Review: 'Unfathomable,' a new hidden traitor board game in the world of Arkham Horror
Rating: 4.5/5 Release Date: 2021 3-6 Players
Of my favorite manifestations of the Cthulhu Mythos, board games closely follow the literature. "Unfathomable," by Fantasy Flight Games, represents the game studio's most recent release in their Arkham Horror series. Overall, it's a compelling and immersive experience, with a bit heavier learning curve for new players that are unfamiliar with Fantasy Flight's earlier 'Battlestar Galactica' board game.
Players take on the role of passengers and crew aboard the SS Atlantica, an ocean liner making its journey from Britain to Boston. The otherwise uneventful trip is shattered by a murder in the ship's chapel- an incident that spirals the voyage into a tense and frenzied atmosphere. The objective of the game is straightforward enough- if the Atlantica manages to reach Boston, the human players win.
Wait, aren't all the players, human? Well, no, not necessarily. Hidden among the crew and passengers are a number of hybrids, those with the accursed ancestry of Deep Ones and humans. The objective of the hybrids is to instead cause the ship to flounder, depleting it of its fuel, food, sanity, or souls as they covertly sabotage the ship in moments of crisis while the Deep Ones themselves thrash about the waves or even board the ship. Even exposed hybrids can pose a threat, and determining the loyalty of the other players is critical.
The game, as typical of the Arkham Horror brand, is deliciously steeped in all aspects of the Cthulhu mythos. The signature skill system is preserved, and the addition of items adds a layer of complexity to a character's options. The setting, from Father Dagon and Mother Hydra stalking the waters, to the spells and incantations at the disposal of the "Keeper of the Tome," was for me, a superb implementation of both the wider mythos and aligning it with immediate choices and consequences.
In this respect, the game's components are varied, evocative, and all-around excellent. The layout of the ocean liner is clear and aesthetically rich, and the item and character art are top-notch, as can be safely expected from Fantasy Flight. Rounding out the game components are dozens of Deep One miniatures and the grand figurines of Father Dagon and Mother Hydra, looking as good as ever and as if they just came off the 'Cthulhu Wars' board.
The range of player choices offer a fair balance of playstyles, although random character choices may be for the best due to the strict hierarchy of which character is deemed to be the ship's captain or keeper of the tome at the start of the game- two distinctions that invest considerable power (and likely enjoyment) to those players. The character profiles showcase an effort toward diversity, always welcome, although some of the descriptions and backgrounds could have been constructed along more believable lines for that period of history.
The sum of the experience is a thrilling and desperate struggle between the players. The brutally slim chances of the humans hanging on till the end have been preserved from the mechanics of 'Battlestar,' and represent a potential point of discontent for the player experience. But more than just of a clone of that wonderful game's mechanics, Unfathomable succeeds in blending in the highly successful Arkham universe, adding new layers to the hidden traitor game that should make the journey enjoyable for all involved, whether they win or lose.