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Arkham Horror

Entry updated 9 April 2015. Tagged: Game.

Board Game (1987). Chaosium; second edition Fantasy Flight (2005). Designed by Richard Launius, Lynn Willis and Charlie Krank.

Arkham Horror is a cooperative board game with role-playing elements, based on the Cthulhu Mythos associated with the stories of H P Lovecraft. The players take the role of investigators exploring the town of Arkham, who must seal interdimensional portals to prevent the return of a god-like Mythos being. These investigators have differing predetermined skills and abilities, and collect additional resources and clues as they travel around the board.

A revised second edition was published in 2005 by Fantasy Flight Games, and was redesigned by Richard Launius, design company Skotos (see Online Worlds), and Kevin Wilson. The second edition of the game immediately sold out, and a reprint appeared in 2007. Since then, Arkham Horror has had several expansions and the group responsible for its design have released several other thematically similar spin-offs. Collectively, these form a corpus of Cthulhu board games that emphasize collective, cooperative play.

Arkham Horror is part of a movement in board games that encourages team play rather than competition, with players who have different abilities working together towards a collective goal. These games are hybrids – borrowing elements that players will recognize from other gaming genres to develop complex modes of gameplay. Thus, the second edition of the game draws rules and concepts from Videogame genres of Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games and Computer Role Playing Games, as well as more traditional tabletop Role Playing Games. In particular, players have varying levels of "health" and "sanity" which enable them to fight, cast spells or resist various effects, denoted by red heart and blue brain tokens. This is a familiar trope as many videogames use the convention of red to symbolize health and blue or green for magic or mana bars. The Arkham games borrow elements from the Call of Cthulhu tabletop roleplaying game – such as the "sanity" modifier whereby player characters who witness unspeakable horrors will gradually become insane and become unable to continue – and render others more prosaically for the purpose of board game play, such as the use of "clue" tokens to uncover further evidence and investigations. Overall, this means that players with more experience of digital games will find their physical counterparts more familiar, and theoretically easier to grasp.

Arkham Horror has multiple expansions, which develop gameplay or introduce new elements such as different locations, characters or encounters within the game. These expansions alternate between smaller, card-based expansions, and those that introduce supplemental boards. The expansions do not stack cumulatively, so it is possible to play the Black Goat of the Woods (2008) expansion without the Dunwich Horror (2006) board, and so forth.

The Arkham series has expanded beyond the original game to several other titles that develop elements of the game, or change its narrative scale. Elder Sign (2011 Fantasy Flight Games) designed by Richard Launius and Kevin Wilson is set inside Arkham's Museum of Antiquities, and relies on the player rolling certain dice combinations, whereas Eldritch Horror (2013 Fantasy Flight Games) designed by Corey Konieczka and Nikki Valens simplifies some of the rules that are common to all of the Arkham games, sending the investigators around the world to fight arcane horrors. Mansions of Madness (2011 Fantasy Flight Games), also designed by Corey Konieczka, takes a slightly different approach: emulating tabletop RPGs more closely by having one player take the role of a Dungeon Master (see Gamemaster) fighting trying to stop the remaining players from banishing the horrors inside the mansion. Again, each game follows the same pattern as Arkham Horror, with regular expansions that develop gameplay, provide new playable characters, and add new narratives.

The Arkham series presents a selection of different games that collectively demonstrate the complexity of board gameplay. The basic set of Arkham Horror has over 500 individual game pieces, and each turn within the game can involve considerable discussion as to the potential gameplay options. The games also invoke the Lovecraft Mythos through large amounts of "flavour text", descriptive writing on cards, character sheets and other games items which create a sense of the world. These exist in tandem to instructions about actions or events in the game. This enables the player to either immerse themselves in the roleplaying elements, or simply play each game without needing to engage with this. Overall the games also demonstrate how popular titles can expand in different directions, highlighting selected elements of play whilst still allowing players to experience a common mythos. [EMS]

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