Card games have always been special to me. The collectible and expandable card games I’ve experienced over the last few years have provided some of the most enjoyable and memorable moments of my gaming career. I find the way that card games offer a chance to explore, customize and compete truly unique to the genre and continue to dabble in the new titles that attempt to carve their piece of the pie.
This past weekend adds another to the list, as the highly anticipated Arkham Horror The Card Game, from Fantasy Flight Games, hit shelves. Learning from its older sibling, Lord of the Rings The Card Game, this new Living Card Game (LCG) pulls 1-4 investigators into the tried and true Lovecraftian setting of Arkham, fresh on the scent of some new supernatural happenings. Much like Lord of the Rings, through a cooperative, narrative experience, the players work together to explore and advance through the world in search of answers to the mysteries around them.
And, wow, is it wonderful.
Being familiar with both card games and the Arkham Horror universe, I wasn’t expecting many surprises from this game. I understand deck-building, have experienced the “investigation” mechanism in other titles, and have encountered Cthulhu more times than most – I didn’t feel like the sum of the parts would provide a whole worth clamoring for; and while those pieces did not, in fact, surprise me, the combination of its elements instantly make Arkham Horror The Card Game a prize in my collection.
Arkham succeeded in ways that met my core beliefs about gaming – a) I play games to spend time with wonderful people; and b) I play games for captivating experiences. Using an exploration system that requires cooperation and creating a free-form Action Phase that allows you to choose player order every turn kept us all focused on the task at hand constantly. Evaluating individual strengths, deciding what problem to address first, guessing and anticipating what unspeakable horror could appear next – all of these things were constantly happening as our turns breezed by. The game also felt balanced, offering challenge and a regular dose of peril, but also ways for each player to contribute to the solution. That’s what you want in your cooperative games. It’s what you need in your cooperative games.
Alongside a strong bond between the players at the table is a wonderfully told story. The flavor and theme drip from the cards, giving you a vividly cinematic experience. I remember how I was constantly harassed by disembodied limbs that scratched and grabbed at me in the Hallway; the cast of characters that Daisy convinced, so sweetly, to follow her lead through a clearly haunted house; and the epicly heroic moment where Roland hurled dynamite at a terrifying beast and cheered loudly as it ripped into the monster’s flesh – only to have the creature saunter through the explosion, its advanced barely slowed. It was awesome.
The whole experience felt filling and satisfying, like a good meal, and made us want more. Fortunately, the two hours spent on our first mission was only an appetizer – there are two more missions to explore in the base box, plus the different character permutations and deckbuilding options. The core box packs a lot and is a great introduction into this new system. I feel, after this one play, very much how I did after playing T.I.M.E. Stories for the first time. Arkham feels fresh, new, and exciting. It worked so well and provided a truly memorable experience. I cannot wait to dig in more.