CHENNAI: This is madness! Yep, this is Arkham. When it comes to otherworldly horror, HP Lovecraft is one of the foremost names out there. Probably best known as the creator of Cthulhu, the rest of the mythos that Lovecraft dreamed up is compelling and, is at its best, unsettling. Surely that feeling can’t be translated to a board game, can it? Oh yes, it can.
Arkham Horror puts you and up to seven other players (although insanity may not just be an in-game effect if you go in with that player count!) in the role of investigators, snooping around the fictional town of Arkham, Massachusetts in the 1920’s.
One of Lovecraft’s terrible Ancient Ones is waking from its slumber and causing monsters and dimensional gates to spawn in the streets of Arkham, and it’s up to you to work together to close the gates and find the clues you need to prevent the Ancient Ones from entering the world and turning it into their personal playground.
However, you don’t start with a blank slate — each of you will be playing a unique character with unique strengths and weaknesses. You could see the unlikeliest of partnerships, such as the drifter, who’s gifted at scrounging around every chance he gets, teaming up with the dilettante, who has a trust fund. Or the magician, whose fake spells are becoming all too real, heading into battle alongside a nun wielding a Tommy gun.
Like many other cooperative games, Arkham Horror wants to tell you a story and this is where it begins — with Earth’s unlikeliest heroes thrown together to find common cause, while the world crumbles around them.
There’s a strong sense of thematic flavour here — there’s lore hidden around every corner, and often a reference, or at least a tip of the hat to some nugget of Lovecraftian literature. However, it’s the encounters where Arkham Horror truly comes alive.
You see, after you finish your turn — which usually consists of trying to find clues, defeating monsters, enlisting the help of Arkham residents or throwing yourself headlong into one of those otherworldly gates — you’ll have an encounter depending on where you are. Whether you’re in Downtown Arkham or in Another World, you just find the right deck and draw a card.
Now, the rules say that you should read it yourself but it’s much better if you let others read it to you. The sheer number and variety of things that can happen to you is mind-boggling, and it’s much better when you’re forced to make choices without knowing what’s store for you — which, to me, is exactly what a Lovecraft game ought to feel like.
There isn’t a nutshell big enough to fit Arkham Horror, but this is as close as I can get. It’s a beast of a game — not only will it take anywhere between 2-6 hours, it’ll also take every opportunity to kick you in the teeth during that time. That said, at the end you’ll have these amazing stories about your deeds in Arkham, stories that will stay with you long after you put the game away. Arkham Horror is long, tricky and can be unforgivably difficult, but that’s just as it should be — saving the world from Cthulhu was never going to be easy, was it?
(Arjun is a gamer, book lover and an all-round renaissance man)