Monday, January 2, 2012

On the Other Hand

Lest you think all my recent boardgame experiences have been less than ideal, I should note that, for Christmas, my lovely wife got two new boardgames for me: the long-desired Arkham Horror and Pandemic. I've wanted to own and play Arkham Horror for years, so this gift was very well received. I've heard good things about Pandemic, but have never played it. What's interesting is that both of these games are cooperative rather than competitive. It's a style of game I have no experience with. If anyone out there has played either of these games (or similar ones), I'd very curious to hear your thoughts on them.


  1. I really like Arkham Horror, but it takes an age to set up, and almost as long to play. Elder Sign -- also from Fantasy Flight Games -- is a different approach to the same game and is much easier to play -- multiple times -- in an evening. Both are good, it just depends on how much time you have to play.

    I'd also invest in a number of small bags or containers for Arkham Horror, as it comes with a lot of parts!

  2. The secret to Arkham Horror is to make sure you organize the game during breakdown. If you don't, you'll spend most of your time setting up.

    Both of these games get regular play from me and my friends. Pandemic is quicker and more challenging. Arkham Horror is drenched with atmosphere, but fairly easy (particularly with just the base set).

  3. I've played Pandemic, and really enjoy it. Unfortunately, with my group of gamers/programmers, we quickly "solved" the game. It's not a complete solution, but it is enough of a solution to keep us from bringing it out again.

  4. Both games are lot of fun and I recommend both.

    Pandemic is a good gateway game, I've successfully played it with non-gamers. Even with new players, on the easy level you'll win maybe 75% of the time, which is key to getting someone to play the second time. No matter what level you play at, it's very tightly calibrated, in a dozen or more games I've played, I've only had one game where the CDC quickly stomped out all of the diseases. Even when I play at the easy level to teach new players, while we almost always win, it's close.

    Arkham Horror is an acquired taste. You have to love the pile of fiddly bits and the long duration. Fantasy Flight is bad at estimating durations on their long form games; my experience is that it's a 3-6 hour game, depending in part on luck. The fiddly bits pay off be being full of fun color and details. There are also balance issues: with 2 characters the game is insanely hard, but as you add more people it gets easier. In the event you ever consider expansions: the small box expansions tend maintain game balance and add more color; I like them. The large box expansions make the game much harder and longer; I'd avoid them. Indeed, I recently separated out Dunwich Horror and intend to sell it.

    Kelvin above called out Elder Sign. Indeed, Elder Sign is Arkham Horror ultra-light. The good part is that it's fast. The bad part is that all of the color is basically gone, as is the real feeling of moving around town. Witch of Salem is a sort of middle ground between the two. Ultimately if I have the time I prefer Arkham Horror.

    Given your interests, you might be interested in my review and comparison of the 1987 and 2005 versions of Arkham Horror:

  5. Arkham Horror can run long and drag a bit, at times, but even my non-D&D type friends enjoy it and we often play it at their request. I even got my parents and wife to play a game over Christmas and they enjoyed it well enough.

  6. I've played them both, and while I love Pandemic, I'm probably in the minority when I say I just can't stand Arkham Horror. There are the various issues that others mentioned above-- long and tedious setup, long and tedius play-- but the thing somehow seems unwinable. Not just hard to win, but literally unwinable. Perhaps we've just missed something, but our experience was sour enough not to want to try again.

    Pandemic, on the other hand, is very hard to win, but it's easy to see how you could win. The first three games I played, we lost, and I loved every minute of it. To me, that's the mark of a great game. Plus it has a very high solo playability, which I like.

  7. I tried playing Arkham & I had to be coached through it-- "roll THESE dice!"-- & in general, while it seemed neat, it falls squarely into the category many board games do-- if I could get four other gamers herded together, I'd rather roleplay than play a board game that is so complicated it needs gamers to figure it out.

  8. I really enjoy co-op games, more so that competive games really. I've played Pandemic and enjoy it, but I don't have experience with AH. Shadows Over Camelot is another good one to play. Check out my blog for other ideas and my general thouvhts on the genre.

