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10
Go to the Android page

Android

79 out of 86 gamers thought this was helpful

Fantasy Flight’s Android was released quietly toward the tail end of 2008. It’s gained a sort of cult following since (two, actually — those who love it and those who hate it). The game takes place in a hard-boiled near-future setting (which borrows elements liberally from both film noir and cyberpunk), and follows a group of characters who are trying to balance their personal lives as they investigate a murder. I think it’s an incredible game, though certainly not for everyone.

Android plays out over the course of two weeks. Each player has a limited amount of time each day, and has lots of choices on how to spend that time. Players can send their characters out to follow up on the leads scattered throughout the board, which can then be used to further investigate the murder itself (and subsequently place evidence on suspects) or the conspiracy behind it (by connecting puzzle pieces on the board to hopefully get victory point modifiers at the end of the game). Players can also spend time gaining favors with various institutions in the game world (which you can spend on various things), or spend time trying to improve the circumstances in the character’s life (you can do this by playing cards you can gain each turn). All of these elements can influence the events happening in your character’s personal life, which progresses every few game days.

What I love

The focus is on the characters, not on the murder — Each of the five playable characters come with rich back stories — they all have different goals, personalities and flaws. There are a number of murder scenarios that each game is framed around, but that’s basically it…a framing. The action is really focused on how the investigation changes the characters. Will the bitter private investigator finally put his past behind him? Will the corrupt cop make things right with his family? Will the android learn not to take life for granted? The game milks some noir and sci-fi clichés, but they fit right in and surprisingly don’t feel too worn.

The game is dripping with theme — Designers Kevin Wilson and Dan Clark did a fantastic job making the Android setting richly atmospheric and nuanced. The game is set in two places: New Angeles, an incredibly large city-state in what was once Ecuador; and Heinlein, New Angeles’s sister colony on the Moon. Both are filled with interesting locations and people. The backstories behind some of the game’s locations and characters are threaded throughout the game. It feels alive, and always makes me want to learn more about the world in the game. (That said, so much of the game’s charm depends on the atmosphere, and that’s easy to miss if you ignore the flavor text.)

There are some really neat mechanics at work in Android — In a way, Android is several mini-games assembled into one whole. There are a variety of things your character can do in a day, and you can only do so many — will you search for clues to help prove your murder suspect guilty, or will you work peeling back the veil to see if there’s a conspiracy? Or will you ignore both and focus on making your own life as stable as possible? I love that diving into the conspiracy involves placing puzzle pieces on the board, and I also love how placing evidence (good or bad) on the suspects can involve several layers of bluffing and deceit. There are also a number of cards you can play to give your character a benefit or hinder another player, and you have to manage how you play them. All of these elements tie into each other, too, which is cool — sometimes playing a dark card against another player will hurt them in one area, but also positively affect their character’s personal life.

What I have mixed feelings about

Length of play — A rule of thumb is that each player adds a full hour of game time on (not including set up!). Playing with five people can be a blast, but can also be quite a tiring experience…five hours is a lot of time!

Steep learning curve — There is a lot to grasp in this game, for both game mechanics and strategy. Not only are there many rules to learn, but each character has certain pros and cons that might be too much to take in on the first few plays. Some of the dark cards are triggered by certain events (if the character playing Rachel has less than three cards in her hand, for instance, something bad might happen). Trying to keep this in mind when you’re still figuring out the basics can be pretty daunting and ultimately pretty frustrating to a new player.

A few other thoughts

I think Android is a frequently misunderstood game, so I always try to set the record straight when I can. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s not a game for everyone, but a lot of people excitedly purchase the game with certain expectations and then swear the whole thing off once they see it’s not what they had initially thought.

Android is not a deduction game — Unlike Clue, Mystery of the Abbey or other deduction games, there is no clear answer to who the murderer is at the end of the game. Your character has a hunch to who the murder is (or isn’t) — are they right? In a postmodern turn, that’s up to you to decide. Maybe your character finds the murderer at the end of the game through great police work. Or maybe they frame the suspect. Regardless, Android was never advertised as a “murder mystery” game…it’s a game about murder, though!

