Arkham Horror: The Card Game Review - Lord Of The Cthulhu Rings

At the rate we're pumping out games with this license I honestly expect the dimensional portals to open up and literally have Cthulhu spawn on the planet and wreak havoc. But I still love them, it's a horror franchise I wish I had the time to delve into more for background information. Typically they tend to be co-operative games, which of course speaks volumes for me being my favourite genre, but this one is special for other reasons.

Firstly it's a Living Card Game (LCG) and so uses the semi-collectable format of games like Netrunner where you start with a core set and then expansions get released with the same cards in each one, so none of that outdated Collectible Card Game (CCG) nonsense which I'm so done with at this point. Secondly it's borrowing a lot of mechanisms from one of my Top 10 games of all time, Lord of the Rings: The Card Game (honestly can we get better titles than "The Card Game please)?

Lord of the Rings blew my mind with taking the LCG format and making it co-operative. I'm no longer forced to buy expansions just to keep up with a tournament meta. I can simply build a deck for a friend and teach them how to use and benefit us both. But I also loved how the game was for the most part incredibly thematic and story driven with each quest being different and telling a tale over a number of packs. So now Arkham Horror is doing what looks like the same thing - is this a direct copy or are there enough differences to distinguish them?






Designer: Nate French / Matthew Newman
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Age: 14+
Players: 1-4
Time: 60-120 minutes
RRP: £36.99


From Fantasy Flight Games

Description from the publisher:
Something evil stirs in Arkham, and only you can stop it. Blurring the traditional lines between roleplaying and card game experiences, Arkham Horror: The Card Game is a Living Card Game of Lovecraftian mystery, monsters, and madness!
In the game, you and your friend (or up to three friends with two Core Sets) become characters within the quiet New England town of Arkham. You have your talents, sure, but you also have your flaws. Perhaps you've dabbled a little too much in the writings of the Necronomicon, and its words continue to haunt you. Perhaps you feel compelled to cover up any signs of otherworldly evils, hampering your own investigations in order to protect the quiet confidence of the greater population. Perhaps you'll be scarred by your encounters with a ghoulish cult.
No matter what compels you, no matter what haunts you, you'll find both your strengths and weaknesses reflected in your custom deck of cards, and these cards will be your resources as you work with your friends to unravel the world's most terrifying mysteries.
Each of your adventures in Arkham Horror LCG carries you deeper into mystery. You'll find cultists and foul rituals. You'll find haunted houses and strange creatures. And you may find signs of the Ancient Ones straining against the barriers to our world...
The basic mode of play in Arkham LCG is not the adventure, but the campaign. You might be scarred by your adventures, your sanity may be strained, and you may alter Arkham's landscape, burning buildings to the ground. All your choices and actions have consequences that reach far beyond the immediate resolution of the scenario at hand — and your actions may earn you valuable experience with which you can better prepare yourself for the adventures that still lie before you.


ALWAYS A HORRIFIC BACK STORY

As you would expect from FFG, the artwork on all the cards is phenomenal. It really helps to set the atmosphere for the whole game. All the cards are decent quality as well as the various tokens for skill tests and health/sanity. However take note, this box does not come with a bag for the chaos tokens. You need to supply your own. 

One thing that Arkham games have always managed to get right is having a cool flowing narrative within their games. Arkham Horror LCG takes it one step further making this almost part Roleplay Game (RPG) in nature. The core set comes with a 3 scenario campaign that is basically one big story from beginning to end. Through each scenario, you progress through different stages each one opening up more of the environment and story. You may start off in one single room and then suddenly you're exploring a whole house and it's not just in your head, the cards for locations are laid out and you each have a character card to represent your present locale. Lord of the Rings did a similar thing, but other than one recent cycle (Dreamchaser) you didn't have a map as such to cover.

That's not the whole story though, your investigator has their own back story as well, not only on your character sheet, but also in your deck itself. You have to include specific cards in your deck that represent your dodgy back story whether it's hanging on to the dreaded Necronomicon (seriously does the cover alone not deter you from reading such things?) or being pursued by old enemies. These will occasionally turn up to wreck your day and that's before you even include your random "Weakness" card on top of that (Paranoia, Amnesia, things like that).

It's clear a lot of thought went into the quality of the narrative just like in Lord of the Rings. However unlike in Eldritch/Arkham Horror where your narrative is told by random encounters, here it's fixed as per the scenario cards. So your first run-through is going to feel pretty epic, subsequent times however will dwindle in quality. There are opportunities for choosing alternative paths when you reach a card that offers you a choice, but there's only so many. Mixing it up with the Investigators you use and including more players does spice things up a bit.


