Review: Eldritch Horror (Solo Game)

Azathoth, The Daemon Sultan, come’th and he comes with fog and vampires.

Let me start this review by saying that I am a huge fan of the Cthulhu/Lovecraft Mythos. I loved it right at the beginning of my gaming career when Cthulhu Fluxx was one of the first games I bought. Now, I still love the mythology, however, that love has evolved. Having listened to the entire works of HP Lovecraft on Audible, I have since realised that he was quite hit and miss, and I think that description also describes Eldritch Horror.

Eldritch Horror set up.
Eldritch Horror set up.

THE PREMISE OF ELDRITCH HORROR

Eldritch Horror is a cooperative Lovecraftian mystery game, made by Fantasy Flight, designed for 1-8 players in which the players play the part of investigators looking to shut down one of the Elder Gods.

The players get two actions a turn to explore the world, looking for clues as to how to shut the Elder God down for good. These actions can be spent a number of ways, from travelling to buying supplies to hunting for clues and fighting monsters. This all adds up to offer the player with more than enough options on his or her turn to feel like they can do anything; however, it also makes them feel restricted by only having two actions and so leaves them wanting more. This gives way for strategic, and sometimes frustrating, gameplay.

The game is played over a series of rounds; however, how many is determined by how the players decide to play the game. At the end of the players’ turns, it is time to spawn monsters, open portals, create new intrigue/rumours, create new clues, and advance the Omen track. Depending on the portals that are on the board, this may cause the Doom track to decrease by one. When the Doom reaches zero the game ends. That is unless, of course, you manage to defeat the Elder God first – in which case all is gravy and the world is saved.

That was a lot of game mechanics listed in a fairly small paragraph, without much context.  Let me explain a bit more.

Eldritch Horror is ultimately a game about exploration. The board comprises of a map of the world, with certain key locations marked up. Some of these include major cities such as Shanghai and London; however, there is of course also Arkham, firmly setting it in the HP Lovecraft universe. There are also sea, city, and wilderness spaces set between the key cities and areas of exploration. These are there to provide encounters as players move around the board.

The game is somewhat asymmetrical, with each player having their own abilities, and it is a co-operative game. All players, although different, share a common goal. They want to shut the Elder God down and save the Earth.

After the player has done their two actions for the turn, it is then up to them to draw an encounter depending on where they are. If they are at a major location they draw a card that has three locations and three encounters. The way this works is, if the player is in Arkham, they will draw a card from the North America encounter deck. They will then proceed to read out the “Arkham” encounter. This will, more often than not, present the player with an attribute test which has benefits and negatives, depending on how they play out. These tests are based on the core statistics of each character, requiring strength, or lore, or wisdom, or influence, or something else I can’t remember properly as I write this review.

These tests feel really intuitive as, if the player has a strength of three, they will roll three die for the test. A five or a six on one will result in good things happening. Not rolling a five or a six will result in bad things. It is that simple. You roll the number of die equivalent to the value of the attribute you are testing.

After each player has finished their turns and encounters, it is then up to the Elder God to do his worst.

It is at this time the Omen track gets advanced. This is a small, four spot circular track, with three icons (one twice) corresponding to icons on the portals. If the Omen track lands on an icon where there are portals of the same icon on the board, then each one of those portals goes postal. Monsters spawn out everywhere.

Portals can be shut down by investigators who are both brave enough and strong enough to give it ago. Doing so results in a really cool action card being drawn where part of the Cthulhu Mythos really comes to life. This does, however, mean battling all the monsters on the way there, and that can be daunting.

The game really speeds up as the portals come out, as turn after turn more and more Doom will be spent as more portals with corresponding Omens on them will be out on the board. If the Omen is a star, for instance, and there are no star portals out, then the world will not end that turn. If, however, there are three out then the Doom track decreases by three, and that is not a good thing. The game can accelerate at a phenomenal rate.

