Cardboard Children – Eldritch Horror

By Robert Florence on January 21st, 2014 at 9:00 pm.

Hello youse.

Way back in the day, when I first covered Arkham Horror I made it clear that while it was a game I loved, it wasn’t a game I could easily recommend. You can travel back through time by the power of “link-clicking” to find out all about that if you wish. Once you’re done, you can click to read further into this edition of my column, where I’ll recommend a different game to you, and recommend it easily.

ELDRITCH HORROR

When I heard about Fantasy Flight’s plans for Eldritch Horror, I was all “WHAT IS THIS? ARKHAM HORROR SECOND EDITION? WHAT ARE THESE GUYS DOING HERE? GUYS? Oh sorry, left my caps lock on. Guys?” I wasn’t sure that it was a game I wanted or needed. A Lovecraft theme, yes. Great. Stopping Azathoth and Cthulhu’s alarm clock from going off. Yes, good. But we’d done all that before, right? I mean, we could do all that in big, old, clunky, beautiful Arkham Horror.

“Yes, but – in Eldritch Horror you can do all this stuff in a more simple and speedy and efficient manner!”

I wasn’t sold on it at all.

I was wrong.

Eldritch Horror is a game for 1-8 players. Yes, you can play it on your own, or with your local five-a-side football team and the referee and a stranger you met in the public toilets. It’s a globe-trotting adventure and exploration game. You’ll be taking two actions every turn as you move around a world map, trying to solve mysteries relating to a big baddie who likes to eat universes.

Arkham Horror was a dog to teach. I mean, it was a DOG. You could spend half an hour explaining what the fuck was going on and still have to shrug and say “Well, let’s just play and I’ll fill in the gaps.” And then realise that the game was ALL gap. The game is a beast. In Eldritch Horror, you can explain how to play in about five minutes. “Every turn you can take two actions. Here is a list of the actions you can take. Once you’ve taken them, some story will happen and we’ll just see what happens to you.”

Story is the key. Eldritch Horror delivers a lot of story. The characters are well defined, and the encounter system is slick. If you’re at a location, you choose what kind of encounter to have. Let’s say you’re in London. You can choose to have a London-themed encounter, or a generic City encounter. If there is a token on London with you, such as a Rumour or a Gate or a Clue, you can encounter them instead. All these encounters are basically little stories on cards. Another player reads some story to you, you make a simple success roll based on your character attributes, and you pass or fail. Job done. Something within the game will change. You’ll find a clue. You’ll lose sanity. You’ll gain an ally. You’ll become paranoid.

To defeat the big baddie, you have to solve three mysteries. These are all baddie-specific, and are pretty much just goals for all the players to shoot for. Often they’ll need you to visit a location and spend a number of clues. Mysteries are a nice, clean way of keeping track of game progress. In Arkham Horror, which was all about closing gates into other worlds, the goal of the game often felt a bit vague. It was often weirdly unclear exactly how well you were doing. In Eldritch Horror that is all fixed. We have goals, we know what we need to do to fulfil them, and we know exactly when they’ve been fulfilled.

Something else I loved – the Mythos Deck is something you draw a card from at the end of every round. Mythos Cards move the game along, causing gates to open and monsters to appear. They generate clues. They sometime spawn rumours, which are story-based little mini-tasks that players need to keep careful tabs on. They change game rules sometimes – maybe the Mythos Card will stop players from being able to rest and heal. And, cooler than cool, the Mythos brings about a Reckoning.

Man, the Reckoning. The Reckoning, yo. You will dread that Reckoning symbol appearing on a Mythos Card. The Reckoning is the point in the game where you test to see how all those ongoing effects are hurting you. Your character can gain Conditions in the game. Conditions range from being in debt to being paranoid or injured. When the Reckoning comes around, you need to test these conditions, and sometimes have to flip the condition cards. That debt card? Flip it and you’ll find out who comes to collect on the debt. That dark pact you made? Flip the card and find out what the cost is. The Reckoning is TERRIFYING, and can turn a whole game session on its head. And it’s not all about conditions either. Reckoning causes other things to happen too – it can trigger effects that make the Doom Track advance, bringing you all closer to defeat. It can advance vile plots on those rumour cards. It’s a horrific thing, and one of the most brilliant things in the game.

Flipping those cards, man. I think this is what I love the most about Eldritch Horror. You have a spell card? Nice. Using it? Nice. Fail your spell roll? Flip your card. Find out what happened. Wail in agony. It’s a clean, slick way of putting a little narrative twist into game assets and effects. When you gain conditions or spells, you never know for sure what version of the card it is, or what will be printed on the back. It’s a constant worry.

