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Flashback Friday - Arkham Horror 2nd edition

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17 Jan 2020 10:49 - 17 Jan 2020 10:54 #306327 by Josh Look
*sigh*

I really wish I didn’t have the kind of grenade-thrower, hyperbole, “enthusiastic about my opinions” reputation I have going into this discussion. I’m sure that people will see me complaining about this game and just write it off as Josh being Josh, and I don’t want to come across like that on this one. But it’s going to happen, I guess, and it’s going to be a bunch of stuff that you probably don’t want to read about one of your favorite games, but I think a good deal of what I have to say goes beyond my personal feelings and does fall into some degree of unarguable truth. Not all of it, mind you, I am aware of that, but some of it.

I think this is a really bad game. Like, really, really bad game. There, the grenade is thrown. Now, to explain.

There’s stuff that we all know was never all that great here, some clunky systems that were much more common in early 2000s thematic game design that we just pushed through and got used to back then, but say you didn’t do that and you’re coming to the game now, totally fresh. The mythos phase and the mythos deck graphic design is a mess. There’s no two way about it, it’s a clunky mess that makes a game that shouldn’t take a “lifestyle game” commitment to learn but it does. It’s not just in the mythos phase, it’s kind of everywhere. You all know it, you just got used to it. That’s fine, I also learn to get around flaws in games I love, too, but they are flaws and they do hold the game back, especially once I get into the real meat and potatoes as to why I think this game is awful.

Before I get there, this is a personal preference, but it’s also a bad Lovecraft game. A good Lovecraft game, meaning that it adheres to the flavor of his stories, probably wouldn’t be fun to play, but that doesn’t mean I or anyone else should necessarily be letting it off the hook for being a poor thematic fit. Worse, it’s lasting legacy is that we’ll never see a good Lovecraftian game that stick true to its roots. It inspired countless imitators all with the lame pulpy approach to what should be a completely hopeless endeavor. I only bring this up because I know for some this is a story-driven, RPG in a box and that’s a notion I do not buy. Storytelling-wise it’s weak, nothing but random flavor text laden bullshit happening and anyone that says it’s rich storytelling is really stretching to make something out of it.

The big thing...The number one reason why I hate this game with every fiber of my being...it just isn’t fun, it’s an absolute SLOG to play and it’s not even a good co-op. I know it’s an earlier entry in the Pandemic style whack-a-mole genre, but it so thoroughly embodies the poor design decisions that, for some reason, would be taken to task in any other game by any of AH’s fans. It’s the poster child for slippery slopes. You start winning, it gets easier. You start losing, you lose faster. That’s bad design, full stop, and to me it defines this game. I know Dunwich addresses that problem but it does so in the worst, most lazy way possible by taking those moments of accomplishment and randomly undoing them in what can turn into an exercise in utter tedium. This wouldn’t be so much of a problem if you had just a small amount more control over the items you find. Before someone comes in with, “yOu Do HaVe CoNtRoL, yOu JuSt DoN’t KnOw tHe GaMe!”, that’s a) a weak ass argument, always has been, always will be and you know it and b) add more expansions and further obscure that control, why don’t you?

I’ll leave it at that. It’s been a good 10 years since I’ve played (and man did I play this game ALOT, desperately searching for the hype), and I’m sure there’s a whole lot more I could pick on it it were fresher in my memory, but that is the core of why I really truly do hate this game. There are some games that hobby gamers love to shit on, particularly foundational titles like Monopoly and Catan, under the false impression that those games have been “done better” by newer yet in reality more temporary and disposable games. Arkham Horror is not one of those games. It belongs to a genre I’m not fond of from the word go, but I can say that it *HAS* been done better. It’s enduring legacy is due to a handful of gamers who learned to live with its many faults simply because there were no other options at the time, and they are too nostalgic/comfortable/stubborn/afraid to move on and acknowledge it.
Last edit: 17 Jan 2020 10:54 by Josh Look.
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17 Jan 2020 11:12 - 17 Jan 2020 11:13 #306329 by Sagrilarus
That's just Josh being Josh.

But he does hit one point with me -- whenever I play Arkham Horror I think to myself "we really need to get the RPG out again."

