Arkham Horror: The Card Game is a cooperative living card game spinoff of Arkham Horror. Like its predecessor, AH:tCG is based on H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos and takes place in the 1920s. Players control investigators that try to penetrate the occult mysteries of Arkham, Massachusetts.
Play consists of investigators moving across a board created from connecting locations. The plot of each scenario is determined by "Act" and "Agenda" decks. The Act deck describes the actions that the investigators must complete to end the game favorably. Advancing in the Act deck is generally done with the collection of clues, though other actions are occasionally required. The "Agenda" deck describes the forces of evil and progresses slowly but surely as time goes on.
Depending on the actions of the investigators and the result of the Act/Agenda race, any given scenario will have multiple potential endings. Scenarios are generally linked together in a campaign, with the results of each scenario affecting the ones that follow. This being Lovecraft, happy endings are hard to come by.
Investigators are represented by decks that include their abilities, resources, and inventory. Cards are split into five roles that represent the broad archetypes of Lovecraftian protagonists, along with neutral, roleless cards:
- Guardians directly fight the evils plaguing Arkham. The Guardian class focuses on combat and enemy management.
- Seekers study and uncover the dark truths of the world. The Seeker class focuses on gathering clues and movement abilities.
- Rogues avoid direct confrontation. The Rogue class focuses on evasion and resource stockpiling.
- Mystics embrace the occult, with all the risks that entails. The Mystic class focuses on high risk, high reward gameplay.
- Survivors didn't sign up for this. The Survivor class focuses on luck manipulation and card recursion to balance out low stats.
Each player character has a special power that impacts play, as well as deck-building restrictions that limit them to particular cards and classes.
Several expansion campaigns have been released, in addition to one-off scenarios.
- Night of the Zealot: The ghouls of Arkham abandon the shadows and take to the streets - aided by their god, Umôrdhoth.
- The Dunwich Legacy: A cult attempts to take vengeance on Dr. Armitage after the events of The Dunwich Horror.
- The Path to Carcosa: The play The King in Yellow threatens the invasion of an alien world. Or are you just losing it?
- The Forgotten Age: An expedition into the jungles of Mexico discovers a threat to the very fabric of time itself.
- The Circle Undone: At a charity event hosted by the Silver Twilight Lodge, four people have utterly vanished, and the dead are strangely restless...
- Curse of the Rougarou: A cursed beast stalks the swamps of the New Orleans Bayou.
- Carnivale of Horrors: The celebrants of the Carnivale of Venice are the sacrifices for a dark ritual.
- The Labyrinths of Lunacy: The investigators must work together to escape a madman's deathtrap.
- Guardians of the Abyss: A trip to Cairo reveals a sleeping sickness where no one will wake again.
Arkham Horror: The Card Game features examples of:
- Boring, but Practical:
- The Machete. A level 0 Guardian weapon with only one special effect: It deals +1 damage when you are only engaged with your target. You can manipulate that one condition fairly easily, and the Machete never runs out of uses or breaks (barring encounter cards), so it's a staple in almost all early Guardian decks.
- The core set neutral skill cards. They give you a one time +2 bonus to a skill check, but they cost no resources or actions to use, can save you at key moments, and can give you a card draw.
- Contractual Boss Immunity: Many of the more powerful card effects (such as instant defeat and blanking) are explicitly limited to "non-Elite" enemies. This often makes such cards a Useless Useful Spell.
- Heroic Sacrifice: A theme of the Guardian class. Every Guardian Ally has a special ability that either triggers on damage/defeat or requires damage/discarding as a cost. On the extreme end, "I'll see you in hell!" instantly defeats you and all non-Elite enemies at your location at the cost of lasting physical damage if not outright death.
- Jack-of-All-Stats: Lola Hayes and Jenny Barnes have ratings of 3 in all their stats. Lola takes it to the next level by being able to use cards from any class.
- Power at a Price: A focus of the Mystic class. Many of their card effects are exceptionally powerful, but come with a risk of losing cards, actions or sanity.
- Shotguns Are Just Better: A Guardian card, Shotgun gives a great attack bonus, and scales its damage upward the better you test. The downside is you only get two shots.
- Unluckily Lucky: The Survivor class' shtick. Many of their card effects represent good luck getting them out of the horrible mythos-tinged situations they stumble into.
- Bittersweet Ending: It's a Cosmic Horror Story; even if you *win*, you'll be loaded down with trauma and extra weaknesses.
- Death Is a Slap on the Wrist: Zig-zagged.
- For all campaign scenarios, if your character is brought down to zero health or zero sanity, you are defeated, not dead. You do however, take trauma, which makes it easier to defeat you the next time - too many traumas, and you're done for good.
- Scenario resolutions can vary wildly. Doing poorly or making bad choices often means you've earned trauma. If you do very poorly, the plot can and will just kill everyone flat out, especially in the finale.
- Character death is permanent for a campaign... but that just requires you as a player to pick a different character that gets involved and build a new deck for them, starting from scratch for the next scenario.
- Know When to Fold 'Em: There are often Resign actions included in the scenario cards, to give you an escape. Losing often makes your next scenario worse, but if you were going to lose anyway, you can avoid a total loss or trauma penalties by resigning.
- Random Event: The encounter deck will deal you random enemies, obstructions, and horrors every round. Notably, every scenario builds this deck differently, so the darkness will always fit your setting.
- Religion of Evil: Almost all plots involve one.
- Fed to the Beast: Can happen to Lita Chantler to appease Umôrdhoth, should he rise.
- Forced into Evil: Some of the cultists of Umôrdhoth. Ruth Turner, a mortician, had her family targeted, forcing her to provide corpses for the ghouls. Others let their occult studies get too deep until the cult would not let them leave.
- Let the Past Burn: If you "win" the first scenario, you are presented this as one option for dealing with your ghoul-infested and corrupted home. It's not actually very helpful.
- Not-So-Well-Intentioned Extremist: Lita Chantler. She betrayed the cult and destroyed the ghoul's larder, which appears noble. Every action she takes in the campaign, however, is about trying to dodge her personal consequences no matter what - sealing your home with you in it to stop the ghoul pack, roping you into unmasking the cult, and stopping the ritual, all of which is targeting her specifically. If you utterly fail, she flees Arkham and the risen Umôrdhoth will just begin hunting random locals, "searching" for her, and never end it's hunger.
- Stalker Without a Crush: The first agenda card in Midnight Masks mentions that even as you hunt the cult through Arkham, you feel hunted in return. Proven true once that card flips, and reveals the Masked Hunter, who immediately pounces on whoever has the most progress in revealing more members.
- Advancing Boss of Doom: Yog-Sothoth in Lost in Time and Space.
- Sadistic Choice: Extracurricular Activities ends on one. Save the students from The Experiment, or stick to your original mission - find Professor Rice. No third option available, other than failing one or both.
- Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome: For the heroes of The Dunwich Horror, depending on the players' performance.
- Weaksauce Weakness: The Brood of Yog-Sothoth in Undimensioned and Unseen are not Elite, and are vulnerable to card effects which similarly threatening enemies are immune to - being blanked, insta-killed, and so on. This can be used to bypass their Puzzle Boss nature.
- Interface Screw: All over the place, as part of the madness theme. Act 1b of The Last King directly questions your sanity if you read it (there are no effects that advance Act 1a, so players should never see 1b except by mistake). Lists of dry rules effects explaining the consequences of your choices occasionally include items that directly taunt or second-guess you. An extended Dream Sequence has all its paragraphs shuffled randomly.
- Time Crash: The investigators actions cause this.
- Death Trap: The Labrinths of Lunacy is full of them.