alycewilson (alycewilson) wrote,

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Fun with Cthulhu

It's not often you can say, "I saved the world this weekend." But this morning I can. Let me start from the beginning.

I spent much of the weekend working on graphics for Wild Violet, and I managed to accomplish a lot. On Saturday, I took some time off in the evening so The Gryphon and I could spend time with friends. The Punster was in town, and a bunch of people gathered at the home of The Cheshire Cat and The Paper. Also joining us were The Dormouse, The Martial Artist, and for a brief while, Batman's roommate.

At the beginning of the evening, we all gathered in the living room, the conversation splitting off into groups. At one end of the room, The Gryphon, The Dormouse and The Cheshire Cat were talking about gaming with Batman's roommate. Meanwhile, The Paper and The Martial Artist talked about his son's food allergies. I talked to The Punster about his divorce, which will soon be finalized.

Having gone through a divorce, an amicable one like his, I know that even when there's no stress in the courtroom, you have to work through emotional issues. Even if you know it's the right decision, you have to give yourself time to heal. From what I could tell, he's handling it very well.

Eventually, The Gryphon and I suggested serving the breads that we'd picked up from our local diner, which produces good baked goods. We'd brought banana bread and carrot cake (which reminded me more like zucchini bread, except made with carrots). The Cheshire Cat brought me a cutting board and a knife, and I cut some slices for people, deliberately making them thin so that people could try each kind.

As we munched on our treat, we fell into a group conversation about our fond memories of playing board games and card games with our families growing up. We agreed that playing games is important for family bonding, socializing, as well as for teaching reasoning skills, strategy skills, and even how to lose gracefully. The conversation got animated as we all swapped stories.

In the middle of this good feeling, The Punster mentioned that he's brought the game Arkham Horror. "Does anybody want to play it?" he asked. The Gryphon and I were curious about it: we'd seen it played at parties before. Everyone agreed to play, so he dug it out. The Paper, however, is an early riser and bid us all goodnight.

Arkham Horror is based on H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos. The game is different from many board games: instead of competing as individuals, the players combine forces to save the world from invasion by otherworldly monsters. Since it's a complex game with lots of little parts, the only experience player, The Punster, tried to help us as much as he could in terms of strategy and game fundamentals.

Simply put, each player plays an investigator who has a different set of strengths, weaknesses and special abilities. Each of them begins in a different location but can arrange to meet other characters face-to-face, so that they can swap objects, give each other money, or if a character has the ability to heal, he or she can heal the other player's sanity or physical stamina.

At the beginning of each round, somebody reads a card that says where a portal to another world has opened. A monster will appear, and then the card contains information about where certain monsters will move. Then, finally, the player reads any other headlines or special conditions mentioned on the card. For example, a rumor might start in the university district. If the investigators defeat the rumor, something good happens. If they fail, something bad happens.

If a character lands on a portal, it sucks the character through to another dimension. While there, the character must weather through two outer world encounters before returning. Once returned, if the character has the ability, he or she can close and/or permanently seal the portal. If a character encounters a monster, he or she must fight it immediately.

Monsters are a mixed bag. If defeated, they become trophies which can later be traded in for useful objects. But usually, the mere act of fighting them will knock points off the character's sanity and physical stamina.

The group wins by closing and sealing a number of portals equal to, if I remember correctly, two more than the number of players.

The Gryphon and I joined forces to play one character, since it was getting a little late when we started. He suggested teaming up, because if we had to leave, it would hurt the other players less, losing just one character rather than two. We played a psychologist who had a really high sanity level and also had the ability to heal both herself and other people of sanity related problems.

Her physical stamina wasn't as good, which meant that all but the easiest monsters were out of her league. This was compounded by the fact that the big monster the group was trying to prevent from arriving, Ithaqua (selected randomly at the beginning of the game), affected the weather, making it bitterly cold. Therefore, any player caught outdoors for a round lost one point of stamina. So if a monster was outside, and it was likely to take several rounds to defeat it, there was no way our character would volunteer.

In addition to being a cooperative game, Arkham Horror is also a storytelling game, so that the different encounter cards set the scene and describe what is happening. If players were so inclined, they add their own color. We didn't have anyone who was inclined to do that, partially, I believe, because it was late and we didn't want to stretch out the game.

Many interesting things happened in the course of the game. Our psychologist, for example, got attacked by bats in a cave, was whipped away to the Dreamlands, where she finally felt at peace with everything, single-handedly defeated a rumor, thus saving the group from doom, and ultimately, sealed the final portal that saved the world.

The Cheshire Cat played a gangster who had a lot of physical stamina but not much in the way of sanity. So while he was willing to throw himself into monsters' paths, dispatching them with his tommy gun, he immediately had to repair to Arkham Asylum to have his sanity restored. Yet, it's good to have somebody on the team who is willing to fight monsters, or else the chances of success would be virtually nil.

The Dormouse played a doctor who had the ability to heal physical stamina. He was therefore also fairly brave when it came to confronting monsters, but he spent a good deal of time in various otherworldly realms, having been sucked into portals.

For his character, The Martial Artist played a female dilettante whose special ability was to receive $1 of game money each round. That might not seem like much, until you consider that you could pay $2 to have your sanity restored at Arkham Asylum, and you could buy a powerful weapon at the general store for $6. She was generous with her money, giving it out to people who might need it, such as a wad of cash for the gangster, since he needed to pay for psychiatric services so often.

When The Martial Artist headed home, he told us to divvy up his remaining items, and we gave them out to those most likely to find them useful.

The Punster played a character (a member of the clergy, I think?) whose special ability was to be able to heal one point worth of either sanity or physical stamina at the beginning of a round. His other very useful special ability was that once per round, he could intervene on behalf of another player to allow them to re-roll a bad dice roll. He had chosen that character, knowing that we were beginners, because he knew it would be helpful for us all.

Ironically, he spent a lot of time in the otherworldly realms, as well, which was fine, because he still helped the team through his special ability.

The game obviously takes a while to play, but I found it enormously entertaining and would be happy to play it again. Unfortunately, The Gryphon was getting tired, so he didn't find it nearly as much fun. I think he really wanted it to end so that he could go home and sleep! When we finally closed the last portal, winning the game, we said our goodnights and headed home. Because we'd already saved the world, we

Anybody who's willing to fight a monster with a tommy gun probably is a bit insane.

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Tags: batman's roommate, cheshire cat, dormouse, friends, gaming, gryphon, martial artist, paper, punster

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