We say Lovecraft, you say Cthulhu…
I think we as a review group have bashed the fact that Cthulhu as a theme is old and tired almost as much as people have released Cthulhu themed games. Even if we haven’t, it really feels like it, and there seems to be no sign of anybody slowing down; on either side of the fence. Imagine my surprise to find a game which ticked 2 sources if interest to me (solo play and decent mechanics) which was Lovecraft themed and has NOTHING to do with Cthulhu! Be still my beating heart! I am of course talking about Arkham Noir.
Arkham Noir is a solo game inspired by 3 Lovecraft stories: The Dreams in The Witch House, The Thing on The Doorstep and The Unnamable which for security reasons couldn’t be named after the court case.
As if that wasn’t cool and Lovecraftian enough for you, you’re actually stepping into the shoes of Lovecraft himself; or should I say Gumshoes since you’re a film noir style, pulp detective version of Howard Lovecraft investigating the murders of the characters from the aforementioned stories.
Pretty neat right?
If I was a reviewer worth my salt, then I’d have gone and read those stories so I could provide a comparison and Arkham Noir would mean that little more to you… but I didn’t. What? Come at me. That’s why I put links in so you could go and have a look for yourself.
Playing with myself again
Admittedly, this is only my second foray into a dedicated solo board gaming experience after Hostage Negotiator, but I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing to try and live up to. There are some times when you’re unable to rope someone in to gaming with you, but you still want to get your game on. That’s why I wanted to pick Arkham Noir up; just to see if it was worth a play on its own, and to get something that wasn’t a deckbuilder for a change.
Let’s get Sleuthing!
The aim of Arkham Noir is to solve clues to solve the murders of the poor victims that you’ve found; and this is done by finding and playing cards with puzzle pieces in the top corner of them. When the game is set up, you set up 3 victims and then apply clues to them to try and work your way through to find the puzzle pieces to see “the big picture”. That would normally be the epitome of simple, but this is set in Lovecraft Land so it’s not that easy. Some cards when played or discarded have what the game calls a time penalty on them. Have more than 7 of these, and the victim disappears along with all of the clues spent on them. There’s a good amount of victims in the game, but if you’re unable to draw a victim – Game Over.
As you’d expect, there are also madness icons on some cards and these work in a similar vain to the time delay. 5 shots of madness and you’ve peered too far into the abyss and BAM! Game Over!
Once you have clue cards with 5 different puzzle pieces on them though, that’s it, you’ve won and you’re a master sleuth, but it’s not exactly a cakewalk to try and get to that point.
It’s a (easy) setup Guv!
Game set up is actually quite a quick affair after the first couple of games. I spent the first couple of attempts at Arkham Noir reading the rule sheet and (as I do with a heck of a lot of games) cursing the people that write them. However, I also know that it’s often me that is the issue and not them so I’ve made peace with this. Initially, I found the setup quite fiddly but now I understand, it is actually a very clever and quite neat way to set up meaning that the game doesn’t sprawl all over the place. That’s not to say that it doesn’t take up a fair chunk of gaming space; but it could certainly be worse.
As I alluded to earlier, once the setup is complete and you’re ready to start solving cases in Arkham Noir, you need to play clues against victims. This is done by playing a matching symbol on one side of the card. So, the symbol on the left would need to match the one on the right of the card before it.
It’s a mechanic that I really like and had not seen before this. Once the clue is played, it will either have a brown symbol or black symbol on them. Brown is an optional action which can actually have positive ramifications for you, whereas the black symbol is compulsory and is usually pretty bad news.
That’s all folks?
Really, there’s not much more to Arkham Noir than what I have mentioned already, but I do have to talk about the art. It is GREAT. It makes me feel like I am a noir detective investigating these grisly murders, but on the other hand, since it’s deeply rooted in Lovecraftian Lore it has that feel about it… that it’s just a little bit off. Almost as if there’s something bubbling under the surface that is just out of your sight. I think that for a simple game, the theme oozes from the art and for that, Arkham Noir needs some extra acknowledgement.
Arkham Noir is a strange egg. The gameplay could probably have virtually any theme pasted on to it and it would still work, so the Lovecraft theme is not out of place, but the mechanics could definitely be shifted to a lot of other themes and would still work. With that being said though, much like looking into the abyss and playing with madness, there’s something which keeps drawing me back to playing it.
I cannot for the life of me work out what it is though. It could be its simplicity. Like I said, after the first couple of plays it’s a breeze to get on with. It could be the creepy artwork which gives it that unsettling tone and makes it feel genuinely Lovecraftian as you’d hope, or it could just be that it’s a genuinely good game.
Scores on the Yellow King’s doors?
Arkham Noir has struck a chord with me on some level. It’s not too hard, it’s not too easy. It plays well like a solo game really should, and having a solo game which is not a deckbuilder is a welcome breath of fresh air to me.
Rating Arkham Noir is not so easy though. I don’t love it, but I don’t hate it. I do keep playing it when there’s a need for a solo game in my life though, and it has seen more table time than Hostage Negotiator or Superhot recently when I have had to scratch my solo itch.
I feel that Arkham Noir is what’s known in my home as a grower. It’s like that awkward album by virtually any band where on your first listen you think they have sold out and start sucking *cough cough Warning by Green Day* but after some time to settle in you realise that it’s actually exceptionally well done and quite nuanced. Arkham Noir is definitely going to stay in my collection. I feel that the more I play it, the more I am going to enjoy it.
As it stands right now, Arkham Noir is a solid 7 out of 10. After a couple more plays though, it could creep up to a high 8.
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I am just a regular guy that fell into board gaming. That's why I am no longer allowed in my local Toys R Us. I'm a huge fan of deckbuilding games and games with unusual themes or mechanics. OK, maybe I'm not that regular after all.