Sunday, February 26, 2012

Lin Carter: Explorations in Fantasy Part 2," Tolkien: A Look Behind the 'Lord of the Rings"

I began this series on Lin Carter a long time back and am now just getting back to it. The reason for the long delay is I just wasn't sure what I was trying to prove. I believe that Lin Carter, while looked down upon too often by the establishment and fans of Fantasy and Sword and Sorcery, he is not given enough credit for the positive influence he has had upon the genre. Lin Carter was one of the first critical writers to take fantasy and its related genres seriously and to attempt to make the public at large view it as Literature (capital L intended). So after a long delay, here is my second love letter to the memory of Lin Carter.

This post is more of a retrospective then a review. I don't feel it is fare to review this work, as Carter was attempting to pioneer the idea that the Fantasy genre is not to be viewed as childish and non-academic. Mr. Carter was well read in the field and beyond. He shows it here. I would like you as the reader to keep in mind that when Carter was writing this, The Lord of the Rings (hereafter LotR) was more of a cult favorite and was not universally as well known as such pop-culture icons such as Batman or Superman. It isn't too far fetched to suggest that Carter, with the publication of this book helped bring pop-culture status to Tolkien's work.

First published in paper back form in March 1969 by Ballantine Books. There were numerous printings of this book, the latest in 2003. To the best of my knowledge, it is currently out of print. The edition I own is a fourteenth printing dated 1978.

Tolkien: A Look Behind The Lord of the Rings, is an insightful guide to the man who created Frodo, Bilbo, Gandalf and the gang. The first chapter, "The Lives and Times of Professor Tolkien" is a short biography, and is interesting, but as to information gained from reading it, if you've read any works about Tolkien before, you won't learn anything further. The same can be said of Chapter 2 which discusses Tolkien's involvement with the Inklings. This is tried and true Tolkienism that many an armchair Tolkien scholar has read numerous times before. What makes it different and special, is Carter is perhaps one of the first few to take The Lord of the Rings seriously, not as an entertainment, but as a serious work of Literature worthy of study.

Chapter 3 stands out with interest. Titled "Tolkien Today", it is a look at the good professor's other works such as his translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The bulk of the chapter is Carter's discussion of "Tolkien's upcoming new LotR book The Silmarillion". I found it interesting, for it was written while Tolkien was still writing the book. As any fan of Tolkien knows, that work was published posthumously in 1977 by his son Christopher Tolkien. When Carter wrote this chapter, the professor's fan base was still slathering at the mouth in anticipation of The Silmarillion being published. There was much excitement for no one truly knew what the book would be about, and many were hoping for a sequel to LotR. Here, Carter discusses what he believes the book will be about. Being that I was very young when LotR first saw print and was thus a Johnny-Come-Lately, it made for a nice bit of history for me. Later editions of Carter's book included an editor's note dated January 1975 noting the death of J.R.R. Tolkien in 1973 and the fact that he was still in the midst of completing The Silmarillion at the time of his death.

Chapters 4 through 7 are nothing more then synopsis of The Hobbit and all three books of The Lord of the Rings. For anyone who is familiar with the books, there is nothing gained from the reading of these four chapters.

The interesting stuff begins in Chapter 8 where Carter discusses if LotR can fairly be read as satire, allegory or something else. Chapter 9 explores Tolkien's famous Andrew Lang lecture Tree and Leaf and how Tolkien's admiration of the fairy story factored into his writing. Carter uses this chapter as well to further define the genre of fantasy and to ponder what kind of fantasy LotR is (from the book):

Does it belong to the whimsy of James Stephen's The Crock of Gold or to the supernatural horror of H.P. Lovecraft's Weird Shadow Over Innsmouth? To the swashbuckling heroics of Robert E. Howard's "Conan" stories or the ironic symbolism of James Branch Cabell's Jurgen? To the high adventure of H. Rider Haggard's She or to the subtle legendry of Lord Dunsany's Idle Days on the Yann?...

Many more examples are given with no conclusion yet drawn.

