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Published: Sunday August 3, 2014 MYT 10:06:00 AM
Updated: Sunday August 3, 2014 MYT 10:11:11 AM

Eldritch Horror is monstrously fun

In honour of iconic horror writer H.P. Lovecraft’s birthday on Aug 20, we brave the terrifying twists of a board game inspired by his works.

A touch of insanity is to be expected when it comes to H.P. Lovecraft, but if you decide to brave Eldritch Horror, be warned that understanding its complex rules itself could well drive you mad. How complex, you ask? The rulebook comes with its own guide, that’s how complex. So players unused to intense, Dungeons & Dragons-style fantasy role-playing games may take a while to warm up to Eldritch Horror.

Yet, if you have the time and patience to get to know both the game and the characters it revolves around, it provides a thrilling game experience that lets you dive deep into Lovecraft’s dark stories.

Created by the same people who came out with Arkham Horror, another board game based on the Lovecraftian universe, Eldritch Horror is a beautifully-conceived product with lavish attention given to details. The game board itself is a map of the world with particular locations highlighted, and this is accompanied by a dizzying array of cards and tokens. The artwork is excellent and fittingly macabre, and the bits of narrative and lore on the various cards mirror Lovecraft’s style and imagination perfectly.

Character cards for the Ancient Ones.
Character cards for the Ancient Ones.

Simply put, Eldritch Horror is a cooperative game of investigation inspired by Lovecraft’s works. Players take on roles as investigators who race against time to solve mysteries in order to prevent one of the Ancient Ones from awakening; if this being of unimaginable power should rise, indescribable horrors will befall humanity and mankind is doomed (yep, Lovecraft was not really one for happy endings). As the game’s ultimate aim is to banish the Ancient One, all players are on the same team, and win or lose together.

That, however, is where simplicity ends. With numerous ways in which the game can unfold, and with multiple cards and tokens and a plethora of choices at each turn, it is quite difficult to immediately understand the rules in their entirety, as they can be quite different each time you play.

For instance, you have a choice of four Ancient Ones – Azathoth, Cthulhu, Shub-Niggurath, Yog-Sothoth – and each has different characteristics that require different methods of play. Different Investigator characters also each has his or her own modes of action that determine how a player moves.

Eldritch Horror is played over a series of rounds, with each round made up of three phases: the Action Phase, the Encounter Phase, and the Mythos Phase. In each round, one player is Lead Investigator and takes charge of the game’s direction. When all three phases are complete, the next player becomes Lead, and the phases start over.

As the game goes on, the Doom token keeps advancing, measuring the time left before the Ancient One awakens. Meanwhile, various moves will cause Gates (dangerous tears in the fabric of reality that allow deadly beings into our world) to be opened, which in turn will spawn Monsters (like Goat-Spawn, Wraith, and the Hound of Tindalos). Having more Gates and Monsters on the board will cause Doom to advance.

During the Action Phase, each player moves to the location he or she wants to be in; alternatively, they may also choose to acquire assets, trade their possessions, or rest to regain their health and sanity (more on this later).

Next, in the Encounter Phase, players must resolve an encounter, which involves reading a short narrative on an Encounter card which will then have positive or negative effects. Encounters can range from Location Encounters (specific to a place, city or continent), Research Encounters (the result of research into some unknown phenomenon), Other World Encounters (to close dangerous Gates that lead to another dimension) and Combat Encounters (to defeat a Monster).

Many of the Encounters are resolved by Tests, which require you to roll a certain number of dice. These Encounters may yield positive results, such as obtaining a Spell, Asset or Artifact that will help you in your investigation, but can also cause you to lose your Health or Sanity (represented by tokens), or leave you with a Condition, such as an Internal Injury or Debt.

The last phase, Mythos, involves resolving a series of effects from a Mythos card, which could be anything from advancing Doom to spawning Monsters.

Winning the game requires Investigators to solve three of the Ancient One’s Mysteries before it awakens (each Mystery will enter play as the game goes on).

This is Lovecraft, however, and it is equally (if not more so) likely that you may simply end up wreaking horror upon the world – in other words, losing.

There are several ways that Investigators lose. One is if the Doom token reaches zero, indicating the Ancient One has awakened. They can also lose if all Investigators are eliminated, for example by losing their Health or Sanity. Running out of Mythos cards will result in losing too.

Yes, it is all fiendishly complicated, but once you get the hang of it, it is also fiendishly fun. This is not a game for which you study the rules right before playing; I strongly suggest that you take some time to go over and understand the gameplay, and perhaps even have a few test rounds.

This is, after all, saving the whole world from a horrific fate; no one says that doesn’t take commitment. But once you’ve made it through the Winchester Mystery House, faced down a murderous cult, and survived a battle with a Nightgaunt or Elder Thing, it’s impossible not to feel a sense of accomplishment – even if you may emerge a little less sane at the end.

The review copy of Eldritch Horror was provided by Imagine Games.

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