Reviews written by HiveGod
Stuff to do before world ends:
√ Party at Hearst Castle
√ Party at Alcatraz
√ Strangle a wizard
This is my favorite kind of game, a choose-your-own-adventure book cut up and pasted onto cards.*
*For best effect, have the left-hand player draw and read the card for the active player—in dramatic fashion—while keeping the pass/fail results secret. Only tell them the choices, and then once made and rolled-for, the resulting outcome—don't give away any results they didn't get. This keeps things mysterious. (It's best for the left-hand player to do this as the right-hand player may still be doing bookkeeping while finishing up their turn, and it gives everyone a rotating slot as storyteller.)
Now that we've played enough to get the rhythm of the thing I quite like it, especially the feeling of putting your own team together, via allies, and taking on different aspects of the mega-plot while coordinating with other globe-trotting groups. You can almost see the red arrows gliding from place to place while the adventure-travel music beats a tattoo of ominous progress.
The mechanical stuff's fine, I guess—I don't really notice it, which says a lot—but so far the emergent narratives have been fantastic. Which is all I really care about.
So, does this replace Arkham Horror? Not really. They're two different beasts. Arkham is a mechanically quirky and convoluted thing (facets I find charming) about three-fisted Mythos adventures in New England, while Eldritch is the cleaner, tighter, "more modern" global version. They're different enough to be distinct and enjoyed for the unique experiences they provide.
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.
Life is hard and the Gods are cruel; we toil for their amusement and even our best, most heroic efforts are but castles in the sand before the rushing tide. The Crown of Command dangles as a carrot on the end of a very beaty stick, existing only to see who will neck-stab whom for the illusion of control. We go now, doughty adventurers, hopping across this stage as toads to make the Gods—and perhaps ourselves—laugh. In the end, some lucky bastard will "win"—though he or she will most likely be consumed in capricious flames whence the curtain falls on this pointless shadow play.
This is NOT a nostalgia rating—I never got a chance to play this as a kid, teen, or college student. Though I probably would have spent an awful lot of time doing so if I'd had the chance...
This is a GREAT nerd party/time-waster/beer, pretzels & potty-mouth game. It has clumsy, outdated mechanics, "unfair" amounts of luck, and the ancient, tired and beaten-to-death Lord of the Rings/D&D rip-off theme.
And I love it.
This is, in many ways, the Ultimate "Gone-Stupid" Game. You can pull your brain out of gear and just coast along; it's one for those times when you would like to play a game, but life has hammered you down to the point where you just want to go "guh."
So roll a die, pull a card, read the result aaand...
UPDATE: Many people decry the random, binary movement system (roll a die and choose either right or left) but this simplicity is part of what makes Talisman great—it's the only game of its ilk in which downtime is not an issue. While Runebound begins to drag at 3p (and becomes intolerable with any more), Talisman can support the full compliment of players and the turns literally whiz around the table. Roll, pick, do the thing, pass the dice. It's almost a party game, it's so fast.
The only minor downer is that what makes this game fantastic is also the one thing that can kill it. The utterly random element, so brilliant as a jumping-off point for spit-takes—like when the Leprechaun gets the Princess as a follower and ends up being lugged around in a front-facing baby carrier with a boob on each shoulder—can make the game excruciatingly slow when the cards don't come out in a useful manner. After a couple of games of watching others level up ferociously while I got in multiple fights with a Royal Decree, three Horse Stables, several Bags of Gold, and a New Age strip-mall (the Mage, Healer and some dude hawking tie-dyed bedsheets decided to clog up the Hidden Valley), I've come to realize that more than anything else this game requires stamina.
With all the Adventure Cards from all the expansions, I'm thinking I might need to go through and trim the deck down to tighten up the game... though I'm conflicted, as Talisman really is about embracing pure chaos and not every story should follow standard Fantasy tropes. Sometimes it's okay if the Ogre Chieftain's saga is one of administration, finances and horse-trading.
Recommended for Faster Play:
- Start the game with +1 Strength or Craft
- Gain Strength/Craft for every 5 points of trophies
- Remember that mechanically it's a push-your-luck race game without a timer—so push your luck and run that race as quickly as you can. Go for the inner region as soon as your Strength or Craft is 9+. On average this drives the game to a satisfying conclusion in about 90 minutes.†
†Of course, True Fans see the lack of timer as a bonus, making Talisman a fantasy bubble bath—complete with your favorite beverage and current love interest—to luxuriate in as you will. Time means nothing if you love what this does.
A very cool "atmospheric" game, best played at night by candlelight with one of those haunted house records spinning in the background. Replay value seems high at first glance (50 different scenarios!) but in reality the card text, while chilling the first time around, gets old with later plays. My advice: don't take it seriously (it's far too random for that) and play it as a party game. Once a year, on Halloween. In the dark.
After 11 plays: As of November 2013, all of them in darkness and firelight, with that goddamn piloerecting spooky soundtrack—"A Night in a Haunted House/A Night in a Graveyard" (1992)—whose sound effects invariably, eerily, line up with the action. Never playing it during the day or in artificial light makes the whole affair rather... mysterious. Straining to read cards with a candle in the fist really adds a lot to the proceedings. Even now, in the happy shine of morning, I feel a vague unease upon catching a glimpse of the box...
Highlights from the last couple years:
• Once the traitor was revealed, he didn't want to go into the other room to read his plot synopsis. He was too freaked out—and we're talking about a grown-ass man here.
• My little dog had worked her way under the table and into the forest of our legs without anyone noticing. The toll of a bell on the soundtrack made her bark and everyone at the table simultaneously leaped out of their skins and crapped their pants.
UPDATE OCT 2016: Picked up a copy of 2nd Ed. for component-matching with the upcoming expansion as I have no confidence that the 12-year-old OG printing will line up at all (cardstock and card sizes will, no doubt, be radically different). I've heard they've rejiggered some of the haunts, not that this was ever a problem for us as we're RPGers first and quickly adjudicated any rules weirdness with the wave of a hand. I do like the severe reduction in tokens, however, and the use of generic markers instead of having to search through a giant pile for the single "eyetooth of a penitent murderer" by candlelight while the narrative tension sags to the floor... Though it must be said that I miss the Underground Lake in the attic (an accidentally thematic misprint in the original) and the twin "Image in the Mirror" event cards where one had actual mirror-imaged text.
FINAL ANALYSIS: Parallel-universe me (the one with the evil goatee) would probably give this an unreserved 10!! (with two exclamation points) because 1) he's cool with the excitement graph having both peaks and valleys on it and 2) because he's slightly stupid when it comes to exclamation points.† Variability makes or breaks the experience—on the one hand this means no two games are alike; on the other it means sometimes the climax is more denouement. The question, always, is will *this* haunted house configuration make for a thrilling contest, or one that's impossible (or otherwise unfun) for one side? There's only one way to find out...
†One for shouting, three for comic effect; two if you're a moron, and "like a ton" if you're a tween girl.