Eldritch Horror Board Game Review & Ultimate Guide (2019)
Searchers after horror haunt strange, far places. For them are the catacombs of Ptolemais, and the carven mausolea of the nightmare countries. They climb to the moonlit towers of ruined Rhine castles, and falter down black cobwebbed steps beneath the scattered stones of forgotten cities in Asia. The haunted wood and the desolate mountain are their shrines, and they linger around the sinister monoliths on uninhabited islands.
–H.P. Lovecraft, The Picture in the House
Fantasy Flight Games puts out some pretty amazing cooperative games in the Lovecraftian universe. It all started with Arkham Horror, then came Elder Sign, and finally Eldritch Horror. They’ve spent a lot of time in Lovecraftian lore and have been poking around the Necronomicon enough to really know what they are doing.
Eldritch Horror takes the lessons learned from the previous games in the universe to create a very streamlined and story-driven adventure.
An ancient evil is stirring. You are part of a team of unlikely heroes engaged in an international struggle to stop the gathering darkness. To do so, you’ll have to defeat foul monsters, travel to Other Worlds, and solve obscure mysteries surrounding this unspeakable horror. The effort may drain your sanity and cripple your body, but if you fail, the Ancient One will awaken and rain doom upon the known world.
The elder gods have been slumbering for millennia and are now starting to stir. As they awaken, cultists and eldritch monsters are coming out of the darkness to wreak havoc on the world. The only thing standing in the way of the complete annihilation of the world is a handful of investigators, united in their quest to solve the mysteries of the occult and to stop the Ancient Ones from awakening.
Eldritch Horror is made by Fantasy Flight Games, and if you know anything about FFG, then you’ll know that they love expansions. Eldritch Horror is no exception. There are a ton of expansions, and some brave souls have tried to play all of them all at once… and that, my friends, is how you let the madness sink in.
- Mountains of Madness (2014)
- Forsaken Lore (2014)
- Under the Pyramids (2015)
- Strange Remnants (2015)
- Signs of Carcosa (2016)
- The Dreamlands (2017)
- Cities in Ruin (2017)
- Masks of Nyarlathotep (2018)
Most players will have at least a little bit of experience with Fantasy Flight’s world of Lovecraft horror, simply because there are so many games and versions. The artwork is usually very similar (if not the same) between games, but the mechanics in each game are going to be different. With that in mind, many of the enemies and investigators will be very familiar.
I do enjoy unboxing Fantasy Flight games, primarily because you get so many components. Unlike other games, you’ll actually use most of them at some point too! There is something cathartic about punching out about 1000 cardboard tiles and tokens. I’m weird, I know.
Investigators & Ancient Ones
The base game comes with 12 investigators and 4 Ancient Ones. This will keep most players busy and entertained for several games. But if you’re a weirdo like me, you’ll eventually amass all of the expansions and end up with around 50 investigators to choose from.. and will have been murdered by about a dozen elder gods.
In the core game, you’ll start with 12 investigators. My personal favorite has always been Jim Culver.
Each investigator will have their base stats at the bottom of their character card, showing Lore, Influence, Observation, Strength, and Will.
On the back of the card, you’ll get your character’s awesome backstory and there will be two different sections to read when they are removed from the game for sanity loss or health loss. I highly suggest resisting the urge to read the extra sections until you have to in-game so as not to spoil the atmosphere. Some of them are really sad.
Eldritch Horror uses a similar system to Fantasy Flight’s previous games in the genre. In order to successfully perform actions, investigators will have to perform a check to determine their success. For example, if they need to perform a Will check, they’ll look at the investigator’s character sheet to find their Will. Let’s say it’s a 3. Next, they have an item that gives a +1 bonus to Will (3+1) bringing our total to 4. The player will then roll 4 dice. Every 5 + 6 rolled is considered a success and anything else doesn’t count.
The rulebooks can get really specific with this, but the majority of the game comes down to making various checks using investigator stats. Once you understand this, the rest of the game falls into place. It’s really not as rule-heavy as it seems at first glance.
Every round of play there will be several stages that happen every game:
1. Action (Player actions)
2. Encounter (Fight Monsters)
3. Mythos (Bad things happen to you)
On each player’s turn, they will be able to perform 2 actions.
