Friday, April 06, 2007

Ooh, Nasty!

Last time Scrabblette was away I wanted to play Arkham Horror but somehow never found the time. This morning I got stuck in and did it. As with Runebound I played solitaire. In fact I only bought Arkham Horror after I found it could be played solitaire - I never had any ambition to play such a long game with other people, though the kid and I have played together. I actually had all of the bits set up last night but got involved in a book instead. That's one nice thing about playing a game by yourself - it can take as long as you like!

I decided to play two characters. I played one character once before and got quickly murdered. I chose to play Mandy Thompson (the researcher) and Carolyn Fern (the Psychologist), because if I'm going to play a game for hours I want to be looking at cute women, not irritating guys like that smug Bob Jenkins (the salesman).

The Ancient One was Nyarlathotep which convinced me I was going to lose straight away. Nyarlathotep causes the Mask monsters to be put into the cup, and those things are NASTY.

First of all, let me say that this game has a lot of rules. I'd venture to say it has way too many rules for one person to remember. I discovered about halfway through that every time the terror level increases one of the allies leaves town. I don't remember hearing that rule before. I spent the entire game forgetting to do things simply because each phase has so many steps and so many things you need to remember. Then the Mythos cards add environment effects and the details just go on and on. Does anyone else spend significant portions of this game trying to figure out what should have happened if only you'd remembered all the rules? I only remembered the characters had special powers after the general store had closed.

Let me say, Mandy Thompson was a god character. She had a gun, lots of clues, met up with an ally who gave her Speed +2 and found a magic sword as well. Once I realised she could reroll dice once per turn she was almost unstoppable. On the other hand, Carolyn Fern was pretty hopeless and managed to get herself cursed. She spent a lot of turns hiding from monsters that were far too dangerous. Towards the end Mandy Thompson cleared a path to the church and we managed to get her uncursed, but it was far too late by then.

Carolyn went to the woods to pick up clues and a gate opened underneath her. With significant effort she closed it but couldn't seal it, then another gate opened underneath her. She closed but couldn't seal that one as well. Mandy tried to gather some resources and then set about closing gates herself.

A variety of crappy effects resulted in us being delayed a lot, and being unable to collect clues for sealing fast enough meant that gates kept reopening after they'd been closed. A few bad Mythos events really caused havoc... the Southside Strangler strangled everybody in town, a massive horde of monsters escaped from the university, and we discarded a lot of clues to prevent all Elder Signs being removed from the board.

That's the thing about this game, and certainly something at succeeds at - things can always get worse, and they always do. Carolyn Fern was murdered by The Bloated Woman (one of the Mask monsters), then we had to discard all of our clues, then we got to terror level 10 meaning there were no monster limits, then ... even when you end up winning the game you've only just managed to struggle through a huge number of really awful events. It's just nasty from beginning to end.

The gates accumulated. The doom track neared its end. Mandy Thompson got Lost in Time and Space. The doom track hit its end, and we faced Nyarlathotep.

Start of Battle: Any investigator with no Clue tokens is devoured.

That was it. Just like that, we were devoured. Yum yum, thanks for playing.

So what had we achieved? We'd closed six gates, but only sealed four. Mandy Thompson had killed a heap of monsters. And that's all.

One thing that irks me about this game is how it's so difficult to achieve anything. For example, how do you join the Silver Twilight Lodge? You go there and hope to draw the right card. How do you get an Elder Sign? You go somewhere and hope to draw the right card. You just can't achieve those things on purpose. There seems to be so little purpose to going anywhere and doing anything because you almost always get some rotten result like "A gate opens". Oh fer chrissakes, as if there aren't enough gates open already! It just seems to be impossible to work towards anything. And even when you do get it, the stupid d6s find a way to take it off you anyway.

Oh well. I was doomed from the start and I knew it. The game does a great job of that. If only I was able to remember the rules, I'd enjoy being doomed so much more.


Fitzerman said...

I'm trying to figure out from your post whether you think the game is... well... *fun*. I have a vested interest, of course. Many times I've come close to picking it up at the store, and yet I still don't have a copy.

On the one hand, it looks like there's a lot of atmosphere, and I love a game that tells a memorable story, but on the other it seems really frustrating. Especially that whole "can't remember the rules" thing. If there's one thing that'll turn me away from a game, it's a lot of obtuse and absurdly complicated rules. I *hate* spending more time looking things up than actually playing.

So what do you think? Does the equity earned by the atmosphere outweigh the frustration? And would you consider this a *fun* game?

Friendless said...

It's definitely frustrating, and you'll hate the rules. It's an experience game but it's not a "fun" experience. I posted an article last year called "Fun Is A Genre" in which I argue that there are games like hmm... Munchkin, PitchCar, which are fun, but they're not necessarily the only games worth playing. Coming from that perspective I'd say this game is definitely not fun, but it is interesting.

ubarose said...

I understand why you don't find much *fun* in this game. Having read some of your blog, and gotten to know your taste in games, I would venture a guess that you are someone who gets the most pleasure out of logical puzzle solving. I personally would never recommend Arkham Horror to you. This game is so chaotic that there is very little puzzle to solve. Deduction and logic is useless.

I describe Arham Horror as a party game for RPGers. I believe that the *fun* in this game comes from the interaction among the players, particularly if the players are people that you know well. It reveals far more about people's personalities than any of those party games that ask embarrassing questions.

Additionally, a good deal of the *fun* is derived from the role playing, rather than solving the "puzzle" and beating the game. I noticed that you picked your characters because you wanted characters that were pleasing to look at, not because you wanted to pretend to be those characters. You played as an observer, not a participant. You were the audience not the actor. Actually, I have the most fun playing this game with my friends who have some background in theatre, story telling or performance.

Finally, when you play with several people, you can divide up responsibility for remembering the fiddly rules.

Since you did find the game interesting, you might like to read this interview with the designer if you haven't already.

P.S. This is not any kind of attack against you, or argument that you would like the game if you played it right, or anything like that. I am just saying I agree that you and other people that share your taste would not find AH *fun*.

Steve said...

Having known Friendless since we were something like 16 (Gods that's a long time), even though we've been out of touch for a while, I think you pocketed him nicely, ubarose.

He's a math geek. What more can you say ;)

He used to write fractal generating programs in Turbo Pascal for the fun of it. He's a strange man....