Cool stuff happens in this game. That’s the easiest way to put it. Cool stuff happens, and often. In my last game, as we were close to victory, I tried to cast a spell to teleport another player to this weird island where an insane wizard was spreading madness. I fucked the spell up, opening a portal that shut before the other player was fully through, and I cut them in half. They died. The insane wizard dreamed on. My character went insane. All in one turn. When you die, you can bring new characters in to pick up the strand of the investigation, and they can encounter your old character. How cool is that? They can visit your old character in the hospital, or the graveyard. See? Cool stuff happening, always.

And events are all themed after the baddie you’re playing against. You will tailor the decks, pre-game, to make the flavour work properly. It’s like they’ve thought of everything.

Enough. Eldritch Horror is an essential game. It’s the Lovecraft adventure game that I can recommend to everyone. It’s accessible, fun, and easy to play. It plays in a couple of hours, plays smoothly, and will leave everyone with a story to tell. It’s a very different game from Arkham Horror. It’s less weird, and less oppressive. It doesn’t have as dark a mood, and doesn’t HATE YOU as much as Arkham Horror does. It doesn’t feel like it is possessed by a hundred evil ghosts like Arkham does. But it’s fun. My goodness. It’s such fun. Such a story. You will laugh a lot, and you’ll go insane, and you’ll shoot cultists with shotguns.

My girlfriend detests Arkham Horror. She had a blast playing Eldritch Horror. I bet that was exactly what Fantasy Flight wanted – a Lovecraft game that isn’t your enemy. They rolled a big success with this one.

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28 Comments »

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  1. TheIronSky says:

    This sounds like absolutely everything I love in a board game. I’ll take two.

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  2. Drinking with Skeletons says:

    I lust for this game. How is it in terms of space required and time to set up? It looks similar to Arkham Horror in that regard.

    I never found Arkham Horror to be difficult to explain, but it takes one person being basically the dungeon master and taking the first few turns phase by phase. You DO NOT explain how combat works until you need to, you DO NOT explain the exact mechanism of sealing gates until necessary, you DO NOT ask anyone else to worry about moving monsters, and you DO NOT play for the first time with any expansion boards or any Old One other than Yig.

    The real obstacle is the massive setup time, space required, and lots of bits to track.

    • IShouldBeWorking says:

      I haven’t played AH myself, but as a happy owner of EH I can tell you that it requires a fair amount of time to setup, let’s say around 15 minutes once you are used to, or about 20-25 for a first time. On the other hand, IMO it requieres quite a lot of space, noting that my 1m x 1m gaming table is not enought at all. The bits and many things to track could be another issue, I’ve to admit that normally I’ve forgotten to keep track of some bits while playing, but nonetheless It is pure fun to play!

    • Phendron says:

      I actually found Azathoth to be the go-to beginner god.

      • gwathdring says:

        Me too. No special rules, and you don’t have to worry about the difference between gearing up to face an old one and racing to seal gates. You just race to seal gates. Nice and simple.

        • Soldancer says:

          I’ve only played one game so far, and though we liked it, we had trouble with one of Azathoth’s mysteries. The one that requires you to close gates that match the current omen took us 2.5 hours to achieve. We just called the game at that point.

          That mystery literally requires the stars to align, and while that is really flavorful, it’s very, VERY luck based. The other three mysteries are much easier to achieve, so I would recommend just leaving that one out.

          Still a fantastic game. I had an African shaman with a bottle of whisky, a personal assistant, and a shotgun. Good times.

  3. Taerdin says:

    Now I feel silly for owning an opened but unpunched and unplayed copy of Arkham Horror…

    • Ergates_Antius says:

      Never feel foolish for not playing AH. It’s a great game and I love it, but it’s a beast, takes a up a *lot* of time and you have to have a really dedicated group of friends to play it.

    • Driscoll says:

      My copy is also opened and unplayed, but I did take the time to punch out everything. I might have skimmed the rules but that’s about as far as I got. I recently tried to get a game of War of the Ring going but between learning the rules, setup, and then explaining the rules during the game, there ended up not being a lot of actual gameplay during that play session. I figure that would also happen playing AH. Eldritch Horror looks like the better game and I’ll have to pick up a copy up at some point.

  4. nimzy says:

    About time they revisited Arkham Horror. I can’t wait to get my hands on this one.

  5. Premium User Badge

    X_kot says:

    Thanks for the glimpse of this game, Rab. It’s been floating around the periphery of my mind for awhile now as a replacement for the copy of Arkham Horror sitting in the closet, gathering dust. Elder Sign is nice and light, but it didn’t have enough story beats to tell an interesting story afterward.

    However, I’ve also heard good stuff about A Study in Emerald, and I can see myself only buying one or the other. I think I’ll need to actually play both of them before I can decide.