Chapter 10 explores Tolkien's connection to the Epic. In true Carter fashion, he begins with a short history of the Epic and what an Epic entails. In this chapter, the author calls upon Homer and Gilgamesh, plus a few other works, show casing his wide range of literature read. Also discussed is if the epic can be classified as fantasy. This chapter, along with the following chapters of the book serve as a preview of sorts of his next book Imaginary Worlds.

The next chapter serves as a continuation of the history of the Epic. Carter begins with a discussion of the Argonautica then traces the art to the formation of the French epics "chansons de geste ("songs of deeds") which includes Song of Roland. The songs of deeds detail the heroics of Charlemagne. Carter spends a good deal of time examining Roland. He ends the chapter with an introduction to the topic of Chapter 12, the Romances of the late Middle Age.

Here Carter discusses how Romances made the addition of magicians and magic in general to the literature that is building towards Tolkien's work. He turns to a discussion of Amadis of Gaul, and his admiration for it. As he explains, the popularity of Amadis sprung a wealth of new romances, mostly imitators. Most of those works which followed the Amadis became so convoluted with the idea of topping the last, that they became dreary and nearly unintelligible. Carter is not afraid to tell his reader when he thinks something is crap; for instance, the end of this chapter includes his opinion of Edmund Spenser, author of The Fairie Queen. His opinion of Spenser is not good, as he attributes to him the death blow (of the literature of romance). More opinion of Spenser and The Fairie Queen is given in Carter's Imaginary Worlds.

Chapter 13 shows Carter's tastes in literature that can, without a doubt, be confined to the genre of Fantasy. He writes mostly of three men whom he gives credit to for creating fantasy. First up is William Morris, who Carter labels The Reformer; next is Lord Dunsany, The Aristocrat; last of his "big three" is Eric Rucker Eddison who Carter calls The Romancer. The major works of all three are discussed. In this chapter Carter also pays homage to: L. Sprague de Camp, Fletcher Pratt. H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Jack Vance and Mervyn Peak. He gives some attention to Peak's "Gormenghast trilogy".

In chapter 14, Carter puts forth what he considers to be the primary sources for Tolkien's ring trilogy. He gives much time to the Elder Edda and includes a list of names from the Edda. Amongst those names are many of the dwarven names used by Tolkien. Interestingly enough, the list includes a dwarf named Gandalf. Carter also looks in depth at the Siegfried Legend. Sometimes remembered as the legend of the dragon-slayer, the Siegfried tales includes magical rings amongst other similarities. His discussion of this ends with an examination of Richard Wagner's operas and their likeness to Tolkien's writings.

Chapter 15 "On the Naming of Names", explores the probable sources for many of Professor Tolkien's character names. Carter begins the chapter with a quick anecdote that fans of H.P. Lovecraft would find interesting. Carter relates a tongue-cheek-joke of Lovecraft naming one of his characters "the Comte d'Erlette", which he proposes is a play on the name August Derleth (this is based on the similarity of the sound of d'Erlette and Derleth, plus August Derleth was a correspondent of Lovecraft and Lovecraft knew that Derleth was descended from French nobility, but as an American citizen, Derleth could not retain a title of nobility). (On a side note, it is anecdotes such as this that add strength to Lin Carter's explorations). The meat of the chapter involves Carter tracing character names in Tolkien's LotR to their respective sources: mostly by "immersion in Welsh, Norse, Gaelic, Scandinavian and Germanic folklore" (the quote is from an article called "The Fantastic World of Professor Tolkien" by Michael Straight, originally published in The New Republic, January 16, 1956). Carter shows that often there is more then one source for each name. For instance, the name Gandalf was first found in the Edda's dwarf catalogue; however, a character named Gandalf also plays a part in the fourteenth century Norse saga Thattr Nornagest Saga; we see the name Gandalf also appearing in the William Morris' novel The Well at the World's End. From here, Carter leads into the final chapter of the book.

