Arkham Horror 3rd Edition is a cooperative board game about protecting the world from cosmic horrors. It is for 1 to 6 players and created by Fantasy Flight Games.
Arkham Horror is a cooperative board game based on the works of H.P Lovecraft. 3rd edition is the latest installment of the core Arkham line. I have no experience with previous editions of the game. It’s sister game, however, Eldritch Horror is one of my favorite board games.
In Arkham Horror players take on the role of investigators in the city of, you guessed it, Arkham. The players are part of a team working together to prevent the awakening or arrival of a powerful cosmic horror, an Ancient One.
The players take turns moving around the city, gathering clues and items while fighting monsters and solving encounters. At the same time, doom spreads throughout the city slowly bringing about the end unless players also stem the tide by warding it away.
Arkham Horror has a narrative flair to it. Each scenario and the encounters themselves attempt to tell a branching story about what’s happening to the investigators and to Arkham. The game is easy to learn but offers a high challenge and the players aren’t expected to win all the time.
Relatively speaking, Arkham Horror is on the lower cost side of the board game spectrum. This is due partly due to the games’ high use of cards, cardboard pieces, and other low-cost components. Yet at the same time, the pieces themselves are not low quality by any means.
The board itself consists of 12 double-sided cardboard map tiles. They snap together like jigsaw pieces and different scenarios use radically different map layouts and neighborhoods. I really enjoy the fact that the game board isn’t static as it adds some interesting replay value.
You also get ton of cards of varying types and sizes, encounters, items, spells, monsters, etc. They are all nice quality, however, if you have played other Arkham style games you will notice much of the artwork is reused. This makes certain aspects immediately recognizable but also can give it a sense of repetition rather than newness.
The game comes with four scenarios, each of which plays differently from each other. You get twelve investigator sheets the players can choose from alongside the corresponding cardboard standees to represent them. Each investigator has a few items specific to them for players to choose between at the start of the game which is a nice touch.
While the Investigators are varied in role and ability. It didn’t take long to notice that some were simply and obviously better choices than others. Another annoyance is the game doesn’t come with enough plastic bases for all of the standees, you will need to swap them as needed.
You get a variety of cardboard tokens to represent a great number of concepts such as health, money, and doom, as well as six 6 sided dice. Dice are core to the game and while it’s playable with only 6, more would have been more convenient.
Once you know what your doing. Set up takes around fifteen minutes but will take significantly longer while you are learning how to play and games last around 2 to 3 hours. The scenario sheet dictates the map set up, starting location, and the first bit of doom, clues, and monsters on the map. It also dictates the starting codex cards.
The codex is the objective of the game. It is a branching set of story-line cards with objectives that change as game progresses. For example, a card might designate that once the players research a set number of clues to then draw and add one specific card to the codex. But you have to add a different card if a set number of doom accumulates.
Meanwhile, each codex card adds a bit of a story to the situation and what the players are trying to accomplish. The entire concept is both good and bad. This means the game evolves as you play with objectives and penalties changing based on how good or bad the players are doing. At the same time, the story’s surprise of the scenario lasts only once.
Game-play-wise the scenarios are very re-playable. Yet, you will know what events are coming alongside your successes and failures ahead of time.
Each player gets two actions that they can use to move around the board, attack monsters, gather money, ward away doom and use special abilities. Once all players take their turn the monsters still alive on the board get to act.
Each monster has its own stats and abilities but also its own behaviors. They move toward specific areas or targets. I really enjoy the monster’s mechanics. They feel like living threats on the board rather than a static token.
After the monster phase, any player not engaged with one gets an encounter, a specific card is drawn from the location they are on. A small story is told and generally, they get to make decisions and probably a skill roll of some kind. Gaining items or other good things if they succeed. After that comes the Mythos cup, each player pulls two special tokens from a cup at random.
These tokens can cause doom to land in spaces, clues and monsters to spawn and more. Aside from clues or a blank token, it is generally all bad stuff that the players need to address on the next turn.
There is a lot of strategy and teamwork involved in the game and every investigator has roles they are good at. Some are fighters, others are good at casting spells and warding doom. While others are good at researching clues. This is based on their abilities, skill scores, and items.
The players are under constant pressure, as they hunt clues and complete objectives. They must also keep the monster population in check and ward away doom. While the objectives vary, doom increasing is almost always how you lose the game and it is important to keep it low.
Every location has sybols showing what a player is likely to gain from an encounter there and it further adds to the strategy. The games concept is solid and executed pretty well. The successes and failures of skill rolls are fun and exciting and there is a lot of strategies involved. Each scenario is different and the branching storylines keep the game dynamic.
However, there is a lot of downtimes. Every round there are four phases and in those phases, each player only gets two actions. They also get an encounter if they aren’t engaged. Not only is there a lot of wait for your next turn but it can sometimes feel like you don’t have a chance to react to the events of the game. You take your two actions, then the monsters go, events unfold from the encounter phase and then every player draws two tokens from the mythos cup.
At higher player counts the mythos phase is bonkers. The cup generally has 14 tokens, the spread of the token types is mostly the same and when it’s empty you fill it back up. A 6 player game has 12 of those token drawn every round. It isn’t at all uncommon to watch the board spiral out of control with no chance to react, because it’s not the players turn yet.
This is made worse by the anomaly concept. Several scenarios add codex card 2 to the game which activates an anomaly if three or more doom is on any single space or if 5 total doom occupies a single neighborhood. When it happens an anomaly token is placed in the neighborhood and any more doom that is placed there moves to the scenario sheet instead (generally very very bad).
To remove an anomaly, all doom must be wiped from the neighborhood. All neighborhoods have three spaces. If you are in a neighborhood with an anomaly during the encounter phase, you draw a specific anomaly encounter card. The reward for which helps wipe out doom in the neighborhood.
It isn’t at all uncommon for a player to be a designated “warder” and spend two to three turns moving, warding doom and doing an anomaly encounter. Where again the only reward is to remove doom. Meanwhile, the other players are gaining goodies from their encounters and doing more interesting things.
Not all scenarios use anomalies and I found those ones to be much more enjoyable.
Once you get into the swing of things, Arkham Horror is a solid team-based crisis management game. It has a bit too much player downtime and the anomaly mechanic grates on me personally. But I do enjoy the strategy, gaining items and working with other players.
The monster phase is excellent and the branching objectives via the codex keeps the game dynamic and interesting all the while telling a coherent story. I love how varied the investigators and their starting gear are.
The modular board that changes with the scenario is also great despite the fact it adds more to setup time. On the plus side, taking them apart allows for simple and easy storage for the board.
Arkham Horror is a game that benefits greatly from variety, it currently has one expansion titled Dead of Night that adds more cards, investigators and scenarios to the game and I highly recommend it if you decide to pick up Arkham Horror.
That said I think the game is balanced best for 2 to 4 players as the mythos cup is just a mess at higher player counts. Also, strange as this may sound, if you are a fan of the board game Pandemic, you will love this. The way doom spreads is functionally similar to the way disease spreads in that game.
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- Modular board is a great game concept
- Branching and changing objectives keep the game dynamic
- Great investigator variety
- Monsters feel alive instead of static tokens
- A lot of strategy and teamwork involved
- Too much player downtime between turns
- Dealing with Anomalies can be boring
- The mythos cup can feel like the game is playing you, especially at higher player counts
- Each scenario has the element of surprise precisely once
- Some investigators are clearly stronger than others