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Flashback Friday - Arkham Horror 2nd edition
I don't disagree that the game has a lot of flaws. Or rather, an abundance of subsystems which should really have been weeded out. I can see how the skill sliders sort of make it a more strategic game, but nobody would miss them if they were removed. The same goes for closing shops and discarding allies because of the terror track. And monster movement is a real pain to resolve - especially with more players. Also, since the heart of the game is adventuring, one should always draw an adventure card even if using the ability of a location - I usually house rule that, but forgot this time around.
However, this quote by Josh Look is just pure wrong:
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.
Storytelling is not just about having a huge arching story that adheres to the three act structure or something. The thing is that even though AH is a seemingly huge mess of random encounters, it's easy to fill out the empty spaces and create a connnection. And suddenly it's not just about random encounters, but narratives. Suddenly it's finding clues to catch the Southside Strangler, the quest to find a weapon, or the story about the investigator who always ends up getting attacked/being sucked into another world. The personal stories cards from Innsmouth really helps creating these narratives, but I find that it almost always happens no matter what.
Also, I don't quite get the "if you want story, you might as well play an RPG". I love role playing games, but I don't think board games and RPGs really compares. A game of AH requires no preparation, and very little energy - and I can step in an out of the game as I want. RPGs on the other hand requires a lot of commitment, energy and - for the keeper - preparation. And usually more players. I can play AH alone or with my wife, I can't do that with an RPG. And while an RPG can obviously deliver a deeper, more coherent, and even Lovecraftian story, I personally like how AH allows me to build a narrative from encounters, board state, and so on with a relatively small effort.
I can only speak to my experiences, but this is a game that has very easy to criticize flaws but an ineffable quality of design in the core narrative mechanics that is harder to single out and praise. Putting this next to Eldritch Horror and playing them back to back is like the most puzzling experience because AH fundamentally works at creating a unique, partly self authored, adventure experience for characters and Eldritch, the more mechanically sound copy, just does not do as good a job.
As for the "no co-op" element to this game, I have not found that to be true at all with the normal rules. Add in our house rule, which is that investigators can move in any order, and there are some real cheering, high-five strategic moments at the expense of making the game a little bit easier.
I do think it's fascinating how this game divides so profoundly. I was expecting to be one of the only people here still defending old AH, I've played 50 times over like 10 years---and it's one of the only original games in my library that I still hold in such high regard, so it's not as though it's just nostalgia. And I do play it a couple times every year and it has not dimmed, most recently we played new years eve and just had a smashing game that came down to the last card pull. I tried for years to replace it and I never could get close to the narrative quallity of the adventure. I do agree with, I think Barnes, maybe another TWBGer, that this is really just a superhero game.
I’m going to double down on playing Call of Cthulhu instead of AH. The argument of board games vs RPGs, which is one I don’t buy into because board games are still work, does not apply to Arkham Horror. CoC is significantly less work than other RPGs of its ilk and AH is more work and commitment to learn than other Pandemic-likes co-ops. You can tell yourself that the random events make sense all you want, you are still doing the leg work there. That doesn’t interest me, I don’t want to spend time at the table doing that especially when I’m at a game as dull as AH. My desired form of storytelling on games, and this isn’t even a RPGs are better than board games argument, is that I don’t want to connect the dots in my head, I want to make the dots and push where the lines are going. That rarely happens on board games, certainly not in AH where you’re just along for the ride, so I don’t really care anymore about storytelling or narrative in board games*.
I hesitate to circle back around to RPGs because I will never win that argument, but that’s why I prefer them for narrative gaming. Board games cannot sustain the kind of coherent storytelling I want out of a game and they typically venture into dumb, jokey silly bullshit I have no taste for. I’m leaving this thread after this because I don’t want to spend anymore energy on a game I can’t stand, but if you are the kind of person who finds connects the dots in AH and cares about that, I think you’re meant for better things and I hope you find them.
