Dark rituals, insanity, deduction. Interesting, fun, challenging. What do these words have in common? They can all be used when describing Arkham Ritual, the new party game from Ninja Star Games. Fans of social deduction games and hidden role games such as Werewolf and The Resistance will certainly want to check out Arkham Ritual as this game adds some unique elements to the genre.
Arkham Ritual is a game of social deduction, and possible betrayal, for 3 – 7 players. The publisher states that it is best with five or more players and I’ll have to agree that having more players will typically make this game more intense and enjoyable. It is harder to keep track of everything and guess what the other players are going to do at higher player counts. But, we did play a few 3 & 4 player games for comparison’s sake and Arkham Ritual is still enjoyable at those player counts, it is just more so at higher player counts.
In Arkham Ritual, you are investigating a mysterious ritual, which you probably wouldn’t be investigating if it wasn’t mysterious, right? As if you were in a scary movie, you throw caution and reasoning to the wind and step into the cellar of Miskatonic University. Once inside, in an attempt to keep go unnoticed, you participate in the ritual taking place and begin passing around unknown objects. These objects are actually magical artifacts which you quickly realize can cause people to go insane. Now, your only goal is to keep your sanity intact and escape the ritual.
While playing Arkham Ritual, you’ll never look at your own card. If you’ve played Hanabi you’ll understand how frustrating (in a good way) that this can be. You will, however, be able to see everyone else’s card. The goal of Arkham Ritual is to correctly guess what card you’re holding before the end of the round, and get rid of it if it is bad. There are 22 cards in Arkham Ritual, most are artifact cards, but there are event cards, character cards, and even a card for the Great Old One as well. Some of the artifacts are cursed and having such as card at the end of the game will cause you to lose sanity. Cursed equals bad, m’kay. The real kicker though is that there are duplicates of every artifact. If anyone has the same artifact (regardless of whether it is cursed) as you, you’ll both lose sanity. The only way to escape the ritual alive and sane is to hold an uncursed card that no one else has.
Of course, there are some twists. It wouldn’t be a game set in the Lovecraft world without twists. If you have the cultist card at the end of the game the rules are reversed and cursed cards become desirable. There is an Elder Sign, which ends the game prematurely. And there are also gate and Cthulhu cards, but I won’t tell you what happens should you end the game with one of those cards.
Normally, when you lose sanity, you lose an amount equal to the number of players that also lost sanity that round. However, some cards might increase this number. The game is played for a number of rounds until at least one player has accumulated 7 or more points of insanity. Players that have 7 or more insanity lose the game, while everyone else wins.
No player elimination. For party games, this is a big positive for me.
Everyone gets to be the active player. With no narrator, the gameplay style promotes equal involvement from all players.
Quick Paced. Followers (non active players) only have two choices: either take the card they are given by the active player, or pass the card to another player.
High player count needed. Since Arkham Ritual is a party game, finding five players (four not counting you) isn’t usually a big deal. But if you normally only play two or three player games, then it might be a challenge to get Arkham Ritual to the table.
A Note on the Theme
A lot of gamers seem to like the Cthulhu mythos as source material for their board games. With the number of board games being produced that are tied to a Lovecraftian theme and the sales volume of those games, one might think that everyone enjoys all things Cthulhu. I know this isn’t true for everyone though and that some people simply aren’t interested in Lovecraft horrors or they feel that the theme is overused. One of the nice things about Arkham Ritual is that you can use as much or as little of the theme as you want. If you enjoy the gritty world of Arkham then playing Arkham Ritual will be a delight. If you don’t care for anything Cthulhu related, you can still thoroughly enjoy Arkham Ritual much like you can enjoy Lords of Waterdeep without needing to enjoy Dungeons & Dragons or know anything about the role playing system. The Lovecraftian theme is there, but it isn’t obnoxiously overwhelming; you can take it or leave it and the game is still loads of fun.
Arkham Ritual is a lot of fun. The seemingly simple decision of “Do I keep this card, or pass it?” is often supremely difficult. And, through regular player interaction or special cards, even your best plans can be put to ruin. For me, Arkham Ritual checks off a lot of boxes: it is a great social deduction game, it is fairly fast paced, it doesn’t take long to teach/learn, and it’s entertaining, engaging , and keeps you on your toes. The Kickstarter for Arkham Ritual is live; go lend your support.