Arkham LCG – Review

Type: Co-Operative

Time to play: < 1 hr (Teaching: 15 minutes)

Best played with: 2 player

Arkham LCG is the latest in the long line of games set in the Lovecraft world and like all others it has therefore gained a lot of attention! So much so that it’s in the top 20 in Board Game Geek as I write this. In this review, I will try to explain the game and what’s unique about it, as well as give you a few thoughts on why you might love this or hate it to help you make up your mind on trying this new game.

Firstly, it’s worth saying that I have put this game as best with 2 players. I have not tried it with 3 or 4 players and I am not considering the expansions in this review. In time, if I buy another box to expand it to 4 players or if I buy an expansion I will follow up with a short blog on that specifically.

So, the game is a deck building game. Like any LCG (Living Card Game), you get given the base set and you get given some modifier cards that you can build and alter your character. The game is driven around the idea that this deck is the resources available to your character and your character is traversing the world of Arkham. Each character is unique in it’s four traits (strength / speed / knowledge / perception), and your character will match with many cards in the deck to create interesting combinations.

The nice thing about this deck building is that for those who just want to jump start the game, example decks are provided. However, for replay-ability there are a number of different investigators and a number of different cards that suit those other investigators. Each deck also contains a weakness – negative cards drawn at random to weaken the deck during the mission. This variability (for example neither starting character uses spells) makes this game much more replay-able than I initially anticipated.

So you have your decks, but that’s  still not the game. The game is about completing a story, not dissimilar to Mansions of Madness in this theme. There is an ever progressing bad outcome that counts down the turns you have left, but if you complete certain objectives then the good outcome happens. However, unlike Mansions of Madness or the Arkham Horror game, you have no board. Your map of Arkham is a slowly revealing deck of cards as you jump from location to location to find pathways across this world. This requires a little more imagination therefore to create the set up, but really offers a thematic sense of not knowing what’s coming and what will be revealed when you move and turn over the next card!

The game reaches key moments when taking a skill test – fighting a monster / finding a clue / casting a spell. It’s these moments where you progress or fall back. These are defined by your base skill, the cards you have played already, and two more random factors. Firstly, you can discard cards to boost your skills – if it’s your skill test you can discard as many as you like, but your other player can also discard one! This really helps pass those important tests. After all, the other modifier is nearly always a negative – the chaos token drawn from the bag (a bag with lots of minus numbers based on how hard you wanted the game to be!). The chaos tokens is a nice level setter for the game, but they really should have included a bag in the base game box!

Now the missions, the base game comes with three missions which are interlinked. This game is all about playing through this three mission campaign and seeing if you can save Arkham. There are lots of possible outcomes, and there are lots of choices along the way – which cards to upgrade your deck with, where to go & when in a mission, and which cards to play when you draw them. However, these three missions will always be best the first time you play them. After that you will know the plot twists and the things to aim for which will make this a puzzle to optimise rather than a mission to discover.

On balance then, these are puzzles much like playing Pandemic with only four epidemic cards – or in other words, it’s a puzzle that appears difficult but you can solve it every time if your focused. The experience here is changing the characters and changing the cards, using the special abilities of each character to really develop the story in a different direction. For that reason, there’s an element of this game which might appeal to the role playing gamer more than a board game only player. I guess what I am saying is that a player who can bring this card based world to life in their minds and really enjoy switching characters and playing the game again will enjoy this more than the player who enjoys eeking that extra point out of a heavy euro game.

The best bit about this game is the story – it’s compelling, it has tension and it feels like you are really making decisions. You are given real options about where to go and how to solve the puzzle; in fact in two of the three missions you are given real options about how to conclude the mission. All this really impressed me when I played, as these things are not easy to achieve. Add to that the potential to replay the stories with different characters and different card combinations this game will offer you a good number of hours gameplay.

However, this game is pushing each character down a path – the strong character increases his weapons, and the high perception character increases the ability to find clues. Playing each one will reveal different ways to play, but once you know the story and the characters, the puzzle simply isn’t tight enough to bring you back to the game thereafter. So perhaps there’s value in the ever expanding story? That’s certainly possible, but when on getting to the end of the mission I tend to find that only one character is in a fit enough state to really take forward to the next story whilst the other needs to be swapped out. If that’s the case then each expansion needs to suit a new investigator and hence balancing issues would likely be significant. I am sure there considered, but over the three game cycle I didn’t build enough attachment to this game to rush out and buy the next. That said, I did build enough attachment to it that it will come back to the table with different characters and different friends.

Last notes:

  • If you like story based or character based games then this could be a real enjoyable discovery for you, with good game mechanics
  • If you want to a complex puzzle that you need to develop a strategy over many games, and with the same group each time… perhaps this is not the one for you
  • If you win at this game then you have done well to avoid the ruthless ticking of the clock in built into the card mechanics, but you should go back through and try that all with a different character!

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