*-Unrelated aside, Dark Venture really nails the kind of storytelling I look for in board games and pushes it further into a territory I hadn’t considered, blending allowing you to be a participant in the game world and giving you an active hand in forming it.
I still love Arkham Horror, flaws and all. In fact I played it with friends last weekend (4 who’ve played before and 2 new players who enjoyed it). The randomness always seemed to work for me and it felt like a living world.
Josh Look wrote: CoC is significantly less work than other RPGs of its ilk and AH is more work and commitment to learn than other Pandemic-likes co-ops.
Conceivably Call of Cthulhu has less prep time than Arkham Horror! I can't believe you said that Josh! That is a profound observation.
I like Arkham Horror. But it's a low intensity game, more of an outing than a challenge to be overcome. Maybe the same as Talisman. I enjoy a play a couple of times a year with good friends. Play with four, bring a fifth.
Also, if I had a couple of newbies playing with me it might take an extra 5 minutes to explain as much of the rules as they need to know.
Some creative folks can just run a totally improv Call of Cthulhu adventure, but most of us need prep time and/or a pre-made module to pull off an entertaining session. I like to take a pre-made CofC adventure and prep the hell out of it, adding content and coming up with contingency plans. And even then, a Call of Cthulhu session can often slow down to a crawl as players come up with different theories about clues and try to devise a complex plan of action. That's why I generally DM it instead of playing, to avoid dozing off during the slow parts.
Arkham Horror doesn't have long, slow sections, though there can sometimes be downtime when one players gets into a lengthy combat. Because the game is much more structured than an rpg session, the obsessive planning is cut to a very tolerable level, especially once players grasp how easily the game can derail those plans. And for better and for worse, clues in Arkham Horror are abstracted away, so the only consideration is fighting the temptation to blow too many clues on a less than crucial encounter. And while Arkham Horror does take time to set up and put away, it is trivial compared to the time it takes to a DM to prep for a CofC session.
It really is way too complicated, in just about every sense of the word. The process to play the game is absurd. The fact that you really NEED the Skeletor flowchart to figure out the game kind of galls me. For me, all that fuss does not result in that much more narrative detail. The layout of the Mythos cards is objectively awful and actually gets in the way of playing the game.
I think the game has a lot of false variety. It wants to be an adventure game AND a race-against-time coop, and I don't think those two things exist very comfortably together. You CAN do all this stuff, like work for the newspaper or join the Silver Twilight Lodge, but there's no sense of exploration. Instead you have to pursue closing gates single-mindedly, while all of these corners of Arkham sit there for you to explore, even though you really don't have time to do it. For me the game started to become a choice between doing what I thought was most fun, and winning. That's lame.
My experience is mostly with the base game. It's one of those games that really needs an expansion or two after a couple games, because it becomes pretty predictable otherwise. But the complication gets even worse with an expansion, not to mention there is now a lot more content you can't engage with if you want to win.
I know a lot of people here love it, and it was a really important game on my journey too. I will also defer to the experience of those who have played more than I have. But for me that journey arrived at RPGs, not on big designs like this. I actually just bought the Call of Cthulhu starter box the other day, because I wanted to get some Lovecraft action without having to deal with AH again.
For me it was totally replaced by Eldritch Horror that does the same kind of thing in a much more streamlined way. I do love the stupid emergent adventures that happen to your characters.
That said I do think the LCG has really replaced both of these for me. It's so good at telling really interesting stories with proper emotional impact. I also think it's one of the best games FFG have ever made and a great coop game.
I would have loved to have seen Arkham 3rd combine the mechanics from eldritch and the LCG more but it kind of fell flat for me.
A game like Arkham doesn't work well with the modern gotta-catch-'em-all ethos of boardgaming.
I imagine I'd fall into the Josh camp if I tried it today. I'm not a big fan of adventure games, if Runebound and Fortune and Glory are any indication of the genre.