TABLETOP GAME REVIEW:
ELDRITCH HORROR (PART 2 : THE GAMEPLAY)
Written by Anatoli on July 13th, 2014 at Anatoli’s Game Room
This review will include a lot of comparisons to Arkham Horror since I think the target audience will be fans jumping over from Arkham to Eldritch Horror.
Eldritch Horror is a boardgame where players fight against the creatures and monsters of H.P. Lovecraft’s “mythos” in an attempt to save mankind from horrific disaster. Players take on the role of investigators with different backgrounds, traveling around the world in an attempt to solve mysteries and fighting creatures and event that threaten mankind in an attempt to stop the appearance of so called “Old one” (basically an evil monster and godlike creature).
The game is limited in number of turns by two features, the doom track that is an immediate countdown for the arrival of an Old One, and the Mythos Deck. The Mythos deck is a specific number of cards (determined by the Old One you have picked for your game) that determine random events at the end of each turn. If the Mythos deck runs out the game is automatically over and the players have lost.
Akin to Arkham Horror the game is ridiculously difficult to beat, but offers a variant that make it a tad easier by removing certain Mythos Cards. As this is a co-operative game, players will work together to beat the system to the best of their abilities and if they are lucky they may pull off a victory every now and then.
As mentioned the game is about preventing the arrival of the “Old One” (the game comes with 4, Cthulhu, Azathoth, Shub-Niggurath and Yog Sothoth). This is done by completing research in order to solve three mysteries tied to the Old One you are facing. Each Old one comes with 4 mystery cards to add some variety to your game and these mysteries are drawn at random and you have to finish one mystery before you draw the next one. As such the same Old One can provide a different gaming experience depending on the way his mystery cards are drawn. Mysteries are solved by performing “research encounters” at location that feature a clue token.
This is a step away from the Arkham Horror gameplay and objective where players rushed around like mad trying to collect clue tokens and use them to seal gates to other dimensions. In Eldritch Horror, the clue tokens are instead used as a resource to finish mysteries and some encounters, but primarily they provide you with areas where you can perform research encounters. The gates to other dimensions are still present in Eldritch Horror and can (and should) still be closed by players as soon as possible. Gates spawn monsters but are primarily used for “Doom track” advancement, since every time the Omen track matches the symbol of a gate the Doom advances by the number of gates with that particular symbol.
There are only 3 symbols, and the blue symbol is featured twice on the Omen track – making those particular gates extra dangerous to leave open for too long.
Just like AH, Eldritch Horror is divided into Action, Encounter and Mythos Phase. The action phase allows players to around, rest and heal, trade or prepare for travel. During the Encounter phase players first face off against any monster that may be located on their current area before moving on to resolve either an encounter printed on the board – or one provided by a component such as a gate, rumor card or the like. In the Mythos phase at the end of each turn the game throws a random event at the players as a Mythos card is drawn. Most often something bad happens, but every now and again the players may get a much welcome boost that aids them in their mission.
Let’s go into details about the game and how it differs from Arkham Horror:
First of all, the victory conditions are more interesting in Eldritch Horror. Solving mysteries is more satisfying than sealing gates. The mysteries are thematically written to correspond to the Old One and offer a better “story” than just sealing gates the way you did in the original Arham Horror game.
Clue tokens are no longer needed in the dozens as you aren’t sealing gates with them anymore. Clues are used to solve mysteries, mark research encounters on the board and used as resources in some random encounters. Clue tokens can also be used to re-roll single dice just like in Arkham Horror , but that is the only similarity.
Gates and Other World encounters now work differently. Gates spawn when dictated by Mythos cards like in AH, but players no longer lose the game because there are too many open gates on the board at any one time – neither to they win if they manage to close all gates. Gates are primarily used by the game to advance the Doom Track, they also spawn monsters. Gates are no longer sealed by making Other World encounters and then spending X-amount of clue tokens, instead gates are most often closed by successfully finishing an Other World encounter – which in Eldritch Horror has been divided into a multi-part encounter where investigators have to successfully pass multiple tests.
Monsters in Eldritch Horror also work differently than in AH. They most often just stay in the same location where a gate is opened. Some monsters, thematically associated with certain parts of the world are moved to predetermined areas. Cthonian’s are placed in the “Heart of Africa”, a mummy in the Pyramids etc. The major difference, and huge improvement, over Arkham Horror is that monsters that have taken damage keep their damage to the next turn. This allows players to gang up and support each other to defeat a difficult monster instead of relying on “combat characters” with all the combat gear.
