You're in the town of Arkham, Massachusetts in 1926. Unspeakably powerful entities are stirring, creating Gates that enable monsters to pour out into the streets. An eclectic group of Investigators struggle to battle the monsters, close the Gates, and if necessary make a final, desperate stand against the Ancient Ones themselves. No, you're not playing the roleplaying game Call of Cthulhu, but the cooperative boardgame based on it: Arkham Horror. This game (the latest version is from Fantasy Flight Games) captures the absolute feel of the world of H.P. Lovecraft -- and a game that can be overwhelming in its detail.
Each player has an Investigator, with quite a few stats: Stamina, Sanity, starting location for their marker on the board, starting possessions, and three sets of skills that decrease one if the other is increased: Speed/Sneak, Fight/Will, and Luck/Lore. The players are in Arkham, represented by a sizable and detailed board of nine districts, composed of buildings (some of which let you do certain things at them) connected by streets. The board also has the Terror Track, eight locations in the Other World, and spots for the Outskirts, the Sky, and Lost in time and space. And you better leave space around the board (which isn't small) for the numerous decks (nine locations, Gate cards, Mythos cards, Allies, Common Items, Unique Items, Spells, Skills) and tokens (Doom tokens, Gate markers, money, Stamina, and Sanity), not to mention each player's Investigator sheet. (This is just the core game: There are numerous expansions, from other opponents to whole new locations to miniatures for the Investigators.)
At the start of the game an Ancient One is chosen for the main enemy. They have several stats, from their continuing effect on the game to a Doom Track (showing how close they are to breaking forth on our world) to the combat conditions if they do make it and the Investigators have to battle them directly. As for the monsters that come into play, they also have several stats: How difficult they are to evade (using Sneak), their Sanity loss (opposed by Will), their physical combat damage, how they move (five types of movement!), toughness to defeat, and possible special abilities.
The turn sequence is straightforward. First, upkeep is performed. Then the player can move, based on their Speed (evading or fighting monsters). If in an Arkham location, they have an encounter: either drawing an Encounter card for their location or using the special ability of a location. If at a Gate, they can pass through it to go to its corresponding area in the Other World. If in the Other World, they move to the second Other World area (and have an Encounter) or, if in the second area, they return to the Gate in Arkham and can try and close it. Players can also try and collect Clues, which can be spent to add dice to skill rolls; five can be spent when a Gate is closed to put an Elder Sign on it, permanently sealing it. Afterwards, the player draws a Mythos card, which opens a Gate (unless blocked by an Elder Sign), adds a Doom Token to the Ancient One (if a new Gate opens), and sends a monster through a new Gate, or if the location had a Gate sends a monster to every gate in play. And if a player is at the location where the new Gate opens, that player is sucked into the Other World.

There's also a monster limit, which if exceeded sends monsters to the Outskirts, which if numerous enough raises the Terror Level, which can make shops closed. Combat isn't any simpler, involving a Terror check, Fight rolls for combat, and either beating the monster (and keeping it as a trophy, which can be sold or used in the game) or taking damage. And an Investigator who loses all their Sanity or Stamina isn't gone (unless it's the end of the game), but loses many of their Items and Clues, turning up in St. Mary's Hospital or Arkham Asylum on their next turn.

If all this sounds overwhelming, it can be. This is a pity, as this amazing amount of detail also makes Arkham Horror a very faithful re-creation of the Lovecraftian mythos. The art (much is the same as in FFG's Call of Cthulhu card game) captures the shadowy world of haunted Arkham very well, from the hideous monsters to the intrepid heroes struggling against the darkness. The different areas of Arkham have their own unique feel: You're likely to find information in the area of Miskatonic University, trouble in Rivertown, and the supernatural at Uptown. With players working together, they have to both try and defeat the monsters (as locations close, the players lose the benefit of those places) and permanently seal the gates (since it's very frustrating to go through the trouble and turns needed to close a Gate, only to have it reopen a turn or two later). And it is possible to defeat the Ancient One -- but very, very hard. It's much easier to try and win by closing all the Gates on the board.

Arkham Horror has an estimated playing time of two to four hours (not including setup), and playing it can be quite daunting, between the numerous cards and all the rules. That said, if your players can handle the time and effort it takes to play, Arkham Horror is a very detailed and faithful trip into the world of H.P. Lovecraft -- albeit one where the monsters are literally wandering around the streets. This is not an easy game, but with dedication it can be fun.

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch

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