Arkham Horror

I love to play games. I don't mean the kind where you mess with people's heads; I mean the kind where you sit around with a bunch of other folks and everyone has fun rolling dice or playing cards or whatever. I play my share of computer games; World of Warcraft and Skyrim are my current pastimes. That's mainly as a substitute for face-to-face interaction, not in place of it.

Once a month, I have a game night at my place, on the third Wednesday of the month. I used to host a Munchkin game on that night; that evolved into playing Argothald. I'd like to play other games, but that would mean playing more often, which means finding more gamers.

Or perhaps I can make them. This is the first of a series of reviews of games I enjoy. If one of them sounds interesting to you, let me know and we'll see what we can arrange.

If Monopoly is as hard a game as you can manage, then you won't like Arkham Horror. It's not the most complex board game I've ever played; Kingmaker has more involved rules, for example. But it's certainly not a game where you can say, "Hey, let's play it before dinner." It took me about a half hour just to set up the game, though I think in the future I could cut that down to 10-15 minutes. I spent two hours playing the game solitaire, and I imagine that would roughly scale with the number of people playing. If you decide to play Arkham Horror, you're committing to a solid night of gaming.

Arkham Horror also takes a considerable amount of table space. The game board overwhelmed my coffee table; you'd really want a dining-room table to lay out all the components. And there are many: at least a dozen different decks of cards (in three different sizes), stiff cardboard counters galore, dice, and plastic stands for the human and monster pieces. It's a beautiful game, with full-color artwork on all the cards and a majority of the counters.

So it takes lots of time and space. Why bother with it? Because it's fun!

As the title suggests, the game is set in the horror mythos of H. P. Lovecraft. You play an "investigator": a resident or visitor to the town of Arkham in the 1930s. Gates to other worlds are spontaneously opening throughout the town, and monsters emerge to roam the streets, heralding the arrival of a Great Old One to destroy the world. It's your job to pick up clues and various items, both physical and magical, to close all the gates or, failing that, to defeat the Old One when it arrives. As in most games set in the Cthulhu mythos, Sanity is one of your numerical attributes; when it runs out, you'll have to spend some time in the Asylum.

The game captures the feel of encroaching horror and helplessness as events spin further out of your control. This leads to the one big distinguishing feature of this game from any other board game I've seen: you don't compete with your fellow players, you cooperate with them; it's the players versus the game. If all of you defeat the Great One, you all win; if Cthulhu devours all the investigators, everyone loses.

I played the game solitaire yesterday. My investigator was Bob Jenkins, a traveling salesman. It was my first game, and I made several mistakes (never enter an alternate dimension without the clues you need to close it). Even so, I might have done better in my final encounter with Yig if I noticed all the items I had. As it was, I blasted it down half-way with my shotgun before it plucked my Sanity from my trembling brain.

As I scan the other reviews on-line, I frequently see that Arkham Horror is one of the best board games ever made. I agree. It certainly makes you feel like a mere mortal trembling in a half-understood universe of terror more than Monopoly has you feeling like a real-estate tycoon.

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