Arkham Horror – a living card game

I pull my trench coat closer against the chill of the night. I tell myself that the temperature is why I am shivering, but my heart is pounding in my chest. My eyes search the darkness around me for any indicator of a path. My torchlight, little more than a small, yellow circle, regularly gets lost in the tangle of tree branches and bushes that rise up in every direction.

The wind rustles through the leaves and carries with it a soft chanting; an ominous low drone that creeps from the west. Or is it the north? I spin one-eighty. The south?

I bite back a curse.

I’m surrounded.

I’ve stumbled right into their trap like some sort of rookie. I draw my revolver from the holster inside my jacket. The cold metal is a familiar comfort in my hand but in this oppressive darkness I’m just as likely to hit a tree trunk as a cultist.

My torch flickers and dies.

The chanting is getting louder.


Julie and I have been playing Arkham Horror: The Card Game recently. It’s a game dripping in Lovecraftian eldritch horror and madness. Heavy on story, with deck-building and RPG elements, I’m happy to say that I’m enjoying it (although the dreams full of whispers in ancient tongues and madness-inducing structures at impossible angles can get a bit annoying after a while).

The horroooooor!

This is the first game I have played that describes itself as a ‘living card game’. The player controls a character and builds them a deck of cards. This deck is used to play through the game story, which is split into scenarios. At the end of each scenario (there are three in the base game), the character earns experience, allowing the player to ‘upgrade’ their deck. That is, of course, if the character manages to live to the end. This game is not forgiving.

I was really drawn in to the story (you can probably tell from my little opening to this blog) and loved playing my first character – a straight-shooting cop armed with a trusty revolver and mean right hook. I think it says a lot that by the end of each scenario I felt completely wiped out. I threw myself so deeply into the story, and was kept on the edge of my seat while being chased by cultists or spiders or some other ungodly horror. I’ve never really had a board game impact me so heavily before.

That being said, it isn’t all fun and games. There are a lot of rules for Arkham Horror. The playtime is suggested to be one to two hours, but I often find our games push towards three hours as we are constantly referring to the thick book of rules to make sure we can escape whatever horror we are trying to avoid (spoiler alert: we often can’t).

Once you reach the end of the story, there is re-playability in the form of different characters and difficulties. I recently started playing another of the characters in the starter set (there are five) which has provided a very different play experience. I’ve traded in the revolver and right hook for a librarian who has a special bag to carry extra books. In the first game I played, she got trapped in a room which was locked and couldn’t get out. At least she had plenty to read, though!

But if you are looking for a different story, you will have to fork out for one of the expansions. Having just bought one, I found that the expansion (which cost the same as the base game) contained not only more rules (for us to forget), but also only contained half a story. If I want to complete the story, I will have to pay another thirty pounds for two more expansions.

Oh, and you’ll need another expansion as well if you want to play with more than two players.

This game, it seems, not only plays with the mind, but with the wallet as well.

If money isn’t an issue, however, this game is worth exploring.

All in all, I really like Arkham Horror and, sorry wallet, I think I will continue playing it for some time.

Arkham Horror: The Card Game was designed by Nate French and Mark Newman and is published by Fantasy Flight Games.