Chapter 15, Some People, Places and Things explores the setting of Tolkien's fantasy work. Carter begins with "Places" and establishes the history of a fantasy world in the the Morris-Dunsany-Eddison-Tolkien tradition. By this is meant that the idea of a fantasy world, as understood by the modern reader, began with William Morris, and was used (and perhaps built upon and or expanded) by Lord Dunsany, E.R. Eddison and then J.R.R. Tolkien in that order. He also gives another what I call a Lin Carter PR moment when in a foot note he expands upon the term Sword & Sorcery, in which he is speaking of the similarities between epic fantasy worlds and those of the common sword and sorcery world. Here he explains that Robert E. Howard is the father of the sword and sorcery genre, but it was later expanded upon by such authors as Henry Kuttner (with his Elak Stories), L. Sprague de Camp (who at the time Carter was writing this book shared a strong friendship with him), Fritz Lieber (who actually coined the term Sword & Sorcery) and oh-yeah, Lin Carter (for his Thongor stories). The "People" section of this chapter is the strongest. Here Carter points out the character tropes used for Tolkien's characters. He suggests that Aragon is the perfect Patrician Hero and that Frodo is perhaps in the words of William Shakespeare "one who has greatness thrust upon them". He ends the chapter with an interesting tracing of the origins of "...the White Tree which once bloomed in Minas Arnor in the great days of Gondor" and its relation to the tree mythology laid out in volume III of Teutonic Mythology by Viktor Rydberg.

Lin Carter ends the book with a post-script titled, After Tolkien, which is a laundry list of works that are influenced by Tolkien. For instance, Carol Kendall's Gammage Cup, published in 1959, tells a story of a hobbit like race of little people. He also compares Alan Garner's novels The Weirdstone of Brisingamen (1960), The Moon of Gomrath (1963) and Elidor (1965) all seem influenced by LotR. He ends with stating that the finest books to follow the Tolkien tradition to date are the works of Llyod Alexander; The Book of Three (1964), The Black Cauldron (1965), The Castle of Llyr (1966), Taran Wanderer (1967) and The High King (1968).

He includes two appendix, "A Checklist of Critical Literature on The Lord of the Rings" and "A Selected Bibliography". Both are outdated to the modern reader, but are not without merit.

I end this retrospective with Lin Carter's first sentence to the first paragraph of his "Postscript: After Tolkien"

If L. Sprague de Camp is correct in his opinion that Lord Dunsany was the most influential fantasy writer of the first half of this century, then I feel certain that J.R.R. Tolkien will prove the greatest influence over writers in the last half.

In my humble opinion, I would say Lin Carter was unarguably correct in his assumption. To deny the fingerprint left by J.R.R. Tolkien upon the Fantasy Genre, popular culture and Literature in general would be a hard argument to make.

Part three of this series will look at Lin Carter's magnum opus, Imaginary Worlds: The Art of Fantasy.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

REVIEW: Starfarers of Catan - A hard to find treat

I was introduced to Mayfair Games "Starfarers of Catan" several years ago. In fact, it was my introduction to the Catan universe of games (referring of course to the game "Settlers of Catan" and its many variants and expansion sets). It is a game I have played numerous times over the years, but until recently, I was deprived of the means to do so.

The reason being, Mayfair Games has stopped production for the game. This has happened at least once to every lover of games. A game loved by you is suddenly no longer available. This is the case with Starfarers. You can still score a copy, but it will cost you. On eBay, I've seen this game go for upwards of $200.

A gaming buddy of mine owned the copy I used to play with; however, he left the state and took his game with him. Due to the typical high cost of board games, I try not to buy duplicate copies of games that are all ready available to me in my circle of gaming friends. This is a good money saving strategy, but sometimes a cheapskate's actions can bite him in the butt. Currently, I am deciding if I should by the game "Arkham Horror" (which I recently reviewed here). "Arkham Horror" is a game I am head over heels in love with, and while I don't foresee my friend that owns it moving any time soon, I have been bit once. The cheapskate in me is balancing all of this out and will make a decision in the near future.

I decided about a month ago to buy a copy of Starfarers, as I was nostalgic for the game and wanted to play it again. I did not know at that time that Mayfair had stopped producing the game. A visit to my favourite local game shop and a conversation with its owner enlightened me to this fact. I started searching eBay and similar sites for a copy of my own. Until recently, I was unable to find a copy for a price that I was willing to spend.

