Arkham Horror The Card Game is a fantastic Co-op Living Card Game from Fantasy Flight Games – here’s how to get started!
You’ve played the Board Game. You’ve been to the Mansions of Madness. And now you’re interested in Arkham Horror The Card Game but aren’t quite sure where to start? I’ve been there but I’ve done some investigating on the Streets of Arkham (and beyond). I’m back to guide you through your first steps on a crazy journey of Arkham Horror!
What is Arkham Horror The Card Game?
The first thing we need to establish is simply what the heck this game is. Arkham Horror The Card Game (Arkham from here on out) is a cooperative Living Card Game® from Fantasy Flight Games where players take the role of investigators who are fighting against threats set in a Lovecraftian horror. It’s a game that is designed for 1-2 players – at first. It does support up to 4 players, but you’ll need more sets (we’ll get to that). A typical game takes between 1-2 hours but can go longer depending on your familiarity with the rules and how many players you have.
It’s a Living Card Game® – this is one of those buzzwords that gets tossed around. All that means is that when you purchase a pack of cards, it’s the same for everyone. There is no randomness to what you’re buying. Personally, I’m all for this model as I greatly dislike the CCG model…but that’s another topic.
Arkham isn’t a new game – it’s been around since 2016 but the first run sold out pretty quick. I’m pretty sure that’s when FFG realized that they had something special on their hands. Since then they have completed the Dunwich Legacy arc, started a second arc with Path to Carcosa, released 2 Stand Alone adventures (with another on the way), and announced a new “upgrade” for Night of the Zealot. That’s a lot of stuff which is why we’re doing this guide in the first place!
So Where DO I Start?
The first thing you’re going to need to do if you want to play Arkham is simply purchase the Core Set. It’s got all the rules you’ll need, cardboard tokens, and most importantly – it’s got all the starter cards you’ll be using for ALL your campaigns. Basically, you can’t really start playing without one! The good news is that it’s got a campaign in the box that you can play with a friend.
The core set has enough cards that you can play with two decks. These decks are NOT optimized, and you’ll have to take two investigators that don’t share any cards, but it’s doable. Let me explain that part a bit…in Arkham, each investigator fits into one of 5 categories of investigator: (Note – these are a general overview and there are exceptions)
Guardians (blue) – are generally better at fighting and killing monsters and can do a little investigation. They tend to have higher Fight than others.
Seekers (yellow) – are your prime “clue-magnets” and probably one of the key members of any game. They tend to have higher Lore than others.
Survivors (red) – are good combat characters who tend to have a lot of utility. They tend to have good stats and some type of “gimmick” that helps.
Rogues (green) – are utility investigators capable of avoiding enemies and grabbing clues. The can dabble in combat. They tend to favor high agility.
Mystics (purple) – are switch hitters that are capable of doing lots of things, but they are more reliant on card draws. They tend to have high Will Power.
There are 6 stats in the game: Willpower, Lore, Fight, Agility (the top 4 stats in order), Health, and Sanity (the bottom two in order).
You’ll use the first 4 stats for checks in the game. The bottom two stats are what keep you in the fight – if either one of those drops below zero, you’re knocked out of the scenario.
Okay – that’s enough about gameplay for now. If you want to learn how to play you can view the rules online for free. There are the Learn to Play and the Full Rules Reference booklets. I mention that because when you’re first starting you’re going to have to build a deck (or two) and it’s important to know which characters do what.
But now that you’ve got a core set, play the game. Before you spend any more money or buy the entire stock at your FLGS, figure out how to play the game! That’s going to inform what you do next.
So you’ve got a game or two under your belt. You’ve maybe even completed the first campaign in the boxed set “Night of the Zealot” and you want more. Good. Where do you go from here?
This is where a lot of folks start to diverge on the next thing to do. Personally, I’d suggest taking a step back and asking yourself what you liked about the game the most. If you’re really into deck building and maximizing your deck, you’re going to need a second core set. The good news you’ll be able to construct up to 4 starter decks with it now so you can play with up to 3 other friends! That’s right, this game scales up to 4 players.
If you enjoyed the story aspects and are cool with running starter decks, then I suggest getting the Dunwich Legacy expansion. You’ll want this because it will start you off on a new adventure. It’s got a couple of new investigators, a bunch of cards, and a pair of scenarios to play through. However, this will just get you started on the journey. Be warned – if you want to see how the story of Dunwich Legacy wraps-up, you’ll need to invest in all the expansion packs for that Mythos Cycle.
A Mythos Cycle is what FFG calls a “block” of cards for Arkham. The Dunwich Legacy consists of the Dunwich Legacy expansion, and the 6 connected mythos packs:
The Mythos Packs are smaller expansions that contain a scenario, more investigator cards and all the associated scenario cards as well. When you collect all of them, the entire story arc can be played out in order – it’s the best way to experience the story of the game.
As mentioned, each pack also contains cards that you can use to expand your investigator’s card pool. Some of these cards are completely new and unqiue. Others are upgrades you can spend XP on to add to your deck. Again, check the rules for how you upgrade your decks in a campaign.
Now, don’t get these Mythos Packs confused with the Stand Alone Adventures packs:
These expansions are just that – stand alone adventures. They contain no upgrade cards for your investigators. They have a new scenario and all the cards you’ll need to play it. Now, these are unique in that they can be used as a single adventure or you can run them in your campaign games as a “side mission” so to speak. I don’t recommend them if you’re just getting started, but they do make good one-shots if you’re waiting for a cycle to release a new pack.
Should I Just Buy Everything?
Sure, you can. But if you’re not willing to drop a couple hundred bucks immediately, remember that this game is an basically an episodic adventure. Each scenario is linked and you can play at your own pace. Now, if you’re hosting for other players, then ya – you might go all-in. But if you’re a player that is solo playing or if you meet once a month, you can meter out your purchases in a way that fits your playstyle and your budget.
Remember, you’re deck upgrades over time, so you don’t immediately need access to every single card at the start. In fact, my first few campaigns, I just looked up what cards I wanted to use for my deck and purchased just those expansions. Eventually, I had two or three Mythos Packs and decided to buy the other ones because I was enjoying the experience of the game and deckbuilding.
If you skipped the article here’s the low-down:
- Buy a Core Set.
- Play a few games.
- Did you like the Deckbuilding? Buy a Second Core Set for maximum deck building options.
- Did you like the story aspect? Buy Dunwich Legacy and keep playing.
- Did you like both? You guessed it – buy a second Core Set, Buy Dunwich Legacy and get ready to budget in $15 a month for extra expansion packs.
I suggest playing with a friend (or three). Can’t find anyone to play with? You can play solo – but check out the Arkham Invocation events. These are run by FLGS and they are supposed to be meet-ups where you can meet players, play a game or two and take home some prize support. Some stores are just having sign-ups and then players are showing up, “paying” to get the prizes, and then leaving. I think those folks are missing the point. But hey, maybe they just wanted the play mat and already have a group!
Arkham Horror The Card Game is my current hobby obsession. I’m really enjoying it and hope you give it a shot. If are looking for a cooperative game for 1-2 (or 3-4) players, then pick up a core set and dive in!
Arkham Horror: The Card Game $39.95
Go ahead, stare into the abyss. It doesn’t bite…