As with so many things I enjoy — examples include Chinese food, Call of Cthulhu and beer — I started off thinking I would hate Arkham Horror. One day at the local game store, I came across it in the archetypal stack o’ games that people always bring when gaming is in the offing. I flipped through the character and Great Old One sheets, unfolded the board and saw the map of Arkham and Other World locations alongside and just didn’t get any of it. The sheets, to my mind, made no sense. The purpose of those round extra-dimensional locations seemed to lack any bearing on the rest of the board. The game was just completely opaque to me. I might have flipped through the rule book, but I don’t recall doing so; if I did, it couldn’t have sunk in.
Maybe if the game’s owner had been free to explain the premise of the game, I’d’ve been more receptive, but he was busy with Runebound — a game, by the way, I have yet to play to completion; it just goes on and on until the game’s owner regretfully announces he must pack it up and go home. So I went away from that first brush thinking Arkham was an impenetrable mystery I couldn’t possibly like.
Some time later, while attending a friend’s weekly board game night, he happened to pull out Arkham. I don’t think I even realized that was the game of choice until he began to unpack all the bits. And I can’t even recall whether it registered with me that this was a game I had pawed through and found repelling in its opacity.
It was not a memorable experience. I don’t think I was ever clear about the goals of the game — don’t let a horrible, unstoppable being awaken to ravage the world — or the means by which to do so — collect information in the form of clue tokens and helpful items to kill the monsters heralding the dark thing’s arrival and seal the dimensional gates through which it will arrive. Playing Dexter Drake, I’m pretty sure I just puttered around town and was too afraid to cast spells, that character’s presumed forte, because it would cost him sanity tokens. Then, all of a sudden, the host announced we had won the game. So that experience was kind of a wash.
My next run-in with Arkham was at Ubercon in 2008. I had my first taste of Rock Band that weekend and had spent the vast majority of the day either playing that or waiting for my next turn. So I was already mentally fatigued when, around 10:00 PM, someone walked through the game room, waving Arkham over his head and calling for players. Now, I have no idea why I jumped at this opportunity, given my previous encounters with the game. It could have been a side-effect of some awesome Call of Cthulhu games I played at OGC, I might have heard something in the intervening time on Boardgamegeek or RPG.net, I don’t know. Fact is, I saw the opportunity and I jumped.
The game went until 3:30 in the morning as we struggled against Azathoth and a gug that no one could seem to put down. Part of that, in retrospect, seems to be the experienced players had built up the gug as an unbeatable monster — or maybe it was just no one had the gear needed to pull it off; you don’t get the luxury of a tommy gun in every session, unfortunately.
Whatever happened in those sleep-deprived five and a half hours, I was hooked. As soon as I got back to Burlington, I put in a request at Quarterstaff for a copy of Arkham. When I got that and had a couple plays under my belt, I immediately went on to snag the Dunwich Horror expansion and, once it was published, Kingsport Horror.
Summer of ’08, I got to play a lot of Arkham. According to my records on Boardgamegeek, I played, solo or with others, with or without expansions, sixteen times between buying my own copy in June and the end of August. In that time, I got embarrassingly good at internalizing the rules, to the point I barely needed the rulebook to keep people moving through the turn.
The regular gaming group petered out in the late fall. Since then, I’ve only gotten to play it every couple months or so, usually when I make a point of inviting another Arkham-friendly compatriot over for a game. The recent release of Innsmouth Horror last month did a lot to rejuvenate my desire to play. I got a couple plays in after its release and I scheduled myself to run a game at Carnage in November.
The trouble is Arkham is not, to me, a game for spontaneous play. It’s a sufficiently large time commitment, in addition to the bit-tacular layout to set up, that I feel like it’s something that needs to be planned for, rather than just pulled off the shelf at a whim. So it’s not something I haul along to Tuesday night board gaming, which is a very catch as catch can affair. You never know what games will attract enough interested players.
I love playing Arkham Horror and will sit down for a game whenever it’s an option. I think I need to be more proactive about making opportunities to play, though. In this instance, in my gaming community, I’m probably “the Arkham Horror guy.” So if other people think of it, it’s probably as, “Oh, that’s Tyler’s game. If he wants to play, he’ll say something.”
Which I’m happy to be. I just need to be more proactive about playing the game.