Nothing is more special than the sensation of opening a brand new pack of cards from your favorite card game, a feeling that most of us have experienced while growing up. Personally, I still get that feeling every time I open a new card game. The sound, the smell, the texture… there is magic in that moment, the magic of being transported back to your childhood where time seems to stop for a moment.
Speaking of magic, welcome to my Arkham Horror: The Card Game review, where I’ll be taking a look at a game that aims to bring some of that magic back while adding some Lovecraftian horror goodness to it. Some might say it’s a strange mix, but trust me on this: it works very well!
|Playing time:||60 to 120 minutes|
|Number of players:||1 to 4|
|Genre:||Cooperative deck-building game|
|Publisher:||Fantasy Flight Games|
- Easy to learn
- Beautiful art style and interesting mechanics
- Thematic and tense atmosphere offers a unique and exciting gaming experience
- Small replayability
- Can get somewhat expensive
What is Arkham Horror: The Card Game all about?
Arkham Horror follows the trend of popular Lovecraftian-themed cooperative games out there like Arkham and Eldritch Horror. It includes some elements and motifs like adventure, horror, battling madness and Eldritch monsters, exploration, puzzle solving, and more. This beautifully designed and highly thematic cooperative ‘Living Card Game’ (LCG) published by Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) offers a fresh approach for players seeking new experiences within the Lovecraftian mythos.
Unlike traditional collectible card games such as Pokemon or Magic, where players often compete against each other, and there are booster packs and a rarity system, this horror game emphasizes teamwork, requiring you and up to three friends to collaborate in order to succeed. In Arkham LCG, players receive the same cards across every core set and expansion pack, enabling them to fight the threats from the Unknown on equal footing.
As with its board game namesake, the players find themselves in 1920s Arkham, Massachusetts, taking on the roles of unlikely investigators caught up in the dark and disturbing murder mysteries of this seemingly quiet New England town. The game is meant to be played in campaigns, with each campaign having a certain number of exciting and plot-twisting scenarios.
It is designed as a story-driven game. Depending on your character deck composition, class, specializations, and weaknesses, the players can expect the scenarios to form their own unique narratives, good and bad. Arkham Horror: The Card Game gives players more agency with both the characters and the game’s narrative.
Ok, now that we have some idea of what’s going on, let’s see how this card game is played.
Mastering the Mythos or How to Play Arkham Horror: The Card Game
As a card game, Arkham Horror can take some time to set up. The deck-building process alone can take a few moments, while the location cards, Agenda deck, Act deck, and tokens need to be set up depending on the scenario being played.
Each investigator takes five resources from the token pool and draws five cards from their deck. Resources are used by investigators to play cards from their hand. There is no limit to how many cards you can have in your hand during a round, but you must end the round with no more than eight. Players can build their character decks or choose a standard deck, which is advised for new players still getting to know the game.
The main objective is to progress through the given scenario’s Act deck before the Agenda deck runs out. If the Agenda deck does run out, the investigators may lose the scenario but still proceed to the next one. Also, losing a scenario is not always a huge deal, as some outcomes are preferable to others, but I don’t want to spoil anything here.
Gather Your Investigators
The core set allows you to choose between five unlikely heroes, each with their own unique backstories and abilities. Each investigator has a main and secondary class which enables players to have a customized deck construction that will determine not only the course of the game but also the flavor of the investigator and the best playstyle to employ.
It is possible to create hybrid, multiclass characters by mixing and matching decks and investigator cards. Later on, players can expand their experience with investigator expansions, but a fair warning, those expansions don’t come cheap.
So, let’s meet our fantastic five:
- Agnes Baker –The Waitress (The Mystic)
- Roland Banks –The Fed (The Guardian)
- Daisy Walker – The Librarian (The Seeker)
- “Skids” O’Toole – The Ex-Con (The Rogue)
- Wendy Adams – The Urchin (The Survivor)
Each character has four stats: Willpower, Intellect, Combat, and Agility, all on a 1-5 scale. These stats are used for various tests and skill checks that players must pass in the game. Additionally, no Cthulhu-themed horror title is complete without its Sanity and Health tokens, which represent the characters’ thresholds for mental and physical punishment.
Surviving the Night of the Zealot: A Look at the Campaigns and Scenarios in Arkham Horror: The Card Game
The core set of this Cthulhu-flavored cooperative game features the Investigators on a campaign called “Night of the Zealot,” consisting of three scenarios where players chase clues connected to recent Arkham murders, fight deranged cultists, and face off with unknown entities from other dimensions. While, this campaign may have limited replayability for more experienced players, but it’s great for new players to try out new deck-building strategies.
