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A Solo Gamer's Thoughts on Eldritch Horror

Think You Know the Meaning of ‘Dynamic’?

I thought I knew, but, in the world of Eldritch Horror, ‘dynamic’ has a surprising definition unknown to a standard dictionary.  Before we go on I need to get two things straight:

  1. I am not a pedant obsessed with the exact meaning of words. I leave that to my daughter, who has an English Language degree.
  2. I am a passionate fan of FFG’s previous Lovecraftian games. Arkham Horror is one of my all time favourites.

The Backstory

I occasionally write reviews about games from a solo player’s perspective. Indeed, I have written reviews for Arkham Horror and Elder Sign. This has always been a joyous experience and has certainly never left me grumpy, annoyed, or bitter. I pulled Eldritch Horror out of the games cupboard with eager anticipation. I was looking forward to many happy hours of game play in my favourite genre. It would be a treat.

Obviously all co-ops can be played by one person, as long as there isn’t a traitor mechanism, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the result is satisfying. There are rules I adhere to when considering whether a game offers a great one-player experience:

  1. Does the game end with a win/lose or do you end with a score? I prefer the former option. I feel sad going to Board Game Geek (BGG) trying to find out whether my score measures up to other solitary gamers’. It is a reminder that I’m spending time, on my own, playing a game.
  2. Can I win controlling one character? Or do I have to juggle many to stand a chance against the game? I’m not a fan of having to run more than a single character.
  3. Does the game become mechanical or require the solo player to run dummy opponents: a distinct negative. Which may then impact on…
  4. The theme and storytelling. These are much more important if you are playing alone.


So how did Eldritch Horror measure up?

And Where Does ‘Dynamic’ Fit In?

I read the solo rules included in the Reference Book. The sentence ‘For a slightly more dynamic game, the player can choose to control two investigators instead of one’ made me pause. I wasn’t willing to give up Rule 2 on my list at this early stage. I had played through Arkham Horror and all its small expansions with one investigator. I wanted Eldritch Horror to offer the same elegant scaling. It didn’t. I soon came to realise that the world is a huge area to cover when Sister Mary, say, is enjoying the spring blossom in Tokyo whilst a Gate and tentacled horror have appeared in the Coliseum. Now this is thematically sensible. Sister Mary would have to disappear into a telephone box and emerge with her habit tucked inside a very large pair of M&S knickers to solve the diverse and widely spaced disasters thrown up by the game on her own.

So presumably the definition of ‘dynamic’ in this instance really meant ‘winnable’. The sentence could have been replaced with ‘You haven’t got a hope in hell of winning with only one Investigator. Take two.’ And if you compare the stats for playing with one Investigator against those for a duo of Investigators, lo and behold, they are the same. So why would you play one Investigator if two enjoy the same level of difficulty? 

However, no matter how hard I tried, a brace of Investigators still found the Earth’s problems too overwhelming. If your Mystery has three different component parts, two widely spread characters are little better than one. Worse, I was leaving the board littered with ex-characters and their belongings, little heaps of patheticness strewn around showing where they had been and failed, again. 

I persisted. Hope springs eternal. By now I was getting a headache and becoming grumpy. Running two characters was tricky but it was becoming obvious that this game was not really designed for fewer than four players, or one player who likes to war-game it with four Investigators. Rule 2 was truly dead and buried. Running four Investigators was also, for me, bringing Rule 3 and 4 to mind. I was mentally juggling too much and the storytelling was getting lost as I went through the mechanics of running four complex characters. So far the game was only scoring well against Rule 1, and most of the time the game was definitely winning.

I was STRESSED. Also DISTRESSED. Very DISAPPOINTED. And ANNOYED.

I added a couple of small expansions, in the hope that they might fix some of the frustrating aspects I had experienced with the game. I so wanted to love Eldritch Horror; I wanted to believe that there were tweaks in there that would make it all work. There weren’t.

The Upshot

Eldritch Horror has its good points. The rulebook is better laid out and clearer than the rather chaotic offering for Arkham Horror, hence the game is easier to learn and get into. The storytelling is slightly more immersive and varied, and the game shines when played by a larger number of people. However, Arkham Horror is definitely the clear winner for both solo play and small groups of fewer than four. I personally also prefer the fact that Arkham Horror offers several win conditions which allows a more varied playing experience. I felt shoved down a path to victory – or, more often, loss – in Eldritch Horror. I missed the joy of assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the investigator(s) and Elder God and mapping out an overall game plan. My whole family feel that Eldritch Horror has moments of random brutality that can cripple your investigator or wipe out your progress. It is very frustrating and often impossible to recover from. Game over.

I sold my copy of the game at the UK Games Expo. None of my family likes Eldritch Horror enough to sit down and play it with me, and I’m not prepared to go though the mental agony of running four Investigators to give myself a hope of beating the game. I went on to BGG’s website to look up some rules details and noticed that supposedly Eldritch Horror re-implements Arkham Horror. It doesn’t.