The game is a kitchen sink design, one for the entire evening that begs for a bottle of Nadurra. Nothing wrong with that, but the RPG is really excellent in spite of its age.
Last edit: 17 Jan 2020 11:13 by Sagrilarus.
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17 Jan 2020 11:19 - 17 Jan 2020 11:23 #306330 by Josh Look
I was thinking afterwards what I would respond with if someone were to ask that if it has been done better, by what? It really depends on what you’re looking for, and if it’s the story, yeah, the Call of Cthulhu RPG is the answer. It’s a superb system, with some of the best adventure modules to ever hit the hobby. The whole “RPGs are too much work” argument does not apply when you’re talking about AH. Neither does the “Some are more comfortable with improvising than others,” obviously you’re doing okay with improvising if you’re seeing a coherent story somewhere in AH. Plus, with that new starter box that’s out there now, the best starter box for an RPG I’ve ever seen, you have no excuse.
Last edit: 17 Jan 2020 11:23 by Josh Look.
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17 Jan 2020 11:28 #306332 by Shellhead
Josh, it's a common misconception that Arkham Horror is supposed to be directly based on the writings of H.P. Lovecraft. But it is only indirectly based on Lovecraft, and directly based on the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game published by Chaosium (note the Chaosium logo on each box), particularly their excellent line of Lovecraft Country sandbox adventure supplements. The distinction is important, because as you noted, Lovecraft's stories are not really directly suitable for adaptation into games. At least not any sort of game that could be won. While Call of Cthulhu adventures are notorious for leaving many characters dead or insane, they are typically written in a more adventurous spirit where resourceful players have a plausible chance of at least surviving. This makes more sense if you consider that the Call of Cthulhu rpg debuted just one year before Raiders of the Lost Ark hit theaters. Also, Lovecraft was a misogynist and a racist who wouldn't have approved of female or minority heroes, and he reportedly didn't even like playing games.

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17 Jan 2020 11:31 - 17 Jan 2020 11:33 #306333 by Josh Look
No, I got all that, not a misconception. I just don’t like it. I acknowledged that it was sort of personal preference. Not a a fan of Lovecraft as a person either.
Last edit: 17 Jan 2020 11:33 by Josh Look.

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17 Jan 2020 11:41 - 17 Jan 2020 12:51 #306335 by Sagrilarus

Josh Look wrote: I was thinking afterwards what I would respond with if someone were to ask that if it has been done better, by what? It really depends on what you’re looking for, and if it’s the story, yeah, the Call of Cthulhu RPG is the answer. It’s a superb system, with some of the best adventure modules to ever hit the hobby. The whole “RPGs are too much work” argument does not apply when you’re talking about AH. Neither does the “Some are more comfortable with improvising than others,” obviously you’re doing okay with improvising if you’re seeing a coherent story somewhere in AH. Plus, with that new starter box that’s out there now, the best starter box for an RPG I’ve ever seen, you have no excuse.


Yeah, if ever there was an RPG where "less is more" applies Call of Cthulhu is it. Lean, simple to implement, the DM can have a note card's worth of prep and put on a good show. Story-wise it is super-rich earth. Characters take about ten minutes to set up.
Last edit: 17 Jan 2020 12:51 by Sagrilarus.

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17 Jan 2020 11:49 #306336 by Jackwraith
I agree with most of what Josh wrote, which is probably why I traded mine and have no regret about it whatsoever. There is a lot of clanking (not that Clanking) in the design and I did learn to live with it and actually enjoy it. But I'm just not interested in that, anymore.

Now that we're piling on, I will say that the one element of it that never sat well with the me was the Final Battle exercise. Staying in the spirit of the stories, if we got the to point where the Ancient One woke up, the game was over and we lost. There was no "defeating the extradimensional space god with a shotgun" for us. First off, it spoiled the story, which was trying to prevent the thing from waking up; not nudging it out of slumber so we could have a throwdown with a flamethrower. Secondly, it waking up was usually after at least three hours of play and we were just done with it, at that point.

Whatevs. We had a lot of good times with it.

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17 Jan 2020 12:03 #306337 by dysjunct
Sold mine years ago. Running the RPG is less expensive, more thematic, has vastly less rules overhead, and produces far better and more coherent stories.
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17 Jan 2020 12:05 #306338 by ubarose

Gary Sax wrote: What I would really like to know is if Uba still plays it. It was, if I recall correctly, her favorite game and she had that wheeled suitcase set.


