Arkham Horror: The Card Game – The Horror of it all

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“We all go a little mad sometimes” – Anthony Perkins Psycho

Theme

First off, if you’ve read Lovecraft before you know that his work tends to be much more psychological horror than what you find in games of this ilk. Fantasy Flight has quite a large selection of games under this mythos and they all have more of a pulp feel to them, and that’s fine.  In Lovecraft’s work you will find the characters slowly slipping into madness while their minds try to comprehend beings that are literally without comprehension.  They emphasize the dread and horror of the unknowable and the sheer hopelessness of battling entities with power beyond anything you could imagine. In this game, and others of it’s kind, you will find characters kicking down doors and unloading a shotgun into some foul creature from another world.  That is the kind of story this game brings.  Basically, you are investigators trying to stop a dark cult from unleashing powerful elder gods into our world.  So, while the psychological horror and feel is a bit different from the source material, it still makes for a wonderful and entertaining experience. This game oozes theme.  The story comes through in every aspect. The art and gameplay go so well together and combine to make a truly terrific story. Even in the modest narrative provided in the core campaign it’s hard not to become immersed in the story and what is happening to your investigators.

Components

There isn’t too much to say about components. The game comes with a good assortment of cards, small tokens to keep track of resources and health, tokens to use for skill checks, the box and rulebooks. The cards are typical for a Living Card Game.  I’m sure a lot of die hard fans will end up sleeving their cards, but to me it’s an added expense that I feel just isn’t necessary. The art and flavor text on all the cards is wonderful and does a great job of pulling you into the theme.  the tokens that represent resources, health, etc. all work well and are good quality. I will admit that I did put my chaos tokens into 26mm capsules.  I felt they were being man handled more than the cards.  I also like the nice chunky feel and the clink of them rolling around as you rummage in the bag hoping to draw a positive token.  I really liked this addition to the gameplay.  I tend to get really annoyed with dice rolls for skill checks and find this method much more fun and enjoyable.  It would have been nice for Fantasy Flight to provide a bag to put them in, but I think this is a small concern. You could easily put them into a bowl or cup, but I bought a small dice bag that works great. This game comes, as all Fantasy Flight games, with two rulebooks. You have the quick learn to play guide and then a more dense reference guide with more detailed rules.  It did take me a few games to get all the basic rules down. There are a good amount of little rules and steps to remember here and there, and keeping track of effects of different cards in play as they pile up can be a bit tricky.  Although, after a few games it gets easier to remember and even if you forget, the experience is still enjoyable.  The base box the game comes in is quite small and won’t be able to hold cards for long if you plan on getting expansions as they come out.

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Health, Sanity, Resource, Clue and Doom Tokens
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Tokens pulled from bag or bowl for skill checks
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Learn to Play Guide and Reference Book

 

Art

The art for this game is gorgeous.  Each card does a great job giving you a visual depiction of the card ability. Not only this, they do an excellent job of helping immerse you into the story of your investigator and their horrific adventures.

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Cards Used to represent players in the game area
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Player Cards depicting stats, health, sanity and various other info
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A few Cards players can add to their decks

