DISCLAIMER: I haven’t yet been able to play Horror on the Orient Express.
I backed the Chaosium kickstarter for Horror on the Orient Express what feels like a million years ago. It turns out that it funded in 2012, which explains why I feel like I’ve been waiting for it forever.
The Horror on the Orient Express scenario is a very long, some might say epic scenario that takes place across Europe in the 1920s during the last great era of the luxury train line The Orient Express. The scenario itself involves a cult (WHAT) who are seeking a powerful mcguffin that is spread out across Europe. The nature of the cult and the mcguffin (The Sedefkar Simulacrum) lend the main story a strong emphasis on body horror.
The main campaign has been in existence for some time, and although I’m not especially familiar with it, my understanding is that it is not changed over much in this new presentation, just suffused with an incredible amount of new material.
And there IS an incredible amount of new material here. Aside from the main campaign, which takes place in the standard Call of Cthulhu setting of the 1920’s upper class, the campaign also includes supplementary adventures for Cthulhu Invictus, The Dreamlands, Cthulhu by Gaslight, and the modern day.
My boxed set also included a very large amount of prop documents and other physical ephemera. Tickets, stickers, buttons, maps, etcetera. You can check out the CthulhuDice instagram page for loads of “unboxing” pictures.
So – the verdict:
I can’t very well give Horror on the Orient Express a bad review, given the sheer amount of stuff you get. Even if you just buy the rulebooks, they come in a huge box. I can’t fit them on my shelf. All the props have to occupy a separate little area in CthulhuDice headquarters (luckily they came with a convenient tote bag). The writing and design is very strong, the art is great, the production is excellent.
However, keep a few things in mind. The campaign is long and involved. Including the supplementary scenarios will make playing through the box a several month long affair. (Unless you have a gaming group that meets daily. Mine has trouble getting together once a week!) It involves plenty of the grotesque and a fair amount gore, so everyone should have a strong stomach. Although that sort of stuff doesn’t bother me particularly, I do think there is a bit too much of it in Cthulhu/Lovecraft based RPG, and not nearly enough existential terror. (Although I do understand the appeal of mutilating your player characters in various ways).
Also, much of the scenario and especially the endgame are incredibly deadly. There is an extended section on a train where a vampire is after the players – I’m not sure I’ve ever met a group of players who could survive that section. The danger with especially deadly long campaigns is that losing too many player characters leads to a weird disconnect in motivations – the original group is working at the behest of their close friend, the Professor – at some point, the players have become a motley collection of second cousins and press ganged locals who have ended up risking their lives for murky reasons.
However, if your group is in the market for long, pulpy, and difficult adventure, you can probably look no further than The Horror on the Orient Express. I doubt very much that you’ll be disappointed.