EVERYTHING BECOMES....CHAOS!


There's a lot to like here in terms of the core mechanics. The Chaos Bag is a nice substitute for rolling a die, but it has several advantages. You get a wider range of different effects that can be pulled out of the bag to modify your skill checks, but they can also be tailored to a scenario, changing the effects of certain tokens. In a "Ghoul" themed scenario you'll have tokens that depend on the number of Ghoul enemies hanging around for example. On top of that, it's essentially an easy to tweak the difficulty settings - was it a breeze, then add more "minus" tokens in the bag. To be frank though from experience, this game is by no means easy - so what's new in Arkham?

It will take a little while to memorise certain tid-bit rules from the Reference Book but on the whole, the gameplay is pretty smooth and the rules aren't too tricky to learn. I've yet to have a query that wasn't answered by the manuals in some way but then I'm used to navigating FFG's devisive Reference Guides by now.

A small concern I do have which I hope will be improved upon is that I felt that the initial 3 scenarios present were a little too combat heavy. It's quite hard to inflict more than 1 damage per attack and some enemies have a lot of health spare particularly the elite ones. You have to do some investigation yes, but it's a lot easier to manage that then fighting against a tough foe while dealing with the treacheries from the scenario deck. As a result building a solo deck that doesn't have a good focus on fighting is basically asking for failure and I would like future scenarios to try and allow for alternative story methods of succeeding.


BRING THE WHOLE SCOOBY GANG!



Being a co-operative game, Arkham Horror has the freedom for you to play by yourself or in a party of 2 or 4 players. Of course you don't have to bring your friends even, you can just play multiple decks. I've now had the opportunity to try all of these setups and so far the best experience has been with 2 players. I currently only play Lord of the Rings solo, never tried it with 4 and the added complexity in deck building makes me prefer to build one deck rather than two.

Here though decks are only 30 cards, much less than in other LCG's. Yes, the card pool will get bigger and more options will present themselves, but with so many different factions they will be quite spread out meaning that deck building actually isn't that difficult. I'm not saying each faction has only one deck that works, you still have flexibility and more to come, but you're not sitting there burdened with uncertainty for how your idea will perform. Of course just hop onto arkhamdb.com if you just want to grab a deck and play, I usually prefer to do that.

Here, I still enjoy playing it solo, but with the small card pool and smaller decks combined it becomes even harder to cover all bases with just one deck. Certainly the scenarios in this core set have a heavy emphasis on combat, but you can't ignore investigation. Having one deck for each requirement makes life easier to manage and of course being a co-op you can happily build an awesome deck in advance and teach its inner workings to your partner. Even by yourself, playing two handed doesn't take much longer to go through each turn and this is one game you really do need to support each other in.

4 players can certainly increase the difficulty level as you're having to deal with a lot of pain from the Mythos deck, but I also find it just elongates the game length a little outside my comfort zone to do it too often.Nothing crazy, but extended discussion of tactics among players will of course take time, but it allows for some great story moments in the game.


VERDICT ON ARKHAM HORROR: THE CARD GAME


There is ton of potential here for Arkham Horror LCG to be a hit. Whereas it does borrow a lot from the Lord of the Rings version, it has enough of its own style and unique hand management mechanics to distinguish itself. But thankfully like Lord of the Rings it's wonderfully thematic in its story driven campaign scenarios and wide variety of characters to build around. Each new pack will end up being a brand new adventure in a big epic story and that's exciting to have in an ever-expanding game.

Currently we only have one deluxe expansion and the odd few packs released, but you know that tonnes more are coming. The deck building I feel is easier to contend with in this game due to the smaller deck size so even when the card pool gets huge, it shouldn't get overwhelming. But as this is a co-operative, you never have to buy every new pack, go at your own pace.

It does however feel a little combat heavy for the moment, but it's early days and hopefully this will iron out in the future. It works well at all player counts including solo, doesn't take too long to play and it's easier to bring new players in. One of the best of 2016 and great to have in my collection.




BROKEN RATING - 9 DEVOTED CULTISTS OF THE BROKEN MEEPLE




YOU WILL LIKE ARKHAM HORROR: THE CARD GAME IF:



You enjoyed Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, but wanted a slightly stronger thematic attachment.


You want an LCG that doesn't require you to get every single pack that comes out just to keep up.


You want a variety of different characters and ideas to try, but less complication in building decks.




YOU WILL NOT LIKE ARKHAM HORROR: THE CARD GAME IF:



You aren't interested in the Cthulhu mythos - this is a story driven thematic game after all!


You find LCG's too expensive and don't want to risk getting sucked in.


You feel it's a little too combat heavy at present.

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