Gameplay and Set-Up

Set up for this game can be a little lengthy, but it’s made a bit easier with some organization.  All of my cards are sorted into their different encounter sets and player cards with dividers I’ve printed up.  This makes it much easier to find the sets I need during set up.  For your very first scenario you’ll have to put tokens in the chaos bag based on the difficulty level you’re going for and whether your playing campaign or a standalone scenario.  You’ll also have to choose which investigators you will be playing with and find all their character specific cards.  If you flip to the back of each character card you will find what cards they start with such as assets and weaknesses.  They will also have specific deck building instructions on what kinds of cards they can put into their deck.  This initial portion of the set up can be a little time consuming, but in my opinion is not as demanding as other deck construction games. Next, you use the location cards gathered to build the play area where the investigators will move around. Some scenarios have special cards that may be put aside out of play and they will show up when events bring them into play. You use the rest of the cards to build the encounter deck that you will be drawing from for the remainder of the game.  Next, you will have to put the various tokens into their piles and each investigator receives five resource tokens and draws five cards.  You can’t have weaknesses in hand at the beginning and can put back any amount of the initial five and draw one more card for each you put back.  The game is guided by an agenda and an act deck.  The agenda deck is how far your enemies are advancing towards their goals and the act deck keeps track of the investigators progress through the story.  Players go through various phases until they achieve their goals or their enemies achieve their own.  The investigator phase is the main part of the game where players will take turns performing three actions such as move, fight, evade or investigate.  Most of these actions are played in the form of cards or at least buffed up by cards. Investigating allows them to gather clues to advance the act deck and is the main way they will progress towards their end goal.  The enemy phase comes next where any enemies you may be engaged with get to attack you, and hopefully you will have ways to avoid these attacks or absorb some of the damage.  Finally, you get to draw cards and get resources.  This will lead into the next round where you will start off with the mythos phase (which does not occur in the first round).  You will add one doom to the agenda deck which may advance when enough doom has built up within the game. Next, each player will draw a card from the encounter deck which all have various terrible things you will have to deal with.  These things range from testing one of your stats to enemies spawning throughout the play area.  You continue on throughout the campaign until some sort of resolution is achieved.

 

Solo

This game is absolutely wonderful solo and is, in fact, not only my number one solo game, but my number one game overall.  You can play the game one-handed with one character or even with two to four characters if you have enough cards and are willing to keep track of all that info on your own.  I would say some characters will take more easily to playing solo as you will want someone that has a more even stat line that can deal with various skill checks and more readily handle anything the game may throw at them.  With just a core set this will be trickier, but as expansions are released and the card pool grows you will be able to customize your characters to better deal with any events and enemies that they may face.  I myself have played multiple games controlling 1, 2 and 3 characters.  One is good fun, but my favourite way to play is with two.  Doing this I am able to play with more characters more often and create different combos of characters that play off of each other and help cover each others weaker attributes.  Three was a bit too much and crossed that threshold of too much to keep track of for each character (at least for me).

 

Variability

I’ve heard several people claim on various online forums and sites that they think this game has low replay value.  Obviously this is their opinion and to them the game is definitely not re-playable, but I have a different opinion.  It is true that once you play through a scenario you will know the basic flow of the story line and what will occur, but there is more to the game than just the story.  There are five different factions in the game and each one has a different playstyle.  Guardians focus on combat and protecting other factions, Rogues are good at evading and sneaking around performing actions, survivors are good at getting out of sticky situations, seekers are your primary clue gatherers and help move the act deck along and finally mystics are a high risk high reward faction that can make big plays that may come with a potential negative cost.  Each one can give a scenario a different feel.  Also, each scenario has more than one ending depending on what happens during the course of play.  So, even if you have played a scenario before and seen the events played out each game will be very different depending on what characters your using and what encounter cards might come out and when.  I will also say that even though this review is focusing on the core box I have played all other expansion scenarios and can say that they grow and evolve in much more complex, variable and interesting ways.  The core box is meant as more of an introduction to the game mechanics and how they work, but I still found it quite enjoyable and played through the core campaign four or five times before moving on to anything else.

 

