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Newbie’s Guide To Gaming By A Newbie – Episode 2: Obstacles And How To Overcome Them Gracefully


It might sound ridiculous, but I almost forgot the point of my new hobby.

Before we get into why it took me a couple of weeks to return to the fantastic game of Arkham Horror LCG, a brief recap to remind us of how we got here (super quick: there’s only so much space in any article for jibber-jabber, which is a shame as the ole jibber-jabs is clearly my speciality). It’s a total accident. An unwitting soul wanders into a bookshop, stumbles into a section full of Wonder Boxes (board games), each one packed with tiny universes of stories. Said soul mutters that their birthday is on the horizon, and ten days later a pair of Wonder Boxes are in his possession.

Scenario one of Arkham’s opening campaign - The Gathering - proved a real challenge to understand, play and complete. More importantly, it proved to be a satisfying experience that I couldn’t wait to continue. And yet… yeah, it took a fortnight before I came anywhere near the second scenario - The Midnight Masks. Eh? A fortnight? What happened there then?

Kind of you to ask. The title of the episode is probably a giveaway: I face-planted into some obstacles along the way, a couple of them of my own making. Okay, more than a couple, a few of them. Alright, alright, basically all of them were thrown up by my own obstreperous brain.

Fig 01: Before we begin, there’s some experience points to spend on lovely new skills. Um, there’s a lot of cards, where the Cthulhu do I begin…

As I finally managed to clear the table and a few hours to make space for the Lovecraftian horrors (and delights) of an Arkham session, I pondered this question of why it had taken so long, and the answers landed on me in a heap. Now, I’ve already developed a habit of keeping pen and notebook nearby while playing so I can scribble down gameplay events and my own reactions to them – I’m fascinated by the stories that board games can create, and the author in me wants to maintain a record of the standout tales – so naturally I made a bunch of notes regarding this thought-heap as I played through scenario two of Night of the Zealots, The Midnight Masks. The subjects I wrote about seemed like those we hobbyists should discuss openly, if only to ensure that the hobby is as welcoming as possible to as many as possible.

So, let’s chat under a series of suitable headings.


Some of you are lucky. You are surrounded by gamers who have drawn you into the hobby (evil spellcasters), or you’ve found some local gaming groups, preferably in a traditional pub serving local ales. Others of us are wading out into these waters with a rubber ring around our waists, tied to a slack rope – there’s no-one on the shore holding the rope and staring out with binoculars… I think this analogy has gone off on its own. I’m lucky, as my Other Half (capital letters intentional) is an arty type and understands the value of adventuring into imaginary worlds, but there’s no gaming groups for me currently. Cool by me: I can solo.

Lucky or not, we’ve all bumped into a certain kind of individual who simply doesn’t get it, and doesn’t want to get it. I’ve seen eyerolls at the mention of boardgaming. Yeah, really. ‘Oh, you play games, do you? I used to play Monopoly when I was a kid. And you still play? How interesting.’ Here’s the kicker: this comes from people whom I know for a fact will play things like Candy Crush on their mobile phone, and yet they’re the first ones to judge. This doesn’t bother me so much, to be honest. People are dumb enough to make all kinds of idiotic judgements regarding such topics as gender, sexuality, skin tone, and board gaming was never going to be any different. Besides, it won’t stop me doing what I want: in fact, I’ve got this punk rock gene that drives me even further towards doing something that isn’t the mainstream or the norm or the ordinary. Keep me away from such dullness, thank you very much. I want to live.

I’m just pleased that my Other Half is very supportive of this mad new hobby of mine… although I do wonder how she’ll feel once there’s no space left on any shelf in the house.

Fig 02: Little does Roland realise how rapidly he’s going to run through these assets: it’s tough out there on the streets of Arkham.

