SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!!
Photos shown throughout this article are part of the initial set up or deckbuilding prior to the start of the campaign.
Base Game Review
Player/s: 1 – 4
Play Time (Box): 60mins – 120mins
Play Time (Goof): 90mins – 150mins
Producer/s: Fantasy Flight Games
Designer/s: Nate French & Matthew Newman
I spent a fair few years of my life on Trading Card Games. They were fun and exciting, but once I got older and started to get competitive with them they became a bit of a money sink.
When I found Android: Netrunner, I knew I’d found a format which was much more my style: Living Card Games. Where you bought packs of cards but you knew what was inside. Not only does this mean when I’m spending money, I know what I’m getting. But I feel it encourages designers to try and be creative with each card they make. There’s none of this rarity, none of this jank. Cards are designed to be played.
When I found out Fantasy Flight was combining Arkham Horror and the LCG format, I was interested but skeptical. Whenever I’ve seen a Cthulhu card game, it’s generally been competitive which feels like it’s a pasted on theme. The whole point of the Cthulhu Mythos is there are these forbidden, dark, and twisted evils in the world. Everything is against you. But if you don’t sacrifice everything, your possessions, your health, and most importantly, your sanity… the world is doomed. You can’t pull this off in a game which is supposed to be balanced and has one side playing the humans. Not to mention it sort of kills the intrigue a bit there.
BUT. I later found out Arkham Horror: The Card Game (I prefer writing Arkham Horror LCG so I don’t confuse people with the “Trading Card Game” acronym) is cooperative. Well – Ia Ia Cthulhu Ftagn. Lets do this thing.
Some of the mechanisms in Arkham Horror LCG are worthy of the type of praise given by Cultists to Cthulhu.
My favourite mechanic, especially as someone who enjoys deckbuilding is each card in your deck has multiple uses. You can pay the cost of the card and play it. Maybe you want a gun or baseball bat to protect yourself. But it can also be like a magnifying glass, old tome, spell, or even an ally. But there’s another use which gets my Ias all Fhtagn – each card can also be ‘committed’ to skill tests. You discard the card, and add the figures on the top left to the test. Here’s why I love this.
I love deckbuilding (you can tell because this is the second time I’ve mentioned it today). Whether it be pre-constructed decks or something you build as you play. When I found out a full playset (the most copies of a card you can have in a deck) was two cards, I was slightly disappointed. See I like to use probability when I deck build (or try. For someone who plays a bunch of games I’m terrible at maths). And I like to have different amounts of copies of different cards in my decks. If it’s something I want or am happy to see early game, max those babies out. The later I want to see a copy of a card, the less copies I add. Only having two copies doesn’t leave you a lot of room to manipulate a deck like this.
But the ability to ‘commit’ cards gives you a different perspective. Sure, most cards in your deck are probably going to contain two copies, but you can look at how many symbols you can use for tests. If you draw a card which isn’t overly useful at the time (maybe you don’t have an open equipment slot or spare resources) you can probably find a use for it when committing.
The different slots you have in Arkham Horror LCG add a really important strategic element. It effects everything from deckbuilding to play. Knowing I can only have one ally in play at a time has probably been my biggest dilemma when building my Roland Banks deck. I really wanted to see ‘Dr Milan Christopher’ early to get the resources I needed to get my weapons into play. But he’s not as useful towards the end of a scenario, so I set up for him to take some damage on my behalf and bring an ally I acquired through the campaign into play (not really a spoiler. You have to find the card and put it aside when you set up the first scenario but I still won’t show it here just in case).
Something to consider when you deck build… there are two cards in your 33 card deck (each character has a couple unique things to add which only they have available) which are called “Weaknesses”. One which is a pain in the ass, and the other which is a HUGE pain in the ass. If they hit you at the wrong time, it can really devastate your plans and you have a new issue to deal with. I adore this. Because you don’t feel safe. In most games drawing cards is a positive . In Arkham Horror LCG, you’re generally fine drawing cards. But the further you get through your deck and those cards haven’t come up yet… boy does each card draw feel tense.
