[Tuesday Night Board Games] The Lurker at the Threshold

I’ve gotten two plays of the new Arkham Horror expansion now, both at Quarterstaff Games during board game night. And honestly, I find this one overwhelming in how much stuff there is to track.

Not only are the gates different, but they all have effects that trigger if the gate isn’t closed on the first attempt, or in one case, when a particular symbol comes up during the monster movement phase. So that’s two new questions to ask: “what is the symbol on this gate that an investigator just failed to close?” and then during every monster movement, “Is there a moving gate on the board whose dimensional symbol matches any of those on the card?”

Then there’s the herald, the titular Lurker. Like all the other published heralds to date, the Lurker at the Threshold adds some fairly fiddly new rules to up the difficulty of the game. In this case, it offers to make pacts with investigators in exchange for some quick help, that will probably bite them later. For spellcasters, the Lurker will cover the sanity cost of a spell in exchange for making a pact, which can be a handy deal, admittedly.

The pacts themselves, I can see the appeal of, but I’m not sure if it’s really worth the hassle — which, while in keeping with the theme of striking bargains with sinister entities, doesn’t make for a terrific adventure game, even one concerned with creating feeble struggles against titanic forces like Arkham Horror. In short, there are three pacts: soul, blood and bound ally. Soul and blood pacts work with sanity and stamina, respectively. Making the pact restores an investigator to full on their sanity or stamina, depending on which pact they take. It also allows the investigator to convert stamina or sanity, respectively, into power, which can be used in lieu of clue tokens or stamina or sanity costs, again depending on the pact made.

Additionally, bound ally pacts compel a randomly drawn ally to aid your investigator, where before allies were gained through encounters or recruiting at Ma’s Boarding House. Unlike the soul and blood pacts, bound ally pacts don’t include a way to generate power tokens, just the ability to spend them as clue tokens or money.

These are fairly neat abilities. They haven’t seen a lot of use in the two games I’ve played, but I think that was much the experienced players getting used to having the option as making a tactical decision to take advantage of them. I can particularly see the temptation of generating power tokens to cover the clue token scarcity that occurs mid-game.

On the other hand, there’s the stick the Lurker wields: reckoning cards. Whenever a gate opens, a reckoning card is drawn. Each card has an effect, usually deleterious that targets a player or group of players based on certain criteria. Sometimes it’s the player with the most or fewest power tokens, sometimes someone with a certain number of pacts, criteria like that. I appreciate that one never knows just who’s going to be targeted, but in the two games I played, it seemed less than half the reckoning cards actually affected an investigator at the table.

I want to like The Lurker at the Threshold. I also want to play it more to get a better feel for the pacts and herald. But something’s gotta be done to pare things down, because there are just way too many moving parts for me to track and play shepherd, since I’m the one who understands the turn order best. I’m not sure what to pare down, though. These last two games used bits from different expansions, mostly to change up the encounters had at Arkham locations and make the item decks more varied. I think personal stories can be ditched, at least. They’re typically an onus that’s completely unnecessary in making the game more difficult, particularly considering what Lurker at the Threshold brings to the table.

In short, more play time is necessary for me to form a strong opinion about this new expansion to Arkham Horror, but my initial impression isn’t favorable. I’d like to get that play in before November, too, as that’s when I’m running Arkham with the Lurker expansion on Saturday night at Carnage.

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