These thoughts take a momentary backseat as I get two rounds into The Midnight Masks. Arkham has all the thrills of a great movie multiplied, because you’re in it and driving the emergent storytelling. You buy into the character you play completely, and that’s what makes the consequences of each action so striking. This second scenario is a serious step up from the first: the training wheels have been kicked clean off. There is a lot more going on here. More locations, more enemies, more challenges, and a strict time limit. Those doom tokens tot up quickly as the rounds progress. We’ve only got two agenda cards this time, and we’ve barely left the starting location (it could have been our house as a starting point, except we burnt it down in the first scenario and it’s therefore absent from the table this evening, bye bye house) and we’re already looking at two doom tokens. (I say ‘we’, but it’s me playing solo as a pair of investigators and I’m deep into the roles. We’re a team, backing each other up (oh God, I’m a team backing myself up?)) A reminder, as if I needed one, of how tough Arkham Horror is. This game is suitably chaotic and punishing. The forces of evil are relentless from the start, and I’m going to need some strong card draws if Wendy’s got any chance of getting through the fights that await her.

Most importantly, it’s going to be great fun. You and I, we don’t need anyone’s permission or approval to enjoy these adventures other than our own.


I’m sure you’ve got a lot on day-to-day, just like I have. Holding down a job (education/training/apprenticeship), got family commitments, illness that levels you when least expected, sudden events that pop up out of nowhere and need immediate attention? Preach, sisters and brothers. Your energy levels will only take you so far through a day. Finish your shift, get home, make food, eat, tidy up, tired now, not enough time for a game. Then the tv goes on, showing something only half interesting, and the phone is scrolled through as if it will present some great revelations…

Hang on. tv, phone? That was the point of the board games, to get away from that stuff! Ah, too tired though, nothing you can do about that. Really? I had to give myself a real mental shove on the tiredness issue. ‘There’s random stuff on the table, it’ll take an effort to move it,’ I moaned to myself (because most of us don’t have a game room ready for action and seemingly self-tidying (more on this later)). ‘Tough it out,’ was my own response to me. ‘I bet it’s worth it.’ And the second I’d made the space and placed that lovely box down ready to open, I knew that the other I had been right all along (that fella always is), and my mind livened up and my mood brightened and I forgot about the tiredness and got lost inside a story that improvised itself.

Board games are their own reward. Whatever your home situation is, you can make it work. Insists that others sit with you. Demand your own personal time for solo play. Leave the tv shows alone today – every single one is on catch up somewhere in this modern age. Stick it on later, or tomorrow, or never, or whatever. Get your game on. You’re only ever one round away from ‘just one more go’. The game will be better for your mind and spirit than any electronic device, I promise. It will get you thinking and making decisions, and the rust on your cogs will slough away.

That’s how I feel in Arkham scenario two, with the challenges already mounting up. Our investigations have sealed the fate of one cultist so far, but we’re a solitary doom token away from the second and final agenda card with five cultists to find, both investigators engaged with a ghoulish enemy, and more fiends lurking at other locations. Not good. Not good at all. And yes, once again the chaos tokens hate me. I’m loving it, though. The brain-cogs are in full motion. I feel fully awake, challenged, invigorated, engaged in the story. I’m on the streets of Arkham, racing to the Miskatonic University as I track down a fresh lead on another damned cultist. I’m over-thinking every single move - no cheating here even though I’m solo, every single decision rides, wrong or not - and I’ve completely forgotten about social media, news, worries, even time itself.


Fig 03: We’re less than twenty minutes in, and Wendy is looking a tad ill and poorly prepared.

I’ve resolved a couple of the issues I had during the scenario. I know which monsters/enemies can move and when. I know how to resolve combat correctly (I think). Another mistake has cropped up during this playthrough, and it’s come about because I’ve forgotten one simple behaviour that makes the game much easier to enjoy: I’m not reading everything. I was so busy triple-checking the rules on engagement and movement that I forgot the characters have ‘abilities’ on their character cards. For example, when Roland defeats an enemy he collects a clue. This is quite a big deal in this particular scenario as clues are not dished out freely in the various locations, and the clues are essential in your investigation of the cultists. I’ve been making my own game harder, and Arkham Horror is plenty hard on its own, thank you very much. This is ok. We’re ironing out the errors, we’re improving in both the playing and the running of the game. Everyone screws up rules. Even the sneering keyboard warriors on the forums - you know the ones, they invariably say unhelpful things like ‘don’t you know how to read a rulebook’ - they had to learn as well, although they’d never have the courage to admit they aren’t flawless. Most of the time any question you have about a game has already been answered and a swift Google search will set you right.

