The Investigators of Arkham Horror is a fabulous prestige edition of a book, with over 260 full-size (8.5 x 11) pages of lavish illustration and gorgeously graphic design smaller. The Investigators of Arkham Horror presents 52 short stories featuring the investigators of Fantasy Flight’s Arkham Horror Files line of games (Mansions of Madness, Eldritch Horror, Arkham Horror, the Arkham Horror LCG, and Elder Sign).
The overwhelming and immediate takeaway from the Investigators of Arkham Horror is that it is visually stunning. The individual pieces of art (which will be familiar to those who have played the games) is great, including many full-page pieces, but what really makes it sing is the layout and graphic design – the backgrounds, the borders, and the way they’re all meshed together. Although there is a sort of ‘generic’ background used for a lot of the investigators, which is designed to look like dog-eared sheets of paper, there’s a lot of variation across the different stories – ancient paper, the papers laying on different surfaces (which can be seen peeking from behind the papers), a blackboard background, a tile background, and so forth. Even the art placement – varying across the book but always working smoothly with the text – is well done. It could really serve as a coffee table book, for those willing to put their pretty books in danger like that (or make sure you have one of those two-layer tables where the top level is glass and you put the books on the lower level). It makes me want to call out whatever specific person was in charge of the layout, but there is a big team listed, so I can’t tell which person (or people) directly did the work and who was more of a supervisor.
Of course, the book has words, not just pictures. As you can figure from the number of pages and number of investigators, the average tale is about 5 pages in length, with many 4 pages and some running as long as 8. Each story tells of some incident in the investigators life with an element of the supernatural. Sometimes that’s spookiness caused by occult words, sometimes it’s visions, and often it’s an actual monster. The stories often have a feel of ‘this is why this person is interested in the occult’ and sometimes has a specific hook into why the person is interested in Arkham specifically (in addition to the people who just already live there) – there are some international stories, but even with Eldritch Horror’s global focus most roads point back to Arkham even when the story itself is set elsewhere. A good number of the stories accomplish this sort of tie-in by employing flashbacks (sometimes with a change from first to third person, which can be a big jarring).
As one might expect in a Lovecraftian setting, there is a lot of not only theme, but also detail, lifted from Lovecraft’s work. For example, the story of Agatha Crane sees her visit a building known as the Witch House, wherein she encounters rooms with odd geometry and a ratlike creature with a human face – all elements drawn from Lovecraft’s “The Dreams in the Witch House.”
With relatively little space per story, the individual stories do sometimes feel incomplete, at least to me. I tended to like the one’s better when there was more of a conclusion, even if that conclusion was of the ‘and therefore I need to take action’ variety. Even in a very short story I guess I would like to see more than the character running away from some monster.
For what it’s worth, my personal favorite story was Ursula Downs, the Explorer, in which our intrepid hero learns that the occult-influenced but human villains of the setting can engage in traditionally human failings as well. Also, why isn’t Ursula in Mansions of Madness yet? Is she denied her rightful place here just as she was denied her rightful place in the Archaeological Institute of America (Miskatonic Chapter). I demand an investigation! (OK, so I don’t demand an investigation, but I do request her appearance in whatever expansion is after Horrific Journeys).
So, while the Investigators of Arkham Horror is gorgeous and gives an introduction to the broadest possible array of characters, if you want a true ‘story’ in the Arkham Horror Files universe, you might want to also check out some of the novels – I would recommend the Dark Waters trilogy and Feeders from Within (a standalone novel), and you can read why I liked those particular ones here.
But the Investigators of Arkham Horror well accomplishes its task of giving a lush presentation of the eponymous investigators, and just on the appearance alone most fans of the game line will be wowed.