Monday, December 23, 2013

"Hey, I'm Not Dead Yet...Oh, Wait, NOW I'm Dead!" - "Eldritch Horror"

A few months ago I played Arkham Horror for the second time. I wanted to give it another bash because our first game had been nothing but a protracted exercise in frustration. It took forever to get from one place to another, there were tons of fiddly rules to remember and it seemed unrepentantly difficult to do anything. Honestly, it felt like the gaming equivalent of slogging through mud up to your hips.

Still wanting to give the game a fair shake we decided to tackle it again just a few months ago.
Learning my lesson from the previous go-'round I spent the first hour or so loading good ol' Monterey Jack up to the gills with every permutation of weapon I could possibly get my weathered mitts on. When I finally procured every possible item required to close a Gate and seal it, I fought my way to the Witch's House and then boldly plunged into the Dreamlands.

I then spent two long, boring, protracted turns meandering through the Other Worlds waiting for my character to get systemically fucked over. Honestly, it felt like it took FOREVER. Bereft of any control over what was happening to me, my precious Clue Tokens (which I needed to seal the Gate) were slowly and inexorably robbed from me. All I could do was sit there as my dream of closing one measly Gate was ripped away from me in slow-motion.

Two turns later I was vomited back out onto the porch of the Witch's House. To add insult to injury, a Ghost had since migrated onto that same location. As soon as he saw me he tamped out his cigarette, pulled a bed sheet over his head and then proceeded to stomp a mud-hole in my ass. And because that spectral prick had a Physical Immunity, all of my weapons were about as useless as a DVD re-winder. Long story slightly less long: ol' Monty was quickly reduced to a gibbering, drooling mass of crazy and then immediately interred at Arkham Asylum where I got to waste yet another turn playing checkers with The Riddler.

I couldn't remember a time in which I was more bored, frustrated and pissed-off while playing a board game. To make the best of it, since we didn't actually finish the game, I couldn't vent my rage in the form of a review! Just like how I won't review a bad movie unless I've watched the whole stinkin' mess, I won't review a crap game until I've seen it through to the bitter end.

Yes, I know that the Cthulhu / Lovecraft Mythos is irredeemably bleak and it's not a matter of will your Investigator go nuts and / or die horribly but when and how. I really don't mind a challenge when it comes to co-op games, I just wonder why Arkham Horror has to be such a cunty bore about it.

Anyhoo, last week when Jeremy suggested that we try the new, globe-trotting flavor of Lovecraftian insanity and death called Eldritch Horror, I silently started to cackle.

"Time to break out the knives," I gloated, rubbing my hands together like a crazed cultist.

But then something unexpected happened. Something so unpredictable, so amazing, it made the ending of H.P.'s short story "Under the Pyramids" look like an episode of Dads.

I actually really, really liked it.

So what makes this latest iteration of Lovecraftian terror different from its predecessor? Clues to this multi-planar mystery can be found within the husk of the following slick trailer courtesy of those promotional geniuses at Fantasy Flight:

If you're willing to risk madness to augur the nefarious plans of the omnipotent Ancient Ones, feel free to crack open the Necronomicon-like rule book right here.


Me...Silas Marsh
Dean...Charlie Kane
Jeremy...Jim Culver 
Matt...Trish Scarborough



Reasonably well-armed with my starting Fish Net and a few other accoutrements, I decided to tackle the Monster that was stinking up the Sydney Opera House. Not on my watch, slimy! Unfortunately, said beastie turned out to be a Shoggoth and, as such, the game began pretty much the same way as my two previous plays of Arkham Horror: I.E. I got my ass handed to me. Thusly humbled, I used my special ability to flee the cursed continent by ship, looking to put as much distance between me and my tentacled assailant.

To combat our first Mystery Card, "The Beyond", we needed to spend Clue Tokens gleaned from completed Research Encounters. After crossing the South Pacific, I prepared to take on some more Filthy McNasties in Buenos Aires.

As Charles, Charlie Kane, Dean had all the economic clout he needed in order to pick up valuable resources in both San Francisco and Arkham. This included a Personal Assistant and a Trinket card which gave a +1 bonus to all Ability Tests. He even managed to snag a much-needed Observation Improvement Token for himself.

During various misadventures, Jeremy's Jim Culver procured two handy weapons: a Spirit Dagger and a Bull Whip. He also hooked up with some Hired Muscle and came across a Shriveling Spell, which I assume replicates the effect of dipping your foe in an unheated swimming pool. I guess even Unspeakable Horrors are paranoid about the size of their junk. Regardless of these intimidating assets, Culver got Delayed in Arkham, resulting in a frustrating loss of time.

