Arkham Horror: The Card Game – Why should you buy it?

Arkham Horror: The Card Game – Why should you buy it?

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No, for real. Isn’t Arkham Horror: The Card Game (AH:CG) just another mad cash-grab from Fantasy Flight Games, desperately trying to milk the Cthulhu Mythos for all that it’s worth? I mean, come on, they’ve already got a boat-load of “LCG” titles and even more Mythos products. Why on EARTH would you want to spend yet more money on more of the same?

Well, I have bought into it 100%. As you get to know me more through the posts I write on BoardGameSchool you will come to learn that I am deeply addicted to collecting things, and Fantasy Flight’s “Living Card Game” model is perfect for scratching that itch without driving me over the cliff to bankruptcy. There’s really only one other reason that I decided to jump in: Mrs Clark. My wife has a strong preference for cooperative games right now and, despite the occasional frustrations, I really do love playing games with her.

Not everyone is me, though, so why else might someone decide that AH:CG is a product they want to buy? And keep buying for possibly years to come? Below the cut, I’m going to go through some common reasons that people may be unsure about the product or LCGs in general and try to address them as best I can. Please remember that my aim is not to convince people to buy the game, but to help them make more informed choices by going into more detail than is readily available on Google.

1) Ok… What exactly is an LCG?!

An LCG, or Living Card Game, is a release format popularized (and named) by Fantasy Flight Games. Essentially, the first product is a “Core Set” containing all the components required for a full, basic game. This is then followed up by a number of other product releases that add on to the Core, either in a large “Deluxe Expansion” or a small pack of cards similar to a booster pack of Pokémon cards. The most important difference between “collectable” card games, like Pokémon, and LCGs is that the Living Card Game Format removes the element of luck from your purchases. There’s no more hunting through hundreds of packs for the one card you need – each additional product release contains a full set of each card required for a single player.

In the case of Arkham specifically, each Deluxe expansion brings the start of a new campaign with plenty of new cards and each smaller pack, or “Mythos Pack”, brings an additional scenario. There are also some special releases that add individual side-scenarios that can be added to any campaign, called Standalone Adventures. These are printed on-site at FFG headquarters, so have a slightly different card quality to the main line.

If you’re totally turned off by the idea of paying more money over time for further releases, then the LCG format is definitely not for you. You may still wish to give the Core Set a try, as it is a fun experience without any extras, but there are probably better choices for the kind of gameplay experience AH:CG provides with just a Core.

The first deluxe expansion for AH:CG: The Dunwich Legacy.
The first deluxe expansion for AH:CG: The Dunwich Legacy.

2) $40 is a high price for a product that is fundamentally incomplete.

This worry seems to be based on the idea that the Arkham Horror: The Card Game Core Set (a bit of a mouthful) is just a “get started kit” and doesn’t really hold any intrinsic worth or value. It may also be influenced by your experience with competitive card games, where an incomplete card set can be a pretty big disadvantage in serious settings.

It is my opinion, though, that the Core Set does represent good value for money. A single run through of the Core campaign scenarios would probably total around three to six hours depending on your general gaming experience, which is already a fairly good ratio of investment to enjoyment. Of course, many board gamers are also looking to play each of their games far more than just once and that is certainly a potential issue for such a narrative game. I address this in more detail in a later paragraph, but for now I will just say that, in my opinion, the Core Set alone has a good amount of replay possibility built in.

Regarding the concern that an incomplete set of cards (missing future expansions) renders the Core Set “incomplete”, I would say that it probably doesn’t matter. The Core Set is most definitely a complete play experience, although adding future releases to your card pool will expand your options within the game. Furthermore, this lack of options in the Core Set doesn’t present a disadvantage because of the cooperative nature of the game; you can’t be meaningfully “behind” other players when you’re not playing against other players!

The Mythos Packs will add more cards and stories to your game, but they are totally optional!
The Mythos Packs will add more cards and stories to your game, but they are totally optional!

3) The Core Set doesn’t contain a full play set of cards for one player, yet the box says it plays up to four!

The official player count for the Core Set is 1-2 people, with the addendum that the game can play up to four people with a second Core. There are not enough cards in one Core set to play with more than two, so don’t even try. It is true that you would need to buy a second Core Set to get two of each player card, as some are only included as a single copy. However, as noted previously, this shouldn’t really be considered a disadvantage in a cooperative game. Yeah, maybe that guy at the comic book store has two copies of Machete for his deck… but it’s not like he’s going to beat you with them!

