Horror at home, in the city and around the world: how to choose a Lovecraft board game

 We talk about the advantages and disadvantages of "Mansions of Madness", "Unfathomable", "Ancient Horror" and different versions of "The Arkham Horrors"


Board games based on the works of Howard Lovecraft are very popular. And the point is not only in their high quality but also in their availability: this is a rare case when almost all the main games of the line can be found in stores without any problems. We have already mentioned Arkham Horror and Ancient Horror in our materials about the best board games for two and for a larger company, but this time we will tell you about the entire line in more detail.


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What are Lovecraft games?

What are Lovecraft games?

Board games based on the works of the famous author began to appear back in the 80s, and the first truly famous game was Arkham Horror, released in 1987. Events, heroes and monsters were inspired by the works of Howard Lovecraft, and the main gameplay principles (we will talk about them later) have survived to this day. With the popularity of the game and the transfer of rights to the publisher Fantasy Flight Games, the line began to expand rapidly.

Now FFG is still involved in the release of franchised games. For 35 years, more than 40 board games have been released in the world of Lovecraft, but only a few of them have achieved worldwide popularity. Over time, the circle closed: at first, games were created based on Lovecraft's books, and now various authors are writing novels about heroes that were created specifically for the desktop.

All Horror games tend to share common principles. Most often, the heroes are people of various professions, who are collectively called detectives. They learn about the impending cataclysm in the form of the awakening of the Old Gods and try to stop it. The scale of events changes: somewhere the heroes fight evil within the same house, somewhere they run around the city, and in Ancient Horror, the whole world becomes a battlefield. The games have many similar elements, but the gameplay is still different enough that fans continue to buy all the games in the series.

Horror at home, in the city and around the world: how to choose a Lovecraft board game

Heroes often have not only health, but also sanity, the devastation of which leads to insanity of the characters (and, as a rule, the end of the game). This gameplay feature is inspired by the works of Lovecraft, where the heroes were more often threatened not with physical violence, but with the horror of the sight of chthonic monsters, which the human brain simply could not bear.

There is such a general approach to the games of the series and a significant disadvantage. All the heroes in the main line are repeated, the same applies to arts: over time, saving FFG on artists starts to piss me off. Therefore, if one game from the main line can still appeal to you, then buying others should be carefully considered - there are chances that the monotony of the components and theme will turn you off.

Another point to consider is complexity. Adventures can be described with words ranging from "we barely won at the last moment" to "this time again, everyone died in the first half of the scenario." If you play by the rules, then most often it is problematic to successfully finish the game, and many fans love the series just because in this regard it pessimistically follows Lovecraft's stories. Of course, nothing prevents you from simplifying the game with house rules if the idea of ​​replaying plots bothers you.

Other games based on Lovecraft are also being released - without a focus on investigations. For example, in some of them you can take on the role of gods and try to conquer the world, while in others the players are divided into teams, where one must survive, and the other must bring opponents to madness. We will tell about each game and their features further separately.

"Mansions of Madness: Second Edition"

Mansions of Madness: Second Edition

The entire line of "Horrors" tells about adventures of varying degrees of scale, and "Mansions of Madness" offers the most intimate and atmospheric of them. The events of the scenarios usually unfold in a creepy house where someone has died, will die soon, or has already died, but has risen and wants to kill someone. Players choose their own detectives and go to work, having only the plot of the scenario in their hands - they will have to look for evidence and suspects on the spot.

One of the main advantages of "Mansions" is the atmosphere and the quality of the components that work for it. The box is full of plastic miniatures, the field is laid out from the most beautiful detailed room tiles, and atmospheric art flaunts on the cards. All stories have clear scenarios in which players meet characters, solve mysteries and escape from monsters.

Mansions is the simplest game in terms of rules, and this is largely the merit of a digital application that will have to be installed on a tablet or displayed on a monitor through Steam. The program tells you how to lay out the field, where to place the tokens, shows dialogues, calculates damage to monsters, shows riddles, and also plays creepy music throughout the game.

