So I remember a little thing Friend Tim used to say: “I don’t like board games… they’re what you do when you’re bored! I don’t like to be bored!” Well, this reporter is bringing you an exclusive story today, about a board game that even Tim is raving about!
This weekend was the Star City Games Open in Minneapolis (standard and legacy). I would have played, except I was busy meeting friends in town from out of state. The highlights of the meeting were dinner (at Peking Garden, haven’t been there in ~3 years!) and Arkham Horror, hosted at Liz’s apartment. If you’ve ever played or seen Dungeons & Dragons pen(cil) & paper, the best one-sentence description for Arkham Horror is “a gateway game to pen & paper RPGs.” If you haven’t… I’ll try to describe it after the jump :)
The story behind the game is that an indescribable horror is trying to breach the dimensions and invade the town of Arkham. A lot of the boss are Lovecraftian funsies, or they take after them at least. I only got to see 2 of them, and, boy, Nyarlathotep is one scary motherhugger.
This is a cooperative board game, all the players are trying to close the dimensional gateways and stop the Big Bad from destroying the world. The game isn’t necessarily over if you fail to close the gates, but the bosses are ridiculous enough that you’d need a lot of items and luck to still win. The game starts with a gate and monster opening at a random location on the board, and then another gate potentially opens every subsequent turn.
The players spend their turn moving around the town, collecting clues, money, items, completing encounters, fighting monsters, and closing gates. Your character is randomly picked, and you have various statistics that determine how many spaces you can move, how good you are at sneaking, fighting, resisting insanity (Lovecraftian horrors = sanity is a factor :P), and casting spells. It’s pretty simple, though: the higher your stat, the more dice you get to roll.
Rolling a 5 or 6 means you pass a roll; otherwise you fail. Most encounters tell you to roll a stat check modified by the value written. For example, if you’re told to do a Luck (-2) check, you look at your luck statistic, subtract 2, and roll that many dice. To fight monsters, you first have to do a Will check to see if you remain sane after encountering it. Then, you do a Fight check to see how much damage you deal to it. Different monsters have varying amounts of health and deal damage to your health and sanity in different amounts. There are even super monsters that deal large amounts of damage even when you kill them! (Hint: Nyarlathotep spawns them.)
Closing a gate requires you to complete Other World encounters. Your character goes through the gate and typically has to complete two encounters (which naturally takes 2 turns), then, once the gate has been fully explored, you can attempt to close it. If a player closes a gate to a certain dimension when another player is still inside, the second player gets lost in time and space.
“So, how,” you might ask, “can you close all the gates if it takes 2 turns to close one, but a new one opens each turn?” There are item cards: common items, unique items, spells, skills. One of the unique items is a rune of sealing. This item allows you to close a gate without exploring it. Furthermore, it will place a seal on that location, so if your randomly-spawned gate would appear at a sealed location, it just doesn’t, instead. If you aren’t lucky enough to get a rune, you can spend 5 clue tokens when you close a gate to also place a seal on that location. You win once no gates are open and the players have X gate tokens, where X is the number of players in the game. (Gate tokens are gained whenever a gate is closed; they can be spent to get power-ups and bonuses.)
I’ve spent so much time telling you how to win that I haven’t covered the more exciting rules: how you lose! Your mega monster has a countdown to doom. Whenever a gate opens, you add a doom counter on the countdown. If the countdown completes before you win the game, the beast spawns and you have to fight it. Generally, you can’t kill it, so the game is pretty much over. If you’re unable to stop the flood of monsters (gates and monsters can randomly spawn when you have an encounter, too), where there are monsters equal to twice the number of players + 3, you get a terror counter on the terror track. At certain levels of terror, the shops around town will close. I can’t remember if some of the monsters also despawn at that point, too. The terror track can also advance due to cards’ effects. Last, your characters can get lost in time and space due to various effects. Once you’re there, you’re stuck, so if everyone gets lost, you also lose.
All in all, the game is complicated and takes a long time to learn. Over a couple hours, I certainly don’t know the intricacies of the rules. However, it was a great time (thanks for hosting us, Liz!), we got pwned the first game by Nyarlathotep, but the second game we got an easier boss, got capable characters, and got the rules straight so that we were able to plan well, so we were able to close all the gates and manage all the monsters quite well without ever getting overwhelmed. I definitely want to play it again, so I’ll probably end up buying it myself sometime.
PS: Congrats to Alan for winning $50 at the standard open.