Board Game Review - A Meandering Evening with Eldritch Horror
December 19, 2013
All right, let us start once again with a confession: that I have played Arkham Horror a good number of times and am inevitably bored out of my mind without fail. Arkham Horror is a boring game, and it is boring mainly because it just takes so goddamned long to do anything, and you're playing with 4 other people who also take too long to do things, and the whole Lovecraft theme just does little for me.
But this is not a review of Arkham Horror. Eldritch Horror was brought out at the last game night, and I had heard good things. I had heard that Eldritch Horror had solved the many problems that made Arkham so goddamned long and boring, and so I was willing to give it a shot. Sure, it was still bloated with cliche Lovecraft theme, but I swear I went into it with an open mind.
An open mind which instinctively seized up when I started looking through the character cards and found all sorts of familiar Arkham terminology. Was this just a blatant reskinning? Perhaps Cthulu does exist and he is punishing me?
Luckily, the game did prove to have a variety of differences and improvements. Unluckily, it still proved to be rather boring for a whole new set of reasons.
All right, so, in a nutshell, Eldritch Horror functions much like Arkham Horror: players choose an investigator with a unique array of statistics and starting equipment and then cooperatively set out to vanquish one of the Old Ones, or whatever they're called, in a manner unique to whichever one you're fighting. I just played through one scenario here, which was against Azathoth, who required you to solve some mysteries.
So to solve these mysteries you have to travel around the board, which is a world map, encountering specific events that require you to pass skill checks to progress. Skill checks just require you to roll a bunch of dice and look for 5s and 6s. The higher your skill, the more dice you get to roll. It's all pretty simple, and that is nice because it doesn't take a lot of time to get through these encounters. They're easy to parse because you're doing the essentially the same thing every time. Of course, doing the same thing every time also gets dull after a while...
Anyway, after everyone gets a turn to take some actions and then encounter the space they end up on, there's a mythos phase where bad stuff happens - usually gates start opening, monsters start pouring out of said gates and the omen track advances, which usually means that those gates will also cause the doom track to count down. If the doom track reaches zero, everyone loses. So it's probably a good idea to run around and close some gates while you're solving those mysteries, which is simpler than in Arkham Horror - first you gotta get through the monsters, which is a will and strength check, then closing the gate is, again, 1 or 2 skill checks.
So you're moving around the board, performing skill check after skill check after skill check, rolling all these dice over and over and over, and it's just...bleh. The novelty of it wears off far before the game actually ends. And it's all just so mindlessly random. There aren't enough meaningful decisions to keep you interested.
You see, say you've got a mystery to solve in Antartica. One of the investigators is gonna need to go there and and draw a card and perform the skill checks the card tells you to. What skills will you need? Which investigator should you send? Beats me. Send the closest one, I guess, and just hope that the skills needed are ones that he's good in. So we get a random set of skills to test, and then randomly test them. Two-tiered randomness! Woo!
I could also talk about how Azathoth's mysteries were complete bullshit (from a game play perspective) and how that caused an inability to do anything with meaning, which sapped all the excitement out of the game, but, look, it's not all bad, okay?
First of all, it was indeed shorter than Arkham, mainly due to a hard end condition when we ran out of mythos cards and lost. That's good. Also, despite treading water for 2/3 of the game in the mystery/win condition department, there was a nice sense of character progression obtained from collecting items, spells, artifacts and skill improvements. Because everything boils down to these skills, improving them through a variety methods did feel somewhat meaningful and empowering. I got a little giddy when my character picked up a lightning gun and some holy water, so that's good, too.
All in all, where Arkham failed in slow gameplay, Eldritch waters it down to a point of failing with excessive randomness and a distinct lack of meaningful decisions. This is unfortunate, as the first hour or so of the game was somewhat enjoyable, as I read aloud the flavor texts of the encounters and acquired dangerous spells. But, much like Arkham, its tediousness managed to wear out its welcome, and I have no intentions of playing it again.
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