Despite all the advantages of the game, as well as popular love, it is worth plunging into the worlds of Lovecraft from the "Mansions" with caution. First, of course, it's about the price: almost 9,000 rubles for a basic box without add-ons is a lot, especially for the first game. Extensions to the "Mansions" are also expensive - 3000-5000 rubles each.

Secondly, the gameplay of the "Mansions" is a bit specific. It’s hard not to be delighted with the first batch: everything is very beautiful and atmospheric. However, already on the second game, you notice how much body movements are required for the simplest actions. Opened a new room? Look for the desired field tile in the huge pile. Met a character? Look in the bag for the desired token. New monster? Get a huge box of figurines.

Due to the emphasis on narrative and the Mansions app, it often turns into a computer quest, the events of which mainly unfold on the screen of a PC or tablet. It would be easy to port the game to digital without physical components and not notice the difference. Replaying scenarios is also interesting only if there are add-ons: they are very linear, but the tiles from the DLC at least change the location of the rooms.

However, most players do not pay attention to these problems: all over the world, "Mansions" is adored and rarely scolded. So there is a high probability that you will also like the game, especially if you appreciate the story component in games. For the first time in the last few years, both the base game and all the add-ons are on sale but keep in mind that due to the popularity of the game, they will probably be taken apart quickly.

"Ancient Horror"

Despite its considerable age (released in 2013), it is this game that is advised to beginners to get acquainted with Lovecraft's board games. There is less plot here than in other games in the series, but Ancient Horror is much more replayable. And also as epic as possible and not so depressing: the heroes travel around the world, acquire allies and fight evil in cities, on ships, in the jungle, dungeons and even other worlds. In general, this is a tabletop "Indiana Jones" with an emphasis on saving the world, not treasure hunting.

The main advantage of Horror is its flexible structure without relying on a plot, which results in the most bizarre stories. The game consists of many different events that are loosely connected to each other, but this does not prevent the party members from thinking out and linking incidents into logical scenarios. Thanks to this, the DU can be a creepy story about the end of the world, where the detectives courageously fight the forces of evil, but still lose, and the world plunges into darkness. Or a spectacular adventure in which the heroes win thanks to the self-sacrifice of a friend. Sometimes Horror even turns into a comedy, in which the heroes constantly get into ridiculous situations, defeat monsters thanks to incredible luck, and at the end they kill the Old God with a couple of shots. It all depends on the participants and their imagination.

Another advantage of the remote control is a huge number of add-ons that expand the amount of content and add new gameplay mechanics. For example, one of the expansions allows monsters to destroy entire cities, turning already epic stories into large-scale plots with high stakes. Big DLCs add new locations to the world map: you can go, for example, to Antarctica in the footsteps of the Miskatonic University research expedition.

The Ancient Horror's design may have gotten a little outdated over the years. But FFG is in no hurry to announce a new edition, and even with a couple of additions to the remote control, it will become the most replayable game in the collection. Moreover, there is no alternative game in this line that would be better in all respects.

Arkham Horror: The Card Game

Arkham Horror: The Card Game

In the fan community, the Horror card game is almost unanimously considered the best Lovecraft game. It is difficult to argue with this, but there are two important conditions here - a lot of money and a lot of free time.

This game does not have a field, stacks of different resources and large beautiful booklets. All locations, monsters, events, abilities and items are presented as cards, and instead of dice there is a bag of tokens. At first it seems strange, but such a system untied the hands of the developers, allowing them to create fascinating stories that are addictive without beautiful fields and figures.

Card UA manages to be interesting both in terms of story and gameplay: you never know what will happen in the next scenario. In one story, the heroes can explore the house, in another they can rush along the train with monsters, in the third they can go to a godforsaken village, where for some reason no one is trying to eat you for the fifth turn in a row. Moreover, the scenarios are linked into story campaigns, where your decisions and actions affect the following stories: for example, if you complete one scenario first, then the events of the second will unfold at night, and not during the day.

