Is it ironic that a game where learning too much drives you mad seems to have not learned very much?
Reviewed in the United States on 14 December 2018
Arkham Horror 3rd edition is an attempt to modernize a classic. Where it succeeds, it shines, but where it falters, it maddeningly does so where other games have already adapted and improved. The lessons were taught, but little seems to have been learned.
Let's just do this by looking at the player experience. There are 4 Turn's per Round. As this is a thematic game meant to improve on the 2nd edition, lets talk about complexity, pacing, and theme for each turn.
***TURN 1: Investigator actions***
Investigators can take 2 of 7 actions. However, they cannot perform the same action twice in 1 round. Note that each investigator has a unique description on the back of their card, such as Guardian, Mystic, Survivor, etc. These descriptions have no mechanical impact on the game, but help players identify which of these actions their investigator excels at.
Complexity: While there are several options during Turn 1, it feels necessary. You always have something to do, even if it’s just bracing for the next round. That being said, AH 3e does weirdly enforce some uncomfortable barriers. You often find yourself needing to Move + Ward to keep the board state under control, which means the character boosting features you have rarely come up. I did often think I was being provided a familiar toy with cool new features I was then encouraged to shy away from.
Pacing: This turns move as quickly as the players are comfortable with the mechanics of the actions. At first, I was a little overwhelmed at the scope of choices given the number of actions, but soon I was able to make them with confidence and little need to check the rules.
Theme: Thematically, I believe the actions are at an all-time high. A built-in need to research the clues you get after acquiring them feels right. The task of warding off doom by character’s rich in Lore just makes sense and gives a typically niche class a vital role every turn of the game. Finally, in a Lovecraft game, characters who know what they’re doing are equally if not more impactful than characters with the strongest weapons. This doesn’t make the game any less an amped-up, adventure-oriented interpretation of the Lovecraft mythos, but it does make it a much more balanced experience.
***TURN 2: Monster actions***
Monsters are simple to use in this version of AH. Their actions are divided into 3 steps.
Complexity: It’s hard to identify how Monsters could be handled any simpler while still offering a measurable challenge. This is easily the simplest turn in the entire game.
Pacing: Extremely fast. By virtue of being the simplest turn, it’s also the one with a tendency to fly by. Speed here is limited only by the potentially complex interactions players enforce via the magic and items they use in combat.
Theme: Thematically, monsters do work, though it is at the cost of some drama. Monsters now tend to move around the board like an errant condition or disease some investigator is liable to contract. At which point, it becomes a new status to overcome. Mechanically, this works fine, but it also makes it easier to view the math behind the monsters and not the terror a rampaging Gug stirred up in previous games.
***TURN 3: Encounters***
Encounters are very familiar in this game to previous AH games. They are dependent on the neighborhood your investigator is in and the space your Investigator is on within that neighborhood.
Complexity: Again, this round is very simple. Draw a card, read the story, follow the instructions. These rounds are really only as complex as you make it via your Investigators resources.
Pacing: Results of encounters and the skill tests themselves typically go quickly. However, you will eventually stop reading the narrative to just get to the skill test as player patience begins to wear. Pacing at this turn, then, is very slow unless all hope of engaging in a growing narrative is abandoned.
Theme: Like previous games, AH has opted for written narratives building the story for players. This means AH is a game with the goal of telling you what happens in a story as opposed to letting your imagination fill in the details. While this is not new to the AH franchise, it’s a regrettable carry over. Eventually, players will just search for the skill test buried in the text, not wanting to stop the game for yet another block of text. Other games (such as Dead of Winter) have found ways to successfully introduce a narrative to a game without harming the pacing with long winded, oftentimes ridiculous non-related sequiturs.
Why does my gallant Police officer take bribes from local gangsters? Why does my disbarred, half-mad professor wind up invited to solve local murders? Why’s my car mechanic researching strange, alien sigils? Why am I 1 turn away from the world ending but stopping to discuss what's playing at the local theater? These attempts at specific story telling render the game silly, which would be great if the game had a greater sense of humor about itself. This makes these cards feels like an indulgent, misplaced exercise that would have worked better if players were allowed the tools they needed to tell their own stories as opposed to being told what their stories are.
***TURN 4: Mythos:***
Probably the most changed of all the elements of AH (barring the board itself), the Mythos turn now works completely different than previous board game predecessors in favor of the system used by the Arkham Horror the Living Card Game (AH LCG). Each player now blindly draws 2 tokens from a ‘Mythos cup’ that tells them how the board changes that turn.
Complexity: There’s only 1 layer of complexity to this turn, but it’s the most troublesome. Once you draw a token, you have to recall what it does. Small chore, but then you realize that sometimes you draw from the top of a deck, then you draw from the bottom of that deck, then sometimes you draw then discard then shuffle a second deck that goes on the bottom of the original deck. These rules just feel fiddly. Like a more straightforward solution must exist.
Pacing: There’s 2 sides to this. First off, drawing tokens which automatically tell you what to do is a fantastic idea for speeding up the game. Second, having to draw 2 each then having to double check each action for impact slows down the game, counterintuitive to the point of slimming down the Mythos cycle. Weirdly, the Mythos section of the game now takes longer than it ever has. And that’s nothing less than a real misstep. Whenever the Mythos turn comes up, players already have their hearts in their throats waiting for what happens. Then to draw a token and go “Wait…what does that do again?” then stop the game to fact check is disastrous to the moment. Followed by having to do it a 2nd time for each player. Which, even if you know exactly what to do, takes too long.
It’s a stroke of genius that players keep the tokens, meaning you can look over other at other player’s and see discern what tokens are left. Still, this feels like a missed opportunity. I wish this felt more like ripping off a band aid than doing my taxes. Both are uncomfortable, but at least one doesn’t take too long.
Theme: I think this actually works very well for theme. Less reading, more player driven narrative. Yes, the pacing lets it down, but it’s great to watch a burst of doom tokens surround a player and imagine what’s just happened around them. More of that, please! Just with less churn to get there.
While an imperfect package, it’s no more broken than its predecessor and, in some ways, surpasses it. Also, it is sometimes very fun, but all too often gets in its own way. Really, the only crime here seems to be the choices of what was kept and what was ignored.
Still, this is unquestionably Arkham Horror. From its short-story cards, to its shifting skill sets, to its masochistic Mythos round, all the way to its fearsome, consistent pressure. That, at least, means it has successfully achieved its goal of building on AH 2e. But, as you play (and it’s hard not to think this if you’re familiar with the previous games), you will often be reminded that it could’ve been better.
Between this and AH 2nd edition, I would recommend this version. However, between this and Eldritch Horror, I would recommend Eldritch Horror (https://smile.amazon.com/d/Kids-Board-Games/Fantasy-Flight-Games-Eldritch-Horror/1616617667/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1544728773&sr=8-1&keywords=eldritch+horror+board+game) and also Arkham Horror the Living Card Game (https://smile.amazon.com/Fantasy-Flight-Games-Arkham-Horror/dp/B01L3ZTXS0/ref=sr_1_4?s=toys-and-games&ie=UTF8&qid=1544728800&sr=1-4&keywords=arkham+horror), though admittedly AH the LCG is a very different experience that any of the related AH games.
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