Arkham Horror Revised

Arkham Horror Revised

Updated May 2018

A picture of the setup of the game.

When horror author Lovecraft started writing his mythos of terrifying short stories in 1911, he probably didn’t envision an entire industry of novels, merchandise, digital games, and tabletop games based on his works – most famous of which being The Call of Cthulhu.

Fifty years after his death, in the year 1987, a board game was released (by Chaosium Inc.) that tried to capture the horror that dwelled in the fictional town of Arkham. This was prior to the Cthulhu-hype that we know today, but perhaps it laid the groundwork. Three decades later we would be introduced to the second version of this game, called Arkham Horror, published by Fantasy Flight Games. Considering my age – 15 at the time – you can understand that this particular game had great influence on me. By then I had already figured out the joys of designing games, but the storytelling elements used in this version of the game were nothing I had encountered before.

The front and back of an Ancient One card from Arkham Horror.

Having said that, Arkham Horror is not a good game. It might have been for its time, but it aged poorly, and has been replaced by many fans for newer and better looking games that take place in the same Lovecraftian mythos. However, I’ve always been a sucker for nostalgia, and set on a journey to reclaim the essence of this game; bringing it back to the present.

To do this, I not only updated the visuals, but also greatly altered certain mechanics – even destroying some and creating new ones – to improve the flow of the game.

The front and back of some investigator item cards from Arkham Horror.

All the smaller investigator decks.

I made my first attempt in October of 2016, and only by March of 2018 did I arrive to something that I could be satisfied with. The time in between was filled with many distractions, but every so often I’d return to this project, with new ambitions and motivation.

My main alterations to the visual design came in the form of text-icons. For example, instead of saying “Any phase: Exhaust to gain +5 to Combat checks until the end of this combat. The .357 Magnum does not refresh unless you spend $1.” I went for “Exhaust: Spend 1$ to gain +5 A skill icon from Arkham Horror..”

The front and back of an Investigator card from Arkham Horror.

The original also had many mechanics that were alienating to new players, or slowed down the game drastically when playing with inexperienced gamers. For example, players had to alter their skills at the start of each turn – which often made little difference. These types of mechanics I cut out with a hatchet, and replaced them with more accessible systems.

The front and back of 2 Monster tokens from Arkham Horror.

The soul of Arkham Horror always lied in its encounters – short scenarios in which the player is presented with an option or a test of skill. Of course a higher number of card meant a higher number of different encounters, however I felt that the 766 encounter cards from the original were a bit excessive. My solution: take out the best and most engaging scenarios, and burn the rest. I did the same for all other types of decks – only keeping those that had fun gameplay mechanics, strong story elements, or otherwise encapsulated the theme of the game.

The front and back of an Encounter card from Arkham Horror.

The 21 individual decks from the original were merged into a set of 10 equal decks.

In total my game weight less than 50% of the original, while still holding on to the essence of what made that game great. Even if certain mechanics are completely altered, like the way gates work (a core mechanism of the game). Opening gates, closing gates, and even gate encounters have all been reduced in complexity – with a slim deck of cards and only a few gate tokens.

The front and back of some Other World Encounter cards from Arkham Horror.

Other simple visual design alterations were made, like the background-colours of the 3 types of Mythos cards to better distinguish between them, or the use of more logical colours for monster types. Likewise, the shapes of each type of token also makes more sense: round for common tokens, triangle for tokens placed on the board, hexagon for statuses, etc.

The front and back of 3 Mythos cards from Arkham Horror.

My last task was to include Arkham Horror’s 9 expansions. From personal experience I could tell that new players didn’t know what exactly expansions did to the game, and why they were optional, or how many could be added to a single game. All these questions, as well as the issues that arose from introducing and mixing new mechanics, could be answered with a single word: scenarios. With this simple name change, as well as some easy rule-changes, the introduction of scenarios allowed (new) players to have a better grasp on what they could do with the game. Each scenario added a new challenge; some new mechanic that would challenge the players. I ended up making 6 scenarios.

The six icons that depict the scenarios of my revised Arkham Horror.

I’m happy with the outcome of this journey and happy to share it with the world. Thanks for reading.

PS: I receive a lot of messages about whether or not this game is for sale – it isn’t. However, I am designing a game of my own, set in the Lovecraftian mythos, that truly captures the feeling of exploring Arkham, fighting cultists, and banishing the Great Old One. If you’re interested in telling me what made Arkham Horror a great game for YOU, please let me know!

Design Details (more images)