I am happy to report that several weeks ago, I found a copy of the main game plus the 5-6 player expansion for $120. That is still about $50 over retail price, but I decided that it was price I was willing to pay to play. A couple of nights ago, two of my gaming buddies and myself decided to put "Arkham Horror" on the shelf for a night and play Starfarers. All three of us had played it before and knew we enjoyed it.

I am going to attempt to give an objective review of the game. That is not easy to do with a game that I love and have a long history with. I will try.

Game play is very similar to "Settlers of Catan" (and here I would like to point out that I am referring to Settlers with out any expansion sets). In a nut shell, "Starfarers of Catan" is a science fiction version of "Settlers of Catan". In both games, each player attempts to collect resources and spend said resources to build. Building is one of the main ways to receive victory points. A pre-set number of victory points are needed to win the game. Both games also rely upon trade being conducted amongst the players to achieve their goals. Both games are for 3 to 4 players (and both games offer expansion sets that allow this number to grow to 5 or 6) and both games take an average of three hours to play. So, at their core, both are the same.

The difference between Settlers and Starfarers is in the former, resources are collected based upon terrain that is settled by the player. Those resources are then used to build roads, more settlements and even cities (an improvement upon basic settlements that is worth more victory points). In Settlers, there is no combat or encounter system. Instead of relying upon combat as a point of tension, the players open trade amongst themselves and attempt to collect the resources they need while at the same time depriving their opponents of resources needed by them. A good amount of strategy is involved.

These observations are true of Starfares as well, with a minor change; in Starfarers the "land" settled is a colony on different worlds. Instead of roads being built, there is a movement system in place that allows a player to move either his colony ship or trade ship (or both) a set number of places. When an area that is eligible for colonisation is reached, it may be colonised by the player. There is still building in Starfares, but there is much more to build. Resources are used to build colony ships, trade ships, spaceports (the Starfarer version of improving a settlement to a city) and players can improve their ships. There are three improvements to be made for the space ships: boosters may be purchased (allowing faster interstellar travel), laser canons may be purchased (improving odds of dealing with space pirates) and freight rings are purchased (allowing increased trade amongst the alien races).

The largest difference between the two games is Starfarers adds the possibility of encounter cards to be drawn. There are generally three different encounter scenarios possible: space pirates can be encountered, which often leads to either combat or attempting to outrun them; the mysterious Travelers could be encountered, which often leads to players having the opportunity to make a space jump to any legal position on the board; or a ship in distress could be encountered, which most often leads to combat.

Coupled with this major change are the randomising factors. In "Settlers of Catan" 2d6 are used to determine resource production. The same is said of Starfarers and in both cases a result of 7 leads to a loss of production (in the case of Settlers the Robber Baron appears, in Starfarers a roll of 7 leads to Earth demanding tribute). Starfarers adds another randomising factor. The player's space ship has four round, coloured balls inside of it, with a clear plastic window at the bottom that allows two of the balls to be seen.

At the beginning of a player's movement phase, he shakes his ship, turns it right side up and looks at the two round balls that are now visible through the plastic bottom of the space ship.

The space ships, pictured to the left (in all its Pimped Out Ride Glory), are used for determining speed and combat success. Three of the round balls (red, blue and yellow) have a numerical value attached to them. A number from 1 to 3. When two of these balls are visible through the clear plastic window (more of a cup actually) are visible their numerical values are added together and give a base number for either speed or combat. For speed, the number of boosters built by the player are added to this number. For combat, the number of cannons built add to the value instead. In both cases, the player will be rolling against an opponent stated by the card (usually either the player to his left or right, and there are cases when the second player to his left or right is called upon).

The appearance of the black ball (numerically worth zero) signifies that an encounter will occur. Thus a whole new element is added to the game that Settlers misses (again, I'm only referring to the base Settlers of Catan Game).

With all of this being said, I wouldn't call Starfarers a superior game over Settlers. Starfarers is cool in a sleek geeky way. The space ships are very old-school Flash Gorden in appearance, and this appeals to my inner sci-fi nerd.

