Thursday, August 11, 2005

A Visit to Arkham

What’s that, Martha? Visitors?

Well, by all means, woman, send them in.

Set a spell, fellas. Make yourselves at home; Martha and I were just gettin' ready for the shindig down in Innsmouth tonight.

Arkham? Ayuh, everyone ‘round these parts knows Arkham. Big city. Big trouble. At least, it ‘twas, until the last new moon.

What happened? Oh, boys, that’s a story longer’n my arm and twice as hairy. Sure you don’t want to jes’ rest your feet and have some lemonade?

No? I suppose you city slickers are always in summat of a hurry. I reckon that was part of the reason for’n the way things ended up.

‘Tall stahted with a fellah from the city, an investigator - I think they call themselves “private eyes” nowadays - He came snooping around the police station, asking strange questions. Weren’t too much later that a tahl dandy, used to be a magician, showed up near the Olde Magick Shoppe, asking a lot of the same questions. All these folks asking questions attracted the attention of our local journo, fellah from the Arkham Advertiser, nice young man. Can’t say as I recall his name. Anyways, that’s when the trouble started.

Ayuh, I said trouble. Wicked trouble, the kind that has crittahs pickin’ you up in slimy tentacles and throwing you down the road apiece. Odd stories came from the boys pulling in the pots down by dockside, ‘bout an island with strange lights and stranger rituals. Pretty soon, those three young men I mentioned came a’ pokin’ their noses ‘round, lookin’ to get to that island. Right after, a schooner came in all of its own, letting out all manner of trouble right onto the street that the magician was walking down. Everyone could tell that magician was in for a bad spell.

What’s that Martha? A pun? Ayuh, I reckon that was a pun. Finest kind.

Well, soon those boys were runnin’ all over Arkham, poppin’ in and out of glowin’ disks of light like rabbits down holes. Once or twice they came back lookin’ a might wild-eyed and haggard, like someone run ‘em through a ringer once or twice. Most of the time, they ended makin’ funny marks on the ground, and the disks never came back. Round then, the Egyptian exhibit came to town, which they seemed powerful interested in. All sorts of stories whirlin’ around town ‘round then, dark creatures in the streets, zombies, cultists, maniacs, and stranger things, things from the stars with wings. People in dark robes with forked tongues… they were the scariest, so I hear tell – at least the investigators seemed to avoid fightin’ ‘em.

The private eye, he was loaded for bear, as we say ‘round these parts. He took those crittahs to task, and brung a cartful of them in to the police to put in storage. They wanted to deputize him; he had earned it twice over, but for some reason, that never happened. The magician, well, he was a fragile sort. Kept on running into something in uptown, big and mean… think they said it was called a “dhole”. Anyways, that thing kept him holed up in St. Mary’s… the hospital… for quite a while. As for our hometown photographer, he disappeared for the longest time. When he showed up again, he kept on muttering about Elder Races, Cities and Cleaners or somesuch.

Sure you fellahs won’t have some lemonade? You will? That’s fine. Ah… there now, isn’t that refreshing? Ayuh, the wife makes it special… very tart.

It was a interestin’ time. We had a whole family murdered in their home, and for a while a mysterious Black Man was peddlin’ something over in Southside. We even had the Feds come in and clean a lot of those dark things off the streets, government-style. The three men panicked a little when it seemed like all their good work was going to be undone, but they figured it out, and got something in return. While they were worrying about not having all their work undone, a few more of ‘em glowing disks showed up, spewing all manner of crittahs all over Arkham. ‘Round bout then the General store closed up and the owner left town. Lot of fellahs left town. Somethin’ spooked ‘em wicked bad.

Well, with all those new glowing places and only four neighbourhoods that were safe, there was a reckoning. People ‘round these parts said it was quite a light show, pistols and spells and whips and shotguns ‘a blazin’. They say they came very close to banishing Yig; they did their best, poor misguided souls.

In the end, well… Arkham’s a different place these days. Never did see those poor boys again, ‘cept maybe in the new friezes they’re erecting over a ways by where they’re putting up Yig’s brand new Temple. They look powerful scairt, even carved in stone and clutched in Yig’s gentle talons. Ayuh, Yig’s a beneficent ruler, so long as yah stay on Yig’s good side; otherways, it’s off to the stone of sacrifice and, well, you’ll know more about that than I by the 'morrow. There's some as 'round here that weren't mighty happy to see Yig come to rule, but those of us who've always expected him, well, it's like the Fourth of July and Christmas and the Black Feast of Shub-Niggurath all rolled into one.

Oh, fellahs, yah look powerful uneasy. Don’t worry, Yig will take you under his feathered coils soon enough, and it’ll all be over. Ayuh, that cold feelin’ creepin’ over you is one of the finer paralytic poisons, courtesy of Martha’s lemonade and our lord Yig hisself. You fellahs probably won’t feel a thing.

Don’t worry. I think the good folk down at the Innsmouth shindig will take a shine to you right proper. They'll treat you fine, afore'n you go.

It’s going to be a wicked good party. Wicked good.


  1. Great post, Kozure. It's always fun to read your spin on the events in a game.

    I have to say, I wouldn't have touched the lemonade.