Since its initial release in 2016, the Arkham Horror Living Card Game has introduced seven additional campaigns, each with unique cards, investigators, player decks, and more. These expansions are designed for players who want to level up their characters, gain skills, and delve deeper into the world of H.P. Lovecraft’s mythos. I’ll talk a bit more about them later in the text, but, for now, let’s get back to the game’s core mechanics.
Unraveling the Dark Mysteries: The Game Rounds and Phases of Arkham Horror: The Card Game
Rounds in Arkham Horror: The Card Game consist of four phases: Mythos phase, Investigation phase, Enemy phase, and Upkeep phase.
The Mythos phase – Occurs at the beginning of each round. During this phase, one doom is placed on the current agenda, and each investigator draws an encounter card that can bring all sorts of monsters, traps, and other nasties for our Investigators to face. This phase is skipped during the first round of the game.
The Investigation phase – Each investigator takes up to three actions, like gathering clues, fighting or evading monsters, playing an asset or event, moving to the available locations, getting resources, etc. Note that some actions can be done multiple times in the same turn.
Usually, actions in Arkham Horror LCG involve making some sort of skill test. To do this, players use one of their character’s skills (Willpower, Intellect, Combat, and Agility) and draw a modifier token that influences the outcome of the skill test from the… The Chaos Bag! *gasp*
The Chaos Bag, or as it’s known in my gaming group, the Velvety Bag of Chaotic Goodness, is where…well, all the chaotic goodness is stored. This includes skill modifier tokens, the Elder Sign, Elder Things, curses, blessings, and the hated auto-fail token. And it’s useful as you can use it to reduce or boost difficulty on the fly, by adding or removing some tokens depending on how the game is playing out.
The enemy phase – This is when all the nasties move, attack, and deal Sanity or Health damage, and where Investigators must try not to lose their minds or their lives. Ouch! A short and typically painful phase.
The upkeep phase – The last phase of a round in the game, this is when the previously exhausted cards are reset in preparation for the next round. During this phase, each investigator gains one resource and draws one card, just remember that the maximum hand size at the end of each round is eight cards.
New Horrors Await: Arkham Horror: The Card Game Expansions
Ok, now that we know how the game plays, let’s talk expansions. All of them require buying the Revised Core Set and can be a strain on anyone’s wallet. The major type of expansion is the “cycle” deluxe expansions, and they usually revolve around multiple packs called “Mythos Packs” that center on a new campaign, including subsequent scenarios, along with new standalone scenarios and investigator starter decks.
To make matters easier (or complicated, depending on who you ask), FFG changed the release model for the Edge of the Earth expansion in 2021, splitting it into two large expansion sets vs one large one supported by several smaller mythos packs. The company later announced that the previous cycles would be re-released in this format starting with the first set – The Dunwich Legacy.
Before diving head-first into the rabbit hole of trying to determine the best Arkham Horror: The Card Game expansion and exploring every deluxe expansion from The Dunwich Legacy to the Forgotten Age Campaign Expansion, let me give you some friendly advice. Get together with your group and see what sounds more fun for them: buying new cycles, spicing up the core set scenario with a new investigator expansion, or trying out some standalone scenarios. Trust me – you and your wallet will thank me later.
Embrace the Madness: Final Thoughts on Arkham Horror: The Card Game
As you may or may not have noticed before, I really enjoy writing about Lovecraftian horror-themed games, and I had a great time writing this Arkham Horror card game review. So, what else can I tell you that I haven’t already? With its immersive storytelling, challenging gameplay, and customizable character decks, Arkham Horror: The Card Game offers a unique and engaging experience for both casual and serious gamers.
Even though it can be pricey overall, It is an excellent addition to any game collection, providing hours of entertainment and a chance to explore the mysterious and terrifying world of H.P. Lovecraft’s mythos. Just remember: this is a grim world, and defeat is often a part of the experience, so don’t be discouraged if you lose your first game or two.
Yes, but far more so when you buy the new expansions. It does depend on personal preferences and gaming habits: you can play the core set campaign ‘Night of the Zealot’ multiple times and enjoy it again with the new investigator expansions, but you will eventually want to explore newer deluxe expansions for more variety.
Well, that all depends on how sick you are of playing with your gaming group. Jokes aside, while the game can be enjoyable when played solo, I wouldn’t recommend using just one Investigator since it can be challenging to create a deck that can handle all situations. However, if you control two or even three Investigators, you’ll be good to go.
In my opinion, and as you can read in this Arkham Horror: The Card Game review, it definitely is. That said, buying only the core set may not provide enough variety. I would recommend purchasing at least one more expansion cycle. Like all living card games, owning more expansions will help increase the game’s replay value exponentially.