horror on the cards

Sometimes, I worry that my tastes are narrowing in my old age. The last few games I’ve reviewed on this blog have been a cooperative Lovecraft themed board game, a cooperative game in which you use customised decks of cards to explore a series of unusual scenarios, and a cooperative horror game which had as one of its most interesting features a set of custom decks of cards that characterised the player characters’ strengths and weaknesses.

Today I’m going to review a customisable Lovecraft-themed cooperative card game in which you control characters represented by decks of cards and explore locations and scenarios represented by other decks of cards. The game in question is Fantasy Flight Games’ new LCG (Living Card Game) Arkham Horror: the Card Game, and it’s kind of Arkham Horror meets T.I.M.E. Stories meets London Dread meets the LCG format (of which more below).

I should say that part of me feels a bit like a sucker for picking up AH:tCG. I’ve now bought at least the base set for every Cthulhu-themed game that Fantasy Flight Games have put out (except Elder Sign, the dice game – that one passed me by for some reason). I suspect I’m not alone in this – Lovecraftian stuff is so popular that at least one game I’ve seen (Smash Up, I believe) has an expansion just called The Obligatory Cthulhu Expansion. Honestly I suspect that Arkham Horror and its spin-offs (which I’ve just learned are collectively known as the Arkham Files games) sell so reliably well that the whole IP is a bit of a license to print money. Although since both expandable board games and (especially) customisable card games are also notorious money sinks it might even be more like a license to issue licenses to print money. (I mean, by niche board gaming standards, it’s not like we’re talking billions here).

Anyway, Arkham Horror: the Card Game is the latest in FFG’s “you’re all one of these recurring Cthulhu characters who show up in all of our games and you’re trying to stop bad things happening somehow” line. This one’s an LCG. What’s an LCG? I’m glad you asked.

I mean, perhaps you didn’t ask. But I’m going to tell you anyway.

Living Card Games

Once Upon a Time, back in the strange era known today as the “early nineties” a man by the unlikely name of Richard Garfield came up with a new and genuinely industry-redefining idea for a card game. (Again, industry redefining by niche board game standards, run with me on this one). The concept was for a card game in which players would be able to customise their own decks, using a collection of cards that they would put together piecemeal from randomised packs. The game was called Magic: the Gathering and it was wildly popular. It spawned a whole genre of games (Collectible Card Games – CCGs for short) and was so successful that some people actually genuinely play it professionally. Seriously, google it.

Anyway, a decade or so after Magic appeared on the scene (along with a veritable tidal wave of imitators, successors and clones), some people became a little disillusioned with the CCG monetisation model. Because CCG cards are sold randomly, you have to pump an awful lot of money into the game to get the (often relatively few) cards you need to actually make a competitive deck. It essentially adds an element of gambling to the process of collecting that some people like and others find really, really offputting.

Enter the LCG.

Like CCGs, LCGs are designed to be played with customised decks of cards put together by the player from a collection that they have built up over time. Unlike CCGs, LCGs are not randomised. When you buy a set of LCG cards, you get all the cards in that set. When an expansion comes out, you get all the cards in that expansion. Now in one way this is really good, because it means that players no longer have to waste money buying dozens of copies of cards they don’t need in order to find the two or three they do (or pay extortionate amounts for single cards, some magic cards sell for literally thousands of dollars – although admittedly this is as much as collector’s items as anything else). In another way, though, it is scarcely an improvement at all, since all LCG cards are released in fixed expansions, you still have to buy more or less every expansion that comes out just so that you can get the one or two cards in each expansion that are important for making the decks you want. LCGs also tend to have much more aggressive release schedules. Since you can’t sell people useless copies of cards they already own, you have to make new cards at a faster rate. This makes keeping up with an LCG really challenging.

It’s one of those steps forward, steps back situations. How many there are in each direction depends very much on your tolerance for randomness and desire for completeness.

