Almost a decade ago, Fantasy Flight Games released a little board game called Arkham Horror. This was a cooperative game of investigation and adventure themed around the Cthulhu Mythos. Arkham Horror went on to spawn 8 different expansions while it skyrocketed in popularity. Yet as popular as Arkham Horror was, it wasn’t without its flaws. The game, while really fun, was a chore to teach and had some really fiddly rules.
In 2013, Fantasy Flight Games once again went to the Cthulhu well (having visited said well in 2011 with Elder Sign) and emerged from the hidden depths with a new game to appease the Great Old Ones. Eldritch Horror is an adventure game that will launch players out of the confines of Arkham and take them around the world as they try and banish the great Ancient Ones. Eldritch Horror has been heralded for having a similar feel as Arkham Horror, but with much more streamlined rules and an overall easier play. Did they succeed? Read on!
Eldritch Horror is a globe-trotting adventure game for 1-8 players that plays in about 2-3 hours. Eldritch Horror plays best with 4 players.
Ancient evil is stirring from its slumber. It’s up to you and your fellow adventurers to seal off this awakening horror before it’s too late. In this cooperative adventure game, players will be traveling around the world, fighting monsters, solving mysteries, and equipping up, all in the hopes of banishing the Ancient One who is threatening to destroy all we hold near and dear.
During the game, players will visit a variety of locations around the known world and the “Other World.” Using an easy skill check system, players must overcome tests and fight monsters if they hope to succeed. Solve three of the Ancient One’s mysteries before the doom track runs out and the players will win the game. If the Ancient One awakens, it may already be too late…
Fantasy Flight Games is no stranger to putting out an awesome looking game and Eldritch Horror is no exception. The game has a ton of well-illustrated thematic art. The first thing you will probably notice is the plethora of card decks that comes with the game. This can turn Eldritch Horror into a bit of a table hog. While there are many decks in Eldritch Horror, I do wish they were a bit thicker (more on that later).
In addition to the card decks, players get a number of various tokens, counters, and dice to be used during the game. All are both functional and well made. Finally, there are many dual sided investigator sheets (each with their corresponding standup token) for the players to choose from. One side has all the relevant in-game stats for the investigator and the other side has a paragraph of flavor text and what happens when the investigator goes insane/gets knocked out.
Eldritch Horror provides a good amount of value for a players gaming dollar and I don’t really have any complaints with what comes in the box.
How to Play:
One of the selling points for me with Eldritch Horror was how easy it was to learn how to play. I remember spending a half an hour teaching Arkham Horror and still not feeling like we knew everything. Well I’m happy to report that Eldritch Horror succeeds in its quest to make a more streamlined Cthulhu adventure game.
To start, players choose which Ancient One they will be facing. Four options are included in the game. Then, each player selects a unique investigator (out of 12 choices) and collects their starting equipment. The games various decks are shuffled (over a dozen of them) and the players are ready to begin.
The game play in Eldritch Horror is played over a series of rounds. Each round is divided into three parts:
1. Action Phase
In the action phase, players can take 2 different actions. Their choices are:
• Travel: Move to an adjacent location. There are three types of locations: cities, wilderness, and sea spaces.
• Rest: Heal one Stamina and Sanity
• Trade: Trade items with another player
• Prepare for Travel: If a player is in a city, they may purchase a ship or train ticket. These can be combined with the travel action to move an extra space.
• Acquire Assets: At any given time, there are 4 items available in the receive area. Players roll a number of dice equal to their influence skill. The player gains assets of his choice from the reserve with total value equal to or less than the number of successes rolled (5 or 6 on a 6-sided die counts as a success). Items have different costs, usually ranging from 1-4. Players can also take a debt card to add 2 to their total of successes. But eventually the debtor will come to collect…
• Special: Most characters have a special action on their character sheets.
2. Encounter Phase
Each player has an encounter based on where they are located. First, if there is a monster(s) on their space, they must fight them. If they clear the location of monsters, they can then have an encounter. To have an encounter, a player draws a card from the appropriate deck. Each major city will also have a hint on the game board for what type of encounter a player can expect there (gaining skill points, spell cards, etc.).
Encounters have a paragraph of flavor text and then usually a skill check. Skill checks work just like the Acquire action listed above, but might use any of one the player’s six different skills. Pass the test and you gain the listed bonus. Fail and sometimes there are consequences.
This phase is also how players can win the game. Each Ancient One will have 3 mysteries that need to be solved for the players to win. Clue tokens will be spawned around the board, and many times players will have to travel to one of these locations and then, during the encounter phase, they can follow the directions on the mystery card to try and solve it. When it is solved, the next mystery will be drawn for the players to solve.
