Off the Top of My Head: Arkham Horror Advice from a Beginner

Off The Top of My Head

Arkham Horror Advice from a Beginner

I am by no means an Arkham Horror expert. With less than ten full games, none of them played to the letter of the rules, it’d be ridiculous for me to claim it. However, as a relative novice I feel I can offer some helpful advice to other novices and other newbies to the world of Arkham Horror. These simple concepts certainly helped my friends and I get over the steepest parts of the learning curve, though mastering the intricacies of the rules can only come from multiple play throughs.

Mighty Tower of Arkham Horror

Mighty Tower of Arkham Horror

1.)    Watch Tutorial Videos: Buying, storing, and playing Arkham Horror is a monetary, space, and time investment. Before investing it would be wise to watch many of the YouTube videos available to see what the game is about. It is best to start with short intro videos; many good-quality videos explain the premise and gameplay in 5-10 minutes. Then work your way up to rules and set-up descriptions before finally moving on to multi-hour play-through videos. It should be pointed out that I’ve never seen a video where they didn’t get at least one rule wrong. It goes to show even those most comfortable with the game can still mess up.

Mike found this short review.  It’s very brief but gets the basics across.

2.)    Organize the Game Components: For many of my games I use small ziplock bags to store the pieces. Arkham Horror has a stupendously long set up time and this can be drastically reduced by getting some kind of containers to hold the all the clues, money, elder signs, and other tokens needed for the game. I recommend stackable beading containers like these. They come in a big set of multiple sizes for about $5 and you can stack a pillar of them and only need one lid so you just unstuck them and all the pieces are set up. I’ve seen some use card holders, but I find these difficult to store so I still do take the time to shuffle and deploy the cards.

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3.)    Keep the Rules Handy When Playing: This might sound basic but you’ll be surprised how often it comes up… Fantasy Flight makes incredible games that can be very thick in rules with instruction books that can feel vague and difficult to navigate. You’ll only learn the rules while playing but you’ll have to consult them a lot, especially during your earliest games or when something uncommon occurs. Keep them close by. Mark the pages, because the citation for Blessings and Curses is on one page in the index but how they behave during upkeep isn’t in the same citation. Eventually you’ll get them memorized but it never hurts to have them close by if needed. As an aside the Miskatonic Horror expansion isn’t a true expansion as it’s more an add-on to the base game and all the other expansions. It DOES come with great little reference cards that explain how many monsters, gates, etc are allowed based on the number of players. They’re awesome.

Info Cards from Miskatonic Horror

Info Cards from Miskatonic Horror

4.)    Be Patient…: Maybe the hardest of all of these rules is to be patient. A game the size and scope of Arkham Horror has tons of rules for a reason. It’s incredibly in-depth and absorbing. It can really draw you in for hours and hours. But it also means it takes a lot of time to gain even a basic understanding of it all. In our first game Mike and I essentially quit in frustration. We didn’t understand it so we gave up for the day and came back to game another day. Every time we do a bit better, and every time gain a greater respect for it. Also even as you get better the game is punishingly difficult. It WILL beat you almost every time. If you are pathological about losing don’t even try it, but for me it makes the eventual victory mean that much more…you KNOW you earned that one…

5.)    The Most Important Rule! Every rulebook for Warhammer 40k I’ve ever read comes with this rule and it’s very valuable in EVERY game. I’ll quote them directly, “The most important rule then is that the rules aren’t all that important! So long as…players agree, you can treat them as sacrosanct or mere guidelines, the choice is entirely yours.” Of course 40k is a lot more open than Arkham Horror, but the spirit of this remains the same. The purpose of ANY game is to have fun. Especially while learning don’t let the rules get in the way of the fun!

Arkham Horror is definitely my favorite board game and it’s one I’d like to play more of with more players. It’s not for the timid and inexperienced gamers might be intimidated by its scale and scope, but if you stick with it you’ll have the most absorbing, difficult, and satisfying board game experience you’re likely to have. And in the famous words of Wil Wheaton: Play More Games!

Want more Arkham Horror? Check our the Story of the Month!

The game’s page on Fantasy Flight.

Feel like diving in?  Here are the rules.

Story of the Month: Arkham Horror and the Story of Our Learning Curve

StoryoftheMonth

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…

 

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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.

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.

The Ice Cream Man: A Quick Study

As I stood in my yard this week, I heard Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer echoing through the neighborhood. At Christmas time, this would not be a problem, however this was a couple of nights ago around 8:30. The music was coming from a decorated white van. It was the ice cream man.

This got me thinking that ice cream men are pretty creepy, and in some cases evil. I asked a few family members and friends about their ice cream-man experiences, and everyone had a story…

Here are the top reasons people think they are creepy:

1. The van. In some places ice cream men drive trucks, but in my neighborhood, it’s a white van that resembles a kidnapper’s van. They’re huge, drive really slow, and all the windows are whited or blacked out. We teach our kids to avoid vehicles such as these, but the ice cream man is okay and kids trust him unconditionally.
2. The music. Before ours played Christmas tunes, I always heard Pop Goes the Weasel, which is an odd choice because of the lyrics and meaning. The last couple years ours play Christmas music year round – Rudolph, Santa’s Coming to Town, Jingle Bells – five or six times a day any day the weather is above 40 degrees. This winter they would cruise through at dusk, hours after school dismissed.
3. Appearance. I’ve never seen an attractive ice cream man. They usually are a little to very overweight (they probably do eat ice cream all day) and pretty sweaty and unshaven, especially in the summer. There’s this guy too!

Sweet Tooth

Sweet Tooth from Twisted Metal. Photo by: gamezone.com

4. Solitary lifestyle. They drive around all day alone, listening to peppy, children’s music, waiting for children to come out. You never see two people in a van.
5. Magnetism. This isn’t always a good thing. As my RevPub partner eloquently said, “[they have] a fairytale, witch-like ability to tempt small children.” Little kids can’t help but drop what they are doing the second they hear him coming. He does have sweet delicious treats! The ice cream man may be responsible for beginning addictive behaviors in children.

Here are some stories I gathered:

1. My niece claims the ice cream man stole her friend’s wallet right out of her back pocket.
2. My RevPub partner recalls a time he and his sister went out for ice cream, and the man took off down the street. They chased after him with money, and he never turned around.
3. My hubby remembers going up to the van, and there was a gorgeous girl, not a man. He was so stunned he forgot what he was doing there (see previous number 3).

Of course, we still support the ice cream man and welcome him into our neighborhoods. Here’s to lots of cool treats in the summer, and feel free to share your ice cream man stories in the comments below!