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Arkham Horror the Card Game is a living card game from Fantasy Flight Games, with a heavy Lovecraftian (not Batman) theme. This card game has been out since 2016, has four big expansions and over 20 mythos (mini expansion) packs. There is a lot of content here if you decide to go down this rabbit hole.
The first campaign you will play, included in the base game is Night of the Zealot and it is brutal. The first scenario plays like a great tutorial, but the next two scenarios make the most experienced investigators nervous, they are a lesson in losing. I like the fact that you are just normal people (investigators who know spells and have connections) trying to defeat ancient evils and save the world.
This game plays 1-2 with just one core box, it can go up to 4 but you will need at least two core boxes. I chose to play true solo, with one investigator, bringing me into the theme that much more. The idea of one person taking on countless cultists, abominations, fiends and ancient ones is something special.
Before playing your first game you will choose an investigator and their included cards, then assemble a 30 card deck (some investigators let you add more cards). This may seem daunting, looking at the many available player cards, but most investigators are only allowed to choose from the neutral set and their specific class cards, (usually two sets). Even better, the instructions suggest starting investigators and decks to go with them. Each investigator has different strengths and weaknesses. Some are great at fighting, while others are great at running away or finding clues. After each scenario you can upgrade your cards, or switch others out with experience you have earned.
Each investigator has three actions each round, you will most likely be attempting to run away from an enemy, fighting an enemy or finding clues. These three actions are all done with a skill test, as you do with most other games from FFG. When you perform one of the previously mentioned actions you will use any card abilities that you can and commit card skills before reaching into your chaos bag to reveal your fate. The chaos bag contains mostly bad draws, ranging from -4 to +1 with an instant fail and other symbols that do different things depending on the scenario and your investigator.
Theme is in every dark crevice of this game. Your investigators have just enough backstory to pique your interest. The campaign is set up with a wall of text and each scenario is moved along by the act deck (good things) and the agenda deck (bad things) each filling in the flavor text and keeping things interesting as you find clues and doom spreads.
I am constantly amazed by what location cards can do for the story and world building. Night of the Zealot starts with one card.
The study, as investigators this is where you would likely be in your own house. When you go to a location, it is revealed and you turn the card over. This reveals new art, text, clues, mechanics and story, often revealing new locations. Set up for the first scenario is one card (solo gamers rejoice). As you move the story along (and find a way out of your study with no door) the story expands and other location cards are revealed.
There are branching paths depending on the choices you make and how well you do. Although this game is hard, it is also forgiving. If you reach your health or sanity limits you are just injured (with story to explain why) you may lose the scenario but still have a chance to win the campaign. On my first play through I received the best ending for the first scenario, managed to interrogate half of the cultists I was supposed to and was utterly destroyed in the crescendo of the final scenario. Yes, I failed Arkham, died and let the city burn and still had an absolute blast the entire time.
I later returned to Night of the Zealot with my newfound knowledge of both how my investigator and the scenarios work. I was still defeated in the final battle. That’s how this game goes, it will test you, it will make you be ok with losing, it will make you try harder. I have since beaten the first campaign and moved on to other expansions, but there is something special about playing each scenario for the first time and using your knowledge to get the better of an Ancient Evil and their minions. I do think that there is too much happening in the core set of three scenarios. I much prefer the now-standard 8 scenario expansions. You have a lot more time to develop your character, build your deck, upgrade your cards and get lost in the story. If you have been following me on instagram, you know I love this game. Is it for everybody? Probably not, but if you are like me and enjoy deck building, playing solo, great dark themes, organizing cards and quick set ups then this is for you.