Arkham Horror is a cooperative board game published by Fantasy Flight Games in 2005. What I mean by cooperative is that if the players don’t make an effort to coordinate their efforts they will lose…of course that is still no guarantee of success.

The premise of the game is that each player assumes the role of a random investigator in the town of Arkham. One of the game’s gods is drawn as the ultimate horror that the players will face after having to deal with unspeakable monsters, insane cultists, and portals to other dimensions.

What you will need to play this game:

Even if you only have a fleeting knowledge of Lovecraftian mythos, you will need to accept that while your character is fighting monsters from outside space and time, your character is still a simple human. Some characters have access to spells, some have access to guns and melee weapons, some monsters are immune to both. If you come into the game accepting that it is probably going to be a no-win scenario, the joy of the game will come from playing the game as opposed to winning it. I have played many times and I can only think of one time in which the players overcame the god, and a few times in which we realized that there was no possible way for us to win.

The game is played in a series of rounds with each player performing their actions which can take several minutes, especially when consulting with the other players and the scenarios that pop up. After the players have all gone then the monsters take their actions and portals to other dimensions open which can only be closed after returning through them. At the end of each round the “first player” position is rotated. Rounds can take up to ten minutes and beyond, so it can be a while before you get to take your own actions. If that seems dull to you, this might not be the game for you.

This game can take a while to play. The first session I played took eight hours of non-interrupted play before it was over, though I’ve also played in games where we all died after half an hour. In fact, even with my friends and I knowing what we are doing and having a system down it takes us about fifteen minutes to finish the initial setup of the game. There are a lot of card decks that need to be organized in addition to sorting out the character’s equipment and placement. Players' characters and the god are drawn at random so every game is different and can have slightly different rules and winning/losing conditions. It is such a big time dump that my friends and I have to schedule games sessions beforehand. If you think Risk takes too long to set up, you should give the game a pass.

Friends with all of the above
The game is listed as needing one to eight players. This is a bit of an over simplification. If you have too few players you will be hard pressed to stay ahead of the portals opening up and the monsters appearing. If too many portals or monsters show up the “doom track” goes up and when that fills the god appears before you are ready to deal with it. However with every additional player the doom track has a lower limit needed for the god to appear. So, while more can be accomplished with additional players the game’s difficulty raises as well.

Sobriety (1)
My friends and I play a lot of games, generally table top rpgs, but some other board games. When we play we like to drink, however this game is so complex someone has to be able to think enough to keep us all on track and make sure we are doing things right. Every player’s character has Stamina (health) points and Sanity points, on top of three skill tracks, money, equipment (weapons, spells, skills, companions), and a unique mini quest card. The game board boasts many locations separated into districts with individual scenario card decks, other dimensions with their own scenario deck, monsters, portals, and the god’s character. It amounts to a lot to keep track of, but if you like that sort of thing, this game is a lot of fun.

This game is not cheap. The base set still usually retails for around $50. There are also expansions which add more player characters, monsters, gods, and game board expansions, all of which can change the flow and difficulty of the game. They also run between $20 and $40 each.

As of this writing the expansions are:

  • The Dunwich Horror (2006) Board and cards
  • The King in Yellow (2007) Cards only
  • Kingsport Horror (2008) Board and cards
  • Black Goat of the Woods (2008) Cards only
  • Innsmouth Horror (2009) Board and cards
  • The Curse of the Dark Pharaoh (2009) Cards only
  • The Lurker at the Threshold Expansion (2010) Cards only
  • Miskatonic Horror (2011) Cards only

Orange Julius: There is only one rule in this game: you will die frustrated