- App: Arkham Horror Toolkit
- Price: $2.99
- Rating: ***
- Systems: Arkham Horror Board Game and Expansions
- Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
I remember at one point, openly praying to the “powers that be” for a kitten card
I remember that first game of Arkham Horror. It was at Origins, probably 2010. The game was scheduled for the first slot of the day. I ‘m an early riser and I was surprised to find that this game had a full table.
The game was a blast. I remember being baffled at the way, in a shuffled deck, each card could be worse than the one before it. The guy sitting next to me didn’t understand what he was getting into and got a little upset about the game conspiring against us. I remember at one point, openly praying to the “powers that be” for a kitten card. I couldn’t imagine what could be worse than we had already seen, and I knew that was a bad sign.
That demo game worked. I spent a lot of money on Arkham Horror at the con, and then struggled to find a way to pack it for the flight home. Now, I only get a chance to play a couple times every year, but it is always a good time.
This past weekend, as I was setting up all of the little pieces and cards around the board, I thought, “there must be an app for this.” And sure enough I found Arkham Horror Toolkit.
If you have played Arkham Horror you know that it is a complex game lots of pieces. There are sheets for the good guys, sheets for the bad guys, different tokens and more piles of cards than there are Ancient Ones to battle. The Arkham Horror Toolkit, doesn’t attempt to tackle everything, instead it picks four things to tackle:
- Dice Roller
- Location Deck
The user interface looks gorgeous and is straight forward; things behave pretty much like you expect. When you start the app, you see a splash screen, accompanied by some creepy music. This quickly, and smoothly, transitions into menu for the four sections of the application.
The die roller looks sharp, and works well for a digital die roller. You can tap the die icon in the lower left corner to add dice. You can tap the upper left corner, where is says “Normal” to select blessed and cursed if you are in one of those states. Once you have the right number of dice on the screen, you can shake the phone to roll the dice. When the phone is still for a second, the number of successes is displayed in the upper right corner, and lock symbol appears preventing an accidental shake from changing the results. Clicking the red x clears the screen, making you ready for the next roll.
This UI, leeds to lots of clicks to execute a die roll. From an investigator sheet, we needed two clicks to get to the die roller, one click per dies (7 or more isn’t uncommon in a combat roll), shake, click x to reset, then two clicks back to the investigator sheet. That is 12 clicks and a shake for a fairly normal combat roll.A better design might put a grid of numbers at the opening of the die screen so the user can select how many dice to roll. A single click bask to your investigator sheet would also be helpful.
The investigators sheet captures a lot of information on a single screen. You can see and edit your current sanity and stamina, as well as your skills, money and clue tokens. Clicking on any of these will allow you to edit the values. Clicking on your character’s picture in the top left corner will take you a second screen with the textual information on your character: special abilities, possessions, background, etc. This works really well. It is intuitive and easy to manage.
As I mentioned earlier in this review, there are lots of decks of cards involved in the game. Arkham Horror Toolkit, provides all of the location decks in a single screen. The screen lists of the locations on the boards. Arrows at the top of the screen let you navigate to “Other Worlds” locations, or focus on particular boards, which can be helpful if you are using expansions. I wish the swipe gesture worked to change boards/other world location lists, but that is a minor quibble.
Clicking on location, shows you a card for that location which you can read and act on. In game, location cards have encounters for several neighboring locations on the board. The digital cards are better, they only have the encounter information for the location you selected. Another click on the icon at the bottom of the screen returns you to the list of locations. This works really smoothly and is a nice way to get to the cards.
Some of the reviews in the app store indicate that the cards are not random enough. Others indicate that they are too random, because the same cards keep coming up. In the app, the card are not shuffled and drawn sequentially like a deck of cards. Instead each card has the same chance of appearing each time. This is fine though, because the rules actually say that you are supposed to shuffle the locations decks before each draw (page 8, second sentence under No Gate), giving each card an equal chance on each draw. So, the app is doing the right thing, while I suspect many of us are not in our normal play.
The map screen is the final major element of the toolkit. This section lets you view an image of the main board and any expansion boards you have purchased. You can use pinch gestures to zoom in and out of the maps, and arrows at the top of the screen let you switch between maps. As with locations, you can’t swipe between maps. You can use the map to draw location cards, by double tapping on a location.
In App Purchasing: The Arkham Horror Toolkit allows for in app purchasing of the expansions. The expansions range from $0.99 to $2.99. This gets you any maps, location cards and investigators that come with that expansion. You can turn expansions that you have on and off in the settings panel. When you select an expansion the location cards seem to be mixed into the regular location cards. This forces you to mix the other cards from the expansion (mythos, item, etc) into those decks in the physical game. I would have preferred an option to play with the special rules that focus on the new elements of the expansion.
Settings: The setting panel is straight forward. It allows you to turn sound and shadows on and off, and select which expansions you want to play with.
iPad: Of course the app works on the iPad, but it looks and functions exactly like it does on the iPhone. It doesn’t lay out the UI an differently to take advantage of the increased screen real estate.
Usefulness & Value
We tried the Arkham Horror Toolkit during a four hour game. Two players used it to manage their investigator sheets. We quickly gave up on the die roller. I suspect that many people will question its randomness, but that wasn’t an issue for us. (As an aside, some day I am going to write a blog post about why digital rollers are more random than you think and physical dice are less.) It was simply too may clicks to navigate roller to make a roll. It was easier and more satisfying to just roll physical dice.
We also got tired of switching back and forth between location cards and the investigator sheet, so we brought out an iPad for the location cards. The iPad was tied to same AppleId as one of the iPhones, so we didn’t have to purchase the app again. This worked really well. Managing the location cards in the app was simpler than continually shuffling and managing the location cards, and removed some of the clutter from the board.
One player commented that it was harder to coordinate actions when they couldn’t see how many clue tokens the players using their phones had. However, everybody seemed to agree that the players using their phones were having an easier time managing their investigators, and it was probably worth the trade off.
We found two of the four pieces valuable, the investigator sheets and the location cards. It is even better if you have an extra device for managing the cards. The maps and die roller both looked awesome, but didn’t really contribute to our game. We couldn’t really figure out what to do with the map. Instead, what we really wanted in the app was mythos cards. Especially if the app helped step the user through the steps of the mythos phase. I find that we always forget something.
For $2.99, that’s a pretty good value. I’d be willing to may more to have the mythos cards. That would be helpful and remove even more clutter from around the board.
The Arkham Horror Toolkit, simplifies parts of this complex board game and is a good value for $2.99. However, it falls a little short because half of the app doesn’t really help during play and it missed some opportunities to simplify the mythos turn portion of the game.