Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Call of Cthulhu RPG and/or Arkham Horror board game: looking for opinions and/or suggestions

I'm not sure how many of you that may read this have experience with either of these two Lovecraftian gaming gems, but I do know that I have none. Absolutely none. So I'm looking for some opinions on them if you have played them and additionally some suggestions on any supplements or expansions to either of them which you would recommend.

Obviously these are two completely different games, requiring different commitments and different game time, etc. I mean one of them is a full blown RPG and the other is a (pretty expensive) board game. Still I've been on a bit of a Lovecraft kick lately, in regards to my reading list, and I've been toying with the idea of getting into one, if not both of these games.

First up: Call of Cthulhu - the RPG

I think I'll partially thank/blame James over at Grognardia for the Call of Cthulhu "calling" I've been hearing lately. Reading through some of his recent Stormbringer RPG posts has linked me back to some of his previous various Chaosium games posts, which include some very high praise for CoC.

Also, many posts by Brunomac over at Temple of Demogorgon have also inspired me with the idea of trying to start or find a game of Call of Cthulhu. So some of the thanks/blame is on you too, bro...ha!

I'm sure that I'm leaving out some other great bloggers here, who I've very likely already read some postings regarding Call of Cthulhu, but my brain is real sketchy today, so please forgive me for any forgetfulness folks. The two recommendations noted above are the ones fresh in my mind, and alone are truly enough to make me want to play the RPG, but I'm open for some more thoughts from anyone reading this. Anyone? Bueller?

Ok, next contestant: Arkham Horror - the board game

I didn't find any relevant posts at the two blogs above regarding this game. Maybe I didn't look hard enough? Maybe neither of them have played the game? Dunno. Without spending the rest of the day reading reviews all over the innerwebbz, I figured I'd try a little fishing here. So, anyone giving this post the once-over ever play Arkham Horror? I know there are several expansions for this one, all costing a ton of dough, IMO. Still, I may have to try it out as an H.P. fix sooner than CoC, as according to ther back of the box, I can play this one solo. Like, really-solo. Like, solitaire-solo. Hmmn.....

My wife and kids will be out of town a day or two soon, and I was thinking I might play some more B/X solitaire, or Tunnels & trolls, but now I'm starting to think a little bit of Arkham Horror, solitaire, alone in my house, by candle-light...or maybe even a lantern. OOoooooooo.....

If only I lived by the sea. I wonder if some of those ambient, ocean sounds on MP3 might work as a substitute. The waves crashing in....the releasing of the Great Old Ones... err.... uhm ok, maybe that's pushing it a bit.

The '81 in me is pulling me towards finding a 1st ed copy of Call of Cthulhu, although the 6th ed is sitting right there on the store shelf...ugh. Not to mention Arkham Horror is ready for me to play solitaire right freakin' now. Well, as soon as I plop down the cash, that is. What do I do? Do I go the distance and try to find/create a CoC RPG gaming group? Or do I just get my fill solo-style (errr....right) and go with Arkham Horror? Or both?!?!?!?

Oh for the love of Wilbur Whateley!

(very cool painting by Skot Olsen)


JB said...

Admittedly, I have not played the board game, but it has several reviews around the web (including boardgamegeek) and what I HAVE read discouraged me from purchasing it. A little too crunch heavy for a light board game and with some issues that allow the system to be “gamed.”

The RPG on the other hand, I can talk about.

As far as I’m aware the Chaosium CoC hasn’t change much between editions except to perhaps provide some more setting options and monster descriptions. As a pulp-horror game it works well enough…for the longest time it was really the only (best anyway) game in town.

However, I consider the recently published Trail of Cthulhu from Pelgrane Press to be the superior Cthulhu RPG. I own both (I believe my CoC book is 5th edition, maybe 4th), but after checking out Pelgrane’s GUMSHOE system (that’s how they call it…in all caps!) I am sold that there IS a better way to investigate mighty Cthulhu.

If you’ve never played CoC before, I’d strongly recommend taking a look at ToC first. Unfortunately, CoC is the one everyone’s familiar with, so unless you’re introducing it to new players, you may encounter resistance to a new system.

Oh…and for the record, I don’t take to new systems for older games lightly: I’m playing B/X D&D now and I was blogging about MY 1st edition Stormbringer game back in June (check my blog if ya’ don’t believe me). But Pelgrane’s Trail of Cthulhu has the goods and it’s time to switch over. I just like my old CoC for:

- The history
- The monster scale chart
- Pulp horror action!

