Arkham Horror: The Card Game has been met with some serious praise and interest, with Fantasy Flight Games completely selling out of it within just a week of its release. I myself have played through it solo a few times, and I can personally say that I find it more than worthy of all the hype its getting. An amazing out of the box experience, and a unique blend of roleplaying and card game elements, Arkham Horror: The Card Game finds itself really filling a niche in the industry.
With all that said, I recently had the opportunity to interview Nate French, one of the lead designers behind the game, about various aspects of it (as well as some background questions about his gaming life). He kindly agreed to partake in an interview, providing some interesting insights and perspectives into the thought process behind this amazing new LCG. Today’s focus is that very interview; let’s dive straight into it.
The Aficionado: What were some of the games that got you into gaming?
Nate French: Growing up, I was a big fan of Chess, Dungeons and Dragons, and board games like Monopoly and Risk. I have also always been a huge sports fan—football, baseball, basketball—and team sports, at their core, are games!
The first CCG I ever played was Spellfire; I loved playing with the characters from the TSR worlds of Dragonlance and the Forgotten Realms.
In late 2002 I picked up the A Game of Thrones Collectible Card Game. I was a huge fan of the A Song of Ice and Fire novels (there were only 3 back then!), and loved the idea of playing another card game with the characters from a series of books I enjoyed. I had much success with this game, and it eventually lead to my position with Fantasy Flight Games.
The Aficionado: What is your favourite game of all time?
Nate French: I’ve probably spent the most time playing Poker, Chess, and pick-up Football. And I don’t regret any of the time spent playing any of those games!
The Aficionado: What is your favourite game amongst those you’ve designed?
Nate French: The games I’ve worked on are kind of like children — I’ve grown to appreciate each of them for different reasons. Because of this, it’s really impossible to pick a favourite.
The Aficionado: Outside of gaming, what are some of your favourite things to do?
Nate French: I have a background in writing, and I love to read and write. I read mostly novels — fantasy, sic-fi, horror, mystery & suspense, and classic literature. Occasionally I’ll read a biography as well. When the weather is nice, I enjoy jogging. Music is another hobby; I love going to hard rock and metal shows. And I’m a sports fan — I don’t play as much any more, but still love going out to a bar to watch a game and cheer on my team (or my fantasy team!).
The Aficionado: What were some of the key games which you drew on when designing Arkham Horror: The Card Game?
Nate French: We knew there were going to be comparisons between the Arkham Horror LCG and the Lord of the Rings LCG, given that both Matt Newman and I worked on both games, and that they are both cooperative LCGs. Because of this, we were very conscious of making sure that Arkham was its own experience and did numerous things differently than the Lord of the Rings card game, so that playing the Arkham game was an entirely new experience.
The Aficionado: You’ve done an excellent job translating the mechanics of an RPG into an LCG; did this translation cause hurdles or was it a smooth ride? If there were hurdles, what were some of the largest ones?
Nate French: The biggest challenge was not having a game master figure to control the scenario. You need to figure out a way to automate every interaction.
The Aficionado: How did you decide which role-playing game mechanics to emphasise? Why did you prioritise those over others?
Nate French: We wanted the experience to be narrative based and tell a story, so we aimed for mechanics that added to this type of experience.
The Aficionado: In regards to expansions, what made you decide to lead off with a deluxe expansion (The Dunwich Horror) instead of a cycle building off the core like in Lord of the Rings?
Nate French: We wanted the first campaign (found in the core set) to be self contained, so that players could have a complete experience right out the gate. That meant that we would have to start a new campaign with the very next product — and a deluxe box makes for a better start of a campaign than a single cycle pack.
The Aficionado: Experience is a fascinating idea that I personally believe was a perfect use of the Victory mechanic from Lord of the Rings. When designing encounters, did you intentionally include options for players to gain more experience by trying to do more difficult things and, in essence, push their luck?
Nate French: There are some areas in the game where taking greater risks can lead to greater rewards of experience points. There are other areas where the experience reward is just part of the natural evolution of the campaign, so that the investigators can grow and evolve as the story unfolds.
The Aficionado: Sometimes my local Lord of the Rings playgroup feels we are blown out completely during games (“The Wounded Eagle” comes to mind) and it doesn’t feel great. Do you feel that Arkham Horror still has such blowouts? Do you feel that Arkham Horror still feels fun to lose? If so, would you attribute that feeling of fun to the theme?
Nate French: Winning or losing isn’t really a binary thing in the Arkham LCG. There are a wide range of possible outcomes for each scenario, and in many cases there is some uncertainty as to whether or not a “good” ending was reached. Maybe the players achieved what they thought was their objective, but in the process there was a great cost — maybe in game sacrifices, maybe in questionable morality, maybe in unintended consequences. Exploring these different possibilities creates an experience where the journey, and how you get to the result, is just as important — if not more so — than the final outcome.
The Aficionado: Upcoming card “Delve Too Deep” is fascinating on a number of levels, and for me is far and away the most exciting card spoiled in the game. However, it is also the kind of card that is only important in campaign play (much as “Cover Up” also is).
What made you to decide to make campaign play the basic way to play, as opposed to a single, isolated game?
Nate French: The ability to tell more intricate, nuanced, and layered stories that can really draw people in over a longer period of time was compelling. Once people go through the effort of creating a character (in RPG terms) or building a deck (in Arkham LCG terms), they tend to want to spend some time with and get to know that character. A campaign provides the opportunity to do this.
The Aficionado: Out of the Core Set investigators, which is your favourite?
Nate French: I go through phases where I like each of them. Recently I’ve been playing Agnes the most, but it depends quite a bit on my mood.
The Aficionado: What do you believe the greatest achievement of Arkham Horror is? What is your favourite part of the design?
Nate French: Probably the way the Act deck and Agenda deck work together to create a plot, with an honourable mention for the weakness cards. I’ve really enjoyed the way those play out.
I’d like to extend my thanks to Nate French for the wonderful and interesting answers he gave to my questions, and just for being willing to be interviewed in the first place. Arkham Horror: The Card Game is a wonderful gaming experience for two to four players, and easily one of the best games I’ve played all year. Be sure to check it out!
Check out the games mentioned in this article here: