Arkham Horror: The Card Game Overview
Welcome to our Game Overview of Fantasy Flight Games Arkham Horror: The Card Game.
In our Overview, you will find a spoiler-free description of the game along with component details and how to play.
If you want to find out HOW to play, read on. If you are interested to know what we think, check out our Arkham Horror: The Card Game Review.
The Game – Arkham Horror: The Card Game
Arkham Horror: The Card Game is a fully cooperative game for 1-4 players and is suitable for ages 14 and up. The game is considered a Campaign Game, with each story building on the next within a cycle. The core game comes with the short three scenario campaign of The Night of the Zealot. In this game, you play a group of investigators looking into supernatural events within the towns of Arkham, Dunwich, Innsmouth, and beyond. Arkham Horror: The Card Game is a Living Card Game (LCG). As an LCG, each set has fixed components, and when you buy this core set, you will receive all of the same cards as every core set. All the expansions follow the same pattern as well.
- 44 Chaos Tokens
- 27 Damage tokens
- 18 Horror Tokens
- 30 Resource Tokens
- 30 Clue/Doom double-sided tokens
- 5 Investigator Cards along with mini cards
- 119 Player cards – Player Reference, Asset, Skill, Event, Weakness Cards
- 110 Scenario Cards – Scenario Reference, Act, Agenda, Location, Enemy, and Treachery Cards
Arkham Horror: The Card Game does have a bit of setup needed before you play. Here we’ll take you through how to set up a game. To begin with, you will need to select your investigators. There are five investigators in the core game. They are all very different with their unique abilities. Their skill numbers are also a bit different from each other. If there is a group playing, this is an excellent time to decide how you want to form your team. Aim to be balanced with people who can Fight as well as people who can Investigate. Finally, determine who will be the lead investigator. The lead investigators make all the critical decisions during the game and can suffer the most if you choose wrong.
In the core box, you will find each Investigator grouped with their Starter deck. Each player should take their investigators’ deck and shuffle it.
Then place all the tokens into piles separated by type near the play area. Now take a look at the Scenario or campaign setup sheet and find the list of chaos tokens for your chosen Scenario. Place these into either a bag or a cup hidden from view. This bag is the Chaos bag.
Each Investigator should then take five resource tokens and put them near their investigator cards. Then they should draw five cards from their player deck. At this point, if you don’t like the cards you drew, for instance, no assets drawn, then you are allowed to take a mulligan and discard all five cards and draw five more. You can only do this once. Also, if you draw a weakness card during this step, set it aside and draw another card, then shuffle the weakness back into the deck.
Setting up the Scenario
Now that you’ve set up the overall game, it’s time to set up the specific Scenario. Each Scenario has its particular setup instructions. Start by reading the introduction of the Scenario aloud to the group. Then find the scenario cards. These cards should start grouped initially. However, if they are not, look for the symbols shown in the Scenario Setup. They should appear on the Encounter Cards.
Then set up the Agenda and Act decks. These are how the story unfolds. In both, you will see an A and B side. Assemble them in numerical order with the A-side showing. Place these at the top of your play area. Find the Scenario reference card and place this alongside the Agenda deck. This card is used to detail what happens when you pull specific chaos tokens from the chaos bag. We recommend you start with the easy/standard side.
The campaign guide will also detail how the players should set up the Location cards. The cards all have a locked side and an unlocked side. The locked side should be face up. And then, place your investigator mini cards on the starting location as detailed in the guide. Turn that location to the unlocked side and look at the number in the middle on the right. This number is a clue value, and it will show a number that represents the number of clue tokens you should add to this location. If there is an additional investigator symbol next to the number, multiply that number by the number of investigators.
Note: This investigator symbol appears on multiple cards, including enemies. If you see it elsewhere, it works the same way; multiply the number by the number of investigators.
Follow any special instructions for setting aside cards from the encounter deck and then shuffle the rest of the encounter cards into a single encounter deck.