The difficulty here is very conveniently regulated by a customizable bag. If you want to suffer - collect it according to the rules, if you want to win more often - add yourself a few good tokens. At the same time, it is even impossible to completely “lose” in UA: even if the goal cannot be achieved, the heroes will simply come to a different denouement.

But on the way to the development of the Arkham card game, two problems may arise. The first is the price of expansions, without which you won’t be able to play a lot. The basic box includes a prologue campaign of three scenarios, but it serves more as a tutorial, where the player is explained the principles of deck building and basic gameplay mechanics. The plot in the database is not impressive, and all the most interesting is hidden in the DLC.

Next, you need to buy campaigns that are independent of each other, consisting of a large starter box with two scenarios and six small boxes that continue the story of this cycle. The full campaign will cost approximately $700, which will give you 8 scenarios, several new investigators, new ability and asset cards for each class, and new monsters.

The second problem of the Arkham card game is its business and gameplay models in principle. In the West, UA is called a "lifestyle game", implying that it requires the fans to be extremely loyal and collect all the products that come out. FFG regularly releases new investigators, maps for them, additional campaigns, and now they have also taken on “remasters” of old adventures, adding new plot twists and locations to them. It's easy to fall in love with Arkham Horror, but it's hard to stop buying additional content: it really affects the gameplay and expands the possibilities, so the more cards you have, the more interesting the game becomes.

Over time, card UA turns into a logistical nightmare. All cards need to be somehow conveniently stored and sorted, and each campaign requires the creation of a new deck. It's not a problem for fans who play often, but keeping UA as part of a large collection is hard. It takes up a lot of space, complex rules are quickly forgotten, and building an effective deck after a long break is not easy.

And card UA “presses” more than other games. If in other board games the “bad” phase of the party can even benefit the heroes, then here the characters constantly suffer and rejoice at “just a broken arm” - they say, but they didn’t gobble it up. Even after a dozen games, I sincerely hate one of the decks that inexorably spoils the players' lives. However, all this does not prevent millions of people from enjoying the game.

Arkham Horror: Third Edition

Arkham Horror: Third Edition

The basis for all these games was the classic Arkham Horror, which tells about the adventures of detectives in a city overflowing with monsters. The game has already survived two restarts, and if many people adore the second edition, then the third edition is often treated worse, believing that it greatly simplified everything.

In fact, the latest version of Arkham Horror is a compilation of ideas from all the other games in the line, including past versions of AA. In general, the integration was successful: there was more plot, and a non-linear one, and the boring phases were simplified and made more interesting. Now the third version of UA is similar to the Ancient Horror, but within the same city.

The strong point of Arkham Horror is the structure, which does not limit players to one house, but also does not spread the story to the whole world. The stories here feel better than in the Ancient Horror, and the scenarios turn into mystical urban adventures, where it is sometimes difficult to understand what generally opposes the characters. At the same time, players always have something to do, but they are not overwhelmed with crowds of monsters and problems.

The third edition has already received two localized expansions, In the Dark of the Night and Beneath the Dark Waves, and a third is expected in the fall. This version of UA can be safely recommended both as the first game in the line and as the last one. It will be easy for beginners to figure out the rules and go through almost any scenario. And veterans will appreciate the dark city setting and fun mechanics like newspapers that tell dark stories and drive the characters crazy.

"Cthulhu: Death Can Die"

Cthulhu: Death Can Die

Another co-op game on our list that is similar to Mansions, but instead of single stories, it offers a story-driven campaign of successive scenarios. The passage is like watching a TV series: with unexpected plot twists in each episode, increasing tension and obligatory cliffhangers at the end of the episodes. Even expansions for Cthulhu are called "seasons".

If in most other games you can run away from monsters, but it’s better not to meet them at all, then the focus is shifted to battles. Investigators need to strike a balance: deal with monsters and cultists as quickly and efficiently as possible, because any battle in one way or another affects the mind of the heroes.

Death May Die is a great game for fans of the series and the dungeon crawler genre, where you have to clear the premises from enemies. But it is not a good entry point. The game is expensive, and it is now unrealistic to find it in free sale. New circulations, according to the publisher, are also not planned.

