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Arkham Horror Review & Ultimate Board Game Guide

If you thought HP Lovecraft’s Horror stories couldn’t get any creepier, then you clearly haven’t tried to solve one yourself. Well, here’s your chance. Dive into our ultimate Arkham Horror review… before you lose your sanity.

Arkham Horror (Third Edition)
Arkham Horror (Third Edition)
  • A modern take on the classic cooperative game of cosmic horror
  • Archive cards present Branching narrative paths, making each of...
  • Choose one of twelve unique investigators, each with their own...

Brief Overview of Arkham Horror (Third Edition)

Arkham Horror Components Overview and Third Edition Box

The third edition of Arkham Horror is a co-operative strategy and dice game for three-to-six players. Set in the mid-1920s in HP Lovecraft’s seemingly always-doomed fictional city of Arkham, you can probably already guess it’s no walk in the park.

Taking on the role of investigators, your team must save the city from ghoulish beings that are emerging through portals from another dimension. As you play, you uncover clues and unlock story cards that advance the narrative towards your objective, with the success of your actions largely relying on a dice-based mechanic.

But it’s not all that simple. New monsters and gates from Cthulhu Mythos are appearing all the time. Will you be able to reach your goal before you are overrun?

Unboxing Arkham Horror

Arkham Horror Board Game, Cards, Tiles, Tokens, and Art

Those brave enough to open the can of worms that is Arkham Horror will find inside:

  • 1 Rules Reference
  • 12 Map Tiles
  • 4 Scenario Sheets 
  • 12 Investigator Sheets, tokens and plastic stands
  • 469 cards
  • 271 tokens

I was really excited to get inside Arkham Horror, as it blends together a bunch of themes I have a real soft spot for. The mish-mash of the smoky 1920s Prohibition Era and a dank, ghoulish pulp horror series really is right up my scary, apparently deserted, alley. And, with a lot of cards and components in the box, there were plenty of opportunities for it to shine through.

The artwork and design are brilliant. The cards and game board modules, for example, brilliantly set the scene of the various districts and locations you could be visiting, like Downtown, Northside, or the Merchant District.

The tokens, too, are all brightly colored and, covered in icons like big magnifying glasses or oversized dollar bills, help set the scene as well.

Arkham Horror Rulebook (3rd Ed.)

It’s worth mentioning the rulebook too. It’s wonderfully written. From the scene-setting introduction, through to the playful explanations, it’s a nice tribute to HP Lovecraft’s work. And, thankfully, it avoids drawing from the author’s tendency for archaic and lengthy descriptions, compacting everything into a very concise 15 pages. (Although there is an additional rules reference with some clarifications.)

The game board modules are pretty cool. They mean each game can be set up slightly differently and adapted to the game in question (admittedly, this doesn’t make a huge amount of sense considering it’s all the same city). After a few plays, they might get a bit battered, but they generally fit together very well.

Lastly, it’s worth bearing in mind that while there are a lot of cards, you won’t be using them all each game, as most will be for other scenarios.

How to Play Arkham Horror

Arkham Horror Board Game Cards and Components

Setup

First off, select the scenario you want to play and arrange the map tiles, event, and monster decks as explained on the scenario sheet. Separately, take the Archive cards for your scenario and keep them stacked in order – these will narrate your game and add new rules as you progress.

Every player then chooses an investigator sheet and takes their starting possessions before putting the relevant investigator token on the listed starting location.

Finally, put into effect any Archive card rules listed on the scenario by placing them next to the board in the ‘CODEX’.

Your Objective

There are several scenarios you can play in Arkham Horror’s third edition, all with different winning conditions. I will be careful not to give away any of the storylines, as this is such an important part of this game. However, you can be sure that thwarting the onslaught of some gruesome monsters as they spill through multidimensional gates to terrorize Arkham is going to be a big part of it.

Game Turns

Regardless of the scenario you’re playing, turns take place over four phases. Players must all take their actions in each phase before moving on to the next one.

Phase 1: Action

Players get to take two of the following actions:

  • Move – move up to two spaces on the board, or pay to move more.
  • Attack or evade a monster.
  • Gather resources – receive a dollar!
  • Focus – get a focus token. These can be spent to reroll a die in a skills check (explained below).
  • Ward – resolve a lore skills check.
  • Research – resolve a research skills check to add a clue to the scenario sheet.
  • Trade – exchange items with other investigators.
  • Component – use an action on one of your component cards.