An additional concern regarding “double Cores” for AH:CG is that the majority of the cards in the set are useless in duplicate. For other LCGs, the additional duplicates above deck limit can be loaned to friends, or used in multiple decks for example. In AH:CG, however, all of the scenario/campaign/encounter cards that you double up on are basically wasted. This really sucks – you’re not getting a discount on that box just because you don’t need half of it, y’know! I think this issue is mitigated by the fact that if it really bothers you, it’s not hurting you to pass on that second box. It’s a luxury far more than it is a necessity.

Full disclosure: I probably will end up buying a second Core Set at some point, simply because I’m going to need to do it to satisfy my “collectables” impulse. I don’t feel obligated to buy the game for gameplay purposes.

All the duplicates of these scenario cards are wasted when buying a second Core Set.
All the duplicates of these scenario cards are wasted when buying a second Core Set.

4) Am I going to be able to replay this story-driven game to my heart’s content, or does it get stale once I know the plot?

I’m not sure on this one. I don’t have a problem replaying scenarios in AH:CG, but I also don’t have a problem rereading books over and over so maybe it’s just me. I don’t feel like I can give a straight answer, but I am going to tell you about the ways that the game tries to remedy the issue in the box. First off, the difficulty is scaleable. The game’s main chance engine, the “Chaos Bag”, is a sack of tokens that you pull blind and apply the effect – it’s essentially a custom die. But you don’t use all the tokens that come with the game every time, instead you change up what goes in the bag to customize the difficulty level. This is also augmented by the scenario card that assigns effects to the symbols, which also changes based on the difficulty you choose to play at. Secondly, the encounter deck adds a further element of randomness to the game – sure, maybe you already knew where you needed to get to with those six clues… but first you’re going to have to figure out how to deal with the big slimy guy that just crawled up the stairs. Then there’s the locations themselves, which are randomized to various degrees in each set-up (so far, only one scenario has had no random location skulduggery). I mean, I’ve had the game for a month and there’s still a few cards that I’ve never seen!

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the Resolutions. There are many ways to complete, or drag yourself through, each scenario and every one has a different resolution. I want to avoid spoilers here so details will be sparse, but there are several different ways to begin the second Core scenario based on the events of the first. Some of these are great, some are ok, and one or two just plain suck. Don’t forget that you’re playing an Arkham Files game here! Knowing some of what’s about to happen and what you need to accomplish ahead of time doesn’t necessarily make it any easier or any less enjoyable to do it!

There are also a few ways that you can increase your replay value through your own choices. There are five investigators (player characters) in the Core Set that you can choose from. The cards in the box do limit your choices somewhat as far as pairings go, but there are still several combinations that you can use. Some of them will require drastically different approaches to the game than others! Also, play campaigns spaced out a little – there’s no need to burn through the whole thing in one night, and then try again the next day. Take it easy and enjoy the ride!

Then, of course, there’re the expansions to consider. With every Deluxe adding a new campaign starting-point and the following Mythos Packs each further extending the story, there will be plenty to keep bringing Arkham back to your table as long as you feel that it’s worth the cash. This is really something that you’ll have to decide for yourself, but I’m pretty confident that it’ll be worth it for me.

The variation in the chaos bag set-up allows for a range of customization options.
The variation in the chaos bag set-up allows for a range of customization options.

5) There are an awful lot of complicated rules about timing and card interactions in this kind of game. I’m not sure that’s my cup of tea…

It is undoubtedly true that expandable card games in general tend to have more challenging rules than a standard board game. This is mostly because they are set up to allow more design space to be filled in by future cards, rather than to comprehensively cover the more finite set of situations that would arise in a board game. Accordingly, you may have to do your fair share of interpretation from the written rules. In addition, LCG rules are far more likely to be changed, or issued errata, in the future. If this still doesn’t seem like your cup of tea then AH:CG will probably not be for you in the long run.

On the other hand, the cooperative nature of the game steers this potential downfall to more neutral territory. If you’re messing up a rule, it’s not that big of a deal so long as you’re consistent. The more you play, the more you’ll learn things as you go and will become more competent in your rules decisions. The lack of a competitive side to the game removes the urgency in trying to wrap your head around the full rule-set at once. There’s no tournaments to lose because you misunderstood a reaction, no opponents scrutinizing your moves, and no judges to lay down the law on the newbie (not that I’ve ever encountered a CCG judge like that, but you never know!).

