‘Eldritch Horror’ board game is a Lovecraftian delight

By Zach Hagadone
Reader Staff

Board games are often cast as the communally healthier alternative to online or console gaming. There’s an implication that “staring at a screen” — whether you are playing with other people or not — is antisocial when compared to physically gathering around a table and playing a game out of a box.

Courtesy photo.

That feels like a false dichotomy, having more to do with cultural biases than anything else. The reality is that board games, especially in the past 10 or 15 years, have evolved in complexity to such a degree that the tabletop doesn’t feel so far removed from the computer screen — even to the point that many of them can be played alone.

“Eldritch Horror,” by game designers Corey Konieczka and Nikki Valens, is one of the best examples of the co-operative mystery/adventure game in at least the past decade — a boast backed up by its raft of nominations for best thematic game, best co-op game, best artwork/presentation and overall best game when it was released in 2013. It’s also ranked 96 overall out of 22,394 titles on boardgamegeek.com (last place is “Tic-Tac-Toe”) and in 30th place out of 1,270 thematic games rated on the site. 

Ranking and ratings aside, “Eldritch Horror” more than earns its acclaim — even one year shy of its 10-year anniversary — though I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit it wasn’t until about a month ago that I discovered it for myself at the absolutely stellar and aptly named Strategy & Games store in the Silver Lake Mall in Coeur d’Alene.

Writ large, “Eldritch Horror” is an homage to the works of early-20th century horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, who in recent years seems to be experiencing something of a cultural renaissance, not least of which through the HBO series Lovecraft Country.

In the game, up to eight players choose from 12 characters — all with their own back stories, attributes, abilities and tools — who are tasked with working together to investigate mysteries on a global scale with the goal of stopping one of several Ancient Ones whose arrival spells the destruction of our world.

Each of these cosmically horrific entities comes with its own level of threat, specific mysteries and effects, which are played out across a range of card decks that throw players into unique situations and pose their own challenges. All the while, interdimensional gates open up in locations around the world, through which pour hordes of monsters that serve as the advance soldiers of the coming apocalypse.

Investigators must strategize together to collect the necessary clues to unlock the mysteries surrounding the Ancient One, all the while fighting back those lesser minions and closing their gates to keep the earth from being overrun by evil.

Game creators Konieczka and Valens dig deep into the literary mythos of Lovecraft’s work to create narrative arcs that feel far more immersive than any board game ought to be, with richly detailed and stylistic components that make “Eldritch Horror” as aesthetically pleasing as it is enjoyable to play. 

It does require a time commitment, however, with the average game lasting between 120 and 240 minutes. If that’s too much for multiple players to manage, “Eldritch Horror” is just about as satisfying to experience by yourself, controlling more than one character on their shared quest to save the world. (And if you want to spin even further into the void, there are multiple playlists of ambient Lovecraft-inspired music designed specifically to accompany game play and made available on YouTube.)

For its ingenious dynamics alone, which support a depth of play that barely diminishes with repeated games, “Eldritch Horror” is an eldritch delight.

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