Anyway, Arkham Horror: the Card Game is an LCG. The players take on the role of investigators in Arkham (each investigator represented by a custom deck). To give you some idea of how intense an LCG release schedule is, the base game came out towards the end of 2016, and it already has two stand-alone scenarios, one deluxe expansion containing 156 cards, and a smaller expansion containing 26 player cards, plus a new scenario, with three more expansions scheduled for release imminently.

So this is one of those situations where one of the biggest take-homes actually comes before the review proper. If you really want to get into this game, you’re more-or-less committing to spending $15 on new cards every 1-2 months. You can just buy and play the base game (I just bought it and just played it), but it feels a bit … thin. Like you’re missing out on half of what the game is about. And I at least couldn’t shake the idea that this was deliberate, that the core set is almost a taster more than a sincere attempt to sell me a complete gaming experience.

Then again, maybe I only feel that because I know it’s an LCG, and I like deck-customising games. Either way, I have to start this review off with a bit of  buyer beware. This game follows a very specific business model and if you want to get the most out of it, you’re going to be making a non-trivial commitment of both time and money.

The Game Itself

 There are some mild spoilers in this bit, be warned.

 If you’ve played, or read my reviews of, Arkham Horror or Eldrich Horror then you’ll already know a certain amount about how Arkham Horror: the Card Game works. You play characters who investigate Cthulhoid mysteries through a mixture of two-fisted action that certain purists consider incompatible with true Lovecraftian horror (I’d argue that these purists are wrong, Lovecraft can be pretty pulpy at times) and bookish investigation. If you’ve played, or read my reviews of, Arkham Horror or Eldrich Horror you will be in no way surprised to discover that the core mechanics of the game involve collecting Clue Tokens and using them in a sort of abstract way to advance your understanding of a mystery (the mysteries here represented by “Act” cards) while racing against a time limit set by an ever-rising stack of Doom Tokens (which here accumulate on sinister “Agenda Cards”). Nor will you be surprised that the game frequently and randomly screws you over. This is pretty much how these games always work.

It’s a bit hard to talk about the game specifically without spoilers, and because it’s a customisable card game, how it plays will vary radically depending on which characters you pick, what cards are in your deck, and (perhaps most importantly and possibly most problematically) what cards you happen to draw. I’ll talk more about the card drawing issue later, first off I should probably fill in a bit more about the basic gameplay loop.

A round of Arkham Horror: the Card Game proceeds very much like a round of Arkham Horror: the Board Game. The players take it in turns to take a number of actions (three, in the case of AH:tCG) and then they draw a number of Mythos Cards (one each, which allows the game to scale fairly straightforwardly with multiple players) which control what terrible things happen to you. Sometimes characters will be called upon to make tests, which they will make by drawing tokens from a bag. This essentially works like rolling a (roughly) sixteen-sided die, but has the great strength that the dice can be customised depending on how hard you want the game to be, or in order to give a different flavour to different scenarios.

The test resolution mechanic was one of the first snags I hit with the game. The bag o’ tokens (the “chaos bag” as it is called by the game) contains 16 tokens on easy or standard difficulty, ten of them numbered, six of them with special symbols that have a different effects in different scenarios. The way the mechanic works is that you add the number on the token (or the number on the symbol reference card) to your character’s stat. Your character’s stats range from 1 to 4, and the numbers on the counters range from plus 1 to minus 4. Now I am very aware that there is no mathematical difference between a range of +1 to -4 and a range of 0 to +5, but it’s very psychologically different. And this is good in some ways because it makes the game feel more horrific – penalties make you feel helpless while bonuses make you feel powerful even if the final result is the same – but it’s bad in others because having the random element of the game expressed in negative terms just feels unfun if you aren’t prepared for it.