Arkham Horror: The Card Game does have a fair amount of rules, and we won’t be going into everything in this section; however, we will explain the basics of how you play. Winning this game is different in every Scenario. The main goal is to advance the act deck to the last card before the enemies advance the Agenda deck to their final card. Some scenarios have different rules. Just note if you see an R#, this represents a scenario resolution, and you read those resolutions in the campaign guide at the end of the Scenario.
Throughout the game, you will need to test skills to do different actions. Each Investigator has four skills willpower, intellect, combat, and agility. When you have to perform a test, you will see an icon on an enemy card, player card, or another encounter card matching an icon on your investigator card. Whenever you see the symbol, it means you need to test that skill. To do that, look at the number next to that skill on your investigator card. This number is your skill base. Then look at the cards in your hand. These cards serve two purposes. We’ll get into their primary use, which is the bottom half of the card bit later in the Investigator Phase of the game.
For skill tests, if you see any icons in the upper left of the cards in hand that match the skill you are testing, you may choose to discard the card to add that number of icons to your base. Then if you have any cards already in your play area, look at them to see if they can help modify the skill you are testing. If there is any other investigator at your location, they may add one card to your skill test to assist.
Finally, draw a token from the chaos bag.
If it is a number, modify your skill total by that number.
A symbol, refer to the scenario reference card.
The light blue elder sign token, the outcome listed on your investigator card is what you do.
Finally, if it is the maroon doom token, unfortunately, this is an automatic fail, and you do not win your test.
As long as it’s not this doom token, compare your final result to the card triggering the test, and if your number matches or is higher than the number on the card, you pass the test. If it is lower, you fail the test. We’ll explain specifics about this number when we get into the actions you’ll take that require skill tests.
This game occurs in rounds, and each round has 4 phases: Mythos Phase, Investigator Phase, Enemy Phase, and Upkeep Phase. In the first round of the game, you will skip the Mythos Phase when bad things happen. Instead, you go directly to the Investigator Phase. So we’ll start there and come back to the Mythos at the end.
During this phase of the game, each Investigator takes a turn. In their turn, the Investigator has three total actions they can take from a possible nine actions. Here are the actions you can take:
The draw action allows you to take a card from your player deck.
Take one resource token from the pool.
If there is a card with an arrow on it, this is called an action trigger. An investigator may activate this action.
This action allows you to engage with an enemy. Usually, when you are in a location with an enemy, it will automatically engage with you. Still, this action is beneficial when you want to pull an enemy off another investigator and fight them instead. If you don’t pull an enemy off and fail a combat test, the other Investigator will get hurt.
Investigation is the primary way you get clues in the game. When you are in a location that has clue tokens, you can test your intellect. The location you are in will have a number inside a black circle. This number is the Shroud value, and this is the number you need to equal or be greater than when testing intellect. If you are successful, you can collect one clue from the location.
Generally, to advance the act deck, you will move the correct amount of clue tokens to the Act card as a group. If the Act card has an Objective, that rule overrides the adding clues to the act card.
While engaged with an enemy, you may take this action. In this action, you test your agility and compare the result to the enemy evade value. If you meet or exceed that value, you have successfully evaded it. That enemy is no longer engaged with you and moves back to the location. The enemy also becomes exhausted. Flip an exhausted enemy 90 degrees to show it is not active and does not engage or activate during the Enemy Phase.
Investigators use this action to move from one location to another. You can only move between connected locations. A location is connected if the icon at the top of a location card appears on the bottom of any other location card. The campaign setup will show you an appropriate layout of the cards so that moving between locations makes sense. Also, when moving, if you move into a locked location, flip that location over and read any activation text.
Cards in your hand are NOT in play and can not be freely played. You must spend resource tokens in the amount in the upper left of the card to play that card. Spending Resource tokens is necessary for event cards and asset cards. You will need to test the skill and commit this card to the test from your hand for skill cards.
