Welcome to Tabletop Terrors! In this monthly series, we’ll help you recreate some of the terror, tension, and fun of scary stories by examining what the world of tabletop gaming has to offer horror fans. We’ll look at board games, card games, pen and paper RPGs, and miniature war games. We’ll offer reviews, insights, and tips on how to create an immersive and awesome game night.
So we’ve got some good news and bad news. The bad news? It’s the end of the world as we know it. So, what’s the good news then? To paraphrase R.E.M, we feel fine! That’s because the hellish year that has been 2020 is on its way out, and we here at Nightmare on Film Street are celebrating with an “End of Days” month; a four week and three day-long look at life in the apocalyptic wastelands or the days and hours leading up to a cataclysm. So, for this month’s Table Top Terrors we’re not going to look at games where players are heroes trying to prevent an apocalyptic ritual from taking place. No, in this month’s game that ship has sailed and players have to deal with the consequences. If they’re diligent and lucky though they might find some clues to help them cancel the impending extradimensional cataclysm before it reaches its true world ending apogee.
That’s the premise for Fantasy Flight Game’s newest Lovecraftian horror board game, Arkham Horror: Final Hour by Carlo A. Rossi, which is described on the game box as, “A cooperative game of mystery and mayhem.” We’ll look at its basic rules, some of its fun features, and how it compares to Fantasy Flight’s other Arkham Horror games. Plus, we’ll have our usual suggestions for refreshments and music to make your game night something even Cthulhu himself would dream about during his epic nap in sunken R’lyeh.
Fantasy Flight Games publishes a wide variety of great titles inspired by H.P.Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos. Many of them have a truly epic feel to them. The problem with those though is that they often have an epic length of two and sometimes as long as four hours, which means your “game night” will be a “game afternoon” or go into the wee hours if you want to finish a game. The nice thing about Arkham Horror: Final Hour though is it has the same epic feel of the longer games in that that 1-4 players get the thrill of cooperating to foil or be defeated by the malevolent, cosmic forces of an Ancient One. However, that fight will only take about 45 minutes to an hour. That’s because Arkham Horror: Final Hour thrusts the players into the role of one of six different investigators who’ve arrived upon the campus of the fictional Miskatonic University to find it under siege by an ever growing army of monsters. Players must use their actions to travel around the school eliminating monsters, blocking their paths, repairing buildings, and finding clues that will undo the evil ritual that they were too late to stop.
So, in a lot of ways Arkham Horror: Final Hour is a “tower defense” style game in the vein of Castle Panic. Every round, players are reacting to the forces laying siege to Miskatonic U, and in order to not lose the game they have to prevent three things from happening; monsters from totally overrunning the building where the ritual happened, one of their number dying from too many wounds, or time running out. There’s only one way for them to win though; investigate buildings and uncover clues on how to reverse the ritual that you missed stopping.
You begin a game of Arkham Horror: Final Hour by setting up the game board, a representation of Miskatonic University, and choosing your investigator. Each of the characters available has their own unique flavor, but they also have specific abilities and weaknesses. For instance, mobster Michael McGlen has several cards that allow him to mow down any number of low health monsters with his “Chicago Typewriter” (gangster slang for a Thompson submachine gun), but he also has cards that cause him to disastrously act on his thirst for vengeance and damage locations or himself. Martial artist Lily Chen can use her skills and meditative abilities to wreck monsters and help her allies, but the burden of her destiny can literally hurt both her and a fellow investigator.
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The next step is picking an Ancient One to confront. Arkham Horror: Final Hour comes with three of them. The big guy himself, Cthulhu is of course included, and is a recommended foe for beginners. The other two Ancient Ones are not as well known; Umordhoth, The Devourer Below, and Shudde M’ell, the Apocalypse Worm. Each of these Ancient Ones have different special abilities and special monsters related to their identity. For instance, Shudde M’ell (a creation of British writer Brian Lumley’s mythos stories) has tentacled, burrowing subterranean special monsters known as, Chtonians, and can damage buildings by causing earthquakes.
The chosen Ancient One also determines which locations on the Miskatonic University start off in great peril.There’s a ritual location, that must be protected all all costs, and interdimensional gates are open at several different buildings. They also determine the number of monsters that start out on the board.