Android isn’t unbalanced…it’s just vicious — Some of the dark Twilight Cards are particularly brutal to other players, even causing players to lose entire turns. This isn’t unbalanced, though, since all of the player aids that come with the game give clear warnings to the players. If you’re playing Raymond Flint, for instance, you need to avoid hanging onto Kate favors or getting into fights on the moon. Or for Rachel, you need to make sure you pay attention to how many cards you have in your hands. If you don’t, you’ll get hurt.

Android’s mechanics make thematic sense, even if it might seem like they don’t — It seems like Kevin Wilson, the game’s designer, put a lot of time and effort into this area. The conspiracy puzzle gets singled out a lot…why is that in the game? Because if your character puts time and effort into it, you get to see the “big picture” of how everything is connected. (Even the bonus points for five pieces in a row make sense here too.) Same goes for the baggage on your plot cards. Ray, for instance, gets good baggage if he avoids the old flame in his life and instead focuses on the conspiracy (since the old flame is bad news, and Ray is a good P.I. who should be focusing on his work). And why are your characters detectives if you’re not “detecting” who actually committed the murder? Because this game is based on noir!

Final thoughts

Android is easily my favorite game, though a hard one to get to the table. I love setting, I love how the mechanics click, and I love how challenging it is. That said, it’s a hard sell for many gamers, and an even harder game to get people to fall in love with.

9
Go to the Arkham Horror: Innsmouth Horror page
53 out of 60 gamers thought this was helpful

Innsmouth Horror, Fantasy Flight Games’ third large-box expansion for Arkham Horror, is one of my favorite additions to the core game. It significantly ramps up the difficulty to an often difficult game, but there’s enough neat stuff in the expansion that makes it worthwhile even if you’re not looking for a bigger challenge.

What I like

The town of Innsmouth — Innsmouth, the eerie fishing village featured in Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” is included as a new location board for the game. As dangerous as Arkham is, the amount of open hostility the investigators can face Innsmouth is frightening. As the terror level increases, investigators will have to sneak through the streets to get to where they need to go. The writing for Innsmouth’s various locations is fantastic, and some of the creepiest in any of the expansions. It’s also a tough place, and one you can’t ignore — if you let monsters wander for too long, the Deep Ones Track will increase and bring the game to a quick (unfortunate) end. Having location encounters in Innsmouth can also lead to players drawing cards from the Innsmouth Look pile…and if you’ve read the story this expansion is based on, you’ll know that’s not a good thing.

New Investigators — Innsmouth Horror comes with 16 new investigators, all of them thematically great. A good number of these characters are great overall, but even the so-so ones have some neat design ideas. Some of my favorites include: William Yorick, the grave digger, who can not only use monster trophies as clue tokens, but also permanently remove monsters from the game; Minh Thi Phan, the secretary, who is a fantastic support investigator for the entire team; and the underrated Finn Edwards, the bootlegger, who can sneak around town during the Mythos phase. I’m impressed at how tightly the mechanics for these investigators are tied to their themes.

New Ancient Ones — The eight new Ancient Ones are fantastic: creepy, tough, and very unique. Quachil Uttaus stalks investigators and turns them to dust if it catches them. Cthugha essentially cripples investigators ability to move quickly, and Rhan-Tegoth makes killing cultists an incredibly bad idea.

Personal Story Cards — My absolute favorite part of this expansion is the personal story cards. There are cards for every investigator in the game, and provide a way to flesh out the character’s backstory as well as add new challenges. In addition to some great flavor text, the cards come with pass and fail conditions for each investigator. The passing result rewards the player (usually by increasing the power of a character’s special ability), while the failing result punishes the character (sometimes something like permanent stamina or sanity loss, or reducing the usefulness of a special ability). Some of the pass and fail results aren’t as balanced as they could be, but overall, the personal story cards are fantastic.

