Saturday was International TableTop Day, and we celebrated by playing some Arkham Horror.
What’s International TableTop Day? It was the first iteration of an annual holiday proposed by nerd aficionados Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day, who are trying to encourage people to play more tabletop games. Tabletop games are essentially anything you can play on a table with a group, from complex stuff like Dungeons and Dragons to simple, classic titles like Sorry and Monopoly.
We decided to sit down as a group and tackle Arkham Horror, a game that certainly would be classified on the complex side. For folks who haven’t played before, here’s a basic rundown: You are a small band of investigators tasked with preventing the end of the world. As the world around you starts to fall into insanity, your job is to run around the streets of a small town, closing and sealing portals that have opened and started to release monsters into the streets. Succeed at sealing enough gates in timely fashion? You can stop the awakening of a hellish Ancient One who threatens to devour the world — at least for a few millennia. Fail at closing gates or stopping the influx of monsters, and you might find yourselves in a battle against Cthulhu, which is essentially a death sentence.
Arkham Horror is not for the faint of heart. It features an elaborate rule set that can be daunting to newcomers because of its nuances. For example, take a look at this photo as we were setting things up for the game:
Seriously, look at all of those tokens and cards in play. You’ve got 20+ decks of cards with various items and scenarios. That basket is full of hungry monster tokens who would love to attack your investigator given the chance. There’s markers for your stamina, sanity, and other stats, as well as money and closed doors and Elder Signs and… you get the idea. Setup for Arkham Horror is a 20- to 30-minute endeavor even for players who are more experienced with the game. And this setup doesn’t even include the game’s many expansions, which add even more surface area to the size of the board.
Even though it looks daunting, though, AH is fun to play. The game is cooperative, meaning that it’s the players against the board and that your team either wins or loses as a group (similar to other popular games like Castle Panic and Pandemic). You get to work together with your fellow players to decide how to deal with these atrocities. Maybe one or two players are going to try to close gates, while another roams around and battles monsters and someone else tries to collect important items. Or maybe the game hits you with a stroke of bad luck and you have to change your plans on the fly.
We played two games of Arkham Horror on Saturday, mostly because we got our asses kicked in game one. Tech Guy did a poor job of shuffling in a handful of new cards into the Mythos deck, which essentially dictates where gates and monsters appear, and we had multiple gates open at once. Just four turns into the game, the Ancient One had awakened and wiped out us in battle with ease.
In the second game, however, we fought back against the Ancient One known as Yig. Holly and Jason protected the streets, I jumped into portals and sealed them as quickly as possible, and then bailed out Tech Guy when he went insane (when you run out of sanity, you lose half of your items — it’s no bueno!). We managed to avoid the Ancient One waking from his slumber and sealed enough gates to keep it that way for another 2,000 years.
Arkham Horror is an entertaining game that offers up a change of pace: the ability to play with your friends instead of against them. While it’s always fun to battle against your opponents for supremacy in Risk or Clue or other competitive games, cooperative board games give you the chance to work together — and mitigate the damage from friends who want to win a little too badly in competitive settings.
And finally, check out TableTop on YouTube if you enjoy board games. It’s a smart, tightly edited production of internet celebrities playing games together in hilarious fashion. Then, all that’s left is to find a group of friends to start your own games with.