Arkham Horror: The Final Hour

Arkham Horror: The Final Hour

The events of this game take place after the detectives have essentially failed in their task. The Ancient One awakens and the last hour remains to stop the ritual and prevent the end of the world. Otherwise, everything is very similar to other games: we beat monsters, collect evidence and try not to die.

The idea of ​​The Last Hour is good, but the execution is not so good. Faster games, a brighter field, the final hour before the death of the world - all this should have made the game more interesting. However, this version of UA does not catch on for various reasons. Low replay value, low difficulty, strong simplification of mechanics from other games make The Hour not very interesting for seasoned players, so it will intrigue only beginners.

"Worlds of Cthulhu"

A small deck-building card game in the spirit of the popular Star Empires TCG. The texts were replaced with pictograms, and Lovecraft's creepy monsters were redrawn in a cute comic style. You can play with two or four.

On their turn, players take turns playing cards from their hand and activating their abilities, then draw new cards and plan their attack again. The task is to empty the opponent's health bar, which here, of course, is presented as a sanity parameter.

Both Star Empires and Cthulhu Worlds are very popular, simple and replayable games for audiences of almost any age. It is unlikely to suit hardcore fans, but as a great gift it is quite. Moreover, they ask for only 1000 rubles for a box.

"Incomprehensible"

This year, Hobby World will release Unfathomable, a re-release of the iconic board game Battlestar Galactica, but in a Lovecraftian setting. This is the first game in the line in many years that is noticeably different from the rest and cannot be played together at all - due to the mechanics with a traitor player, you will need at least 3 players, and preferably 4-5.

According to the plot, the Atlantic steamship has been sailing across the Atlantic Ocean for two days, and all this time the passengers suffer from terrible nightmares. On board, they begin to discuss the mysterious figures and shadows that can be seen in the corridors of the ship. A little later, a corpse is found in the ship's chapel, over which a strange ritual was performed. It becomes clear that you should not trust everyone on board - there are traitors among the team members.

Unfathomable is a confrontation game where some players take on the role of people and must repair the ship, look for traitors and try to swim to the city. Another team of cultists (whose identities are hidden at the start of the game) will destroy the ship, attack the passengers, and summon monsters aboard. At the same time, even if traitors are revealed, they can still continue to spoil people's lives, and they are also able to convert good heroes into their "faith".

The board game received good reviews in the west, but the cult status of Battlestar Galactica does not seem to shine on it. Players note that the game also has disadvantages, and even with the obvious moments, FFG could not cope. For example, they criticize new heroes: for the first time in many years, the authors drew new characters, but their abilities cannot be called interesting. The game also has a big downtime - the waiting time between player moves.

However, there are not so many good games with traitors on the market, so it's still worth waiting for the Russian localization of Unfathomable. The release is scheduled for the summer, so there is time to look at some reviews and decide if it is worth buying.

Cthulhu Wars

Cthulhu Wars

An end-of-the-world strategy game about the fall of humanity. The ancient gods came to Earth, destroyed the forces of people, and now the only question is what will continue to rule the planet.

At the beginning of the game, players choose their own god and his cultists, and then fight other Ancients. The beauty of Cthulhu Wars is its asymmetry: each side is strikingly different from the other with unique monsters, abilities, and available strategies. This board also has a duel version, almost no difference from the big box.

Cthulhu Wars is a great choice for those who wanted to side with the villains and take over the world. Thanks to asymmetric gameplay and a variety of factions, you can play many games here and find a new strategy every time. True, it is problematic to buy this game from us - there have been no re-releases of localizations for a long time.

Arkham Horror is one of the richest board lines where you can find a quality game for almost any company. It’s also not very difficult to fit into the budget: FFG made sure that anyone could buy at least a basic box, and only then be tempted by add-ons.

The best options to start with are Ancient Horror and Arkham Horror: The Card Game. In the long term, both games can cost a penny, but the basic versions will at least give you an idea of ​​how much you are interested in the gameplay mechanics and themes of this series.

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