Gamestuff: Arkham Horror Solo Play

Arkham HorrorMiscellaneous G™ loaned me his copy ((Is it correct to call an instance of a boardgame—or any game, for that matter—a “copy”? Grammaticons, a ruling. Now!)) of Arkham Horror over the weekend, and I played a solo game Saturday night.

Unbeknownst to Drake the Magician, events were unfolding in Arkham, Massachusetts that would eventually result in the Great Old One Ithaqua awakening from its aeons-long slumber. Compelled to investigate these strange occurrences, Drake soon found himself battling cultists and unspeakable monsters, traveling to indescribable Other Worlds, and feeling his grip on sanity slowly and inexorably weakening.

In retrospect, I really wish I’d played with multiple investigators — players who frequent the forums at Fantasy Flight Games recommend playing with three or four investigators during solo play. With my lone investigator, I soon found that the turn sequence resulted in Arkham being rapidly overrun with monsters and gates to Other Worlds. ((Each turn ends with the drawing of a Mythos card, which almost always results in a new gate opening, a monster appearing, and some other horrific side-effect. Forum posters recommend a “house rule” for solo play, wherein Mythos cards are only drawn every other turn.)) Poor Drake was running around like a chicken with its head cut off, frantically gathering the vital clues that would enable him to seal the gates. Unfortunately, his efforts were all for naught. Twice, the horror undermined Drake’s sanity and the poor man had to spend time (and money) recovering his wits in the infamous Arkham Asylum.

To make matters worse, I drew a Mythos card (I don’t recall which one) that forced Drake to focus his efforts not on closing gates, but on battling a steady stream of monsters in one district of the city. This led to the inevitable end of the game, as Drake was unable to stand against the monsters and prevent the Terror Level in Arkham from rising to the point where the bulk of the population fled the city. Following the departure of its citizens, Arkham was then overrun with all manner of vile creatures and Drake threw in the proverbial towel.

I suspect that I could have fared better—even with a sole investigator—had I abandoned random selection of both investigator and slumbering Great Old One. Each investigator has unique attributes and starting gear, and perhaps one of the others would have been more suited to solo play. Likewise, each Great Old One has its own attributes and effect on the game overall, some more challenging than others. Pitting Drake against Ithaqua may not have been the wisest of moves, but as a new player I really didn’t know any better.

There’s a lot to keep track of in Arkham Horror, and as a new player doing a solo game, it would have helped to have someone keeping me honest as far as things like monster limits, the Doom and Terror Tracks, and various other game elements that must be monitored from turn to turn. I’m sure that I flubbed a few things here and there, but it was still fun inspite of the crushing sense of despair and hopeless and the knowledge that my efforts would bear little fruit.

Next time (if I can borrow the game again), I’ll play with a team of three or four hand-selected investigators and choose a Great Old One that won’t add much complexity to the game. Perhaps I’ll manage to stave off the horrors for a while longer, perhaps I’ll be consumed by madness or lost in time and space, but I won’t go down without a fight.