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