Arkham Ritual is a solid deduction game from NinjaStar Games that has the feel of many recent microgames, but with some new concepts as well. Designer Hiroki Kasawa looks to the time-honored Cthulhu Mythos of H.P. Lovecraft for the setting of this quick-playing title but the star is really the twisty game play.
This Ninja Star game is for 3 – 7 players, but you really want at least 5 to see the game at its best (even the publisher agrees with this assessment). Thematically, players are part of a mysterious ritual, perhaps trying to sort it out or maybe just deciding to give this being evil thing a go (seems like more . The ritual involves a lot of magic artifacts of varying alignments and some special cards that you will play or switch out. This process may change your intentions as you try to survive the ritual without going insane. This is harder because you do not know what you are holding at any one time.
Calling back to the concept of Blind Man’s Bluff poker or even the euro-style version, Powwow, players hold one card at a time and make it visible to everyone else, but it is not known to them. With the knowledge of other players’ cards, the idea of the game is to sort out if you need to discard your own to avoid losing sanity in the current turn.
The deck of cards is just a bit larger than the Love Letter deck that has become a standard number for microgames. At 22 cards, it is manageable to deduce what is in play and what might be hidden in your own hand. The card mix included events and artifacts of both blue and red colors (good and bad, respectively), and cards featuring Lovecraftian Great Old Ones (yes, those are bad). Each turn, players decide to either keep an unseen card and discard their current one or take a peek at it and pass it to another player. The discard goes to the tableau in the center of the table, which helps everyone figure out what remains and what they might holding. If you pass it, it might go around the table until no one else can pass it, when it becomes that last player’s hand card.
Are You Cursed?
When the round ends from a specific card play or running through the deck, Red cursed cards will cost you sanity if you have one in-hand. Additionally, each artifact has a duplicate in the non-cursed (blue) world, so if you have that one when the other is in play, you also lose some sanity. Sanity is tracked in brain tokens, of which there are plenty.
There are some special cards, too, including a Cultist that will switch which color cards are cursed, gates that bring in special problems with the Old Ones and the Elder Sign that ends the round earlier. The Cthulhu card is an automatic win if someone else has one of the Gate cards, too, so if you see this combo, it is best to get them out of those players’ hands. In this way, players need to get a bit used to the cards to do well. With that short play time, it’s easy to play again immediately.
Arkham Ritual is an enjoyable game with a large group and it is perfect for the Halloween season with its dark theme. Yet, the theme is implemented pretty lightly. While deeply thematic games like Arkham Horror or A Study in Emerald give you the true feel of Lovecraftian horror, this is a party game so you can’t get into the lore too much. That’s probably best for some players who might be less enthusiastic about Nyarlathotep and Yog-Sothoth.
How’s That Theme?
In a recent podcast episode, I spoke with the fellows who run the On Boardgames show about Lovecraft-themed games. Lovecraft is one of the authors that dominated my young life after my Uncle Bill (recently departed and deeply missed) gave me some of his books. The nightmarish world of cosmic horror that Lovecraft embodied was fascinating to me, someone who is more likely to enjoy the Twilight Zone than gory slasher films. So, I was glad to talk about my favorites. Even though I’d received (full disclosure) a copy of Arkham Ritual ahead of time, I forgot to mention it because the theme is present, but it isn’t the part of the game that makes it most compelling. While I would not drop it into the category of pointless Cthulhu-themed games like Reiner Knizia’s Cthulhu Rising or Unspeakable Words, I’d certainly say Arkham Ritual is more fun because of the deduction elements than any cosmic horror theming.
Boardgame Babylon Rating for Arkham Ritual
BIN (Buy It Now) PIN (P)lay It Now TIF (Try It First) NMT (Not My Thing)
Disclosure: Publisher Ninja Star Games provided a copy for independent review.