December 6, 2010 9:40 PM   Subscribe

Some friends and I are going to be playing Arkham Horror this Friday. None of us has ever played before. What advice can you give to a bunch of first-timers?

By the sounds of it, it's a difficult game to pick up, especially if there aren't any veterans in the group. Are there common mistakes that beginners make, either in terms of rules or strategy? Are there any good introductory articles or videos on the net? We all have copies of the instructions and have been studying them (and at least a few of us are real rules lawyers, so we shouldn't be lazy on the prep front). Are there any little tricks or tips you have that will make the experience more fun? Should I read a particular Lovecraft story or two?
posted by painquale to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (18 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Have you read the Rock Paper Shotgun article about it?
posted by empath at 10:01 PM on December 6, 2010

The rules book really sucks. You'll have to read it cover to cover anytime you need to figure out something. A PDF copy will assist you in this task greatly.

There is also a pretty good 1-page cheat sheet that helped my group a lot.


Also, if you find the game too easy, try the stormknight variant.
posted by zug at 10:06 PM on December 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

The only groups I've played with had never read any Lovecraft (despite being typical geeks). Not an impediment, especially since many of the monsters come from the expanded mythos of other authors.

For your first couple of times, consider adding a house rule that says that if a round of combat ends without a winner, no physical or mental damage is taken by the player (with the exception of those monsters that cause damage anyway). This makes combat a reasonable proposition in many encounters.
posted by Nomyte at 10:12 PM on December 6, 2010

Remember that it is co-operative. People aren't used to co-operative games and instinctively try and work against each other when playing a game.

Get a weapon or magical means of fighting as soon as you can. Don't try and make a lot of long term plans because the game doesn't last long enough for you to carry them out.
posted by open sourceress at 10:20 PM on December 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

posted by adamk at 10:27 PM on December 6, 2010

In terms of strategy, I think a lot of the fun is figuring out how to beat the various bossmonsters; set aside a LOT of time at the start for everybody to read the rulebook cover-to-cover, though. Maybe make a stew or something while they're doing it, it's going to take a long time.
posted by The Bridge on the River Kai Ryssdal at 11:44 PM on December 6, 2010

Definitely agree with reading the rulebook cover-to-cover. Also, make sure you have set aside plenty of time, and have snacks or other food available. My brother and I used to play semi-frequently, and we enjoyed listening to scary/ominous sounding music while playing, and lighting candles to set the mood. :-) For the first time through, don't get frustrated, and have fun! This game is sooooo awesome.
posted by I_love_the_rain at 12:39 AM on December 7, 2010

The major things that I have seen new players having trouble with are:

1) Combat. It's tricky to remember what all the icons mean, and what order things happen, especially if the player fails to kill on their swing. Possible confusions: there's no second horror check, monster heals fully each round, player can attack again or flee but exhausted equipment/spells remain exhausted, Resistances/Immunities do not apply to basic damage from Fight.

It might be worth going through some trial combats for each player before the game starts, both to ensure everyone gets it, and to help people be realistic about what they can and can't kill.

2) Turn order. Mythos happens at the end of the turn, even though it feels like the beginning. Someone needs to be absolutely on top of the cycle of upkeep-movement-ark enc-oth world enc-mythos, and ensure it's kept to. You *do* get an Other World Encounter the turn you enter a gate, *unless* it opens on your head.

3) "Exhaust" - this is probably easier for your players if they're experienced and you can just say that it means "tap", rather than discard.

4) Monster limit, terror, and the outskirts. This is fine if you have an experienced player, but if not, someone needs to make this their job and do it well, so that everyone else can safely ignore it.

Some other common misconceptions it might be worth clearing up before starting play are: closing vs sealing gates, how focus works, the difference between fight checks and combat checks and sneak vs evade.

