Flights & Flagons

This is the first installment of what will hopefully become a recurring Beerploma.com feature: an unholy alliance between craft beer and boardgames!  I’ve been into homebrewing and craft beer since I was just a lad (OK 16ish) but have been into roleplaying games, video games, and board games since long before that.  Why not combine two of my passions together in a crazy blender of a blogpost and see what happens?  Will we get a magical “You got chocolate in my peanut butter!” moment?  Or will we get the vomit flavored Bertie Bot’s Every Flavor Bean?  You’ll have to decide!

Arkham Horror The Card Game

Setting the Scene

The first star of our current game line-up is Dan Beaubien, my fellow Beerploma writer and editor extraordinaire.  Dan has a history of board gaming, focused on some of the old classics like Monopoly, Scrabble, and Settlers of Catan.  Dan will be playing our game as Roland Banks, with a specialized deck of action, ally and item cards all his own.

The weathered and cynical features of seasoned federal investigator Roland Banks peered intently across the table at his unlikely young informant.  This meeting was a strange one, but neccesary to follow up on one of his few leads into the current dead-end trail of the case.  Tipping his worn, but still sharp fedora back slightly on his well groomed head, he leaned forward across the table of the somewhat spartan study.  In doing so, his holstered .38 revolver peaked out from the gap in his sun-faded tan trenchcoat.  

Our second player in this two player version of the game is I, Eric Wentling, long-term horror fan (and frustrated writer).  I used to play the Chaosium Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game back in the late ’80’s-early 90’s with a core group of friends, and have been looking for something to scratch that particular itch ever since.  I’m be playing as Wendy Adams, also with her own deck of cards.

With a subvocal near-gasp,  street urchin Wendy Adams shrank back a little in her oversized and peeling leather chair.  Her bobbed and slightly stringy hair puffed up with her barely restrained exhalation.  Her feet hung in air, not quite touching the scarred hardwood floor beneath the chair.  

“I swear, Mr. Banks, I didn’t see nuthin’ that night!  It was dark, and all I saw was a hunched up freak look in my direction and then run off in the mist.  It weren’t ’til I got closer and saw the blood…” 

 

The Game

Local Minnesota game company Fantasy Flight Games has been putting out games based on H.P. Lovecraft’s 1920-1930’s pulp horror stories for several years now.  I own the original Arkham Horror board game (and many of its expansions) but the set-up is involved, and play-time for the game is just too long for my current lifestyle.  Elder Sign took the genre into a quicker token-based realm that is easier to pick up and play, but lacks the story-telling aspects of the longer game.  Arkham Horror The Card Game aims to hit the sweet spot right between these two other games (even using some of the same character and art-direction).

A loud BANG shook the closed shutters of the study and streamers of plaster dust slowly sifted down from the cracked ceiling, leaving dancing motes in the flickering candlelight.  Wendy jumped to her feet, heart hammering, ready to run, to hide, to fight if needs must.  Roland calmly slid from his chair and walked to the thick oak door to his right, finding the handle firm and cold in his hand.  With a wrench, he tried to open the door, but it resisted his sturdy muscles with the strength of solid wood.

The Setting (Now)

Dan and I arrive separately on a calm early evening at Tin Whiskers Brewing Company for this foray into card-based horror gaming.  Being started up by engineers, Tin Whiskers is known for being inclusive to the geek community, including providing a plethora of board games to its guests.  Week nights and Sundays are a decent time to stop into the St. Paul brewery and taproom for a couple of pints and a game, but Friday and Saturday get pretty busy in there!  They host Nerd Night events, and later this particular evening they host Trivia Mafia.

The Setting (The Game)

Arkham horror is set in the 1920’s, a time of pulp novels, detectives, prohibition, racism, mobsters, flappers, and unspeakable interdimensional creatures of horror that must not be named.  The setting is just modern enough to be easy to understand, but early enough in the century to still have some unexplained mysteries abound.  Most of these stories take place in old Northeast area of the country, many set in mysterious rural areas.  As a nod to the setting, I order Tin Whisker’s new small trial batch Northeast IPA with mango and Dan and I settle into a table to set up our game.  I warn here, that while every game is different based on what cards you draw, there may be some plot spoilers for the first adventure scenario within the following paragraphs.  I’ve tried to change a few things to keep you guessing.  We set up a small deck of goals for our investigators, a small deck of hidden agenda cards for the enemies, and a thicker deck filled with events, creatures, and madness for us to battle in the upcoming hours.

Just as he was dropping his shoulder and winding up to ram the door with his bulk, the door opened from the outside upon the startled and bewhiskered face of Dr. Milan Christopher.  The somewhat pudgy and hirsute professor pushed his thick glasses further up his nose and blinked a few more times in surprise, seeming unsure of what to next.  Roland gently pushed him to the side and peered out at the surrounding countryside.  Wendy slunk up closer to look around Roland’s now spread trenchcoat.  A light flickered between the warped boards of the shed out back, sparkling like the random tittilations of lightning bugs at play in the summer dusk.  Silently and firmly grasping the arms of both the professor and the urchin, Roland quickly marched them out to the door of the shed–now suddenly absent of light.

