Trying the solo version of Eldritch Horror.
Last night, I had a bunch of friends over, and we played a game of Fortune and Glory and a game of Cards Against Humanity. This afternoon, after I had cleared up all the game stuff from the table, but before I removed the table leaf and pushed the table back into the correct position, I decided to try out my newest board game: Eldritch Horror, from Fantasy Flight Games.
Eldritch Horror is another Lovecraft-themed game from FFG. It’s got the same basic underpinnings as Arkham Horror or Elder Sign – it’s a co-operative game, set in the 1920s, with a Ancient One trying to break through into this reality and mess up all the furniture. It differs in scale; it covers the entire globe, while AH is a town, and ES is a single museum. So, your investigators have to travel the globe, tracking down clues and information to prevent the Ancient One from winning.
Complexity-wise, EH falls between AH on the high end and ES on the low end. There are more moving parts and options and special rules than in ES, but not nearly as many as in AH. Turn structure is a simplified version of AH turn structure, with three phases for players:
- Action Phase. Players get two actions. This is stuff like moving, resting, acquiring assets, resting, etc.
- Encounter Phase. Players get to have an encounter. They may fight a monster, or draw a special encounter card, or what have you.
- Mythos Phase. Draw a card to see how the Ancient One tries to screw you over.
Turns seem to tick along more quickly than with AH, and possibly even more quickly than ES, once you remove the fact that I was relying pretty heavily on the rulebook and reference guide while trying to get the hang of the way things work. All in all, I got set up and through five rounds in about an hour, with two characters. About half that time was me checking the rules to see what I was supposed to be doing. So that’s about ten minutes set-up, the big part of which is building the Mythos Deck and sorting out cards that don’t get used with the Ancient One, leaving about a minute per phase per player.
Of course, if you’re not playing solo, some of that time savings from not relying on the rulebooks so heavily will be eaten up by discussion, planning, and socializing. Still, compared to about five minutes per player per phase in AH, you still come out ahead if you double the EH turn esitmate.
Right there, that’s enough to make me like the game. I mean, I love AH, but it is a huge investment of time to set up and play. A version that sets up and tears down quickly, with speedy play, is just what I want, and I’d have been happy if that was all EH brought to the table. But there’s a lot more than that.
I mentioned while describing the set-up that you use subsets of different kinds of cards during the game – building a Mythos Deck from a larger assortment of cards, for example. You also have some specialized decks for the various Ancient Ones that you must battle. These decks allow the game to build strong narratives for each of the different Ancient Ones, setting different goals and tactics for each one.
To defeat each Ancient One, you must complete three Mysteries. These are unique to each Ancient One, and are related to the trademarks of the specific Ancient Ones. For example, you may have to investigate the strange meteor that landed in Tunguska if you’re facing off against Azathoth, or explore newly re-risen R’lyeh if you’re dealing with Cthulhu, or defeat the Dunwich Horror if Yog-Stothoth is your opponent, or break up horrid witch cults in remote corners of the world to beat Shub-Niggurath.
In addition, there are specialized research cards and (for some) encounter decks. These, coupled with the special ways the different Ancient Ones advance the Doom Track, add a lot more consistent and interesting narrative to play. Facing off against Azathoth is qualitatively different than dealing with Cthulhu, which is great.
There’s also a mechanic for scaling the difficulty of the game based on the number of players. A set of crib cards show you how many gates, monsters, and clues get spawned at the appropriate times, as well as the position of the initial Doom Track marker.
One other mechanic deserves mention here: double-sided cards. These are Condition cards and Spell cards, which have information on two sides. Players can freely read the top side, but are not allowed to turn them over to read the back side until something specific directs them to do so. For Spell cards, this is usually casting the spell. For Condition cards, it’s when a certain symbol comes up on a Mythos card, indicating that a Reckoning is due. The cards flip over, you get to read the consequences of your leg injury acting up on you or your bank loan coming due or the downside of messing with powers man was not meant to know.
Players win if they complete the three Mysteries of the Ancient One before the Doom Track reaches zero. Well, they mostly do. When the three Mysteries are completed, there are instructions on the Ancient One card as to what to do next. Sometimes, that’s it, you’ve one. Other times, you must face the final Mystery that is printed on the Ancient One card itself.
The Ancient One wins if the Doom Track reaches zero before all three Mysteries are solved, or if all the investigators are eliminated.
I do worry, however, about replayability. There are only the four Ancient ones included in the game, and each has a deck of four Mysteries, three of which get used each game. Right there, you’re only looking at sixteen combinations. But there is a lot of other stuff going on, too, that adds variety to each game, so it’s entirely possible that my concern is completely misplaced.
Another concern is a common one to Arkham Horror and Elder Sign : once your character starts doing well, he or she can get stuff to help him or her, like gear and allies and spells and so forth. But if you need to succeed at a couple of encounters without that kind of help to get the game currency you need to get the stuff that helps you. If you take some time to get rolling, it can be very frustrating.
On the up side, it looks like the gate and monster holders from Litko that I got for AH will work just as well with EH. I’ll have to check to see if I have the character figures for the investigators in EH, too.
So, final evaluation? I like Eldritch Horror. It fits nicely into the complexity/duration gap between Arkham Horror and Elder Sign, and does some very cool things that neither of those other games do. It’s not just a simplified version of AH, though it is that too. But it’s a great game in its own right.
I’m glad I bought it when it came out. I’m looking forward to playing a full game with real people.