Halloween is Tonight! These Three games are my top picks for gaming on Halloween.
I present this list in alphabetical order so as not to give any one game more weight than another.
In the past couple years, I was introduced by some friends to the Cthulhu mythos, which for the uninitiated, is a literary universe begun by HP Lovecraft. The stories are dark and horrific, involving monsters from beyond the deep - probably the most famous being Cthulhu himself and the terror, insanity, and destruction they cause. While not necessarily my cup of tea, I understood why some people were drawn to these tremendously dark tales, and so wasn't surprised to see Arkham Horror (Fantasy Flight Games, 2005 - Richard Launius and Kevin Wilson) being republished this year. Not only was the story behind the game of interest to people, but the fact that it was a cooperative game also caught people's interest.
After several playings of the game, I confess that it is intriguing and fun. Some have compared it to Betrayal at House on the Hill, since both are horror-filled, but each fills a different niche. Arkham Horror (AH) is a game deeply rooted in the Lovecraftian mythos, with a fair amount of complexity. Betrayal is simpler and is based on "B" horror movies. AH is probably the most complex cooperative game I've ever played, yet the payoff is probably equal to the time put into the game. Instead of going over the rules (which are quite lengthy), I thought I'd just comment on parts of the gameâ€¦
1.) Rules: I'm not a fan of complex games, and AH is about the most complex type of game I would ever be interested in playing. The twenty-four page rulebook is very large - the same size as the box and each full-color page is packed with rules, diagrams, examples, and illustrations. Once a player learns the game, it's fairly easy to proceed; but I found myself referring to the rulebook often. After a couple of complete games, the dependence on the rulebook will shrink; but the huge amount of options offered by the game pretty much demand a rulebook of this size. If complex rule sets scare you, then this may not be the best pick for you; but I assure you that the end product is worth it.
2.) Components: I don't know for sure, but I think that there are more pieces in AH than in any other game that I own, even the massive, component-filled Twilight Imperium 3. There are twenty-one different DECKS of cards, piles of money tokens, clue tokens, stamina tokens, sanity tokens, skill sliders, etc., etc. In fact, there are seven hundred and thirty-seven total components in the game! Now, that makes setup time a bit long and demands the use of plastic bags (the plastic insert holds the cards well, but not the multitudes of pieces.) But at the same time - WOW! - the game has so much inside. After one game, I mentioned to a person that we hadn't even seen 1/4 of the cards provided with the game, and they mentioned that it meant replayability was high. All of the components are of high quality - the tokens are shaped in different shapes and are thick, two-sided tokens. The cards, which come in two different sizes, have different colors, icons, pictures, and text - all of which help differentiate between the two of them. There is a LOT of text in the game, enough that it would be a major problem for anyone who is not a native English speaker.
3.) Setup and Time: Just a quick note - the game takes a LOT of space. Not only does the game take a while to set up, it also takes up a lot of room on the table. This isn't a game you're going to play at a moment's whim - a game can take anywhere from two to four hours. That isn't a negative assessment of the game - a person should just be prepared to invest some time when playing the game.
4.) Cooperation: AH is a cooperative game, in that all players are working together to stop unspeakable evil from destroying the world. That's a noble goal and all, but some people just aren't going to like it. There is a method to get a final score, similar to Lord of the Rings, but in the games I've played - no won really cared - we won or we lost. Now how does the game compare to other cooperation games? It's not as simple and linear as Lord of the Rings; it doesn't have the traitor dilemma from Shadows over Camelot. In fact, I think it most closely resembles Vanished Planet, if Vanished Planet increased its complexity ten-fold. Much of the game is spent with players discussing what to do each turn. This wasn't a problem for me - I like deliberations in a game, but a few players felt like the game was playing us, rather than the opposite way.
5.) Theme: In theme, AH is going to be compared to Betrayal at House on the Hill more than any other game, as both are cooperative (kind of) horror-themed games. But the horror factor is different in each. In BaHotH, the horror is the in-your-face, "jump" type horror you'll often find in a "B" horror movie. In AH, the horror is more subtle and sophisticated and is of the type that drives people mad, rather than slashes off their head. I thought the theme worked really well. The amount of flavor text and good illustrations work well. I'm assuming that the game would work better with Lovecraft fans, but I played the game with many people who had no idea who Cthulhu even was, and they still enjoyed the game.