3. Mythos Phase
This is how the game messes with the players. Mythos cards act as a sort of timer in the game and help keep the action moving. Each mythos card will have a series of icons on the top that must be resolved (from left to right). These involve advancing the doom and omen track, spawning monsters, gates, clue tokens, and The Reckoning. The Reckoning is probably the most feared (and somewhat cumbersome) part of the game. When the Reckoning comes, players must check all over the board for any card or monster with the reckoning symbol. This is when monster effects happen, debt collectors come calling, and injuries take their toll. Players will hate the reckoning, but it does add a lot of tension to the game (more on that later). Finally the mythos card will have some event text on it, sometimes good, but usually bad for the investigators.
If, at the end of the Mythos phase, the investigators have solved 3 of the Ancient Ones mysteries, they win the game. If the doom marker reaches the end of its track, the Ancient One awakens and the players are in for a really hard battle (or immediate loss).
If Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) was indeed trying to create a streamlined adventure game, then they hit the nail on the head with Eldritch Horror. I don’t want to spend too much time comparing Arkham Horror to Eldritch horror, because they are both great games in their own right, but Eldritch Horror is so much easier to get to the table. The rules can be explained in less than ten minutes and the game just flows so smoothly. Gone are the days of keeping track of money, ability sliders, monsters stopping movement, having to travel somewhere to buy items, and a question of what to do on your turn. Just about everything in Eldritch Horror feels natural and makes sense.
Now that’s not to say that it’s a perfect game. There are still some fiddly bits that can slow things down. Hunting down all the reckoning symbols when you need to check those effects can be a pain, especially late in the game when there is a lot going on. Condition cards can also sometimes feel a little redundant (do we really need both delayed and detained card?). But overall, turns in Eldritch Horror feel incredibly smooth.
The action system is a great mechanic that works really well in Eldritch Horror. Players have 6 options to choose from and they all make sense and keep the game play moving. Need to heal? Just spend an action. Want to buy? Just spend an action. Thankfully, players are not required to move to different locations to heal and buy. This keeps the game moving and the players focused on their goal.
Speaking of buying, the “acquire assets” action was a creative choice that works really well. I like that I don’t have to keep track of money or try to focus on earning it. This keeps me focused on defeating the Ancient One, not getting a job. I roll my dice and take what I can get. And just so I’m not completely dependent on the luck of the roll, there is that tempting debt card. I love the debt system. The card sits there and teases you with a better item, but in the back of your mind, you know that debt collector will someday show up at your door.
And that’s also one of my favorite parts about Eldritch Horror. On the back of every debt, condition and spell card is…something. At different times during the game players will be required to flip over their cards and read the effects. Your debt collector might be just some hired goons, but they also could be a powerful wizard. That paranoia condition you’ve been dealing with? Well it might come back to bite you in the butt during the next reckoning. I love the mystery these cards bring to the table. It adds a lot of tension to the game that fits in really well with the theme.
Speaking of the theme, that’s where this game really shines. FFG did a great job of creating a story that unravels during the game. Every encounter card is packed full of thematic flavor text and each investigator has their own back story as to who they are. Eldritch Horror does a great job of sucking you in with its story and keeping you glued to the game board.
The story on those cards also brings me to one of Eldritch Horror’s biggest needs: an expansion. Out of the box there are only 8 cards in each location deck. After many plays (especially in a 6+ player game) you will start seeing repeats. When you get the same exact dark ritual to stop, the theme starts to break down. Eldritch Horror is begging for an expansion of more cards. Thankfully, just such an expansion is right around the corner.
Even though Eldritch Horror can support up to 8 players, I wouldn’t recommend playing it with more than four. When you get into the 6 player range, the game can take close to 3 hours and that feels a bit too long for this game. But in the 3-4 player range, Eldritch Horror really shines. It allows players to work together (some investigators work better with other players) and coordinate their actions, all without dragging the game out too long.
At the start of this review we asked if FFG succeeded in creating a streamlined adventure game that was easy to get to the table. The answer was a resounding yes. I’ve already gotten Eldritch Horror to the table more times than I can count and I’ve loved every play of it. The theme just draws you in and the game doesn’t get bogged down with many unnecessary rules.
Being a cooperative game, I expected the game play to be challenging and I was not let down. We are at less than a 40% win ratio. We’ve also lost a few games on the very last turn which helps to speak to the game’s balance. The Mythos cards do a great job of prodding the investigators along during the game and keeping things interesting.
Eldritch Horror is a fantastic game for those looking for some adventure in the Cthulhu Mythos. The game is easy to learn, plays smoothly, and is highly thematic. For anyone that wants to go up against the Ancient Ones, this one’s worth a look.
If you are interested in getting a copy for yourself, it’s about $40
Final Score: 4.5 Stars – A fantastic trip into the Cthulhu Mythos. Eldritch Horror is both easy to play and highly thematic.
• Not enough encounter cards in each deck
• Game feels a bit too long with 6+ players.