Arkham Horror

Fantasy Flight Games, 2005, 1-8 players, 12-adult. This newly revised edition edition of the old Chaosium Arkham Horror game has the same basic premise of the original. The action takes place in Arkham, Mass, a doomed New England community that is being assailed by horrible creatures from other dimensions. Dimensional gates appear at various locations in town, spawning hideous monstrosities that roam the streets in search of human targets. It is up to the collective efforts of the players (in their guise as "investigators") to acquire the weapons and arcane knowledge necessary to rid the streets of these horrors and destroy the gates that spawned them. If the players succeed in closing all of the gates, they win. Otherwise, the game wins - maybe (more on that later).

Unfortunately, and in typically ham-handed FFG style, this game introduces a lot of new complexity that slows the game down without really adding any entertainment value. Even the nifty new playing pieces (which, admittedly, are vastly superior in quality to the old Chaosium game) present problems. This game needs to come with its own table, because between the mammoth board (which does not lay flat, incidentally), over twenty different stacks of cards, and all of the various markers, tokens, and whatnot, there is precious little room left to maneuver in (even on my large dining room table). The board itself is not particularly attractive (being very murky and hard on the eyes), nor functional. As big as it is, they should have put spots on it for all of the different decks of cards (particularly the location event cards which quite logically should be placed next to the locations to which they correspond).

Another of my major complaints is with the rules. Admittedly, the original Chaosium rules were very poorly written and very poorly organized. Unfortunately, the rules in this new edition are not all that much better. They are very long (24 pages), yet at the same time seem a bit half-baked and rushed to me. Topics, which in my mind anyway, demand their own special section, go completely uncovered (Nightgaunts, for example). And overall it felt like there was a big disconnect between the rules and a lot of the various cards that make up the game. It felt a lot like all of the problems we used to have with Talisman, where cards would direct you to do things in odd combinations that are completely unanticipated by the rules (example - what do you do when one card says "go to this location and draw two location cards", but there is also a gate and a monster at that new location? After five minutes of fruitless rules searching and another five minutes of boring discussion, we finally decided that a gate should override all other concerns and grab the investigator, regardless of any other circumstances). I mean, who needs all that rules lawyering?

And then there is this business of simply adding complexity to the game, almost for its own sake. The introduction of "clue tokens" as sort of an all-purpose currency of power is a new abstraction that did nothing to increase my enjoyment of the game. And then there is the "Terror Track" and this whole absurd business of counting up how many monsters are on the board, and is there room for more, or do some have to be placed on the "outskirts" square, or is the outskirts square full and we have to move the terror track and empty the outskirts and start all over, and blah, blah, blah. Now, I admit that having the citizens of Arkham gradually start pulling up stakes, shutting down their business and getting the hell out of town sounds, at least in theory, like a good idea. Unfortunately, I think the actual implementation is pretty clumsy.

Another major new addition in this version is this whole business of having a "Power" that must be defeated when the Doom Track fills up - basically a super powerful toughie that the players have to pummel a ridiculous number of times in order to finally beat it into submission and win the game. Now, it used to be that when enough gates appeared to fill the Doom Track, it meant the players hadn't done their jobs and the game won. Now, the players can screw around for five or six hours, have the streets choked with monsters, the locations stuffed with gates, and then boom, have a good run of die rolling and win the game by beating the "Power". Well hell, why not save the five or six hours of running around and just go attack the big baddie on day one, turn one? I mean, what's the point?

So, I dunno. I would not say that this game is necessarily bad. And had I never played the original version before playing this one, I'd probably think it was just fine. Unfortunately, FFG is seemingly never content to simply take an old game, give it some nice new pieces, streamline the rules and then maybe add a new wrinkle or two. I guess the Fantasy Flight Filosophy is that unless a game takes six hours to complete and comes with enough components to justify a $50 price tag, it's just not worth playing (or manufacturing).

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