Starfarers does have draw backs. The biggest, in my opinion, is the appearance of the Travellers offers a huge advantage to whatever player is lucky enough to encounter them; especially if this happens early in the game. That player will have access to the furthest portions of the game board and it will take the other players often, too many rounds to catch up. The second complaint I have is while the encounter cards add a really cool element to the game, they happen too often. As I stated previously, there are 5 coloured balls in the space ship, two of which that will be read. So there is always a 2 in 5 chance of having an encounter, that is almost half of the time.

A common complaint of the game is the boosters when attached to the space ship often break the clips that are designed for its use. When the game was still around, Mayfair Games was happy to send replacement clips that are slipped over the original clips. With these in place, it was possible to attach the boosters to the ships without breaking them. With the set I used to play with, we did not have these clips available, so we always set the boosters in front of the ship instead of attaching them. I am fortunate enough that the used copy I purchased has the improved clips included. I do not know if Mayfair will still provide the new clips as replacements or not. When the game was still in print, they would do so for free.

Another con, while it is playable with three people, having played with both three and four, I can tell you it is better with four people. I have also played with as many as six players, and I can also state that more then four players bogs game play down and there is lots of time sitting and waiting for your turn.

The biggest disadvantage is a sad one: the game is no longer available. If you want to play this game, I wish you the best of luck and may the Travellers bless you.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Groo VS Conan (This time for Reals)

It began as an April Fools joke. I fell for it. I must say, I am far more excited about this then Marvel's upcoming crossover Avengers vs X-Men, or as they are advertising it, A vs X.

Dark Horse Comics,"Queen of the Black Coast"

I am a fan of all things Robert E. Howard, particularly Conan. I do not disdain pastiche, but I avoid bad pastiche. For that reason, when I want good Conan pastiche, I prefer it served in comic books.

Over the many years of my reading Conan comics and comics in general, I have read some great stuff and some not so great stuff. For me the Golden Era of Conan comics is with no doubt the black and white pages of Marvel comics The Savage Sword of Conan.

However, I have been reading the Dark Horse Conan, and all of their adaption of Robert E. Howard's creations since they began publishing them. Over all, they have done an admirable job. I have had mixed reactions to some of their stories and art choices, but it is good enough, I keep coming back for more.
Of particular interest to me is for months now, DH has been teasing their fans of an upcoming adaption of "Queen of the Black Coast". While I enjoy a well done Howard creation pastiche, I always welcome a new adaption of a Howard classic.

Having just read issue one of Conan the Barbarian, I can say that this will be an interesting adaption; however, I think some fans will hate it for the reason that I am digging it. Let me explain.

Artistic representations of Conan have changed very little over the years. This is due to the art of Frank Frazetta and John Buscema. Both did such an excellent job of capturing the visual imagination of Conan and comics fans, that their depictions of Conan stand over all other new comers. In other words, all depictions of Conan will be weighed against theirs. This is despite that fact that for thirty years Conan was not drawn to look any thing like Frazetta or Buscema's renderings (to see what I'm talking about, click here).

This adaption of Queen of the Black Coast will be illustrated by Becky Cloonan. I am not familiar with her previous work, but I am such a fan of the inherent sexiness that she is installed in her renderings of Belit thus far, that I will be seeking out her past and future work. To see what I mean, check out these interior pages from issue one.

Cloonan has not only made Belit sexy, she has also made her a bit scary. There is an under current of the forbidden or taboo in her drawing of her.

Frankly, this Belit appeals to me.

As I stated earlier though, some will not like her art, and it is specifically her interpretation of Conan that they will not like. Here is another interior image, this time of Conan.

Cloonan's Conan does not fit the mold made by Frazetta and Buscema. Her Conan is not a mountain of muscle. That will be the biggest complaint. At first I looked at her Conan and thought, this is not Conan; however, I am a big enough fan of her Belit, that I am willing to try to accept this rendering of Conan.

I think she has captured his youth well. This adventure takes place when Conan is still in his 20's. He is reckless, but has enough experience that when he boasts, he is not simply crowing, so to speak. Cloonan is concentrating on his roguishness and not his brawn. It is not an approach that most Conan artists would take, but I think it may be refreshing.

I am looking forward to issue 2, as it should more prominently feature Belit.

Conan? Not so Much.

