(If you aren’t familiar with Arkham Horror, there’s a decent review of it here.)
I got Vero Arkham Horror for Christmas of 2009 and we played it a lot in 2010, to the point where we now have all the expansions and a bunch of the little overpriced minis. Let me give you a little rundown of expansions, and aspects of expansions, that I like or dislike.
Curse of the Dark Pharoah (2006)
This is my least favorite of the small-box expansions. It was also the first to come out, and it’s the most conservative in terms of what it adds to the game, ruleswise. There are Benefit and Detriment cards, which are sort-of status effects, but they aren’t especially easy to get and they don’t change the overall balance of the game particularly. You can be barred from a particular neighborhood, but this, again, doesn’t come up very often and doesn’t impact much.
The King in Yellow (2007)
This may be my favorite small-box expansion, mostly because I like the Hastur Mythos, but also because I like the new-way-to-lose additional mechanic and the creeping doom brought on by the Blight cards. In play (in my mind, at least) the distinegration of the social order in Arkham feels horrific in a way that the gates and monsters of the base game don’t. Combine the King in Yellow with Shudd M’ell for extra social decay! Some of the Blight cards can really do a number on you, and the Act deck provides a new way to be very unlucky, so this expansion does a lot to increase the difficulty of the game.
Black Goat of the Woods (2008)
I used to think that this expansion didn’t add much: the corruption cards were bad, sure, but not exactly easy to get, same with the Cult Membership. But what stops this from being the Curse of the Dark Pharoah all over again is the herald, which makes corruption a serious danger, and monster surges pretty atrocious. Since we figured out how the herald works, we haven’t won a game against her. Granted, we’ve only tried it twice, but still.
Lurker on the Threshold (2010)
We haven’t really played this one enough. I like the new gates, but I haven’t decided yet whether the Power mechanic is overall beneficial or harmful. The Bound Ally option is extremely powerful, maybe too much so.
Dunwich Horror (2006)
DH is like Curse, in that it’s the first of its kind (the first big-box expansion, in this case) and in that it’s more conservative and adds less to the game than what comes later. The Madness and Injury cards make the game substantially easier, but the new condition cards — Coded Messages in the newpaper, the Rare Book Collection at the library, et cetera — and the Sheldon Gang Membership show up too rarely to have much impact on play. The new investigators and ancient ones are a lot of fun, though. The Dunwich Horror itself is rarely a presence in the games we’ve played with the expansion; stuff only happens in Dunwhich when a DH Mythos card comes up, which isn’t often enough. Still, it adds a lot to the game.
Kingsport Horror (2008)
KH adds another load of investigators and ancient ones, which is great, and I like the Kingsport mechanic of rifts, which unlike DH’s mechanic can happen on any turn. The additon of Guardians, as a mechanic, is a nice idea, but Nodens and Bast seem to have very little actual effect on the game, while Hypnos is putting out a clue token every turn (which can really add up!). Becoming Changed is almost certainly more trouble than it’s worth; the only time Vero or I have gone for it was once when an encounter transported us directly to the Strange High House in the Mist. The final battle cards are another nice idea, but they don’t really change the essential nature of the final combat, which is to say, it’s still an exercise in rolling dice with few to no strategic decisions to make.
Innsmouth Horror (2009)
IH, like KH, has a board mechanic which comes into play regardless of the Mythos card drawn, and which provides a new way to lose which has bitten Vero and me more than once; I’ve seen the Deep Ones Rising track jump up four spaces in a single turn, with monsters surging out of Devil’s Reef and Y’ha-nthlei. Again, the new investigators and ancient ones are great. The best thing, though, are the Personal Stories, which do a lot to equalize some of the weaker investigators by giving them large bennies from completing their quests, while the stronger ones get less. Of course, this isn’t perfect; Vincent Lee remains a loser.
The way Vero and I play is generally we each control two or three investigators, with Injury/Madness cards, Personal Stories, and Hypnos the Guardian. Our Common Item, Unique Item, Spell, and Skill decks contain all the appropriate cards from all the expansions, and we likewise have a single huge Other World Encounters deck. From that baseline, we select 0 to 1 small-box expansions and 1 to 3 big-box expansions, use the herald that applies to the small-box expansion (or draw a random one) and away we go. What we’ve been doing lately is, we mix together the Arkham Encounter decks, but keep the Mythos decks separate, drawing from each in turn — in a game with Black Goat and Innsmouth, for instance, we’d draw from the main/base Mythos deck, then on the next turn the BG Mythos deck, then on the next turn the IH Mythos deck, then back to core, and so on in rotation. We used to just shuffle them all together, but that’s too much hassle. Really, setup and takedown are both big hassles.
I like AH, but it sometimes runs longer than sustains my interest. Occasionally Vero and I have started playing a game one night, gone to bed, and finished it the next, which doesn’t hurt anything. For a while we just had the board perpetually set up on our dining room table, but that’s past I think — if for no other reason than we have people over for D&D at that table.