Review : Part One – Eldritch Horror (the unboxing)



Written by Anatoli on July 5th, 2014 at Anatoli’s Game Room

Recently I bought the new Lovecraft inspired boardgame Eldritch Horror made by Fantasy Flight Games – at first I wasn’t that interested as I think FFG is milking this franchise to death with all the versions Arkham Horror/Elder Sign/Mansions of Madness/ Collectable Cardgame etc and this was just another straightforward boardgame.

However, upon reading about the game online, it seems to have been very well received by the fanbase – and many people liked it a lot more than Arkham Horror. This in turn made me curious enough to take a plunge and buy it. In this first part of the review I’ll be doing the unboxing of the game and talking about the various components and how they work in the game. Part two will be a review of the game.

The game comes in a regular sized FFG box, akin to that of Arkham Horror and Mansions of Madness, the first thing I noticed was that it came with two rulebooks. One book called  “Rulebook” and one called “Reference guide”. I haven’t encountered this earlier in any FFG game, but read that this is the new direction of that game company – who has in all honesty and with few exceptions been experts in writing pretty messy and unclear rulebooks for a LONG time. I guess having the rules only in one book and the examples, clarifications and FAQ in another is a way to make it less cluttered and hard to follow when reading everything for the first time.

And true enough, most if not all of the questions I’ve had so far when playing the game have been answered by looking in the “Reference guide”. So a thumbs up to this.

The components to the game are high quality cardboard as usual with very nice artwork. The game comes with three sheets featuring clue tokens, character stands, monster tokens, gate tokens and an assortment of other special tokens that I will talk about later. Good punching as usual with not a single damaged token during the “popping”.

The components to the game are high quality cardboard as usual with very nice artwork. They are part “old” Arkham Horror series artwork with a few new details added to them and part completely new stuff that I haven’t seen before. Fans of the series, me included, have a reason to complain about FFG recycling their own artwork shamelessly in each new “Arkham” game. In this game it does feel that you get more “new artwork” on cards and tokens than in any of the other games I have seen recently, but there is quite a few “familiar” pieces of artwork such as the monsters and investigators.

The board is high quality and features a map of the world, which is the biggest difference from previous installments of the Arkham series which focused on the city of Arkham and add-on villages/towns. In this game the players fight the Lovecraft mythos across the globe.
Moving on to the cards. The game comes with a bunch of cards that make up several decks, in typical Arkham Horror style – such as the otherworld encounter deck, spells, items and location encounter deck.

There are however a couple of innovative things worth mentioning, the injury/madness deck along with all the other conditions from Arkham Horror such as bank loan, debt, membership cards etc have been merged into one single deck called “Condition deck”. This streamlines the amount of components and the way they are played, but also saves tabletop space. What I really like about these cards is that there are several copies of each effect, but each of them have different penalties (a bank loan has several different consequences and so on) so you never know which penalty or bonus you will get for receiving a condition until the game tells you to  flip the card.

The other world encounters are lot more interesting than in any previous installment of the game in that they now feature multiple problems that must be solved/overcome in order to complete the encounter. The cards are divided into three segments, one initial problem that must be solved, and depending on the result (success/failure) you move on to solve a second problem which determines the reward/penalty. Interestingly enough, most of the Other World encounters end with you closing the gate that you entered – without spending clue tokens for the trouble. In Eldritch Horror clue tokens are used in a different, and in my opinion better way, than in the original Arkham Horror series and the closing of gates serves a much more pressing purpose – preventing the rapid increase of “Doom” on the “Doom track”, a resource that may end the game prematurely in failure for the investigators.

