Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The horror

My sister introduced me to a board game called Arkham Horror recently. You play an invesigator in the fictional town of Arkham in the 1920s. The game is based around the stories of HP Lovecraft, which I have written about before here. The stories usually involve investigators discovering horrible monsters from other dimensions, along with cults which worship them. They often end up insane or dead by the end. Collectively they paint a bleak picture of a random, nihlistic universe, populated by hideous, idiotic yet almost indestructible "gods" who don't really care much for humanity.

The game closely sticks to the spirit of the Lovecraft universe. You wander around various locations of Arkham as gates to other dimenisons open all over the place and monsters pour through them. You have to close as many gates as possible before time runs out - otherwise you have to defeat the final "boss" monster. It's a co-operative game, so the players have to work together and strategise their moves and abilities accordingly. So one person might be sent through gates, another might be good at killing monsters, while another may be sent round curing players who have gone insane. In every game I have played, we failed to close the gates and ended up unleashing the horrific boss at the end, who always kills everyone. I guess HP Lovecraft would have approved of such a dismal result.

It is also the most complicated game I've ever played. There are dozens of stacks of cards and so many different rules and exceptions and modifiers to dice roles, that even doing a simple thing can take 10 minutes of consulting the rule book and arguing with the other players when no rule is found to cover something. It is also very easy to lose track of all the different things you have to remember to do. So my character got "blessed" at the church, which meant that she had a better chance of success when rolling the dice. However, at the start of each turn, she had to roll another dice to see if the "blessing" had worn off (it wears off if you roll a 1). I kept forgetting to do that, which probably meant I suceeded at killing some monsters when I probably shouldn't have. My character was a shrivelled old author called Gloria Goldberg.

She was a bit hopeless really and I was envious of the other players who had tougher characters who were private detectives and could actually fight things. Although it wasn't helped by the fact that flying monsters kept swooping down on poor Gloria whenever she found herself alone in the streets. Fortunately, while she was exploring some caves she managed to find herself a big hulking man-friend (no accounting for taste) who protected her from the worst of it, and for a while she had a shot gun which helped a bit. None of it was enough to save her against the god Hastur who manifested himself over the whole time at the end and pulped her, along with everyone else. Oh well.

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