The page from the Rules Booklet that outlines how each turn runs can be a little... intimidating.
The page from the Rules Booklet that outlines how each turn runs can be a little… intimidating.

6) I don’t want to invest a lot of time in a campaign only to lose all that work because of a bad roll or draw.

It’s extremely important to remember that AH:CG is almost never a win or lose kind of arrangement. Sure, terrible things are going to happen to your characters during the campaign but it is really hard to kill them in the Core Set. As you expand your card pool and your investigators gain experience, you’ll be able to mitigate a lot of your weaknesses with your deck choices (this is something that the Core Set is very poor at demonstrating). One of the strongest things that this card game has going for it is the depth of atmosphere. Trudging through swamps and facing an uphill battle against a virtually limitless enemy can really feel like it if you let yourself be immersed in the mechanics. After all, the AH:CG is a narrative experience. Winning or losing really isn’t even the point, so long as you enjoyed the journey. I guess it sucks that everyone in Massachusetts died, but it made for one heck of a tale to tell!

Additionally, remember that every campaign is a finite experience. It’s RPG-lite; there’s no Dungeon Master figure to keep guiding your party through the world for as long as they can keep it up. Once you’re done playing a campaign, your game is over. People have even asked about the possibility of chaining campaigns with the same investigators, maintaining experience and trauma, but the response from the developers was not encouraging. The system is designed for short stints of play, so keeping investigators through too many scenarios will result in a much tougher experience than intended. No doubt someone will come up with rules that aim to balance a “mega-campaign”, but it’s likely that there will only ever be unofficial options for that approach.

The bare campaign log doesn't give much away, but the "Campaign Notes" section hints at the range of possible developments!
The bare campaign log doesn’t give much away, but the “Campaign Notes” section hints at the range of possible developments!

In summary, there are many reasons why Arkham Horror: The Card Game may not be a good fit for you and your play group. I hope, though, that I’ve done a good job of addressing any concerns that you may have held in error. AH:CG can be a long-term buy-in if that’s what you’re looking for, and I think that playing it that way will provide years of enjoyable content. I hope to have many of you along with me as we find out!

3 thoughts on “Arkham Horror: The Card Game – Why should you buy it?

  1. I love this game. I have the core set. I love the thematic game play. I love the fact that you can play solo or with a friend cooperatively. I will buy every expansion and side scenario deck this game offers.

    Saying that, the core set is incomplete. There should be at least 3 more scenarios in the box. Even if you need to recycle some of the locations and monsters; even if the scenarios are not part of a campaign; even if it meant that the game came out a little later; this box is not worth a 40 dollar purchase. Fantasy Flight Games loves to do this though, and so I’m not surprised.

    I know I’m a hypocrite, and that I am sucked in like many other people. I still believe we didn’t get our money’s worth. But I’m going to say it now. I’m getting tired of the lack of content that FFG releases in their LCGs. One day I might get tired enough not to bother with them anymore. But not today…

  2. Concur with all of the above. Incidentally, it’s also my favorite game to play with my wife right now.

    For me, the two most impressive things about the game are how well it works both coop and solo and how satisfying the rpg elements are. I generally hate coop games (ugh I can’t even stand pandemic; so quarterback-y) but AH absolves the sins of the genre in my book.

    The storytelling opportunities too are great. In our last game, my unwashed but lovable rogue and his dog went a bit mad and made a scene in a posh location to attract the attention of the bad guys while my wife’s erudite researcher babe snuck in the back and investigated some freaky business. Then the interdimensional slime really hit the fan.

    Wouldn’t mind just a biiiiiitttt more replayability with the core set though. But who am I kidding, just take my money FFG.

    1. I find that the Peril keyword goes a long way to eliminating QB issues. Even though they’re not that common, just having the game throw an impossible decision at you and force you to choose alone makes a difference. It also has a sort of ripple effect across the rest of the game, I think.

      And as far as I can recall right now (at 8am on a Monday!), it’s the only cooperative game that allows for a player to be eliminated but still “win” the scenario overall if their friends pull it out of the bag.

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