Travel – Move your investigator
Rest – Heal 1 health and 1 sanity (can’t rest if a monster is on the same space)
Trade – Swap items with another player on the same space
Prepare for Travel – If you’re in a city with an attached ferry path or train path you can get a train or ferry ticket that when used allow you to move along those paths.
Acquire Assets – Shopping from the Asset store, a shared line of useful item cards players can potentially get.
Component Actions – Specific abilities of individual investigators or card effects.
After movement and actions, all players must resolve an encounter.
If there are no monsters on their space players will resolve a location encounter. Check the name of the space you end your turn on and read from the color-coded deck of cards with the matching space name. This is where a lot of the thematic elements of the game come in.
If your investigator ends their turn on a space shared by a monster you have to fight it. If they end on a space with multiple monsters they have to fight each one, but at least you get to pick the order you fight them in.
When all monsters have had an encounter the player then has the option to have a location encounter as well.
It’s going to happen at some point. You’re going to have to face your fears and try and punch a tentacled horror in the face.
On the back of every monster tile is all of the stats that you’ll have to deal with. During a fight, you’ll typically have to complete 2 checks to complete the fight.
The first thing to do is see if you’ll survive just looking at the thing. The Will check is to see if your investigator has the mental capacity to face the monster without becoming a gibbering mess. This check requires a Will save. If you fail, you’ll take sanity damage, and continue with the fight. Not all monsters are horrifying enough to make you insane. A cultist, for example, isn’t horrifying to look at and therefore does not require a horror check.
The second part of combat is the actual punching of the face. The monster tile will let you know how many successes you need to roll. If you complete all the required successes, you kill the monsters. If you don’t, it instead punches you in the face and you take damage.
Losing Your Sanity
If you lose all your sanity or stamina, you’ll go insane or become effectively crippled. This would, in turn, remove the investigator from the game. This will force you to pick a new investigator and the old one is placed on its side within a city and the DOOM track goes up one. I kind of enjoy when an investigator is removed like this, not because I’m evil, but because it adds some really interesting story elements. Any investigator can now visit the insane or crippled investigator and have an encounter with them by reading the text on the back of the investigator card. If they pass the encounter you’ll usually get to lower the doom track or gain some kind of benefit. Some of the encounters can be really sad, but I think it adds a lot of story to the game.
The Mythos phase is where a lot of potentially bad things can happen. At the end of each turn you’ll draw a Mythos card and begin to resolve all of the actions, and there can be a lot of them.
Some things you might see:
- Spawn clue tokens
- Advance DOOM track
- Spawn monsters
- Spawn gates
- Mythos Events
Rumors are bad. They create new events on the board that, if left unchecked, will wreak havoc on the board. This can be through advancing the DOOM track, spawning monsters, hurting the investigators, and a lot more.
Follow what the card reads and you shouldn’t have too much difficulty figuring them out.
The Doom track is like the game timer. When it reaches the end the Ancient One will awaken. Flip over the card and resolve all the text. If an investigator loses all their sanity or health at this point in the game they are dead. You don’t get to pick out a new one and the player is eliminated from the game, and the game becomes even harder to win.
Winning the Game
Every Ancient One has a deck of Mystery cards. During setup, you’ll pick the Ancient One and draw the first Mystery. This is the goal that everyone will be working towards. Once 3 mysteries have been solved, you win the game. Yay! If the Ancient One awakens and doesn’t immediately kill everyone, you’ll have to solve a fourth Mystery, which usually ends up being a showdown with the Ancient One, and is much more difficult.
Losing the Game
When the Ancient One awakens each one has different criteria that will make you lose the game, so it’s in your best interest to solve 3 mysteries before that happens. If the Ancient One awakens and murders everyone… that’s a pretty standard loss.
If your Mythos deck is empty when you go to draw… it counts as a loss.
Finally, the Rumor cards in the Mythos deck sometimes have a lose-the-game penalty. It goes without saying that when these come out, they should take priority.
Step 1 is to punch out all of the tokens and monsters out of the cardboard. Separate all of the tokens and parts and make sure they’re in an easy-to-reach location. I usually use tiny bowls to keep everything organized on the table. Next thing is to create the monster pool. Grab some kind of bag, cup, or bowl and put all of the monsters except the epic monsters (red colored) into it. This will be your monster pool and whenever you’re prompted to spawn a monster, you’ll randomly pick one out of the cup to place on the board.