After you pay the cost of the card, if it’s an event card, you will resolve the card and discard it. If it is an asset card, you play that card into the play area in front of your Investigator. Some assets are allies. These people and animals can assist you with additional skills and take damage or horror instead of the Investigator. Other asset cards are weapons or items. Each Investigator can only have a specific number of cards in a category. Those are called slots and consist of 1 ally slot, 1 body slot, 1 accessory slot, 2 hand slots, and 2 arcane slots.
Parley is an action that appears on cards that allow you to interact with cards in different ways. It only appears in specific scenarios and will be printed on the cards in play.
If you choose to resign, your Investigator is eliminated, and you return all played cards back to your deck. In a single game, this may not seem relevant. However, sometimes, it is better for you to resign than be defeated by a monster in a campaign. There are lasting game effects that move from Scenario to Scenario, which you can prevent by resigning instead of being defeated.
The last action you can take is to fight an enemy in your space. That enemy does not need to engage with you. However, it probably will be. To fight, you perform a Combat test and compare your result to the enemy’s fight value. If you succeed, you may deal one damage to the enemy. Some weapons, items, and spells will alter the amount of damage you deal. If you fail, no damage happens. However, suppose the enemy engages with another investigator, and you fail your combat test. In that case, The damage value of the failed attack hurts the Investigator engaged with the enemy. Hurting another investigator is why it is best to engage an enemy at your location before attacking.
At the end of each Investigator’s turn, they flip their minicar over to the black and white side to indicate that they are finished. Investigators may take turns in any order and do not need to be “in player order,” starting from the lead investigator and going clockwise.
Note: While engaged with a Monster, if you want to do anything other than Evade, Fight, Parley, or Resign, the Investigator will suffer an “Attack of Opportunity,” which is an attack where the enemy deals damage and horror equal to the number of hearts and brains at the bottom of their enemy card.
After all, investigators have taken their turn, the Enemy Phase begins. This phase is where the enemies will move and attack. If an enemy has the Hunter keyword on them, they move to a connecting location towards the nearest investigators. Remember, exhausted enemies (those you evaded) do not move. If an enemy is at a location with investigators, it also does not move.
If an enemy is “Ready” (not exhausted) and engaged with an investigator, they will attack. An enemy deals damage and horror equal to the number of hearts and brains at the bottom of their enemy card. After the attack, they become exhausted.
If an investigator takes damage or horror equal to or above the amount on their investigator card, they are eliminated. The remaining investigators continue with the investigation. If all investigators are eliminated, you will look at the “No Resolution was Reached” section of the Campaign Guide.
The upkeep phase is pretty straightforward. Each Investigator flips their minicar face up. All exhausted enemies become ready, and if there is an investigator in their space, they engage. Each Investigator then draws a card from their player deck into their hand and takes one resource token. If any investigator has more than 8 cards in hand, choose and discard cards from their hand until their only 8.
At this point, the round is over. Players proceed to the next round. Now we will explain the Mythos Phase, which you skip in the first round.
The first step is to place one doom token on the Agenda deck. Then look at the total number of doom in play, not only on the agenda deck but also on locations and monsters, and compare that to the value shown on the agenda deck card. If the number is equal to or greater, remove all doom tokens from play and turn over the agenda card and read the narrative text along with instructions. Then discard that card and read the front of the following agenda card, which will have the enemies’ new objective.
Finally, in player order (starting with the lead investigator and going clockwise), each player draws one encounter card from the deck and resolves it. If it is a “Treachery” card, resolve it immediately and place it in the discard pile. If it’s an enemy, read the Spawn instructions and place it accordingly. Otherwise, the enemy spawns engaged with the Investigator who drew it.
At the end of the mythos phase, the game proceeds to the Investigator phase, continuing until you reach a resolution.
That’s the game. Everything you need to know is here for you to get started. The game also comes with a full rules reference which details the nitty gritty rules in the game. There are a lot.
Also, we are running a special offer on all Arkham Horror Files games in October. Spend $50 or more on any Arkham Horror Files game. We will send you a free copy of the Investigators of Arkham Horror coffee table book. This book has full-color illustrations and stories about many of the investigators to give you a greater background into who these characters are in this world.