Adjusting Difficulty in Eldritch Horror

Happy Halloween, everyone! Nothing better today than a little gathering with friends – and maybe playing a spooky board game. One of my favorite horror-themed games is Eldritch Horror (Corey Konieczka/Nikki Valens, Fantasy Flight Games). As a cooperative game with fairly straightforward rules, it’s suitable for newcomers as well (provided they have the patience for a multi-hour game), it accommodates one to eight players, and thus it makes for an excellent Halloween party game. Depending on the group with which you play, maybe you want to adjust the difficulty of the game – make it a bit easier for a laid-back beginner’s game, turn it up to challenge crack players. This post contains some ideas how can make the game easier or harder – via investigators, Ancient Ones, the Mythos deck, and encounters.

Related: I’ve written a short primer on how to win at Eldritch Horror already – so if you need some simple tips for successful play, check it out!

Investigators

The number of investigators is an innocent little detail that has big repercussions for difficulty: While the game scales the number of threats (gates, monsters) as well as opportunities (clues) according to the number of investigators, mysteries and rumors often demand a certain number of successes to be resolved – either equivalent to the player count or to half of it. As fractions are rounded up, that means that playing with an odd number of investigators is substantially harder than with an even number. Easy ways to adjust the number of investigators are either to give each player two investigators (at low player count) or to add an investigator who is jointly controlled by all players. For the latter, support-type investigators whose role is rather to benefit the group than to get stuff done themselves are ideal (say, Charlie Kane who spends a large portion of his game just shopping for everybody).

Giving actions to other investigators AND free delivery of all acquired assets? – If he can avoid it, Charlie will never do anything else. Investigator sheet Charlie Kane, ©Fantasy Flight Games.

While the standard rules of the game let players choose their investigator, you could make the game harder (and possibly more thematic) by taking some of that choice away:

  • In the simplest (and hardest) way, you can just draw random investigators. Whoever feels the call to protect Earth from the Ancient Ones answers it. Of course, that means you might have a bunch of street-smart researchers, but not one investigator halfway decent at closing gates or so, but managing these imbalances should be part of the challenge here.
  • If you want to be a little bit kinder on yourselves, each player can draw two investigators and choose one of them.
  • Finally, you can make an “Investigator Deck of Fate”: You split the investigators evenly among all players. Everybody orders they investigators they receive – the first investigator is the one they play, the second one takes over if the first one is incapacitated, and so on.

Ancient Ones

Some Ancient Ones seem to be harder than others. There is extensive data on that from thousands of games that people logged, but I wouldn’t want to go too deeply into that. First of all, I suspect that the numbers are a bit off – everybody will play against the Ancient Ones from the base game, whereas only people who liked the base game (and thus are likely a bit more experienced) move on to the expansions. Also, the difficulty an Ancient One presents can vary for different groups – Yog-Sothoth is not supposed to be very challenging, but was the one from the base game which took us the longest time until we finally defeated him. More importantly, just because an Ancient One is supposedly harder or easier does not mean that your group should just skip that one – after all, you want to have all the fun that comes in that box!

Look at these four non-punchy investigators facing the monster hordes of Shub-Niggurath! They’re up for a challenge. And somebody better buy a big gun soon.

Just like with investigators, deliberately choosing an Ancient One (as the rules prescribe) is easier than choosing one at random – after all, you can prepare for that Ancient One by choosing investigators that fit the Ancient One’s profile (say, some more combat-skilled investigators for a monster-heavy Ancient One like Shub-Niggurath). Of course, you could also build a team of misfits for the respective Ancient One and see if you can still make it!

The Mythos Deck

Mythos cards come in three different difficulty levels: Easy (with a little sparkle on the side), normal (without any markings), and hard (with tentacles). Thus, they are excellent tools to adjust the difficulty: Instead of using cards of all difficulties, you can remove either the easy or the hard ones before setting up the game (as suggested by the rulebook to adjust difficulty) – or, if you want a very easy or very hard game, play only with cards of these difficulty levels!

Three green Mythos cards. The icons are identical, but the event of the easy card is beneficial to the investigators, the event of the normal card a nuisance, and that of the hard card can possibly lead several investigators to untimely crippling or insanity.

Alternatively, you can use a “staged” deck for escalating difficulty: For stage I, they only use easy Mythos cards, for stage II, only normal ones, and for stage III, only hard ones. This variant is from the Mountains of Madness (Nikki Valens, Fantasy Flight Games) expansion.

Finally, you can use the “Starting Rumor” variant from the rulebook to make the game harder – in that case, you draw an unused blue Mythos card at the beginning of the game and begin with this Rumor already in play.

Encounters

Let the player next to you read out the encounters for your character. When it is your turn to test a skill or make a choice, the player stops reading, so you don’t know what the effects of passing or failing are (particularly important for complex encounters). That makes the game ever so slightly more difficult – and, at least for me, increases immersion, as you don’t know what the consequences of your choices might be…

You can decide which effect you want to resolve – but what will you choose if you do not know the consequences?

Face the Ancient Terror – and good luck!

What are your experiences with these “difficulty settings”? Do you use others? Let me know in the comments!

9 thoughts on “Adjusting Difficulty in Eldritch Horror

    1. cliosboardgames Post author

      A pity! People love the feeling of being in control?
      …it definitely slows down play a bit. When reading an encounter myself, I just skim for the test or so I have to do. Which then comes at the expense of some of the atmosphere.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
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