Of a similar “multiple problems to be solved” nature is the completely new feature called the “Expedition” deck and Expedition counter. At all times, there is an ongoing expedition on the board. These are limited to specific areas of the board, and are “special” encounters that are more difficult to get through but which also often provide the players with richer rewards for completing them. When one Expedition ends, another immediately begins in another part of the world, this is randomized by the Expedition deck.
Akin to this streamlining is the otherworld encounter deck which is linked to the gate tokens. No longer to the gates specify which other world player characters enter – this is instead randomized by the otherworld deck. The gate tokens aren’t completely without character or “danger” anymore, instead of teleporting players to a specific other world they have activation trigger symbols printed on them. This is similar to the symbols on the Arkham Horror gate tokens, but it works differently. Gate symbols affect the “Doom track” and “monster surge” events combined. Mythos cards are also used to build the completely new “mythos deck” which is different for each Old One and which are used as a time limit factor for each game session (when the deck runs out the game ends)
Monsters in turn don’t have movement patterns like in Arkham Horror, but have characteristic “spawn” triggers that are played out when they are placed on the board and when specific event cards are played out. The game also features both “regular” and “epic” monsters. Epic monsters are a lot more difficult to defeat and bring with them a lot more negative ongoing effects – they are simply put the more powerful monsters from the Lovecraft mythos. This idea was introduced in some of the Arkham Horror expansions, and doesn’t feel less as home in this “global” version.
Some of the other tokens are familiar, health and sanity tokens still work exactly the same, clue tokens still look the same but are now randomly spawned across the globe and come with “location numbers” to instruct you about their placement.
New tokens are the skill improvement tokens, which your characters can upgrade their initial skills with. Skills in the game can be upgraded two times and make the characters less stiff in their playability compared to previous installments. Each skill can still only be improved by a maximum of +2 to the original number, and the timeframe of each session is narrow enough to not allow players to train their characters to become superheroes.
In this next picture we have several tokens, starting with top left is the “omen track” token which shows which omen is currently in place. Then there is the doom track (in red), the mystery token in green that shows an additional mystery that is in place on the board. Lower left is the “First investigator token”, the new thing about this is that players no longer pass this around each turn unless they want to. The group can choose the lead investigator each turn, as such a specific character may move first each turn if it benefits the group. Last is the “ongoing expedition” token, which marks the location on the board where you can go to have an expedition encounter.
The game also have travel tickets for boat and train rides that increase the movement when travelling along these routes. Eldritch tokens that are mostly used as a negative resource on rumor cards and events, and finally the rumor tokens that mark where there are ongoing rumors in place on the board.
There are 4 location decks in Eldritch horror, 3 of them are specificly related to America, Europe and Asia, while the 4th is used when players have random encounters in wilderness, sea or small town locations.

The investigators in Eldritch Horror are 12 familiar faces from the Arkham Horror series, they have however had a small makeover in how their traits and skills are used. Gone is the skill track, replaced with fixed stats for lore, influence, observation, strength and will. As mentioned these can be upgraded with skill upgrade tokens under certain circumstances.

Characters still have special abilities, but a newly introduced feature is the “defeated investigator” rules. Investigators driven to madness or which have been killed (but not devoured) are placed “dead” on the board and provide a defeated investigator encounter that allow players to pick up any equipment the defeated character once owned and also offers a chance to get something that benefit the ongoing fight against the mythos (different to each character).

The game limits itself to feature 4 Old Ones, which are Cthulhu, Shub-Niggurath, Yog-Sothoth and Azathoth. Each old one comes with several specific rules that affect the overall game – such as the makeup of the Mythos deck, how cultist monsters work but also the specific rules tied to the Old One, Azathoth for instance destroys the whole world once he arrives and can as such never be defeated if spawned.
Most of these features are standard to the Arkham series, but the game takes a different direction in how you beat the game. As I mentioned, closing gates, is no longer the main concern of players, instead you have to solve “Mysteries”. Completing 3 mystery cards (each Old One has 4 in the core set) counts as a victory. Tied to the mystery cards are the clue tokens which in turn are tied to the new “research deck” that is also unique to each Old One.

Research cards are encounters, which are just like the expeditions and Otherworld encounters a lot more difficult to finish. The difference is that completing research encounters often allows you to solve Mystery cards and that is what the game is all about. Two of the Old Ones also have special encounter cards which are used if you encounter them on the board.

 Now finally back to the board again, as I mentioned it features the globe. As such it has a variation of routes that link areas together, some of these can be used to move across the board faster (railroad and sea areas) while others are slow travel (paths. At the top there are two tracks, the doom track which counts down to the arrival of the Old One, and the Omen track. The Omen track rotates, often but not always each turn. Some events, monster triggers and doom track advancement is directly tied to specific omens. At the bottom left corner is the “reserve” and the bank loan area. The reserve is filled with items that can be gained by rolling “influence” checks while being in a city. This is different to Arkham horror where you had money as a resource to buy things, here you roll influence checks and can gain items worth equal to the amount of passed influence checks you rolled.

The bank loan adds a fixed +2 successes to your check but comes with the “bank loan” condition which varies in effect. All of the standard locations, 3 in Europe, 3 in Asia and 3 in America all come with a local twist to the encounters you can get there. In Shanghai there is an increased chance of getting an encounter that boosts your Lore, London spawns clue tokens and so on. The original Arkham Horror had a similar system, but the location effects in Eldritch horror have a bigger impact on the overall gameplay and should be used a lot more when planning what to do and in what order if you want to win the game.

This concludes the unboxing of Eldritch Horror, stay tuned for part 2 and the review of the gameplay.