It All Looks Fishy To Me – The Innsmouth Horror Review

We’re back on to the big box expansions with a charming visit to Innsmouth, the fishing village where the locals are not who they seem. Do you have the Innsmouth Look?


"I am more than a fish, I am more than a man, death will rise from the tide, I AM MURLOC!"

Designer: Richard Launius (2009)
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
# of Players: 1-8
Ages: 12+
Play Time: 240 minutes
BGG Rank/Rating: #85/7.485
Dice Tower People’s Choice Rank: 11
Category: Expansion to Arkham Horror Base Game

Impromptu Component Drop – Hell No!!

When it comes to components, this expansion takes the gold medal. There are a ton of cards, sheets and tokens in this box and on top of that a new board as well. For once however there are no additions to the common decks (items, skills, etc.). Plenty more cards are however added to the Mythos, Location and Gate decks to remain thematic to the Innsmouth lore.

All of the common decks add to the variety of encounters, but not to the variety of the game as a whole. In Innsmouth 16 new investigators join the cause and 8 new Ancient Ones rise up as enemies allowing for many more different games to be played. Some of my favourite Ancient Ones feature in this expansion with many weird and wonderful special conditions placed on the game. The Tendrils in particular have caused me a tense game or two with the constant fear that any random monster encounter can potentially result in a devoured investigator if they’re not well armed! Generally though you’ll find a good boost to variety in this box and as always, artwork is high quality.

If that wasn’t enough, you also get two Heralds to play with and you have the choice of using one or both in a game involving Innsmouth. They represent Mother and Father Dagon, beings of which The Deep Ones in the Cthulhu mythos worship alongside Cthulhu himself. Both the Heralds and the Deep Ones are sea-dwelling humanoid creatures with a fishy, froggy appearance and they carry a really cool and freaky look about them. As designs go, they’re a good favourite of mine. Each convey different effects on the game, but combining the two is a sure-fire way of upping the difficulty for the sadistic types out there!

"Awww, they make such a cute couple! - (apologies for iffy quality!)

I’m Calling The Feds!

The new board is of a similar size to Dunwich, except you’ll notice there are no new Other Worlds to explore. Instead the expansion borrows the vortexes from Dunwich while introducing its own special “Deep Ones Rising” mechanic. Monsters which reach the vortexes (like with Dunwich) cause a token to be placed on the Deep Ones Rising track on the right side of the board. If this track reaches the centre, they rise up in force and the investigators lose……….that’s right they lose there and then! No shambling horror to fight off, this is essentially a case of “ignore this and you’re dead”. To counteract this, investigators can place clue tokens from three Innsmouth districts on the opposing track to call in the Federal Service and cancel the Deep Ones ascent. In my first game, I narrowly called the Feds in on time and was still risking a second incursion by the time I won the game. This I liked more than the Dunwich Horror as you’re using up a valuable resource to mitigate actually losing straight out. It’s a Push Your Luck mechanic, but in my opinion with far greater stakes and it doesn’t just sit in the background, it’s an active part of any Innsmouth game even with a slight bit of dilution in the decks.

"The Vortexes will look similar to Dunwich players"

The board itself looks gorgeous, especially the Deep Ones track (I just love those fishy things!) and you can almost imagine an Innsmouth movie featuring a huge battle between Feds and Deep Ones, how cool would that be?!  A unique feature of this board is also the separated locations. Devil Reef and Y’ha-Nthlei can only be reached by chartering a boat from the mainland or returning from the Other World, not something you see in other games. And because they both have vortexes attached to them, you can’t simply ignore it if a gate spawns in either location. I found this to be the key note in the Deep Ones track rising fast as you don’t get much time to fetch your boat and sail over there!

"That's a cool looking track!"

Naturally because this board features a lot of water based locations, the new term “Aquatic” is introduced for specific locations. This has an effect not only on Devil’s Reef, but also certain Mythos cards and monster tokens which can potentially shift between entire boards if an unlucky investigator happens to be sitting in a similar aquatic location. Nothing substantial game-wise, but it’s a thematic addition.

He’s A Bit Beyond Anti-Spot Cream

The ultimate version of a “death lottery” – that’s what the Innsmouth Look cards essentially are. The Innsmouth location cards occasionally instruct you to draw an Innsmouth Look card from the deck which consists of 10 cards. 9 of them have no effect, but the 10th states you have the “Look” (in short terms you’re turning into a fish-frog Deep One!) and are devoured!

As if the Deep One track wasn’t enough tension, these cards have you making kittens as you trust your fate to a 10 or 20% chance. It’s a shame that 9 cards have no effect other than recycled flavour text, but yet again, more foreshadowing, this is rectified with the aid of Miskatonic later. I feel like a Doctor Who serial, dropping plot hints throughout each episode . . . . . I love Doctor Who!

"Even if my camera late at night can't do it justice - that's a cool and freaky picture!"

It’s a great little addition to the game that doesn’t unbalance the game but comes up often enough to force you to be wary when exploring Innsmouth. Not to mention the artwork on the back of the cards is fantastic.

This Time, It’s Personal

In order to give the Investigators even more of a theme, we have Personal Stories for each and every one that’s been introduced to the game to date. The first card adds some extra flavour to each investigator’s back story by giving each player a personal goal to achieve during the game. Should they pass or fail the goal will determine the benefit or hindrance that applies for the remainder of the game on the second card.
The effects are not ground-breaking but I use these in every game to add to the immersion. Providing you keep using different investigators each game, there’s a huge amount of variety here, but unfortunately only one story exists per investigator. Multiple stories would be a bit much to ask though as there’s already 96 cards just to cover the investigators in use at the moment. They’re a simple addition to the game even for new players so why not use them?

"Plenty of flavour text and achievable goals, even if the reward isn't overly impressive!"

Verdict

In the Dunwich Horror review, I commented that my favourite big box expansion was yet to come. And I don’t always go for the “save the best for last” approach so here it is. Innsmouth takes the top spot for my favourite and most recommended expansion of the series.

95% of the contents in this game will see frequent use in any game featuring Innsmouth. The possible exception is the Epic Battle / Plot cards, but these were introduced in Kingsport which I’ll cover another day. But the Personal Stories, the Innsmouth Look, the Deep One Track, they’ll all get used and to top it off, there’s a huge amount of variety added with the large collection of investigators and Ancient Ones.

The theme is very strong in this expansion with quality imagery and flavour text to really get you involved. The rules are also fairly easy to introduce to even new players such as the personal stories and the Deep One track mechanic.

The Ancient Ones themselves have some very unique and interesting mechanics differentiating them from the others to date though one or two could be argued to be near impossible to defeat in combat – it’s up to you to determine whether that’s a bugbear or not, but personally if you get to that stage, your chances of survival are pretty low anyway.

I said “favourite” and “recommended” – I stand by this opinion, if you have the budget to only afford one big box expansion, make Innsmouth your first choice (Dunwich is a fine alternative choice though and in the gaming world, there’s quite a lot of discussion on this topic).



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