The game comes with three scenarios that link together to form a campaign. Each one can be played through in about 45 minutes to an hour, and we played through the entire thing in an evening. We played the first scenario on Easy difficulty (for some unfathomable reason the “initial game” setup in the cheerily-entitled “Learn to Play” booklet instructs you to set up the Chaos Bag for Standard difficulty even though you have no idea what you’re doing) and the next two scenarios on Standard. Frustratingly, we found Easy difficulty slightly too easy and Standard difficulty slightly too difficult. Part of this might have been to do with bad luck, part of it might have been to do with misaligned expectations, but I rather felt that on Standard difficulty we were often completely unprepared for the challenges the game put us up against.

To get numbersy for a bit, your characters’ starting stats are actually pretty okay. Characters seem to get at least one 4 (sometimes 2) and no more than one 1 (sometimes 0), so they can succeed relatively reliably at tasks of Difficulty 2 or less. Thing is, there aren’t that many tasks of difficulty 2 or less. Of the sixteen tokens in the bag on Standard difficulty, one is an automatic failure, one is a -4, one a -3, two -2, three -1, two 0 and one +1. This means that to stand a reasonable chance of succeeding at a task you really have to beat its difficulty by 2 points or more (the special symbols usually have at least a -1 modifier). But in the second and third scenarios, the average challenge seems to be Difficulty 4, making it difficult for any character to reliably succeed on it without discarding cards. A character can always discard cards from their hand to boost their stats for a particular roll, but the cards discarded have to show icons matching the challenge in question, and it’s very easy to wind up with a situation where you need to make an Agility test and aren’t holding any Agility cards, and even if you are holding Agility cards, it’s not easy to know whether it’s best to spend those cards now or hold onto them in case there’s a more important Agility test coming up.

To some extent, we got especially unlucky in our playthrough of the final scenario. One of our characters got hit with a Frozen In Fear condition, making all of his Actions (at least all of his actions of the types you’d most commonly want to use – movement being the especially important one) take two Actions rather than one. Since the game is basically all about action economy and achieving your goals against a set time limit, this was genuinely incapacitating (especially in the final scenario, in which movement between locations is rather awkward). And getting rid of the card required a Willpower Test against Difficulty 3. The character only had a Willpower of 3, and wasn’t holding any Willpower-Boosting cards. This meant that his only hope of success was to draw either the +1 or one of the 0s from the Chaos Bag at the end of his turn. And he never did. Which made the whole game very, very frustrating.

It doesn’t help that the game seems to have a bit of a built-in death spiral. Failing at tests causes you to lose resources or take penalties, which in turn make it more likely that you will fail at future tests and lose more resources or take more penalties, and so on and so forth. The game has an interesting setup whereby you technically can’t lose any of the scenarios (although you can get a less desirable ending), but the way that this works in practice is that doing badly on one scenario puts you at a disadvantage in the next, which puts you at a disadvantage in the next, and so on. The second scenario in the introductory campaign requires your characters (spoilers) to track down and eliminate six cultists. Despite playing as efficiently as we could and (we felt) actually getting pretty lucky with our draws, we only managed to catch five of the cultists, the sixth getting away. I originally felt that this was fair enough: when we finished the scenario, it seemed that the goal had simply been to catch as many cultists as possible and that the difference between catching five and catching all six was much the same as the difference between catching four and catching five.

Then it turned out that you had to discard two of your five starting cards in scenario 3 if you didn’t catch all the cultists in scenario 2. This is a big deal. Now true, you could spend two of your three actions on the first turn to draw back up to five, but then you’ve wasted almost an entire turn, and that’s potentially a major setback given that these games are very much run on a time limit. (Although actually having poked around the internets a bit more, it seems we missed a trick in that we caught five of the six cultists with two turns in hand and knew we couldn’t catch the sixth in time, and looking back at the scenario we could have gone back to the starting location and taken the Resign option, meaning we’d give up on the sixth cultist but that our time wouldn’t have run out, and we’d have been spared the card penalty. Then again we had no real way of knowing this at the time).

