Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Saturday, 4 July 2020

A Restful Week in Sleepy Arkham:- Wrath of N'kai

Book: Wrath of N'kai

Author: Josh Reynolds

Publisher: Aconyte Books

Year: 2020

Wrath of N'kai: An Arkham Horror Novel: Amazon.co.uk: Reynolds ...
It's fair to say I have barely scratched the surface of the Arkham universe. Early on in my gaming life I picked up Elder Sign, giving me my first insight into the Massachusetts town where nothing is as it seems. While it was good, the story wasn't really there, with the theme feeling more like a monster of the week game set in a Ripley's Believe it or Not. While I've played many Cthulhu themed games in the years that followed, none of them really dragged me into the story. Mostly they relied on the titular tentacled monster on card art and named a mechanic "sanity".

It wasn't until I picked up Arkham Horror: The Card Game that the story of the Arkham universe started to flesh out (sometimes far too literally) in front of my very eyes. Giving you a series of campaign missions with choices made during gameplay changing the story in future missions. Arkham LCG tells the tale of hapless investigators who soon find out that the world is a whole lot stranger than they could ever imagine. While the Arkham LCG is a highly story driven game, one thing I have never managed to pick up is one of the many novellas set in the universe. Each containing an investigator card ready to add to your games these small books sought to drag you further into the life of an Investigator. My understanding from more experienced Arkham players is that you bought these for the bonus cards, not for the literature.


Which brings us on to today's review. Wrath of N'kai is the first in a line of full fledged novels set in the Arkham Horror universe, bravely releasing without any included bonus cards! Wrath of N'Kai follows the story of Countess Alessandra Zorzi, a thief, and a damn good one at that. Over the years she has earned something of a reputation for her abilities to steal abnormal treasures from museums and private collections. Only to deposit them into completely different people's museums and private collections. Why do people want these odd carvings, statues and amulets? Damned if she cares, all she cares is that the money keeps coming in from the wealthy oddballs and their love of the macabre.

Anyone who knows anything about the Arkham universe would therefore assume that the countess' line of work has resulted in her coming face to face with the strange creatures that dwell beyond human sight more than once. But Wrath of N'kai is more of a 'coming of age' story than one of a seasoned investigator. At the start of the book she is in denial that there is anything that can't be logically explained, and while she has encountered the occasional oddity in her past, in her mind this can all be explained away, or repressed. Unsurprisingly this is not to last. Alessandra comes to Arkham with a job to steal the archaeological find of a lifetime: an American mummy. Curiously this is not one that died of natural causes and got preserved, but one that bares the markings of ritualistic mummification never before seen in America.

The story then develops with twists and turns that I won't spoil here, comrades and enemies alike are made. Strange goings on get stranger and stranger until ultimately they can't be denied any longer and there's a cult. It's Arkham. There's always a cult. The story is gripping enough, though hardly about to become a classic. There were certainly some characters that I could have told you their character progression when they were first introduced. The characters are predictable even to their final story beats, which is a bit of a shame as I do prefer my horror stories willing to be horrifying.

Where the book does extremely well is in fitting the mood of Arkham. You get to explore this world while sitting on the shoulders of someone else who is only just discovering it.  Meanwhile the locals all see to understand some underlying rules that no-one quite talks about. While I'm all for the increasing paranoia in the characters showing an increasing understanding, and dread, of what is going on. This might have been handled without every third sentence being about Alessandra reaching for, or putting away her gun. I genuinely think that her sidearm is the second most mentioned character in the book! The creatures of the mythos are also done a hard deal in the book, oh sure they are scary, in your typical biology that "defies explanation" way that Cthulhu monsters are, but despite being powerful things fighting soft, squishy humans they don't fare as well as you might expect.

Perhaps though, that is me looking at Wrath of N'kai in the wrong light. The story isn't as horrific as other Cthulhu stories I've encountered, the odds are not as far against our heroes. This isn't a Horror book, it's a pulp book with tentacles. When looked at with this lens everything starts to make more sense, and it's not a bad thing for it to be. The book is gripping from start to finish, the mystery successfully drives it and the villains are nasty enough to keep you entertained and understand the character's fear, if not instilling any into you. Overall it's a good read which makes for a great entrance into the world of Arkham Horror.

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