So, I asked Cam to help me out with a post. Eldritch Horror is a complex, intense game. We play it often. He received the new Mountains of Madness expansion recently. He enthusiastically responded and whipped up the following post. I believe his love for all things Lovecraft is fairly evident:
Eldritch Horror, and its subsequent expansions Forsaken Lore and Mountains of Madness, make for a one to eight player board game experience. I don’t use the term experience lightly. Based off of the literary works of H.P. Lovecraft, the game is heavy on theme and fraught with peril. The players, through the course of the game, are attempting to prevent the awakening of a dreaded Ancient One. These beings, more accurately described as cosmic deities, once having been summoned through cabal ritual will release untold horrors upon the Earth. Cthulhu is likely the most recognizable Ancient One, but the game includes many others, numbering to 7 with both expansions, from Azathoth the slumbering daemon sultan at the center of all things to the perhaps lesser known Ithaqua, the Wind-Walker of the north or Yig, the Serpent Lord. Eldritch Horror’s reach includes much of the mythos established by Lovecraft and expounded upon by August Derleth and future authors.
The game is presented in the style of pulp fiction crossed with noir. The players act as globe-hopping investigators, attempting to uncover mysteries surrounding the chosen Ancient One for their playthrough. Once a sufficient number of mysteries (3 for most Ancient Ones or 4 for the newly released Elder Things), the investigators have claimed victory, preventing the rise of dreaded evil. For this day, at least. Victory, whether or not achieved, is not without its price.
Eldritch Horror includes an entire deck devoted to maladies that could befall your group: physical or mental ailments, pacts with evil, debts, or even becoming lost between our world the beyond. The list of possible conditions has grown with each expansion adding new cards or variations on existing ones. That is the beauty of this particular element of the game – while there are several cards that might pertain to your investigator be stricken with ‘Paranoia’, each card back is different in its effects. You’ll know what afflicts you and how, but should you not rid yourself of it in time, it will affect your investigator in different ways that you can’t predict. Fortunately, most conditions can be cured, either through applying a particular skill roll or simply resting and hoping the dice are lenient.
The players interact with the board, itself a representational map of the world, via actions and dice rolling. A second game board of Antarctica is included in the Mountains of Madness expansion. Investigators get two non-repeating actions per turn to traverse, trade, acquire assets, or what-have-you. Most investigators also have an action they can take unique to themselves. And the two action limit can be modified by items or inherent character abilities. Beyond the action phase, players will have an encounter on their space, either drawing a card representing their location or if they’re less lucky (or just brazen) entering combat with some horrible monster. Either route involves dice rolling. Rolling enough ‘successes’ in combat spells defeat for the monster, although an insufficient number could leave you a bit less mentally or physically stable. The success mentioned above is having a die result of 5 or 6 on a six-sided die. The location based encounters are where the meat of the game lies.
Each continent has a unique deck, with each city of it being listed per card. As well as a deck for locations that are less civilized, a deck for expeditionary excursions, and a deck for traveling through a gateway to the dreamlands and beyond. As it comes around to each player, a card is read for them based on where they are, generally presenting a challenge to overcome or predicament they’ve become mired in. These encounters test the mettle of the investigators through their skills, each investigator having skills at unique levels (which are naturally improvable). The player rolls a number of dice equal to the skill being tested and hopes for a success. Based on the results, a pass or fail passage concludes their encounter. Sounds straight-forward? Following the action and encounter phase, the mythos phase ends the round. A phase devoted the temporarily dormant Ancient One can be as bad as it sounds.
Eldritch Horror is tense. Several games we’ve played have come down to the wire, victory so close at hand only to be torn away. It is tense, but it’s fun, as you play on the edge of your seat, hoping for a good card or a lucky roll, hanging on with your investigator by the skin of your teeth for one more shot at closing a portal to the Plateau of Leng or one more blow to down a Mi-go and secure a clue. This game is almost a one-of-a-kind experience, but I would be remiss not to mention Arkham Horror.
Originally published in 1987 and revamped in 2005, Arkham Horror is forebear of the Lovecraftian adventure game. While the theme and gravitas of Arkham outmatches Eldritch, so too does its complexity. As you have likely picked up on in reading this, Eldritch Horror is no lightweight. Our playthroughs with various groups have clocked in at over 3 hours. Arkham Horror, depending on investigator count, is just as if not more lengthy, with even more delicate rules making up its own gameplay. I do hate to compare the two, however. Arkham narrows its scope, as investigators scramble across the city of Arkham to keep the Ancient One slumbering, while in Eldritch Horror, Arkham is just one stop on the map for the investigators on their quest to solve global mysteries. Without going into depth in comparison, I can say that Eldritch Horror hits the table much more frequently than Arkham. Eldritch Horror’s rulebook is much simpler to work through and explain to new players. I haven’t even brought Arkham Horror to my newer Monday board game group, although I expect I will at some point.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, this is a strong recommendation to give Eldritch Horror a play, should you have the opportunity. If you get the chance to play Arkham Horror with an experienced group, don’t pass that up either. I do speak with a bias – Lovecraft’s work is unmatched in my opinion, and Fantasy Flight Games has published something worthy of putting his name on the box. Some of the better gaming experiences I’ve had have been sitting around the table with friends, with this monster staring back at us. Daring us. Playing with others knowledgeable in Lovecraftian lore and players a little less so is also a treat. Explaining to them exactly why going toe-to-toe with a Hound of Tindalos isn’t a good idea and getting to see the look on their face is priceless: “No, dude, you don’t get it. This isn’t some demon hound – it’s barely a dog at all. The thing is like a skeletal bat-dragon from time immemorial. They travel through and are tied to the angles of reality – materializing as a mist out of any corner until it assumes its form. If you start something with it – if it even catches sight of you, it will follow you until you are nothing.”
Eldritch Horror (and of course Arkham Horror) are like no other. Go play them. Or at the very least read some Lovecraft.