Monday, May 14, 2012

What I've been learning from Arkham Horror.

 I'm going to kind of freestyle this entry. Hope it's interesting by the time I'm done.

I recently ordered a copy of Arkham Horror. My rationale behind this was something I can and will list with bullets.

•It is a game I can play by myself if I have to.

•It's cooperative, so I don't have to worry about everyone throwing the game components at me after I win. This happens when I play clue.

•I love the whole mythos thing. It's the kind of horror story I can really dig my teeth into.

•The components and everything look great.

•It's been on that 'whats hot' list on Boardgame Geek since FOREVER. Must be good, amirite?

if this image excites you, then this might be the game for you.

So it arrived and I have attempted to play it a total of 4 times 2 alone and 2 with others. Each time it gets to the 2 hour mark and then we just quietly put all the components back and agree that its a good game. I HAVE NEVER SEEN THIS GAME COMPLETED, WIN OR LOSE. This leaves me at a weird impasse where my gut cant decide if I should feel buyer's remorse or not. For the first hour the game is absolute fun. Then it ramps down. I always feel like victory is right in my grasp, and then a setback happens and more gates open and I realize that this just added another hour to the necessary playtime.

I guess I can understand that there are board game enthusiasts who might see this as a bonus. A blindingly long marathon of a game must appeal to someone. But I don't get it. And I can't see someone sensible spending this long playing a single match of a single board game. It's like playing a video game RPG with no save points.

Tip: do not play this game in low light. There is a lot of reading and tiny text.

Here's a few things I really think shine in this game.

•Execution of theme: There is no denying that this game is about lovecraft conflicts in a lovecraft environment.
•Game components: There's a lot of them, and they are all of superb quality.
•Easy to play: You can literally sit down and start playing with people who've never played before. Just MAKE SURE YOU TELL THEM HOW TO WIN. Not understanding that adds at least 2 extra hours to the game.
•The storytelling aspects: If you go to Hibb's Roadhouse, expect to try a drinking contest. If you go to the Science Building, expect to either save or ruin everyone. If you stand around in the street, you might be set upon by monsters.
•Variety: you aren't going to have the same experience twice playing this game. That is awesome.

I feel like the main mechanic in this game is risk and reward. You find yourself in situations where you can risk your ever-dwindling sanity for a chance to get a valuable item or token, but what are you really risking? If at any time you lose your sanity or stamina, your character is brought to the hospital or assylum and you lose half of the items you have been so desperately struggling to collect. This is where my problems with the game start. The only thing you are really risking when your character gets knocked out is time. Real time. The time it takes to complete this game. Every setback in the game is a setback in real life. This bothers me a lot, as a player and a designer.

When you start up the game, the time investment is fine because it's fun, but I feels like there's a cutoff point where the fun dissipates and i realize I'm investing nothing but time into this game now. That's when I quietly put all the pieces back.

My experience with this game has been helping me define some of my personal standards for my own designs. In particular;

•Make the game short enough that if people enjoy it they can play another round (or) The game has a reasonable cutoff point, that can be continued from later if the players wish. For all of my designs in progress there is always some kind of built in mechanism that forces the game to progress even with the players stalling it.

So now I'm combating buyers remorse by attempting to make a variant for Arkham Horror that plays faster while still making use of the components. I fear I shall go mad in the process. WHAT WAS THAT?!? OUTSIDE THE WINDOW?!

pictures found on boardgamegeek


  1. Hey! I bought Dwarf Knuckle a week or two ago and just got it in the mail the other day. I've only been able to play it once so far (we played mode 1, the race), but I just HAD to let you know that I'm having lots of fun with it. Your artwork really makes the game shine, and I love the game's simplicity and speed. The rules made me laugh. Kicking my friends into pits over and over again is awesome. I'll leave a for-real review on The Game Crafter as soon as I play the other two modes.

    But anyway, relevance! I definitely agree with you about the unnecessary length of some big-name board games. I guess I get the appeal of big 3-hour game sessions, but unless the game stays fresh for those 3 hours, I will get bored after about an hour, like you said. My current board game project is going through some similar growing pains. I want the game to take no more than an hour, but early tests have taken about 2. It's tough to cut it down, especially since I'm having trouble figuring out what's making it take so long in the first place.

    1. Oh man, super glad you enjoyed it! Feedback is always, always appreciated! I plan on doing some promo material (videos and such) for dwarfknuckle eventually.

      I've been told that the second mode is the strongest one, but I'm awfully fond of the elves in mode 3. Just a word of warning, Mode 3/3.5 hasn't been as thoroughly playtested as I would have liked, so if you run into any glaring problems don't hesitate to let me know!

    2. Haha, will do. I just got a chance to try out mode 2 tonight, and I really like it. I could see it being the "official" version of the game, but I really like the replay value offered by all of these modes. And I honestly can't get over how much I love the artwork. Would you be interested in maybe working together on a project at some point in the future...?

    3. For sure! the main reason my boardgame projects are on a hiatus right now is due to the fact that I kind of have to do everything by myself. :P

    4. Yeah, I'm in the same boat. Playtesting has been particularly hard lately, since my wife is getting a little tired of playing the same game over and over again. I guess I need to go out and bug my friends some more, haha. If there's anything you want to talk about or need some help with, send me an email at Granted, I'm not a very experienced designer yet, but I'll help out if I can.

    5. If you want a shorter version try Arkham Express on BGG. Almost the same game, but doesn't take as long to play. (and it's free)