After a few tough scrapes that inflicted two point of Health damage, Matt went into Debt in order to Acquire a .45 Automatic and the Arcane Scholar Ally. Both proved indispensable in a few key Encounters and led to a very handy Improvement in Influence. However, just like Jeremy, Matt also got mired in a series of unfortunate Delays.

After Silas managed to fumigate all of Buenos Aires, Chuck and Jim tagged-teamed the mounting evil forces in Arkham. Meanwhile, Trish discovered something even more disturbing then a rotund Greek tourist dressed in an invisible Speedo at a Sandals resort down in the Caribbean.

Then Trish and Jim traveled to foggy old London Town where they attempted to quell a nasty Monster-fueled Riot by enforcing an Agency Quarantine. This four-damage carpet bomb cleared out both sides of the Thames in one fell-swoop!

Completing our first Mission Card proved challenging at best. The first issue we ran into was that there were no Clue Tokens on the board. By the time those little green bastards finally started popping up, all of the Research-based locations were choked with deadly threats. Slowly but surely we managed to chip away at them, earn our fourth Clue Token and then move on to our next Mission.

"Arcane Understanding" proved to be no less daunting. For this Mystery, we had to discard a Spell after using it to pass a Lore Test and then claim an Eldritch Token for the card. Once again we had to do this four times in order to succeed.

Although these requirements were pretty circumstantial ("Okay, we need to sacrifice an albino gerbil during the third night of the summer Solstice, but only while wearing our ceremonial sombreros and only if AMC is currently airing a marathon of Breaking Bad"), Trish was well-suited to tackle this mission. After all, she had the Spell-generating Necronomicon in her possession and the ability to deliver the required sorcery thanks to her Arcane Scholar,, Ally.

At that point in time Matt had to dash so we ran Trish collectively for the next little while. It's a damned good sight that he did make himself scarce, because he'd somehow managed to pick up an incredibly nasty Dark Pact Card which came to fruition not long after he left. 

And what was on the flip-side of this evil piece of cardboard? Why a fun little Deal called "One of the Thousand", which Devoured one of the other Investigators! Wow, ain't life grand, kids?

Since Matt had already hit the bricks, we decided to roll randomly to see who was going to get deep-throated (and not in a good way). And yep, you guessed it, Silas "Take Somebody Else, I'm Stringy!" Marsh turned out to be the Human McNugget!

Yee-fuckin'-HAW! In spite my shock, there was no time to sit around an mourn Pirate Fabio. The Doom Track was almost at its apex and we had to act fast in order to postpone the inevitable!

Since the clock hadn't quite struck "Yer Fucked" yet, I had an opportunity to grab a new character and get right back in on the action. With an inordinate amount of Cultists on the board, I decided to assume the role of N.S.A.*-whistleblower Diana Stanley:

Unfortunately, with Yog-Sothoth on the verge of meandering out into our plane of existence at any moment, I didn't have any time to ramp her up. Subsequently, after eliminating all of the dark sect opposition in Tokyo I plunged hood-first into the open Gate.

Yeah, that worked out about as well as you might imagine.

Meanwhile, as one of the other players that didn't suffer an arbitrary and unavoidable death, Jeremy had collected no less then nine different resources. Originally he wanted to help me close the Gate in Japan but he got all tied up India, presumably because he was hauling around the equivalent of three steamer trunks filled with crap.

As Charles Kane, Dean accumulated his own modest haul, including a Silver Key, a Revolver and his very own Spell-casting tome the "Cultes des Goules". Unfortunately, after getting elder-abused during a sea-bound Encounter while en route to South Africa, a Dark Pact was hung about his neck like an (un)dead albatross. At this stage in the game, I'm sure ol' Chuck was wondering why he didn't follow the example of his CEO buddies and become a source of pure evil instead of fighting against it.

Meanwhile, Dean's wife Claudia assumed the role of Trish. After a quick tutorial, she continued Matt's sound strategy of using her Arcane Scholar to get a new Spell from the Necronimicon which she then used to complete Lore Tests which she then...*whew!*...used to earn an Eldritch Token. After two quick successes, it looked as if we might, just might, complete our second Mystery Card before Yog-Sothoth reared his ugly puss.

But then things really started to fall apart. After we blew the bell off'a the top of the ol' Doom Track, Yog-Sothoth began to stretch and yawn...

A few turns later, Charles Kane had a massive coronary in South Africa, presumably after watching his first Die Antwoord video. Since this occurred after Yog-Sothoth finished his second cup of morning joe, Dean wasn't allowed to take a replacement character and was effectively out of the game for good.

