Sunday, March 04, 2018

The Lovecaftian Thing a Day (2018) No.63: Eldritch Horror - Masks of Nyarlathotep Expansion

I’ve been on a bit of a gaming jag lately, so today’s entry is yet another post concerning the world of Lovecraftian boardgaming.

The recentlybreleased Masks of Nyarlathotep expansion for Fantasy Flight Games’ Eldritch Horror takes the classic world-spanning Call of Cthulhu rpg campaign and adapts it to the medium of hobby boardgaming; I haven’t had the chance to play it yet, so can’t yet comment on how successful Masks of Nyarlathotep is in this regard. Instead, I will offer some thoughts on the history of the Arkham Horror/Eldritch Horror intellectual properties, and their relationship to Lovecraft’s literary worlds and to the Call of Cthulhu rpg.

Produced by Chaosium in 1987, the first version of Arkham Horror incorporated key elements of their successful Call of Cthulhu rpg into a boardgame format. The second edition of Arkham Horror, which was and continues to be published by FFG, initially appeared as a licesnsed product - certainly intital printings of the game and its expansions contained a variant Call of Cthulhu logo on their covers. Whilst Arkham Horror remains in print to this day, no new products have appeared for the game since around 2011 - it having been largely supplanted by its successor, Eldritch Horror (which borrows much from the earlier game, whilst streamlining its mechanics and shifting the focus from the town of Arkham to a global stage).

Whilst Eldritch Horror also ports over various thematic elements and charcters from Arkham Horror - many of which, as previously noted, have their origin in the Call of Cthulhu rpg, Eldritch Horror no longer displays the Call of Cthulhu brand. With the addition of various other gaming systems (Elder Sign and Mansions of Madness) to their stable of Lovecraftian/Cthulhu mythos board and card games, FFG have rebranded the line as the Arkham Horror Files, again dropping any mention of explicit links to the Call of Cthulhu rpg. FFG have also been fairly open about the fact that the games which form part of the Arkham Horror Files take place in a more heroic, pulp-oriented alternative Cthulhu mythos timeline/world to that of Lovecraft’s original stories. In part, FFG have (quite rightly) made the decision to do this in order to create a game world which is more inclusive than Lovecraft’s highly racialised vision of the mythos.

Despite this apparent brand-separation, the recent Eldritch Horror expansion is of note for the very reason that it returns the boardgaming system to its rpg roots; in addition to which, the expansion box contains advertising material for the revamped 7th edition version of the Masks of Nyarlathotep campaign book (due out soon from Chaosium). Things, it seems, have come full circle. I have no idea what, if anything, might be the significance of the above (presumably it has something to do with licensing issues), but nonetheless it strikes me as a curious and interesting sideline in the history of Lovecraftian gaming.

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