Final Thoughts

I’ve already stated that this is not only a game I love, but is in fact my number one game.  To me there is just so much to enjoy.  First  and foremost is the story.  You get an initial introduction to each scenario in the campaign guide and then the agenda and act deck also spice up the game by injecting story elements throughout the play of the game.  Once each scenario is ended you also get a little story snippet that will vary depending on how the game played out.  The game can also change ever so slightly in future scenarios depending on how well you have done and what choices you have made.  I have played many “narrative” games such as Agents of Smersh, Robinson Crusoe and Eldritch Horror, but in my opinion none of them can hold a candle to this one in terms of story.  I also like how you can pick different characters based on your playstyle and then customize them even further with how you construct your deck.  The cards are extremely thematic and really fit the feel and ability that they are trying to convey.  Spell cards can allow investigators to do incredible things, but they risk their sanity slipping further away. A quick dynamite tossed down can deal massive damage to a gang of enemies that is hunting for you.  Each character also starts with two unique weaknesses that can really throw a wrench in the works if drawn at the wrong time.  The cards are also multi-use, which is another thing I love.  They each depict an ability they convey to the player and a set of icons at the side.  Most cards can be discarded to use their icons to buff your stats in skill checks for fights, investigations and other actions.  So, you have to decide if you want to use a card to help with this current skill check I’m about to do or do I really want to save it because I love the ability it will give me.  Speaking of skill checks, I’m a big fan of the chaos tokens pulled from the bag as opposed to using dice.  Imagine reaching into the bag, rooting around, finally grasping a token you’ve decided to take a chance on, pulling your hand out and slowly opening your hand to determine how you’ve done on your check.  It is so much more satisfying than rolling a dice and seeing what happens and it also makes the difficulty very customizable.  Although, there may be a few negatives to the game depending on who you ask.  The game can be very random.  You have random card draws from your own decks, random draws from the encounter deck and random draws from the chaos bag.  So, if you don’t like randomness this game may not be for you.  With games like this you need randomness to create a challenge within the game and the difficulty can be adjusted, but it still may rub some the wrong way.  Some people may not be overly fond of having to construct decks before beginning to play.  It is a bit time consuming, but in my opinion not nearly as demanding as other games such as Lord of the Rings: The Card Game.  Also, if you want to be able to do more varied deck construction you will definitely have to get into buying expansion packs, which won’t be cheap.  Some will say you must get at least one extra core box.  If you want to play a four player game with just core material that is true.  The core box alone is not enough to build four decks, but I myself only own one core and that combined with expansions has been sufficient to build multiple decks at a time.  The rules can also be a bit tricky at first with different key words and smaller rules that can be hard to remember until you’ve gotten a few games under your belt.  Needless to say, I find this game to be outstanding and think that If you find the core box even mildly entertaining you should definitely give expansions a chance as they considerably increase the game in every aspect.  I have only had this game for about a year and a half, but it has already become my most played game by far.

Anachrony: Let’s Do The Time Warp Again!!!

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Well here goes, my first crack at writing a real review. I guess with Anachrony as my first one it’s a fitting, as I’ll wish I could stop myself from writing this if it doesn’t go well.

Theme

When it comes to Euro style games you have two kinds. Those that bring the theme out, at least a little, and those that could really have any theme because it doesn’t come through at all.  With Anachrony I think the developers did a good job on bringing theme through. A large part hinges on the time warping mechanic. Basically, you and any other players are trying to prepare for an oncoming meteor hit and near the game end are trying to save as many as you can once said hit has finally arrived.  Whomever was most efficient at performing their actions and gathering points will be the winner. The mechanic of warping various things back in time does a good job at providing theme, as does the various mechanics you use to accomplish your goal.

Components

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The components for this game are phenomenal.  The water and various resource cubes are represented by bright and colourful pieces. All the tokens are thick with good solid artwork. The game board and individual player boards are sturdy and nice to look at and all cards are good quality. Buildings and Superprojects are a bit abstract as they depict no artwork and have only basic iconography explaining their ability. The only indication you have of what it is you’re building is a name on the superproject tiles and only a number on the building tiles. I thought this would bother me at first as art in games is really something that draws me in, but the abilities of the buildings function well thematically and you can look up all the names of the individual building and what they do in the back of the rulebook. Iconography is all over the various boards and was a little daunting at first, but one flip through the rulebook and a practice solo game and they were quite easy to pick up on. A lot of pictures online also depict the fancy miniatures you can receive in the expansion. While they do look amazing I am happy with using only the tokens that come in the base game, which look nice as well.  The rulebook is very well written and clear and I never had any difficulty in understanding the rules. One thing, there was a change made to the solo rules after a loop hole was posted online about being able to beat the bot easily if you passed early every round.  The rules were adjusted so that the bot took at least three actions before passing.  This was not in my rulebook, but can be found online in an updated version and may be in future printings as well.