What I’m mixed on

New Herald — Two new heralds are included in Innsmouth: Father Dagon and Mother Hydra. They work thematically with the Innsmouth board…and ONLY the Innsmouth board. I think it’s a neat effect how the two heralds can be used together to make things more challenging (or miserable) for the investigators, but some of the herald powers are so situational that it might be better using another herald instead. Dagon and Hydra would work well for a specific game — Innsmouth board, with Cthulhu as the Ancient One — but otherwise, they’re only OK.

Final thoughts

The Innsmouth Horror expansion is my favorite big-box expansion for Arkham Horror, and adds a lot to the game. The writing is great, the theme is effective, and the new components are fantastic. I think Dunwich Horror might be a slightly more useful big expansion overall, but Innsmouth Horror is a close second. Give it a whirl, and watch out for people with the last name of Gilman.

8
Go to the Arkham Horror: Curse of the Dark Pharaoh (Revised Edition) page
80 out of 87 gamers thought this was helpful

When Fantasy Flight Games released The Curse of the Dark Pharaoh in 2006, they were still trying to find out how they wanted to expand Arkham Horror. This original expansion was fun, but as the expansions started piling up, it had become one of the hardest to integrate with the rest. With this revised version, FFG hoped to make the Dark Pharaoh mesh in with everything else. I think they succeeded; this revised version is a lot of fun, and (in my opinion) much improved over the original.

What I like

Great new location and Mythos cards. The writing is great, the “cursed Egyptian museum” theme is great, and the encounters are generally challenging and fun. Some of the Other World and Mythos cards in particular are just crazy, in a good way. The changes made from the original are all improvements too (well, most of them…see the next section for more).

Exhibit Encounters and Items. Pure awesomeness. This is one area where the revised edition shines over the original. The Exhibit Encounter token starts near Miskatonic University and lets investigators have an encounter in the street. After each encounter (regardless of the outcome), the token moves elsewhere in Arkham. The Exhibit Encounters are great — creepy and evocative, and give something to do in the streets! They often reward investigators with cool items from the exhibit (which are all pretty well balanced).

Neighborhood Patrols. Sometimes bad things happen in a neighborhood, resulting in the citizens banding together and guarding their homes. These tokens make it harder for the investigators to move around, but are removed from the board every time the terror level rises. The patrols replace the old Barred from Neighborhood tokens, which were a pain in the neck and don’t feel as “right” thematically as the patrols do.

Allies and spells. All are new spells and allies are great: not too overpowered, all work with the expansions overall theme, and are a blast to use.

What I’m mixed on

Was this necessary? I know a few people that outright refuse to buy this, since, as they put it, “they already bought it five years ago.” As much as I really like the revised version of this expansion, I understand why some are grumbling. I’m glad I bought it, but it isn’t essential, especially if you have the original.

Some revised cards lose flavor. In updating all of the cards, a few Arkham encounter and Mythos cards loose the thematic punch they once had, trading it to make it mesh well with the other expansions. Some folks on other board gaming sites have made a combined version of the two Dark Pharaoh expansions, keeping a few of the older cards for this reason. While I don’t plan on doing that, I agree that a few of the text/rules changes were flavorless.

Dark Pharaoh herald. The Dark Pharaoh herald, previously released as a free download from FFG’s website, is included in the expansion. It’s a cool herald in some ways, but man…it makes the game brutally hard (especially if Nyarlathotep is the Ancient One). Almost too brutally hard. The most punishing traits of this herald involve sanity loss every time an investigator gains a Unique Item (even at set-up!), and the high chance that investigators may gain a curse (and subsequently lose stamina) every time they gain an Exhibit Item. Using this herald is an easy way to ramp up the difficulty, that’s for sure.