6.) Characters: One thing that AH has over other cooperative games is that each player controls a completely different character. Of all the aspects of the game, this is one that impressed me the most. Every character has different statistics, starting possessions, and different special abilities - all that seem to fit quite well with their back story. And every character has something that makes them special. So far, no one has complained about a character; for while some are weak in a particular area (say - physical combat), they are strong in another (perhaps magical ability). The divergence of investigators is so great that the game pretty much has a role-playing game feel, with each of the players striving to use the characters that they have to the best of their abilities, to help the party as a whole.
7.) RPG: In fact, while I haven't seen AH advertised as a role-playing experience, that's what I feel it works best as. Players must work together as a team to beat the game; and since each player controls a unique character that brings some sort of special ability to the table, all are important. In one game I played, one player used Joe Diamond, the private eye, who with a couple of guns, walked around like a killing machine for a while. But Joe, as tough as he was, couldn't handle creatures that had physical immunity and had to depend on the "weak" Professor Harvey Walters to handle them. Together (this was a two-player game), they managed to make a tremendous team, stopping the evil.
8.) Players: The box says that the game handles from one to eight players. So far, I've played with 1, 2, 4, and 5 players, and all of them seem to work well, although it does appear that the number of players does affect the difficulty. I don't think I'll play a solo game that often, because it just seems like a lot of work to set up a game, where I am the only participant (I have the computer for that). But with two or more, everyone seemed to have a blast. Because everyone is interested in everyone else's encounters, there doesn't seem to be a lot of downtime in the game.
9.) Difficulty: This is a HARD game, but it is beatable. I think the final, evil enemy that is randomly chosen for each game has a major impact on how hard the game is. Some of the enemies, like Azathoth, must be stopped before they enter the fray with the players, others, like Cthulhu himself (itself? herself?) put difficult restrictions on the players, causing them to have a difficult time when attempting to complete the game. The game is difficult, which is important for a cooperative game; and AH leaves players with enough choices so that when they DO win, they can congratulate themselves on a game well-played, and yet not feel as if they've "solved" the game.
10.) Monster Movement: There are a lot of interesting mechanics in the game, but I really enjoyed the monster's movement. At various points in the game, monsters roam throughout the streets of Arkham. Each monster has a symbol on it, denoting what alternate dimension they are from. At the beginning of each turn, a Mythos card is turned over, which has a variety of effects on the game, including the monster movement. On the board, each space is connected to other spaces by white and black arrows. Each Mythos card shows what type of monsters move, and whether they follow a black or white arrow. This gives monsters a random movement that can't be determined yet follows some general patterns. I thought this was exceedingly clever, and hope to see it in some form in other games.
11.) Monsters: The monsters themselves are a very varied lot. Some of them have different movement abilities (a chart for these would have been nice), some are immune to magical weapons; others can't really be killed (they'll show up again), while still others can't hurt investigators but can scare them half to death. I thought the range of monsters was really neat, although players will often be turning the counters over to examine the special abilities and stats.
12.) Skill Checks: The combat system and skill check system are fairly simple, WHEN you know them. I found them a bit difficult to explain, as I'm not sure I've played any game that had a system like this before (modifiers affected the number of dice rolled, not the number on those dice). Once players get the uniqueness of the system down; however, it's pretty simplistic. I thought that the fact that two of each character's stats were tied together. If one stat was raised, the other lowered, and vice versa. This meant that no investigator, no matter how powerful, was always weak in something, and kept players on their guard. There are some "lucky" and "cursed" cards in the game that are crucial for these tests, and Ally, skill, and item cards also enhance the tests. In this regard, the game reminds me slightly of Duel of Ages. Both games, taken clinically, are a series of tests that are resolved by die rolls. Yet the thematic events behind these tests keep them from becoming dry or boring for me.
13.) Final Fight: If players don't accomplish one of the victory conditions of the game (shutting down gates, etc.), eventually the big bad bruiser of an enemy will attack players. In our games, we almost hoped for this; because this final confrontation, while long and hard, has such a rewarding benefit and is a climatic ending to a tense game. Still, rushing to shut down the last gate before this beast of evil is released also brings a lot of tense fun to the game.
