Guest article written by Kevin Crooks
As with all of our guest articles, the views and opinions of this article are not representative of the Mythos Busters podcast.
For those of you playing the Arkham Horror/LOTR drinking game, this entire article is about comparing the two games, so do your liver a favor and still only count this as one.
As obsessed with Lord of the Rings: The Card Game as I am, it’s easy to wonder why I’ve decided to switch my disposable income to Arkham Horror. Especially when the number of things I know about H.P. Lovecraft can fit on the back of a postage stamp.
- My friend once got dragged to an off-off-off-Broadway stage production of his work, and kind of liked it.
- He came up with the tentacled monster I see on bumper stickers around town.
- Or wait, is that the Flying Spaghetti Monster? Is that different?
It didn’t make a lot of sense for me to decide that I’d rather spend my precious free cash on a game other than LOTR LCG. I still have an entire cycle of quests I haven’t even attempted once, and I couldn’t be more excited for the upcoming cycles based off of new announcement articles. But in any case, let me break down the reasons why I think Arkham Horror has become a better choice for me.
Again, I know next to nothing about the mythos of Lovecraft. I know way more than a grown man should about Tolkien’s universe. However, his universe extends canonically only through six novels, and a smattering of disjointed and contradictory drafts that he never completed. There’s only so much material upon which developers can base a game. And starting around the release of the current cycle, I feel like FFG has strayed too far from the source. Now I don’t think this is a bad thing – it’s a very vibrant, life-like, and entertaining universe. It’s just no longer Tolkien. So I had to ask myself, why am I collecting and playing this game if it doesn’t fit my concept of what the IP should be? It then became a question of what game’s mechanics and style and aesthetic fit my needs (more on that in a moment).
As far as Lovecraft’s universe goes, I’m naïve enough about it to not know and not care what strays from the author’s writings and what follows closely, so clearly this game wasn’t going to present the same difficulty for me. Looking into the cards, the flavor text, and the overall style behind the game, it seemed to have a lot in common with some other franchises of which I’m a fan – Alien, Silent Hill, and The Strain. You have a little kid surviving monsters on her own, learning to avoid them only through experience and luck. You have an official government investigator approaching it from a scientific perspective, an X-Files type character who puts himself between the people and the monsters because that’s his job. You have witch-like characters who follow the occult, and view these monsters as a perversion of their religion and have a sacred duty to defeat them. And throughout it all, there’s a beautiful blend of religion and magic. Holy Rosaries help defeat monsters, the same as obscure books written in evil languages. If this universe continues to unfold for a newbie in the same way, I think Lovecraft and I are going to get along just fine.
The LOTR LCG has grown so large that its card pool is probably into the thousands of different cards, from which a player constructs a deck of 50. The interactions, synergies, and combos are near-endless, and have become incredibly overwhelming for a mid-core gamer like myself. Unlike the community’s well-known deck builders, such as Sean and Seastan, I don’t have every card memorized and in active memory, and can’t see a hundred different possibilities for decks every time I look at a card. The problem is that the encounter decks are built for those kinds of players. The newer quests are highly thematic, they tell a great and consistent story, but the mechanics built into it require a very specific deck type, or a very painful head-banging. It doesn’t feel like I can take one deck that I like, and make a small number of tweaks, and bring it successfully from quest to quest. Each individual scenario feels less like a chapter in a story and more like a stand-alone puzzle.
With Arkham Horror, there’s the opportunity to get it on the ground floor. Starting with only a Core Set, and eventually the first cycle, the deckbuilding options are more limited. They’re limited by a smaller card pool, but also importantly by the types of cards available. With the levelling-up mechanic, it no longer becomes, which 30 effects do I want in my deck out of the 100 available to me, the question is, of the 50 effects, which version do I want? There are upgraded cards like Magnifying Glass, whose level 1 version is a clear winner over level 0, but then there are cards like Blinding Light, whose level 1 version is stronger but with a greater potential drawback. That’s where the real deck-building comes in. The number of choices of which card effects to include is smaller, and the issue becomes which version of that effect does a player want.
For me, locations in LOTR are the worst part of the game. For those of you not familiar, they’re a type of encounter card, similar to the Arkham Horror mechanic, where they get revealed by the encounter deck during the staging step. However, unlike Arkham Horror, they don’t form a map. They just get added to a generic staging area, representing locations in the game where your characters haven’t traveled yet. Until you do, they just sit there and threaten you, sometimes having negative effects on the game until they’re explored. And since you can only travel to and explore one location per turn, if you are unlucky enough to keep revealing them, you get “location locked” – an inescapable fate where you lose the game simply by the handcuffing nature of locations.
In Arkham Horror, the concept of a location is more realistic. Locations form a map, and each player decides where they’re going to be. It’s like a video game, like Resident Evil, where you decide if you want to explore the house, if you want to fight monsters in the forest. The locations that are currently unoccupied just sit there, probably not doing much for you or against you. There will be no location lock in Arkham Horror. Instead, there is an honest sense of exploration. Each location represents something real and not a vague category of a place where the whole group is.
The LOTR campaigns are a separate game from the default mode. The Saga boxes follow the stories of the books/movies, and the developers tried to fit a coherent storyline “mode” into it. There are Boons and Burdens that you earn based off how well you complete a scenario, and those stick with you throughout the remainder of the campaign. And if a hero dies (they’re like your Investigators, the main characters your deck represents), they’re dead for good. But all told, that felt a little too weak for a campaign. A character can be 1 hit point away from death, you win the quest, and you’re onto the next one, which chronologically starts an hour after the last one completed. And yet, you’re in perfect health.
Arkham Horror changes all of that. It is an RPG card game. Your performance in a quest earns you Experience Points that you can use to “level up” your character, to get him/her better cards, better equipment, better spells. Alternatively, a bad performance means you start the next quest already damaged, mentally or physically, and are now squishier when facing off against the next boss.
In my mind, once I look at each of these games without regard to my affinity for the franchise, from a pure gameplay perspective, Arkham Horror seems like a much better alternative. The gameplay is more realistic, the problems with mechanics that LOTR has, albeit minimal, have been solved, and the universe and mythos can be just as entertaining and in-depth. It’s going to be a long (short) wait until the game is finally released!