Art

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I won’t go on too long about the artwork and will simply say that it is great. All the images on the components are crisp and clear and do a good job of depicting a futuristic dystopian society. Even though some of the building do not depict any art, as I said above, they have clear iconography and good graphic design.  Art helps immerse me into a game, and the artwork in this game does just that.

Gameplay & Set Up

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The set-up for the game can be a little lengthy: organizing the goods, putting out workers, sorting a couple card piles, organizing buildings and superprojects, putting out the timeline. Then you have individual player set up such as: picking your faction boards and what side you’ll play on, getting your path board and starting resources, picking a leader card with an special ability. All-in-all about 15 minutes of set up, but that can be brought down with good organization of components, experience and help from other players. Gameplay centers around placing workers on player boards or the main board to perform actions such as gathering resources and workers as well as constructing buildings and superprojects.  To perform actions on the board you need powered up exosuits for your workers to use as it’s dangerous to go out into the world. Some workers are more efficient at certain actions and can get you bigger benefits or do not become tired when performing actions. Also, some spaces on the various boards can only be taken by specific workers.  There is a phase in the round where players can send various items back in time, such as workers, exosuits and resources, to give themselves a leg up in the action phase of the round. Warping these materials can be beneficial, but players must be careful as resources not paid back can potentially cause anomalies, which are negative points at game end if not gotten fixed.  Buildings and projects constructed during game give players special abilities, resources and the ability to travel back in time.  You go through several rounds until the meteor hits at which point a game timer of sorts starts.  Spaces on the board are made unavailable as they are used.  Its is during this time that players can take a special evacuation action depicted on their path board if they have fulfilled its requirements.  Requirements can be things like have a certain amount of  buildings or water. You earn points for fulfilling the requirement and some bonus points if you collected a certain combination of things depicted under the requirement.  This can be a huge source of points. Once the seventh round ends or all spaces are made unavailable the game ends. Points are tallied from various things such as points accrued during game and buildings.  Negative points are taken from anomalies and warped items that were never fulfilled. The person with the most points is the winner.  I haven’t played any of the expansion material and cannot speak to that, but it all looks interesting.

Solo

There is a solo version of this game where you are competing against a bot that takes actions based on a die roll that moves tokens around on a special board. I have played this several times with various factions.  The bot has certain resources and workers that it prefers and will take them when gathering those items. You play your turns and then roll the die and perform the action of the token depicting that number.  You then move the token down a path to the next action. If the bot cannot perform the action he gets two water and a point. The bot gets to perform at least 3 actions, but will pass once you have passed if he has performed at least that many actions. This was a very clever system and worked well. I played on easy the first couple of times allowing the bot to only take two water when not doing an action instead of a point as well. My win rate once playing normal seemed about 50/50 and is a good challenge. Your trying to be efficient and not give the bot too many opportunities to score points. The system is very clever and works well with the bot making it harder to perform actions on the main board by taking spots or even building buildings I wanted to build with a future action. I enjoyed my plays of this very much and it’s not only one of the better solo euros I’ve played, but one of the better solo games in general. I just hope that future expansions (and I’ve heard this may be the case) will incorporate the expansions into solo play.

Variability

The variability in this game, even without expansions, is quite high. You can play as different factions with basic sides or advanced sides, different path boards with different evacuation bonuses and even different leaders that give each player a different power adding asymmetry to the game, which I love. Different buildings and superprojects will also be available for different games meaning you won’t see the same ones in every game. Not only this, but the way resources and workers are seeded onto the board each round is changed by a deck of cards that says what is available. When playing non-solo their will also be five different end game scoring cards available that will change for each game. All this gives quite a bit of variability in itself.  Once you add in expansions and variants available at the back of the rulebook this game has a ton of variability.