  9. Both are highly respected games over at I have considerable experience with both, and strongly advise you to start with Pandemic. The rules are simpler to grok, the game is shorter and it's easier for non-gamers to get in to. Arkham requires a few games to get. In the nomenclature it is a little "fiddly" which means multiple things to keep track of. If you can get someone who is experienced to show you the ropes, take them up on it. Otherwise be prepared to play a few games solo in order to get the rules down. Also download universalhead's rules summary from Boardgamegeek. His rule summaries are awesome. I've loved some games of Arkham and found a few to be incredibly tedious. I find it to be more fun when it's approached as a story to experience rather than a game to win, per se.

  10. Arkham Horror is my gaming groups' boardgame of choice. I just picked up the most recent expansion (Miskatonic Horror) and we're having fun with the new Institutions introduced in those rules.

  11. I've played Pandemic and its gateway game, Forbidden Island. Both are pretty good. Forbidden Island is a nice quick intro to the common mechanics (everyone works together to get relics off of a sinking island or you all croak... ).

  12. I've only played Arkham Horror twice, but both times it was a lot of fun. You really need to cooperate, and coordinate your moves. Played right, and the Elder Horrors should be manageable. But it's generally a close call, which makes it pretty entertaining.

  13. Arkham Horror is a great game, I regularly play it with 5 players. It does take an investment in time and energy to play, though. I don't think it's for the casual gamer. You need to really be into Lovecraft or really be into complex board games, preferably both (as our group is). If you lack either of these qualifications I imagine it will be an immense and complicated bore-fest. I've never played it with less than five players and I'm not sure how it would work for only two or three at all. I've never found the set up to be that much of a problem. We kind of enjoy it actually. Again, this might have to do with our large and enthusiastic group.

    If you are looking for a game to play with a spouse or casual board game friend Elder Sign may work better.

    My tips for Arkham are:

    - The night you plan to play it don't plan on doing anything else. The night should be basically dedicated to sitting around the table and playing the game. Don't expect to have time or focus to spend on anything else that night.

    - Everyone should participate in set up at game time or one person should do it all before the night even begins.

    - Don't worry about the expansions either at all or not until you have played several complete games.

    - Be prepared for the game to be very long when your group figures out how to play and to be very short until then.

    - The rules of the game really aren't that complicated but figuring what to do with them can be.

  14. Pandemic is a really fun game that changes every time you play it. It plays well with different numbers of payers (something that other games don't always do well), and it also has different levels of play so you can crank up the difficulty as you get used to it.

    I've played the game about 20+ times and so far haven't met anyone (neither gamers nor non-gamers) who didn't like it.

    If you get into it there's a fun expansion that adds a few new twists to the game and also provides some badly needed petri dish containers to hold all of the pieces. The beauty of the expansion set is also that it was designed to all fit in the original game box so you don't need to cart two game boxes around.

  15. I have played Arkham Horror, many, many times with 5 players and with 2. I agree with what Alan De Smet said about it above. The only thing I would add is to say that, after you play it once it is very easy and not actually complicated at all. It is the manner in which Fantasy Flight chooses to present their rules, which is not very logical imho, it has some very poor wording and not very reference friendly. The game will take a long time for the first game, there is no avoiding that; but subsequent games will go much smoother and faster although as others have mentioned here it does take I would say at least 3 hours but that depends on the Old One you going up against.

  16. I bought Pandemic, in the hopes that i could get my public-health-employed wife to play. Unfortunately, it remains unplayed.

    The boys (12 and 9) and i have played many a game of Forbidden Island - the only cooperative game i have any experience with. We love it.

  17. Arkham Horror is a great game, but I definitely agree with Kelvin Green. Get containers, dear lord you will need them.

  18. @Alan: can win Arkham Horror? That's not a Lovecraft game!

  19. My friend was part of Z-Man and gave me a copy of Pandemic 2 years ago. The whole cooperative idea put me off. I finally played it 2 weeks ago and it's a blast.

    It was tough to win - my buddy said it's designed to be lost about 60% of the time. We won, but at the very last possible moment. Very decent with what looks like lots of replay potential.

