Review: Eldritch Horror

Hey there, everyone. So, it’s occurred to me that my reviews up to now have been a bit light. Therefore, I’m going to be adding a new section to each of my reviews: Setup. I’m also going to take more time in the Verdict section to give a few additional impressions I have about each game. Without further ado, let’s get into the thick of this.

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Overview

Eldritch Horror is a cooperative RPG for 1 to 6 players, ages 14 and up, designed by Corey Konieczka and Nikki Valens, and published by Fantasy Flight Games. Games are intended to last between 120 – 240 minutes. (You read that right.)

Setup

Once you’ve done it a time or two, setup isn’t so bad. The first few times though, it can be a real chore. There are several decks of cards that need shuffling and a deck that needs to be built out specifically for the play through (this occurs every game). The rulebook does a great job of explaining setup, however, so you shouldn’t feel lost. Just read carefully and follow instructions. First time setup, you might be looking at 15 – 20 minutes. Once you get the hang of it, you’re probably looking at 7 – 10 minutes (if you’re doing it alone).

Setup consists of the following:

  1. Placing the board out on your playing surface. The board itself is quite large, so you’ll want to play on or in an area with sufficient space for all the game components.
  2. Organizing the various types of tokens into piles. Eldritch Horror features a variety of small, cardboard tokens and you’ll want to have them all organized and within easy reach.
  3. Each player will need to choose their Investigator (character) and place them on their starting location. Players will also need the corresponding Investigator Sheet.
  4. Players can then collect their Investigator’s starting possessions as well as their Health and Sanity tokens.
  5. Next, the player(s) will need to decide on which Ancient One they’re going to go up against. The core game features four Ancient Ones that you can try your luck with: Azathoth, Cthulhu, Shub-Niggurath, and Yog-Sothoth. Every Ancient One plays significantly differently, so there’s no catch-all strategy to use.
  6. Next, you’ll need to place all non-Epic monsters into a cup or similar opaque container for the purposes of randomized drawing.
  7. Separate, shuffle, and place the regular decks of cards.
  8. Build the Mythos Deck and place it next the sheet of the Ancient One that was chosen (or just somewhere within reach).
  9. Resolve any starting effects from the chosen Ancient One and prepare for a truly harrowing gaming experience.

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Here’s what the board looks like at the start of the game. As you can see, this game takes up quite a bit of space.

Gameplay

Eldritch Horror is a cooperative game and all the players will either win together or lose together. The goal of the game is for the Investigators to banish the Ancient One by solving Mysteries. Sounds easy enough, right? Then you haven’t accounted for all the interdimensional gates opening up spitting monsters out every chance they get. Oh, yeah, and the Ancient One could just manifest into the world and totally wreck your day.

The game is played in rounds consisting of three phases: the Action Phase, the Encounter Phase, and the Mythos Phase. Let’s take a moment and talk about each phase.

In the Action Phase, each Investigator can make up to two actions. Actions are the main way that players interact with the game board and prepare for the coming phases. Starting with the Lead Investigator (which changes every round) players will choose up to two actions, resolve them, and then play passes to the next player. When play comes back around to the Lead Investigator, the round moves into the Encounter Phase. It is important to note that each Investigator can only elect to take any given action once every Action Phase.

There are six different actions for the Investigators to choose from: Acquire Assets, Component Action, Prepare for Travel, Trade, Travel, and Rest.

  • Acquire Assets: This action allows an Investigator to attempt to gain helpful items or allies. This action can only be taken if the Investigator in question is located on a City Space. This action cannot be taken if there is a monster located on the same space as the Investigator.
  • Component Action: Each Investigator has a unique action listed on their Investigator Sheet. This action is called the Component Action. It is available for the Investigator to use during the Action Phase.
  • Prepare for Travel: This action allows an Investigator to gain either a Train or Ship Travel Ticket. Travel Tickets allow Investigators to potentially move further with one Travel Action. This action can only be taken if the Investigator in question is located on a City Space.
  • Trade: This action allows an Investigator to trade assets to another Investigator who is located on the same space as them.
  • Travel: This action allows an Investigator to move from their current space to an adjacent space.
  • Rest: This action allows an Investigator to recover one Health and one Sanity. This action cannot be taken if there is a monster located on the same space as the Investigator.

