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Arkham Horror vs. Call of Cthulhu

October 27, 2007

For the last year and a half or so, I’ve watched about 5 or 6 pretty heavy CoC players I know migrate from roleplaying CoC, to playing Arkham Horror.

It’s been a pretty fascinating change.  They’re all folks who are reaching/in their thirties, going deep into the career/children route, and their CoC play has fallen to quarterly or bi-annual events.  (mind you, they typically still found time for D&D, though they all griped about that being the only game they could consistently get play from… more on that later).   All of them hardcore immersionists and illusionists, who ultimately play in a social circle that effectively is about 3-4 different gaming groups.

So, Arkham Horror, the CoC boardgame comes out, and within 2 months regular play is happening.  In fact, weekly or bi-weekly games.  Mind you, Arkham Horror is about 3-6 hours of play by itself, so it’s not like its much shorter of a game.   Having played with them a few times, they’ve managed to pull consistently 4-8 players every time (most, as far as I can tell, also CoC rpg heads who’ve made the switch).

So is the issue time?  Not really.  Maybe commitment?  Well, given that enough people are consistently showing, I don’t think that’s the issue either.

If anything, I think it’s because, whether they’d admit it or not, Arkham Horror does CoC better than the rpg.  You work as a team of investigators, you research clues, you jump into strange places Man was Not Meant to Go, you go insane, fight/run from monsters, and either save the world from Ancient Evil or it gets destroyed.

You get the whole Lovecraftian experience, every time, every game.  Period.

Funny enough, they’ve never complained about the pre-generated characters, the set scenarios, lack of immersion, or the crunchiness of the mechanics (though, if it were an rpg, they’d cry blood over such things).  And while the argument can easily be made we’re comparing apples and oranges, the fact is they’ll consistantly choose Arkham Horror over playing CoC every time.  Clearly apples lose.

All of this points to the other beast which eats away at the general rpg gamer base- consistency.  People naturally gravitate towards entertainment which consistently hits their buttons.   If another game or type of game delivers more, more often, you’re going to see people go for it.

This isn’t a death knell for roleplaying, as much as yet another clarion call for simply better design and a wider view of the larger context of the culture and the hobby.

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