06th Nov2020

‘Arkham Horror: Living Card Game (Core Set)’ Review

by Matthew Smail

Among all of its many properties, the Arkham Horror LCG (or Living Card Game) has got to be one of the most popular lines that Fantasy Flight Games produces. I have spent several evenings over the past few weeks invested in the three stories that make up the most basic core set, but in addition to this, there are already four or five “large” expansions, each of which comes with up to six mini-expansions. A handful of other, smaller expansions for characters, specific stories or new enemies also exist, making the potential for exploration in this universe almost limitless.

Of course, the universe in question is one that FFG plunders regularly – that of H.P. Lovecraft and his Cthulhu based lore. We’ve already reviewed Mansions of Madness Second Edition, Final Hour and Arkham Horror The Board Game, all of which exist in the same interpretation of the Arkham/Cthulhu mythos and share characters, lore and a number of other elements with each other, whilst still appealing to different players thanks to their own specific take, price point and expandability.

In the Arkham Horror LCG, the basic premise is that players will choose a character (who may have a couple of mandatory items and a weakness) and are then otherwise free to design a deck of their choice, up to the card limit shown on that character card. You see, Arkham Horror LCG is a full on deckbuilding game – where players will choose items, strategies, spells and other features to put into their deck, which they will then use to tackle a scenario that is also made up of a number of cards.

In practical terms, this makes Arkham Horror LCG one of the most variable games in the series, and outside play, you can spend hours arranging your deck and optimising the cards in it – especially if you add expansions that bring new characters and cards. At the same time, once you have a deck (and there are starter decks suggested in the quick-start guide) then Arkham Horror LCG becomes one of the most straightforward to play, since you’re simply using your hand of cards to deal with the main plot cards in front of you, as well as any threats that it generates.

A large part of the game is centred on searching for clues to progress the narrative before one or more nasty things happens to the players. The longer you linger at a location, the more enemies, traps and other problems it is going to throw at you. That said, you can’t simply focus all of your turn on dealing with the main narrative cards, because if you do, these threats will ultimately overwhelm you.

Most actions in Arkham Horror LCG are dealt with through means of skill tests and the heavy use of cards in your hand (or perhaps the characters innate abilities) to modify them. Each test is made against one of four basic attributes (might or wits, for example) with a basic score needed to pass. The higher the score needed, the harder the test. Every test requires the players to draw a token which might provide a positive, negative, neutral or wild affect – with the wild effects often causing the world to become less stable. Before drawing, a player may discard cards from their hand to add beneficial modifiers to the test, but in doing so, they will lose whatever the card benefit would have given them had it been played.

Aside from giving a really fast mechanism for getting into some interesting and dynamic stories, Arkham Horror LCG also lends itself to long term campaign play with none of the “destruction” aspects of a legacy game, and relatively little overhead. Embark on a campaign with your friends, for example, and each new game is fully capable of allowing players to drop in and out with new characters. Equally, characters may receive cards that either strengthen or weaken them due to some story effect, which works nicely thematically, but is also very mechanically simple to just add to their deck.

In the base game, the campaign includes just three missions lasting two to three hours each at most, but there is replay value through the addition of new characters and the variation of the player decks, and because this is a Living Card Game, each expansion is available for a reasonable fixed price, and most of the big box versions add at least three new scenarios across a specific story arc, as well as new characters and items for use in other scenarios.

Arkham Horror LCG is fully cooperative when played with friends, but it’s also entirely possible to play it solo (very hard with only one hero, so my suggestion is to use two.) In fact, I completed two of the scenarios solo, and given how quick Arkham Horror LCG is to setup and tear down once you have your deck, I’d say I probably had just as much fun playing this way than cooperatively with my wife. I find this quite unusual, as in general I don’t like “wasting” my time setting up a big game for solo play, but that’s not really an issue here.

As a total newcomer to the Arkham Horror LCG, I really felt that I’d missed out by not getting into it sooner. I am now pretty keen to see what some of the other expansions have to offer and I can see why some of my peers in the review world have raved about this series. I’m sure that the expansions actually have quite a lot more to offer, but given the price of the base game (some people say you need two for a full set of cards, but I didn’t find that a problem) and the starting point it offers, then this is a game I’d recommend for anyone to give a go.

**** 4/5

Arkham Horror LCG is available online at 365Games.co.uk, or at your local games store. Don’t know where yours is? Try this handy games store locator.

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