Game Buzz: Eldritch Horror

Back in the fall, as I was getting swamped with Essen releases I wanted to talk about, a game from Fantasy Flight that I had been waiting for came out and slipped past me.  So, let’s catch up with

image by BGG user DukeOfEarl
image by BGG user DukeOfEarl

Eldritch Horror is a new game based on the work of HP Lovecraft.  It’s a game for 1-8 players that was designed by Corey Konieczka and Nikki Valens.  It’s for ages 14 and up, and takes around three hours to play.  The game is based on the system created for Arkham Horror, previously published by FFG in 2005 (which in itself was a reprint of a 1987 game).  The concept is that ancient evil (Cthulhu and friends) is threatening the world.  Rather than being localized in Arkham, Eldritch Horror takes the terror across the entire globe.  It’s a fully cooperative game where you either save the world together, or lose it.  High stakes.

image by BGG user JonBen
image by BGG user JonBen

In the box, you get a board, 12 investigator sheets with matching tokens and plastic stands, 4 Ancient One sheets, 122 encounter cards, 51 Mythos cards, 16 mystery cards, 14 artifact cards, 40 asset cards, 36 condition cards, 20 spell cards, 43 monster tokens, 1 lead investigator token, 20 travel ticket tokens, 30 improvement tokens, 78 health and sanity tokens, a mystery token, 4 rumor tokens, 36 clue tokens, 20 Eldritch tokens, 1 Omen token, 1 Doom token, 9 Gate tokens, 1 active expedition token, and 4 dice.  There’s also a rulebook for learning the game, plus a reference book for looking up rules once you know it.  I like this method of doing the rules – it’s helpful to know the  best way to teach, and helpful to look things up quickly.

Each player gets an investigator, placing their token on its corresponding starting space.  The investigator sheet tells you your starting assets, spells, health, and sanity.  You’ll pick an Ancient One (Azathoth is recommended for a first game), and monsters are mixed into a cup/bowl/box cover/whatever.  Gate and clue tokens are organized and randomly stacked, other tokens and card decks are organized by type, and the Mythos deck is built by following the Ancient One sheet.  The Doom token begins on a different point of the Doom track depending on the Ancient One, and the Omen token begins on the green space of the Omen track.  The top four Asset cards are laid out face up.  You’ll then draw a number of gates determined by the number of players and place them on the board, drawing a monster to go with them.  The top card of the expedition deck will indicate the position of the active expedition token, a number of clues are spawned and placed on the board, and a mystery card is drawn and placed near the Ancient One.

Each round of the game has three phases: Action, Encounter, and Mythos.

ACTION: In this phase, each player (beginning with the Lead Investigator) resolves up to two actions.  You can’t perform the same action twice in a round.  Your choices are as follows:

  • Travel – Move to an adjacent space.  You can then spend any number of travel tickets to move an extra space per ticket.  Train tickets move you along train paths, and ship tickets move you along ship paths.
  • Rest – Recover one health and one sanity.  You can’t do this if there’s a monster in your space.
  • Trade – You may trade possessions with another investigator on your space.
  • Prepare for Travel -In a city space, gain a travel ticket of your choice (as long as at least one of the type is connected to your space).  You can never have more than two travel tickets – if you ever do, choose which to keep and discard the rest.
  • Acquire Assets – In a city, you may attempt to get an asset from the reserve.  This is done by testing your influence – roll dice equal to your skill in that area.  You may gain any assets with a value equal to or less than the number of successes you rolled (a success if 5 or 6).  If you don’t gain any cards, you can discard one from the reserve.  This action cannot be performed if there’s a monster in your space.
  • Component Actions – Perform the action listed on one of your cards or investigator sheet.  You may do this action twice, as long as the actions don’t come from the same component.  It’s also possible to perform an action of a component in the possession of another player in your space if the phrase “local action” is used on the component.

ENCOUNTER: Each investigator (again, beginning with the Lead Investigator) resolves a single encounter on their space.