 

Gameplay

As we play, as in the game, dusk falls outside the taproom, bringing with it a heavy bank of dark and looming clouds.  I can see the now emptying street outside fairly well and can almost swear I see a rare passerby glaring at me through the thick glass as she stalks by.  Silly of course, she is surely only looking into the loud and well lit taproom and wishing she were in there with us instead of risking rain outside.

The unlikely trio burst into the small (and now deserted) shed with a rattle of the crooked door upon the wall and a squeal of rusted hinges.  There is only one way into the shed, so where did the owner of the light get off to?  The three started to scan the small and nearly empty space, still silent and seemingly acting without need for a plan or conversation.  Suddenly there was an upeaval in the hardpacked dirt floor beneath them and the cracking of support beams above and all around them!  Down they fell into an opening chasm, tumbled together in a group of flailing limbs, shrieks of surprise, and rumbling of earth.

Roland grunted and pulled himself off of the gasping professor, absently grabbing his now dented hat from the pile of dirt as he did so.  Wendy was already on her feet, coughing from whirling dust, but again ready to move or hide.  A loud crash from above, along with a rain of splinters and more earth, told the final fate of the rickety shed.

In the background, trivia questions contine, starting out suitably banal with pop culture references and geography questions.  Dan and I take turns between the actions of our investigators, playing cards based upon their resource cost and gaining allies and helpful items.  Soon, it is time for the Mythos phase of play were the forces of evil slowly advance their own agenda with doom tokens and our characters face randomized danger from the Mythos Deck.  Barely noticed, the trivia questions asked start to take on a more sinister bent, with questions about vampires, zombies, and brains.  Strange.

The smells of fresh turned dirt, mold, and a hint of decay filled their nostrils.  Pulling out a flashlight from her small satchel, while absently rubbing a threadbare rabbit’s foot charm with her other hand, Wendy clicked it on to shine into the gloom around them.  Wildly rotating dust clouds obscured some of the light as well as directing crazy scattering beams of weak electric light through the subterranean passage.  In the distance down a cramped passage could be seen a room with a single oil lamp flickering in and out of visibility.  After Roland pulled the professor off the ground, he quickly filled him in on the details of the case up to now: the local deaths, the signs of animal predation upon the bodies, the strangely bare human-like but clawed footprints found near two of the crime scenes.  Once up to date, the three headed toward the light, Roland in the lead, Wendy tight to his hip with the flashlight aimed forward.   

From behind came a scrape and more shifting of earth.  A deep sound somewhere between a cough and a moan seemed to reverberate through the tunnel, raising hair of the backs of the trio’s necks and chilling their blood instantly.  “Run,” admonished Roland as he started to move faster away from that terrible echoing sound.  

 

Drinking

I finish my IPA and am thirsty for something different this time.  I look up from my empty drink to see the normally jovial taproom manager eyeing me with a taciturn and suspicious look upon his bearded face.  Almost instantly his smile is back, but never quite reaches his eyes this time.  I get up and order a Lumen Lager, thinking that a nice balanced amber lager will help my suddenly dry throat.  Back at out table, cards spread into neat piles, Dan looks vaguely uneasy.  “Have you been listening to these trivia questions?  They are getting really odd tonight,” he opines.  Ah no matter, we are making some headway into the game now, perhaps all will be explained to us once we discover more clues and move the scenario further ahead into uncharted territory…

The three shaken investigators hurled themselves through a hole in the lathe and plaster and into the room, finding it to be the basement of Roland’s home.  The kerosene oil lamp near the stairwell sent up a light trail of chemical tasting smoke, but gave more reassuring light to the far corner of the room.  A loud rustling and chattering sound broke the sudden silence to Wendy’s left, causing her to swing her flashlight into the nearest corner of the room.  At first she didn’t understand what she was seeing–an undulating, furry mass of creatures with beady red flashing eyes moved toward her like a mobile carpet of unspeakable malignancy.  Rats!  A hoard of agressive and angry rats!  “Mr. Banks!” She shrieked, as she threw herself back from the advancing tide of rippling matted fur and glinting teeth.  

But Roland had his own problems to attend to.  

Denouement

Finishing the game, the two of us spend some time discussing our upcoming plans for All Pints North, as well as future podcasts and blog posts for Beerploma.  We barely note that the crowd from trivia have become oddly quiet and sullen, long faces looking our way with barely concealed contempt.  Outside, lightning flashes against the backdrop of evil looking clouds and the mildly lit buildings of St. Paul’s Lower Town.