I think that's it! For a good first game, I'd play with a 'typical' Ancient One rather than one of the weird ones - Cthulu or Azathoth would be good. I wouldn't worry too much about strategy - run around, learn the rules, get devoured, go insane, fail better next time.
posted by piato at 2:21 AM on December 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

I find that Arkham works much better if you divide up the responsibilities for running things - piato mentions having someone make monster logistics their job. In general, we just do this by having people claim some set of cards/bits of cardboard as their domain - someone is 'in charge' of mythos cards, heart/brain transactions, items, etc. That person can both distribute things and take responsibility for remembering e.g. how to calculate how many dice you get for a monster battle.

Other things:

- Figure out some system for laying out all your cards that makes sense. In general modifications to your various sliders come in two flavors, things that apply all the time (Skills are often like this) and things you can call on at specific times. I keep my "all the time" cards lined up alongside my character card so I don't forget to use them, with all the others below.

- "Fight check" != "Combat check"; "Will check" != "Fear check" (as piato also mentioned, on preview) I can't remember how this sorts out exactly (item/skill cards can affect one or the other, though.) I probably didn't even notice this was the case until my third game or so.

- Keep a little blue eye token on top of the stack of gates. This helps us to remember to add it to the old ones track when a gate opens (which is usually but not always what happens.)

- Figure out early on which characters are good for different things, such as running around beating up monsters vs. collecting clue tokens and closing gates. This is good for encouraging cooperation, though you don't need to be inflexible about it.
posted by heyforfour at 4:41 AM on December 7, 2010

Do not play with any of the expansions yet! Slowly add them (or parts of them). More expansions does not always = more fun, especially if you only play with 4 or so people. Several of the expansions are particularly brutal and geared for seasoned players.

When my buddies and I learned, we did a few read-throughs of the rules, then pretty much just jumped in, slowly going step-by-step the first few turns. It's going to take you several play-throughs to really get comfortable with the flow. The most difficult concepts for us to learn were:

* How flying monsters move
* What happens when a gate opens on you
* How sneak/evade works
* When combat begins
* What options there are when returning to Arkham from a gate and there is a monster there
* When and what investigators can trade
* What constitutes as a "check"

I also concur with splitting gameplay responsibilities for things like:
* watching the terror track
* putting doom counters on the Big Bad
* managing gates and the monster cup
* managing items and effects
* managing "rumour" and "event" mythos card effects

Also, a few house rules we enjoy:
* Hidden gates. Don't show where a gate goes until an investigator goes through the first time.
* "Choose your own adventure" style reading of location cards. Have someone other than the investigator read the location card text. If there is a choice to be made, don't spoil it!

I don't want to spoil strategies too much, but will just say this: the game works best when investigators specialize. But also realize that even the best-laid plans will often go horribly awry. Strive for a 50-50 win-lose ratio and you'll be doing good.
posted by Wossname at 7:48 AM on December 7, 2010

I would just try to relax into it and make sure everyone is having a good time and staying caught up, even if it means that it gets late and you don't finish. There have been games where we've all just pushed hard and "powered through" to make sure we get to the end, and that can be grueling and might discourage people from wanting to play again. Consider your first game just an exploration of the Arkham world.

Also, resist the urge to let the phases of each turn blend together. Be diligent in announcing, "This is the upkeep phase, everyone adjust your sliders, roll to see if you get to keep your blessings, etc." and make sure that you proceed to the next phase as a group. If people feel they are constantly getting left behind or out of the loop, they'll feel discouraged.

It's not important that every person knows ALL of the rules with regards to things like monster movement and the finer points of play. As long as you have one or two players who do, they can sheepdog the others.

Also, there will ALWAYS be things you forget you should have been doing, try not to sweat it and get discouraged. To this day it happens to us sometimes, after years of play. BUT even though things fall a little slack sometimes, resist the urge to cheat. The game is actually more fun if you lose -- especially if you get the Dunwich expansion, where you can begin to pick up physical and mental infirmities instead of going to hospital. And if a player perishes they can just start over with a new character.