The other major aspect of the game is clues – small icons that get generated at certain points. These are the main objective of the game, spawning at random positions around the track in between the big cities. These (again) create their own form of encounter card. Once received the players can spend their clues doing certain things like finding out the true identity of an Elder God or solving a mystery.

As the players explore the board, they seek to gain as many clues as possible, whilst fending off the monsters in the world. In doing so they may find weapons, allies, or items to help their quest. These augment the attribute tests by adding more die or allowing rerolls. They may also gain spells, which can be used in combat and on other players’ turns as preventative measures. Finally, they may also get conditions. These are bad and can result in serious harm to the player unless certain conditions are met.

The Expedition Leader
The Expedition Leader

QUALITY AND COMPONENTS OF ELDRITCH HORROR

Eldritch Horror is made by Fantasy Flight. Need I say more? Fantasy Flight (FF) are one of the board game manufacturers when it comes to high-quality products.

The real thing that strikes me about Eldritch Horror though is the sheer scope of the board. It is a huge game, played with no fewer than twelve decks of cards. Each has absolutely beautiful art, that ties the game to similar FF Cthulhu games like Elder Sign and Arkham Horror.

It is a beautiful game. All the tokens are die cut, all cards are stunning, all monsters are fearsome.

WHAT IS IT LIKE PLAYING ELDRITCH HORROR AS A SOLO GAME?

I’ve played Eldritch Horror a few times now, most notably with either one or five players. Those were two very different experiences, so I thought I would focus this review on what it was like playing a solo game. This is because there are still very few solo games on the market, and Eldritch Horror is often heralded as one of the best.

Instantly, at the start of a solo game, you have a choice between playing one investigator and playing two (treating it like two separate players). I did the latter, as I thought I would regret it otherwise due to travel restrictions. I was fairly lucky with where the clues came out meaning I didn’t have to travel much across the board. I also ended up with one character super powered beyond belief, and one who was mad as a hatter, so I believe I could have played the game with one character.

What also struck me as odd was neither of my characters died. This was the main difference between the solo game and the co-op game. You would think it would be counterintuitive; however, being alone allowed for the game to become far more intuitive. It only took two hours to play.

So those are the main differences between the co-op and solo games, but what about the actual gameplay?

First, let me start off by saying that I love this game. It is beautiful, simply beautiful (said he, struggling to think of another suitable adjective), and feels like an epic battle of the wits, filled with twists and turns of fate; however, in solo play, something was missing. There was no meta-game and, I hadn’t realised before, this is a game that requires people to enjoy the narrative experience with. As such, it fell a little bit flat.

That being said, it was nothing if not a challenge. I beat the game with the Doom track on two doom remaining, meaning I would only have survived one other turn. This thrill, the wanting to play everything out like a fine game of chess, was insanely prevalent. It grips you, grabbing you by the shoulders and shouting in your face “NO! YOU MUST CONTINUE!”, right until the very end. This is incredibly compelling.

The Final Board
The Final Board: Note the number of portals.

Eldritch Horror is a strategic game laced in fine nuances and careful planning. It is about optimising your actions, where no action can be wasted due to every wasted action potentially costing you the game.

VERDICT FOR ELDRITCH HORROR AS A SOLO GAME

It is difficult to rate Eldritch Horror as a solo game without thinking about it as a multiplayer cooperative game as well. I will try to remain objective to the solo game; however, the scope does need to be talked about. The fact this game can have 1-8 players is incredible and offers a whole host of different gameplay styles. It is because of this I have to take my hat off to Eldritch Horror.

It is a well made and cohesive game, but would I recommend it as a solo game? Well…yes. I would.

There is something fun and exciting about Eldritch Horror and the impending doom. This makes it welcoming to play for those who like a challenge. If you don’t like strong narrative story-focused games that are difficult, then this may not be for you. If you are up for a challenge, however, then it may just as well be worth giving a go.

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