Choose an Investigator
Next, everybody needs to choose their investigator. The instructions give you a specific way to do it, but honestly, it doesn’t matter. Pick who looks cool, pick randomly, it doesn’t really matter. Each character will have different starting equipment and stats, but it’s all balanced well enough that you should be able to win with any combination of characters.
It’s also fun to read the investigators’ backstories aloud before getting started. I think it really adds to the theme of the game.
Pick an Ancient One
For your first game, it’s recommended to fight Azathoth. This, by no means, is to suggest that he’s the easiest, he’s just the one with the simplest rules. There’s nothing really tricky about his rules, he’ll just kill you, so you’ll have that going for you at least.
- Streamlined rules compared to other Fantasy Flight Games
- Extremely thematic elements
- Fully-cooperative and great for players who like to work together.
- Rules can be very intimidating to new players (it’s not as bad as you think)
- It’s designed to be difficult
- Some players could be turned off by the theme. I personally didn’t see anything that would get my goat. I personally found Lovecraft’s writing very dull, but I love the board games.
- Designed for up to 8 players, but best with around 4-5. Anything more and the game drags on.
For those of you who have played Arkham Horror you’re going to be in very familiar territory here. Arkham Horror was one of the first games that they made in this world, and they refined a lot of the elements and streamlined a lot of the gameplay in Eldritch Horror.
Eldritch has a much more story-driven feel than Arkham. The shared story that the players build is much more interesting in Eldritch.
If you’re looking for an awesome story-driven adventure game with high replayability, you’ve found it.
Stats at a glance
Throughout this article, I kept trying not to directly compare Arkham Horror and Eldritch Horror, but if you’ve made it this far, you’ll know that I failed. They’re both Lovecraft-inspired games, they use the same artwork and a lot of the same mechanics, and they’re made by the same company.
It’s almost impossible to talk about one and not the other.
With all of the similarities, they do still play and feel differently. If I had to sum it up very quickly, I would say that Eldritch is a more polished version. The storytelling works better and you’ll actually start to build stories around your characters as you play, making it a much more interactive experience. In Arkham, the characters have backstories but they are more identifiable by their abilities and equipment than by anything they actually do.
Combat actions and movement are also much more streamlined in Eldritch Horror. Gone are the multiple sets of character stats and sliders from Arkham, in favor of one set of numbered stats. Buying items is much easier in Eldritch and money has been completely removed from the game. Instead, when you go to buy items, you’ll have to roll a set number of successes, with the superior items requiring more.
Keep it Moving
All the mechanics are geared toward moving the action along and it’s great.
Now I’ve mentioned several times that Eldritch plays and feels like a more thematic version of Arkham Horror, but I haven’t really gone into why and that’s mostly because I don’t want to ruin any surprises. So instead of specifics I’ll explain how they did and give just a hint at some of the awesome and terrible things that’ll happen to your investigators.
In Arkham Horror, items are one-dimensional. If you have a Blessing card, you get an extra die roll. If you have a loan card, you lose money. Once they’re gone they go away. That’s it.
Most cards in Eldritch have a secondary thematic element to them that binds everything into an amazing narrative for your characters. If you’re blessed in Eldritch and gain another Blessing, you’ll be able to flip the card and get some kind of awesome benefit. Maybe an elder god is watching over the investigator, which could mean some extra loot or healing.
On the flip side, if you have a Debt card and you’re forced to flip the card, you might find yourself in debt (unknowingly) to powerful cultists or even more mundane mobsters and thugs.
Almost all of the cards use this mechanic and it works so well. Instead of saying “Ashcan Pete is injured, lose 1 health and he’s delayed at Arkham hospital.” it’s “Ashcan Pete, while searching in the jungles was attacked by a monster that left him with crippling headaches, ultimately leading to his untimely death in Buenos Aires where fellow investigators found him mortally wounded.”
The story elements are so much fun and bring the entire game to life. I absolutely love it and highly recommend it to anyone, especially if they enjoy the shared storytelling elements in games.
Have you played Eldritch Horror? What are your thoughts? Better or worse than Arkham? We’d love to hear from you! Drop a comment below and we’ll be in touch.