Arkham Horror Horror

Arkham Horror Horror

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Arkham Horror Horror

Not the most original of comics, I know. We haven’t actually had the opportunity to play many games at all these past few weeks – besides one game of Arkham, it’s just been Pandemic Legacy. And while Pandemic Legacy is one of the most tense, exciting, brain-burning, and brilliant board game experiences we have ever had, it has had more than its fair share of coverage in our comics already.

By the way, if you are playing Legacy, and have gotten past April, check out this old comic of ours. We made it just after Pandemic Legacy was announced, and only just realised how inadvertently prescient it was.


Meanwhile, in Arkham … much like Fantasy Flight’s flagship LCG Netrunner, it took us a few games of the Arkham Horror LCG to actually get our head around the rules, how it plays, and how you need to play it to stand any chance of winning – or even surviving a scenario.

The gameplay is not that complicated, it’s just that the mechanisms are not that intuitive. The rulebook is also written to cater for years’ worth of expansion, and new mechanics, so by necessity it is more detailed than it needs to be for just the core set, even including several timing charts. There is a quick ‘learn to play’ guide, which is useful, but at the same time won’t take you very far.

Unusually for an LCG (Limited Card Game, if you are unfamiliar with the term, it means that instead of random boosters to increase your collection, the game uses set decks of new cards released regularly), it is a co-op game. Two players fight their way through a nightmarish stew of Lovecraft-ian settings, monsters, and horrors, all distilled into one convenient encounter deck.

The thing the game does so well, though, and what ultimately broke our resolution to never touch either CCGs or LCGs, is that each time you play, you are playing through a story-driven scenario. It is guided by ‘Act’ and ‘Event’ cards, which tell the story, and also time the game. The clock is always ticking, as you race to discover clues and fend off winged ghouls. Each expansion (typically around 15 LCEs (Local Currency Equivalent)) gives you another scenario to play through. They include cards to add to your deck, which allow you to level your characters up between sessions.

Deck-building, co-op, and campaign games are my three favourite types of game. So, despite the collectible nature of it, I was never really going to be able to resist its siren call, which could have been designed specifically to lure me onto the rocks of excessive acquisition and poverty. Collecting further expansions to continue the story of your investigators is fine though, great even.

The issue I have is with the assortment of cards with the base game. The core box provides five investigators, and cards to build decks for two of these investigators at a time, but only in select combinations. You can play Roland Banks and Agnes Baker, for example, but you can’t combine Agnes with Daisy – they use a similar card type in their decks. Even this I am fine with. Five investigators is generous, as is allowing all of the deck archetypes to be played with straight out of the box.

The issue is with the deck-building. If you want to go even slightly beyond what is suggested and craft a custom deck out of the core box, you will very quickly hit a brick wall, and the only way around that obstacle is to buy a second copy of the core set, something I will not do out of principle. I am willing to buy future expansions (there are already a lot) and over time, this will allow me to customise my deck. With time, I will have a wealth of options. But having basically no options out of the box feels like it’s just asking players to go for a second core set, and that can’t help but feel a little dirty.

24 Comments on Arkham Horror Horror
  • frederick123

    Buying multiple copies of core, is the only problem I have with LCG model. I have just recently got into netrunner, and I don’t mind paying a lot to catch up on data packs, but I have reached a point, where at least second copy of core is needed, and third would be preferred, which is sad. Why couldn’t we have 3 ofs of every card in the core, I won’t understand.

    • I really like the idea of an LCG as opposed to a CCG, and think it is a really fair model. This core set issue though, that really, really sucks, and I can’t help but feel a little cheated by it. Maybe there is an argument to be made that the core sets are designed to give a better play experience to a casual player, and only more dedicated players need get two cores.
      I don’t know enough about game production and costs to know the truth of it, though.

      • frederick123

        That’s what is weird to me. I’m playing casual only so far, but even in casual, I like to have consistency, which is hard to get, if you have only one console card in 45 card deck, that allows you to install over 4MU. If you are not lucky enough to draw it early, big chunk of you deck is unusable, or at least, that is how i feel as a casual player.

        I’m not able to see into game production, so it is hard to know circumstances, but I do not think, that 20 more copies of cards in the box would make it worse for people, even if the price would be increased by 10%.

        • It does seem to be odd when you consider that all of the Netrunner Data Packs always give three copies of each card. That is the standard they have set, so why not in the core set as well? I don’t think it would bother me as much, but I really like these games, Arkham in particular, and it is just this one thing that holds it back from being truly great.

          • Matthew Sigal

            I think FFG puts out the coreset in this way to make it as easy for pick up and play as possible (like deckbuilding in core Netrunner is: grab all the shaper cards, add a few neutrals, good to go. Deckbuilding in Arkham: Grab all of your primary color cards, all of the off-color cards, a few neutrals, good to go.). For people just picking up the game to treat it as a boardgame, that makes a lot of sense.

            Plus they know those who want to be more invested in deckbuilding will eventually cave for the second core…

          • frederick123

            True. I saw announcement for the Legend of the five rings LCG, and even if it looks great, FFG already mentioned need for 2/3 cores to get 3 copies of all cards.

