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Posted on Mon, May 3, 2010 : 7:45 a.m.

Arkham Horror is fun group game, offers new playing scenario every time

By Mike Hulsebus


Mike Hulsebus | Contributor

Arkham Horror, a game based on the literature of H.P. Lovecraft, is the heaviest board game that I own in both the sense that it weighs 18.2 pounds (with all expansions) and that it has the most complex and lengthy rules, taking 2-4 hours to play.

If that hasn’t scared you away, let’s talk about one of the things that makes Arkham Horror great: it is cooperative. In Arkham Horror, 1-8 players team up to fight against the game itself, trying to save the city of Arkham from certain destruction at the hands of monsters, townspeople who have been driven mad by the horrors they have seen, and the Ancient who can awaken and end the game. Let’s look at how this happens.


Players begin the game by choosing which character they want to be. Each character has his or her own quirks and abilities that will make him or her better or worse at certain roles over the course of the game. The city of Arkham has a number of different neighborhood locations that players can use their movement points to travel to as they wish.

Each turn, one Mythos card is drawn that tells the players what is happening in Arkham, where a gate to another world opens up, and which monsters move and how they move. Players then take their turns, doing as they wish on the board’s many locations. Players may fight monsters, try to get items, go to the mental hospital to regain sanity, or go through a gate to another world. To get a feel for how the entire base game looks set up, this board game geek image will help.

Arkham Horror, by design, is a game that you always feel like you are on the verge of losing until the very end. Much of the fun of the game comes from strategizing with other players how you are going to deal with the challenges that come up: maybe one player will go and collect clue tokens while another goes to clear off the monster near a gate so that a more lightly-armed player can enter the gate.

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Mike Hulsebus | Contributor

Yet, even when you feel like everything is going poorly, you still feel like you have control over the outcome of the game. While other great co-op games out there like Pandemic play more like puzzles, Arkham Horror reminds me more of a role-playing game. In fact, we started playing Arkham Horror in lieu of playing Dungeons and Dragons on days when I didn’t have an adventure prepared. If you have a group that likes playing RPGs, it’s pretty safe to say that you’ll like playing Arkham Horror together.

There are a lot of ways to lose in Arkham Horror: if too many gates open up, if Arkham is overrun with monsters, if the Ancient One awakens and kills you in the final battle. Yet there are just a few ways to win. Most commonly, players win by collecting clue tokens, entering gates, traveling to other worlds and returning so that they can seal the gates. If the Ancient One awakes, players also get a very difficult chance to have a final battle that they are likely to lose, but can still pull off. We have seen more than one game end where a final die roll determines whether the players win or lose and it makes for an exciting finish.

The strongest attribute of Arkham Horror, in my opinion, is that it's a different game every time. You use a small fraction of the cards each game and so each game you’ll see different encounters and different monsters, and have gates appear in different locations. Each game has a different Ancient One that slightly alters the rules enough so that strategies that worked one game might not work the next.


Mike Hulsebus | Contributor

There are few games with the same newness in each game of Arkham Horror. I’ve logged a good number of plays on Arkham Horror and there are still things that I’ve yet to do or see. I have had a card tell me “remember that you have made a pact” yet never seen its bad effects play out. From looking at the cards, I know there are encounters in other worlds that offer the opportunity for difficult battles that could give huge rewards, but never had this encounter. There is always something new each time I play, so every game plays differently. Some people even buy the game for the one purpose of playing it solo, since it is possible to play with one player. While I have done this a few times, the game is a lot more fun to figure out and play as a group.

Just because I put Arkham Horror in my top 3 games doesn’t mean that you’ll like it, so I want to end with some warnings.

1) Before you play with friends, someone should play alone first to familiarize himself with the rules. Otherwise you’ll never finish the game in four hours. I have heard of peoples’ first games taking six to eight hours of combined time. Now familiar with the rules, we can usually get a game done in two hours.

2) The game itself is easy to teach once you know it. As long as there is someone there who knows the rules of how the whole game plays, it is easy to teach new players what they need to know to play their character while you deal with the fiddly elements of tracking different things. Luckily, there are great rule resources out there in the Universal Head rules summary that turns the 30-page rulebook into a two-page rules reference.

One Sentence Reviews

Allie: The collaborative play makes for a low-key game, without sacrificing any of the strategy.

Angie: The rules are complex, but once you learn them it's fun to strategize with four-plus players. Also, the character stories are pretty awesome.

Rob: Most large games get dull while you wait for your turn. Since Arkham is cooperative, you're trying to help your teammates choose wisely no matter whose turn it is!

Cultist: Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah-nagl ftaghn.

Jake: It's a long and complex game that always feels like an uphill battle, but grabbing a victory out of all of the chaos is much more satisfying than a win in other games.

Mike Hulsebus reminds you to seek help if you have been crafting stone carvings of Cthulhu in your sleep. He can be reached at


Mike Hulsebus

Mon, May 10, 2010 : 9:10 a.m.

Hey, thanks Peter, I always appreciate getting comments especially such nice ones as that

Peter Nelson

Wed, May 5, 2010 : 1:34 a.m.

Thanks for posting your game reviews, Mike. Your column has become one of my favorites here at