Back in March of 2017 I squealed like the fanboy I am at the release of Fantasy Flight’s Arkham Horror: The Card Game. Read it here if you don’t believe me, and read it anyway because I don’t want to repeat the history of C’thulhulian games.
Suffice to say that fans of H.P. Lovecraft’s Eldritch Tales have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the tabletop. If you itch to explore haunted houses, Mansions of Madness will scratch it. If you love deckbuilding, you’ve got Arkham Horror: The Card Game. If you’re more into dice, there’s Elder Signs. If globetrotting mystery-hunting is more your thing, there’s Eldritch Horror.
And now Fantasy Flight has just rebooted the mothership of the franchise, Arkham Horror, with a Third Edition. A new designer, Nikki Valens was brought on board to join the Second Edition team of Richard Lanius and Kevin Wilson. Valens was one of the designers of Eldritch Horror, but as of May, 2018 she’s no longer with Fantasy Flight (at least, according to her page on BGG) so AH:3E was probably one of her last projects for them.
Is it any different? Do you need to run out and buy it? Yes, and maybe. There are major differences in how AH:3E plays compared to 2E, so your opinion could be coloured by how much of an emotional (and financial) commitment you’ve already made. AH:3E is not just a simple rules update. It incorporates many design elements from previous games in the franchise, all of which generally keep things moving along at a faster clip than AH:2E.
In a major departure, instead of a board AH:3E has modular tiles of Neighbourhoods which you connect with Streets, which allows for many different setups and, of course, considerable replayability. On each turn player-investigators get two actions each to move, fight, research, gather resources, focus (improve) skills, and ward (remove Doom from the board–which you should definitely be doing as much as possible). Then it’s the Monsters’ turn to activate, usually involving moving towards you and either bashing you (causing health damage) or messing with your mind (causing sanity damage)–often both. Lose too much blood and/or brain cells and you will have to bring another Investigator on board.
After taking Actions, you draw an Encounter card from the deck corresponding to whatever Neighbourhood you ended up in. Encounters often involve testing one of your Skills. If you pass, Good Things happen: you find a Clue, you gain an Item, Ally, or Spell, you heal, and so on. If you fail…well, let’s not talk about that.
Finally, there is a Mythos Phase where you draw tokens randomly from a scenario-specified assortment. Some are blank, some are good, but I won’t lie most of them are bad: monsters spawn, Doom spreads, or the daily paper has a news story that makes life even more difficult.
How do you win or lose, you ask? Unlike earlier incarnations, an AH:3E scenario does not reveal its winning or losing conditions right away. Instead, somewhat like AH:TCG (and very much like the Fallout boardgame) players begin with some Archive Cards in front of them that give them an initial goal and a consequence of too much Doom accumulating. When one of those conditions triggers, you flip the card over to find out what happens next. This usually involves digging out other cards from the Archive which continue the story. Sort of like Choose Your Own Adventure, except you often don’t have a choice. Eventually, you get to a card that says “You Win!” or “You Lose!”
The game scales very well regardless of the number of people playing. It is perfectly playable (and despite what you may hear, not impossible) solitaire; the game is very generous with gear, so it’s quite possible to amass an imposing array of Items, Allies, and Spells as long as you keep chipping away at Doom and finding clues. However, one element missing from AH:3E is that there is no way to calibrate difficulty–surprising, given the borrowing of the Mythos Bag mechanic from AH:TCG which does have it. Some people have started to house-rule difficulty levels on BGG, you can go check things out there. Luck of the draw (for Events, Encounters, and Mythos effects) can make one game feel like a cakewalk and the next feel impossible, so be prepared for very swingy outcomes.
The four scenarios that come with the game are quite different from each other, and they’re definitely replayable–although once you’ve explored all the story branches the surprise factor disappears. Then it becomes all about making sure you’re prepared for what you know could come next. That’s not a knock against the game–but at least until expansion content comes out (and you know it will) it is a factor you should consider. You also have plenty of Investigators to choose from if you’re looking for variety in playing style.
If it’s a campaign you’re looking for you’re better off with AH:TCG. Eldritch Horror has less time pressure and more of a puzzly, sandbox feel. Elder Sign is lighter (though not less challenging). And Mansions of Madness’ small scale gives it a more tactical feel. In the end, whether you want to get AH:3E comes down to what kind of tabletop experience you’re looking for. I think it’s an improvement on and easier to learn than the Second Edition, but it’s certainly not a gateway game.My advice is to try before you buy and have someone teach it to you if you’re not the rules-readin’ type.
Don’t say I didn’t warn ye…