Basically my experience of Arkham Horror: the Card Game was that I thought the first scenario was too easy (although admittedly we played it on Easy), the second scenario was about right (it felt tight, we nearly did it, but I do think we got lucky in that we both managed to get some very powerful cards in our starting hands) and the last scenario was a complete disaster. I should probably stress that this is very much an issue of perspective – and from a certain point of view having the final mission be a doomed scrabble against insurmountable odds is actually pretty thematic. I think I might have preferred that those odds come from something a bit less anti-fun than one of the characters getting hit with an essentially unremovable debuff right out the gate, and if it had felt a bit more like we were failing because of our poor choices rather than blind luck and bad draws, but I can see how some people like the idea that you sometimes just can’t beat the Old Gods.

In retrospect I think the draw dependency was particularly upsetting. We played with the recommended starting decks and characters – Roland Banks the Fed and Wendy Adams the Urchin. Roland’s deck is a mixture of “Guardian” (combat with a vaguely police theme) and “Seeker” (research and clues with a vaguely librarian theme) cards. But that meant in scenario 2 he wound up with a hand full of combat cards, making him quite ineffective in investigative situations while in scenario 3 he had a hand full of research cards, making him pretty useless in combat. Wendy, meanwhile, has a powerful item in her deck called Wendy’s Amulet, which allows her to play the top card of her discard pile as if it was in her hand. In scenario 2, we managed to arrange things to that Wendy was able to indefinitely replay a particular card that gave her +2 to basically everything, which meant she kicked ass. Then in scenario 3 she didn’t draw the amulet, which made her pretty close to useless for much of the game.

The thing is, card games are inherently random for hopefully obvious reasons, but part of the skill of deckbuilding is managing that randomness. Unfortunately LCG starter sets tend to be a little bit – and I appreciate this is a loaded term – stingy with the amount of material they give you to start off with. You usually have enough cards to make one okay-ish deck for every character/faction/whatever in the game, but you usually can’t make more than two decks at once (since most decks will share cards) and your decks won’t be very optimised. In particular, one of the best ways to minimise the randomness  involved in a customisable card game is to always run the minimum deck size (this is normally easy to achieve, since it involves having a smaller collection rather than a larger one) and to include the maximum number of copies of any card you want to be able to reliably draw. In Arkham Horror: the Card Game you are entitled to include up to two copies of any card in your deck (except for the unique signature cards that each investigator gets for flavour) but the core set only includes one copy of most of the best cards. This makes the starter decks wildly suboptimal. And perhaps more annoyingly, it strongly limits the game’s customisability unless you buy two starter sets. And that’s a big enough point that I think I’m going to put it in its own section.

The Heart of the Cards

 Arkham Horror: the Card Game is, in many ways, several different games mashed up together. And they’re games I like. The Encounter, Agenda, Act and Location cards in the game all function exactly like their counterparts in the other Arkham Files games. You draw them, they do stuff that screws you over. The cards I want to talk about now are the other cards. The ones that you draw from in order to actually do stuff in the game. These are the cards that you actually collect in this collectible (sorry: “living”) card game. In any given scenario, you will always have the same locations (with a few slight variations), the same encounters, the same Acts and Agendas. But you might well be playing with completely different characters or, even if you’re running the same characters, completely different decks. For me, this is a big part of the appeal of this kind of the game. Being able to swap cards into and out of your deck and see how they work with each other is really good fun.

 Except you can’t really do that in Arkham Horror: the Card Game. At least not with one copy of the base set.

 The base set of AH:tCG contains 103 unique player cards. Of these five are investigators (your actual character, which doesn’t go into your deck) and ten are the unique assets and weaknesses that go with those characters (these do go into your deck, but can’t be changed). A further eight are “basic weaknesses”. Each character is required to add a randomly selected basic weakness to their deck as well as their signature weakness. Ten more are neutral cards, usable by any character (although two of these cards are advanced cards that can only be purchased with experience points, of which more overanalysis later).