Final thoughts

While I liked the original Dark Pharaoh expansion, I think the new one is an improvement. All of the neat bits of the original are kept or tweaked to work better, and the next stuff is great overall. It might not be a must-buy item if you have the original, but I’d recommend it…and if you DON’T have the original expansion, it’s definitely worth getting.

7
Go to the Arkham Horror: Miskatonic Horror page
61 out of 68 gamers thought this was helpful

Miskatonic Horror is a big-box expansion for Arkham Horror (from Fantasy Flight Games). Like the other bigger expansions for the Lovecraftian horror game, Miskatonic Horror can work with just the base game. How it works best, however, is tying multiple expansions together. So in a sense, it’s an expansion for the expansions. With this in mind, the box comes with some neat things to add to the game — but it also comes with some things that might just be neat ideas only.

What I like

New cards! Lots of new cards. Tons and tons of new cards. There’s basically a whole new deck of Mythos cards that you can use with the base game (or any other expansion). They give you the option of including gate bursts with the core game, which can make things more challenging. The flavor text and effects are both challenging and generally well-written. There are also dozens of new cards for the locations in the other big box expansions, and they’re quite good as well.

There are new skills tailored for almost every expansion, new madness and injury cards, new relationship cards, new Blights for the bigger expansions, new cult encounter cards for the Black Goat expansion (which are surprisingly good), and many more. The little things from the previous expansion get a boost across the board. The new Act cards for the King in Yellow are a highlight, as are the new Innsmouth Look cards and the new additions to the Epic Battle deck.

Institutions. The new institutions variant lets you add the help of an organization to the game. They work a lot like a human-focused version of the previously introduced Guardian variant. I genuinely like all three (which are organized crime, Miskatonic University, and the bureau of investigation), enough though they seem to work better in specific situations rather than help in a general sense. The feds, for instance, let you spend clue tokens to get agents to patrol the streets of Arkham and help keep the monster population down. In one game, this institution saw no use at all. In another game, monsters were around for only a few turns before the feds gunned them down. Your mileage may vary with these, but I think they’re pretty neat.

Reference sheets. The expansion also comes with handy reference sheets that let you know the monster limit, gate limit and so on for any number of players. I can never seem to remember these stats, so it’s nice to have these around.

The Dunwich Horror Herald. Though it’s free on the FFG website, it’s nice to have a nice, glossy version of this.

What I’m mixed on

Multi-expansion encounter and Mythos cards. Miskatonic Horror has lots of encounter and Mythos/Other World cards that are designed to be used with specific expansion combinations — Dunwich/Innsmouth, for instance, or Kingsport/Lurker, Innsmouth/King in Yellow, and so on. Trying to tie the aesthetics of these various expansions together is a really, really cool idea. It only works some of the time, though. Some of the flavor text is more generic than anything else, and this is kind of frustrating.

What I don’t like

The price point. You get more cards in this box than any of the other large Arkham Horror expansions, sure…but around $50 still seems steep once you actually look in the box.

Final thoughts

If you only have the core game, you won’t use much of Miskatonic Horror. If you have all of the expansions and like to play with only a few at a time, you’ll probably get a lot out of this. Personally, I’m a fan, and like some of the new additions…even if I think it’s a little bit too expensive.

6
Go to the Arkham Horror: Black Goat of the Woods page
83 out of 90 gamers thought this was helpful

Black Goat of the Woods is the third small-box expansion for Arkham Horror. The Black Goat of the Woods is one of the weaker expansions for the game not because it has a lot of bad components, but because of how so-so much of the expansion is. Still, there’s some great stuff here, and it can seriously raise the difficulty of the game if you use most of the pieces.

What I like

The Mythos and encounter cards for both Other World and Arkham are generally well-written and pretty difficult. I don’t integrate all of the various expansion decks, so if you play with just the base game and this, you’re bound to experience some of the nastiness.

Many of the Arkham Encounters involve the Corruption deck from this expansion. Corruption cards initially offer something valuable — clue tokens, money, some good abilities — at a cost, but if you draw too many their effects just snowball. There are ways to get rid of them and avoid them altogether, but in keeping with one of the themes of the game, you can only resist so long before things get bad.

