The Lurking Fear/Arkham Horror (HP Lovecraft and Fantasy Flight Games)

Howard Phillips (H.P.) Lovecraft is one of the most influential horror writers of the last, or indeed, of any century. Even if you've never read Lovecraft, his influence is felt and cited by a vast number of modern and often better-known writers, including Stephen King, Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman among many others. The Necronomicon, a Lovecraft invention, makes an appearance in the film Army of Darkness, for example, and the list goes on and on. Lovecraftian, as an adjective, has entered the lexicon, and parodies of his admittedly somewhat overwrought style can be found without difficulty.

I must say, though, that if you've never read Lovecraft, you really owe it to yourself to give it a try. Sure, some of the prose seems a bit dated, and some of the stylistic choices do lend themselves to parody a bit, but it all works. When reading his work, you sometimes may find yourself thinking it's a bit cliché, but what's worth remembering is that odds are pretty good that he invented that particular cliché. I've mentioned The Lurking Fear in the title, and as a short story, it's a good place to start. Shadows Over Innsmouth is another good starting point. If you'd like something meatier, the novel The Lurker at the Threshold is a personal favorite.

Among the spin-offs and Lovecraftiana, there are quite a few games. The Call of Cthulhu role-playing game came out in the '80s and my friends and I spent many happy hours trying to avoid insanity while still holding off ancient and unknowable evil from out of time and space. (At least, they did, I was running the games ...) More recently, Fantasy Flight Games has come out with Arkham Horror and a number of expansions.

Arkham Horror is a cooperative game, with the players, anywhere from one to eight of them, taking on the role of investigators trying to prevent a variety of horrible and ancient terrors from destroying the world as we know it. Each character has a set of skills and, usually, a special power which allows them to alter game-play, sometimes by ignoring or modifying an existing rule (eg. when drawing a card, take from either the bottom or top of the deck and look at the bottom first) or by doing something outside the normal rules.

Game play is deceptively straightforward. Gates from other worlds open spewing forth monsters and hastening the arrival of the Great Old One. The players run around gathering clue markers and having encounters in various locations around the map, then try to shut the gates. If they shut enough gates fast enough, stability is restored. If they don't ... evil awakes and there's a massive battle. That's a bad thing, in case you hadn't guessed.

The mechanics are simple. You have skills and roll that many d6 looking for 5's and 6's. Equipment can modify the number of dice you roll as can a great many other things. Too many, in fact, to mention here.

The game is tough. We lose about half the games we play. It is a tribute to the game, that we have a lot of fun anyway.

The expansions add more locations, extra encounters, and even more ways to die, go insane or wake the old ones. Out of seven expansions, there is part of one that actually seems to work in the players' favor. Mostly, though, it's just more doom and madness. Which is great.

Be warned, there are lots of fiddly bits. There are decks of cards for neighborhood encounters, extra-dimensional encounters, random events, unique items, common items, spells and skills. There are counter pools for gates and monsters. Character sheets for players and for the horrors from Out There. More cards and counters to track special states and clues and health and sanity.
And that's just in the basic set. Expansions add more decks, as well as adding to existing decks. It's a glorious, over-the-top, whirlwind ride through a Lovecraftian nightmare.

The atmosphere is fantastic, and the more Lovecraft you've read, the more you will enjoy the attention to detail in terms of locations, characters you meet, monsters you face and so on.

I'm not going to give the game or the literature a rating, rather I will simply recommend them both and suggest that they work well in synergy with each other.

(Note that the game has been reviewed previously on this site, but I think I like it more than the previous reviewer;-)

1 comment:

Jim L said...

Speaking as the "previous reviewer," I'd say the Lovecraftian reviews here -- six books, six games (including ARKHAM HORROR), two films, and plush creatures from the Cthulhu Mythos -- make a general overview of the work of H.P. Lovecraft unnecessary.