  20. I really like Pandemic. A lot. If you wind up liking it, check out the expansion.

    Arkham Horror is too long and slow for what it is.

    If you like both of them, Ghost Stories and The Lord of the Rings are two other cooperative games worth looking at.

  21. Arkham Horror is an amazingly simple game to win if the players plan their moves together and co-operate.

    Imagine that.

  22. FF Arkham Horror is one of the games that got me back into (& thinking about) D&D...

  23. Also, I should add, we quite enjoyed Arkham Horror; however, it sometimes goes on WAY too long. We have a number of the expansions, but never really play it anymore after a few dreadfully drawn out games. I think it is best w/ folks that already know how to play, or are Lovecraft freaks; otherwise, the ruliness can become a bit tedious. I have had some fun playing AH solo, though, as well. Magic Realm is another I enjoy solo.

  24. I've got all of Arkham Horror and expansions, but the sheer size of the game often mitigates against our playing it. Again, sort stuff out beforehands and pack up neatly afterwards and it is lot quicker to set up. [Although I still have a fondness for the original non-FFG Arkham Horror version. Which you could also use to play Monopoly on if you were bored.

    Pandemic is interesting, but you really need the expansion to liven things up after a while.

    As for other cooperative games I found Space Alert to be an interesting cooperative game. You are the crew of a spaceship that has jumped into a "situation" and you have to deal with everything that happens before the ship manages to jump out again. It's played in real time with an audio commentary track providing guidance. The results of the actions are determined afterwards (which can lead to chaos if two people arrive at the ladder to the lower level at the same time, and as a result, fail to get to the power plant in time to reboot the core to power the forward lasers to blast that big asteroid hurtling towards the immobilized scoutship).

    [Battlestations is somewhat similar, except not real time and requires a referee. But you get to build your ship.]

    Shadows over Camelot tends to be another cooperative game that gets a lot of play as the players seek to hold back the approaching hordes of Saxons and Picts from seiging Camelot whilst dealing with minor threats such as Modred, the Black Knight, Dragons, and inevitably looking for a pesky cup... Although one of you might be a traitor.

    You'd probably also enjoy Mansions of Madness, which does a rather decent job of making Call of Cthulhu into a boardgame. Although I am somewhat irritated by the puzzle mechanic and the fact that one player has to be the gamemaster. [Although in this vein Betrayal at House on the Hill is a fun game where everyone starts equal but one player turns out to be a traitor. No game balance to speak of (it's too random), but lots of fun.]

    And I'll agree that FFG probably write the worst rule sets in gaming history. Use the summary rules.

  25. Arkham Horror is nice but too long and slooow, both to play and setup. A nice alternative is "Witch of Salem," which is still a Cthulhu "Mythos" based game, and is cooperative too (with a nice secret information mechanics,) but plays orders of magnitude faster. Strongly recommended.

  26. Both a lot of fun, I like Arkham Horror a little better, but it takes a while and can get expensive with the expansions. Pandemic is a good game that plays fairly fast, and is probably one of the best coop games I own.

  27. I've played both, Arkham Horror once and Pandemia a couple of times.

    They're fun, but it seems to me that Arkham Horror can easily degenerate into someone telling slow thinkers (and new players) exactly what to do each turn. It's a complex game so advice is needed. The one game I played we had a couple of first-timers and the other players gave good advice but didn't get annoyed if we did something else instead.

    Pandemia has the same, but it's a simpler game so it's easier to figure out what needs to be done at any given time.

    I've also played a game of Red November, that might be worth trying, too, for a co-operative game. At least it usually has more stuff to do than is possible to achieve.

  28. First time we played Arkham Horror was very difficult, indeed. Subsequent games went much more smoothly and took considerably less time. Pandemic is fun, but easily degenerates into one person telling everybody else what to do, so you have to be vigilant against that. I also got a bit tired of it after repeated plays.

  29. First, when you have a chance, pick up Eider Sign. The best advice I can give here is download the rulebooks from FFG for ES and Arkham Horror and study. Then there are fan produced quick sheets I highly rec.