Finally, I love the new namesake herald for this expansion. Not only does the Black Goat make monsters more difficult in general, but also floods the game with creatures stamped with the hexagon movement marker. Plus, you add tokens to the Ancient One’s doom track every time a monster surge happens…and it happens a lot with this herald in play. It’s worth noting that the expansion comes with a couple more hex-based monsters, including a few new ones.

What I don’t like

The only parts of the expansion I don’t really like are the difficulty cards, which let you change the overall challenge the game provides. Some of the variations are too specific (impacting a certain investigator) or too broad (drawing TWO Mythos cards each turn) to really been enjoyable. I’d rather just add a herald or something similar.

A few hit or miss things

The Black Goat comes with a few new spells and around two dozen new unique and common items. Some are universally great, like the.357 Magnum (an incredibly powerful one-handed weapon) and the ancient spear (which can transform into a magical weapon once per turn). But the uses for most of the items are quite conditional, so much so that you’ll probably rarely — if ever — use them.

The expansion also gives you the opportunity to join the Cult of the Black Goat. Once an investigator actually joins the cult, he or she can draw from a special deck that adds some interesting opportunities into the game (some good stuff…at a price, of course). But by the time you actually get a cult membership, the game will probably be over.

Final thoughts

While I’ve really grown to appreciate some parts of this expansion (the Ancient One cards, the herald, the corruption deck), I still get frustrated by some of the so-so aspects. If the cult membership wasn’t so difficult to get, that alone would make this one of the best expansions. But as it stands, the Black Goat of the Woods is merely pretty good.

8
Go to the Arkham Horror page

Arkham Horror

100 out of 115 gamers thought this was helpful

Arkham Horror is a cooperative board game from Fantasy Flight Games. It’s for one to eight players, and is around the writings of early 20th century weird fiction author H.P. Lovecraft.

The players control investigators from the 1920s who are trying to stop the ancient, cosmic evil beings that threaten the fictional town of Arkham, Massachusetts. If the bad guys make too much headway in the town, the Ancient One awakens — and this is usually a bad thing. Players spend their turns moving around the town, fighting monsters, gaining valuable clues, gathering better equipment, investigating various locations (both in Arkham and in “other worlds”), and so on.

The game can be pretty unforgiving in its difficulty, which could be good or bad depending on the players involved.

What I like

I love the game’s atmosphere. While the game draws mostly from Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos stories (as well as some of the tales written by Lovecraft’s peers and followers), it also includes elements from his Dream Cycle and macabre tales. Elements from the three story categories mesh well together in the game, and result in an atmosphere that keeps the themes of Lovecraft’s stories while injecting some insane pulpiness. So even though there are gibbering, amorphous creatures and Cyclopean forms of architecture all over the place, there are also two-fisted gumshoes and gunfights in the streets.

There’s also a good deal of replay-ability with the game. There’re over a dozen investigators to choose from, eight different Ancient Ones, hundreds of Mythos and location cards, scads of items, spells, skills, and so on. And this doesn’t even factor in the many expansions. I’ve played the game quite a bit, and no two games ever went the same way.

While the game can work well with small or large groups, I really appreciate being able to play it solo; there have been a few rainy Saturday afternoons where I set up the game myself and had a blast fighting off cultists and exploring ancient tombs and dream worlds.

What I don’t like

The game’s set-up, no matter how many times I’ve done it, always feels like a chore. There are so many different bits and pieces to keep track of, and it sometimes ends up being overwhelming. The game itself can also run on way, way too long. It the players are having fun, this isn’t a problem. If they’re NOT having fun, the next point can happen.

I also don’t like how the game can sometimes disintegrate into a twitching mass of game mechanics. All of the cards are filled with great flavor text, but it can sometimes feel like its stretched thin over the dice rolling and stats. I always try to offset this by making sure to immerse myself in the text (including the bios on the back of the character cards). The game can be a great roleplaying (lite) experience, I’ve played more than a few games where players just roll dice and add up all of the fiddly numbers.

