The Horror! The (Arkham) Horror! [Review]
So I finally played Lupus In Tabula (a.k.a. “Are You a Werewolf”) at Further Confusion, and last night we finally broke out Arkham Horror. I suppose now all that’s left will be to play Settlers of Cataan and my initiation will be complete. (NOTE: I may have actually played that and forgot.)
What to say about Arkham Horror…? Well, first, it’s long. Really long. Really, really long. Being a bunch of newbies, we chose Yig, the Ancient One specifically mentioned as making for a “shorter” game, and we still went from 7:00ish until midnight.
Have I mentioned that it’s long?
The other thing is that it’s complex. Really complex. Pointlessly complex. Why bother with money, for instance? With all of the “Gotta find a clue! Gotta seal the gates! Gotta get back home from the Plateau of Leng — again!” going on, the time spent getting to a shop and then actually shopping there, hardly feels worth the effort for what you get out of it. There are lots of other ways it’s pointlessly complex, but that was the one that most felt like extra baggage to me.
This is a game that’s packed to the gills with stuff. There are something like 16 characters, each with their own sub-rule, eight Ancient Ones, each with their own sub-rules, 10+ different decks of cards that all do different things, six different skills to make checks on, modifiers to every check, rules about how many monsters can be on the board, rules about how to fight or evade monsters, horror checks to see if monsters drive you insane, rules for which shops close down in which order as monsters start to take over town, rules about what order you have encounters in, rules about which player goes first on any turn, rules about how many times you may change your characters’ skill allocation, rules about different ways the different monsters move, fight, or lurk around — oh, and the cultists all have different stats depending on which Ancient One you’re fighting, and so on.
And yet, with all that, we still ran into situations where the rules didn’t cover it and we had to come up with an answer. Specifically, at one point my character (the nun) encountered a monster. Being a nun, my character couldn’t fight worth a tiddlywink and the only weapon she had was a cross — which was only useful against undead. But she did have a spell that negated damage from a single source, and cast that. So she couldn’t hurt the monster, but the monster couldn’t hurt her, either.
And so … what? The combat system in the game assumes that the monsters generally beat the snot out of you unless you manage to single-shot them. So normally if you can’t hurt a monster, it just means you get mauled. They don’t seem to have a contingency for what happens if the monster can’t hurt you either. We took a vote around the table and decided to treat the encounter as if I’d evaded the monster instead, just to keep the game going.
During the first hour or so of the game, half of the people around the table were saying, “This should be a computer game!” because of all the fiddly stuff to keep track of. Honestly, tho, I can’t imagine it being a very fun computer game, even if I can totally see how that would work. Progress is too slow and too nebulous — “Am I doing well? Am I doing poorly? Am I just wandering around wasting time because I don’t know what I should be doing?” I realize that, being based on Call of Cthulhu (which is in turn based on Lovecraftian horror), that “slow, nebulous, and uncertain” is exactly what they’re going for. But y’know, I could get that just from running an actual game of Call of Cthulhu and do a lot less dice-rolling and card-shuffling.
So, net result? Unless people specifically ask for it, I doubt we’ll be doing Arkham Horror again; the amount of fun delivered doesn’t justify the amount of work.