  • Combat – If there are one or more monsters on your space, you must fight them in the order of your choice.  To fight, resolve a will test (losing sanity if the horror rating is greater than your successes) followed by a strength test (losing health if the amount of damage listed is greater than your successes).  The monster loses health equal to the number of successes rolled.  When the amount of health lost exceeds the monster’s toughness, it is returned to the cup.  If you don’t defeat it, it remains on the board.  If you ever reach zero health or sanity, the Doom track advances by one.  You move to the nearest city space, discard conditions, and place possessions on the sheet.  Once you have resolved a combat encounter with all monsters on your space, you may resolve another encounter as long as no monsters remain.
  • Location – Draw a card from the deck that matches your area (America, Europe, or Asia/Australia), or draw from the general encounter deck.  Resolve the effect that matches your current space, then discard the card.
  • Token – You can encounter a token on your space.  A Clue token allows you to draw and resolve a Research Encounter card.  A Gate token will allow you to draw and encounter an Other World Encounter card.  The Active Expedition token will allow you to draw and resolve an Expedition Encounter card.  A Rumor token will allow you to resolve the encounter listed on the Rumor Mythos card that refers to that space.  Defeated investigator tokens will allow you to resolve an encounter on the back of their sheet – this could retreat the doom token, or could gain you some new possessions.

MYTHOS: The Lead Investigator draws the top card of the the Mythos deck, and resolves the effects in the order they appear.

  • Advance Omen – Advance the Omen marker one space clockwise.  Then advance the Doom track one space per Gate on the board that matches the symbol shown on the Omen track.
  • Resolve Reckoning Effects – Any effects with a reckoning symbol are resolved, beginning with monsters, the Ancient One, ongoing Mythos cards, and finally investigator possessions/conditions.
  • Spawn Gates – Spawn a number of gates based on the number of players.
  • Monster Surge – Each gate that matches the Omen token’s current space spawns monsters.
  • Spawn Clues – Spawn a number of clues based on the number of players.
  • Place Rumor Token – Place a rumor token at the indicated location.  This will be resolved when an investigator encounters it.
  • Place Eldritch Tokens – Put tokens on the Mythos card.
  • Resolve Effect – If the card is an event, resolve it immediately.

At the end of the round, the Lead Investigator may pass the LI token to any player he chooses.  Play continues until the investigators win by solving three mysteries (which are solved by meeting conditions on the mystery cards).  If the Doom track reaches zero before the investigators win, the Ancient One will awaken and the players will have to solve a final mystery.  If they don’t, they are devoured and the world is destroyed.  No pressure.

I’ve played Arkham Horror a couple of times, and found it to be a thoroughly engrossing experience.  Very tense, and highly thematic.  It is very luck-driven, but it tells a good story, and I’m willing to forgive certain things if there’s a good story.  It’s like Tales of the Arabian Nights in that way – you have choices about what you do, but the outcomes are largely unpredictable.  This is opposed to another Lovecraftian game from FFG, Mansions of Madness (also designed by Corey Konieczka).  That one, while very thematic, felt extremely scripted to me, more rigid and not as engrossing.  Elder Sign, on the other hand, is much lighter than either of them, but I don’t think it captures the theme very well at all.

Eldritch Horror takes some of the concepts of Arkham Horror and streamlines them into a wider ranging game while closing some thematic gaps.  It makes sense that the Ancient Ones aren’t congregating over a town in Massachusetts, but rather are spreading over the whole world.  It makes sense that an investigator that goes insane or loses all health is out, and can serve another player who comes across their body.  EH also ties in some of the puzzle solving aspects of Mansions and Elder Sign, both in the winning conditions and with the final battle being fought over a mystery rather than straight combat.

I think Eldritch Horror looks like a pretty solid reworking of Arkham Horror.  Some will probably say that Arkham wasn’t broken, but I think FFG is not trying to replace it here.  It’s not like Descent 2.0 that completely replaced a previous game – this one represents an evolution of the system.  It’s one I look forward to trying in the future – maybe a back-to-back session with Eldritch and Arkham is in order.  Thanks for reading!

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