Arkham Horror: The Card Game review
Score : 10
Incredibly thematic, engrossing adventure
Narrative decisions and game actions impact the campaign and future acts
Rules can be tough to grasp on first playthrough
We were an unlikely couple, a waitress and a Federal agent, but had bonded over our experience in that house, which we had barely escaped with our lives, and our sanity intact. Still shaking from the horror, I now had a tough emotional and personal decision to make. One which I knew would profoundly impact our efforts to investigate and thwart the evil that was arising in Arkham...
Arkham Horror: The Card Game (not to be confused with the board game just called "Arkham Horror") is a co-operative horror based deck builder set in the Lovecraft world. You play through a story-based campaign with the choices you make impacting future acts.
At the start of the game, you pick a character to play. Not only does each character have different attributes, but they will have a few special cards that only those characters can use. Most of these cards are helpful, but each character will also have a personal weakness card. Then, you build out the rest of your deck from a pool of common cards (although there are suggested decks for the first game).
The first campaign sees you entering your house, initially trapped in a room (represented by a card). There are act cards, which you have to resolve to advance your quest positively and ultimately win, which in this case starts with having to hunt for clues and a way out of the room.
Players will initially start by revealing five cards from their deck. These could be items, spells, allies or skills. Players can spend their turns equipping or using these cards, revealing more cards, moving, searching for clues, or fighting or evading monsters. Success in these tasks is determined primarily by your character's stats and the difficulty of the task. You can use your various cards to positively modify your chances, and then you draw a token from a cloth bag, which will further modify the result (generally against you).
At the end of each round, a mythos card is drawn, which could be a monster or unfortunate event to deal with. Take too long (or draw a lot of bad mythos cards) and the agenda deck will advance, generally hindering you and ultimately, potentially costing you the game.
Eventually, you will discover an exit to the room, which uncovers other room cards. Each of these will have events unfold as you enter it, which could be an effect, a monster, items, or plot point gradually revealing the story.
Once you have finished the scenario, you return to the campaign booklet and read certain paragraphs depending on the resolution. Often at this point you may be presented with a decision to make, and these decisions are recorded and will impact how future scenarios play out, as will game events, such as whether you killed a boss for example. If your character suffers too much horror, this will impact on future campaigns as well, and it is even possible for your character to permanently die.
On a positive note, after each scenario concludes, surviving investigators receive experience points, which can be used to buy new cards. As you earn more experience, you can buy higher level cards, which could be completely new item or ability cards or more powerful versions of previously available cards.
You then get the opportunity to rebuild your deck of cards, removing cards which you didn't find useful in favour of more fruitful combos, or swapping out cards for newly earned and more powerful cards before moving onto the next adventure. There are three scenarios in the core box to play through. Once completed, these scenarios can of course be played through again with different investigators, on a harder difficult rating, or (most likely) after failing the first game, trying again with the same investigators but tweaking the decks.
Arkham Horror is one of one of the Living Card Games published by Fantasy Flight. This just means that in addition to this base box which contains one campaign and three scenarios, there are follow on packs containing new investigators and cards providing new adventures and stories.These can be played as standalone adventures using cards from the core box, or you can carry forward your investigators complete with experience and trauma from previous stories. Each cycle begins with a deluxe expansion box, followed by six smaller mythos packs which round out each campaign.
The downside of all this content means that it is not cheap to collect the whole set, and some two years after release, new packs are still being released. However, each cycle contains a huge amount of replayability and whilst each continues the story and gives more deck building options, you can have huge enjoyment from the game without buying every single pack.
This is probably in our top three games of all time. For a game comprising which essentially lays out cards on a table and some tokens, it tells a fascinating story through a combination of game narrative and gameplay. Each scenario is enthralling in its own right, but add the character progression, decisions to be taken and the deck building and you have a truly stunning adventure. As with most games in this genre, it is difficult but certainly beatable with the right deck and decisions (and some luck). In a way that adds to the appeal as you know you have earnt any victory.
The icing on the cake is the card stock, which is of a really high quality, and further enhances the time you spend looking through your options when building out your deck.
No game is perfect, and the only caveat we would put on this is that the rules are not especially easy to grasp on first play, especially the set up of some of the decks. There is a well laid out guide which tells you most of the main rules, but you will often have to refer to the more detailed glossary until you fully understand. Liklihood is though that you will be quickly going back to play again, so this isn't too much of an issue and there is a great tutorial video from FFG.
The other potential concern is the cost. As an LCG, it can be fairly expensive to collect the whole set. However, there is a lot of gameplay just in the core set, and the upside of the LCG model is there is a huge amount of content to play through if you choose.
We would recommend this game to anyone outside of new gamers, even those who haven't necessarily enjoyed other Lovecraft universe games. It shines in both co-op and solo mode and can be played with three or four with two core sets and really is a different experience to most games out there.
If you also love this game, check out our store where we have Mythos packs at lower prices, the more you buy.
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Designer: Nate French, Matthew Newman
Number of players: 1-2 (3/4 with 2 packs)
Play Time: 1-2 hours