As I stated in a previous post, I spent much of my summer reading on all things Conan and Robert E. Howard in anticipation of the movie Conan The Barbarian (2011). While the new movie was largely a disappointment for me, re-reading, and in many cases reading for the first time, Howard's works was time well spent. I also sought out new "Conan" experiences. I watched, or attempted to watch both the 1997- 1998 TV series Conan the Adventurer and the 1992-1994 cartoon of the same name.

From the get-go, it was obvious to me that the live-action show, Conan the Adventurer, was going to be poor pastiche at best. I remember catching a few episodes when the show was originally airing, and thinking, "what is this happy horse-shit?" Meaning, anyone watching this show expecting Robert E. Howard's Conan, will be disappointed.

The Conan of the show is played by Ralf Moller. The Conan he portrays is kind, jovial and honorable. While REH's Conan could be those things, he was more of a loner and could be very unkind when the situation warranted. In the show Conan travels with a band of Adventurers to include Otli, a clever dwarf often used as comedic interlude, played by Danny Woodburn; Bayu, a martial-artist that must overcome his natural tendency towards greed and is often the brunt of Otli's jokes, played by T.J. Storm; and Zzeben, a mute, staff wielding, acrobatic warrior, played by Robert McRay. Many episodes often include the character Karalle The Queen of Thieves, who is a cross between Belit of "Queen of the Black Coast" fame and the character Valeria of the 1982 film Conan the Barbarian staring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Karalle is played by Aly Dunne.

In the show, Conan and crew face legions of bad guys that work for the evil sorcerer Hissah Zuhl (played by Jeremy Kemp). Hissah Zuhl enslaved Cimmeria and killed not only Conan's parents, but also the love of Conan's life (a girl that Conan met and fell in love with in a span of five days). I found it laughable that Hissah Zuhls minions were so easily beaten. They could have easily been replaced with cylons from the original Battlestar Galactica.

All in all, I couldn't stomach this awful Conan pastiche. I found the cartoon of the same name slightly better then the live-action Conan the Adventurer.

In the cartoon, Conan has a shield with a design of a phoenix upon it that comes to life via magic as a fledgling named Needle.This almost sounds cool, but Needle (irritatingly voiced by Michael Beattle) is the Jar-jar Binks of the Hyborean universe.

In the cartoon, Conan is voiced by Michael Donovan. In my opinion, Donovan tries way too damn hard to sound like a tough guy. He over does the machismo of his voice. Instead of machismo, he obtain cheese-mo. I will stop with the negatives of the show. The truth is, I suffered through four episodes and couldn't take it any more.

However, there were a few things I liked. The main bad guys of the show were serpent people. These are torn right from the pages of Howard's Kull stories, but have more in common with the same serpent people portrayed in Marvel Comics Kull books back in the day.

I may not have given the show that much of a chance, but I did find one episode I particularly enjoyed, "Hanuman the Ape God". It is worth mentioning that the Ape God of this episode is named after the Hindu Ape-God of the same name. In this episode, Conan and clan encounter an alien that is apish in appearance. The alien, Hanuman, is being held captive by the wicked ruler of a city that Conan comes upon. Conan ends up freeing him and returning his magic rod to him that allows Hanuman to return to his people. I really dug the science fiction angel of this episode, and appreciated how it reminded me of Robert E. Howard's Conan tale, "The Tower of the Elephant".

Unfortunately, despite how much I enjoyed the episode "Hanuman the Ape God", the show over all failed to resonate with my barbaric soul.

REVIEW: Arkham Horror - A Cooperative Board Game

My group's recent nerdgasm has been delivered via Fantasy Flight's Arkham Horror board game. As with all Fantasy Flight games, it is a work of art. The box is heavy duty, the game pieces are built to last, the art work is top-notch and the flavor text associated with the game is prime.

It is a game designed for one to eight players, with four being optimal, in my best-guess opinion; however, we have been playing with three and have found it challenging, but not unmanageable; as a matter-of-fact, we have won both games we've played. I do feel that a fourth player would be better for game balance, but more then four, again my opinion only, may get cumbersome. I am curious to pick up my own copy and give solo play a try, but suspect the success rate of solo play would be about on par with my success rate with most Tunnels and Trolls solo adventures, in other words, non-existent.

