Arkham Horror (Third Edition) is a horror, adventure, lovecraftian themed board game from publisher Fantasy Flight Games, released back in 2018. Designed by Nikki Valens, featuring artwork from Justin Adams, W. T. Arnold and Anders Finér, the game sees 1 – 6 players taken back to 1926. For around 2 – 3 hours investigators will cooperatively try to rid the city of Arkham and the world of eldritch beings. However, will defeating monsters and finding clues craft love for this experience? Let’s find out!
Arkham Horror sees players taking up the roles of investigators, who are cooperatively adventuring around the city of Arkham in the hunt for clues. Unfortunately for said investigators the ancient ones are trying to rise up, with events and monsters to contend with. After a scenario is chosen the board can be built from the modular tiles. The rulebook suggests the Approach of Azathoth scenario to start off with, which comes with a specific board design and what makes up the monster deck, mythos cup and codex that are used during play.
Arkham Horror is played out over rounds, each made up of 4 distinct phases. First is the action phase. This is when each investigator gets to perform two actions. The two actions have to be different but let the investigator move, ward areas, gain resources/focus, attack, evade and occasionally perform special component actions. Moving around the city, up to two map spaces at a time, will get investigators to important city locations. If an investigator attempts to walk through a space with a monster their movement is ended and they become engaged in combat.
Attacking a monster or attempting to evade a monster to exhaust it, and be able to move away from it, will trigger a strength or observation test respectively. Tests can signify the character overcoming something physically or mentally, utilizing one of their skills. The indicated skill determines how many dice the player must roll, though some cards may help players roll additional dice. To successfully pass the test all a player needs is to roll a 5 or 6, with some cards having specific outcomes based on the number of successes.
Via events and more, doom tokens can appear on locations around the city. To remove them from the board before anomalies are created, causing worse events to occur, players journey to the locations and perform the ward action – which is a lore test. Performed in the same way the player checks their lore skill and rolls that many dice, hoping for successes.
From completing events, encounters or researching (another observation test), clue tokens will be placed onto the scenario card. Gaining enough clue tokens will allow the investigators to complete the current objective card and reveal the next. Each objective card advances the scenario, revealing more story and the next stage of the problem facing the investigators. Work your way through all of the objectives and victory is yours! Of course it isn’t this simple. After the investigators have had their turns the game fights back!
During the Monster all ready, non-exhausted, monsters activate. Each falls into one of three groups. Lurkers wait around at locations, though often bring in negative effects. Hunters will move across the board towards investigators and those on Patrol will head to specific locations. Regardless of how a monster enters an investigator’s space they become engaged. Monsters will deal damage or horror to whichever investigator they are engaged with, with this being unblockable. If this causes an investigator to hit zero health or sanity that investigator is defeated. That character is removed from play, causing a doom token to be added to the scenario sheet, though the player can then start afresh with a new investigator.
Investigators that are not engaged with monsters then get to resolve an encounter. Based on their location the player draws from a special deck of cards. Some will be events that give the player the opportunity to gain a clue token. If unsuccessful the card gets shuffled back into the top three cards of the deck it came from, so the opportunity isn’t entirely lost. Non-event cards and successfully completed events are simply discarded.
Before the next round begins there is one final stage to the world’s downfall, the Mythos phase. Each player pulls two tokens from the mythos cup, one at a time. The cup includes a selection of tokens based upon the scenario being played. A range of tokens can be pulled, from Doom tokens being added to the board, through Headlines that affect the player that pulled the token, to spawning the monsters from the bottom of the monster deck. If the mythos cup ever empties then all of the pulled tokens are put back in, and the game continues.
Arkham Horror is certainly not an easy game. The lore of the Lovecraft universe tells the tales of the ancient ones and the doom that’s being brought upon the world. Players feel that uphill battle to save the world with many ways for the game to give negative effects. This is to the extent that when nothing happens or something neutral occurs you breathe a sigh of relief, as if it was super positive.
With the tests being dice based it can sometimes feel like the odds, which are already against you, are insurmountable. Thankfully, with focus tokens and items to help out players never feel completely in the hands of the dice gods. In one playthrough this felt like we just couldn’t get a break, though it normally guarantees a close game – with a sense of satisfaction if you actually manage to win.
The way the board is built is relatively simple and makes it very obvious what locations are what. The streets and bridges are clearly between the main location zones – so from looking at the map it’s intuitive to determine which encounter card to draw during the encounter phase. Having a modular board is bound to make it easier to integrate in any expansions, though this doesn’t feel overly utilized with the included content. Alas, it also makes the board appear more like a space base with walkways between key rooms than streets of a city. Whilst a simple task, putting the map pieces together is also another stage to set up, which slows the game getting to the table.
The experience is streamlined compared to Eldritch Horror, however there are a number of remaining qwirks, and this isn’t saying much as there is still a fair amount of fiddliness. The best example of this is the amount players shuffled the top three cards of the event deck. When new events need to be added or an event is failed it gets shuffled back in. Not only does this task become repetitive, when it’s the last thing you need to do and it gets shuffled back in, it can be rather frustrating.
From an admin and upkeep standpoint there have been some improvements, though everyone around the table needs to pitch in so one player isn’t stuck focused on that and not the story/gameplay. Another example of this is setup, which can take a while. I’m not a huge solo gamer and the length of setup is something that personally would put me off, though it is sped up considerably with other players helping.
From an artwork point of view a good chunk of the cards feature an illustration, bringing the grim world to life. However, it shouldn’t be a surprise by now when it comes to a Fantasy Flight title, while the production quality of the game components are solid, what surrounds them, stores them and what’s missing lets the game down. FFG seem firmly committed to including the worst inserts in their boxes, which just see the internal cardboard bits instantly recycled. Making this worse, there aren’t enough plastic bags included to store all of the tokens, nor is there anything to use as a “mythos cup” or bag. For a component used at the end of each and every round to not be included is a bit shameful, even if it’s easy to get something from around the house to use.
As with the other Lovecraftian games from Fantasy Flight there will be those that will want to play through every piece of content and probably eagerly await the inevitable Fantasy Flight expansions. While there has been some streamlining, the feel of the game remains consistent with the rest of the series. Fans therefore will feel right at home with the amounting horrors they must overcome, with the game often seeming stacked against you. Those hoping for a completely new experience will be let down as this is unashamedly Arkham. So, if you’re looking for a game that isn’t just an easy ride and is full of monsters, investigators and plenty of mythos, Arkham Horror could be the perfect game for you this Halloween!
(Editor’s Note: Arkham Horror (Third Edition) was provided to us by Asmodee for the review. It is currently available from local board game stores! Find your local store here.)