 The remaining 70 cards are divided between the game’s five classes: Guardian,  Seeker, Rogue, Mystic and Survivor. There are 14 cards per class, of which 10 are basic and 4 are advanced cards that you have to buy with experience points. The basic set includes duplicates (2 or 4 copies, usually two) of the neutral cards, but only one copy of each class card.

 Constructing a deck for a character requires 30 cards, plus your signatures and a random basic weakness. If I want to construct a starting deck for any given character, I have to build a 30-card deck out of twenty class cards and sixteen neutral cards (since you have the option to include two copies of each). This means that there are only 36 cards (not even unique cards, just cards) I can possibly put in a starting deck, which starkly limits my choices, and if I want to play two-player I’m even more strictly limited, because most neutral cards come as a pair rather than a set of four, so if I choose to – say – put two Manual Dexterity cards into my deck, you can’t put them into yours. After we assembled our recommended starting decks for our initial playthrough, there were exactly two zero-cost neutral cards left in the box, everything else cost XP or was was for other classes.

This puts an incredible number of restrictions on your choices in the base game. Not only is the level of customisation available to you restricted to six cards out of thirty (less if playing two player), but there are also a fair few characters who simply can’t team up on the same investigation. Remember there are five characters, each with access to two classes (each class gets used twice, and no combination appears more than once). For example Wendy the Urchin gets Survivor and Rogue cards, while “Skids” O’Toole the Ex-Con gets Rogue and Guardian cards. But if I wanted to play a game where … um … where an ex-con teams up with a small orphan girl (actually that could be adorable rather than skeevy if you framed it right) I’d have to build two thirty card decks using only Survivor, Rogue, Guardian and Neutral cards. I need sixty cards in total, but there are only forty-six (thirty class, sixteen neutral) meaning I’d fall well short.

The first expansion (the Dunwich Legacy) helps a bit. It adds three unique zero-cost cards for each class (plus one card with an experience cost) and, perhaps more importantly, it includes duplicates of each. But this still leaves the customisation options pretty slim when you look at it. Since the base characters have access to two classes, they effectively have twelve new cards to play with, which is almost enough to make it feel like you get a real choice. But things are much more constrained if you still want to play Wendy and Skids’ Grand Adventure. Adding six cards to each class deck takes the number of cards they have between them to sixty-four. So basically all but four of the cards in the game (including neutral cards, remember) have to be in one or other of their decks.

And the expansion gets even weirder because it introduces five new characters, all of whom have access to only one class, but have the option to include up to five cards (in total) from any other classes. This is cool and increases your flexibility, but also means that these characters need to build a twenty-five card deck using only one set of class cards, plus neutrals. So that’s a twenty-five card deck to be built using only the sixteen cards in the character’s main class and the sixteen neutral cards. That’s not terrible, although I’d point out that if you want to play a game with two of these new characters, that means you need to put together two twenty-five card decks (fifty cards total) out of two sixteen-card class decks plus the sixteen-card neutral deck, which is 48 cards. And in fairness I should add that there’s actually one (count it, one) new neutral card in the first expansion as well, so that does just about make a game with two new characters possible, but you have to use literally all the cards you have. (Okay, you actually get four each of torches and flashlights, so you might have one or two left over, but still).

All of which brings me back to the conclusion that if you want to seriously engage with the customisation element of the game (and this is a really big part of what appeals to me about it), you actually do need to buy two core sets (especially if you’re ever intending to play with more than two players, which I’m pretty sure is genuinely impossible even with the expansion).

I’ve literally just this second finished running the numbers on this one, and I’m still trying to work through my feelings. I’ve seen it argued in some places that since to really get involved with this kind of game you need to commit to spending about $10-$20 a month on cards and expansions, actually springing for a second copy of the base game isn’t a big deal. The hyper-rational part of me that enjoys arguing in favour of letting pandas become extinct (seriously, we could save dozens of less cute animals with what we’re spending on pandas) quite respects this argument (and after all, I’ve bought an awful lot of expansions for Eldrich). Another part of me, however, really objects to being sold a product that I can only use to its fullest potential if I buy it twice. Especially since half the cards in the game (all of the scenario cards, basically) would then be completely wasted. I mean the big advantage that LCGs were supposed to have over CCGs is that you don’t have to waste money on duplicates you don’t want.

