[Tuesday Night Board Games] Miskatonic Horror

I may have to rethink my decision not to pick up Miskatonic Horror. Last night at Quarterstaff, Dan took advantage of the store’s Facebook check-in discount to snag the latest expansion to Arkham Horror.

From online accounts and promotional material, I already knew it was a heap o’ new cards to mix into all the other existing expansions. But I didn’t know much in the way of the details. And that’s Miskatonic Horror got my attention.

Take the mythos cards, for example, the ones that determine where gates open, clues appear and other generally terrible things. One of the biggest drawbacks to mixing expansions is the mythos cards affecting the expansion towns — Dunwich, Kingsport and Innsmouth — are generally overwhelmed by all the cards affecting only the town of Arkham, which come from every other expansion.

In Miskatonic Horror, the designers came up with what seems like a neat way to resolve that. All the mythos cards have two gate locations listed. The rule is that on drawing, a gate opens at the top listed location if that location is in play, otherwise the gate appears at the second location. The same seems to hold true for clue tokens appearing, so this could be a very slick solution to making the outlying towns more active as well as appealing to visit. Who wouldn’t want to stroll around sleepy, gateless Kingsport, hoovering up precious clue tokens?

I will endeavor to be a smart consumer and give this a couple plays before picking it up myself — Dan’s already talking about holding an “all-in” game at his house — but Miskatonic Horror‘s off to a strong start in drawing me in.

Fantasy Flight Games’ Print on Demand Expansions

Elliot over at The Gaming Gang reminded me that Fantasy Flight Games has been experimenting with print on demand expansion packs for some of their games. Their first foray was a small pack for their Space Hulk: Death Angels card game. Now Mansions of Madness has a single scenario expansion called Season of the Witch.

Given that, the model appears to be effective. I’m hoping that it leads to smaller expansions for more of Fantasy Flight’s game lines, especially Arkham Horror. One product long wished for by true believers, but probably not commercially feasible, is a patch kit expansion, which evens out the experience of mixing multiple expansions, so that Dunwich stays hopping while the continuing acts of The King in Yellow have an impact on game play.

The forthcoming Miskatonic Horror seemed like it might address that problem, but until I riffle through the cards, I’m taking the marketing copy to mean “more of the same” in terms of how all the expansions interact.

So here’s hoping for small packs of cards printed on demand to spice up Arkham Horror. I’d like to see the King in Yellow’s blight spread to outlying towns, the unstable locations of Dunwich more frequently rent asunder and the influences of the cult of the Black Goat of the Woods spread out to Kingsport and Innsmouth.

It could happen.

Role-Playing and Board Game Garage Sale

The time has come to weed the game library. Behind the jump you will find role-playing games, board games and card games I would like very much for someone else to own. Generally speaking, it’s all older stuff, so if you’re looking for titles from the 90s and early 00s, this might be the sale for you.

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Universal Head’s Arkham Horror Rules Summaries

A comment last week on the Arkham Horror expansion guide — already in need of updating, a need which will only grow in the coming months — reminded me of the time I first learned to play this byzantine game. My cousin very patiently sat on the living room floor with me, going through the motions of playing as I flipped back and forth through the rule book and a cheat sheet.

Universal Head’s cheat sheet for Arkham Horror reorganizes and condenses information in the official rule book in such a way that you can follow the turn order from start to finish without skipping from one section to a previous one to figure out what happens during the mythos phase.

Plus, it comes in multiple flavors: there’s the base game-only version, which is just what it sounds like. Then there’s the longer version that incorporates the many expansions and their new rule components.

I always keep a couple copies of the longer cheet sheat in my game boxes for when the opportunity to play Arkham Horror arises. If you’re new to the game, or find that not everyone you play with is catching on to the admittedly contorted turn structure, this may be just the remedy.

Arkham Horror’s Deepening Shadows Hide More Expansions

After Innsmouth Horror appeared, received wisdom among the Arkham Horror set was there were no more expansions to be had. Fantasy Flight had hit the major centers of mythos action — Dunwich, Kingsport and Innsmouth — and while there might be one or two more small boxes emphasizing a particular Ancient One, as The King in Yellow did for Hastur, the game line was essentially done.

Not so, the last couple weeks have revealed. Fantasy Flight had a one-two punch for intrepid investigators: first they announced Miskatonic Horror, a big box expansion, and then a week or two later came the revelation of a revised edition of Curse of the Dark Pharaoh. The latter was Arkham Horror‘s first expansion and as such, it’s become somewhat notorious for being plagued with badly written encounters and wonky mechanics.

I’m having a mixed reaction to this news so far. I more than kinda burned out on the seemingly limitless yet repetitive realms of Arkham Horror after playing with Lurker at the Threshold a bit and being disappointed by the same sorts of problems cropping up again, like new mechanics that hardly make an impact on the game.

