Arkham Horror The Card Game, as the name suggests, is the card game version of the Cthulhu mythos adventure game Arkham Horror. Designed by Nate French and Matthew Newman, featuring artwork from the likes of Christopher Hosch and Marcin Jakubowski, the game sees 1 – 2 players thrown into a lovecraftian mystery. For around an hour and a bit at a time players will try not to die or go insane, from the horrors of what faces them and evil agendas. However, will players want to leave the safety of their study to pursue monsters and more? Let’s find out!
Published by Fantasy Flight Games, this is a living card game, which means it has regular booster content released. Unlike a collectible card game, these booster packs always feature the same content, so there is no need to buy multiple of the same booster in search for a specific rare card. This is a review based solely on the content of the base box, just bear in mind that there is plenty of content available past the experience of the core box.
Past the initial setup players will find themselves with a unique character deck, a large and little character card and an adventure awaiting them. Without spoiling the storyline players initially find themselves in a doorless study. It isn’t any study though, it is their own study which did periously have a door. They will need some clue as to what is going on to progress from the study and onward throughout the adventure.
On their turn players can perform up to 3 actions, 1 more than in Mansions of Madness. Commonly players will want to gain clue tokens and investigating a location is one of the available actions. Comparing their Intellect, found on their character card, with the shroud value of the location the player will then need to pull a chip from the chaos bag. As the name suggests, this bag adds a little chaos into the mix, often seeing the player’s stat reduced for the check. After the chaos token is taken into account the player must at least equal the shroud stat of the room to have been successful. The player can choose to spend cards with the checks symbol by discarding them to boost their Intellect, though this must be before pulling from the chaos bag.
Another common action is to move from one linked room to another. Which rooms are linked to which is indicated at the bottom of each location card. This is something that players may accidentally cheat on, moving between unlinked rooms, in their first game. Thankfully, it is easy to retcon and the symbology is there. Moving into a room for the first time reveals it, and this can come with further events being triggered.
Aside from the first, each round starts with a Mythos phase. This can see monsters spawn, which will attack after players have performed their actions. Investigators will want to either evade these monsters or defeat them. Both are handled by stat based checks, performed in the same way as investigating. Players also have a few basic actions of drawing a card and gaining a resource. Finally, some cards enable special actions, occasionally one time actions, to be performed.
Split into acts and agendas the story can progress in both in parallel. Setting the scenes, and getting players closer to completing the experience are the acts. These are completed by spending gathered clue tokens. The agendas see negative things occur, and are effectively a ticking down timer. Each round a doom token is added to the current agenda – with a set amount of doom triggering the agenda being completed.
Arkham Horror The Card Game isn’t just one single shot adventure. While each can comfortably be played as separate adventures, the three included are designed to link together, with the tale unfolding slowly. Players can improve their deck over the course of the three stages, via obtaining new cards or upgrading existing cards. Whilst not drastically changing the characters this does allow players to put together unique decks, enabling an attachment to the characters that wouldn’t otherwise be there.
The initial setup does take a little while, and this isn’t due to copious amounts of tokens to remove from punchboards. Despite coming with decks of cards the starting decks for the investigators aren’t separated. This is to allow players to customize their deck if they wish – though for a base game box it doesn’t seem presumptuous that players will use the default starting decks for their first play. It’s just an odd oversight that slows the game getting to the table.
At times there is a mundane feel to the core actions. Drawing an extra card or gaining a resource are meh at best, but these are actions players will need to take. There are however times when this creates a great moment. When you draw a card that is super helpful in that situation it feels like you’ve made the right decisions. Be it enabling your Intellect skill to search for clue tokens through fog or an item that’ll help defeat a pesky monster, whatever that card is it feels like there is light at the end of the tunnel – let alone when you get to play it.
Monsters don’t always feel threatening, with some like rats are purely there to trip players up and make them spend their time not just investigating for clues. Nevertheless, some pack a huge punch. Evading can therefore be extremely useful as it exhausts the monster, though again it takes up your actions! With the ticking timer of the agendas, the doom tokens build up quickly if players aren’t progressing. This pressure gives players the drive to take the odd risk and focus on surviving and progressing.
One slight shame production wise is the campaign booklet. By printing story elements that you’re not supposed to read ahead of time adjacent to text that sets the scene it is hard not to get a glimpse of what may occur. Simply printing these stages on separate pages would solve this. In Mansions of Madness the app has a voiced intro to help set the scene. Reading from the booklet and cards just doesn’t have that same engrossing feel. Another shame is the completely missing chaos bag, which the rulebook references. It suggests using a cup or bowl which work – still it is odd such a vital component isn’t in the box.
I would be the first to admit I am not a solo gamer when it comes to board games. Therefore, take this with a pinch of salt. Playing through solo makes the game less like an adventure and more like a mechanical puzzle. With another person playing, players have to help and heal each other. Stating the obvious but there is also someone to talk through the situation with. Determining whom will barge into a room or go head to head with a huge monster helps drive home the narrative and the theme. This is solely missing from the solo experience, resulting in the details of the adventure not hitting their mark and the theme ebbs away.
Being refreshingly upfront Arhman Horror sells itself as a 1 – 2 player experience on a box. However, it is possible to combine two boxes to play with 4 players. This would lose some of the streamlined nature of the experience, and this detrimental impact could turn some off from the experience. It is a nice touch though that it is possible and that Fantasy Flight hasn’t tried to sell the game as playing up to 4, hiding the truth.
Whilst many have praised Arkham Horror The Card Game for its solo experience it didn’t work, as the obviously absent interaction helps drive home the narrative. From a cooperative standpoint it offers a decent deck based puzzle to work through, with all of the lovecraftian quirks and tropes you’d expect. Coming from recently playing the vastly more expensive Mansions of Madness, Arkham Horror The Card Game doesn’t deliver the same visual and movie like experience. Being a decent game therefore isn’t enough to have both in the same gaming collection, but perhaps it might tick the boxes you’re looking for.
(Editor’s Note: Arkham Horror The Card Game was provided to us by Asmodee for the review. The game is currently available from local board game stores, some of which are running dropoff services, find your local store here.)