Howard Phillips Lovecraft, American poet and author of macabre short novels, was the man behind the Cthulhu mythos. I must confess that my only exposure to this world was a brief experience of the Call of Cthulhu role playing game as a student and more recently the collaborative board game Arkham Horror. The game ranks 54th currently in the BGG player voted rankings. One of the attractive elements of the game to me was the theme but also that it was collaborative and at the time the kids were favouring the many collaborative games in my collection. I suspect we may nurture competitiveness into our children, but thats a subject for another blog.
The first time my group of regular gaming friends played the game was not as successful as it could have been, due to it being late, me not remembering all the rules too well and there being an ennui invading the group whenever collaborative games are mentioned. This I think is a subject for yet another blog. To read Steerpike's view of the initial experience visit his blog. Since this initial outing the game has rarely seen the light of day and it's a shame as it may be better than we initially gave it credit.
Following a suggestion, I recently bought an app that assists the various dice rolls, card selections etc that are routinely made during a game of Arkham Horror - especially when solo. I also entered into a brief chat on Facebook with Stretchy (an alumnus from our local gaming group) about collaborative games and threatened to bring it to OxCon next weekend. So I have given the game a little run out this weekend. Here follows a game review, so if you haven't switched off already and aren't a game fan.... I should now :-)
Having previously played the game solo, instinctively I thought it would be very tough with just one character and so I chose two for this new solo-ish game. This had the benefit that the kids could dip in and out of the game. I was very lucky with my first two off-world experiences, the first events were both successful and the consequence of each was an immediate return to Arkham. I managed to remove the gates with just four turns passing. However, during four regular game turns four gates have materialised. In addition to the initial "free" gate that is given to "the ancient one", there had been five gates (and five out of 13 stages on the doom track signalling the arrival of the monster) and I had only managed to remove two! Victory conditions are, zero gates in Arkham and (n+1), i.e 3 gates as trophies (ie not spent to aid the war). Given that it would take four turns to destroy a gate usually (Turn 1: arrive at gate and evade/destroy monsters, then get drawn into other dimension and encounter event. Turn 2: move through dimension, have second encounter. Turn 3: move back to gate (ignoring monsters). Turn 4: destroy any new monsters and then destroy gate.
This doesn't take any account of moving to the gate and acquiring enough spells and weaponry to achieve the task, this could be at least 3-4 additional turns. So on average to destroy a gate you could be looking at a character taking 7-8 turns per gate. Meaning there will be 8-9 gates open as you try to close your first. Simply then, you may need 8-9 characters to win this!
This is not strictly true, since you can close and then seal the gate, stopping any further horror from manifesting in this location. So I guess 4-5 characters is the minimum so long as the first gates closed are also sealed. However another consideration is that, should you leave gates open then there is much more chance of a monster surge (a new gate being selected for a location that already has a gate) and this inevitably leads to the town of Arkham increasing the terror rating with all the bad stuff that ensues. Also more wandering evil stuff building up in the town is not good for character health.
This game is a real conundrum I think you must have to allow a certain number of gates to open as a party of you "tool up" and then try to all get to the gates and close them simultaneously. I think I will try to convince my competitive games crew to have another go at this collaborative game soon, see if we can't crack the code.