There has been no shortage of board games based on the Cthulhu Mythos, inspired by the works of H.P Lovecraft. Fantasy Flight Games have been doling out a variety of board games in a category of their own called The Arkham Files.
There are multiple other games, such as Cthulhu Love Letter, Cthulhu Fluxx, Mythos Tales (the Lovecraft version of Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective), Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu and more.
If you’re unfamiliar with the tales and themes of Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos, we’ve gone quite deep into it several times. There is no shortage of RPG’s and games based on the Cthulhu Mythos and we’ve even incorporated it into some memorable campaigns of our own. Suffice it to say that it is a dark world.
Arkham Horror: The Living Card Game (AH:LCG) is a cooperative card game for one to four people. Each player takes on the role of an investigator who has seen beyond the veil and knows that something lurks in the darkness. Together they have to investigate conspiracies, solve enigmas and fight hideous beasts unknown to man, all while dealing with problems of their own.
Players choose one of the five available heroes and build a deck that’s compiled of weapons, allies and special abilities. Players play through various chapters that together create a whole story. In each chapter players search for clues at various locations, these clues allow them to complete objectives that push the story forward, all while dealing with the danger that lies at every footstep.
At the end of each chapter the investigators earn experience that allows them to upgrade their deck by switching out cards for more powerful ones. Completing these objectives is not easy so the investigators must prepare themselves carefully or else they will succumb to the madness and horror that will confront them while trying to survive and solve these enigmas.
How to play
Each chapter comes with specific rules for setting up. You have two different decks of cards, one is the Act Deck and the other the Agenda Deck. The players want to complete the Act Deck before the Agenda deck runs out so the investigators are always in a race against time.
Players use clues to complete the Act Deck while at the beginning of each round doom tokens are added to the Agenda deck. Once the Agenda deck reaches a certain number of doom tokens the Agenda deck is resolved.
In each round an investigator picks three actions out of the following possibilities; gather resources, travel between locations, search for clues, play out assets and allies, draw cards, fight or try to flee from the various monsters they will encounter.
In most cases players will have to complete skill checks to find these clues or fight the monsters. That’s done by drawing tokens from the Chaos-bag. These tokens are mostly negative numbers while others have certain symbols on them. You compare the number drawn from the bag to the value of the skill being used in the skill check. For example each location has a certain shroud value. Should an investigator want to gather a clue there they use their intellect value, add a card to the skill test that might help them, draw a token from the bag and if their value is equal or higher than the shroud value they’ve managed to gather a clue.
Players play until they’ve either completed the Act Deck or until they fail by either dying or going insane or the Agenda Deck is completed. There is in some cases a third option but certain locations allow investigators to resign, throw in the towel and just get the hell out of Dodge. That can be the wisest choice when faced with certain death or madness.
At the end each chapter has a resolution that describes what happens to investigators. Of course that depends on how well the players fared in the chapter.
Each and every card in the game has fantastic art, illustrations and flavour text that breathes life into the game and gives you a sense of dread, danger and horror that the investigators have to face. Arkham Horror is not an easy game and players will find themselves on the edge of their seat trying to advance the Act deck but the chaos bag will ruin your plans and the horrible tentacle token (auto-fail) hidden within will somehow always end up in your hand at the worst of times. Therefore it is such a pleasant feeling to pass these tests.
Each chapter is unique and interesting, in one chapter you might be on the hunt for cultists while in the next on you could be on a moving train about to be sucked into a giant black hole that’s suddenly appeared out of nowhere. Every decision the players take may affect the setup of the next chapters. For instance if the players failed to retrieve a formula from the science lab but managed to save the professor it’s possible that the professor will help them but without the formula it will much harder to defeat a certain monster.
What also makes AH:LCG different from the other Lovecraft game from Fantasy Flight is how creative each chapter is. There is no central game board, only location cards which are set up according to the instruction manual. However they usually include multiple copies of certain locations that increase the variable setup so you don’t know what’s going to be on the backside of the card.
You can play on different difficulty levels; easy/normal or hard/expert and either add or remove tokens to the chaos bag depending on the difficulty level chosen.
However buying into this is game is similar to buying a subscription. You can of course just enjoy the core set that comes with three chapters that make up a whole story for two players, if you want to play with up to four players you will need another core set. Fantasy Flight Games released a big box expansion that kicks off a new campaign and this expansion includes new investigators, new cards to include in your deck and two new chapters. In the coming months they will release mini-expansions called mythos packs that will include the next chapter in the story as well as new player cards. So your wallet better be prepared if you want to experience the whole story. This besides buying all the sleeves that you’ll probably want for your cards as there is quite some shuffling in this game, as well as the many possible storage solutions and expandable components that are available.
AH:LCG is wonderfully designed, full of flavour and tales of horror, monsters and madness in a world where not all is what it seems to be. The game isn’t always fair nor easy but if that is something that appeals to you, then this game certainly deserves a spot on your shelf. Just be prepared for the monthly expenses.