Horror on the Orient Express: The Board Game is an upcoming adaptation of the 1991 campaign for tabletop roleplaying game Call of Cthulhu. Described by publisher Chaosium – the company also behind Call of Cthulhu – as being a “complete RPG-like experience in a board game”, Horror on the Orient Express will become part of an impressive legacy of Call of Cthulhu board games when it releases in 2025.
This legacy began with Arkham Horror in 1987. Based on the Call of Cthulhu tabletop RPG that had been released six years earlier, Arkham Horror was Chaosium’s debut attempt at turning its revolutionary horror RPG into a revolutionary horror board game.
As a team of plucky investigators, players in Arkham Horror needed to navigate around an alternate 1926 in order to defeat a rogues’ gallery of monsters and close the gates they entered through. Arkham Horror was incredibly advanced for a board game released during the 1980s. In the game, players are able to experience small narrative beats, collect helpful items and learn the spells they need to fight a horde of monsters from beyond the stars.
In 2004, the rights to Arkham Horror were acquired by a company called Skotos, which arranged the publication of a new edition with Fantasy Flight Games. Arkham Horror’s association to Call of Cthulhu switched from an official one to a spiritual one. The updated version changed some aspects of the earlier horror board game - but what’s surprising is just how much it retained from the original, which went to show just how ahead of its time Arkham Horror was.
Fantasy Flight then released Eldritch Horror in 2013, which took the basic elements of Arkham Horror and expanded them to encompass a global scale, with players travelling across the entire world hunting for clues and solving mysteries. Beyond expanding the scope, Eldritch Horror increased the focus on narrative through more varied threats, fleshed-out encounters and opportunities to change the story. Overall, Eldritch Horror provides a much better experience than its predecessor - so much so that a third edition of Arkham Horror was created to make certain elements be more in line with those in Eldritch.
Horror on the Orient Express is one heck of an RPG campaign to base a board game on.
Though the title certainly has a lot to live up to considering the board games it’s following on from, Horror on the Orient Express has plenty going for it. Obviously, it’s being published by Chaosium, the company responsible for releasing the tabletop RPG that started it all, as well as the first Arkham Horror. If any company knows what it’s doing with a Call of Cthulhu board game, it’s the one behind the original RPG.
What’s more is that Horror on the Orient Express is one heck of an RPG campaign to base a board game on. Designed to take over 100 hours to finish, Horror on the Orient Express is a blockbuster campaign that has players travelling across the world searching for the pieces of a powerful artefact. As the name suggests, players travel along the same route as the Orient Express itself: the world-famous train that crosses the entire length of continental Europe.
The campaign transforms this piece of quintessential late 19th-century/early 20th-century culture into a disturbing trek through uncanny versions of iconic cities, with cultists stalking the investigators and monsters attacking them throughout. Horror on the Orient Express isn’t just a campaign spanning miles; it also crosses entire time periods as well, with players able to experience scenarios set during the Dark Ages, the Gaslight Era – or 19th century – and the Dreamlands, a setting that transcends time and space itself.
Horror on the Orient Express has a reputation for being deadly, with the original game notes indicating that the campaign has an investigator mortality rate of 70%.
Considering that Eldritch Horror demonstrated how good an epic Call of Cthulhu board game can be, it’s incredibly exciting to see the arrival of a board game based on such a large-scale RPG adventure. It’s not just scale that Horror on the Orient Express: The Board Game has on its side, as both the original 1991 campaign and its 2014 expanded edition have received critical acclaim – including winning multiple prestigious Origins and ENnie awards.
Considering it’s a survival-horror RPG, playing Call of Cthulhu is rarely intended to be a walk in the park. Nevertheless, Horror on the Orient Express has a reputation for being deadly, with the original game notes indicating that the campaign has an investigator mortality rate of 70%. Rather than being off-putting, this intense challenge could be a serious boon to Horror on the Orient Express: The Board Game. Arkham Horror and especially Eldritch Horror are two co-op board games that are more about experiencing the journey than achieving the win state, thanks to their high difficulty. This intense level of difficulty only serves to heighten the feeling of being a team of rogue investigators stupid and brave enough to take on seemingly overwhelming odds. If Horror on the Orient Express: The Board Game takes its cues from this, it can only be a good thing.
Horror on the Orient Express: The Board Game may be carrying a lofty legacy into the future, but if its creators take the right aspects from its own source material and its predecessors, then it could just live up to it.