Type: Living Card Game 

Time to play: 30-60 minutes (Teaching: 10-15 minutes)

Best played with: 2 Player (1 – 4 Players*)

Arkham Horror is a broad grouping of games using the Cthulu mythos created by HP Lovecraft. The games vary in form and length from this, the shorter card game format, to the sprawling Arkham Horror Board Game or Mansions of Madness – all from Fantasy Flight. There are lots of products with this theme as the material is old enough to be free for public use, and captivating enough to sustain the games out there already!

What then can Arkham Horror: The Card Game, bring to this genre and to this range of existing games? Well, this is a narrative thematic game with a rich tapestry of game mechanics woven in – and it’s able to do this, precisely because it is a “Living” card game. Each new booster and set brings with it new ideas, new villians, new allies and at times a riveting plots twist to spin off into new directions. However, I want to cover just the introduction – so I am focusing this review on the content and the game that you get for just the base box.

Three stories in a simple small box, and playable with only 1 or 2 players unless you buy a second copy. This feels like a really small game and it is set up to be so. This is the gateway, the “if you like this, you should buy more…” and it retails at a level that makes this realistic.

In the box you are given one full (if small) story arc which starts from the basis that you know nothing about this world of Cthulu. There are strange things happening in your town and you are starting to investigate (in fact you are almost just stumbling into the middle of things!). You will start by searching around, encountering simple creatures that are dangerous before following the rabbit hole down a path that will lead you to trying to foil the dangers that are coming for Arkham.

Across three self contained scenes the game will offer you a growing complexity of mechanics but which in total represent a simple dungeon crawl using cards – certain cards connect to others, and certain challenges must be unlocked before you can advance. In parallel the game offers you a set of deck management and hand management options. Let’s assume first though, that you start with the base deck composition the game offers.

In this case, most of the game is about how you use the cards you draw. Will you hold cards back to gather resources and then play their primary ability, or will you spend cards in their secondary method to improve your skill checks. In reality some combination is always needed, but this multiple use of a card immediately offers the player challenging choices that can often be instantly regretted. Missing out by one on a skill test when you had held back, or missing out by 4 when you had played everything you could!

Now, I know I just jumped a little but the card use is so core I wanted to come to that first. Skill checks, though, are also important in the game. You start with a bag of tokens that are seeded by the difficulty of the game. Any time you want to do something in the game there will be a positive value of you trying to achieve this, and a challenge rating from the scenario or creature (if you are fighting or sneaking). Your figure must be higher. It would be simple, but you also have to add the figure drawn from the bag of tokens and most of these are negative – which means you need to factor in the risk of a big negative number coming out of the bag.

Those two pieces are further intertwined as the other players can also play cards to support you in checks but ONLY if they are in the same room as you. This matters of course because it brings area into the game and the mapping on the board. If you are rooms away from your ally and they are stuck fighting a monster, then this mission could be about to come to a grizzly conclusion.

Lastly, over the top of this the game layers a mechanic to drive a narrative. It’s slightly isolated from the game, but you will be trying to push on your outcome deck whilst the negative outcome deck is just ticking on with each passing turn. Cards, creatures and your choices can effect this, but you should realistically be able to achieve the goal before the proverbial clock strikes midnight in most settings. However, it will force you into a push your luck mentality and make sure that you don’t just spend the game fishing through your deck for the best cards.

Now, if you do complete the game it is replayable. There are more choices to follow and more importantly more heroes to use. Each hero has a different play style and the ability to build your own deck will mean that you get to flex the game to play in a way you prefer. Would you rather fight the monsters with guns or with abilities. Run from the monsters or excel at finding clues.

Setting up a deck takes time and that can be off putting at first, but this really offers much more to repeat play. You can enjoy the benefits in some missions while overcoming the gaps that each deck leaves when exposed to different problems.

If you don’t enjoy random card draws, or the impact of the token bag, then there are core mechanics in this game that will put you off this and sequels. However, these are necessary for a bit of thematic and characterful story.

Last notes,

  • If you are a thematic player, check this short game out
  • If you don’t want to dive down the rabbit hole of extra packs… then this game will run it’s course
  • If you win, try again and maybe get the next box…