Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Cthulhu called...

He wants his cultists back.

Let's get one thing out of the way. There is absolutely nothing "lovecraftian" about this game. Except the whole mythos association, this thing is as far from H.P. as Yuggoth is from Earth.

That is not necessarily a bad thing of course. The game doesn't seem to take itself too seriously, and throws in plenty of subtle or semi-subtle humour. There is a "Velma's Diner" where "cherry pies go when they die", there is the occult organisation of the "Silver Twilight". The characters are pulp jokes, both in name and appearance. Whip-wielding archaeologists, busty female scholars exposing large areas of their chests. Etc. You get the picture.

All in good fun, of course and it's great, although I can see how it could upset someone with a more purist approach to the material. (James isn't talking about Arkham Horror there, but what he's saying about lovecraftian becoming synonimous with "lol tentacles" and "a cool geeky reference that everyone can play with and pretend that it's scary on some hipster meta-level" is definitely true, and Arkham Horror is infinitely more Derlethian than Lovecraftian.)

Thing two. This game is huge. The board is pretty big in itself but the kinda sad thing is that it doesn't really have space for any of the fiddly stuff that comes with the game. There's a crapton of tokens, many, many decks of cards and character sheets, plus the Old One sheet and they're all expected to sit on the table outside the board. The board, which incidentally is pretty big itself. Look at this fucker:

Thankfully we have a huge table. One of the things that I kept thinking while unpacking the box and punching out all the tokens was how smaller the game would be if you'd just write all that info down: Health, Sanity, Skills, Spells, Gear...characters are basically as detailed as in any low-to-mid-level crunch RPG. A sheet of paper and a pencil could serve just fine. The character resources and stats made me think of Storming the Wizard's Tower and consider how easy or hard it would be to create custom characters, although it's probably not necessary (I think there are 16 altogether).

So what about the rest of the contents? There are various relatively complex countdowns, resource and reward management mechanics, events and monster scripts. Which you could replace with a GM, pardon, Keeper. At that point, you're playing a completely different game of course. But it definitely made me think a lot about Fantasy Flight, board games WHFRP 3, HeroQuest, all that jazz. Interesting thoughts, but for another place.

The rules don't feel too complex, but they're certainly weighty. The manual clocks at 22 pages, plus index and summary/cheat sheet.

The game seems to offer a large amount of replayability: with its big roster of investigators, 8 Old Ones (you confront another one in each game and each has its own subtle effects), many random events etc. it looks like few games would be exactly alike. Not to mention there are six our seven expansions for the game out there, each adding to or modifying the original.

The skill system looks simple, fun and flexible. One personal nitpick would be that you need a 5 or 6 on a d6 for a success, while I'm pretty hardwired to the 4-6 success rate by now (need I count all the games that do that? Lady Blackbird, Burning Wheel, Mouse Guard, Doom Patrol...). I'm also not too fond on the difference between modifiers (- or + dice in hand) and success threshold (n. of successes needed to pass the test), but fine.

Monsters are slightly too complex on first sight, but if you consider that they "manage themselves" with no player directly controlling the adversity, it makes sense. They range from good old simple vampires and ghouls to the classic cultists and the more bizzare mythos beasts such as dholes or fire vampires.

The only real criticism I have is that the game asks you to roll a big hand of dice at times (one of the play examples in the manual calls for 13-16 dice) but the box includes just 5d6. That said, they're very nice, heavy dice with sharp edges (not exactly Luis Zocchi dice either, but good).

Can't wait to play. Part II of the review after Actual Play.

4 comments:

  1. Download one of the fan-made turn flowcharts out on the Web. You'll need it. And set aside about 6-7 hours for your first game. And if anyone says to you, "Oh, it does't take 6-7 hours to play Arkham," feel free to kick them in the face.

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  2. Thanks, buzz! Will do.

    Our group plays a lot of Twilight Imperium, so we're quite used to long games.

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  3. http://www.boardgamegeek.com/filepage/13215/arkham-horror-turn-flowchart-pdf

    http://www.boardgamegeek.com/filepage/22286/universal-head-arkham-horror-rules-summary-refere

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