Monday, December 9, 2013

The mother of all cooperative games

I've been a fan of H. P. Lovecraft since high school, and Katherine and I have played Call of Cthulhu: the Card Game since it was originally released as a collectible card game. But for some reason, it was a long time before we made the jump into Arkham Horror. We eventually tried it out at a convention several years ago, and bought the game the next day. Since then we've obsessively bought all the game's expansions, and we play it whenever time allows.

Arkham Horror is an incredibly immersive cooperative game, where all the players work together to save the sleepy New England town of Arkham from the ravages of an Ancient One, a horror from beyond time chosen at the start of the game from among several possibilities. The Ancient One chosen has an effect on game play, some subtle, some very overt, which is one way in which every game of Arkham Horror is different.

Players choose from among the many heroic characters who are drawn to the danger and mystery of Arkham. Characters run the gamut from rough and tumble adventurers to tweedy librarians, and each has its own set of advantages and disadvantages in the game, and trying out all the different characters is another reason it is so easy to play this game over and over again.

The object of the game is to work cooperatively to close all the gates to other worlds that are opening throughout Arkham. Players move their characters around the board, seeking clues and encounters at different locations, occasionally travelling through a gate to another world where they try desperately to hold on to their sanity. New gates open every round, so it's a race against time to close them all before the Ancient One awakens.

On the surface Arkham Horror seems really complex. The board is huge and there are a ton of counters, cards, and dice. But once you get into the rhythm of the game, it isn't that difficult, and it's easy to get caught up in the adventure and tension as more and more gates open, spilling bizarre monsters into the streets of Arkham.

Four our game we randomly chose Yibb-Tstll, from the Kingsport Horror expansion, as the Ancient One. It's a horrid looking  creature with dozens of eyes, and so during the game, our ability to evade monsters is made more difficult.

When it's just the two of us, we usually play two characters each, as we've found that the game is virtually impossible with only two heroes. We usually deal out a few random characters for each of us to choose from. Katherine ended up with Patrice Hathaway (the violinist) and Wendy Adams (the street urchin), and I got George Barnaby (the lawyer) and William Yorick (the gravedigger).

Our game had its highs and lows, as they usually do. Poor Patrice Hathaway was devoured while in another dimension, to be replaced by Daisy Walker, the librarian. When a character is removed from the game (a constant danger), its player gets to choose a new character and carry on until either the gates are all closed and the game is won, or the Ancient One awakens, in which case the players must fight a near hopeless battle to try to destroy it.

A good cooperative game needs to be difficult to win, to justify the players being able to work together and also to give them a sense of accomplishment if they win. Players will quickly lose interest if the game is too easy, but if it's hard to win, they'll keep playing as long as the game also engages their imagination, which Arkham Horror certainly does.

We managed to win our game by closing all the gates, but only barely...

Rating: 5 (out of 5) Incredibly immersive, with a vast amount of replay value. It takes 3-4 hours to play, and we have occasionally played two games in a row, not ready for the experience to end after one game.

Date played: November 29, 2013

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