The Call is a beautiful game of horror and despair (similar to Stormbringer’s beautiful game of carnage and despair). But if you want investigation and a slick rule system that skillfully divides spotlight time between players, check out the new version.

Amityville Mike said...

I can answer about Arkham Horror, as I own it and have played it solitaire.

Yes, the rules allow for solo play, but you're in for a long game (3-4 hours of game play, especially the first time 'round). And, in all honesty, it gets monotonous. Although the rules and objective of the game does a really good job of ratcheting up the tension, it's still repeatitive to do alone. If you're looking for a Call of Cthulhu experience, especially for the first time, I wouldn't recommend Arkham Horror as the way to do so.

However, if you can get some other people together who don't mind a complex board game with lots of fiddly bits (the game has a slew of cards, tokens, character sheets, etc. all of which get used in play)and have a couple of hours to kill, Arkham Horror is a blast!

I don't know if you've ever played Talisman, but that is the best board game comparison I can offer to AH. But, instead of trying to screw each other over to win the game, you're working together to defeat the Big Bad Evil. Roles usually get assumed or assigned early on ("I'll kill the monsters!" "Ok. I'll close the gates." "I'll gather clues and get supplies!"), and if you're playing with fellow role-players, it's really easy to get into character and start talking to each other as if you really were a grizzled archeologist, a hard-drinking gumshoe, or a prissy old maid.

If you the option of getting people together to play it is available and you suspect they might be the kind of folks I described, AH is worth the investment. I only own the basic set but I keep coveting at least the Innsmouth Expansion every time I'm at the hobby shop. One of these days, it will be mine.

Jeff Rients said...

Call of Cthulhu is one of the best roleplaying games ever written. It is to horror and 20's/30's pulp action what Traveller is to sci-fi.

Hamlet said...

Arkham Horror the board game is . . . interesting.

Mike's comment is entirely correct and I'll only add that it's an incredibly fiddly type of game. Dozens if not hundreds of tiny (and by tiny I mean VERY tiny) bits and pieces all the hell over the place.

My group tried it once and, though we enjoyed it, spent most of the time frustrated as hell trying to figure out the exceptions and the rules just what part went where.

If you have a high tolerance for bits and pieces, go for it and be patient with it. If not, stick with the role playing game. It's far superior.

yoyorobbo said...

I'm pretty sure the local gamestore has ToC too. I kinda glanced at it's cover, and just sorta moved on to the classic CoC book (they only have the 6th ed, but yeah I've read that not much has changed), as I figured I would probably dig the older version over any new take on it. However, based on your comments I will at least take a peek inside next time.

Also, I am very familiar with your blog, as I visit it everyday. Great stuff. Got to luuuuuuuuuv the B/X!

yoyorobbo said...

@Amityville Mike:
Great to hear some personal experience on AH, especially in solitaire mode. I most certainly was hoping for a more positive take on it, but I'm thankful for your feedback on it, as it may just save me $50 or so.

I wish I had a board-gaming crew that I could count on, and the time needed to participate in one, but sadly my gaming time is scarce. I play PnP D&D once a week on a weeknight after work, and anything else I do I try to squeeze in after-hours (on-line gaming in other time-zones..hehe, and Play-by-Post, etc) to avoid missing any more family time. The kids grow up way too fast, or so I'm told. Can't miss too much of that time.

That's where the solitaire/solo thing comes in to play. I can get a fix (D&D, T&T, etc) with some solitaire modules and such, so the fact that AH *can* be played alone, is what really sounded cool to me. But if it's not worth the effort, then maybe I should just pass, or wait 'til the kiddies get a little older, eh?

Again, thanks for sharing your personal experience.

yoyorobbo said...

@Jeff Rients:
I have never played Traveller, but I have read enough about it from it's fans to totally get your comparison.

I knew I had left out some great bloggers and their views on CoC, and I was right. I now recall reading some posts on your blog about your gaming history involving the original game (CoC). Your comment reminded me to check your site for back posts on the subject, and I'm very glad I did. Thanks!

yoyorobbo said...

"bits and pieces all the hell over the place"

Great visual!

Thanks for your additional input here on these two games.

With the idea of playing AH solitaire, I guess I could be as patient as I wanted to be. In other words I wouldn't be torquing off the rest of the group by slowing things down to check a rule or 12.

