My love of H.P. Lovecraft’s work started with Fantasy Flight’s board game Arkham Horror, which came at a time when I was already knee-deep in designing board games. For the longest time I held up my own creations to their standard. However, 10 years later I came to a realization: it’s not even a good game… I’m not saying it’s un-enjoyable, but it has aged poorly. Many fans have traded it in for newer Lovecraftian games. But I’m a sucker for nostalgia, so I couldn’t resist bringing (the real) Arkham Horror back around.
About 50 years after Lovecraft’s passing, a Chaosium’s tabletop RPG came out, set in the universe he created – it’s success eventually would lead to a whole enterprise of Cthulhu-related merchandise. Another 30 years into the future we would be introduced to Arkham Horror. I was 15 at the time and it made a great impression on me. In the years since, I’ve hones my skills, and now feel confident I have what it takes to reanimate the game. I wasn’t planning on just updating the visuals, but also altering core mechanics and improving on the overall flow of the game.
My first attempt was in 2016, and only by the beginning of 2018 did I arrive to something that I could be satisfied with. The original had many mechanics that alienated new, less-experienced players, and others that slowed the game drastically. Most of these issues only popped up when playing with inexperience gamers, and after many playthroughs I started to see what needed to be changed. One such change I’d like to point – one I’m proud of because it is both the easiest change and by-far the most impactful – is a change to the texts, in the use of icons. Arkham Horror is a read-heavy game, and adding icons greatly enhanced the overall flow. For example, instead of saying “Any Phase: Exhaust to gain +5 to Combat checks until the end of this combat. This item does not refresh unless you spend $1.” I went for “Exhaust: Spend $1 to gain +5 .“
Another change involved the streamlining of common actions, primarily the drawing of encounter cards and adjusting of skills. Both are actions that take place at least twice per round per player, and both can easily take a minute-or-so per action. Drawing cards was slowed down because players were forced to shuffle the deck before every draw, and skill-adjustments were slowed because of the arbitrary results those adjustments caused. So what did I do? Gone was the necessity of shuffling the decks – this only happens when the shuffle-card is drawn – and gone was the adjusting of skills – fixed values gave a clear few of a character’s strengths and weaknesses.
The last major alteration was the one I made to the Mythos cards and the effect different expansions had on them. Each expansion had its own cards, which should be shuffled in or left out, depending on which are used. Firstly I changed some slight rules to change expansions into scenarios, which I could then use for the Mythos card. Now, each card has 2 sides. A scenario-specific side which is used if the scenario is in play, and a neutral side which is used if the scenario is not in play.
All-in-all my version weight 60% less, can be played in 40% less time, can be set up in 50% less time, is exceptionally welcoming to new players, and is 100% awesome. If you want to get a full list of all the changes I made to Arkham Horror, check the details below.
This long, long project did inspire me to make my own Lovecraftian game; Eldritch Arkham.