Final Thoughts

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As you can probably tell I really love this game. Everything from the artwork to gameplay is fantastic.  For a game that seems daunting and really difficult to pick up it is quite intuitive and easy to follow.  The various phases and actions available flow very well and the iconography is clear and doesn’t slow the game down.  Gameplay is deep and strategic and gives you a lot to think about. You can try and build lots of buildings that give resources or help you warp more efficiently. Some generate points or can give you free actions that don’t cost a worker. Building superprojects can give abilities that make play even more varied and interesting.  Going for end game bonuses and your evacuation bonus give you something to plan for. There are just so many things to think about, but it never feels overwhelming. Resources and workers can be very tight as you never have quite enough to do everything you want.  I’ve heard people grumble that the time travel mechanic is just a glorified loan system.  I say whatever, it works, it’s thematic and it’s a whole lot of fun.  I just can’t say enough great things about this game.  I don’t have a top 50 or 100 list, but if I did I imagine this game would definitely be top 20 material, maybe even top 10 for me.

Classroom Game Design

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Seeds of an Idea

I teach at an elementary school and have tried to share my love of gaming. I run a board game club once or twice a week, but don’t get a lot of regular attendance. The school is quite small in a rural community so I wanted a way to bring games more into the classroom. I’ve had a few little activities I’ve made up, but this was my first foray into an actual board game type of design. With the end of the year coming up I thought I would make a kind of Frankenstein game containing several different ideas.

The Math involved

Numeracy is very important in the math curriculum and it’s what I start my year with so we can build and practice on skills throughout the year. Due to this I like to do a good amount of review at the end of the year to make sure students are still developing and using skills we’ve learned in the first half of the year. I wanted the game to focus on skills such as skip counting, place value (base ten blocks), estimating, addition and subtraction. I also wanted to throw in patterns as they are very important and then a section that could be used to touch on things such as sorting, ordering numbers and odd/even numbers.

Gameplay

The game as a whole is worker placement. Each person has two pawns used to take actions. The pawns are used similar to games like “Charterstone” and “Asking for Trobils”. You can either place one of your pawns on a spot to take that action or pick up both pawns if they are both on the board. This part of the strategy is a bit lost on the young ones. They don’t quite get the subtle strategy of trying to force their opponents to use a turn picking up their pieces, but I wanted to tack on some mechanic for how many actions they could take. So, there are really no rounds. Just a series of turns until someone reaches the end game. Each person starts with a certain amount of money as some spaces require money. I decided to make the end game more of a race. Depending on the students abilities it is a race to 15 or 20 points.

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game in progress

 

The spots on the board that can be chosen all do various things. Estimating can earn you cash that you need at two other spots. You can also earn cash and points at another location where you create patterns. Cash earned can be use to buy base ten blocks used to build constucts depicted on cards. Once built the student counts the base ten blocks and gets points based on the difficulty of the construct. Cash can also be used to acquire cards with various math problems with a range in difficulty. This space can be altered depending on the grade and can be used to do various types of operations. These cards once completed let you cash them in at the mart to move a player chip around a set number of spaces on the board. When you pass designated spots on the track you get to look at a secret card adjacent to that spot. The cards in the secret pouches all have something in common such as shape, size, colour, odd/even numbers etc. Players get more points being the first, second, etc. person to figure out the sorting rule. This could even be used to find out all the numbers and then their required to put them ascending order.

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Some of the cards from the game

 

Thoughts and Musings

The students seem to really have taken to the game and quite enjoy it. This is of course a work in progress and there are things to tweak. I’d really like to make a really good looking copy once I’m happier with where things are at. I really want to try and incorporate games more into the classroom as they really engage all students and make learning so much fun.

Gotta Start Somewhere

Here we go!

Games

Well, I guess I might as well jump in head first. I’m gonna keep this first post short and sweet as I’m not expecting many people to be reading this. Quick intro about myself. My names Eli and I currently live in RM Canwood in Saskatchewan, Canada. I started this site because I wanted to have a place to write my thoughts on my nerdy endeavors, which will mainly consist of board gaming. There will definitely be a focus on solo gaming as I live in the middle of nowhere and love games WAY more than anyone nearby. Up top you can see a snapshot of my humble collection. A few of my other interests include comics, reading, movies and video games. I’m also a grade 2 teacher and try to share my passion of gaming with students and people in the local community. I run a board game club at school and have a monthly meet up I run in town once a month with a small following. I hope to keep this going and am thankful for anyone who follows me along for the ride.