The way locations in Arkham Horror LCG are handled are excellent. I mean what Fantasy Flight have managed to accomplish with what are really fairly minimal components is extraordinary.
Each location has a symbol on the top and potentially several symbols on the bottom. If the symbols on the bottom of where you are match the symbol on the top of another location, you can move there. It’s simple yet makes for some really tactical decisions in terms of where each of your party should move and what they can accomplish without leaving someone isolated to get picked off by monsters in the dark.
I have a bit of a love/meh relationship with dice. I love to use them in games, meh about games which focus only on dice. They are often too luck based for my liking, but the tactile nature of rolling them always grabs me and drags me back in. There’s something thrilling and exciting about chucking dice, knowing you need to see a certain result to accomplish what you set out to do.
Arkham Horror LCG does not have dice. And at first this news came as a disappointment. It had a token bag (well it had tokens which go in a bag. BYO bag apparently). Ugh. A token bag? Lame. There’s nothing tactile about a token bag. But my autistic tendencies aside, I started to fall in love with it. And Arkham Horror LCG did something I honestly never thought possible. It brought me around on the whole token bag/bag building thing. I actually love this token bag and am really happy they didn’t use dice. Here’s why.
The token bag can be manipulated in a number of cool ways which I didn’t initially consider. It’s a difficulty setting (the rules tell you which tokens to add to make the game easier, harder, or downright cruel). But what’s the coolest use of the bag for me is the designers are free to add tokens with different effects, change the number of various tokens in there, add or remove tokens between scenarios… there are so many more possibilities. While it’s true they could have just had symbols on the dice which represent different things, it’s still harder to manipulate. They’ve given themselves a lot of creative freedom moving forward. And reaching into the bag is downright nerve wracking.
Here’s the biggest issue I have with the story driven play of Arkham Horror LCG – The core box comes with three scenarios. And I like deckbuilding. This might seem like two separate points but give me a minute to swing around to a connection.
Whenever I go through an Android Netrunner binge, I spend hours of day after day searching through new cards, sorting out cool deck ideas I think might work well, playing games against friends to refine ideas and play styles. And the last bit there is really important. The way something works in concept may not always work in practice. Especially with all the variables and playstyles in deck building games. However, in Arkham Horror LCG… I find myself super into the deck building for about a day after playing. See Arkham Horror LCG can really only be played through once with all the secrets, mechanics, and plot points intact. So because I’m not continually reigniting the flame by rounds of gameplay, my deck sorta sits by the wayside. For a game which is really directed at hardcore gamers…it really doesn’t offer the repeat play hardcore gamers need.
Pros: ++Multiple Card Uses, +Equipment Slots, +Weaknesses, +Locations, +Token Bag
Fantasy Flight, you guys really know how to suck me in. Between Android Netrunner and Arkham Horror LCG, you’ve created what has to be some of the riches thematic games ever made. I did a Top 5 thematic games list back in September of last year. If I was going to do the list now, not even four months later, it would be a very different looking list, and Arkham Horror LCG would be on there without a doubt.
Each character has two different types of cards they’re allowed in their deck in addition to neutral cards. And the secondary class has less powerful tools, which makes character decisions matter. My experience playing Roland Banks was incredibly different to my friends’ experiences of playing Wendy Adams or Agnes Baker. I had more muscle, Wendy was more about slipping around the enemies and accomplishing tasks, and Agnes’ spells were incredibly useful. We could not have won the game without a combination of everyone’s different skills at different times. Meaning each character was vital, instrumental, and most importantly – unique.