Combat is no longer absurdly overpowered with characters wielding numerous items and using them all in a single combat. Combat lasts 1 round and continues next turn if characters stay in the same location as the encountered monsters. During that combat round characters may only use ONE weapon that boost their combat value. They may however benefit from bonus abilities of multiple weapons or items during that combat. This limit makes combat encounters more difficult for single characters, but the ability to take on a monster together with other characters balances things out nicely. Wounded monsters stay on the board until killed and inflicted damage carries over to the next turn.
Mythos cards now also make up a Mythos deck. Each Old One has instructions on how to build his specific mythos deck. This deck building determines the amount of rumor cards, cards that have a penalty effect for player progress and so on. This Mythos Deck is a new feature to be introduced to the series, and in my opinion a welcome addition as it creates a certain theme surrounding each old one, but also limits the game length by having the game end when the Mythos Deck runs dry. This along with the Doom track makes the game play and end faster than the slugfest that Arkham Horror could often turn into. The time limiting factor also has players focus more on important things than sit and roll their thumbs.
The board itself now encompasses the whole world, but is mainly divided into “Europe”, “America” and “Asia” when it comes to thematic location encounters. These areas also provide players with encounters that improve their characters, spawn clue tokens, kill monsters and offer other benefits. The rest of the board is littered with sea/city/wilderness locations that offer random encounters based on area type. With the board having a bigger scope the game now offers a travel option that speeds up movement if players take sea or railway routes. Using travel tickets to move faster around the board becomes extremely important for players as they can’t allow themselves to linger due to built in time constraints.
Characters and item cards have also been changed from Arkham Horror. You still have stats for Health and Sanity, Lore, Strength and such but these values are now fixed and there is no tweaking with “Focus” the way it was in AH. Stats can be improved either by owning specific items, or improving characters at certain locations or through random encounters. Being able to improve characters is in my opinion a big change for the better, as there now is a chance for characters to slightly increase their stats beyond the starting value. Bookish characters can now sometimes become at least average in combat situations, and fighters can increase their Lore and actually have a chance to finish mysteries. But of course, the best way to use this new character improvement option is to boost your specialists even further in their favorite area of expertise.
Defeated characters also offer two different “Defeated investigator” encounters, depending on whether they went insane or were defeated physically. These encounters allow other investigators to pick up all the gear from defeated investigators instead of losing everything as was common in Arkham Horror.
The amount of components have also been limited by rewriting the way some cards work. Injury and Madness cards as much as I liked them have been replaced with “condition” cards instead. Now when players fail encounters, cast spells or do something risky the game tells you what condition to gain. Each condition has multiple cards with identical fronts, but different backs. This makes a leg injury or a debt play out differently and also makes it less predictable in how effects play out. I really liked this change. There is also no “store” where you buy items, spells or rare items for money anymore. Instead there is a constant flow of “reserve” cards on display and players in a city area can roll their “Influence” to check if they accquire weapons or equipment from local authorities. This streamlines the game and leaves out the often frustrating lack of money that caused big problems in Arkham Horror.
Overall opinion after having played Eldritch Horror four times is that it is a much more polished and streamlined game compared to Arkham Horror. Cumbersome features have been merged or re-written completely, the focus (objective) of the game is more in line with the stories of H.P. Lovecraft than the gate-chasing and monster-slaying of Arkham Horror. It plays faster and isn’t as frustrating. Eldritch Horror still beats you often enough (so far we have won a single game out of four) to keep you on your toes but it no longer stacks bad luck with lack of resources and lack of clue tokens that often caused the demise of characters in Arkham Horror.
The only critique I have is that the game should have come with more mystery and research cards for each Old One. The amount of cards is sparse, and the research deck in particular can be cycled through without a problem during midgame. Also worth mentioning is that one Mythos card is pretty much game breaking as it forces players to “re-do” a completed research card. This is pretty much impossible to achieve as finishing 3 mysteries is hard enough. As such that particular Mythos card should be removed from the deck altogether. The lack of additional Research and Mystery cards is remedied in the first (card based) expansion however. I also like that the game design seems to aim to keep the amount of cards and components to a lower number than that of Arkham Horror which bloated out of control in the end. The game also scales difficulty in a bad way, as uneven numbers of players always suffer compared to even groups. My recommendation is to always play this game with an even number of players, and if you have to allow one player to control two characters.
In the end I do think that Eldritch Horror is a better game, but perhaps more important, a much better and more complete “core game” than Arkham Horror was upon delivery. I highly recommend everyone already owning Arkham Horror to give Eldritch Horror a try if you get the chance.
I rate Eldritch Horror a 9/10
Number of players 1-8 (recommended to play with even number of investigators)
Co-operative gameplay that allows solo-play as well.
Time to play through the game 2,5-3 hours.