We marked Halloween at home this year with our first game of Eldritch Horror. The game is widely described as being in the same style of Arkham Horror while being more streamlined and accessible, which is why we plumped for it. Arkham Horror is great fun but famously complex and I have a short attention span.

See how many beers you can get through before the game starts. I only managed one

Eldritch probably is more streamlined than Arkham Horror, but on first impressions not by much. Our two-player game still took us over four hours, much of the first hour being taken up with setting things up and going over rules. While an experience of playing Arkham Horror helps speed things up, there are still many game-specific mechanics to get to grips with. Our first turn took ages, but once that was taken care of the game did start to pick up a good steady rhythm. The game took us hours but most of it flew by, and it was only by the last half hour or so that we wanted it to finish. It’s good fun and I expect the next go will be even better.

The rulebook recommends selecting Azathoth as the Ancient One if it’s your first go, so that’s what we did. I assume there are fewer mechanics in play when contending against Azathoth, making it better for new players; the trade-off being that if the Idiot God wakes up, it’s an instant game over. This made for a dramatic finish as I’ll describe later. Overall there was a good sense of urgency and balance between gearing up our investigators, and closing gates and solving rumors and mysteries (solving three of the latter being the win condition).

As there were only two of us, we deliberately chose what seemed like well-balanced and independent investigators (the Shaman and the Expedition Leader). As the game progressed we noticed that not all stats in the game are equal, really, with Influence and Observation seeming particularly important in making progress towards victory. On the basis of one game, combat felt less important than Arkham Horror, but that may be simply because we were playing against Azathoth who seems to rely less on powerful minions. Similarly, currency has been abolished in this game, but instead there are travel tickets to worry about, so resource management has not been done away with completely. Clues are also central to the game and are handled a bit differently to Arkham Horror, meaning the investigator who can trade clues with anyone on the map is probably overpowered. Indeed, if we had used that investigator we would have won. Yeah, we’re using that one next time.

So, yes, we lost. In dramatic fashion. We had just solved the last mystery, and just needed to get to the end of the turn to turn over the final mystery card and win the game. The ‘Doom’ track was on 2, having started at 15. However, the ‘Mythos’ card we had to pick at the end of the round advanced the doom track to 0, meaning Azathoth woke up and we were all devoured and the world destroyed. It was somewhat frustrating to be thwarted at the last moment but kind of awesome at the same time; and this certainly points towards a well-balanced game. We had even made a choice a round or two earlier which, if we had done differently, may have helped us win the game–or it may just have resulted in one us being devoured. It’s that kind of game.

With a price tag of £50 Eldritch Horror is a significant investment but so far it feels like money well spent. Like Arkham Horror, the game is well produced, the art is creepy, and the pieces feel robust and satisfying to hold and use. There are a lot of cards and you really do need a lot of space to set everything up. Moreover, the board is landscape orientation rather than portrait like Arkham, which is a disadvantage for large groups as some people will be looking at it upside down. Also, I know it was only one game, but already I miss the sense of place that you have with Arkham Horror. Eldritch Horror is global in scope, and I understand why they made that decision, but at the same time you lose the dense atmosphere of mystery and dread that was peculiar to Arkham.

So, we’re looking forward to another game next weekend, when we may have a go at an Old One who is more ‘forgiving’ (surely not the right word) than Azathoth.