    Second, if you can manage it at all leave the game(s) set up...permanently...when I got ES I left it in play for 6 weeks. I would play a few rounds , do something else, grab coffee after dinner and play some more. ES is much easier to start and totally hooked me on FFG. I ordered AH after a week of playing ES, opened it, unpacked it, logged in and went 'all in' (glad I did-seems prices have increased). My wife wondered 'what the hell are all these boxes' to which I answered 'Arkham' and disappeared into the man cave.

    AH is a banquet, a feast of gaming, not drive-thru fast food...and it is not for everyone. But the crafting aspect of the game is one thing that draws me to it (I'm working on a custom storage solution for the entire set up so that when you lift the lid you are ready to play).

    And the community for it is one of the best in gaming. Using Strange Eons software fans are able to produce their own professional quality expansion material and FFG has a special forum area just for these projects! (Looking forward to the ES plug-in).

    And the real value-SOLO PLAY. ES and AH both. That is what really sold me.

    I am not slighting Pandemic here. I have heard many good things about it (and downloaded it's predecessor, INFECTION, from BGG). I just think my dance card is full for awhile with AH and the 8 expansions. Plus I'm writing a ground up rules revision for ES to boost the tension factor in the game.

    Enjoy! You scored 2 hits! :)

  30. I really love Arkham Horror, though I've mostly played it solo. I would strongly recommend playing a couple of solo games with four characters before you try it with other people--as other people have said, it's actually not very complicated, but the first time you play it feels very complicated. And use baggies or something for all the different components--setup isn't a chore if you organize them well, but it's an ordeal if you don't.

    The rules are horribly organized and frequently unclear. Boardgamegeek really helps, but it's an easy boardgame to houserule too--it's generally pretty obvious what the effects of some rule decision you make will be. If the game feels either unwinnable or trivially easy, there's almost certainly some rule you're getting wrong.

    Elder Sign is excellent, though not as atmospheric as Arkham Horror (moving around the board really adds something, for me anyway). It's also available as an only slightly simplified Mac, iPhone, or Android game, and the lack of setup makes that my version of choice for now.

    Reading this has made me all hopped up to try Pandemic!

  31. I think both of these games are great fun, and am always very happy to play them with my Boardgaming friends. Even some of my non-boardgaming friends will play Pandemic. But it and Arkham are very different.

    As I think everyone has said, Pandemic is faster to set up and play. But I find it more challenging, as the randomised set up with the locations of the disease cubes and roles means you can be on the back-foot from the start. I once played a three player game of Pandemic and never got a go, as the black cubes all ran out on player two's turn.

    I also think that Pandemic has a smarter game design. Putting the infection cards back on top of the infection deck after an Epidemic comes out, is just a brilliant mechanic. And every time I have taught someone the game, when I show them that, their face lights up.

    Arkham Horror, is a longer game, but you get a great deal more atmosphere especially if everyone reads out all the cards and tries to make a proper story out of it. I do find it an easier game to win. I can't remember the last game of it I lost, but after a few hours playing I want to have achieved something.

    And Arkham rewards players with a knowledge of Lovecraft, with nods to the stories.

    The whole co-operative game sector is certainly booming just now. I'd also recommend Elder Sign, and Ghost Stories (Although I've never won a game of Ghost Stories, I still enjoy playing it.) Witch of Salem is a mid point between Pandemic and Arkham, but I'm not quite as keen on it as either of the other two.

    There is also the Lord of the Rings board game by Reiner Knizia, which came out in 2000 and is a co-operative game. You might be able to find a cheap copy of that somewhere to buy. I've enjoyed the games of it I've played, and I'm not a particularly big Lord of the Rings Fan (Seen the films, not read the books, and still love Fantasy RPG's. Weird).

    There is also A Touch of Evil, by Flying Frog, which can be played a co-op or every player for themselves.

    I predict you will find yourself looking for the expansion for Pandemic very shortly, and it is worth getting.

  32. Be prepared to sacrifice a LONG time to play Arkham. We played the game one day using one of the supplements and 4 players.... we went crazy after 8 hours, and became suicidal maniacs. I think that's the whole point of the game. Then, the world ended.