|Size of the Encounter Deck
My take on this encounter deck: An encounter deck without doom cards? What is this sorcery? The reason for this is of course the infestation mechanic which takes over as the primary timer in this scenario. Accordingly, the encounter deck consists mostly of just a few enemies and a slew of cards that are intended to stall out the investigators from doing their usual jobs of slaying enemies and collecting clues. The only cards in this encounter deck that do not fit either of those categories are the cards from Merging Realities, a set that provides a splash of other common encounter deck effects like discarding assets or dealing some damage.
All enemies in the deck are spiders, a trait that a few encounter cards and the last agenda care about. The Grey Weavers from the Agents of Atlach-Nacha are quite dangerous for level 0 investigators, sporting an impressive 5/5/4 statline in this scenario. The rest of the enemies is mostly easy to dispatch, but can take several actions as well. The infestation mechanic asks players to search for spider enemies from deck and discard reasonably often, something that players can exploit to either go for small critters to catch a break or to fish for the enemies with victory points on them once they are set up to take them down.
Locked Doors and Striking Fear are back from the Core, both card sets that have been used for good effect many times whenever stalling players is the goal, but curiously this is only the second time these two sets are used together (the first one is City of Archives). Whispers of Hypnos and the treacheries from Agents of Atlach-Nacha and Spiders complement them nicely and make sure that Willpower, Agility and Strength are all tested at various points.
The encounter deck doesn’t do anything we have never seen before, its composition is fairly simple in what it tries to achieve. However, when combined with the infestation mechanic, the result is a very unique scenario that not only has great flavor but also strong gameplay that requires players to overcome a wide variety of obstacles. I like this scenario a whole lot.
Cancel these: Outbreak, Frozen in Fear. Outbreak acts as this scenarios “Evils” card, bringing the scenario closer to a point where players can not fight back the infestation in time. Other than that, a cancel on any of the treacheries that test something the player has little chance of passing can often save a few actions. Frozen in Fear is the classic example of this, but situationally other cards like Will of the Spidermother or Locked Doors can be just as problematic if the associated tests are not reasonably easy to pass.
What it does: The Suspicious Orderly is an annoyance that stops the investigator engaged to it from investigating. It can not be fought in the usual ways, so usually players will need to evade them if necessary. They don’t attack, so keeping them engaged in your threat area doesn’t hurt at least. Once the agenda advances to the point where the infestation is happening, each Suspicious Orderly gets replaced by an Corrupted Orderly. These do in fact attack the players. They lose their old abilities but gain a damage prevention effect instead that cancels 1 damage from each source as long as they are at infested locations. Corrupted Orderlies also count as Spider enemies, which does have some interactions with other encounter and scenario cards.
As another thing to consider, the scenario card refers to them. As long as a player is engaged with one of these Staff cards, the skull token counts as a -3 instead of a -1 (on Hard/Expert: -4 instead of -2).
My take: The Suspicious Orderly can be engaged safely by a player not planning on investigating, at least as long as they don’t take any tests. So usually you’ll need to evade them multiple times, but since their evade value is fairly low this should be a reasonable ask. Carrying them around in the threat area for a turn or two can minimize the amount of actions they eat up and that can be worth the increased penalty of the skull token. It can also be beneficial if you are running cards like Scene of the Crime, to have your Guardian grab a few clues as well.
The corrupted version’s threat is very situational. While at a non-infested location, they are basically just your standard cannon fodder enemy, but that damage prevention effect can be quite annoying otherwise. As long as that effect active, the enemy will need two attacks for two damage to be defeated or one attack with three damage. The final agenda will also push its fight and evade to three each, which can be a relevant increase.
Threat level: Low for the Suspicious Orderly which can be engaged by any investigator not on clue duty with only little punishment. Low to Mid for the Corrupt Orderly, mostly due to the damage prevention being able to be inconvenient.
Dealing with it: This is the first scenario, so many of the common attacks for three damage aren’t available yet. So while using one such attack (Spectral Razor is L0, for example) is preferrable, the low fight value of the Suspicious Orderly means that he can also be killed fairly easily with two attacks from most weapons. Unarmed investigators may find themselves unable to harm the enemy at all, in which case another player might need to help. Worst case, if they are also unable to evade, they will have to take an attack of opportunity to move to a non-infested location.
As is so often the case with Humanoids that have unusual abilities, the Guardian card Handcuffs is excellent against them. A Suspicious Orderly that is disabled by Handcuffs will stay shackled down even after changing into a Corrupted Orderly. Handcuffs are generally not great in this campaign, but since this is the first scenario, including them in your starting deck and then upgrading out of them immediately after this scenario can be a good idea.
The setup dialogue allows players to choose if they want Dr. Maheswaran to come with them. If they do, this story ally can take care of the Orderlies for you, however that comes with costs that are likely not worth this benefit. Not only do you risk her dying that way, something that is penalized with a mental trauma, but you also earn an entry in your campaign log that has consequences down the line.
What it does: Outbreak accelerates this scenarios unique “clock” by making the player do another infestation test in addition to the one that is done each round. This infestation test is further modified by counting tablet tokens as skulls. This means that the token is not only set aside as usual but it will also spawn a spider enemy.
My take: No scenario specific timer mechanic would be complete without a card in the encounter deck that pushes it along. Stopping the infestation from spreading and reversing it is the primary objective of this scenario and the time offered by the doom clock to achieve it is tight enough that having additional pulls from the infestation bag can become troublesome.
Threat level: Mid to High. Due to how the bag is set up, there is already a fairly huge variance in how quick the infestation spreads. This card only makes it more unpredictable and offers up the chance of having multiple new infestations in one mythos phase. This can be a huge problem if it happens, even if it’s unlikely. In the vast majority of cases, aside from the increased chance to spawn a spider enemy, this doesn’t do much to the state of the board.
Dealing with it: Like many of the cards that add doom to the agenda, this card has little immediate impact but does push on the timing constraints that the players have to deal with. If the infestation is already spread out due to unlucky Cultist pulls from the infestation bag, canceling this card can be worth it, although options for that are limited due to the fact of this being the first scenario of the campaign. Mostly, players should just be aware that this card exists and accept it as part of the infestation mechanics.