Still, it's beginning to look as if I should hold off on AH for now. We'll see. I get real loose with the cash when I'm in the gamestore, so I may still fall victim...ugh.

I will most likely snag the Cthulhu RPG though, and very likely the original CoC (or at least the 6th ed...ha!). Although JB's recommendation for Trail of Cthulhu will have me checking that tome out too while I'm there.

Only issue with the RPG is that again when it comes to these types of things, I might be flying solo. Not so good for a game such as that, eh?

So, I guess on that note, are there any published solo or solitaire modules/adventures for CoC (or ToC for that matter)?

Amityville Mike said...

are there any published solo or solitaire modules/adventures for CoC (or ToC for that matter)?

Two that I know of. They were published in the early '80s and can be hard to track down and/or pricey once found though. You never know when you might get lucky, however, so you can keep an eye out and hope.

Alone Against the Dark

Alone Against the Wendigo

I've seen them go much cheaper on eBay but again, your mileage may vary.

yoyorobbo said...

@Amityville Mike:
Awesome hookup on the solitaire/solo mods, bro. Thanks!

I guess I will now be on the lookout locally for these puppies. Those on-line prices are nuts...ha! Someone around here will sooner or later drop a pile of old CoC stuff at one of the local shops, right?....RIGHT?!?!?


rainswept said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Christopher B said...

Sorry I'm late to the party on this one, but here's my 2 gold pieces on the subject:

As far as AH goes: I've had the game since it (the FFG version, not the original Chaosium version) was released. I've never played solo, but I've played with 2, 3, and 4 players. IMO, this game rocks on toast. Its cooperative play, RPGish character involvement, and the fact that it oozes Lovecraftian atmosphere make it a no-brainer for true Lovecraft fans. (From my understanding, non-Lovecraft fans may not get as much enjoyment from the game. Also, if you don't like a game that 9 plays out of 10 challenges you every step of the way, I'd take a pass on this one.)

As for Lovecraftian role-playing, the grand-daddy of them all, Call of Cthulhu, is still the best. (IMHO) I agree with rainswept re: the 3rd edition hardcover (published in cooperation with Games Workshop) and the 3rd edition boxed set (same rules, just in multiple booklets and in a cool boxed set with dice, map of Arkham, etc.) However, its multiple-booklet nature shows in that its layout can be very frustrating to new readers. I'd advise new CoC players to stick with 5th edition or later, as these are laid out in an understandable, user-friendly fashion, and are more comprehensive, especially with regards to spells. (3rd edition has a much more limited selection.) Also, 3rd edition is solely focused on 1920's-era CoC - whereas 5th edition and later support play in the 1890's and modern as well. The style of 5th edition and later can never match that of the 3rd edition hardcover, though. Once you're familiar with the game, I'd highly recommend taking a look at this volume.

As for other Lovecraftian RPG's:

Trail of Cthulhu: Meh. Unlike the CoC system, which stays out of the way until called upon, the ToC system ("Gumshoe") is extremely invasive, IMO. If you don't like systems that dictate things that a good GM should be handling as part of his "job," I wouldn't bother with this one.

CoC d20: If you like the d20 system, this one is worth a look. It's essentially a port of Chaosium's BRP (Basic Role-Playing - their house system) CoC to d20, with a few nifty bits added. And all in color. I don't care for d20, but I like looking at the d20 CoC book.

Shadows of Cthulhu: This one uses the True20 system. I'm not very familiar with the system, and haven't spent a lot of time with the book, but at a glance it looks nice. Again, if you're into d20, this may be worth a look.

All in all, I'd stick with original CoC ("OCoC"? :P) If you like simple systems, a la those we most often played with "back in '81," this is the game you want.

Oh, and as for solo play, there's also a massive OOP "module" from Triad Entertainments called "Grimrock Isle." It can be played solo, or run with a GM. It also can be used for a campaign.

Sorry for the novella - best of luck!

Christopher B said...

My mistake: Although originally published in 1992, it looks like "Grimrock Isle" is still available from Triad.

Christopher B said...

On the topic of wallet-endangering cost, unless you're a fanatic FLGS customer:

CoC 6th ed., shopworn (I bought Beyond the Mountains of Madness "shopworn," and it looked no different than any other book I've bought from my FLGS shelf.)

Arkham Horror from ThoughtHammer (After shipping, it's still cheaper than an in-store purchase after tax.)

yoyorobbo said...