The game is, by design, a world of futility and despair. Some people get frustrated because nothing good ever seems to happen to them. For me that's the fun of it -- it's just a parade of horrible tragedies that get worse, and worse, and worse, and then suddenly you kill something or gain some pitifully minor advantage, and it's very exciting :)

piato's advice about practicing some combat ahead of time is really good. If you and/or another player can do some prep play beforehand, that would be ideal.
posted by hermitosis at 7:54 AM on December 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

That Rock Paper Shotgun article is pretty good, and many excellent points have been made already.

There are a lot of numbers to remember and keep track of that don't have a counter (like the terror track). Some of them change depending on how many players there are. At the beginning of the game, it may be helpful to do the necessary math and make a note of the monster limit, outskirts limit, "too many gates," number of gate seals to win, and number of gate trophies/closures to win.

Some people's characters are probably going to be effective right out of the gate--mobile, good in combat, high focus, etc.--and other people will probably feel hamstrung for the duration. Just the way it goes. Don't forget that people can trade items or hand out money, and if things are hitting the fan too badly to coordinate, players who feel ineffective can often do other work that helps everyone. They can also sometimes roll incredibly well in combat, literally find money laying around in Yuggoth, get free allies through encounters, etc. So don't get discouraged.

If you haven't read any Lovecraft, I would absolutely recommend it. It's not key to understanding or enjoying the game, but with my friends it meant that some people felt weird about the premise and other people got it immediately and felt immersed.
posted by heatvision at 8:56 AM on December 7, 2010

Absolutely divide up the responsibilities. I've played dozens of times now, but find that it really really helps the flow of things if there's one person who's in charge of the little cards (items, spells, etc.), one person in charge of the Doom Track and gates (since a doom token gets added with every new gate, this works well), one person in charge of distributing location cards, one person in charge of handing out and placing monsters and keeping track of the permitted numbers of them, and so on. I've found it helpful to lay the location cards out along one side of the board roughly corresponding to where the places are on the board.

You'll read the rules together, and then probably go "uh what?" and then start playing. The turns go in phases, and though it might seem pedantic or silly, it might help to actually say aloud for every turn "ok, so now we're on the movement phase. Let's adjust our sliders and figure out where we want to go".

Because it's a cooperative game, it's far more important to have lots of conversation about how you're going to close the gates and clear off the critters on the board than it is to keep things moving along quickly - don't worry about that. This game will take a LONG time, and probably at least one person will get devoured (we lost two in our first game, and then the Old One destroyed the world. Ah well).

The strengths and weaknesses of your characters will become pretty obvious as you play - really try to play to them. Trade items whenever you can to help the person who can really beat up monsters beat up more of them. Get spells to the spell caster. Try to plan for the worst, because the game will likely throw it at you. Have fun!
posted by lriG rorriM at 9:03 AM on December 7, 2010

Great responses so far, guys! Keep them coming! I'm feeling pretty good about this because I was able to go down Wossname's list of difficult game concepts and say "I know how that works!" to most of them. I still don't have a good grasp of combat, but that's next on my list.

I don't think we need to worry about accidentally slurring the phases of a turn into one another. We're all really pedantic about following rules to the letter in order to reduce indeterminacy. When we play Puerto Rico, it is a source of consternation and discomfort that the board set-up picture does not show where to put unused plantation tiles.

Dividing up the responsibilities is a good idea... both in terms of players dividing up rules-checking responsibilities, and characters dividing up goal-achievement responsibilities.

For those reading this thread in the future, I'm finding this video series pretty useful. I like the idea of using the investigator stands as monster counters (put monsters in the stands as you draw them; when you run out of stands you're at the monster limit). More little memory aids like that would be helpful.

I like that Rock Paper Shotgun series. It's interesting to read someone who doesn't like European strategy games. ("Eurogames are also commonly about farmers, camels, bits of fruit, planks of wood, koala bears and slaves. None of which are very easy to get passionate about.") European games are mostly what I'm familiar with and preferring American games is an opinion I haven't really encountered.

