Last night a buddy and I made the possibly ill-advised decision to learn and play a game of Eldritch Horror in a single evening. Once we finally figured out how to play, we had a lot of fun. We even managed to stop the coming of Azathoth and save the world.
Eldritch Horror is a complicated cooperative board game where you and up to seven friends team up to stop a Lovecraftian ancient one from destroying the earth. It’s Fantasy Flight’s 2013 follow-up to Arkham Horror, allegedly streamlined and more accessible for newcomers. You each play as an investigator with his or her own strengths and weakness. You your the globe, fighting monsters, closing inter-dimensional rifts and solving mysteries in a race against the clock. Lose too much health or sanity and your character will die, though if that happens you can “respawn” as a new investigator and even go and recover your fallen comrade’s stuff. Take too long, and the Ancient One arises and the world ends.
With one game under my belt, my Eldritch understanding is surface-level at best. I barely feel qualified to write about the game at all; for a more in-depth look, check out the review from the friendly board-game experts at Shut Up & Sit Down.
Still, given how infrequently I find the time to play board games like this, I wanted to at least share some quick thoughts.
- It had been a while since I’d learned the rules for a board game of this complexity. My friend and I gamely tore into the setup guide, laying out the board and separating out cards and tokens with relish. 45 minutes later, we were feeling a little freaked out. What had we gotten ourselves into? Were we even going to be able to do this?
- This card was almost the straw that broke the camel’s back:
By the time we read that we’d read so many other rules, but we hadn’t gotten far enough to know what any of the things on the card meant. I remember just collapsing into giggles. We stuck with it, thankfully, and I’m now an old hand at acquiring assets, rolling tests, and avoiding conditions. For a minute there, though... dang.
- Two things saved us and made it possible to learn and play the game in the same night: 1) this extremely helpful “Learn to Play Eldritch Horror” video from the peppy chap at RTFM and 2) the decision not to read the included reference guide at all. You don’t need to read the reference guide, but if you crack it while still trying to learn the basics you will lose a couple of real-life sanity points. It contains a ridiculous and intimidating amount of information.
- In our game, we managed to solve three mysteries and defeat Azetoth, though it was far from smooth sailing. We got really lucky with test rolls and Mythos cards, and also missed a couple of rules that would’ve had our doom counter ticking down much faster than it did. Basically, we played on easy difficulty.
- We subsequently learned you can remove some types of mythos cards from the game to make things easier, though part of the fun in this game is seeing just how hard the game is willing to screw you over.
- We were completely unprepared for how difficult combat would be, and how important it would be to team up against tougher monsters. Our first combat encounter was a comical failure. “Hi, I’m Charlie Kane. I’m a career politician. Prepare to die!” [The monster glances at you. You are killed instantly.]
- Darkest Dungeon is the obvious video game touchstone, here, in that it, too, mercilessly grinds your characters down with afflictions and injuries and psychosis, only to finally kill them with some impossible-to-predict bit of fuckery. Like Darkest Dungeon, much of the fun in Eldritch Horror involves watching terrible things happen to your characters. Like Darkest Dungeon, I can see how it could get pretty frustrating.
- This is the first time in a while that I’ve played a board game where the writing and storytelling are the biggest part of the appeal. We had a ton of fun reading each encounter card out loud, then reliving the horrifying things that our characters went through while trying to fend off the apocalypse.
- I’ll certainly keep playing when I can, and it won’t be until the third or fourth time that I feel like I’ve got my head around it and can actually begin to strategize. That said, I feel like part of Eldritch Horror’s appeal is its unpredictability—the moment you’ve got your strategies planned out, you switch to a new Great One, which will likely turn your most careful plans sideways. This game defies mastery; that’s kind of the whole point.
I’m sure that some of you have played Eldritch Horror more than I have, and I’d love to hear what you think of it. What’s an optimal number of people to play with, and what are some successful strategies you’ve tried? How does it improve on Arkham Horror? Are the expansions worth checking out? And how’d you do on your first time through?