And I’m not talking your pussy mainstream board games like Monopoly or Sorry or the Game of Life or some bullshit like that. I’m talking Fantasy Flight Games- board games for hardcore gamers.
I first discovered Fantasy Flight when Alison and I spotted a Game of Thrones inspired game called Battles of Westeros in Barnes and Noble. It looked cool, so I found a review online from a super geek who makes video reviews of board games. It was apparently loosely based on a tabletop game called Battlelore, and seemed pretty cool. So we bought it and played all the scenarios, then later picked up the first expansion, Wardens of the West.
I have a history with tabletop gaming, having been an avid Warhammer collector back in middle and high school. For those of you not as cool as me, Warhammer is a game made by Games Workshop, a UK-based company. Mostly a dice game, Warhammer requires players to purchase unassembled plastic and pewter miniatures and paint them. I was actually more into the space version of the game, Warhammer 40,000, and got really into the movie tie-in Lord of the Rings game. Unfortunately, I was so into painting the miniatures that it took me forever to assemble a complete army and I wasn’t as adept at playing the game as I was at making the pieces look pretty. I was damn good at painting them though, even winning a few competitions. By the time I stopped senior year, I had reached an expert level of painting and could even paint tiny eyes on my figurines. I keep threatening Alison that I’ll get back into it one day, but as cool as Games Workshop is, it’s a massive money and time commitment.
Thus, Fantasy Flight’s pre-made games are better suited for twenty-five year old Alex (though players are encouraged to paint the Battles of Westeros minis). Battles of Westeros was so fun that I began to research the rest of Fantasy Flight’s exhaustive catalog. I was intrigued by their line of Cthulu games, based on the works of one of my favorite authors, H.P. Lovecraft. After perusing the forums I determined Arkham Horror was the best of their Cthulu titles, and I used an Amazon gift card to purchase the base game. Turns out Arkham Horror is not only the best game Fantasy Flight sells, but their most popular and iconic.Originally designed by a man named Richard Launius, the game was first published in 1987 by Chaosium, Inc., makers of the Cthulu roleplaying game. The game was incredibly popular and sold out fast. For whatever reason, Chaosium either didn’t want to or couldn’t afford to make more copies, so for nearly twenty years nerds languished in agony. Finally, the game was purchased by Fantasy Flight Games, who completely revamped it and rereleased it in 2005. Now it’s a total sensation (by geeky board game standards, at least), has tons of expansions and even a convention in bumblefuck, Minnesota where Fantasy Flight is headquartered. Someday I’ll go to that convention… on a sidenote why are these geek conventions always in the most random cities? When I went to Games Workshop’s White Dwarf convention back in the day it was in Baltimore. Baltimore? Baltimore??!! What is this, The Wire? Anyways, Arkham Horror is an amazing game and I’m pretty much obsessed with it. It’s the only cooperative board game I’ve ever heard of, and kind of melds co-op gameplay, with tabletop battling and RPG elements. You can even play it by yourself, though that would be really, really sad. I play it regularly with Alison and my cousin Danny, though we’d always welcome more people (up to eight people can play; the ideal number, according to FFG is five). Players take the roles of “investigators,” characters with rich backstories and silly names like Michael McGlenn (a gangster), Jenny Barnes (a debutante) and Ashcan Pete (a hobo). Characters have diverse skills and stats and vary in their abilities. They start off with fixed items and abilities like weapons and spells, but can gain more over the course of the game. The object is to seal “gates,” portals that lead to other dimensions. Sealing the gates prevents an Ancient One from arising. Ancient Ones are basically “the boss” from a videogame, and are really hard to fight. Ideally you win by sealing the gates, though if too many open the Ancient One can arise and you’ll have to engage it in combat (which almost always ends in death- one time Alison managed to slay Nyarlathotep but was the only survivor). And no, Cthulu is not the hardest boss, though he is really tough. According to a list Alison found from Arkham League games, an Ancient One found in an expansion named Atlach-Nacha, a giant spider, is the hardest. When gates open they unleash monsters, which investigators often have to fight or evade. There’s some weak monsters like cultists, maniacs and witches, but the majority of them are horrifying and hard to kill. In fact, that’s what makes Arkham Horrorsuch a unique game. Not only is it cooperative, but it’s really, really hard. Every rule, every expansion, every enemy- everything is designed to make the game as hard as possible. Not only are all the names and creature designs faithful to Lovecraft and the extended Cthulu mythos, but the game replicates the same, sinking feel of dread that his stories instill in the reader. Losing (which happens a lot) is depressing, but winning is one of the most rewarding experiences.
Of course, the game also basically has a textbook of rules, so many that for months we played before realizing we had misinterpreted many key rules, rules that made the game a lot easier. So all of our original victories were nullified and we’ve officially only won twice. Plus, we got the Dunwich Horror expansion, which just makes the game exponentially harder. I’m hoping to pick up the next expansion, The King in Yellow, as soon as I get a job.
I also recently picked up A Game of Thrones: The Board Game, a really cool competitive strategy game that’s like a mix of RISK and Settlers of Catan. What’s cool is that it doesn’t use dice, but it’s also a game that’s better if you have 5-6 people, and wrangling that many people can be difficult (LUKE QUATTROCCHI!!!!!!!!!!!)
Fantasy Flight has a bunch of other games I’m interested in. Danny just introduced me to Cosmic Encounter, which is a competitive space-based strategy game. There’s also a Gears of War game, a BattleStar Galactica game and an Age of Conan game. Plus A Game of Thrones: The Card Game, a “living card game,” which means you don’t have to buy annoying booster packs, just expansions. And then there’s the just announced Game of Thrones card game based on the show. Oh, and all the expansions for the games I’ve already purchased, and a host of other Cthulu games.
Look, I know this sounds geeky, and it is. But geekiness is all subjective, right? The point is these games are a lot of fun, really complex and a nice change of pace from more basic family board games, video games or card games. I highly recommend Arkham Horror, but you probably can’t go wrong with any of FFG’s products (except maybe the StarCraft game, they discontinued that). Hell, Game Informer just posted a whole video retrospective about them! So swallow your pride, be a nerd, and join us for ridiculously awesome board games.