Phase 2: Monster

Now it’s the monsters’ turn to attack, move or activate. Depending on the monster type (hunter, patroller or lurker) the nature of their actions will differ. Hunters will track down their nearest investigator. Patrollers will head towards and defend certain locations. While lurkers will hang around and cause some kind of negative effect on their surroundings (like the guy that wants to talk politics at a party…).

Phase 3: Encounter

Take and resolve an encounter for the location you are in. The locations on the board have symbols reflecting what kind of encounter you’re likely to come up against, giving you the chance to play to your skills.

On finishing an event encounter, you’ll be rewarded with a chance to earn a clue, which you will need to advance through the scenario.

If you’re currently engaged with a monster, you skip this phase, as you have more pressing concerns.

Phase 4: Mythos

During this phase, each player takes two mythos tokens at random and resolves their effects. This could result in all manner of monstrous events, from spawning new monsters or upping your level of ‘doom’, through to a ‘gate burst’, to name just a few.

Skill Tests

Skill tests make up a bulk of the mechanics of the game, such as when attacking a monster, or a lore test.

To do so, you roll a number of dice determined by your level of skill for what’s being tested. For every 5 or 6 you roll, that is a success.

The number of dice you roll can be modified, such as by the items in your possessions, or your enemy’s powers. You are also able to reroll dice if you have a focus token.

Staying Alive

Your investigator’s health is measured both mentally and physically. If you rack up enough damage or horror points, your character will be defeated and removed from the game. The city of Arkham also suffers, adding a doom token to the scenario sheet (which is quite sweet, when you think about it).

You’re not totally out of the game, though. Instead, you get to rejoin with a new character from afresh.

Moving Through The Game

Your band of investigators must explore the city of Arkham, completing the objectives on the Archive cards while quelling the advance of monsters emerging from mythos. Each scenario will have a different ending, and often quite what that is will only become clear as the game unfolds.

Your First Game of Arkham Horror

Arkham Horror Board Game Character Card and Rulebook

It’s probably worth making clear when a player must battle a monster. On your action turn, if your investigator moves into a space with a ready monster, then the monster ‘engages’ you.

If the monster is already engaged or is exhausted from a previous battle, then you get away this time.

Otherwise, you choose whether to attack the monster. If not, then you must try to evade it, which is done with an observation skill test, modified by the monster’s evade level.

You can also be attacked by a monster on the monsters’ turn if they move into your space. In this instance, they simply deal damage to you and there’s no escaping it.

Versions & Expansions

Arkham Horror Board Game Expansions - Dead of Night, King in Yellow, and Black Goat of the Woods Boxes

The King in Yellow

This third edition expansion sees a new play come to town, ‘The King in Yellow’. I hear it gets raves reviews, except for the fact that anyone who sees it goes INSANE.

Alongside a pretty funky storyline, The King in Yellow introduces Heralds. These tokens are a way for the game to speed up the awakening of the Ancient One and are used in various other expansions, too.

Arkham Horror: King in Yellow Expansion
Arkham Horror: King in Yellow Expansion
  • Over 160 new cards to enhance your Arkham Horror game
  • Introduces the new Herald mechanic
  • For Ages: 12+

Dead of Night 

The Dead of Night expansion largely tops up the components you get in the base game, rather than introducing fresh ideas, including new encounters, headlines, items and allies. However, it also includes two extra scenarios, giving you a nice batch of new gameplay and story to unpick, along with some more investigators.

It’s a perfect expansion for those that have already played through the original storylines and want more of the same.

Arkham Horror: Dead of Night Expansion
Arkham Horror: Dead of Night Expansion
  • The first expansion for Arkham Horror
  • Four new investigators provide a new way to experience the...
  • Two new scenarios provide a fresh challenge in the city of Arkham

Black Goat of the Woods

A smaller expansion, Black Goat of the Woods introduces a couple of new concepts to Arkham Horror’s Third Edition. This time, a cult has taken ahold of swathes of Arkham and is offering up sacrifices to the Ancient One. It’s your job to infiltrate the cult and save the city.

Alongside being able to be indoctrinated into the cult yourself, a new Corrupt condition has been added that will result in all sorts of extra problems to deal with.

