It's no secret that I consider tabletop gaming a great antidote to too much screen time. Especially if you're into RPG, exploration or tactical games, increasingly sophisticated board games have captured a surprisingly mainstream audience and satiated the need for new stay-at-home entertainment in the past year.
One of my favorites has always been the series of Lovecraft-inspired games from Fantasy Flight Games, primarily the and the . I've often cited the former as my favorite "modern" board game, and back in 2018, I was cautiously optimistic about a promised video game version, Mansions of Madness: Mother's Embrace, which never seemed to get beyond a teaser trailer.
I assumed the game was dead, while other tabletop-to-digital translations, including Zombicide, continued to bridge that particular gaming gap.and
Much like the transdimensional ancient creatures that populate Lovecraft's work, this game was hard to kill, and it has now stumbled into the light two years after its original 2019 release date, renamed Arkham Horror: Mother's Embrace.
While this might have made for the kind of epic big-picture storytelling found in similar full-priced games like Call of Cthulhu or The Sinking City, Mother's Embrace has instead been pared down to a modest turn-based roleplaying game, available on PC, Switch, PS4 or Xbox for $20 (some early discounts get it down to $16). A little like Baldur's Gate 3 or similar games, you gather a party of adventurers and wander through the game, jumping into D&D-style battles along the way. I take a turn; you take a turn; roll some invisible dice to see if you hit or miss; repeat.
The game also features an unexpected emphasis on old ladies brutally beating cultists over the head with a wrench.
I played it on PC, where I was disappointed to find the frame rate locked to 30 frames per second. I was able to set the resolution to 4K, but the simple textures and designs didn't really benefit from that.
Even if all this sounds like Arkham Horror: Mother's Embrace is a miss, I found myself liking it, as long as I kept my expectations in check. It's $20, and you arguably get about $20 worth of game. It would frankly be a great $10 iPad game.
There's a ton of voice acting (of variable quality) and many playable characters to choose from, all pulled from the same stock investigators that have populated the Arkham Horror and Mansions of Madness tabletop games for years. The story hits all the right notes, from creepy mansions to that mix of science and the supernatural that has astronomers watching the stars for otherworldly monsters.
It really does feel like you're playing a video game version of the excellent Mansions of Madness tabletop game (which itself requires the use of a helper app, so it's already got one foot in the video game world). But the translation falters at times, especially when you're walking your protagonist at glacial speeds down long hallways and exploring rooms.
It's a painfully slow process compared to the tabletop version, where you can just pick up your investigator miniature and plunk them down in the next room. It also loses the biggest selling point of the original -- the ability to gather your friends and play together. Mother's Embrace is, somewhat inexplicably, a single-player-only game.
As a fan of the genre, and of this particular game series, I can't help but appreciate Arkham Horror: Mother's Embrace for what it is. The full tabletop experience takes about 30 minutes to unbox and set up, followed by between two and four hours to play a single scenario. This new minimalist video game version is something you can flip on, play for 30 minutes at a time, then move on with your day.