Learning Arkham is a series of tutorial videos and blogs that teach Arkham Horror: The Card Game. Prepare to investigate eerie, suspenseful, Lovecraftian mysteries with up to three other players (or solo!) in this cooperative living card game – all while enjoying one of the best “randomized challenge” rulesets in existence.
This guide is updated continuously to provide the most current information.
Like most card games, there are essentially two games you are playing when diving into Arkham Horror: the building of your investigator deck and the playing of your investigator deck. Before you can do the former, you need to understand the latter!
Start with this incredible tutorial video that we recorded when the game released at Gen Con 2016. It is probably the best demo ever given.
So the ruleset is actually quite streamlined and easy to understand – so much so that the most complex part of the game is getting everything setup to play.
To start a game of Arkham Horror, you must first decide if you are 1) starting a campaign or 2) playing a single scenario. A campaign (1) is a sequential, narrative-driven experience that takes you through multiple scenarios in a specific order – with your investigators growing and transforming along the way. It is, without a doubt, our recommended way to play the game. After you have tried a number of campaigns, you can come back and revisit specific scenarios (2), challenging yourself to master them.
At the beginning of a campaign, you choose either the Core Set or an Expansion and start with the first scenario therein. Currently, the roadmap looks like this:
Night of the Zealot (Core Set) – great for learning, basic creepy Lovecraft
Dunwich Legacy – lots of mystery, monster-fighting
The Path to Carcosa – mind-bending, eerie, Yellow King
The Forgotten Age – ancient ruins, Aztec-inspired, pulpy adventure
The Circle Undone – witches, sacrifices, Arcane mystery
The Dream-Eaters – adventure, nightmares, exploring the Dreamlands
So if you want to have that eerie, Yellow King-inspired narrative, you will need to buy the Path to Carcosa Expansion and then start your campaign with its first scenario. If you would rather have a more traditional Lovecraft experience and are new to the game, buy the Core Set and start with its first scenario.
Both the Core Set and every Expansion includes 2-3 scenarios that should be played in sequence. Once you play through all of the included scenarios, you can either start a new campaign or continue your current campaign by purchasing Mythos Packs that introduce new scenarios into its sequence. Most players do the latter!
Every one of the campaign starting points (except for the Core Set) has six Mythos Packs associated with it (easily recognized by the corresponding packaging), and taken together this is known as a cycle.
The Path to Carcosa Expansion and its six corresponding Mythos Packs create the Path to Carcosa cycle. If you want to play a full Path to Carcosa campaign, you will need to purchase all seven products.
So, right now, you can choose from the four available campaigns (Night of the Zealot, Dunwich Legacy, Path to Carcosa, Forgotten Age).
Once you have chosen your desired starting point, you will want to start the first scenario by reading from its campaign rulesheet. These are included in the products and also available on Fantasy Flight’s site (Support -> Rules -> Desired Cycle Campaign Rules). We always pull the latter up on a tablet when we are playing.
These Campaign Rules start with a good dose of flavor and narrative setup, which one of the players should read out loud in their best, creepiest voice.
Once the narrative is complete, you will see the “Campaign Setup” section next. Follow all of the instructions in order to properly setup your adventure. This involves choosing your difficulty, which determines how often you will pull bad things out of the chaos bag. We find that Normal is perfect for most groups, with Hard and Expert being ideal when you are replaying campaigns and challenging yourself.
Finally, you are instructed to setup the first scenario. This involves sorting through the included encounter cards and pulling out the ones with the appropriate icon. Do not get a good look at them when you are doing this, as it will spoil the mysteries to come!
And now the game begins! The video above starts at this point, once everything has been setup. The best way to learn is to watch the game in action, but below is a brief rundown of how things work.
Playing the game
During a scenario, you are attempting to complete all of the scenario’s Act cards before all of the scenario’s Agenda cards have resolved. Think of it like a race against impending doom, with Act cards advancing the story closer to success and Agenda cards advancing the story closer to failure. You complete Act cards by investigating locations, finding clues, and cashing them in, while Agenda cards get closer to completion every turn, regardless of what you do!
Of course, you are not free to wander around and investigate unhindered in order to make your way through the Act deck. Instead, random challenges and encounters are thrown at you every turn via the Encounter Deck that you compile at the start of a scenario. This Encounter deck might introduce monsters, curses, items, or other challenges that must be overcome throughout the game.
To facilitate the flow of play, Arkham Horror follows a four-phase structure that is always resolved in order, from top to bottom.
In the Mythos Phase, all of the bad things happen to you. Your enemies’ Agenda advances, and each player draws a card from the top of the encounter deck and resolves it.
In the Investigation Phase, you take a breath and react to the current circumstances! Each investigator takes three actions, which could mean investigating a location, fighting a monster, moving to a new location, playing cards from hand, or simply drawing new cards or gaining resources. The catch here is that every time you do something challenging, you will test your Investigator’s skill value against a random value generated by a token that you draw from the Chaos Bag. Nothing is ever assured, so your current plans can change dramatically with one failed test.
Players need to work together and strategize how they are going to not only minimize their current problems but also work toward their long term goal of making their way through the Act deck.
In the Enemy Phase, more bad things happen. Any enemies on the board activate and resolve relevant effects. This might mean attacking investigators, sneaking away, or generating Doom to get the Agenda closer to advancing!
In the Upkeep Phase, all of the investigators and enemies get ready to go at it again, and each player gains a resource and a card. Then everything starts again at the Mythos Phase.
This sequence continues until some kind of resolution occurs – either the Agenda deck reaches completion first (bad) or you manage to advance the Act deck in time to escape the horrors of the current scenario. As you play, the narration constantly evolves, so you stay engaged in the story no matter which direction things are heading.
Once the scenario has ended, follow the instructions in the Campaign Guide and read aloud as instructed to find out what kind of fate awaits you. Then, either begin the next scenario right away or pack things up and resume the campaign whenever your group meets next.
Throughout a campaign, you will be prompted to note things in your Campaign Log. This can be a piece of paper or note on your phone – or you can download and print the fancy version provided by FFG (Support -> Rules -> Desired Cycle Campaign Log).
Your Campaign Log keeps track of relevant story details and decisions that you make throughout a campaign. For instance, if you opted to save school children instead of fighting a terrifying monster, you might be told to note that in your Campaign Log. As you make decisions in the game, you will be instructed to note them, and then scenarios later in the campaign will change accordingly.
This is one of the coolest things about Arkham Horror: The Card Game. Campaigns are not static narratives or challenges. Both change based on the decisions that you make as players, so there is serious weight to everything that you do. Want to steal that Onyx bracelet? You can, but who knows what might happen later…
Start your adventure
So at this point you know if Arkham Horror: The Card Game is the right fit for you. Honestly, we can say with complete confidence that it is incredible, and only getting better over time – so if you are thinking it sounds appealing, go for it!
If you are wanting to start playing, continue on to our Buyers Guide, which gives all the details you need before making your first (and future) purchases!