You’ll notice I mentioned variations of the word “suspense” so far in this review. Every element of Arkham Horror LCG is designed to keep you on your toes. It’s designed for you to feel like nowhere is safe, like no option you can take is without consequences. And while I spoke about most of this in the Gameplay section, given this is exactly the atmosphere the Cthulhu Mythos excels in, I’d be remiss not to tell you how much I freaking adore this.
I want to talk about the scenarios a bit here. When talking about theme it’s a little hard to avoid discussing the setting. I will be doing my best to avoid spoilers. But if you want to play it safe feel free to skip on down a few paragraphs. I’ll leave you a sign.
Throughout each scenario I’ve played, the horrible hidden evil things are trying to accomplish an “Agenda” while the Investigators are trying to accomplish the next part of the “Act”. What I love about this are they are not necessarily diametrically opposed. Meaning rather than having a single task you have to focus on, you often have to work to keep the enemy at bay while accomplishing your own task. Each scenario does feel incredibly different and unique.
During the campaign, your characters will experience “traumas”. This will have an impact on your starting position going forward. If you ever read the short stories which the Arkham Horror series is tied into (again, happy to give reading recommendations) the characters come out of it essentially held together with duct tape. They’re physically scarred, their sanity has been stretched and damaged. And going through the campaign, you get a real sense of this happening to you.
Something which came as a shock to me, and I really want to prepare you for this, is the fact your character is in such a bad shape between each campaign, you are at a significant disadvantage continuing the same character starting a new set of campaigns (which will occur through the various expansions, mythos and scenario packs). My Roland Banks deck is officially retired after the core box campaign. The two I’m playing with have decided to keep their characters, who weren’t in quite as bad shape, but they know they’re gonna struggle. Why is this thematic? Because characters rarely reappear in the Cthulhu Mythos stories. And when they do they’re not the fresh faced young investigator they were at the beginning of their tale. They’ve seen some shit…
So although I didn’t like this initially, I’ve come around on it. A chance to try new characters. A chance to expand your experience. I think where I still have an issue is the fact the core box still only comes with those three scenarios. So your starting characters feel like they’ve barely started their journey before they fade away into memory.
Win, Lose, Run Away or some other catastrophe – Arkham Horror LCG keeps going. This means there’s decisions which you’ll make which impact on the gameplay but not really impact on the story. Take it as a positive or negative, personally I still felt the scenarios and decisions carried weight. But I was slightly disillusioned when I had this realisation. It’s like playing through Mass Effect multiple times trying to make different decisions. It’s great at giving you the illusion of choice without skipping or missing any content.
Having said this, the gameplay impact is actually quite significant. But I can’t explain how without spoilers. If enough people want it I might look at doing an article talking about the scenarios in depth. Let me know in the comments if you’re interested.
Pros: +Unique Characters, +Weighty Decisions, +Suspenseful, +Asymmetrical Goals, +Character Deterioration, +New Characters
Cons: -Illusion of Storytelling Decisions
Whoops. Almost forgot:
YOU CAN COME BACK NOW! WE’RE DONE TALKING ABOUT ALL THE COOL STUFF YOU MISSED OUT ON!
I’ve gone back and forth on this two rulebook system Fantasy Flight have got going at the moment. In some respects, it allows for a much smaller Learn to Play section which can see players getting into games a lot faster. On the other side, when you’re looking to answer a very specific question, such as about the timing of effects, you sometimes have to bounce between two rulebooks to end up finding it. Overall I’d say a faster first game time and the index on the Rules Reference trumps any other issues. But we still have the occasional problem (and praise Azathoth for internet FAQs).
Fantasy Flight. Why do you insist on making it so hard for people to get into my favourite games? Your core boxes in Android Netrunner don’t come with enough playsets of cards, meaning you’ve got to have three core boxes in order to be competitive. And in Arkham Horror LCG you honestly need two copies of the game per player. You can’t even use any combination of the two investigators from the box without compromising some of them. Yes, I know you’re a business. Yes I know you’re there to make money. But we had to purchase six copies to be able to play a three player game. It’s too much, and I can imagine how this would turn people off.
