Geekery: Arkham Horror Board Game


I mentioned a couple of months ago in this blog how I was a huge fan of the D&D spinoff RPG series, Pathfinder.  Well, before I had ever heard of Pathfinder, there was another game, actually a board game, that had totally captured my mind and heart.  Funnily enough, I first heard of this game, and had the chance to play it, while at an IRL (In Real Life) moot hosted in Vermont by a bunch of awesome friends we had made while the Hubster and I were both still playing World of Warcraft online back in our first years together. There was a game night held one night out among the stars; some were playing a WoW board game that had just come out, some were playing Settlers of Catan (The “Seafarers” version, if memory serves), and the Hubster and I were inveigled to play a game of Arkham Horror.

Arkham Horror, despite your likely first guess, has NOTHING to do with the Batman genre.  For those not in the know, Batman’s city of Arkham took its name from a popular, dark series of fantasy/sci–fi/horror novels written by eminent 20th century horror writer, H.P. Lovecraft.  Lovecraft invented the town of Arkham, developed the concept of elder gods, and was the genius-creator of the monster/elder god Cthulhu

“Baby’s First Cthulhu”?
The traditional bada$$ Cthulhu we all know and fear

This one makes me giggle…and I’m not even American.


In my opinion, the mythos of “Arkham” could be used as a descriptor for a dystopian universe, where the veil between our reality and that of other, incomprehensible worlds and its gods is at its thinnest and most permeable, non-Euclidean geometry rules the day, and the breaking of sanity is a common occurrence.

So yeah, pretty dark stuff.

In university, *cough cough* years ago, I had the opportunity to take an unusual English course based on the history of Gothic Horror writing; we read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which is viewed as the seminal horror novel, as well as the famous works from Bram Stoker (Dracula), H.G. Wells (The Island of Dr. Moreau), Robert Louis Stevenson (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), Shirley Jackson (The Haunting of Hill House), and even the current reigning king of terror, Steven King, and his nom de plume, Peter Straub (Salem’s Lot and Ghost Story, respectively). But, of all the novels assigned to the class, none caught my imagination nearly as much as Lovecraft’s incredible tales.

Player character tokens with comprehensive back-stories

The game’s structure takes place in the roaring 20’s, in a (hopefully!!!) alternate universe where the Cthulhu mythos is both real and imminently poised to break through, take over and destroy Earth. In the game, you choose and play investigators who search the town of Arkham finding clues, evading or battling monsters, and traveling to the other worlds to do battle with Elder Gods and their minions, all in order to stop an ancient evil from awakening and destroying our world. It’s a cooperative game, in that everyone plays their own characters, but they work together to fight one of several chosen Elder Gods and its creatures from overtaking the town. It’s a very richly detailed, complex game.

This “basic” board is about 3 feet long
The expansion sets…so far…

A standard game setup

Granted, it *is* challenging to play; not because the rules are difficult to understand, but simply that there’s so much detail it can become confusing to try and remember everything. This is one instance where I would condone, and even encourage rule-lawyering, simply because if one of the players has gone to the trouble of memorizing the entire rulebook, then in a cooperative game this can only help everyone!  

Having said that, it’s not for those who have a short attention span, don’t like to read or think much when playing a game, or play cooperatively (non-competitively) with other players.  If your last boardgame was Scrabble, this may not be right for you. However, if you love a challenge, have several uninterrupted hours to play a game with good friends (2-8 people can play at one time), and you want to really feel like you’ve accomplished something (haha), then I can’t recommend this game strongly enough!  Many gaming stores sell this game in Canada now, where only a few years ago you had to order it from the US, and there are even some stores who host RPG game nights that offer Arkham sessions too (shout out to the awesome Hobby Kingdom in Burlington! You rock!)

Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) has also released a couple of other
games based on H.P. Lovecraft’s work; namely, a boardgame called Mansions of Madness, and the collectible card game, Call of Cthulhu.  We own Mansions, and it’s pretty awesome too, but I prefer Arkham Horror when I can get enough people to commit to playing through a game with me!

*Update: FFG is hosting an open Arkham Horror tournament this fall for new and seasoned players; one in Minnesota, and the Canadian distributor, Lion Rampant, is hosting one here in Toronto too!  Have a look here for more information on going to the “con” if you’re interested in trying this game out before you commit to buying it.  If so, see you there — so excited!!

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