Fantasy Flight Games is the scourge of my gaming geek existence! They might as well have the number to my bank account, credit union and credit cards–just take my money! Once again they’ve appealed to both my inner table-top gaming freekazoid who’s writhing within me just itching to claw its way out to chuck dice, flop cards, push tokens across a board or a combination of the three!
It’s been years since I’ve played Arkham Horror: The Board Game (Fantasy Flight) with my regular gaming group, making it one of the most played games throughout our sessions. It became a familiar sight on our table. We played it so much I literally had to glue the game board back together because we were wearing it out. We had all the expansions–mini and deluxe–and we played them all! A cult-classic among us table-top gamers–it even made a cameo in South Park–and there was no doubt we were die-hard fans. I haven’t played it in years. I miss it.
When I saw Fantasy Flight Games released Arkham Horror: The Card Game, designed for one to two players, I was more than ready to give it a try.
Remember, I haven’t played the board game in years and my gaming group hasn’t met for a session in pretty much the same amount of time. This means the card game version is designed to be played solitaire fits perfectly into my busy schedule. And this time I am going to go it alone! Solitaire!
After playing the first scenario, “The Gathering”, in the Core Sets introductory campaign, Night of the Zealot, I can eagerly report the game is freakin’ fantastic–rightly deserving its 8.4 rating on boardgamegeek.com! What is the game, your card flopping junkies ask? It’s a co-operative RPG card game, promoting itself as such throughout the two very well designed, easy to understand rule books that come with the Core Set. Players pick an Investigator Card and build a deck of cards around it to represent a character within the game. Players of Pathfinder: The Card Game (Paizo) will totally understand this concept engineered within the game’s mechanics, but in this RPG card game no dice are used. Fantasy Flight has Elder Sign for six-sided Lovercraft nightmare inspired dice chucking and I’m pleased they didn’t work them into the card game. Instead, the designers used an ingenious method inspired by the Skill Test dice mechanic used in the board game version but substituting dice with Chaos tokens.
Investigators take on Challenges pretty much the same way they do in the board game by determining their outcomes through a Skill Test. Players have set Skill ratings which can be modified by either Skill cards they play from their hands, from their Asset cards on the table or from another Player’s Investigator at the same location. The Investigator initiating the Challenge, once they have committed Skill modifiers to their Skill’s ability rating, pull a Chaos token from a bag full of them. The pulled Chaos tokens Skill rating modifier is added to the total rating of the Investigator’s Skill rating. This total is then compared the Challenge rating of the Skill Test, resulting in the number being equal to or greater than the Challenge’s rating, the Investigator has been successful in conquering the encountered Challenge. If the resulting Skill rating is lower than the Challenge rating, then it is determined the Investigator has failed the Challenge, suffering the penalties within the outcome. Challenges can include fighting or evading Lovecraftian monsters from the stars or insane cultists determined to summon the Elder Gods to read forbidden grimoires or opening cosmic gates to other strange dimensions. All this is part of completing either single Adventure Scenarios–like the fore mentioned “The Gathering”–to Epic Campaigns like the one found in the Core Set, Night of the Zealot.
I know what you are thinking: If it’s a card game, how does it work as an RPG? Simple. As an RPG, Arkham Horror: The Card Game‘s Adventure Modules are decks of cards representing the random locations, enemies, and events that challenge the Investigator(s) as they work their way through the narrative the cards create. This is the one time you are going to want to read the cards flavor text–all of them!–because, through them, the story’s narrative is revealed. It is through the player’s choices the narrative changes, resulting in a successful outcome or a horrible revelation. Successful outcomes can garner upgraded cards by players spending Victory Points (aka., Experience) to purchase higher level cards for their Investigator Decks, in the same manner, they would for a pencil and paper tabletop RPG. This is how their Investigators gain “Levels” by turning a Level 0 Spell card to Level One or Two–making it more powerful–or purchasing new cards that gain them new Skill enhancements or assets, et cetera. Each new adventure within the player’s campaign shapes and reshapes their Investigator for either bad or good–again, depending on the choices the player made during the scenario.
Another game mechanic that can bring about change within a player is the Scenarios Revelations at games end which can also add positive or negative cards to the Investigator’s Character Deck when players reveal the Scenario’s outcome–good or bad. Cards added that provide character flaws–or weaknesses–can not be removed unless a Revelation or card play within a scenario does this for the player which is an ingenious way of hindering a solitaire player from creating, shall we say, exaggerated play and outcomes. Challenge Levels of Scenarios and Campaigns are set by which group of Chaos Tokens players uses from Easy, Medium, Hard to OH MY GOD CTHULHU IS GOING TO DEVOUR US!!, determining the outcomes of the game’s Challenges as they occur. As players complete Challenges, they are rewarded throughout the game with Clue tokens which they will use to advance the Story Deck (a pre-constructed deck of cards which make up the Scenarios narrative) so the dark forces cannot advance their Agenda Deck (a second pre-constructed deck of cards which add to the narrative) with acquired Doom Tokens, just like in the card games sister board game. The game rounds consist of four phases–Mythos, Investigation, Enemy & Upkeep–which players commit themselves to till the Scenarios conclusion, ending in Revelation.
I love this game and became a fan overnight after practically eating the rule books and sucking the online digital tutorials through a straw! Lovecraft fans, this game is a must! It was designed for you. It belongs on the shelf next to your statue of Cthulhu, your coveted leather bound $160 Necronomicon published by Avon and copies of the other Elder God Mythos themes games–highlighted above all the others, making sure your friends can see it prominently displayed. And be sure you tell your friends about it because more players mean less chance of FF discontinuing it like so many other awesome games they’ve designed (Warhammer 40K-Conquest, anyone?).
As a lover of tabletop games, I’ve found my time to meet with my gaming group being swallowed by life getting in the way. It happens to all of us. I’ve been starving for a gaming session which has been almost impossible with everyone around me living while trying to survive in the chaos our world has become. This has made me determined to seek out possible solitaire games–whether they be a card, dice or board games; epic or mini in size–to satisfy the table-top junkie that I am. Arkham Horror: The Card Game has fulfilled my desire for a gaming experience I’ve been missing for quite some time now. I’ve become a committed fan and find myself purchasing the games first deluxe expansion, The Dunwich Legacy, and its subsequent Scenario supplement decks which continue the campaign’s narrative, The Miskatonic Museum, The Essex County Express and Blood on the Altar. To finish The Dunwich Legacy, I will need the Scenarios, Where Doom Waits and Lost In Space & Time and–believe me–I do intend to finish. Why? Because this wonderful card game designed by Nat French and Matthew Newman is one of the best solitaire gaming experiences I have ever had the pleasure of discovering. I think you skeptics will too. Arkham Horror: The Card Game gets a solid Five Bananas!