Miskatonic Horror caught my interest at first, because it seemed like it could be the patch kit expansion for which completionists yearn; something that prevents the dampening of activity in expansion towns as their limited stack of mythos cards are slowly overwhelmed by cards from the more numerous Arkham-only expansions. What it seems to be, however, is mostly more. More encounters for locations, more madnesses and injuries and all the other fiddly little cards. And that’s pretty cool. But in a way it exacerbates the problem. If you throw all those new Arkham-only mythos cards in the stack, interesting things happen in Dunwich or Kingsport or Innsmouth even less frequently.

Now, Curse of the Dark Pharaoh almost interests me more, for some reason. The original expansion is probably my least favorite, mainly because the supposedly super special exhibit items are crap, sometimes you get barred from a neighborhood, which makes no in-world sense and the encounters that require you dig a specific creature out of the monster cup are irritating. But if the revision fixes those things and includes the Dark Pharaoh herald, which we already know it does, plus throws in some new stuff — or at least not encountering Cthulhu in an Other World, say — then I could become interested.

I’m not going to rush out and buy either of these. I would like to do so with Miskatonic Horror, because I would love to have more encounters for the expansion towns, and I want to show Fantasy Flight there is a market for expansions that expect a higher buy-in than the core set, which is their usual expansion philosophy. But I’m just not getting the plays out of Arkham Horror right now that would justify snapping it right now. And the same goes for the revised Curse of the Dark Pharaoh, which is more of a completionist’s purchase for me.

Honestly, what interests me more about Arkham Horror right now is Fantasy Flight’s recent foray into using print on demand for small product runs. They debuted a Death Angels expansion at PAX East that was a small pack of cards in a transparent wrapper, not unlike what Looney Labs did for their small Chrononauts expansions. If that same production model were applied to Arkham Horror, I think those “patch kit” expansions, designed to even out the frequency of gate and mythos activity in towns other than Arkham itself, would become feasible. And that would get me more excited about playing Arkham Horror again, if I knew there’d be a real hot time in Dunwich or Innsmouth.

Arkham Horror Add-ons from Litko Game Accessories

From the Litko Games Accessories online catalog.

Arkham Horror is a bit-tacular game to start with. Lots of cards, tokens, character sheets and more. But sometimes the form factor of those pieces get in the way of playing the game. Monster and gate tokens, for instance, lie flat. On a board that’s already graphically busy, it’s very easy to miss spotting a monster, elder sign marker or even a whole gate. This is something I’ve learned repeatedly in my play experiences with the game, particularly after the third hour begins.

Among the more craft-minded fans of the game, there have been a number of homebrew solutions to this issue, propping up monsters and gates in stands to make them pop out from the underlying board. Now, thanks to Litko Game Accessories, you don’t have to be crafty — or settle for bent paperclips — to enjoy a similar sort of convenience. Litko offers gate and monster stands in two different designs and colors, respectively, plus full-sized elder sign tokens.

They’re very nice looking, just going by the catalog shots. My first gut reaction was “WANT!” which is atypical for me. Q Workshop’s fancy-pants dice didn’t garner that response from me. Part of it is these stands would actually help play the game, making it easier to count how many monsters and gates are on the board. Not so much the tentacle gate stands, though. It looks like they obscure the gate modifier, dimensional symbol and the additional modifier icons introduced by The Lurker at the Threshold.

It’s a pricey upgrade, though. Just in the base game, without any expansions, there can be seven gates open at once and eleven monsters on the board, not withstanding when topping the terror track removes the monster limit. That’s at the extreme ends of the spectrum, in two and eight player games, respectively. Since Litko sells the gate markers in sets of six at $25 each and monster stands in sets of eight for $12. Just to cover one’s bases with the original game, without worrying about the expansion boards, where monsters can run free and wild without a limit on their numbers, would $74, for two sets of gate and monster stands each to have as many as might be required in the course of a game.

I can see myself putting out for monster stands one of these days, when I’ve got some mad money. The gate stands, though, even the wrought iron ones, which are pretty amazing, are more than a little out of my comfort zone for luxury accessories.

[Tuesday Night Board Games] Still Lurking at the Threshold

We played another round of Arkham Horror, Jon, Nonny and I, with the same melange of cards from most of the expansions that I used for the past two games trying out Lurker at the Threshold Partly because the mix seems to work, but also because I’ve been too lazy to do more than drop the tote full of boxes in an out of the way spot on returning home from game night.

The one thing we left  out this time are the personal story cards from Innsmouth Horror. They’re neat and all, sure, but they’re mostly about slowing the investigators down, something that isn’t really needed with what’s going on in Lurker at the Threshold. Plus, going back to my point of how many things there are to track in a game of Arkham Horror these days, it’s too easy to forget about the pass/fail conditions of a personal story, or focus on them to the exclusion of other conditions that need monitoring.

This time we fought against Ghatanathoa, a delightfully cheery fellow I’d run into before. His annihilating gaze is rough: draw a token from a pool of eight whenever collecting two or more clue tokens. If it happens to show his face, the investigator is devoured. Nonny got stung by that on her very first draw from the pool. It wasn’t until much later in the game, when she had started over with Patrice the Clue Giver, that she and Jon flirted with Ghatanathoa again, having recognized the need to speed up clue token collection.