Next, eight different gate tokens are prepared and kept hidden. They serve as the game’s built in timer and escalate the monsters’ siege on Miskatonic University. Each turn, a new gate opens allowing more monsters to spill out into Miskatonic’s buildings. The final set up step is the placement of clue tokens. These tokens allow players to uncover the evidence they need to shut down the ritual and win the game. They can also award powerful artifacts that can help in their quest like the dreaded Necronomicon.
Final Hour is a cooperative game and on their turn players can perform up to four actions. Before they choose their actions they can discuss what they want to do, but when it comes time to actually picking actions very little communication is allowed. I think that adds an extra element to the game. It perfectly captures the chaotic tension of trying to put out all the little fires that are raging while also working to douse the big, apocalyptic one.
So, on a player’s turn they’ll draw a card from their action deck. Each action card has two possible outcomes. The top action usually involves something huge and heroic like moving and attacking monsters or sealing off buildings from invading abominations. The bottom action usually involves investigating a building for a clue token, but it could also trigger a character’s weakness, or activate marauding monsters. The player then places their card face down and then places a priority card from their had with a numerical value on it. The priority cards are a way of giving your fellow players a hint as to what you’re doing. You play low numbered cards if you want to do your top action and high numbered cards to perform bottom actions. Once four action cards have been played the two lowest numbered priority cards trigger their top actions and the two highest activate their bottom actions.
After the four player actions have been resolved the Ancient One’s forces move. There’s a reckoning step where the being unleashes a portion of their eldritch might on Miskatonic University. Then there’s the phase where a new gate opens spawning more monsters into a building. If that building is full, the monsters move to the next one with their ultimate destination being the building where the ritual happened. If too many creatures take up residence there it’s game is over!
The monsters are part of the fun of Arkham Horror: Final Hour. If you’ve played Fantasy Flight’s other Lovecraftian games you’ll recognize a number of them. They vary in strength, appearance, and function. Some monsters are killers that will wound investigators, some are fast movers that will soar or race across campus, and some are gargantuan behemoths that will smash up and destroy buildings.
The game goes back and forth until the players lose or solve the ritual. If the players make it the end of the round where the last gate is opened up they are given a final chance to stop the ritual. So the action is fast, furious, and in true Cthulhu mythos fashion the odds are heavily stacked against players. That’s okay though because if you fail and the world ends the game is short enough that you can probably take another crack at it.
“Each turn, a new gate opens allowing more monsters to spill out into Miskatonic’s buildings.”
Final Hour‘s short length also means you could end the night with a celebratory victory watch of writer/director Richard Stanley’s excellent 2019 film adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Color Out of Space. Or perhaps you could kick off the night with a viewing of that film to get everybody psyched to fight back against the eldritch invaders laying an apocalyptic siege to Arkham and Miskatonic University.
Either way, you’re in for a fun and possibly long night which means refreshments are in order! We’ve got a couple ideas that we think will enhance the Lovecraftian apocalypse theme of the night. The first is an alcoholic libation, courtesy of Cocktail Vultures, that could be served in R’lyeh’s hottest bars, The Call of Cthulhu cocktail. And to satiate your guest’s unearthly hunger pangs we suggest these adorable and tasty Cthulhu Chibi Pretzel Rolls by Kitchen Overlord.
The other component to make your Final Hour game night stand out as a sublime and otherworldly experience is the right background music. That might be difficult to find because the Cthulhu mythos has inspired a lot of music in a lot of different styles. Not all of those styles fit the frenetic pace of Final Hour either. So, to keep your game moving and alive with fun and tension we chose a style for you, one that’s perfect for a fast paced horror story, synthwave. Check out our Final Hour playlist over at Spotify which features a wide variety of bands and musicians including; Dance With the Dead, Midnight Danger, and the Horror Master himself, John Carpenter. Plus, the kick off track “Cthulhu,” by Gunship and featuring dialogue spoken by British horror movie director Corin Hardy, is mythos themed.
Let us know all about your own immersive game night setups, and your favorite horror-based board games. Who knows, your recommendation might become our focus for next month’s installment of Table Top Terrors. Roll the dice and spill your guts over Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club!