Thursday, October 16, 2014

Mulliga's Halloween Horrorfest 2014 - Eldritch Horror

Here at Shangrila Towers, October means Halloween, and Halloween means horror...all month, I'll be putting up special horror-themed features. This time, we'll be looking at Eldritch Horror, a board game designed by Corey Konieczka and Nikki Valens:

Fantasy Flight Games has released numerous H.P. Lovecraft-themed titles, each one focusing on a different level of the Cthulhu Mythos. Mansions of Madness took players through derelict buildings and cultist strongholds. Arkham Horror sent players racing around the streets of the titular city. Eldritch Horror raises the stakes even higher - now the whole world is at risk from the Great Old Ones:

The game is divided into three phases. In the "Action" phase, everyone takes turns moving around the globe, buying items or allies, and otherwise preparing for the challenges ahead. In the "Encounter" phase, the players fight monsters or resolve encounter cards. Finally, during the "Mythos" phase, numerous random (and usually bad) events occur.

The goal is to complete enough encounters (e.g., kill a special monster, explore a special location) before the Great Old One awakens and destroys the world. Each "encounter" is a little paragraph-long story that sets up a particular challenge, like fighting an ancient mummy at the Pyramids, breaking up a cultist ring in Shanghai, or getting detained by police in Rome. Your success or failure depends on your stats, your character's unique abilities, and the items you have in your inventory.

Overall, my group liked Eldritch Horror, since it plays like the most content-rich choose-your-own-adventure book ever. The gameplay is quicker and less fiddly than Arkham Horror, while the random nature of the encounter cards largely prevents the "dictator" problem common in co-op games (where one experienced player tells everyone else what to do). And, as always, FFG packs the box with best-in-class components and nice artwork, giving the game an excellent Lovecraft feel.

I do have some complaints. Out of the box, there aren't many encounter cards, so you'll see repeats sooner rather than later (if you expect to play more than a few times, the "Forgotten Lore" expansion - which contains hundreds of new cards - is basically a required purchase). Another downside is that there's not much to resolving encounters; usually, you read what the card says and roll some dice. Nearly all of the player choice in the game boils down to making sure you're in the right place with the right stuff, which might be off-putting to people expecting the game to be more interactive.

Despite these flaws, Eldritch Horror is a really great cooperative title that gives you the same globe-trotting, occult-discovering feel of the best Lovecraft stories, but without the tedium of some of FFG's other games. While Arkham Horror and Mansions of Madness are both pretty good, if you're going to only get one Lovecraftian board game, this is the one to get.


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