Arkham Horror: Black Goat of the Woods
Arkham Horror: Black Goat of the Woods
  • Introduces Corruption
  • New items, spells, and monster tokens to enhance your game of...
  • For Ages: 12+

Pros & Cons

Pros:

  • Co-operative strategy game
  • Fantastic and immersive storyline
  • Not overly complex

Cons:

  • Might feel a bit lightweight for hardcore dungeon-crawl gamers
  • Limited replayability

HP Lovecraft fan or not, the real joy of Arkham Horror is its ability to tell a story and engage the players into taking on the roles of the investigators. I can’t give too much away, but from the moment your characters are placed in their starting positions on the board, with their scenario-specific item load-outs, it was hard not to feel like part of it.

Every location has its own thematic conditions and encounters to address, and these are all tied skillfully into each scenario.

The strength of the story doesn’t take precedence over the gameplay, though. The balance is just right, with the mechanics being simple enough to keep everyone engaged in the story, but also more than complex enough to pose a real challenge.

In many ways, due to how the phases progressed, it might appear to be a dungeon-crawler style game. First, your team gets to explore, take actions and attack; then the monsters get a turn. Even the dice-rolling, which makes up the core mechanics of the game, echoed the genre.

Cooperative, Immersive Storyline

But it didn’t feel like a dungeon-crawler. For one, because of how ingrained the story-line is in the flow of the game. However, also because of its reliance on strategy and decision-making, rather than tactical combat. Most of your time will be spent devising and discussing elaborate combinations of the many actions available to you. Two each per turn will never feel like enough. 

Similar to the likes of Pandemic or Robinson Crusoe, often you’ll find yourself torn between simply keeping your heads above water and actually progressing towards your objective. Often, it’ll be a matter of simply deciding on what the least damaging sacrifice you can make is as the monsters gnaw away at your beloved Arkham. 

This is where some gamers may find it a little frustrating. With so few actions per turn, the amount you actually get to do is quite limited, especially if it’s largely just a clean-up operation.

Sacrifice to the Dice Gods

The dice rolling element, too, can be a pain. I usually don’t have a problem with randomness and dice-rolling in a game. However, when you went to pains to devise the perfect strategy with only six actions, to then have it totally undermined with one dice roll was pretty disheartening.

It’s worth mentioning, too, that with the reliance on story here, Arkham Horror’s replayability is limited. Thankfully, the expansions go some way to addressing this, but the base game will lose some of its charm once you’ve run through all the scenarios once.

TL;DR

Arkham Horror is a co-operative, story-based strategy game in which players must explore the city of Arkham, uncover clues and battle monsters that have been spilling through multidimensional gates from Cthulhu Mythos.

It’s absolutely dripping in narrative, and it’s easy to get immersed in the story as you play through.

With lots to do and only so much time to do it in, the core of the game will be spent deliberating with your team the best actions to take each turn. This can be hugely entertaining, however some players may find the dice resolutions a little too overbearing.

Conclusion: Verdict?

For any fans of co-operative strategy games, Arkham Horror’s third edition is definitely worth adding to your list. This is a game that requires extensive teamwork to win, as there’s no way you’ll be able to do everything you need to on your own. Instead, it’s a real joint effort, in which players will find themselves in deep discussion as they identify how best to use their strengths and actions to their best advantage on each turn.

For those that prefer a more tactical monster battle, the combat itself might feel a little one-dimensional. While the randomness of the dice-rolls can also limit the strategy side of things somewhat. However, if you ask me, this is more than made up for by Arkham Horror’s engrossing narrative, and the brilliant way it brings to life the world of Arkham and Cthulhu Mythos on the table-top.

Arkham Horror (Third Edition)
Arkham Horror (Third Edition)
  • A modern take on the classic cooperative game of cosmic horror
  • Archive cards present Branching narrative paths, making each of...
  • Choose one of twelve unique investigators, each with their own...

We hope you enjoyed our comprehensive Arkham Horror review.

Have you played the third edition of Arkham Horror? How did it compare to the old edition? Do you like Arkham or Eldritch Horror better?

Drop a comment below – we’d love to hear from you.

The post Arkham Horror Review & Ultimate Board Game Guide appeared first on Game Cows.



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