14.) Cards: Apparently the original game had a reference book that players looked up when having an encounter. AH uses several decks of cards instead, and I think that works fairly well.
15.) Stress: Good cooperative games have a nice level of stress in them - will you finish the game? In this one, the stress is that players must save the world from Evil So-and-So. And it never seems that players can keep up. If they shut down one gate, another opens. If they kill one monster, two more appear. The terror level keeps rising, driving away valuable allies and shutting down useful stores. And that stinkin' Cthulhu is just sitting in the background, laughing and waiting to come in and sweep the invaders away. I LOVE this level of stress - it's a lot of fun and bands the players together in a way that even Shadows Over Camelot didn't achieve.
16.) Fun Factor: There are dozens of other factors that I could talk about when discussing this game, because there is so much involved in the game. AH is definitely a "meaty" game. And, if you enjoy the theme and the various decisions to make in the game, it's a lot of fun. Some people, who don't care for horror themes or cooperative play, will not be interested in this game. Others, especially those who want to play an RPG like game with horror thematics, will have a great time.
This is certainly a game that you should try before you buy if you can. If you are a Cthulhu fan or love cooperative games, then it's a no-brainer - get it! The good amount of complexity, the massive amount of pieces, and the various options may not be for the fainthearted, though; so you should check it out and see if that's your cup of tea. For me, I really enjoyed it. Arkham Horror was one of the games that I lay awake at night, wondering what would have happened if I had done something differently. It's one of those games where we didn't talk about the mechanics afterwards, but rather the story. It's one of those games where everyone stands up and high-fives each other when something good happens for the team. That, my friends, is a game I'm glad to own.
"Real men play board games."
When I need a game for my classroom, there is absolutely no better candidate than Werewolf. I've NEVER had a game not enthusiastically received, and it is certainly a huge success in the classroom, at parties, and with my youth group. For a long time, I had simply used the practice of some homemade method to choose who the werewolves were, but I was pleased to pick up a commercial version of the game Lupus in Tabula (DaVinci games, 2004 - no designer credited).
There were several reasons I liked this version. One, I didn't have to go to the trouble of making up a homemade deck of cards; and besides, I like professional versions of games better. Also, the cards are of extremely good quality - not to mention fit in a very, very nice little card box. The artwork is excellent, if a little disturbing (but then again - so's the theme, I guess!) The best reason for getting a commercial version is all the special roles that can be added to the game, and this one has a good assortment.
For those who don't know how to play the game of Werewolf, the game itself is quite simple. One player is chosen as the Moderator, who is in charge of the game and doesn't win or lose. A deck of role cards is shuffled, and cards are randomly dealt to each player. In the basic game there are three roles: Seer (one person), Werewolves (two or three people), and Villagers (everyone else). The game begins with the first day (round) made up of two parts: night and daytime. During the night all players close their eyes, and the moderator asks the Seer to open their eyes and point at a player. The Moderator then affirms or denies whether that player is a werewolf by shaking their head silently. The Seer then closes their eyes, while the Moderator calls upon the Werewolves. They open their eyes and silently come to an agreement on who dies (usually is the Moderator on the first night.) The werewolves then close their eyes, and the night comes to an end.
The day then begins, with all players opening their eyes and finding out who is dead. The player who is dead is out of the game, and may not talk or make any kind of communication for the remainder of the game. All the players then have three minutes of time to discuss who they think are the Werewolves; with the Werewolves trying to plant suspicion on others, and everyone else trying to guess who are the guilty parties. The Seer has some limited knowledge, but he must take care not to reveal too much, as to not become the next victim. After three minutes, the Moderator asks each player, starting with the one next to the last player killed, who they want to lynch. The Moderator gives an "Angry Mob" card to each player every time they are chosen by another. The two players who get the most cards are "nominated" and have a moment to make a desperate speech, pleading not to be killed. All other players then vote, with the winner being lynched, dead, and out of the game. Any time a player is killed, they are given an "Angry Mob" card, which is flipped over to its ghost side, showing to all that the player is no more. After the voting and lynching, another round begins, with all remaining players closing their eyes. If, at any point in the game, all the Werewolves are killed, then the Villagers and Seer win the game! But, if the number of werewolves is equal to the number of remaining villagers, then the werewolves win the game! Dead players still win if their side wins.
