Friday, 4 September 2015

Arkham Investigator - Beta testing a new boardgame

First off, i'd like to thank the designers of this game for making a beta available on Boardgame geek. If you find this article interesting, I highly recommend popping over there and downloading the demo set. 

So what is Arkham investigator?

Put simply it's a deduction game. One that can be played in a group or alone. In a lot of way's it is like an old school "fighting fantasy" book, asides from you a never told what the next entry will be and the choices are not binary. 

The backdrop of the game is HP Lovecrafts Arkham, a city any reader of this blog will be familiar with. You are graduate students at Miskatonic university investigating a series of unusual events in the city, with each event being a separate case. 

You are given a briefing of what the case is, a map of the city, the local newspaper and a phone directory. You must move from encounter to encounter solving the case.

This is the meat of the game, there are virtually no "mechanics" and no dice rolling whatsover. You read the encounter, make notes of each one, and then decide where to go next. The locations of the game are in the directory and each location pertains to an entry in the case file.

For example, say you come across a package that was dropped on the street. You see a mailing address on it, deciding that this is your best clue, you go to the directory and look up the address. That would inform you of what the next entry is. 

You can go to as many entries and locations as you feel you need to, but the game is a race against the clock and the goal is to solve the case perfectly. 

At the same time you are investigating, Professor Armitage, your mentor, is also solving the case, and he will do it perfectly. He ask you questions about the case when you feel you have solved it and your score is based on how long it took you to solve the case, and how many question you got right.

Armitage will then tell you exactly how the case was solved.

If this all sounds a little familiar, it is because the game borrows it's core system from a Sherlock Holmes game. 

Normally, i'm not kind to games that lift systems from other games and reskin them. But in all honesty, the system is a tiny part of the creative effort in this game. The real work is in world building and creating the cases and stories. 

How it played

Normally in co-op games, i try not to be too vocal, but I couldn't help myself this time. In future i'll dial down my insistence at doing things my way :)

We divided up responsibilities so that one player had the casebook and read the clues, one had the directory, another the map, and the fourth the "list of allies" page. Each turn we rotated the components clockwise, so that the same person was reading each time. 

The rules say the current "lead investigator" makes the final call for what passage to read, but that really didn't become an issue. We, after some banter and debate normally settled on one or two primary targets each turn. And decided as a group where to go. 

The bit that tripped us up was knowing when to stop. We felt we had a pretty clear idea of what had happened and the last two entries we went to added nothing much asides from making us feel we had gone on to far. I guess, that because the game doesn't have a fixed ending, knowing when to call it quits takes some experience. 

I'd also say that each case has very little replay value, so while the game will come with 10 cases or so, once you've played a case, it would be very difficult to replay it.

Still, it actually felt like we were solving a case and that clues were being followed. And while we didn't score the perfect 100 points on our first outing, 65 seemed like a good first effort. Especially as we missed out on a 25 point question that we had deduced from partial information, but gotten slightly incorrect.  

The team enjoyed the experience, and feel a second attempt would be warranted.

Although one of our players is a designer, and was critical of the fonts in some sections being quite difficult to read. I concur, while gothic fonts are probably timely to the game, they are a pain to read. 

Spoilers below, How our case went. (highlight page to read)

Don't read this if you wish to play game one. 

We started out by going to the crime scene. Big mistake, while criminology 101 might say going to the crime scene is the best plan for starting a case, that doesn't take into account that the victim was screaming "the trees are alive". We encountered a Dark young and freaked out.

As a first encounter, this had the team saying "well that escalated quickly", it was a little bit too much mythos in the face for a first entry, or first case for my liking. Dark Young are a big bad, revealing them in an entry that would be quite logically the first one read was a distraction. I would have preferred if it was hinted at, rather than shown so dramatically.

From there, we went to the hospital to talk to the victim, who was in bad shape with something cracking her open from the inside. We then went to the forensics guy, found the victims address, went to her place, and found the offenders address. Discovering the evil seeds and ritual blade. Finally, we went to the diner and missed the exchange but rushed to the train station. Feeling the last clue we spent was a waste, we then wanted to checkout the library about some goo, which also told us nothing new. So we called it closed.

What we thought was that the offender had attempted to put a seed in the victims chest, but had chickened out and redressed her. We got the order wrong, but were definitely on the right track, but those 25 points hurt our final score a lot. We got implantation, instead of extraction. So close. 

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