  6. Kestrel says:

    Usually by the third or fourth hour of our Arkham Horror game, our group has gone from expressing dread, hysteria, anger, laughter, frustration, and fatigue. It’s both a game and a torture device.

    Eldritch Horror sounds like a welcome improvement.

  7. Phendron says:

    You haven’t experienced true terror until you’ve played Arkham Horror with the Innsmouth expansion. Still shell-shocked thinking about it.

    This looks dandy.

  8. Hensler says:

    Welp, I’ll be grabbing this before Tabletop Day 2014 (April 5) – Mansions of Madness and Arkham Horror were a bit too much for the muggles, but this one sounds perfect.

  9. Shiri says:

    Anyone know what the odds of this turning up on Vassal are? I don’t have a meatspace gaming club :(

    • Baines says:

      Didn’t the Vassal article say that Fantasy Flight is one of the companies that asks for its games to be pulled?

      • Shiri says:

        If it did, it’s wrong, I believe. I’ve played Fantasy Flight games on it – they request, apparently, that the uploader remove some amount of the card text (say, the common items in Arkham Horror) so you can’t play without a meatspace copy. I don’t actually have any problem buying a meatspace copy to fill in the blanks, BUT I need the vassal module to play with anyone.

        • gwathdring says:

          Indeed. FF is actually REALLY good about letting you play on VASSAL. They’re amazingly lenient with some of the games–they just want you to, in theory, require a boxed copy to play but sometimes they’re loose enough that that means, practically speaking, it would be easy to evade with wikis or just remembering a few details about the game or even some PnPing. The flip side to that is that we who abide by their wishes and buy the box before using VASSAL don’t have to fiddle as much to get the module functioning as a proper play-space by having too many censored cards and such. They’re super friendly about the whole thing.

  10. gwathdring says:

    Well, I’ll be darned. I was so sure it would just be a mildly tidied up Arkham Horror.

    I might have to get this. Arkham Horror remains rarely played, much as I love it, and if this really does fulfill it’s promise to cut down the most problematic hurdles to Arkham Horror*, I’m very tempted to pick it up. I haven’t gotten far enough through my wishlist to basically buy an “upgrade,” yet, but I’m just about to the point where I can start grabbing things like this.

    *(time aside, of course, but I’ve honestly had very little problem selling people my 2-4 hour games, and I have plenty of short games when I bump into time constraints or gamers without stamina), I

  11. kaffis says:

    I don’t know. While I can totally get behind an easier to teach and quicker to play Arkham Horror, this talk about an Arkham Horror that doesn’t hate you sounds too easy and winnable…

    • aldrenean says:

      You can tailor the difficulty in a couple ways: there are 4 Elder Gods to choose from, each harder than the last due to lower starting Doom and more evil Reckoning or passive effects. Then the Mythos deck has some cards with red tentacles (hard) and some with blue sigils (easy.) If you want an easier game, you take out the tentacles, for a harder one, remove the sigils.

      My girlfriend and I finished our first game yesterday (neither of us have played this or AH before,) and we lost to an ongoing effect that triggered every Reckoning and eventually lost us the game. It wasn’t looking particularly hopeful before that, either. I don’t have the experience to tell you exactly how hard it is, but it’s certainly not babytown frolics.

  12. harr0p says:

    I used to play the pen and paper call of cuthulu sounds very similiar. May have to give it a look.

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    phuzz says:

    So this is more of a cooperative ‘all players vs the game’ type thing (like Pandemic), rather than a competition between players?
    I hope so, it’s easier to interest new players if they’re not getting beaten down by the more experienced players.

    • Premium User Badge

      tengblad says:

      Yeah, it’s all co-op. There’s no player against player at all.

  14. mechabuddha says:

    I haven’t played Arkham Horror again since the “incident”. The misses and I had played before, and had invited a friend over to teach the game to her. 3 arduous hours in and we realized that we had reached a fail condition (too many monsters on the board) over an hour prior.

    Can anyone who has played Eldritch Horror speak to fail conditions for the game? AH just had way too many to keep track of for my simple mind.

    • LCinn says:

      It’s pretty simple, actually. There is only one universal fail condition, and it’s pretty obvious: after the Ancient One awakens, when a character dies or goes insane, you don’t get a replacement. When all investigators are eliminated like this, you lose the game.

      In addition, there are two more sources of fail conditions:
      1- the Ancient One usually has a specific fail condition on it’s awakened side
      2- Rumor cards, which are a specific type of mythos card that come out in the beginning of the game (there’s always two in the mix, if I remember correctly) are awful ongoing mythos cards that sometimes have a lose-the-game effect.

      So it’s pretty easy to see if you lost the game! Yay!