Arkham Horror, Russian Railroads and Nations

Another Thursday night gaming session has come and gone, and I’m pretty pleased with the games we got to play.

Arkham Horror is one of the grand classics of the current age of board games. Although there was a version was originally published by Chaosium in 1987, the 2005 redesign by Fantasy Flight Games made it into one of the best co-operative games; a game I’ve played more than any other co-operative game. The game is not the easiest to learn and it can be extremely fiddly, but all of that is due to a game system that has the depth to support repeated play.

FFG have recently released a follow-up, Eldritch Horror, which takes the same themes of Arkham Horror, sets them on a global scale, and streamlines the gameplay significantly. As a result, it’s a game that is far better suited to actual play between casual (and more serious) gamers. It plays quickly, has variety, and is interesting. However, it doesn’t grab me the same way as Arkham Horror. Clunky the game may be, but it creates great stories, and is fascinating to play.

John has recently acquired a set of Arkham Horror, which is why I brought my set in – so that I could teach him the game. As it happened, we didn’t end up playing together. Before he arrived, Paul wanted to play a boardgame and Michael and Tim were also interested. I considered going to my car and getting another game, but I’d brought in the AH set so I could see what I’d put in it. Had I taken out all the expansion bits? (Mostly, some Curse of the Dark Pharaoh spell cards were still in there). So I set it up. Daniel randomly selected an Ancient One to face – Yig. This would be a relatively easy game.

The random set-up gave us Paul playing Jenny Barnes, a dilettante. Michael had Vincent Lee, a doctor. Tim played Mandy Thompson, a researcher. I played Joe Diamond, a private eye.

Arkham Horror can run very slowly when you don’t know what you’re doing, but because I’ve played it a lot, I’m able to guide the play and have everything run a lot quicker. The game still took us about 90 minutes or so, but there wasn’t much downtime with people confused with what they could do. Paul, on my suggestion, sent Jenny to the Curiosity Shoppe, where she quickly found an Elder Sign. Tim, meanwhile, wandered into a gate in the woods and was transported to one of the medium difficulty Other Worlds – The City of the Great Race. Michael and I ran around, picking up clues.

Yig is an interesting Ancient One – probably the weakest of all the opponents, but it’s very difficult to win by sealing gates before he wakes up. When he wakes up, he curses everyone, but can be destroyed relatively easily in combat. The trick to fighting him is to get everyone well-armed. We’d actually drawn a good number of weapons to begin with, with only Michael’s Doctor being poorly armed. But, because I like trying to win without fighting the Ancient One, so we went on a quest to seal the six gates we needed to win. Paul buying an Elder Sign helped a lot, and he made his way through the gate on the Unvisited Isle. Tim, with seven clues, was dragged into a gate that unexpectedly opened on the Witch House

Then we had one of those strokes of luck that occasionally happen in Arkham Horror, – it isn’t all doom and gloom! – we drew the Mythos card that returns everyone in an Other World to Arkham! (Strange Power Flux Plagues City!) Paul used his Elder Sign to seal one gate, Tim used his clues to seal the other. Things calmed down a lot, after that, which is not surprising when two of the four major gates are closed. (Almost a third of the Mythos deck would now not worry us).

I was dragged into R’lyeh at the Unnameable, which wasn’t fun, but was able to survive the encounters there and then seal the gate.

We settled in to a couple of turns of monster hunting, as there were quite a few monsters wandering around town by this point, aided by some monster surges. However, we were really effective at keeping the total below the limit. Only one monster ever made its way into the Outskirts, and the only time the Terror Level ever increased was because of a Mythos Card (Goat-Like Creature Spotted in Woods), which also returned the two Dark Young in Arkham to the cup!

Yig was gaining quite a few Doom counters courtesy of us slaying his cultists, but the Elder Sign had given us an extra turn. Paul then had a great couple of turns in the Curiosity Shoppe, drawing two Elder Signs! He gave one to me, and went off to seal another gate. Tim and Michael hadn’t been quiet in the meantime, and by the time everyone returned, I had an Elder Sign and five gates had been sealed – including all four of the key locations. I had to go to the Silver Twilight Lodge to find an open gate… we’d closed the rest. I returned safely – in fact, the encounters I had in the Other World were all beneficial – and then sealed the gate with the Elder Sign. Six gates were sealed, and we’d won the game!

The next game we played was Russian Railroads. I was joined by John, Rich and Sam for this game. Rich and I have played Russian Railroads before, but it was new to John and Sam. There was a lot of floundering about in this game.

In fact, it was a little hard to grasp just how much floundering about there was, especially on Sam’s side of the table. In a game where high scores are the norm, Sam somehow managed to score just a handful of points every turn. I mean, whenever I noticed his actions during the turn, he was certainly doing stuff – he bought four engineers in all, and also gained all his workers, including the black bonus engineer, and his tracks were advancing massively, so how could he not be scoring?