Conclusion

Arkham Horror is one of my favorite games. There’s so much going on and so much flavor that I always look forward to the next run through. It’s certainly not for everyone, but there’s a lot here for those that do enjoy it.

6
Go to the Arkham Horror: Kingsport Horror page
62 out of 69 gamers thought this was helpful

When compared to the other two big-box expansions for Arkham Horror, the Kingsport Horror is often dismissed outright. While I don’t think it’s as solid a product as the other two, I think it still has some great stuff crammed in that box.

What I like

Despite some misgivings (see the next section), I genuinely like the board expansion that lets investigators explore the town of Kingsport. It’s not as an outright dangerous place as Dunwich or Innsmouth, but there are some cool encounters to be had. The new Mythos and Other World card are also pretty good, as are the new Arkham location cards.

The new Ancient Ones and Investigators are also wonderful, for the most part; the former are pretty challenging, and the latter mostly make great characters. There are a few problems with some of the investigators, but a few, like Rex Murphy (the reporter), fit in perfectly.

Lastly, the Kingsport Horror expansion comes with the Epic Battle variant, which lets you spice up the final battle against the Ancient One. It’s challenging, sure, but also adds some more desperate flavor to an already desperate situation.

What I don’t like

Some of the new items are either underwhelming or surprisingly useless, especially the “pay $x to use again” weapons. There IS a lot of variety, but it really is a mixed bag.

The game also provides a number of Heralds and Guardians. The former are kind of like minor Ancient Ones that make the investigators’ lives difficult. The Guardians are like good versions of the Heralds, lending a hand to the good guys. I shouldn’t say that I hate the Guardians and Heralds, but they’re sometimes more frustrating to use than not.

I mentioned earlier that I liked the town of Kingsport, but the new danger introduced in the town — traveling rifts that spew out monsters and awake the Ancient One sooner — is more irritating than dangerous. Ignoring the rifts is a bad idea, as it can make the game snowball to a bad end in no time. On the other hand, stationing even one investigator in Kingsport is more than enough to deal with the problem.

Conclusion

There’s some great stuff in the box, and some stuff that’s merely OK. That said, the good material is really worth using. I’ve played through the expansion a few times recently and I’ve grown even more favorable to it.

8
Go to the Bohnanza page

Bohnanza

51 out of 58 gamers thought this was helpful

Bohnanza is a card game for two to seven players. It’s relatively fast and easy to learn (with a few quirks that I’ll note below), and has a lot of replay value.

Players collect different types of beans and try to plant them (the more of the same type in the “fields,” the better). Harvesting beans yields gold, and the player with the most gold at the end wins!

Players can trade beans to get rid of the varieties they don’t want in exchange for beans that will help them out. While this is my favorite part of the game, it can get pretty chaotic and even ruthless.

It’s worth noting that a few of the rules (like keeping your hand of cards in the order drawn) can take some time to grasp for new players.

What I like

Bohnanza thrives on player interaction. An introverted player might not get into the game as much as someone who is more at ease with haggling. I love the haggling part, but I realize that it might make or break the game for some.

I also love how the game’s bean farming theme is presented. It’s whimsical, sure, but doesn’t feel too tacked on.

What I don’t like

The group dynamic really affects gameplay. I guess that’s the case for most games, but it seems like it’s especially true for Bohnanza. Even having one belligerent or especially shy player in four-player game can make it drag.

Playing the game with the ends of the player spectrum (two or seven players) tends to introduce some changes that make the game wobble, too. I think four or five players works best, though the can be fun with any number.

Closing thoughts

I enjoy Bohnanza a lot, and think it’s a great gateway game in some ways. It’s relatively light, quick and has a surprisingly fun theme. The dynamic of your gaming group can impact how fun it might be, so that’s worth considering if you’re on the fence.

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