Yesterday I played Arkham Horror for the first time. It is a cooperative board game for 1-8 players themed around Lovecraftian monsters coming into the world, eventually followed by some sort of horrible evil Elder God. The players are investigators trying to fight or evade the monsters and either close all the gates to other worlds or defeat the Elder God.
I hate Arkham Horror.
Part of it is Arkham Horror's design flaws and part of it is simply the type of game it is, which isn't necessarily a flaw but makes it a game I dislike. Arkham Horror is one of those cooperative games where players all have the same information so instead of each player deciding things on their own they all can make decisions together. This is pretty much the definition of the Alpha Player Problem where newer or less aggressive players get told what to do by the better or more yelly players. It is also extremely random and involves drawing lots of cards that either ruin you or help you, and rolling lots of dice to see how encounters come out.
I dislike both random games where you just do stuff and see what happens and games where one player can just run the board. They make me sad. You might like those games but I have no use for them whatever.
Let us imagine for a moment that I am the sort of person that likes the kind of game Arkham Horror is. Does it do that well?
No, not really.
The quality of the pieces and art is great. The theme is well done and I like the characters and events. There is all kinds of fluff and lore that is well made and enjoyable. Unfortunately the play of the game is rubbish. In the game I played I just did the same thing over and over again because there was no reason to explore or do anything interesting. The cards that came up were extremely favourable so we just walked through the game effortlessly and it hardly matters what we did at all. We won handily, never felt like there was any real threat, and honestly spent much of our time not having anything to do. People just wandered to random locations to draw random cards to see what would happen because there was nothing useful to accomplish.
I read a strategy guide written by someone who had played a lot and who read all the cards and the optimal strategy is to just sit in one place that has mostly really helpful cards and do nothing else if you can avoid it. When the strategy guide is "Just sit in the Newspaper office all game" then the game itself seems extremely weak. It is fine to have some areas be good for some things and not others, and it is also fine for some areas to be risky but with big payoffs, but when you just stay in one place because it is flat out the best then the game is not well made.
Arkham Horror feels like a game that was built by someone who liked the Lovecraftian lore, got lots of nice art made, and had no clue how to build a good game. It is the Monopoly of modern cooperative games - trivial strategy, extremely long, and unpleasantly random.
Two thumbs way, way down.