Not to mention, half the cards in each box are then superfluous. The extra tokens are nice but we don’t need six copies of the scenario cards. We don’t even need two. I honestly hate this. I’d rather pay slightly more for the core box to include a full play set of each card.
The artwork in Arkham Horror LCG is really mood setting. I really like it. And the tokens etc are a really good quality. I don’t know why but there’s something kind of tactile about the resource tokens. I really love having them (other than just for in game benefits). And I’ve watched Lachlan from Attempted Comedy and Josh from Tabletop Wonderland play with them absentmindedly while we strategise so I know I’m not the only one.
I mentioned in the Gameplay section about how much I adored the token bag. Here’s the thing though… it doesn’t come with one. You’re expected to put the tokens into something opaque which you pull the tokens from. I really question the company’s decisions when making Arkham Horror LCG. It seems like they tried to get away with whatever they could in order to maximize their profit margin. Call me cynical, and maybe I’m just being a sook. But it’s not like the price point of the game is particularly cheap. And they even sell a bag separately which is again… somewhat pricey. Charlotte made me one, because she’s good with a sewing machine. But if I didn’t have her I’d have just kept using a pencil case; and there’s something really immersion breaking about a pencil case with blue flowers on it in a horror game.
I really don’t think this is a spoiler. So I’m gonna rip it off like a bandaid – ThereAreOnlyThreeScenariosInTheBaseGame.
I mentioned this in the Gameplay section but some of you may have skipped it. It’s not enough. It’s maybe six hours total. So unless you’re planning on investing in expansions and extra packs, it’s probably not for you. Which breaks my heart to write. I think they should have included maybe an extra standalone scenario or two in the box. If you could get me to ten hours playtime I wouldn’t feel so ripped off. Hell, if I needed one box to play three player and it went for six hours I would probably be okay with it. But six boxes for six hours. These boxes go for $70AUD each from a place like Good Games Australia. So unless these boxes are forming the foundation of your collection which you will be building on with new scenarios and furthering your experience, it’s a stupid amount of money.
Can you get away with paying less? Playing out of one box? Well you’d get a two player game going with almost no deckbuilding options. So I’ll say yes, but you will not be getting anywhere near the most out of the game. In fact you’ll be missing the whole point of a Living Card Game. So… I’ll also say no.
Once you complete the scenarios, you can technically repeat them. But the nervousness of flipping over a new room, or the impacts your decisions have on gameplay are no longer as interesting or exciting. So sure, play them over as much as you want. But this is why I’m saying Arkham Horror LCG has really limited replayability.
Something which isn’t a positive or a negative in this review but nevertheless worth considering – because Arkham Horror LCG is cooperative it does mean you don’t need to keep up to date with the release schedule. In something like Android Netrunner, you often need the new packs to stay competitive. Here – it’s about how much disposable income your group has at any particular time. So you can space things out depending on your circumstances and this has no bearing on your ability to play or enjoy the game.
Pros: +Artwork, +Tokens
Cons: — Need Multiple Copies of the Core Box, -Lack of Token Bag, -Campaign Too Short
Arkham Horror (not LCG) was one of the first games which brought me into the hobby. It was something I hadn’t experienced before and felt like this epic struggle against the unknown. For the issues it had, I really love it. But Arkham Horror LCG gives me everything the board game did, only it’s way better. It’s so much fun. It’s a wild ride. And I’m hungry for more.
I give Arkham Horror: The Card Game:
There are some fan created scenarios for Print and Play if it’ll help increase your game time. I haven’t tried any of these yet but I am keep to give them a go. I’ll keep you updated via social media.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to build a character to play the first expansion.
I got my copies through Tabletop Wonderland
Tabletop Wonderland are offering readers of The Goof Review a 10% discount off of your first month to their subscription service! Just use the code GOOFREVIEW10
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