Get a Clue
by Richard Launius
For those of you who are interested, I will share some of my thoughts about the redesign of Arkham Horror – some of the changes that were made to the game and what ideas prompted those changes.
My original design was submitted to Chaosium in 1986 who published the first edition in 1987. While I have been very proud of that game, and believe that the first edition captured the proper feeling of impending doom of an H.P. Lovecraft story in boardgame format, I also knew there were many areas that could be changed for the better. To start with, my original design was to create an adventure game where characters wandered around the board to experience (what was mostly random) encounters to build up their skills, allies, and supplies to face the more horrific monsters. And while the original game is still a lot of fun on its own merit, over the years I have wanted the game to grow more strategic by giving the players what I consider logical decisions based on the greater horror that was falling upon the city. The two major changes made to achieve this goal is the addition of Clue Tokens and the appearance and persona of the Great Old Ones.
Clue Tokens: Clues were added to the game to give the players something additional to collect as valuable resources against the horrors they are facing. In every book, and certainly every movie, the hero(es) discover something through their adventure that enlightens them as to what they are up against and gives them the fighting chance they need to win. Clue Tokens do that for the players in Arkham Horror. In my redesign, Clues were called Mythos Tokens and were color-coded to match certain monsters and gates appearing in the game - giving even more power to the player when used against the matching entities. The primary use for Mythos Tokens was similar to how the Clue Tokens are now used. They increased Skill Rolls, but primarily were to be used in combat against the type of creatures they matched, as well as representing the only hope the Investigators had to win in the final Epic Battle against the Great Old Ones. The changes made from Mythos Tokens to Clue Tokens in the upcoming publication of Arkham Horror are good ones for a number of reasons.
First, the Clues appear on the Board in plain view to all players, giving them another reason to move to certain locations on the board, as opposed to appearing only as the result of an encounter, which was how I had added them to the game. I really like this aspect of Clue Points because in essence they represent the rumors and local information the Investigators are hearing in their travels around town. Additionally, once placed on the board they are not permanent, so like most clues in an investigation they can become lost if the Investigators do not respond in a timely manner. But possibly the best aspect to them is that by being placed on the board they become a more strategic part of the game as opposed to a luck encounter gained by a die roll or the draw of a card.
Of course, none of that would be important if the Clues had little value - but don’t worry, they have tremendous value to the players! Players may use Clues to add to skill rolls, and one change that came out of playtesting is that a player can spend them after the initial roll to add additional dice to the attempt. More importantly, the player can continue to add additional Clues to gain dice one at a time until they succeed at the roll or run out of clues. This means that every turn the players have Clue Tokens in their possession they have an increased chance to make skill rolls and fight or evade the monsters they encounter should they choose to use them. Additionally, players can use 5 Clue Tokens to seal a Gate so it cannot be opened again. The balance of using Clue tokens for skill rolls or to hold for the closing Gates will be a strategic discussion among players in every game that will be both fun and often significant in the outcome of play.
The Final Battle: Let me start by saying that I never liked the concept of having the Great Old Ones in the Monster draw cup that allowed them to enter the game randomly in the first edition. My feeling has always been that if Cthulhu shows up - game over, man! I had always viewed the Great Old Ones as an Epic Final Battle to be fought at the end of the game and therefore put that into the redesign. One of the issues that I wanted to solve in the first edition of Arkham Horror by implementing the Final Battle with a Great Old One was to eliminate the letdown the players felt when the Doom Track became full and they collectively lost the game. I always felt it was a somewhat anticlimatic end to an action-filled game. The game was always exhilarating when the final gate was closed through some valiant effort by the players, but losing because the Doom Track got too high always left me a little flat. In the redesign I wanted to create an endgame that would overcome that problem. Therefore, the Great Old Ones were removed from the monster mix and the idea was born that one would appear only at the end of the game if the players failed to shut the gates before the Doom Track maxed out.
My design had each Great Old One with their own special combat ability, which would change the epic battle for the Investigators based upon which one they were facing. And while my concept was good, it was made significantly better by Kevin Wilson and the folks at Fantasy Flight Games. Kevin discussed with me the idea of giving each Great Old One a Slumber Skill that would be in effect during the play of the game, as well as a specific combat ability for each. Additionally, each Great Old One now gives a special ability to the Cultists that worship them, making the Cultists in each game play differently depending upon who they worship. The Final Battle (should the Great Old One enter Arkham) not only gives the players one last chance to win, but eliminates that flat feeling of losing because the final Gate on the Doom Track opens. This Final Battle will now play out more like a Lovecraftian story whether the players ultimately win or lose - several characters will be insane, some dead, and there may be only one valiant hero standing if the players are fortunate enough to defeat the Great Old One and win. Of course if the Great Old One is Azathoth, there is no final battle, but to be true to Lovecraft’s mythology that is how it should be. However, the other 7 Great Old Ones vary in combat ability and give the players one last chance to win – however small that chance might be. The main thing is that the experience of the game is better with the Final Battle and the Slumber effects of the Great Old Ones on the play of the game. Win or lose, the players feel like they are battling the persona of a specific Great Old One in the new design.
Both the atmosphere and experience are more true to the storylines of H.P. Lovecraft, and there is a greater strategic depth added to the game with these changes.