Board games this Tuesday at Quarterstaff took a rules-light turn this week. I mean “rules-light” in the sense that we didn’t follow the rules as rigorously as we normally might, rather than as a description of how complicated they were.
First was the session of One with Everything Arkham Horror I wrote about earlier this week. In addition to the rules I concocted, we changed our usual start-up process. Not only did players choose one of three randomly drawn investigators, but we did the same for the Ancient One, as well. Usually I’m not one to cherry-pick our doom, but given it was already a hodge-podge game, so I had little hope of finishing the game, and at the time I thought it would be a small game because of the holidays, I rolled with it. John and Chris eventually settled on Nyarlathotep. We also decided everyone had a free train pass, otherwise we would haven’t sufficiently mobility to get around as necessary.
Amazingly, by the time we got all the boards laid out, tokens placed and characters and items dealt, we had a full table of eight players, with three newcomers to Arkham and five long-time residents, as it were. I spent most of the game on my feet, answering questions and directing the flow of play. Joe Diamond, my private eye, spent most of his time in the streets trying first to get to the Bank to use his safety deposit key — only got two clue tokens from that — and then trying to get up to Kingsport to start investigating rift activity. I only ever got as far as the train depot, as we had rough luck with monster surges on Devil Reef in Innsmouth, which packed the Deep Ones Rising track to full in about three or four turns.
In the meantime, I was interested to see some of the choices other players made, particularly the newcomers. Greg, playing Ursula the adventurer, chose to start play on Wizard’s Hill in Dunwich. He also immediately leapt at a dark deal offered there, accepting spells for the resolution of another mythos card, which is where part of our monster surge problem came from. Greg was very familiar with Lovecraft, as I recall, so he was clearly getting into the weird horror genre.
Elsewhere, Matt, running Leo the expedition leader, had appointed himself monster hunter and wanted to clear out the hive of abominations building up in Independence Square. He proceeded to stand in the Uptown streets, battling back whatever monsters happened to move during the mythos phase. He was good at it, but got whittled down to minimal sanity and stamina after only two or so fights.
The monster surges really were rough luck. No one really had time to get their bearings or even start accumulating more than a clue tokens or go shopping for gear. Multiple monsters moved into the vortex off Devil Reef, adding two Deep Ones tokens per mythos phase. The Dunwich Horror readily popped up, but didn’t have a chance to take an effect — though its mere presence sent Ursula in a beeline for the train out of Dunwich, also prompting Greg’s girlfriend, Alicia, to send Hank the burly farmhand up there to try his luck.
Despite the abrupt rise of the Ancient One and our lack of preparation, taking down Nyarlathotep was surprisingly easy. That probably had a lot to do with Nyarlathotep reputedly being a pushover in the hierarchy of Arkham Horror‘s Ancient Ones, as well as the way I interpreted the multiple expansion board rule from Kingsport Horror. For every expansion board beyond the first, the effective number of players drops by one; so with three expansion boards, eight players act as six. I extrapolated this also applies to the final battle, but checking the FAQ thread on Fantasy Flight Games’ forum suggests it does not.
No worries, though. It was a silly game, plus we were doing a pretty good job of taking Nyarlathotep down, though we were certainly beginning to flag by the time we accrued sixty-six successes. The Gnarly One devoured Leo immediately, as he had expended all his clue tokens to not go insane fighting a Dark Young. The remaining seven investigators got to work taking the Great Old One down at a good pace. We had to do some equipment shuffling so everybody had at least a few dice to roll and things rolled along from there.
Ursula was the next to fall, as she expanded her final shreds of lucidity to cast Spectral Razor. Hank Samson did his best to work the spell after that, getting in a few turns before Nyarlathotep’s endless hunger for clue tokens whittled away at his mental faculties. My own investigator, Joe Diamond, did amazingly well, rolling a whopping five dice every attack, thanks to his trusty .45 and a Grapple skill that bumped Fight check results up by one, turning failed 4s into successful 5s.
In the end, it was Brennan’s shaman, Akachi, who slew the beast with a fistful of successes. If we’d been playing correctly, we’d’ve needed another twenty-two successes, which were probably in reach. Joe was doomed to die that turn, though, so someone else would get to wield his .45, which is a much more reliable weapon against Nyarlathotep than a whole grimoire of incantations, because of that pesky resistance to magic.
Most shockingly of all, it was only 8:30 by the time Arkham Horror and its many, many attendant bits were all packed up, giving the remaining players plenty of time for another game.
Nonnie broke out Talisman, suggesting some off-the-cuff quick start rules to get the game rolling and hopefully begin closer to a conclusion than normal. I got the prophetess, who I have to agree is a pretty awesomely powerful character, getting her choice of encounters and always having a spell in hand. I spent most of my time puttering around the outer region, building her Craft score and trying to find my way to the inner regions. The opportunity never came up, so, after an hour of that, when someone broke through to the Plains of Peril and Nonnie suggested everyone be teleported there to run for the Crown, I was happy to go along.
Even with that leg up, some people struggled. I had a shockingly easy time following along the Craft-oriented path. The Mines were no problem. I sacrificed my guide to the vampire and only lost one hit fighting off two pit fiends. My problems began when John’s elf caught up to me and handily clobbered the prophetess to death. Chris had bigger problems. His thief had a hell of a time making it past the Crypt. It wasn’t until John loaned him the gnome follower — again, playing fast and loose in the interest of keeping the game fun for everyone. To that end, we also instituted an ad hoc rule that anyone teleported out of the inner region just went back to the Plains of Peril, because the thought of slogging all the way through again was sheer lunacy by that time.
Despite all the short cut rules in place, we still didn’t finish the game. Luke’s monk was handily beating people back left and right and had a hand on the Crown of Command, so it seemed reasonable to call it in his favor.
This second play of Talisman showed me a lot more about the endgame and where the holes seem to be. Arbitrarily teleporting characters all the way back to the outer region seems ridiculous. Either everyone spends a large amount of time building one of their abilities to the point they probably won’t be ejected from the inner region, which makes the mid-game much longer as everyone grazes on the Adventure deck — or they spend most of the mid and end-game phases struggling back to the inner region time and time again.
Truly, this is not a game for those with full schedules. In fact, I have to wonder if the designer really intended for it to ever be completed. It’d be hysterical if his secret goal was to make a game that, by the rules as written, was nigh unfinishable. It certainly demands an amazing amount of dedication and persistence, maybe even more than Arkham Horror. Fortunately, it also lends itself well to house ruling, making it much more feasible to customize the experience to one’s preference.