[The Gentleman Nerd is a weekly column written by Jason McMaster and is dedicated to the more discerning tastes of the refined dork. Due to Jason's extreme nature, most of his columns will be subtitled 'Why I Love...' or 'Why I Hate...' - in case you were wondering.]

Arkham Horror isn’t the type of game you take on without a commitment to mind alteration and abstract thought. The brain has to be limber to follow the breadcrumbs that were left by the designers throughout the rule book for this game, and we all know what limbers the mind. So, I poured myself a glass of “brain tonic” and began my work.

Arkham HorrorWhen faced with learning something that abandons the standard rule set that we’re all used to, such as smashing windows, it’s always best to throw yourself in to it head first. With that in mind, we all sat down to go over how to play the game with only a modicum of actual game knowledge. A game like Arkham Horror, when not addressed as I’ve described, is always going to take twice as long to understand and begin to enjoy, and that’s its danger. If the learning process takes too long, the more casual players become restless and irritable and you will lose them. This will not do. That brings us to the only real complaint about Arkham Horror: the rule book.

The best way to understand these rules, and find your way through the book, as we discovered, was to have a council. We made the council out of the people we had present: Brian was the sober, hardcore gamer, Scott represented the sober, casual gamer and then me, the abstract thinker. Once the stage was set, we began to play and learn the rules at a breakneck pace.

Arkham HorrorOur characters would make a movement and perform an action, followed by a flip through the instructions. Anything that wasn’t played correctly was let slide and a promise to “do it right the next time” was laid out by all in attendance. This first game took us around four hours to play and, even after having to survive the rule book, everyone had a good time. This, by all accounts, is a minor miracle for our group. So, with that in mind, we decided to include some n00bs.

Luckily for said n00bz, there is absolutely no pwnz0ring allowed except by the Ancient Ones or their followers. On the other hand, though, is the fact that Ancient Ones and their followers really enjoy pwnz0ring n00bs and those of us with sk1llz as well. Arkham Horror isn’t an easy game by any definition, and that’s AFTER you understand the rules. That’s what makes it interesting, and oddly disheartening, to play. There’s always a “bottomless pit” waiting right around the corner to whisk you directly back to go without your ten dollars or wither spell. More than once, I’ve been swept into the void because of a lousy dice roll.

Instant death aside, the gameplay is somewhat similar to other systems. You can move an amount of spaces according to your speed and you use your different stats to determine the difficulty of skill checks and to decide combat. Items and allies can be acquired by completing challenges from location cards or by purchasing them in stores. Each player has life and, of course, sanity markers. It wouldn’t be a game based on Lovecraft’s work if you didn’t lose your mind. It’s all mostly standard board game fare with a few exceptions.

Arkham HorrorOne of the more notable differences is the gates to other worlds. Each round, the locations on the board have a chance of turning into a gate to another dimension. If a player is on that space or lands on that space, they are immediately sucked through and must find their way out. Basically, the player has to be in the other dimension for at least two turns before they can leave (though there are a few exceptions to that rule). Once the player has left the alternate dimension, they can choose to close the gate, and if they use five clue tokens they can seal that area for good, which means that neither gates nor monsters can spawn there again. Which leads us to the question: what the hell are clue tokens?

Clue tokens are little items scattered around the board that represent bits and pieces of knowledge that can be used to turn a situation to your favor. For instance, you can spend a clue token to roll additional die or to close a gate. These tokens start off plentiful and then become rare later in the game when you need them the most. Hang on to your clues, people, you’re going to need them when the Ancient One comes back.

There are a couple of ways to end the game, but the most common by far is the return of an Ancient One. At the beginning of the game, when you’re selecting characters you also select or pick at random for an overall evil threat. This grizzly bastard is planning on destroying the world, and only the investigators’ sweet brand of vigilante justice will save it. You have to fight the Ancient One and send it back to wherever it came from. There’s something satisfying about blasting Cthulu back to hell with a 12 gauge pump and some holy water.

Most of the time, however, it’s not that easy. Most of the ancient ones come into the world packing a punch and the odds of survival are slim, but where’s the fun if there’s no danger? This time we lost the nun, who was devoured by some ancient evil, and then our gangster got tossed into the abyss. After all that, those of us who remained were cut down by Yog-Sothoth.

Oh, well, you can’t win them all. Hell, it’s how you get there that’s the real fun. That’s what I keep telling myself, anyway, but deep down inside I’m a torrent of rage. I’ll get you next time, you fancy bastard.

I need a drink.

[Jason McMaster is a freelance writer who has written for Gamasutra, GameSpy and several other publications. He’s currently working on a few small projects and updating his blog, Lamethrower, as often as he can.]