Over the last several years, games based on stories by H.P. Lovecraft have appeared on the landscape like so many secret Cthulhu cultists, invading famous card games and changing the theme of old standby board games into tales of mystery and madness. Some of the most well-done of these come from Fantasy Flight, which include Arkham Horror, Eldritch Horror, Elder Sign, Mansions of Madness, and Call of Cthulhu. Now they've expanded on their original board game by creating Arkham Horror: The Card Game. Based off characters and locations created by Lovecraft, Arkham Horror: The Card Game takes place in the creepy fictional town of Arkham, Massachusetts whereby players will have to solve mysteries and battle monsters.
From his first publication in 1916, and until to his death in 1937, H.P. Lovecraft wrote countless tales of the macabre. His horrifying stories of madness & monsters would come to influence songs, movies, and (of course) games. Thanks to American copyright law making anything that was published before 1923 in the area of Public Domain, many of Lovecraft's stories are available for game manufacturers to use without having to pay royalties (although many of the stories were written after 1923, leaving a murky mess of legality for anyone trying to use Lovecraft's characters to navigate). Free use has allowed many Lovecraft games (mostly based off his Cthulhu character) to exist, but one of the most successful and widely known of these is Fantasy Flight's Arkham Horror board game, which they've now continued with the new Arkham Horror: The Card Game.
Deeper than the dice-based Elder Sign, but more streamlined than the eponymous board version, Arkham Horror: The Card Game introduces a 1-2 player game— the game can be played with up to 4 players, but will require a second core set—in which players play cards that allow them to explore areas in hopes of solving an eldritch mystery. There are also (currently) seven different expansions available, making it a Living Card Game. This means that there’s expansions that allow players to create new decks and new scenarios to play, but without having to buy random boosters in hopes of getting the cards you want. Expansions that contain all the cards you need for that scenario, without having to trade or draft? Madness.
Like Fantasy Flight's other Lovecraft-themed games, Arkham Horror: The Card Game is a co-operative game in which players must work together to fight monsters and solve mysteries. Players start the game with helpful items, skills, and even allies to help them explore areas. Throughout the game, more cards are added to their hand during play which are drawn from customizable decks. The deck building aspect of Arkham Horror: The Card Game allows players to tailor their experience, while the Living Card game aspect saves them from the runaway costs of many CCGs.
Players familiar to the Fantasy Flight Lovecraftian games will recognize many of the same symbols—such as the “health” and “sanity,” both of which make sure your characters are alive and, well, sane—which are used in other games. A lot of the original (Arkham Horror) board game is still here, which will make it an easier transition for players of the original to the card version, although we had players who’d never played either follow along just fine.
The game moves in phases from Mythos (where the "doom" grows and the bad guys grow stronger), Investigation (standard play phase where players draw, play cards, move, etc.), Enemy phase (enemies move/attack), and the upkeep phase. The campaign plays out in three scenarios, which work like "acts" in a play or movie. There's also something of a butterfly-effect mechanic; at the end of the first scenario we had the option of burning our house down or leaving it, and our decision ended up changing how the game was played later on.
Though still robust in its storyline, we felt that The Card Game might be a good alternative for those that like the board version but don't want as much of a time commitment, as the card version sits at about 1-2 hours per play. Having the story broken into scenarios keeps the immediate goal in sight, which helps players not get as overwhelmed, which helps reduce table flips which sometimes happen, like, I don’t know, three hours into a game of the original Arkham Horror when we still could have won, Joan.
Explore areas, gather clues, fight monsters, all the while trying not to let the madness get you, until you either eventually win the game or Slowly Go Insane and The Old Gods Destroy the World and EVERYONE IN IT.
Either way, no pressure.
One of the things all the Lovecraft inspired games have in common is a sense of impending doom, of futility, of things about to go very, very wrong. Fantasy Flight keeps this feeling going in Arkham Horror: The Card Game, but thanks to this well-crafted addito to the Lovecraft line, things going wrong is reserved for the characters, not the players themselves.