As Roland looked to Wendy’s distress, his peripheral vision picked up a thick, clawed hand reach out from the hole in the wall and grab the wheezing professor’s throat.  As he turned to face this new threat, he pulled out his pistol–always loaded and ready.  The professor gave one shocked gurgling sound, his shock-wide eyes absurdly large behind his thick lenses as the clawed hand tore out his trachea. 

Across the basement, stumbling back into a pile of old supplies, Wendy’s hand closed upon the firm cylinder of a heavy and well-seasoned baseball bat, a cast-off from Roland’s college league days.  With an intent look upon her pinched and dirty face, she leaped up brandishing her newfound savior with two-handed vigor, the discarded flashlight spinning in a slowing circle on the floor.  The sounds of chittering, shrieking, and meaty thwacking added cacophany to the nightmare flashing of light off of shining eyes and glistening blood on white ash-wood.  

Behind came the deafening crash of gunshots as bullet after bullet found home in the hunched and slavoring humanoid creature looming over the still twitching corpse of Dr. Christopher.  

Dan and I find ourselves outside the nearly empty taproom, finishing our palaver before separating.  The air is pregnant with the promise of rain, comic-book lightning effects flicker off in the distance–briefly lighting up darkened alleys.  The streetlights around us are singularly dark, with just the one directly overhead giving off a thin and sallow light.  We say our goodbyes and both head in our own directions, Dan looking over his shoulder and walking with a swifter gait than usual.  He can perhaps feel it too.  Something not quite right in the evening air…something expectant.  I walk quickly, hands full with game box, leftover pizza, and a bomber bottle of Circuit BreakerDouble IPA.

As I traverse the desolate and dimly lit parking garage nearby, I hear a vaguely disquieting shuffle of feet from somewhere off to the left.  I walk faster and steady the  grip on the thick glass bottle in my right hand. My car is just ahead in a darker section of the basement level of this vacuous and echoing structure.  I wrestle my items into the back seat, thanking the car gods that I have keyless entry and don’t have to fumble my keys out now.  Did I just hear a dog-like scrabbling of talons or nails on the concrete as I closed the door and the hit the locks?

Wendy and Roland raced up the stairs, leaving the mess of gore and horror in the basement behind them.  Roland held the lantern in his left hand, leaving the still smoking revolver free in his trembling right.  On familiar ground now Roland led his charge through the house toward the front door. Shouts that sounded like an unholy mixture of barking, hissing, and human speech pursued them, seeming to come from behind and from the open doorways as the rushed past.  The agent gave a quick glance behind and saw shadowy hunched figures emerging from darkened rooms.  With a final burst of speed, the two burst from the building.  Roland turned back, shoved his pistol into a large pocked, switched the lamp to his right side.  His pitching arm.

The oil lamp crashed into the hallway, igniting instantaneously into an inferno of spreading flame.  Hoarse, shrill cries of terror and pain echoed from the increasing blaze and Roland quickly pulled and fired his gun again at a blazing figure that tried to escape the flaming death around it.

Hours later, his house rapidly reducing to a pile of glowing cinders, Roland and Wendy both stood nearby gazing blankly at the fading glow.  Things like this were not meant to be.  Couldn’t be.  But they were just the same.  

On the long drive home I can’t keep my mind from the strange looks, the furtive taproom staff, the click-clack of claws on cement.  Fat water droplets spatter against the windshield–a precursor to a sudden roaring deluge from the dark and endless heavens.  White lines blur beneath the flooding rain, distant red tail-lights fade and I am on my own, isolated from the world within my darkened car, the incessant hammer of stormfall upon the exterior.  The winding deserted road stretches ahead but barely visible.  My speed drops to stay safe and on the tarmac.  Suddenly, looming up out of the inevitable black, reflected in my headlights–three hunched and hooded humanoid figures!  I turn the wheel, hitting the brakes.  Too much!  The car hydroplanes, shaking sideways and sliding in slow motion off the road and into the nearby ditch.

Shaking myself, I find my cracked phone on the floor and call for a tow truck.  They’ll be here shortly and all will be well.  The rain is slowing to a drizzle, which is lucky since the passenger side window has been shattered by a rogue tree limb and is only letting in a little water now.  My head hurts and I’m a little dizzy.  I pull out my laptop and work on this blog entry to kill time while waiting, the light from the screen oddly comforting.  Funny how the mind plays tricks on you: how a family of deer can seem sinister in the right (or wrong) situation.

What is that smell coming through the window?  The odor of the charnel house, decomposing flesh, grave mold, feces, all mixed into a hideous miasma.  I gag and choke back bile.  I can finish this later–I need to get out of here.  I switch my phone to flashlight mode and open the car door

 

Epilogue

This is the last blog post from frequent Beerploma contributor Eric Wentling.  It was uploaded to the WordPress site via cloud on the night of 7/19/2017.  His abandoned and wrecked car was found just off a rural road in Carver County and he has since been missing.

–Dan