Once more, something is loose in Arkham
Ahhh Cthulhu. Lovecraft’s creation is one of the more common themes in board games today, but it’s easy to forget Cthulhu is only one of. Lovecraft opened many, many more doors in his stories.
Gaming company Chaosium, Inc is definitely responsible for my earliest Cthulhu gaming memories. While looking back now with the advantage of age I can see Lovecraft’s influence on many games I have played, Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu was the first ‘Lovecraft’ game I had ever played.
Way back in 1987 though, 6 years after Call of Cthulhu was released on the world but 7 years before I had discovered it, Chaosium released another Lovecraft based game.
That game was called Arkham Horror.
Set loosely in the world of the Call of Cthulhu RPG, up to eight players could investigate the town of Arkham and try and stop the followers of the Elder Gods from releasing them upon the world.
It was a brave game, especially for the time. RPG awareness was on the rise, but in the US were also being attacked. ‘Dungeons and Dragons makes kids killers’ was not an unusual headline of the time.
But Arkham Horror skirted a niche area. It wasn’t an RPG – it was a Board Game. What harm can come from playing a board game? And many people played essentially a roll and move game with their investigators, closing gates to other realms and saving the world.
And then in 2005, Fantasy Flight released Arkham Horror 2nd Edition.
When you say Arkham Horror, this is the game that many people think of. Many elements were added to Chaosium’s design.
Investigators are still premade, but you can adjust them in certain ways. The Mythos Phase was slightly altered, but still a big part of the game. You still investigated Arkham with gates and Elder Gods still being a problem.
Health and Sanity can be restored by visiting the correct buildings. Encounters can be avoided with Stealth. You could now be Blessed or Cursed. Closing gates was expanded to include spending clue tokens and Elder Sign.
It sounds a little overwhelming, doesn’t it? And that’s before you add tweaks and mechanics from the eight expansions.
Arkham Horror is a great game, but really only for a certain type of player. It’s a long game to play, difficult to learn, and complex with a lot of little rule interactions and game admin.
Taking these rules on board, in 2013 Fantasy Flight released Eldritch Horror. It was widely regarded as an improvement of the Arkham Horror system, but still a long and complex game. Rules were simplified to a degree, and instead of restricting you to the town of Arkham, Eldritch Horror took players all over the world. This made a lot of people refer to Eldritch Horror as Arkham Horror Third Edition.
But the joke apparently is on us. Over the Gen Con weekend, Fantasy Flight has officially announced a true Arkham Horror Third Edition!
There are a lot of things on the surface that appear the same. Up to 6 players will have their own investigator, and the town of Arkham is still the primary location. This will still likely be a long game, estimated by Fantasy Flight to be 2 – 3 hours.
The most striking visual change is the board. There is no longer a traditional map board, but a series of modular pieces that are assembled each game.
There has already been some vocal opposition to this style, but personally, I am enjoying the possibilities this presents. This will allow Fantasy Flight to not only drill down further into the town of Arkham but potentially expand to other areas as well.
Another big change from the sounds of it is that investigators are no longer concentrating on just closing portals.
Arkham Horror Third Edition will come with four scenarios, each unique in what they offer. From the brief reports over Gen Con, investigators will start each scenario with a custom board setup and a general objective.
The actual mission of the game and the narrative will need to be discovered through play, and each scenario will have different outcomes depending on different decisions made through the game!
There seem to be a lot of positive changes happening here, and it appears to be from a lot of current sources.
Some of the changes such as the new Mythos resolution are influenced directly by Arkham Horror: The Card Game. Others seem to stem from Eldritch Horror. The scenario style and modular boards seem aligned with Mansions of Madness.
There are suggestions that this new system will allow even more influence from Eldritch Horror though. Not in mechanics and items as now, but in scenarios and possible future international locations.
I am really enjoying the idea of what on the surface seems to be a rolling up of almost all of the Arkham Horror Files games. The only one I can’t see anything with directly is Elder Sign, but I am sure some locations and scenarios can be inspired from here as well over time.
This does lead me through to the only puzzling thing about Arkham Horror Third Edition. Gameplay mechanics have been visually heavily modified, but has the game been changed too much? The game has obvious roots to the original Arkham Horror, but it also has the potential to be so much more.
Really my only question without playing it is why this game is Arkham Horror Third Edition and not a new game in the Arkham Horror Files line?
There are two reasons why this puzzles me.
Firstly, Arkham Horror has a reputation amongst gamers as a tough, time-consuming game to learn with a massive difficulty curve. Fantasy Flight could be prematurely cutting off potential players with this.
Secondly, hardcore Arkham Horror fans are already voicing displeasure at some of the changes. My favourite one so far is ‘The modular board looks like a space station, I won’t play this’. These players will still enjoy their second edition games, but again are Fantasy Flight cutting off sales from their established base with too many changes?
But really, if the biggest question for me is that the title isn’t making much sense, that’s a pretty good sign.
I am going to enjoy an evening or many playing through Arkham Horror Third Edition. I know I am going to buy it. I am 90% sure I will enjoy it. And come last quarter of 2018, I will be putting this to the test, be sure of that 🙂
Until next time,