Review: Arkham Horror: The Lurker at the Threshold

Posted by James (admin) on August 25th, 2010

This post reviews “The Lurker at the Threshold”, an expansion for Arkham Horror, and not the full game.  If you don’t know Arkham Horror, it’s an excellent horror game based on H P Lovecraft’s 1920’s setting where the players travel around the town of Arkham (and often into weird dimensions too), having unusual encounters as they work together to stop the Great Old One awaking from its slumber (which will likely spell doom for mankind).  During the game, players try to increase their abilities to keep the menacing goings-on in check and their bodies and their sanity intact.

Lurker in the Threshold is a small expansion so consists of new cards, tokens and game mechanics and no new board.  We played with just the basic game and the Lurker expansion.  I always like to play new expansions on their own with the basic game the first time so it’s possible to really see what they’re like.

Dark Pacts with the Lurker – One of the three new game mechanics in this expansion is ‘The Lurker’ itself who is a Herald.  Heralds are powerful supernatural entities preparing the way for the Great Old One – they are monster characters who affect the gameplay and makes things harder for the players while the Great Old One slumbers.

The Lurker itself awaits the players in between the dimensions and tempts them with deals (called ‘Dark Pacts’) that will give them power.  Of course, there’s always going to be a price to pay at a later stage.  A player can choose to take a Dark Pact at the start of their turn or they can take one to make a spell succeed without sanity cost. 

There are three Dark Pacts and each player can have a maximum of one of each type.  Taking the Blood Pact instantly restores a character’s stamina, plus a character can gain Power tokens in exchange for their stamina or instead of gaining stamina.  Power tokens are useful because they can be used as clue tokens.  The Soul Pact is like the Blood Pact but for sanity not stamina.  Finally, the Bound Ally Pact gives a character an Ally but the Ally will fight for the Great Old One should it come to a final showdown.

However, this power comes at an inevitable cost too.  Every time a gate opens, a Reckoning card is revealed and these have effects based on the Dark Pacts and/or Power tokens belonging to the characters.  Some are relatively minor, like lose 1 sanity for each Dark Pact you have, but some are pretty major like the character with the most Power is devoured, and one doom token is added to the track for each player with all three pacts.

The Dark Pacts work really well.  The mechanic seems nicely balanced because they helped us regain stamina and sanity as well as seal a couple of gates, and the negative effects from the Reckoning cards that occurred later were because of our own choices.  So, they were temptation executed really well – and I really like games that lure players into doing bad things.  In our game, we actually used very few Power tokens so many of the Reckoning cards weren’t too bad, but there still were some critical (hindering) effects.

Relationships – The Lurker expansion also adds two elements that are not dependent on having the Lurker as the Herald.  The first is the new game mechanic of Relationships between the characters.  At the start of the game, a Relationship card is placed in-between each pair of neighbouring characters (based on how they are sat around around the table).  These give a special ability available only to the two characters who are next to the card – this is because each pair of neighbouring characters shares a special relationship.  One example of a relationship card is that when one character gains money, the other gains $1.  Another example is that either character can choose to exhaust the relationship card to gain +1 on a horror check.

Relationships seem like they can only aid the player (never a bad thing in Arkham Horror) but they can be a bit hit-or-miss.  The relationships that allow either player in the relationship to use its power, i.e. +1 to a roll, seem very useful; however, the relationships that give one player something if the other player gains something are only useful if they get triggered.  In our game, our relationship cards were all the latter sort and would have been good but none were well-matched with the characters so rarely got triggered.  I think this was just unfortunate but it did show that relationships in one game could make a huge difference and make no difference in another.  Still, I like the idea, think it’s a clever one and I can’t see a downside to it so will continue to use it – it’s just a shame it may have little effect due to chance.

The New Gates – The other, non-Lurker dependent game mechanic in this expansion is a new set of gate tokens.  The modifier for closing the gates is generally more difficult than the original gates, plus some gates have special symbols.  One symbol means a player will lose stamina when failing an attempt to close or seal it, another symbol means the gate moves like a monster, and another means a player is devoured if the gate opens on an investigator, and so on.  Also, some gates have two different dimensions on them so a player can pick which dimension they go to, plus they banish two types of monsters when closed.

The new gate tokens are pretty challenging as they are much harder to close, plus they have other potential negative effects.  Closing a split gate was a nice benefit (banishing two types of monsters) and the symbols on them didn’t make it too much more difficult.  One criticism I have is that if you only use the basic game, then that only leaves you with 12 gate tokens (as 6 of the new ones relate to other expansions with boards), so you don’t have as many as the original basic game (which has 16) – this can make the game harder.  We’ll probably add 6 random ones from the original basic game in future.

Other Bits – As with most expansions, there are some new equipment cards, spells, Mythos cards etc. too which all seemed fine.  The new equipment and spells are good as you’d expect – there aren’t many but they do provide interesting and useful new content.  The new rules are simple and clear, although a couple of rules aren’t quite covered (like can you move past a gate if it has moved into the streets without being drawn down it) but these are minor/unusual situations so not a big deal.

Overall, Lurker in the Threshold is one of my favourite expansions as all the items it adds seem fair, balanced and add to the overall game, rather than purely making it much more difficult or being solely focussed on one new threat which makes it less useful to be used with other expansions.  I always think it’s a good sign when a mechanic from an expansion becomes one we always play with – for example, the injury and madness cards (from the Dunwich Horror expansion) are always part of our games, and all three of the mechanics in Lurker are likely to be in or games from now on.  I love temptation in games and the Dark Pacts are very tempting and you know any negatives that result are your own fault.


[Played with 2 players with 2 characters each – we usually play with 1 each]

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