Interesting take on the edition. IIRC, I have only seen 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 6th. And locally, 6th is all I have found. I run across tons of old OOP RPGs though, so I'll keep an eye out for 3rd ed as well as the others.

I actually bit the bullet and snagged a copy of 6th ed, as I ran across it at a nice discount (along with an additional 10% all RPG stuff) at a game shop while traveling this past weekend. I will most likely post about it, as my wallet (more truthfully, my credit card) took a massive hit, as I found lots of cool stuff at that shop...OMG.

Anyway, more to come on that, but again thanks for your input on 3rd ed CoC. Sounds nice!

yoyorobbo said...

@Christopher B:

Hey, never to late to one of my blog parties...ha! I don't post frequently enough to ever really fall behind, so I really appreciate the feedback and opinions here. Tons of good info in your comments.

1) Your XP with AH sounds awesome. I wish you had played it at some point solo/solitaire, so I could get that feedback too. Sadly, that would be a big part of my playstyle with it, if I ever do plop down the cash for it.

2) Yeah, the older version hit my oldschool nerve, and I long for them. However for now, 6th ed will have to do. I bit the bullet (see comment above) this past weekend. I will be on a full look-out for other revs though, if this one impresses me as much as it seemingly should.

3) Trail of Cthulhu may still be a viable choice for me too. The invasive manner that is has (in your opinion) may actually work better for someone who has never been a Keeper, yet alone, hardly ever a DM either...ha!. We'll see. I need to cool the cashflow a bit, as you will see in an upcoming post I kinda went a little crazy this past weekend. Ah well.

4) "Grimrock Isle" sounds like a good one for me to check out. At least it's still available (in print).

5) I'm not nutty over FLGS purchases, but if I can get it locally for a decent price, I will most certainly support the local guys. I've overpaid for some items locally, but I've also found great deals there too. I've also been known to pass on the FLGS and snag something from Borders or Barnes&Noble, if I have some massive 40% off coupon or something. Sometimes ya gotta just go with the deal. I try to avoid too many online purchases, but sometimes it's the right way to go.

As always, thanks for the great comments bud. Much appreciated.

yoyorobbo said...

@Christopher B:

Also need to nod your way on the CoC and AH posts over at your blog. I frequent your site daily, but with all of the good stuff I've seen lately, I must have blown past or somehow missed those posts. I just went back to your blog and poked thru them, and now have bookmarked a few, for reference in my new money-pit ...err ...endeavor. ;>]

Great stuff, and thanks again for the awesome personal feedback on these games.

kelvingreen said...

Go with Call of Cthulhu. The board game may seem lighter on commitment, but as others have mentioned, it's probably more crunchy than the rpg, and can take ages to play.

The rpg, on the other hand, has an easy peasy ruleset, and can have as much commitment associated as you like; it lends itself just as easily to a one off three-hour game as it does to a year-long campaign.

I'd also go for the Chaosium/d100 version of the game. Trail of Cthulhu has some good ideas, but it's all more in terms of play style than revolutionary game mechanics; when I read it, I found that I'd already been using most of the Big New Ideas for years in my d100 game! My preference is for fifth edition with the brown cover painting, because of a good balance between content and layout, but you won't go far wrong with anything from third onwards. The earlier editions are interesting from a historic perspective, but they're pretty ugly books. I have a copy of fifth for gaming utility, and third to look at occasionally. :)

kelvingreen said...

Oops! Late for this party. I see you've already made your choice. I'm not massively fond of sixth edition, but that's purely because I ran fifth for years, and they changed the layout for no good reason, so I have a hard time finding stuff!

As far as being a first-time Keeper goes, you will be fine. The Chaosium d100 system is incredibly easy to run, and has very few complexities; there are some fiddly bits in the combat rules, but I'd say ignore anything which doesn't stick, as the players will most likely not notice or mind. Also, the book contains "the Haunting", which is a very effective scenario which is also very simple to run. I'd suggest that to start with.

yoyorobbo said...

Thanks for the input bud, and no worries on being late to the party. I may have already made my purchase, but that by no means whatsoever marks the end of it...ha!

In fact, wait til you see how nutty I went when I ran across some CoC goodies and couldn't say no. I'll post some on that soon, you'll all probably laugh at me, but I was weak...what can I say. ;>]

Now, I just need to find some victims ...err ...players. MUUHHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!