There are other special characters who can be added into the game with this set (along with a couple of blank cards where one can design their own character). Here's a listing with each, along with my opinion, and how often I use them in my games.
- Medium - He has his own phase in the night, before the werewolves. He can ask the Moderator if the last person lynched was a Werewolf or Villager. I rarely use this one when I play with kids, since I almost always reveal whether the dead person was a Werewolf or not (they usually scream it out anyway.) With hidden roles, this becomes more useful but minimally so.
- Possessed - He is a human who is on the side of the werewolves, winning if they win. This is an interesting concept but doesn't seem to work that well in theory. I use this one, but very infrequently.
- Bodyguard - This is another human who has his own phase during the night, before the werewolves. He points to another player, "protecting" them. If the werewolves try to murder that player, nothing happens. I use this one quite often. Despite the slim chance the Bodyguard and the Werewolves picking the same person, when it does happen, it's pretty dramatic; and it gives a player something interesting to do.
- Owl - This player also has a phase during the night, where they can choose one of the two nominees for the lynching the next day. This is a fascinating role, and one I enjoy using often. This adds some tension to the game for the Owl character who has a lot of power but must be careful not to draw too much attention to themselves.
- Freemasons - these are two different humans who know who each other are. They have one phase during the first night, only to discover who the other is. I almost never use these guys; they're fairly boring and don't have anything special to add.
- Werehamster - This character is on its own side, fighting both the Werewolves and the humans. During the night phase, he has his own phase and can kill someone just like the Werewolves do, causing two deaths in one night. If the werewolves try to kill him, he's safe; but if the Seer points to him, he dies. The Werehamster wins only if he is the sole remaining person in a game. I love using this guy, if I have enough players (the game recommends 15). Everyone I've played with loves having the third, tense side in the game; and it gives the Seer more power. Having two deaths a night also speeds the game up a bit and allows one player to really feel "powerful". Plus, the artwork on the card is hilarious!
- Mythomaniac - On the second night, this player has one chance to point at another player. They gain the same role as that player if they are a Seer or Werewolf; otherwise, they stay a human. This is an okay role; but I don't like using it, because four werewolves are just too powerful.
Of course, there are hundreds of roles and variations that can be found on the internet, but this version from daVinci certainly satisfies me. I like how I can carry this game with me or pull it out when I am subbing a class at school and am at a loss of what to do. Werewolf is a tremendous game with terrific results, not to mention an excellent study of people. The daVinci version of the game is the best one I've seen; and for it's price, you will certainly get your money's worth. Lupus in Tabula is one purchase that has paid for itself dozens of times over and provided hours upon hours of enjoyment!
"Real men play board games."
The preceeding two reviews were written by prolific game reviewer Tom Vasel. The following is by me.
I first encountered the game Zombies several years ago when my good friend Dan brought it to our bi-weekly game night. I've been hooked ever since.
Zombies has a ton of expansions! There is one that adds a mall. Another adds a military base. Version 3.5 added a deck of cards. Yet another added a college campus and version 4 "The End" is a stand-alone expansion that adds in zombie dogs!
Zombies is the quintisential "first-person shooter" video game done up as a boardgame.
Each player has a hand of cards and a player token. It is your goal to either:
a) Collect 25 kills
b) Get to the helipad
Either of those two methods will win you the game.
Winning the game is not as easy as it might sound as the other players are trying to stop you from winning!
Zombies is not a co-op game. It's every man for himself!
On your turn you will add a tile to the town, creating it as the game progresses. This can be very frustrating when you are on a long windy road and someone drops a dead-end building in front of you.
What about getting killed? If you die in the game, you re=spawn back at the town square with a fresh load of health and bullets.
When you get hit you lose health and you can use bullets to add to dice rolls. You also have a hand of three cards of which you can play one per turn. That is you can play one from the begining of your current turn to the begining of your next turn.
Zombies is very easy to learn and only uses six-sided dice for combat resolution. the expansions are a lot of fun though I do not suggest you play a game with every expansion thrown in!
*disclaimer - I am the webmaster for Tom Vasel and more of his reviews can be found on his website www.thedicetower.com