The basic gist of the game is this: players take the role of an Investigator. This investigator can be assigned randomly, or selected. We normally select the investigator of our choice. Game play is broken into several turns which are played until either a victory condition is met, or the Ancient One awakes, which often leads to defeat. The Ancient One is either selected randomly at game set-up or chosen. Again, we choose our Ancient One. If the players are defeated, the Ancient One in play devours/destroys the city of Arkham.

Each turn is broken into five phases:

1. Upkeep, in which the players refresh abilities of their investigators

2. Movement, self explanatory, players move their investigators about the game board.

3. Arkham Encounters, in this stage any investigators in the city might have an encounter. Encounters can be combat in nature with monsters, or skill checks that may lead to a terrible fate or possible bonus.

4. Other World Encounters, this stage is run much the same as the Arkham Encounters phase, but takes place in the other worlds that open via gates.

5. Mythos. In this stage, a mythos card is drawn and its effects are put into play. This often includes the opening of another gate, which spawns monsters and brings the Ancient One that much closer to awakening. There are several other effects as well, too numerous to go into for the purpose of a quick and dirty review.

We have now played through it twice, and are eager for a third helping. When deciding upon a new game for my group and myself, one of my chief concerns of the game in question is, "is there replay value"? In the case of Arkham Horror, I whole heartedly say yes there is. In the base game alone, there are several choices of investigators to select from, each one has strengths and weakness that make each game a new experience. Also, there are several options of Ancient Ones as well, and each Ancient One brings its own changes to each game. Of course Fantasy Flight also has available several expansions that add new elements to the base game itself, such as more investigators, Ancient Ones and optional rules. All-in-all, Arkham Horror is well supported by Fantasy Flight and it appears that they intend to do so for some time. Support, especially if it appears long term, is another factor I look for in a game prior to investing, as to be honest, the average, quality board game will run a geek anywhere from $15 to nearly $100. That's a lot of rupees.

What impresses me most with the game is the cooperative way in which it is played. For those that do not know, a cooperative game means that the players, in this case one to eight, cooperate together to beat the game. There is a definite "us versus them" mentality.

Strangely, we had difficulties with cooperative play at first. It seems odd that we would as in the past, we have played lots of roleplaying games, which are cooperative by nature, even if that cooperative nature is only amongst the players versus the game master.

I suspect that difficulties with cooperative play in our group stem from our long history of playing board games together. One of our "go-to" games is Zombies! If you have never played then take my word for it, it is a very cut-throat, non-cooperative game. My group and I have developed a mentality of "if I can't win, then I will screw over as many of you bozos as I can"!

This attitude will not work in a cooperative game; especially not with Arkham Horror. As I stated, we have played twice and we have beaten the game both times. From reviews that I've read, our 100% success rate is unusual. Most players find a success rate of closer to 20% on average when playing Arkham Horror. We have done a careful review of the rules to make sure we aren't cheating, and our conclusion is that while we've made some minor mistakes, mostly during our first outing, we have not been bending the rules nor breaking any that would lead to our sound victory record. It appears, we are either just that damn good, or very lucky our first two outings out.

The negatives of the game are hard to find. The chief complaint I believe would have to be long game play. Our first game took an excess of five hours; however, our second game was finished in just under four hours. I would state that average game play is in the four hour range. Another concern is a long set up time. It has taken us about 15 minutes both times to set up the play area and this is common with many of Fantasy Flight's games due to all the chits and pieces involved.

The only other complaint, and I wouldn't even call it a complaint -- more like an observation, is that the Mythos of the game is derived from the Cthulhu Mythos developed by August Derleth and not H.P. Lovecraft. As I said though, this is not a complaint, merely an observation. I am solidly in the S.T. Joshi camp of Lovecraft fans and am not a supporter of the mythos as Derleth developed it, but I can put that aside for a chance to play a great game.

Arkham Horror is a great game.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Still Alive

I've had a long absence due to life from the blogosphere, but, I'm still here and alive. More to come, later versus sooner.