Arkham Horror: The Story of Our Learning Curve
Table top gaming is a near every day thing for some of us. So to continue the excitement brought about by International TableTop Day this month, the story of the month for April is actually several micro stories of how my friend Mike and I have navigated the learning curve of the infamous and glorious board game masterpiece: Arkham Horror.
Arkham Horror is one of those games that popped up frequently enough in my various “you might also like” lists and got such stellar reviews I had to try it. It comes with two main warnings: It is very rules heavy and punishingly difficult.
Those warnings are to be heeded.
Below is a basic timeline of the Arkham Horror learning curve my friend Mike and I experienced while learning the game. It’s steep, and full of lots of stupid; but just when you think you’ve figured the game out, it throws you a curve:
Play Through #1: We totally messed this up. We read the rules wrong and counted every player turn as a game turn. Meaning we performed BAD actions after every individual turn instead of at the end of all player turns like we were supposed to. The game is hard enough and we somehow made it harder…actually we made it impossible. We gave up in frustration.
Play Through #2: We decided to play again when killing a day. We battled Nyarlathotep this time. Among the stuff we messed up: we kept forgetting the lingering effects of the ancient one “stirring in his slumber,” did all the player turns out of order (fought monsters whenever, went through gates and had encounters whenever, didn’t really know what it meant to be delayed…), and TOTALLY screwed up the boss battle once the big bad awoke. We took a doom token off for ever successful roll…instead of taking one off for every six successes.
Play Through #3: We always randomize the options so we ended up fighting Nyarlathotep again a few months later. We got a lot of the rules right this time, we watched a few videos, learned a few new things. Did MUCH better on player turn order, fought monsters better, understood the “outskirts” and “surge” rules better, and even got owned by the big bad when he awoke this time… BUT…we still messed up combat rules. And a couple important monster rules we continued to mess up for the next few play throughs…
Play Through #4: The same night we fought Nyarlathotep the second time we played Elder Signs against Hastur and got burninated, owninated, and decimated(ed). When we played Arkham Horror the fourth time we drew random again and Hastur was our ancient one. We got almost everything right here. Player turns, actions, play order, surges, and sealed that mo-fo with six elder signs. BUT…there was still one VERY important rule we messed up…we didn’t even realize it…
Play Through #5: This was an afternoon game day. We battled Cthulhu whose “stirring in his slumber” effect is brutal. It was our best game yet though. We didn’t seal the bastard but by closing all open gates we still won and defeated Cthulhu sending him back to R’lyeh forever…BUUUUT! It was after this game Mike discovered we were playing monsters ALL wrong. For the last three games we forgot to spawn monsters EVERY time gates opened. A major and foolish oversight and one that plagued our next play through too. Furthermore, we always played six characters…which means anytime you draw a monster you draw TWO monsters…which we weren’t doing. We only drew one. Making the game that much easier. We desperately needed to see how this critical error would affect us when corrected. Which we did on…
Our Cthulhu playthrough in progress.
Our “victory” over the most famous of Great Old Ones.
Play Through #6: We included Mike’s fiancée Bekah in the game. We all played two characters each and had the rules down, save for that important monster+gate one, and battled Shub Niggurath. We fought maybe one or two monsters out of sequence and had five elder signs on the board sealing gates. THEN…monster surge, with two gates open. Brought TWELVE monsters out. Filling the outskirts several times and raising the terror track. That happened at least four times, again, with only two gates open there was a monster mash party around the two gates (which were in adjacent areas). The terror track reached ten, Shubby-kuns awoke, immediately devoured both of Mike’s characters and one of mine (no monster trophies…) and my remaining and Beckah’s two characters did battle. We took her down to half damage before I couldn’t sneak anymore and was devoured. Without me there to cure her sanity Beckah was offed in short order and we lost. We did so much right this game EXCEPT… We still hadn’t remembered to spawn two monsters every gate opening and, Mike, during the final battle (he was managing the Ancient One since his characters were, ya know, dead) said, “Oh…I’ll..uh tell you later..” “Later” was the next day when he texted me and told me Shubby-wubby was Physically Immune. Meaning only my one holy water usage and Beckah’s spell (which I was healing sanity so she could use) and her magic knife would’ve caused damage. So we just lost WORSE than we actually did.
What’s the lesson here? Arkham Horror might be my favorite board game. It’s huge, involving, in-depth, and once the rules are understood fit perfectly. The point is, if there is one, that despite all the screw ups, Mike and I kept playing. Looked for others to play with. Kept playing. And we never cheated on purpose. Anyone playing a big game like this WILL mess up the rules. But keep playing. Mess up the rules more. Make house rules if you have to. Gaming is about having fun. Being inclusive. Bringing new gamers in and helping them learn (and maybe learning something you missed!) Gaming is about fun. Win or lose, co-op or competitive. Have fun out there. It’s why we play!
For fun and to show how big this game can get… This is Arkham Horror with the three expansion boards in place. It’s as long as my couch.
The game’s page on Fantasy Flight.
Feel like diving in? Here are the rules.