2005: An RPG in a box, playable in a single evening. It's a lot of "pull a card and read the encounter" followed by lots of dice rolling. If either of those mechanics bother you, stay away. If you don't mind (and I certainly don't) then this is the best of the genre.
- A rich and detailed experience.
- High replay value.
- Cooperative play.
- Solo play!
- Art and production values to die for.
- A sprawling rulebook with almost no summary.*
*Later editions & big box expansions added a much-needed index.
- Little rules that are easy to miss, and change the game when you get them wrong. (For example, we overlooked the fact that closing a gate banishes all monsters with like symbols. This made a lot of really awful monsters hang around much longer than they would have otherwise.) Expect to play the game incorrectly several times.
- The final battle is nothing but dice. (Who knew Nyarlathotep could be defeated by the world's longest Yahtzee game?)**
**Final battle cards from Kingsport Horror fix this nicely.
- It's long. Really, really long.†
†This is mitigated by repeat plays in close proximity; knowing how and when to push on the game to angle it toward conclusion is key. We're at the point where we can knock it out in just a couple hours. (For shockingly shorter games, use Yig or Rhan-Tegoth.)
Arkham Horror is thick, meaty and completely immersive. This also means it takes a while, but that's not always a bad thing. It fills an evening to brimming with blood, terror and good clean fun. Recommended for players who enjoy the Call of Cthulhu RPG.
UPDATE: After several plays, the game is becoming easy—almost too easy. With a crack team of selfless, team-playing RPGers it's a pretty simple thing to win by sealing six gates or closing all gates while having the requisite gate trophies for victory. This drops the game to a 7, but it still gets the extra point for the whole Mythos thing (and the fact that it's easily handicapped).
UP-UPDATE: I have realized, with much dismay, that there really is no "horror" in Arkham Horror. It is extremely rare for anyone to get devoured, so much so that no one really ever worries about it at all. Also, the characters don't "wear out" like they do in the RPG—they are not eroded by repeated contact with the mentally-corrosive Mythos. Again, house rules will fix this (by having max sanity reduced by 1 every time you fail a Will check), but still, I shouldn't have to put the horror in Arkham... It shoulda been there in the first place.
My rating holds at 4 stars for all the kicks in the knickers we get out of the experience, but just barely.
UP-UP-UPDATE 2006: Forget all the whining. The expansions fix everything and take the experience to a well-deserved 5 stars. So, 4 stars for the base game, 5 stars with any expansion (especially Dunwich—goddamn Dunwich).
ALSO: Have the First Player act as the "Interim Keeper" by drawing and reading encounter cards for all players. Makes it way more fun when you don't know what your choice (or failure) will bring when you have to make a decision. Allows for more storytelling, too.
FINAL ANALYSIS 2011: I will always use the Injury & Madness cards from Dunwich and the Epic Battle cards from Kingsport in every play. And the Relationships & Personal Stories are a pip!
PS. Played once with 8p—NEVER AGAIN. The sweet spot is most definitely 4p.
2018: Bummed that we never got to play this enough, we put it back into heavy rotation, getting the rules down to the point where it's just smooth—it really does shine as an RPG experience, telling great little stories with nail-biting finishes. Playing it frequently also forced me to work out the optimal method for packing the box so setup and breakdown are a breeze—gone is the "archaeology of baggies", replaced with a layered "grab 'n go" stacking. With everybody pitching in we can have it ready to go inside 15 minutes from lid-off to first Mythos card; breakdown is just as quick.
I would rate this game a 7 on the AT six-star scale if I could. It has a great theme, attractive components, interesting gameplay, and strong replay value. Add in the expansions, and the replay value becomes massive. The game is playable solitaire or with a group of up to eight players, and is the exact same fun game either way. The base game on its own will eventually become too easy for experienced players, but the addition of at least one expansion makes the game tough again. If you are only going to buy one expansion, the Dunwich Horror expansion is the one to get.
Arkham Horror is probably the greatest adventure game ever made. It's big and it's sprawling, but it always manage to deliver small stories and even manages to tie them into a greater whole most of the times. But the best thing about it is that Arkham and the towns on the side boards feel like real places. They are all full of "texture" - something the mechanically superior Eldritch Horror never pulls off.
An adventure game without all the fantasy, instead it has a much more awesome H.P. Lovecraft theme with gangsters, drifters, nuns and psychologists (and more!) squaring off against occultists, cultists, witches, ghosts and tons of monters you can't pronounce trying to find off insanity and being devoured by big, dark, ancient gods for outer space/other dimensions.
Arkham Horror does a great job emulating an RPG (despite the lack of a DM) with its co-op gameplay, lots of stats for each character, and tons of narrative. Combat is quick and brutal but totally awesome when you get geared up with an enchanted blade and .45 pistol. The spell system feels much more arcane and dark than in your typical fantasy setting and can be tricky to pull off.
I don't have any of the expansions yet, for now the base game has lots of replayability still in it for me. Unfortunately Arkham Horror doesn't hit the table as often as I'd like.
After finally playing through my first solo game of Arkham Horror, I had to agree with what so many others had been saying about it; it's long, the rules are a bit fiddly and have some ambiguities, it's very big in size and there's a lot of setup... and it's very cool! Several games later and it's quickly become one of my all-time favorites.
In one sense, there's not all that much that you actively do in the game with your character... your choices are mostly in the Movement Phase with a little in the Upkeep Phase and some odd choices here and there from encounter cards... but the choices you do make and the strategies you employ can be very important, and what happens is very compelling and engaging, regardless. It's a fantastic system that is not as complex as it seems, really, and is worth the effort to learn and explore.