I want to play it but I haven't played it in a while because Josh hates it ;)

That's only partially true. The rest of it is:
  • It is too long to play on a week night - so we don't pull it out when we have our weekly game night at our house even if Josh isn't there.
  • For two players, Arkham Horror: The Card Game is better, so when it is just Al and I we play that.
  • My weekend gaming is with a group that mostly plays Euros. So AH is a total no go with them.
  • My other weekend gaming is at an open game meet up where Arkham Horror 3rd edition and Arkham Horror LCG have replaced Arkham Horror 2nd.
  • The person, other than Al, that I used to play Arkham Horror with has been super busy, and I haven't been able to get together with him much. Plus his other favorite game is Cthulhu Wars, so the last few times we were able to get together we played that because there was a fourth person who really wanted to try out CW (there seems to always be a someone who wants to try CW) so we played that instead.
  • I've hauled it to three cons in the past year, but everyone there wanted to play the hot new games, and not AH.

tl:dr: No one wants to play with me.
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17 Jan 2020 12:07 #306339 by Shellhead
Starting at noon today, we are getting up to a foot of snow over the next 24 hours. So tomorrow would be a great day to play a solitaire game of Arkham Horror. But I recently got Dark Venture and really want to try that first.
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17 Jan 2020 12:26 #306340 by Ah_Pook
Josh I agree with almost all of what you wrote, but I also played this for the first time last year and enjoy it a lot. I dunno, I guess I knew what it was before jumping in so I had my expectations calibrated. It's random weird bullshit for 4+ hours with a spooky theme and a bunch of mechanics that sort of work if you don't look at them too hard. I like the extreme variability, I like the silly flavor text, I like the vibe it gives me. I mostly play it Solo, because I don't think it's mechanically sound enough to try to introduce to a lot of people. I will say I'm surprised this game was as popular as it was for so long, but I guess there wasn't a lot like it at the time maybe?

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17 Jan 2020 13:07 #306341 by DukeofChutney
i quite like Arkham as long as I do not play it too often.

> I first played it many years ago and hated it as being overly long.
> recently i've played about 4 times 2 players with 2 characters each, this works at a reasonable clip, still long but engaging enough.
> I agree with Josh that the design is bad in some ways, particularly that the difficulty curve snow balls rapidly one way or the other. I'd add to this that if you add the wrong combination of expansion material you can easily upset the difficulty balance even more.
> However, it is in my view still the best adventure game. Yeh its not an rpg in a box but it does weave a narrative from its arbitrary events. I think what makes it work is the large number of locations and potential actions you have on a given turn. Lots of coop story games quickly sideline you down the most effective route. By having a more open map and by being so unfocused AH works where others fail.
> Being bloated i think is a key feature of the game. With Eldrich Horror the system and play is a lot more streamlined and cleaned up, but all this does is expose a little is in the core of the design. What makes Arkham good is the excess of options.
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17 Jan 2020 15:31 #306345 by jeb
Josh's point about "the graphic design of the Mythos deck" is totally valid. It makes like NO SENSE and makes an already kind of confusing phase even worse. The order to do things is:

Gate* --> Spawn Monster† --> Clue token§ --> Movement Movement --> Headline# 

*Don't put down Gates where there is a Gate or Elder Sign**.
**Unless it's a Gate Burst, viz, orangeish red outline, then DO put one down, and remove the Elder Sign
†Don't Spawn Monsters if at the Monster Limit, send them to the Outskirts‡
‡Unless you're at the Outskirts Limit, then empty the Outskirts and bump the Terror Level
§Unless there is a Gate there
#Unless it's a Rumor and there already is a Rumor

This is all conveyed by this layout:


Honestly, I wouldn't let any other game get away with this bullshit.
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17 Jan 2020 15:44 - 17 Jan 2020 15:45 #306346 by ubarose
We always read it widdershins botom to top, which I always thought was intentional as it seems thematically consistent with the game.

Gate --> Monster Movement --> Clue token --> Headline
Last edit: 17 Jan 2020 15:45 by ubarose.
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17 Jan 2020 15:48 #306347 by Shellhead

ubarose wrote: We always read it widdershins botom to top, which I always thought was intentional as it seems thematically consistent with the game.

Gate --> Monster Movement --> Clue token --> Headline


Same here, but I agree that the card layout should better reflect that order of resolution.

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