          • Nick Smith

            I can’t remember the precise figure, but it’s that expansions are something like a quarter of the sales of the cores – IE The vast majority of people only buy the cores, enjoy them as a casual experience, and ignore deck optimisation. So the choice is: Double/Treble the amount of cards (And price) of the core boxes, or sell the cores at half price, but let the hard-core buy two of them.

  • wr00t

    LOTR LCG is also a co-op i believe.

    • How much we are enjoying Arkham is actually making me think about other deck-building co-ops. I had forgotten about LOTR, and Aileen is a huge fan of that franchise, so I must investigate. There is also Pathfinder, which some people really rave about.

      • Matthew Sigal

        Matt Newman and Nate French are the designers of Arkham, and were both lead designers on LOTR. I wouldn’t really advise going back to LOTR though – both Matt and Nate learned tons from that experience, and Arkham is a substantially better game because of it. You’ll find some things odd – like the fact that you don’t actually take your deck from scenario to scenario — you custom build decks for each, and if you don’t build a “good deck”, you don’t really stand a chance. It is definitely a different experience. I personally perfer less emphasis on deck building, and more on overarching narrative, which Arkham provides in spades.

        • I spoke to a couple of fans of this game over the weekend, which was interesting. I did learn from one person though that you would sometimes need to buy multiple copies of an expansion to get copies of a good card – that is a big turn off for me. For the time being we have heaps of catching up to do on Arkham, and might look into Pathfinder down the road.

          • Nick Smith

            “Need” is a strong term. I *did* get 2 of the Dunwich big box, but only because it was the first. Certainly haven’t got two of any others, and doubt I will. As the card pool expands, the amount of ‘must have’ cards diminishes. Will it be occasionally better to have 4 copies of a card, for very specific deck combos? Possibly. But necessary? No, definitely not.

          • Matthew Sigal

            Nick, Colin was talking about LOTR in this comment — not Arkham 🙂 But I agree – only 1 copy of each expansion is really necessary for Arkham. I can comfortably play 3 players with 2 cores and 1 of each expansion, which is good enough for me.

      • frederick123

        If you mean pathfinder:adventure card game, I like it, but it is not much of a deck builder as in, build from all the cards, but more like rpg dominion style builder, where you upgrade your decks through multiple scenarios. Story element of the game is heavily based on players, since it is possible to play purely as a calculated risk/hopefull dice roll kind of game.

        • Would you recommend the Pathfinder card game? I was looking at the Warhammer Quest card game today, and it looks like fun. Very different to Arkham, but another fun 2 player card game ( I know it is in no way a deck builder) But with Warhammer Quest I know there won’t ever be any more expansions.

          • frederick123

            I have P:ACG Runelords, and P:ACG Skull&sharkles, so I would say yes, if you like minimal RPG story (you get description of the scenario, and each villain is unique), and a game, where you train new abilities and enhance equipment of your characters game after game, and where win or lose depends on the combination of cards, dice rolls and risk management. I like it, but it can get repetitive fast.

  • Stephen M. Schaefer

    Tangentially related: I compiled a wish list of Arkham Horror (the original) and all the various expansions, and nifty little add ons like the horror dice and the painted figures.

    To max out the board game runs north of a thousand dollars.

    It may go without saying but I’m still at just the base game.

    • That game gets HUGE. You see pictures of people playing with several add on boards, and SO many decks of cards. Eldritch Horror seems to be going the same way as well. I don’t have any problem with that, though, expansions are 100% optional, and great if you like a game enough.

      • Matthew Sigal

        Matt Newman and Nate French are the designers of Arkham, and were both lead designers on LOTR. I wouldn’t really advise going back to LOTR though – both Matt and Nate learned tons from that experience, and Arkham is a substantially better game because of it. You’ll find some things odd – like the fact that you don’t actually take your deck from scenario to scenario — you custom build decks for each. It is definitely a different experience.

  • Matthew Sigal

    Glad to hear you picked this up! I personally love the game. A few points:
    * LCG actually stands for Living Card Game, not limited.
    * Arkham plays 2-4 players. I think 3 is probably the optimal number.
    * For FFG, 2+ cores is generally the rule of thumb. We’re lucky that Arkham only really needs 2. But yeah, that is a common complaint. The game is substantially more enjoyable with 2 cores though (and with expansions, you can easily table 3 player decks instead of just 2).

    • oops! Living – silly me. I don’t know how I managed to think it was ‘limited’. I looked up the Arkham expansions over the weekend (I have been thinking about this a lot) and was very glad to see that they give 2 copies of player cards in the expansions, so you don’t ever really need to buy more than one copy of an expansion (not for 2 players, which is how we play). I think if the game required you ever buy multiple copies of an expansion we would have just dropped.

  • Daniel Sroka

    I’ve been looking for more solo games, and have really enjoyed this one: the mood, style and story-driven nature of it. But I agree about the rules though! It seems that for every simple-sounding rule in the book, amost every card throws an exception into the mix. I’ve played several rounds only to realize halfway through that I had been interpreting the cards wrong. Oh well, at least it so well designed I don’t mind starting over!