I don’t like –expansions are not readily available. A limited number were available through the designer’s Etsy shop, but they are gone now and not available anywhere else. I enjoy the game and would purchase the expansions, which add complexity in addition to new cards, but it doesn’t seem I will be able to do that.
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
I love it!
I like it. Tery N.
Not for me…