Now, let’s talk some about the Encounter Phase. There are a number of different Encounters that an Investigator might have during this phase; most are voluntary, some are not. The types of Encounters are: Combat Encounters, Location Encounters, and Token Encounters. At the start of the Encounter Phase, play again begins with the Lead Investigator and each Investigator will have the opportunity (welcome or not) to resolve an Encounter.

  • Combat Encounters are involuntary and occur when an Investigator is located on the same space as a monster when the Encounter Phase rolls around. This means that the Investigator will have to fight the monsters and, hopefully, destroy it if they are able. Combat is resolved by dice rolls. Investigators can be buffed in combat by assets that they have in their possession, spells that they can cast, etc. Investigators can be debuffed in combat by abilities belonging to the monsters or adverse conditions they have picked up during the game.
  • Location Encounters can help or hinder an Investigator depending on whether they successfully resolve the Encounter or if they fail to do so. Depending on what space an Investigator is located on, they may have more than one option as to what deck they can draw a Location Encounter card from. Certain spaces on the board (and this is marked on the board, which is awesome) even provide certain things that are helpful to the Investigator(s) most if not all of the time during their Encounters.
  • Token Encounters are divided into even more sub-Encounter types.
    • Clue Tokens allow Investigators to draw and resolve Research Encounters. Research Encounters are tied directly to the Ancient One that the Investigators are playing against.
    • Gate Tokens allow Investigators to draw and resolve Other World Encounters. These Encounters can be dangerous, but they are the only way Investigators can reliably close Gates.
    • The Active Expedition Token allows Investigators to draw and resolve Expedition Encounters. These Encounters can help Investigators if they are resolved successfully.
    • Rumor Tokens allow Investigators to resolve the Rumor that is listed on the corresponding, active Rumor Mythos Card (if there is one active).
    • Defeated Investigators can also be encountered by players, as their pawns are left on the board. Encountering a defeated Investigator not only gives the encountering Investigator their fallen comrade’s assets, but it allows them a chance to set the Doom level back.

Now, we’re going to talk about the Mythos Phase. When play returns to the Lead Investigator in the Encounter Phase, the round moves into the Mythos Phase. This is the phase in which all your plans are blown to Hell and any progress you made during the previous phases has a really good chance of being entirely undone and then some.

At the beginning of the Mythos Phase, the Lead Investigator draws the top card of the Mythos Deck, reads it to the other players, and resolves the effects. Now, not all of the Mythos Cards do terrible things, but 90% of them do. Here’s a list of all the different things that can happen when a Mythos Card is drawn: Advance Omen, Monster Spawn, Place Eldritch Tokens, Place Rumor Token, Resolve Effect, Resolve Reckoning Effects, Spawn Clues, and/or Spawn Gates.

  • Advance Omen: In the top right corner of the board is the Omen Track. The Omen Track has four spaces, containing one of three symbols. The Omen Track can and most certainly will stress you out while simultaneously provide you with purpose. When you are required to Advance the Omen, you’ll move the little Omen indicator onto the next Omen in the track. When the Omen Advances, you advance the Doom Track by one for each Gate open on the board that has the active Omen symbol on it.
    • As a side note here, the Doom Track is located across the top of the board. Depending on which Ancient One you are playing against, it may start out at a higher number or a lower number. If the Doom Track ever hits zero, the Ancient One shows up and shit can really hit the fan.
  • Monster Spawn: This lovely effect pops a random monsters out of every Gate that is currently on the board. This isn’t too bad in the early game, but, if you’re not staying on top of Gates, things can get absolutely unmanageable.
  • Place Eldritch Tokens/Rumor Token: When a Rumor Mythos Card is drawn, it will most likely need Eldritch Tokens placed on it. It will also cause a Rumor Token to show up on the board. Rumor Mythos Cards won’t help you get any closer to defeating the Ancient One, but they will serious kick you in the teeth if they are left unchecked and are not taken care of in time.
  • Resolve Effect: If the Mythos Card that is drawn has an “Effect” detailed on it, it will need to be resolved immediately. Participation in resolving these Effects is mandatory for all of the Investigators. This is typically where the Mythos Cards that are helpful show up, but they are few and far between as I mentioned up above.
  • Resolve Reckoning Effects: Some cards, monsters, and Ancient Ones have a little orange meteor symbol located on them. When Resolve Reckoning Effects comes up you’ll have to resolve the Reckoning Effect for those cards/monsters that have them. Sometimes, resolving a Reckoning Effect is a good thing. Most of the time though, it is not a good thing.
  • Spawn Clues: This causes a Clue Token to show up on a random space on the board. This one doesn’t hurt you at all, but it doesn’t directly help you either. But, you’ll be happy to see this instead of a monster spawn though.
  • Spawn Gates: This causes a Gate to show up on one of the major City Spaces on the board. There are nine of them in total, which means to you can have nine Gates open at once if things have gone seriously awry. I’ve been there before and it is truly absurd.