If I’m honest, I think part of the reason I’m so angry about this is that I know there’s at least a 40% chance that I’ll buy a second set. Because I am exactly the kind of person this sort of thing works on. Fuck you, Fantasy Flight Games.

Something Approaching a Conclusion

 I don’t know how I feel about Arkham Horror: the Card Game. Because it’s such a strange hybrid, I find it hard to think about it without comparing it to the other games to which it’s similar. And peculiarly, I think it might wind up being one of those strange intransitive preferences, where it somehow becomes possible to think yourself into a corner where you like A better than B, like B better than C, and like C better than A.

 To be more specific, the games with which I feel Arkham Horror: the Card Game most closely compares are T.I.M.E. Stories and Eldrich Horror. I could compare it to other card games like Netrunner, but since I have such a massive bias in favour of co-operative games these days, I actually think the comparison is less useful for me than it might be for some other people (although I’ll add a footnote about how I feel AH:tCG stacks up against other LCGs specifically later on).

 Comparing AH:tCG to Eldrich Horror, I tend to feel that Eldrich is a more complete experience out of the box, gives you more customisability straight away, and feels like it dicks you about less. So I guess I prefer Eldrich Horror to Arkham Horror: the Card Game.

 Comparing Eldrich Horror to T.I.M.E. Stories, I feel like T.I.M.E. Stories has a kind of strange magic to it that Eldrich just misses out on. It’s an event game rather than just a big game, and I feel like for what I want to use it for, T.I.M.E. Stories beats out Eldrich. So I guess I prefer T.I.M.E. Stories to Eldrich.

 Comparing T.I.M.E. Stories to Arkham Horror: the Card Game, I almost think AH:tCG has T.I.M.E. Stories beaten. It plays faster, comes with three scenarios in the core box rather than one, is more replayable while still retaining that joy of discovery, has a less frustrating and opaque release schedule, and actually (I think) achieves just as much storytelling as T.I.M.E. Stories with even less card text (being able to inherit assumptions from all the other games and the original source material helps here, of course). Also, it has actual gameplay where T.I.M.E. Stories has more guesswork and dice-rolling. So I guess I prefer AH:tCG to T.I.M.E. Stories.

 Which is helpful. (And actually a bit untrue, the truth is that T.I.M.E. Stories does do what it does so well that it will always be my go-to game for that thing, it’s just that that thing is very specific).

 To be serious for a moment, I think that like T.I.M.E. Stories or Eldrich I could get super into Arkham Horror: the Card Game. It contains all sorts of things that I really, really like. But I also think that the game will only properly come into its own with quite a lot of investment of time, energy, and money.

 Of the three games, I would hands-down recommend Eldrich Horror over either T.I.M.E. Stories or Arkham Horror: the Card Game if you want a game that plays well out of the box, and which you can enjoy for a good long time without ever spending another penny on supporting material. I would hands-down recommend T.I.M.E. Stories if you want a real event game. Something you get your friends around to play once every three months, and spend as much time talking about afterwards as you spent playing it in the first place (or perhaps that’s only me).

 As for AH:tCG. I’m not sure I’d hands-down recommend it for anybody. Although I think I would make a qualified recommendation for a fair few different people.

