I’ve always been a fan of HP Lovecraft’s writing – and his stories have provided inspiration for lots of other writers, as well as for entertainment in other media. Most […]
I’ve always been a fan of HP Lovecraft’s writing – and his stories have provided inspiration for lots of other writers, as well as for entertainment in other media. Most notably and famously, Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos has been a popular setting in the world of TTRPGs (with Chaosium’s legendary Call of Cthulhu RPG, as one example), but also in video games, board games and CCGs.
Despite the fact that plenty of Lovecraftian experiences exist in board game form, players do always seem to be drawn to them – and it’s amazing how varied they are, despite shared subject matter. Arkham Noir is an excellent case in point, casting the player in the fictionalised role of HP Lovecraft as a detective, investigating a spate of grisly murders.
A solitaire game in which you’ll try to solve the case before either time or your sanity runs out, Arkham Noir is pretty straightforward to learn and can be played – once you’ve got your head around the rules – in around half an hour.
The rules can take a bit of digesting, but there’s not too many to take in; essentially, your turn consists of you taking the first clue card in a row of five and then choosing whether or not to play it or discard it to enact another action (such as playing a card from your hand of three clues).
To play a clue onto an open case, the symbol on the clue’s left side must match the symbol on the last played card’s right side; you’ll then need to carry out the card’s effect, which can often be negative.
Some clues have a padlock symbol too – these can only be played if a clue with a key symbol has already been played on that case.
When you discard a card, if it has an hourglass symbol you must add it to the time penalty area – if you have five cards in this area, another victim is added to the ones currently in play, giving you another murder to solve and also putting you one step closer to a loss.
There’s also a stability penalty area to consider too – collect five cards in your stability area and it’s game over, as your mental health can’t take the strain of all the horrors you’ve seen over the course of the investigation.
When you solve a case – which can be done when you’ve collected five different clue types (displayed at the top of the card) – you will sometimes have clues which display a jigsaw puzzle piece at the top. Collect five of these in your ‘big picture’ area and you win.
That’s the basics of the rules, bar a few additional wrinkles I haven’t gone into. It plays pretty quickly and can be quite stressful, albeit in a fun, challenging way. The time pressure is well represented by the time penalty cards and the same can be said of the stability area, representing your mental health. It does feel very thematic, though it can feel a little abstract when you’re moving through turns quickly and only paying attention to the symbols on the cards.
The text – of which there’s not a great deal, with many effects using symbols instead – is incredibly thematic, with lots of references to Lovecraft stories (as well as featuring Lovecraft himself!). The illustrations really do have a very dark and noir-esque feel, giving the game an evocative, monochrome look.
Though it’s packaged in a small box – consisting only of a few decks of cards (clues, victims, and player aids) – the game itself can take up a surprising amount of table space once you get into the swing of the game.
I was really impressed with Arkham Noir; though it’s not easy to beat, you’ll be compelled to keep trying to outwit the murderer even after you’ve succeeded. The themes and setting are well integrated; along with this, the way that leads are followed and evidence is gathered adds to the noir atmosphere and further reinforces the theme.
Something else I was especially impressed with was the player aid cards, which not only give you the framework to build the game around, but also have all important rules summarised on them for easy reference as you play. It’s an excellent way to deal with the age old problem of needing assistance with rules, particularly when it’s been a while since you’ve last played the game.
There’s a second case now available and I’m very interested in checking it out. Though a small and relatively inexpensive game, Arkham Noir packs a lot of gameplay into a small package, along with compellingly addictive gameplay that’ll see you masochistically returning to try and solve The Witch Cult Murders over and over again. Solitaire games aren’t especially common either, so it’s great to have one that features the Cthulhu Mythose so prominently (even if this particular one keeps things at a smaller, though no less terrifying, scale in the size of the threat involved). Great stuff – highly recommended.
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