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Conrad Zimmerman avatar 4:27 PM on 05.17.2008  (server time)
On the Table: Dunwich Horror

While I adore video games, I'm equally fond of board and card games. On the Table is a weekly feature of my cBlog that examines some of these analog entertainments. If you have a suggestion for a game to appear in this column or suggestions on how to improve it, please let me know.

Last week, On The Table was all about Arkham Horror, a cooperative horror board game for 1-8 players. If you haven't read that column yet, I highly recommend you check it out before reading this one. Continuing with our Lovecraftian theme for the month of May, I now bring you the first major expansion to the game: Dunwich Horror.

The Dunwich Horror is one of H.P. Lovecraft's most beloved tales and the fictional locale has been the focus of many stories by writers who continued the Mythos long after its creator passed away. It is only fitting, therefore, that the village receive a treatment in the board game and Fantasy Flight has really put a lot of love into this expansion. It is designed to be integrated seamlessly with the main game, forcing players to deal with threats in two locations.

The first major feature of the set is a brand new board, intended to be placed along the northern edge of the Arkham board. Investigators can travel there from the train station in Arkham or through certain encounters. It contains nine locations that Investigators can visit and have new encounters in. Just as in Arkham, most of these sites have the potential for gates into Other Worlds to open and two brand new Other Worlds are also added on to the border: Another Time and Lost Carcosa.

Also present on the Dunwich board are a group of portals, which deal with the first major mechanic added to the game, the namesake "Dunwich Horror". As monsters appear and move around in Dunwich, they will be inexorably drawn into these portals. Every time one manages to make its way to these special spaces, a token is placed on the "Dunwich Horror Track". Once it is filled, the Dunwich Horror enters play.

The Dunwich Horror is a special monster that can have grave consequences and great reward. As long as it remains in play, there is a chance that it can speed the arrival of the Ancient One. Defeating it is a far greater challenge than any normal monster, however. Whenever an Investigator goes into combat with the Dunwich Horror, a card is randomly drawn from its deck to determine what stats and special abilities it has. It's entirely possible to feel very prepared to fight it, only to discover that none of the equipment you have can actually hurt it. If you should manage to succeed, however, you earn the privelege of taking any one item or spell of your choice.

Of course, there are many new items and equipment included with the expansion. Mixed in with these are some new cards, called Tasks and Missions. Instead of an item, you're given a series of locations either within Arkham and Dunwich or in the Other Worlds. Having encounters in these locales in sequence will result in successfully completing them and will grant various effects. In the most extreme (and challenging) circumstance, completing a Mission could provide an alternate avenue of victory for the Investigators.

To make an already challenging game more difficult for even the most experienced players, the concept of a "Gate Burst" is introduced. One of the easiest ways to slow down the progress of your enemy lies in sealing locations, effectively preventing new gates from opening there. While it can be a challenge at times to accomplish the task, it is utterly vital to success. Gates which open with a Burst serve to throw a monkey wrench in the plans of Investigators who have successfully sealed locations by breaking these seals and destroying your hard work.

The most ingenious addition in Dunwich Horror are "Injuries and Madness". Under the standard rules, Investigators who have their stamina or sanity reduced to zero would lose some or all of their equipment and have to spend a turn in the Hospital or Asylum. With the inclusion of the expansion, however, they are given a choice. Instead of losing all that valuable gear you've accumulated, you may take an Injury or Madness card. These cards provide a wide range of negative effects which are extremely difficult to be rid of, ranging from reduction of various skills to being unable to remain in the same location as another Investigator or even indoors without losing sanity or health.

This expansion is almost a necessity for players who enjoy Arkham Horror. The Madness and Injury cards alone add so much. It does tend to complicate an already complicated game but the changes are simple enough to integrate if you've had a few rounds without it.

If there's one complaint I can lay upon Dunwich Horror, it's that the effect on play balance can seem unfair at times. Some games will have players racing back and forth between the towns while others might prevent them from going to Dunwich at all. The randomness is part of the charm, though, and helps put into focus the hopelessness that Lovecraftian protagonists must feel.

Next week, things get really nasty as I examine two smaller expansions for Arkham Horror: The Curse of the Black Pharoah and The King in Yellow.


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