 If you aren’t interested in the deckbuilding and customisation elements of the game, but still want to check out the core box, it’s worth a look (well, it’s worth a look if you think £30 is a reasonable amount of money to spend just to take a look at something). I wouldn’t recommend it as highly as Eldrich, but then it’s half the price, and I actually would recommend out-the-box AH:tCG more highly than I would recommend out-the-box T.I.M.E. Stories (did I mention how much I hated Asylum?). My one big recommendation for anybody wanting to play core-only Arkham Horror: the Card Game is that it is probably a very good idea to play on Easy. The manual does this really wanky thing with the difficulty settings where it tries to imply that only the highest difficulty is really worth playing (it uses the same trick Deus Ex used where each difficulty setting is tagged with “I want X” and the lowest level is “I want a story” while the highest level is “I want [Name of the Actual Game I Fucking Paid Money For]” as if any setting but the most pointlessly brutal is somehow an invalid gaming experience). I say this mostly because, when you think about it, playing with a lot of cards that allow you to build a consistent, powerful deck that can effectively overcome challenges actually makes the game way easier. Sticking with the limited decks that you can build using the core box is actually a challenge in itself, easily equivalent to the (perhaps rather less interesting) challenge of putting extra minus-numbers into the Chaos Bag.

 If you are interested in the deckbuilding and customisation elements of the game, I’m afraid you’re going to have to stick with me just a little bit longer.

 Arkham vs Other Customisable Card Games

 Wow this has been long. I mean, honestly, if you came here expecting brevity you probably haven’t read any of my other blog posts.

 Anyway, I quickly want to sum up the reasons that Arkham Horror: the Card Game might finally be the game to actually get me into customisable card gaming when titles like Netrunner haven’t.

 And actually it’s a pretty short summary: it’s co-op. I seriously prefer co-op games these days. Perhaps I’m just a namby-pamby tree-hugger, but I much prefer working with my friends to overcome a challenge than working against my friends to chase some arbitrary goal.

 I don’t really know the genre well enough to be able to say if AH:tCG is the first fully co-op LCG (I think the Lord of the Rings game might have had co-operative elements as well) but it’s the one I’ve noticed, and I’m weirdly excited by it.

 The first big thing here is that this kind of game relies heavily on having people to play it with, and on having people to play it with who are at least as into it as you are. Since I probably like this sort of game slightly more than most of my friends, this made getting into Netrunner or the equivalent a little bit pointless. Because even though I could always buy the cards and then lend them to people so they could play against me, there’d be this uncomfortable sense that it was like challenging your Dad to a game of Mortal Kombat or Fifa. “Come on, play against me at this thing I’m way more invested in and better at than you, it’ll be fun!”

 Fundamentally, it’s a bit churlish to keep inviting your friends over so you can beat them at things you care more about than they do.

 Making the game co-operative fixes that problem. It doesn’t matter if I know the game inside out while you’re only passingly familiar with it because we’re working together, and while quarterbacking (one player telling the other players what to do) is always a danger, it’s a bit harder to do in a game where everybody is controlling a unique character with unique abilities.

 I’m also weirdly interested in the unusual structure of AH:tCG and how it intersects with the customisable card game format. The game is designed to be played in campaigns, with each actual scenario being relatively short, but each campaign taking the best part of a day. Your ability to modify your deck between scenarios is limited by experience points, which means that there’s this whole extra layer of gameplay that takes place in the downtime between scenarios, which I think could be genuinely interesting. And FFG seem to have noticed this so, for example, one of the upcoming expansions includes cards that have effects between scenarios rather than during scenarios. But these cards will be dead draws in an actual game. So you’re balancing the meta-game against the game in-the-moment. There are even cards which do something completely mysterious if you use them, and you won’t find out what they are until you do (for example, one card is called Mysterious Solution: Unidentified and when you use the card successfully you record in your log that you have identified the mysterious solution). It could all be totally awesome.

 Or crap. It could wind up being crap.

 I’m also really keen to see how well the deck-building and customisation elements work when taken co-operatively. I actually think that once I’ve got a few more cards it will be really interesting to sit around with my friends and actually design decks together that complement each other. It’s all the fun of deckbuilding, but you get to do it with your friends. And doing things with your friends is best. Because friends are cool. Yay friends.

