Review: Arkham Horror

Arkham Horror.pngArkham Horror is a strange beast intended to set in Lovecraftian world of horrors. It has been on a table now more than enough now and despite many fanatic followers – like the cult of Cthulhu itself, game fails epically where it should not. Fully cooperative games are rarity even today since they are remarkably hard to execute well. I think that I am done with AH.

First impressions – if there is any previous exposure to FFG is the obnoxious sight of small cards and other clutter. However, to Arkham Horror’s credit, it is probably the game starting the small card clutter setup which so many others followed and expanded. Immediately after reading the rules, it is quite evident that in order to play at all, errata & errata of errata equal to the length of the original rulebook need to be incorporated to the game to make it playable (alternatively one may go with very liberal disregard of the rules – and this means most of the rules). On the positive side,  there are no rubbish miniatures, so that can be given a plus. Too many games nowadays feature very low quality “bendyplastic” miniatures, without real purpose besides of inflating production cost, and therefore cost to the consumer.

For playing experience it is notable that Arkham Horror is a game that moves along in glacial speed, yet being random as natural selection. It is a game where everything is measured in geological timescale and if one or more players are inclined to stall – well, you’d better prepare for a long and tedious session indeed. Don’t take it wrong, first half of the first game it was moderately interesting but then the rinse and repeat aspect took over. Move to the gate, close the gate, move to another, rinse and repeat (ad infinitum).

Author claims that the playtime is between 120/240 minutes. In practical terms this would mean that every person in 8 player game would invest 15-30 minutes in the whole game, including setup time and choosing of the characters. Apparently calculation is based on that every player do their turn (much) under one minute. Normally, the game times can be safely doubled, but in case of AH, 4 times the given time is closer to reality, given that all the necessary components are kept neatly ready for play. Unless of course the group has particularly fast players. It is still very long game by any standards, but manageable.

First game was almost okay (afterwards, checking the errata and the errata for the errata, found out number of things that were done wrong because the owner of the game was not well aware of the rules and related corrections). The next one was very tedious and long – albeit shorter than the first, and from the third onwards, well… I don’t know how many times I tried to like the system but it just grew worse every step along the way. There are no surprises, nothing new that would be even a long distance call from interesting. There is nothing Lovecraftian in the setting or theme. Absolutely none. Just same old, over and over again. Variation is superficial, and the narrative is hair thin. Too often, one can feel the effects of aging coming along when opponent is optimizing trivial matters, or just stalling. However, even when playing Arkham Horror even in relatively good speed, one may actually witness the erosion leveling mountains, and continents moving. In short, now, as unfortunate as it is, Arkham Horror has become most arduous and boring not-immediately-broken game I have played.

Yes, I know many people who love the game, and could maybe understand why from the theme point of view, but what strikes me is the amount of fanatic followers of this pseudo-co-op game that is essentially solo game for many people. Now I am inclined to think that it is the blind devotion of FFG which forces people to like everything that they release, regardless.

Sad conclusion is that the theme offers interesting possibilities, but the execution is terrible. In all honesty, the co-op system really does not work. Very liberal interpretation of rules is required even with errata.

Partly the reason why the co-op thing does not work very well is the rules and their liberal application. Playing many solo games over the years, the core of the engine is the rulebook, and if done well, it is necessary to both follow, and limit the possible interpretations to as close to 1 as possible.

In short, complete overhaul of the system, especially the core governing the co-op aspect, and the game engine is needed (in fact, moving backwards to Betrayal at the House on the Hill would be better choice…). Dramatic reduction of clutter and along with it, playtime is also necessary. Currently most of the cards and other things serve no purpose what so ever, except at complications and playtime. For actual result they have very little, or no effect. Because there is currently practically zero interaction between players, every delay multiplies and causes significant downtime and wait. In 6 player setting half an hour wait between turns is on the low side, and many games would easily fit in as fillers. Being co-op game, one should have right to expect that players are required to cooperate in order to win, and not do so just superficially. It is not hard to devise set of rules that govern the co-operation and do get it done in meaningful way.

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