    A long time ago, when I first heard about this game, I was VERY interested. I was a fan of the RPG, and in particular I've always enjoyed the mechanic for insanity in that system. Over time, I convinced myself that I wouldn;t look at it (it's long, Betrayal at House on the Hill wasn;t a big hit, it was described initially as dice fest). Your purchase, and the post, has encouraged me to read a few reviews on the game... and I have to say that it sounds fantastic. I'm still put off by the length, but I REALLY WANT TO TRY IT NOW.

    Kozure, you have to slow down on your game purchases! I can't keep up with all of them (Collossal Arena, Doom and this one), and there are so many we have only played once that I want to try again! (Shadows over Camelot, Power Grid, etc).

  2. Yeah... the game purchases have been a little crazy the last month. I'm going to stop now. Besides, I'm only five games away from my self-imposed limit of 100.

    Mainly I bought Colossal Arena and Doom because they were suitable for three players (and Doom has great bits) and it was only Hapi, Shemp and me for a few sessions there.

    Arkham Horror was a lock because I love Lovecraft (was hooked since I bought a Lovecraft compilation in high school).

    Here's my less literary review of the game.

    Great. The Cthulhu mythos is a great, atmospheric location and the game mates the gameplay well with the concept.

    All of very decent quality. The cardboard counters have the chi-chi linen finish that all new FFG cardboard components have. No plastics except for the stands. The cards are of good quality and there are a lot of them. Actually, there are just a whole bunch of pieces, period. I think the only game that comes with more "bits" is Doom.

    The artwork is generally of high quality. They are very evocative and manage to capture the spirit and atmosphere of Lovecraftian prose very well. I'm pretty sure they've lifted a lot of the art from their Call of Cthulhu CCG, since I can't imagine them doing all of this art fresh for a board game, but maybe I'm wrong. The board is a bit jarring to look at at first, but it's very functional. I might have done it slightly differently, but I'm not entirely sure how - probably not had the jarringly bright yellow lines.

    Also, the graphics and text are laid-out in a horrible order on the Mythos cards, but they are still decent-looking. That quibble belongs in the game mechanics section.

    Here's the major point where I'm going to make gripes about an otherwise great game, and the gripes are relatively minor, so long as the solutions are handled consistently.

    The first is that this game would be very, very confusing out of the box without the dozens of rule clarifications from BGG. If I hadn't had the two-page rule summary from the file section at BGG, as well as read a lot of the clarifications, we would have had an even slower game. In fact, I spent more time reading over the rules and rules clarifications than most games we play at WAGS, and I still missed three game rules that affected play. The main reason for this is that the flow and timing of events is fiddly. Very fiddly. Once you get into the rhythm, it goes well, but if you run into an issue that isn't covered well by the rules (and with all the special situation cards in the game, it's going to happen at least once a game for the first few plays) the game comes crashing to a halt and there's a riffing of rules pages for a minute or so. We had three such stoppages in our first game, once to determine how to get a Silver Twilight Lodge membership (only through encounters at the Silver Twilight Lodge), the second to confirm whether an investigator is delayed after being sent to hospital/asylum (no), and the third about the combination of magical and non-magical weapons in combat when a creature has magical/physical resistance/immunity (dice from those spells/weapons are halved, but not the basic fight skill). Now, the latter two of these situations are covered in the rules, and I was able to find them afterwards, but the Silver Lodge membership isn't covered anywhere (?!). There's a lot to remember about how the game is played, so you have to be very careful in reading and explaining the rules. Once you've played through once, it's not as bad, but there's still one major issue that FFG needs to clear up (timing of gates and monsters opened up by encounter cards) that can have a major impact on gameplay.

    So, game "flow" is poor unless you read the rules carefully AND manage to remember all of the timings of things. Once you have a good grasp on those two parts, the game actually flows pretty well.

    The one other mechanic that I don't like (and this is not fixable without a major re-visiting of the movement and combat rules) is that all of the investigators more or less work independently - as if they're in their own little pocket dimension of Arkham. You can trade items, but you can't fight together (except against the old one) or face challenges together. I suppose this is in general keeping with the lonely feel of most of Lovecraft's work, but it makes for less of a teamwork atmosphere. This is fairly minor, though.

    There's no quick fix, because if it were possible for investigators to team up, you'd have to make some of the creatures much tougher, which would conversely make it more difficult for individual investigators to face monsters. Thus, I'm not sure how to solve this issue.

    Certain rumours and environments (rumours especially) can lengthen the game or make it much more difficult. The random card-draw of Mythos cards makes it quite dependent on luck whether certain difficulty factors are introduced. In our first game, the rumour of "Good Work Undone" more or less put a halt to our gate sealing efforts for five turns or so. Not only did we have to work to prevent all of our previously sealed gates from being re-opened, all of the clues collected to prevent this from occurring could not be used to seal gates; indeed, they were "wasted" on the rumour card.

    That said, some of the mythos cards saved our bacon; the Feds clearing out the streets of Arkham was a life-saver. So, in the balance, maybe things work out.

    I really enjoyed the game and want to play it again immediately. If not for the responsibility of child-rearing, I would be playing this again a few more times this weekend. The components are great, the theme is great, the gameplay is tense. The only major negative factors are time required and the fiddliness of the rules (which can be overcome with dilligence, much like the Ancient Ones). Minor factors are the teamwork issue and the randomness of certain cards which have a major effect on game difficulty. Otherwise fun, challenging and thematic - all things I look for in a good game.

  3. Don't forget, you have a little boy now... he'll need games too...