I like to watch a YouTube playthrough of a game before I get stuck in myself, and this too can save a bit of time - it’s like having a tutor that you can pause and rewind any time.

And as I pause whilst peering into the endless, infinite gaze of Cthulhu, here on the edge of disaster, I realise why setting time aside for board gaming is vital: this is self-care. That’s the term I’ve been looking for. It can work wonders for your serotonin levels. Forcing yourself a few hours for a game has to be worthwhile, then. Push back against the stuff hogging your time. Pop to the local shops every single day (like I used to)? Get more of what you need in one visit to last a few days. Bagged yourself a bit of time there, right? Don’t bring work home with you. Work is for work. Home is for you. Got an assignment? Start it the day you get it, and do some early in the evening, so that the latter part of the evening is freed up for fun. Do your best to keep a table as free as possible during the day, so that in the evening you can get set up quickly. Once you’ve played it a couple of times, Arkham doesn’t take that long to set up. Another favourite of mine, Horrified, is a pretty quick set up too, and it’s a game with lots of decision making to keep that brain of yours lively. Any game can take a while to learn and get onto the table the first time, but pretty soon you’ll have your favourites that you could lay out without thought… so keep that table clear and ready!

Time will never do what you want, so be ready and willing to shove it around a bit.


These two terms (which I’ve kind-of dreamt up right here and now) are somewhat interchangeable, and caused by that great evil/delight of the modern age: the internet. Up until recently I haven’t been much of a one for social media activity, never really found much need for it. That has changed. As of today my Instagram feed is hammered with an endless stream of high quality photos of board games I either really suddenly want or have no idea existed. It sets the eyes spinning like the reels on a one-armed bandit. The worst posts, the most evil posts, show endless shelves jam-packed with board games, their boxes in perfect condition - because nobody can possibly have the time to play all of them! I want them, though. I want the whole lot.

Fig 04: This most likely looks like it’s been laid out and played by a newbie or a maniac. I know what I’m doing here, honest.

I’ve started out with a couple of games, right, and there’s plenty of gameplay tucked into those boxes, hours and hours of fun. There’s other games out there, though. So many lurking in my mind, telling me to check eBay for bargains.. And haven’t a lot of them got lovely, lovely boxes with stunning cards and game pieces and boards inside?

Then you stumble upon Kickstarters and Gamefound projects. There’s regularly a lot of these on the go at any one time. They start popping up in your Instagram feed as sponsored posts if you spend any time on there searching for board game content (it’s almost as if Meta knows exactly what you want and is determined to force feed it to you…), and they are almost all very tempting. Your purse/wallet/bank account weeps.

You know what, though? Enjoy what you’ve got before you look elsewhere. We come to the end of scenario two of Arkham Horror, and this evening’s session has done two things for me: firstly, I’ve had a great time. I’ve fumbled my way through my own horror movie, better than almost any you could watch on a tv screen because it’s genuinely unpredictable and the stakes feel so much higher. We scraped our way to victory (Roland and Wendy, myself and I) and it’s been a great workout for the mind and the imagination. Secondly, it’s a reminder. This is what I’m here for. Who cares about the gazillion other games out there? Who cares about the limited edition Kickstarters with the upgraded wooden counters? Who cares about the Instagram pictures of endless shelves packed with boxes that must rarely see the light of day? Play the game you’ve got, the one you wanted, the one that cried out to you, the one that refuses to sit quietly on that bare shelf. New games can wait for another day.

Honestly, they can.

Although, you know, maybe there’s something good going second-hand on eBay…