Designed by Corey Konieczka, Nikki Valens
Release Year: 2013 Complexity: Medium-High
👥 1-8 Players ⏰ 120-240 min 💸 ~$60 🔗 Buy
Eldritch Horror is a cooperative board game of mystery and adventure set in the universe of the Cthulhu Mythos, created by horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, where things tend to go wrong more than they go right. You are investigators, and it is up to you to make the best use of limited resources to traverse the globe, solve mysteries, and save the world from the impending doom of the ancient one!
Each round, you take two actions before you and your fellow investigators resolve an encounter in each of your locations. This can include fighting monsters, researching clue tokens, and entering gates to other worlds in an effort to close the gates and prevent the ancient one from summoning. The results of an encounter are built upon skill checks, where you are rolling a number of dice according to your unique character’s statistics.
Once your team has resolved all encounters, the Ancient One will strike back through the Mythos phase, where you will be presented with various challenges through random events, new gates and monsters, the triggering of “Reckoning” effects on various monsters and cards, and the advancing of the Ancient One’s doom track. If the doom ever reaches zero, the Ancient One awakens, escalating the challenge as you desperately try to finish the final mystery before the end of the world. It is up to you to solve all the required mysteries before time runs out!
Eldritch Horror is a game all about evaluating the odds of different actions and deciding where to place your bets. Nearly all the actions and encounters boil down to rolls of the dice, so it is an exercise in weighing options and balancing risk versus reward. Do I take the guaranteed travel ticket, or do I test influence to try to gain items from the reserve? Do I attempt to save time and fight these monsters this turn, or should I wait and rest up before entering into the fight? Players are constantly tempted by ideal outcomes; what could happen if they have a successful roll. And due to the difficulty of the game, players can't afford to always play it safe — you will need to find the right moments to take those risks.
On top of these mechanical decisions is a role-playing experience that allows you to get absorbed in the narrative of what is happening. You are rolling dice with the conviction that you can influence the results, and you feel invested as you improve your character through various items and upgrades. With each die roll, there is always the chance that you could fail or succeed against all odds, filling each roll with excitement as the whole table reacts to each success and failure.
The entire experience is a sandbox of possibilities as the randomness of card draws and dice ensures that anything can happen, requiring the team to adapt and think tactically to be successful. But skill still plays a significant role here — investigators that can consistently weigh their options effectively and optimize their actions have a lot of agency in swinging the results in their favor.
Player Counts - Eldritch boasts a generous 1-8 player range, but we think the sweet spot is 3-5. However, the difficulty scales in a way that makes odd player counts more difficult, so 4 is the ideal count. 1-2 players can work well if you are willing to play multiple investigators, and 6 is pushing it in length. However, we can’t recommend it with 7 or more since it just gets too long and complicated.
Abstract vs. Thematic - While the theme is zoomed out to a global scale that can make the narrative feel a little more disjointed, this is still a highly thematic game with plenty of narrative and horrific flavor.
Luck vs. Skill - While there are lots of meaningful tactical and strategic decisions the team will need to make, the game ultimately comes down to how well you roll dice and draw fortunate cards, clearly tipping this more towards the lucky side of the spectrum.
Predictable Opposition vs. Unpredictable Opposition - To that end, this is a cooperative game where your opponent is very unpredictable. Every Mythos phase could yield all kinds of terrible and unexpected effects, and the fun comes more from adapting and making the best of terrible situations.
Short Setup vs. Long Setup - Eldritch is a bear to set up for sure. There are tons of components, characters with unique starting items, and different decks that need to be shuffled and configured before you can even start.
Easy to Teach vs. Hard to Teach - Teaching the game isn’t particularly complicated since the round structure and actions are relatively simple and, being a cooperative game, you can help new players along as you go. That said, there is still a lot going on here and it will take a bit for new players to grasp all that is happening.
Low Setup Variability vs. High Setup Variability - Regarding setup variability, you can’t get much better than this: randomized Ancient One, randomized investigators, decks upon decks seeded with their own random ordering. Eldritch Horror is the epitome of setup variability.
Things to Like
✅ Sandbox of Endless Possibilities - The first pro is that Eldritch Horror is a sandbox of endless possibilities. It is one of those games that is capable of generating countless memorable moments that never feel the same. There is an excitement of going into a new game and wondering, “I wonder what will happen this time?” Each game delivers an experience unlike any before it.
✅ High Ceiling for Amazing Moments - One side effect of this is that there is a really high ceiling for amazing moments. We have had so many games where a situation seemed absolutely impossible, only to have the most amazing chain of events happen to allow us to achieve the most miraculous of victories. In Eldritch Horror, there is always a chance no matter how grim the odds may get.
✅ Strong Theme Creates Memorable Stories - This leads to the game having a strong theme that creates memorable stories. Not only did you have something incredible happen mechanically, but you view that moment through the lens of the narrative which makes it all the more unforgettable, and honestly, often hilarious.
✅ Good Balance of Strategy and Randomness - There is also a good balance of strategy and randomness. While randomness is woven throughout the game design, each action phase is still a compelling puzzle as players talk through all of the possible options for damage control across the map. It isn’t uncommon for the team to come up with a really creative solution that increases their odds, such as players moving in an order that allows them to trade items and put a player in a position that didn’t seem possible at first.
✅ Tons of Variety - All of this is enhanced by the tons of variety that are across all the different components in the game. Each Ancient One has its own flavor, and the investigators feel meaningfully different with their special abilities, stats, and starting items. The big decks of items, artifacts, and spells make it exciting to see what combinations of abilities will come into play each game.
Things to Dislike
❌ Potential for Lackluster Games - However, Eldritch Horror’s biggest strength is also its biggest weakness in its potential for lackluster games. the same randomness that raises the ceiling of exciting experience can also swing the other way and really result in a less exciting game — either because you win easily, or, more often, because the game beats you into the ground. The risk of a game falling flat can feel like a high price to pay for a 3-hour experience, especially when those sessions can still be drawn out and players know they have little to no chance of winning.
❌ Randomness Can Be Brutal - And when we say the game can beat you into the ground, we mean it. Some Mythos cards will have you going “are you kidding me?” and sometimes some early bad luck can cause an investigator to be less relevant for the rest of the game. It is a difficult game to win, which can make the victories that much sweeter, but also means you will have losses that felt completely outside of your control.
❌ Upkeep of Abilities Can Be Tedious - From a game management perspective, there are some times when the upkeep gets a little tedious. Specifically when a “Reckoning” triggers and players could have 20+ effects that need to resolve across the monsters, Ancient One, rumor Mythos cards, and player conditions and items. You can crank through it pretty quickly with experienced players, but it can feel like a bit of a chore.
❌ Base Game is Really Just a Trial - We have praised variety as a great strength of Eldritch up to this point, but the fact is that, beyond a few plays with the base game, you really need expansions to give that variety the legs to sustain many plays. We would frame the base game as a great trial to see if you enjoy it, but then the Forsaken Lore expansion is an essential addition to really complete the base game experience.
Ryan (39 Plays) - 9.5 Daniel (24 Plays) - 9.5
Is It For You?
If you don’t find joy in rolling dice to resolve skill checks, are bothered by the possibility of brutal randomness, or aren’t looking for a long, drawn-out thematic experience, then you’re better off giving Eldritch Horror a pass. 👎
But, if you want an epic and thematic cooperative game that is capable of generating a wide range of moments with no two games feeling the same, then Eldritch Horror is one of the best games at delivering memorable experiences that you and your gaming group will never forget. 👍