A cosmic being of unimaginable power and evil stirs from its ancient slumber, threatening to cross the void between worlds and feast on humanity. Cultists around the world perform arcane rituals to hasten its approach, and bring about the end of days. You are all that stands between the Ancient One and global annihilation, will you step up and save the planet?!
Eldritch Horror is a co-operative game set in the roaring ’20s, inspired by the Cthulhu mythos of H.P. Lovecraft, where one to eight players control investigators, aiming to banish an Ancient One by travelling the globe, battling monsters, closing gates to other dimensions, and uncovering clues to help solve mysteries.
So, how do we save the world?
Each Ancient One (there are four in the core game, including Cthulhu itself), comes with its own set of mysteries, three of which must be solved in order to stop it from entering our dimension. Mysteries range from defeating epic monsters, and sealing dimensional gates, to gathering clues, or travelling the globe to investigate eldritch goings on.
These mysteries, along with other Ancient One specific cards, give a unique flavour to each game.
Meet the investigators..
There are 12 investigators to choose from in the core Eldritch Horror box, and fans of other Arkham Horror Files games will recognise some familiar faces. Investigators range from grey bearded astronomer and professor Norman Withers, to Jacqueline Fine the troubled psychic, Lily Chen the disciplined martial artist, to Silas Marsh the bare chested salty sea dog.
Each investigator has their own skill values (in Lore, Influence, Observation, Strength and Will), starting possessions and unique abilities, which means some are better suited to finding clues than dispatching monsters, so choose wisely.
What happens in a game round?
Each game round consists of three phases, the Action Phase, Encounter Phase, and the (dreaded) Mythos Phase:
- A typical Action Phase sees investigators using their two actions to travel the globe, gain travel tickets (for faster travel by train or ship), acquire items, services or allies, or trade these with investigators at their location, perform actions specific to their investigator, or simply rest to regain precious health and sanity.
- During the Encounter Phase, investigators fight any monsters at their location, before trying to close the dimensional gates that they are spawning through, or play through encounter cards based on their location (such as researching ancient books in Rome, answering the riddles of the Silver Twilight Lodge in Arkham, or breaking into warehouses in Shanghai). Encounters are mostly resolved with skills tests, rolling a number of dice equal to an investigators skill level hoping for successes (die rolls of 5 or 6).
- And lastly the Mythos Phase, oh the Mythos Phase, enough to chill the heart of any investigator. Each Mythos Phase, just one Mythos Card is flipped over, but that one card can have multiple devastating effects,especially if investigators aren’t on top of things. As well as serving up a thematic event, Mythos Cards can …
- Open new dimensional gates.
- Summon new monsters through these gates.
- Trigger negative events across other cards or monsters in play.
- Add a Rumor to the game, a dangerous and ongoing event that usually needs to be dealt with promptly as they have the potential to end the game.
- Advance the Omen, a circular track that encourages investigators to close gates quickly, because any gates still open that match the current Omen symbol will also advance the Doom Track…
Doom Track, sounds scary, what’s that?
Oh, did I forget to mention that you will be doing all of this against the clock? If the three mysteries are not solved before the Doom Track reaches zero, the Ancient One awakens, and things get really crazy! Usually this involves adding a final (and very tough) mystery that needs to be solved in addition to the standard three in order to win – as you might have guessed, there are lots of ways to lose this game, and only one way to win!
If you think none of this sounds easy, you’d be absolutely right, but despite being complex and brutal, this game can be enormously rewarding, surprisingly easy to pick up, and above all fun!
So, what does it feel like to play?
Eldritch Horror is obviously physically big (stacks of cards and tokens, and a board of epic proportions), but during play it feels even bigger than the sum of all those parts. There is often a sense that the game is playing you, serving up events that, on the whole, jigsaw together to weave a great story. Yes, there is the occasional time when an event can be a bit jarring (especially at higher player counts when there are generally more events happening), but these are soon forgotten.
There is a relentless feeling of dread all through the game, with real tension as you hesitate to turn over a Mythos Card, or have to flip a condition card (such as poisoned, internal injury, or the Dark Pact) to see what awful fate awaits you.
Of course, the merciless nature of the game means that it won’t suit everyone, especially if you don’t like losing, time and time again, because you will, over and over. But on the flipside, that does make this an incredibly satisfying game to win – when you are one clue away from solving the last mystery, with the Doom Track just hovering over zero, with next to no health or sanity left, and you manage to pull off a victory, you’ll feel a real sense of achievement (and relief!).
Bigger isn’t always better..
Whilst the feeling of scale that comes from the sheer size of the game is great, it does have its drawbacks:
- It takes a while to set up and tear down, around 10 minutes for each, but organising your tokens and decks can reduce this.
- It requires a lot of table space, a lot – the board is huge and you’ll need space for all of the game decks and discard piles, room to lay out investigators and the items they collect, space for token pools, and of course room for drinks and snacks.
- And you’ll need those snacks, as it most definitely is not a short game, you’re in for the long haul. The box says two to four hours, which is about right for a game with up to four investigators / players, but at higher player counts it can drag on, and some of the narrative can get diluted as there is just so much ‘stuff’ going on.
But if you like bigger..
Well you’re in luck! There are so many expansions for Eldritch Horror, new and old, that add layers of everything to the game, more boards, investigators, items, spells, and importantly more Ancient Ones.
A good place to start is the Forsaken Lore expansion, a small box expansion (so cheaper than the big box expansions), which adds a new Ancient One, plus extra mysteries for the Ancient Ones in the core game, so it makes it many times more replayable, without adding to the game’s already large footprint.
Final thoughts on Eldritch Horror
If you like a challenge, and are happy to lose far more than you win, then give Eldritch Horror a go, because it is worth investing your time in it for the great stories that it tells, producing memorable gaming moments.