“Arkham Horror” was one of the flag bearers for the wave of cooperative board games. It is a beast of a game that covers a good five hours of time and two well-sized tables of space, only made bigger by countless expansions drowning it in bizarre amounts of cards and markers, a system overload covering up a mechanic that boils down to Whack-a-Mole with Shoggoths.
Like a cubic meter of cotton candy next to a sturdy vegetarian chili, you can often find “Arkham Horror” right next to masterpieces like Agricola or Ticket to Ride. I despiseit, but it is nevertheless surprisingly popular, spawning a multitude of expansions that have sold very well for Fantasy Flight.
Ladies and gentlemen: allow me to present Robert Florence:
So Arkham Horror is a bad game, then. We’ve established that. […] Wrong. Arkham Horror is a gaming treasure, a work of dark genius, a terrible unapproachable unfriendly beautiful bastard of a game. Arkham Horror is quite, quite brilliant, and I’m quite in love with it.
This quote is taken from a longer piece in which Florence does a fantastic job of describing why no-one should ever play “Arkham Horror”, and why you perhaps would want to anyway. It is one of my all-time favorite examples of gaming journalism.
Florence is a great writer. The piece is both funny and well-written and he is a master of the experiential style of games writing; he represents games as experiences, works that reflects the players rather than sums of technical qualities and deficiencies.
He avoids treating games as toasters.
Florence’s article is divided into three parts, the first part deals with why Arkham Horror is a terrible game (illustrated by the dissonance between theme and mechanics), the second with why none of that matters, and the third part tells us why it is great anyway. By taking the focus away from the actual game and its mechanics and telling us about the horrific sentient machine the game can become, he shows us why it is remarkable. The game does not matter, the feelings it conveys to the player is what matters.
This is the way to represent games. All other parts are like the script of a play, important but disconnected from the actual work.
With this great article Florence lets us all into a club reserved for those that have spent an unreasonable amount of time getting to know the game, he makes us understand why we would want to play “Arkham Horror”.
Not that I would ever play the damn thing, but now, at least, I can respect it.
You can find it here, should you want to read it. It is a fantastic piece of work.