After a slow start — and what game of Arkham doesn’t have a slow start? — we got into the rhythm of gate-diving and scrounging clue tokens. We weren’t moving fast enough, though. Even with a thirteen token doom track and a number of monster surges, Ghatanathoa’s filled up quite really. The game went to final combat, which we won by the skin of our collective teeth, maybe at the last or second to last attack on the Ancient One.

The interesting thing about this particular session is how we used the Lurker’s pacts. In the past two games, players got bound allies immediately, working on the assumption that it would never come to final combat, so they didn’t have to worry about the bound allies joining the Ancient One’s side. Jon and Nonny played a little more conservatively.

It was a good long time before anyone took a pact and honestly, I can’t really remember the motivation to do so. It may have been a reckoning card — which I tried to draw faithfully throughout, but it’s difficult to keep them in mind when the effects don’t target anyone at the table, since we were so scrupulously unpacted.

Where the pacts finally paid off was in final combat. Since Ghatanathoa doesn’t sap sanity or stamina, it didn’t matter what our investigators had in those areas. So we all took soul and blood pacts, converted “extra” — read: “all but one” — sanity and stamina into power tokens, which could then be used for some truly massive opening volleys of clue tokens.

It wasn’t a brilliant start, considering each of us individually rolled just shy of twenty dice in the first round of combat, but we did eventually pull victory out of the clutch. The key was recognizing when the pacts could really pay off, and using them appropriately.

As I wrote the above, I began to wonder if I’d missed a rule. It doesn’t make thematic or mechanic sense for the Lurker, a herald of the Ancient One, to continue bestowing goodies to the investigators when its master is on the verge of breaking through to Earth. It suddenly seemed that surely we’d missed the bit where all pacts are discarded at the start of final combat, not just the bound allies. But no, I just checked the rules PDF and the herald sheet itself, thanks to the Arkham Horror Wiki. I can’t see any mention of discarding pacts, except in the event of an investigator being devoured, so I guess it’s just one of those things, like Michael Glen’s Strong Body ability making him effectively immune to at least one Ancient One’s attack.

There’s one poster over on Boardgamegeek who often comments that all investigator abilities should stop working once final combat begins. I can’t entirely agree with that, because Mandy’s dice rerolling is way too big a lifesaver, but there are certain cases where some new wrinkle doesn’t seem to have been thought all the way through to final combat.

Beefing Up the Nun

A common goal of some Arkham Horror house rules, or so it seems from internet discussion, is making Sister Mary more of a contender in the struggle against squamous horror. In fact, that even became one of the modifiers in the difficulty level cards published with Black Goat of the Woods: Sister Mary can spend clue tokens to reroll to keep her blessing.

Personally, I think that’s a little too low key for the lady. Her stats are unimpressive enough she needs a stronger edge. So in our games, she doesn’t roll to keep her blessing, period. She can still be cursed and all that, so she doesn’t have a permanent blessing. Most of the time, however, she can expect the benefit of 4s counting as successes, which can only improve her chances when she’s maxed out a skill to a whopping three dice.

Houseruling Black Goat of the Woods

Arkham Horror,Herald,Shub Niggurath,Cultists,Corruption,Dark YoungIn The Arkham Horror Expansion Guide, I recommended Black Goat of the Woods as a solid choice for a new owner’s first expansion to Arkham Horror. With a few more plays under my belt since then, I’ve recognized there are some major flaws to how the cult encounters work; namely, the places where investigators get those encounters, which are supposed to be “fun” in the Arkham Horror sense of the term, aren’t available most of the time, because the locations in which they occur are frequently replaced by gates to Other Worlds.

Having been thinking about that lately — and my dereliction in still having not gotten around to trying The Lurker at the Threshold — I ran across the alternate Black Goat of the Woods herald, created by a fan of the game. It was designed to promote the use of the expansion’s new elements, as well as make the herald’s effects somewhat more manageable. I never got around to playing with the original Black Goat herald — I think I’ve played with a herald only once or twice; we have enough difficulty winning without throwing a herald in the mix most of the time — but I like the looks of what this variation adds.

For example, as the expansion is written, an investigator may only chance into a cult membership, depending on the encounter card they draw at the Unvisited Isle, the Woods or the Black Cave. With this new version of the herald, someone visiting one of those locations must buy a membership, either with stamina or monster trophies. Now those cult encounters will start flowing a bit more freely.

I wonder if perhaps cult encounters should replace normal encounters at any unstable location? Investigators still need to visit those places to collect clue tokens as they appear, and they won’t all be replaced by gates. The cult encounters themselves would probably need to be revised somewhat to be a little more forgiving, if that were the case. They’re almost entirely deleterious to the poor investigator suffering through them, from what I recall.

[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.