Monday, 2 February 2015

Early thoughts on Eldritch Horror

Not all components shown.
On Saturday night, we had a bash at Fantasy Flight's Eldritch Horror, a game of Lovecraftian terror, futile co-op struggle and occasional triumph.

Eldritch Horror is the international expansion of Arkham Horror, with a world map in place of Arkham and notable cities and expedition locations in place of major civic landmarks, but the same - literally; most of the characters are stalwarts of AH, and some also of Elder Sign - bunch of (mostly or) all-American heroes rambling about and taking care of business, Mythos stylee.

The game is pretty straightforward. Each turn you can move and act a certain amount as a matter of choice, then you have an encounter based on where you are, and finally Mythos shit happens and some people get hurt. Players take turns as lead investigator, but I never managed to check whether the token passed to represent this was really called 'the blame' or if that was just local patois, as it were.

Our saviour.
Some early observations:

Each character has a card with their stats and their special abilities, as well as any starting gear and spells. Compared to the sheet for the Outer Gods and Old Ones, it's a respectable size, but depressingly short on meat compared to the comparable card for the antagonist. In a twist, the basic level enemy is the witless, all-devouring force that is the Demon Sultan Azathoth.

The primary mechanic is roll N dice, 5 and 6 are successes. Based on the ability scores of the characters - 1 to 4 in each field - and the stats for the monsters - almost all force a 1 or 2 die penalty to the investigator's attack roll and require 3-4 successes to be accumulated to defeat them - successfully assaulting a monster, let alone bringing one down, is beyond the scope of even the hardiest adventurer without collaboration or serious hardware. As a consequence, Influence, the stat used to acquire weapons and other gear, is somewhat overpowered. Our social monkey quickly outstripped the martial artist in hitting power due to her ability to buy guns.
I'm just saying, my money isn't on the beardy-
weirdy up there.

Gate encounters are fiendishly complicated and may or may not require you to have certain items or a number of clues in han to successfully complete them. You have no way of knowing in advance what you might need and once drawn, an encounter does not persist until defeated; it's blind chance every time, making it hard to strategise to close gates even before the monsters come pouring through them.

The highlight of the game was when Hanna's martial artist got to blow
up a vampire with dynamite. Some things just never get old (both
vampires and blowing up vampires with dynamite count.)
There is a lot to be said for collaboration. There is a lot to be said for splitting up. The game supports 1-8 players, and I suspect that more is better. The Mythos takes one turn when all of the players are done, and only half at most of the encounters involve a risk of bad shit happening. I think that if I were to play this again with three players, my inclination would be to run two characters each.

There are a lot of pieces in this game, even for a Fantasy Flight game. Hearts and brains to track health and sanity; clue tokens; eldritch tokens; gate counters, monster counters and player pawns; mystery and rumour markers; the expedition token (I never even found out what this one was for, I presume it had a special encounter type linked to it); train or ferry tickets; and that's just the punch-out cardboard counters. The cards are a whole other kettle of evil, soul-eating fish! 

There are about nine different types of encounter, each with their own card decks, plus gear, artefacts and conditions, cards representing shitty things happen to you. I think during our initial half-a-game (time and tiredness got the better of us about midnight) we ran up something like four debts, two hallucinations, two curses, two detentions, an injured leg and a miscellaneous dark pact, as well as the occasional delay, which leaves your pawn lying on its side all turn, trying to stand up, and surprisingly doesn't have its own token*.
Hitmen is actually a pretty good thing to find when your debt condition comes
due. At least you can punch a human leg-breaker.

Curses are especially horrible. They reduce your success chance to 6s only and rely on random chance to shake off. At least Arkham Horror had a location where you could get blessed.

The meat of the game is yet another set of cards; the Mysteries, which vary according to the Old One/Outer God in play and must be resolved to win the game. These come out one at a time and stay out, which means it it is at least possible to work out what you plan to do about them.

I am sure that we screwed up at least some of the rules - on top of the ones that I know we screwed up because Andrew spotted it in game - and in particular the 'monster surges' seemed slightly half-arsed and I suspect that gate encounters are intended to persist until resolved.

It's a long game, but plays pretty fast, and would play faster with a greater familiarity with the rules. Well worth a play, if not a must by.

* I constantly expect FF games to include markers to indicate when a player has gone on a snack run, put the kettle on, or is using the facilities.