The trick is that you also need engines, and those Sam didn’t have. I took a long while to get effective engines, but at least I had industry.

I really like Russian Railroads and it’s a game that I’m enjoying more the more I play it. There’s enough in it to admit to different strategies of play. I’m not sure how it will go in the long term, but I’m enjoying the experience at the moment. On first glance, it doesn’t seem that there is all that much to it – your actions often boil down to “build track” or “build industry” with a few “upgrade train/factory” actions in there, but due to the different rewards from the three train tracks, what might initially appear to be a lot of “samey” games actually turn out to be quite distinct.

My strategy this game revolved around industry and bonus markers. My scoring for trains was poor for most of the game (although often superior to Sam’s, strangely enough), but Industry was where I was taking the best bonuses. I only gained one engineer during the game, one that advanced my industry twice. My first bonus was to take the End Game bonus card, which ended up being worth 7 points for each round bonus marker I took – that gave me 28 points in the end. Towards the end of the game, I was able to pick up another end game bonus card, and it really wasn’t worth it – I would have been better off building a different factory, the second card netting me only 6 points.

Rich played a game where he paid a lot more attention to the trains, especially on the Trans Siberian Line, but he also had a fair old industry by the end of the game. Added to that were 3 engineers, for 20 bonus points at end of game.

John gained a lot of bonus points early, and had a good early industry and some track. He never quite converted the track into a huge point-scoring affair, but his moderate industry kept him in touch until about midway through the game. After that, I pulled away from everyone.

Final scores were Merric 324, Rich 260, John 249 and Sam 182. I’ve had close games before – this was not one of them!

(I’m bottom left; Rich is bottom right; John is top left; Sam is top right).

The final game of the evening was a five-player game of Nations. John, Sam, Rich and I were joined by Tim for this game. Tim jumped into playing Rome very quickly. After letting the others choose nations, I found that I was left with China.

Nations sits very well in my rankings of Civilization-type games. Although Through the Ages is one of my all-time favourite games, its length means that I rarely get to play the game. Nations with five players? Sure, I’m up for that!

The problems with Nations mostly stem from the random nature of which cards appear in the display; your strategy can be quite derailed if certain cards don’t turn up. This is mitigated a lot when playing with five players because you’ll see a lot more of the cards. Then your problem will be that other players draft the cards before you!

John, Sam and Rich were playing their first game of Nations, but Rich has played a lot of TTA, so he was very quickly at home with how the game worked. The biggest problem I had with teaching the new players was explaining to them what production actually meant. I wouldn’t have thought it that hard, but for some reason there was the reach for the resources as soon as they assigned workers rather than waiting for the end of the turn!

I was able to conquer the state of Israel early on, and from there was dedicated to acquiring a lot of books. I took wonders and advisors to help with this strategy, but as a result my production of gold, rocks and food suffered. I was mostly fine, but there was one turn when Tim started a war against grain when there was a big famine coming that really hurt me – although I took 16 points for being ahead of everyone on books throughout the game, I lost a lot through incidental wars and disasters.

Tim’s focus on military also meant he occasionally suffered from a lack of resources. John had quite a few books, but mostly had a strong economy with a few wonders. Rich stayed away from Military except to avoid a war’s effect or two, and Rich and John were my main opponents in the realm of stability. There was one turn when I passed thinking I had the most stability locked in, and thus a bonus from the Event card, only for John to suddenly gain 8 stability from disbanding an army and gaining some very good stability buildings.. Yikes!

Sam was Tim’s main opponent for military, and pressed him all the way. Unfortunately, this occasionally meant that Sam’s economy suffered. Tim had the best of the colonies, with Sam having second best, and it wasn’t quite enough to properly keep his score in touch with the rest of us. His biggest problem was he wasn’t making books at all; Tim wandered between 2nd and 4th spot in the book ordering, but Sam was consistently last, and this definitely hurt his score.

Both Tim and I played with self-imposed handicaps; we both took the “King” position, so Growth was much less effective than for the other players. (Tim wanted to be on Prince level, but I pointed out that he’d played more than anyone else, possibly even more than me, and King would provide an appropriate handicap).

So it proved – final scoring had us all very close together in scores, except for poor Sam who, once again, languished at the back.

Final Scores:

John 39 (17 game VP, 2 colonies, 4 wonders, 9 buildings & military, 7 resources)
Sam 25 (7 game VP, 2 colonies, 5 wonders, 8 buildings & military, 3 resources)
Tim 41 (9 game VP, 4 colonies, 5 wonders, 12 buildings & military, 11 resources)
Rich 38 (12 game VP, 0 colonies, 4 wonders, 11 buildings & military, 11 resources)
Merric 37 (13 game VP, 0 colonies, 2 wonders, 10 buildings & military, 12 resources)

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