 The final thing I’m excited about with AH:tCG is that it’s weirdly low pressure compared to other LCGs. The problem with most Living Card Games (and Collectible Card Games, for that matter) is that the longer they go on, the harder they are to get into. There are so many new cards out that you’ll never be able to compete against strangers because they’ll have literally years worth of expansions backing them up, and you won’t. You could play against friends with your own collection, but that’s the play-your-dad-at-Fifa problem again. This isn’t an issue in a co-op game. Getting into Arkham Horror: the Card Game two years from now will be like playing a two year old single-player video game. Okay, you’ll be a bit behind the curve, and you won’t be playing through the content the cool kids are talking about, but it won’t really matter. That’s very different from trying to get into a very well established competitive game, where you really do have to do a crapload of catching up.

 Oh, I should probably add that while there isn’t much pressure to keep up with the metaphorical Joneses, there is a bit more pressure to buy complete expansion cycles, because every cycle tells one story, and if you don’t buy every pack in an expansion cycle you will miss out on bits of the narrative. How much of a problem you think this is will depend a lot on why you feel you play this sort of game.

 So yes, I’m weirdly fascinated by AH:tCG. If you are also weirdly fascinated, give it a look. But do be warned that you will probably end up having to buy two core sets. Because FFG are canny bastards.

people & cardboard

6 Responses to horror on the cards

  1. Gwen says:

    Petal, if you’re old, I’m fucking ancient.

  2. CMC says:

    Look how cute you are, with your code switching and giving prices in American dollars, OMG.

  3. EmmaT says:

    All this comes down to-I need to suck it up and buy Eldritch Horror already! Then I can have a weekend playing Arkham Horror, Elder Sign, and Eldritch Horror before descending into a Lovecraftian madness.

  4. Pam/Peejakers says:

    Wow, I’m super impressed with your math skills! 😉

    Man, this “It doesn’t help that the game seems to have a bit of a built-in death spiral. Failing at tests causes you to lose resources or take penalties, which in turn make it more likely that you will fail at future tests and lose more resources or take more penalties” sounds an awful lot like how life works 😛

    Ex-con teams up with small orphan girl does really sound pretty adorable Kinda made me think of an old movie, Paper Moon. Tho that’s actually Con artist dad teams up with small girl who is the daughter he didn’t know he had – or something. Close enough!

  5. Adira August says:

    **13 Reasons Why feels to me like popcorn television about a sensationalist topic and that pushed a lot of my buttons.**

    And so it should.

    ** It just feels like the showrunner is leading over to you conspiratorially and saying, “hey guys, someone totally gets raped in this episode!” Which is not something I want to feel that the showrunner is doing.

    Trigger warnings are there to allow people to make informed choices.**

    Trigger warning are there to protect the production company’s ass. That they increase viewership is an added bonus.

    I stopped reading here, because I’m so easily triggered.

    Now, I’m going to say something to you because I’m old enough to be your mother, at least, and you wrote the most extraordinarily accurate description of mental illness in Glitterland I ever saw. And I love you for that, as much as a total stranger can love someone they’ve never met.

    Stop doing this to yourself. Okay? Please. I will read any 16k word polemic or revelation or discussion or any other thing you want write about what people outside the experience of living with this need to understand.

    But, my dear sweet boy, enough with giving any shits about what anyone else says. Give them no power over you. Just say “No, I haven’t watched or read or eaten or perused in any form this thing you are on about and I’m not going to and I DON’T OWE YOU AN EXPLANATION.” And you don’t.

    Leave the room. Or invite them to.

    Heres a biological fact: Your brain cannot tell the difference between the thing being on TV or monitor or screen and being in front of you. That most atavistic portion of your neurosystem believes in Lost island or Ewoks or the Newsroom or Sherlock loving you/them.

    Watching this thing abused you. And no one who knows you and loves you would want you to suffer and be hurt more than you have and will be because that’s just how life works. If “being right” is more important to them than you being okay —

    Your book was validation of my reality, but did not exploit it. This thing is about making money. You can’t serve God and Mammon.

    Please stop doing this to yourself. There’s enough we can’t avoid.

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