The first time I played Arkham Horror was completely by chance and a side effect of offering to run a Dungeons & Dragons game event at Anime Expo in 2005. Though several players signed up for my event, none of them had arrived by the start time so I was left to putter around for ten to fifteen minutes in the gaming room.
Someone had occupied a table and was setting up the basic game when I inquired about it. My roommate had accompanied me for D&D (but hadn’t wanted to play) but was intrigued by Arkham Horror. We sat down to learn the game.
Eventually the players who signed up for my D&D game showed up, maybe twenty minutes late. I forget their excuse. Since Arkham Horror was running at a slow pace, I started them on character creation and continued to play. We actually won our first game while I was away at the D&D table, through an outrageous turn of luck.
The Ancient One was maybe a turn away from awakening when one of the players happened across the encounter in the Science Building with the student working on a “dimensional beam machine,” and successfully closed every single gate on the board. We had enough gate trophies to secure a victory condition, and so won.
Thus began my love affair with the abomination that is Arkham Horror. I call it an abomination, but you know the game wouldn’t have it any other way.
Once I had my own copy of Arkham Horror, I found it difficult to get anyone to play the game more than once or twice. It’s a daunting read and a daunting play. The draconic rules made play difficult from turn to turn, and there were a lot of effects and pieces that had to be tracked from round to round, which meant I was always teaching.
Adding expansions to the game served to mix things up for me and my roommate, who played the game on a semi-regular basis because we had originally played the game together and both enjoyed it immensely, but ultimately made the game even more difficult to learn and play for anyone else who joined us for a “friendly” game.
I nearly preferred Arkham Horror over Dungeons & Dragons because it had more the appearance of a board game, and people were not only more willing to play, but they picked up the rules faster, were more willing to accept penalties and failures, found multiple paths to the easily-defined goals, and actually roleplayed without prompting.
Arkham Horror ultimately proved to be a more effective vehicle for roleplaying than Dungeons & Dragons, a game with the express purpose of enabling roleplaying.
As of the creation of this page, I own all of the expansions and many of the optional bits for Arkham Horror, and I’ve picked up its “spin off” title Elder Sign though I’ve yet to acquire Mansions of Madness, and don’t really plan to any time soon.
I’ve tried numerous times, on numerous occasions to pin down and house-rule the many problems with Arkham Horror, and you can find some of my game aids in the Media section of my website. I’m more interested in making the game “more playable” than adding derivative content, though my attempts can be found on the site.
Perhaps the most extensive rules alteration I’ve made to the game includes my encounter tables. Rather than carting around the cards for the basic game, which number in the RIDICULOUS, I carry a couple copies of my encounter tables to roll against. They remove a lot of the ambiguity from the original rules text.
Later on, I determined there were even greater problems with encounter balance between locations and hope to overhaul the entire encounter system at some point to provide alternatives that are not only easier to play (requiring fewer pieces and rule look-ups) but more fun and flavorful than my versions of the encounters.
Research and Tweaks
I spent a good deal of time making modifications and tweaks to the game so it’s faster and easier to play. Somewhere I have a cheat sheet that describes how combat with monsters works, and the timing of various monster traits comes into play. Here’s an article I wrote comparing ranking relative monster strength:
* Relative Monster Strength (Jan 4, 2012)