My ill-prepared delve into the Pachinko Hell Gate promptly went sour, stripping me of several key Items and leaving me with a crippling Back Injury to boot. Then, in what seemed like a never-ending, coal-black running joke, this brutal Condition caused me to lose every single one of my remaining items whenever a Reckoning Phase came around. Good times. 

Needless to say, the final results were inevitable. With the Doom Track now dialed up to "11", every new occurrence added a Gate Token to Yog's card instead. After three of these unearthly portals under his fell sway, the very fabric of our reality began to fray. Thusly empowered, the Greater Old One forced its way into our realm, extinguishing all life as we know it and covering the earth in a pall of unending darkness.

Merry Christmas, everyone!!!

And with that, our sad, pathetic efforts to stem the inevitable tide of encroaching cosmic evil were dashed and our gnat like-existences were snuffed out like candle flames in a tornado. In other words, it was a lot like my first two plays of Arkham Horror.  

But my lingering reaction to Eldritch Horror was quite different. Here, then, is my...

  • Like all Fantasy Flight products, the game looks absolutely gorgeous. The abstracted, moody-looking board is clear and practical. The Encounter, Mythos, Mystery, Artifact, Asset, Condition and Spell Cards are all beautifully illustrated and made of high-quality cardboard. The same goes for the tome-like Investigator Sheets. Finally, the myriad of different tokens are durable, evocative and easily-discernible. Nothing but the top marks for the production side of things.
  • Jeremy did a fantastic job interpreting the rule book. Although we may have made a teensy little mistake which probably resulted in a bunch of extra Monsters hitting the board prematurely, the game as a whole clipped along rather smoothly. 
  • This one isn't nearly as fiddly as its creaky parent. Eldritch Horror really benefits from eight years worth of game evolution and innovation. Whereas Arkham Horror is a bit convoluted, I retained enough of Eldritch Horror after one play (two weeks ago!) that I could probably give new players a pretty decent overview.
  • That's not to say that Eldritch Horror isn't a deep, thematic experience, quite the opposite in fact. Although it's not as "RPG campaign in a box" as Arkham is, it does provide a very unique globe-trottin' experience. This is helped along by several unique Encounter Decks which feature flavorful, setting-specific Cards. Sea travel, City exploration and jaunts into the Other World are all similarly realized. This alone is enough to blow the needle right off the ol' Theme-O-Meter.  
  • Like its predecessor, co-operation and team-work is essential to success, which probably accounts for our poor showing. I think we spent just a little bit too much time playing out our own little solo adventures around the board. Teaming up for Combat Encounters makes a lot of sense because lone Investigators will have a pretty rough time taking down Monsters solo. And trust me, if you get your ass kicked by one of these slimy bastards it usually means that you're gonna hafta burn a few turns getting back up to speed again. 
  • I'm not sure if it was just a spate of bad luck, but man, those Mystery Cards were tough as hell. If you think that designers Corey Konieczka, Richard Launius and Nikki Valens have gone soft on us in the past eight years, think again. This one might not be as long or as complicated as Arkham, but it still generates a feeling of impending doom, which is the bread n' butter for every Lovecraft game. 
  • Even though the character I'd been building up was randomly squashed though no fault of my own, I didn't flip the table. Why? Because, unlike Arkham Horror, it didn't happen in a painful, dragged-out, boring fashion. It was just *BOOM* , yer dead! How 'bout that, bitch? With certain disaster looming I just grabbed another character and jumped right back into the fray.
  • Let's face it, given the bleak odds for success and a virtual guarantee that your precious Investigator will eventually go batshit nuts and/or get crushed like a gnat, this game isn't for everyone. If I'd never played Arkham Horror before, I'd be tempted to rate Eldritch Horror "4" outta "6" but since it does just about everything better in comparison, it really shines for me.
Not only is this game easier to get into and quicker to play, it's nowhere nearly as frustrating as it's bigger, older, hairier sibling. If you're looking for co-operative feelings of oppressive dread, Indiana Jones-style global adventure and moments of stark terror and despair, then Eldritch Horror is surely looming on your horizon. 


Prefer to suicide by bleeding-out slowly then incremental mercury poisoning? Click on the pic below to begin your adventure and give this poor, frightened, squishy l'il blog a modicum of hope...

*N.S.A.: Non-Shoggoth Agent

1 comment:

  1. Great review! I'm really regretting spending all that $$$ on AH and it's expansions, when EH was the game I wanted all along!