Shadows Over Innsmouth

Most of this was first posted to’s Other Games Open forum. What you see here has been cleaned up and slightly modified.

So I’ve had Innsmouth Horror, the latest expansion to the Call of Cthulhu-based board game Arkham Horror, a couple weeks now. This expansion incorporates characters, places and events from one of Lovecraft’s most well known stories, The Shadow Over Innsmouth. I’ve skimmed through most of the cards and had two play-throughs. Lost both of them, and only got a real taste of the expansion in the second — the first play centered more around teaching the game to a batch of newcomers.

First off, the whole expansion is brutal. The new Great Old Ones are phenomenally tough, which I don’t necessarily disagree with, since the situation should be dire if you’re trying to take down a Thing Man Was Not Meant to Know with a tommy gun and magic knife. I just don’t know if I agree with Old Ones who interfere with investigators as directly as, say, Quachil Uttaus, who’s going to devour somebody outright sooner or later.

But beyond the new Great Old Ones, there’s the rotting burgh of Innsmouth itself. The townsfolk are out to get you. A lot of the encounters there involve the investigator getting beat up, jailed or otherwise harassed. Once the doom track passes the halfway mark, the locals declare martial law; investigators need to start making Sneak checks just to avoid summary arrest. The more sensitive the location, like, say, the Esoteric Order of Dagon’s headquarters, the harder it is to avoid getting caught. Once you’re in jail, there are a wide variety of nasty options that await, including beatings, devouring and being forced to drink strange, transmuting liquids.

Meanwhile, the Deep Ones are up to their own brand of shenanigans, particular in the form of the Deep Ones Rising track. Whenever a gate is kept from opening by an elder sign or an investigator’s ability — like Kate’s flux stabilizer — a token goes on track. Once the track fills with six tokens, the Great Old One immediately awakens. To counter this, the investigators have the Feds Raid Arkham track. Every time an investigator discards a clue token in Innsmouth, it aids a token to this track. When the sixth token is added, it clears both the Feds Raid Arkham and Deep Ones Rising tracks. So that’s a clue token sink that requires managing.

The Deep Ones’ influence can also be felt in the Innsmouth Look, that fishy cast to the skin that betrays a person as a scion of the Marsh family and likely descendant of Deep Ones. Various encounters will prompt an investigator to draw a variable number of Innsmouth Look cards. Out of ten, one Look card mutates the unlucky investigator into a Deep One, replacing the player’s token with a Deep One chit.

There’s nothing in the way of new items or spells in Innsmouth Horror. Most of the little cards are given over to the new Personal Stories deck. Every investigator has a pair of cards relating events continues on from the background story on the back of their sheet. They work a bit like rumors: each story has pass and fail conditions. If the pass condition occurs, the investigator gets a good thing. If the fail condition occurs first, then it’s something bad.

The rewards and penalties are really variable and don’t seem at all balanced: Bob the salesman gets $15 discovering a cache of the gold coins that bring him into the strange doings in Arkham, while Yorick the gravedigger gets +1 Focus once he’s been blessed. I think they’re a neat little mechanic that gives the characters a personal goal to achieve. They’re not as cumbersome as the tasks and missions in Dunwich Horror, where the required actions have nothing to do with the character’s abilities or starting equipment, so fulfilling one isn’t nearly as onerous or time-wasting.

Best of all, there’s a set of story cards for every investigator every published, so people playing characters from Dunwich or Kingsport are covered.

Which brings me to another point: Innsmouth Horror is very expansive. It’s not quite as broad a grab bag as Dunwich is, but there’s a lot here that’s independent of the Innsmouth board. There are sixteen new investigators and just as many new Great Old Ones. So they double the pool of choices, where Dunwich and Kingsport Horror added eight of each. This makes me wonder if the theories that Innsmouth is the last big box expansion Fantasy Flight Games plans for Arkham Horror are correct; in that case, it would make sense they decided to do one last big push to maximize variety of characters and Old Ones.

I want to play Innsmouth a few more times, but for the moment, I’m definitely sticking with an initial assessment of brutal bad stuff with neat investigators.

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