Once the Mythos Card has been resolved, the Lead Investigator passes the Lead Investigator Token to the next player and a new round begins. Play continues until the players are victorious or until they have failed and, by doing so, have consigned all of mankind to an unimaginable living hell complete with all of the accompanying mind-breaking denizens.

Before I move on to the next section of the review, let me just clarify that there is only one way for the Investigators to win the game, but their are a myriad of ways that they can lose. Options for failure include, but are not limited to: not being able to draw a Mythos Card during the Mythos Phase, Azathoth waking up and reality ceasing to exist, that one damned Rumor card that ends the game if it isn’t taken care of, etc.

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This was a few rounds into our playthrough against Cthulhu (the hardest Ancient One in the core set). As you can see, the Gates are starting to get out of control. Also, I lost my first ever Investigator. She went Insane trying to fight a Wraith.

Visuals and Quality of Game Components

You can get a taste of what the art in this game is like by looking at the few pictures that I have posted thus far. Let me just say this though; this game is freaking beautiful. The art is outstanding, especially considering how much of it there is included in the game. Investigators, Ancient Ones, monsters, even the tiny Item, Spell, and Condition cards have unique artwork on them (excluding duplicates of course). Really top notch work in this department.

The quality of the game components is, likewise, admirable. Nothing feel cheap in the slightest. The tokens and Investigator pawns are all made from thick cardboard and are not likely to become damaged through regular, prescribed use. The cards all have a nice finish and are high quality. No complaints here at all.

Content and Replay Value

If you’ve read Lovecraft before, you’ll already know what to expect going into this game. If not, prepare for existential horror at it’s finest. Some of the art could be scary to younger audiences and, some of the narrative parts could get unsettling as well, but everything should be totally fine for a mature group.

Eldritch Horror has a lot of replay value, even if you only have the core set. My girlfriend and I have played the game six times now and we haven’t even used all of the investigators yet. We just barely played against the last Ancient One provided in the core set. Also, of the six times we’ve played, we have only won once and even then it was by the skin of our teeth. This game is a challenge no matter how many players you are playing with. If you can move past the soul crushing chain of defeats that you’ll undoubtedly experience, it is a phenomenal game.

Verdict: Yea

Eldritch Horror is worth every last penny. With the holiday season coming up fast, you will probably see it on sale any day now. I would recommend Eldritch Horror to any one who is a fan of Lovecraft, I would recommend it to solo players, I would recommend to cooperative players, I would recommend it to damned near everyone.

There are a few things that you should bear in mind when considering adding this game to your collection.

  • Games are long. Our average time for a game is about 150 minutes. This is not a game you can pull out for a quick game session. You’ll probably want to plan ahead for this one.
  • Learning the game is a long process. Our first game (from setup to clean up) took us around 5 hours. Maybe we just struggled learning it that night, because it is easy to remember how to play once you know, but that first game was a killer.
  • This is a challenging game. If you don’t like to lose repeatedly, this isn’t a game you’d enjoy. Like I said up above, we’ve played six times and we’ve only won once. The last game we played, we got completely massacred despite our best efforts.
  • That being said, when you win, you’ll never feel more accomplished. I don’t care about anything else that happens in your entire life. Beating this game is an amazing feeling.
  • There are a lot of expansions out for this game. If you’re not satiated with the core set alone, you can easily and readily expand your gaming experience.
  • If this game sounds like too much, but you want something similar check out Elder Sign.
  • If this game doesn’t sound involved enough for you, but you want something similar, check out Arkham Horror.
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This was the round the game ended. I had lost my second Investigator (we lost three in total this game), eight Gates were open, and Cthulhu showed up and was slurping down souls and turning humans into little blood smears left and right. The game ended when both of our current Investigators simultaneously went Insane.

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