I think I'm going to use the miniatures as trophies. Whenever we win, the investigators we used each gets a check, and when an investigator gets enough checks (enough = TBA) I get to buy his or her miniature....
posted by painquale at 10:29 AM on December 7, 2010

Strategy tip #1, don't close a gate unless you can seal a gate. Tokens are only added to the Elder Being whenever a new gate appears, these tokens regulate how long you have to try to win, so it's very important not to let them pile on. It's much easier for players to deal with the monsters (and the possible increase in the terror track) from a monster surge than you think.
posted by nulledge at 5:44 PM on December 7, 2010

Thanks for all the advice, guys! It went great. We took down Azathoth with just a single doom counter on his track, a single counter on the terror track, and we ended up with a final score of 34. We were a little surprised that it was so easy. After the first monster surge, which was a little scary, we never felt in danger of losing (which makes me wonder if we were doing something wrong... but we were pretty careful to play by the book, so I don't know what we might have messed up). Researcher Mandy's reroll power is absurdly good. I think we were lucky to draw a lot of mythos cards that either caused monster surges or that tried to force open gates in areas we had already sealed, so not too many gates opened up and closing them all was pretty easy.

We played with the researcher, drifter, doctor, gangster, and dilettante. We each drew two investigators at random and picked the one of the two we liked best. The Elder One was chosen the same way. I was the gangster. A magical tommy gun and an early blessing made me responsible for clearing paths to the gates.

It was great fun; we will definitely play again soon.

One last question: is there ever any good reason to go to the stable locations that don't have special encounters, like the asylum or the police station? Velma's Diner, for instance.
posted by painquale at 11:08 PM on December 12, 2010

Is anyone still reading this? Some strategy ideas follow.

So I wrote an article on this game some time ago, and as part of my research I read every card and made notes about how often some things happened. I discovered something interesting about the Mythos cards: the gate sites are not evenly distributed among the cards!

In the base game: Science Building, Historical Society, Silver Twilight Lodge and Hibb's Roadhouse each only come up twice. Unnameable, Graveyard and Black Cave each turn up six times, and Unvisited Isle, Witch House, Woods and Independence Square all appear 10 times each. (There is one left-over card that triggers a reshuffle.) If it comes down to one of the 10-time locations, it's better to Seal it than Close it; if just Closed it could reopen advancing the Doom Track again, while if it's Sealed nothing happens, giving the players a breather. If it's still open there will be a monster surge, but unless the players are really getting beaten by the monsters that game this is not necessarily a great problem.

This means that, actually, the players are better off just closing the rare gates locations, saving clue tokens and Elder Signs for the more frequent locations unless you're desperate to keep the Doom Track from filling or are nearing the six seals you need for a seal victory.

Second, getting those Elder Signs is of tremendous importance. Clue Tokens are too useful for other things to spend them on seals if you can help it. There are exactly six in the Unique Item deck, just enough to win. Because players are allowed to trade items and money between each other if they're on the same space, a tactic we hit upon that works well is to park one player on the Curiositie Shop and have others take out Bank Loans and ferry some money to him. Each encounter at the shop, the player can look at three cards and buy one. It's not uncommon to find one or two Signs quickly that way, and with diligence you can fish all of them out. Once that's done, pass them along to the other players. If you run out of health and/or sanity and are forced to the Hospital or Asylum, losing half your stuff, keeping these items should be top priority.
posted by JHarris at 4:05 AM on January 11, 2011

Hey, thanks JHarris! Coincidentally, we just played again yesterday, and we were wondering about that very issue when wondering where to send the scientist for her first clue (we wanted to increase the odds that her flux stabilizer would foil the first gate opening).

We've all found the base probability lookup tables really helpful.

Honestly, we're finding this game a bit too easy and want to introduce some house rules or expansions to provide more of a challenge. I'm thinking of adding on the Black Goat of the Woods expansion, playing with a scenario, or adding the house rule that you can only communicate with another player if your investigators are in the same location.
posted by painquale at 6:08 PM on January 11, 2011

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