For the last several months, I've been getting together with friends on Friday nights to save the world from The Great Old Ones. We've been playing Fantasy Flight Games's Arkham Horror board game, and having a splendid time of it. It's a game that's steeped in Lovecraftiana. Students of Lovecraft will have a field day with it. The object of the game is to prevent whichever great old one is drawn at the beginning of the game from coming to Arkham and destroying the world. Simple, right? Well, not quite.
The game is not a competitive game, per se. You and your fellow players aren't playing against each other, but against the board. And let me tell you, the board, she is a cold-hearted bitch. Basically, game play goes like this: a gate to the other worlds opens in Arkham, the players can either jump through the gate to explore or they can visit various locations in Arkham looking for clues to the mystery and encountering the locals (including local horrors). The encounters sometimes result in the player gaining some vital advantage in the form of arcane objects, spells, or allies. More often, the player comes away from the encounter weaker or less sane than he or she was before. The more clues you have, the likelier it is that you'll close the gates. Close enough gates, and you win. Don't close enough gates and the big nasty wakes up and chances are, you're screwed. There are several expansions for the game that let the players explore beyond Arkham into Dunwich, Kingsport, and Innsmouth, or center the game around specific events like the opening of the play, The King In Yellow, or the activities of the Cult of the Thousand Young. In general, you shouldn't play with more than one of the expansions at a time, or at the very least, with one of the big expansions with one of the little expansions. Any more and you won't have room at the table, let alone time to prevent Nyarlahotep from destroying the universe. Even the basic game provides a near infinite number of gameplay variations, though.
On the whole, the game is terrific fun. It's a great excuse to get together with friends over beer and pretzels and it's a pleasant alternative to watching horror movies. It has three downsides: First, the rules are occasionally murky, often relying on clarifications on Fantasy Flight's web site. Second, the game has so many fiddly pieces that set-up and take-down can take a while; plus, it takes up a lot of space on your dining room table or where ever you choose to play it. Third, the dice that come with the game are not on strings, so when the game gets through raping you, there's no easy way to extract them from your ass. A word to the wise.