Irregular Evils – #34

Site News

In case you missed it, Ancient Evils now has pages for the Standalones. At least for the ones i already played, but more are coming soon. I kinda lucked out and was able to get all of them except for Labyrinth which i couldn’t play anyways. So far, Rougarou and Excelsior are both up, Outer Gods i am currently working on. Should probably get posted sometime next week.
Link: Standalone Hub

I also started on a new article series about the design of some Arkham mechanic. In those articles i compare them to how they work in Marvel Champions and Lord of the Rings, trying to gleam interesting stuff from the contrast. I am happy with how the series went so far, there’s three articles up right now and i got a couple more planned.
Link: Article Hub

I also finally got my copy of Return to Circle Undone this week. I am currently playing it, so i should be able to update the scenario pages for the campaign soon and also write up the Resurgent Evils post with the overview of the Return to TCU product. Good stuff.

Spoiler Season

Meanwhile, in the wider Arkham world, spoiler season for Edge of the Earth is in full swing and this week we were bombarded with a flurry of previewed cards through various content creators. While i do not have a card of my own to share, i certainly do have opinions on them, so let’s take a quick look at all of them! Where possible, i will link to the original source so you can check out the cards there. If you want one link to see everything, i suggest this page on Hall of Arkham.

Daniela Reyes: The final investigator was previewed by Optimal Play on their Youtube channel, including signatures and weaknesses. I am certainly interested in playing her, i’ve always been one that likes the Guard Dog and Survival Knife playstyle. Having an investigator dedicated to that is cool. I also have visions of her going around with a Chainsaw…

Medical Texts(2): A fine card. It’s not going to make a huge splash, but i have certainly felt the lack of a Healing Words(2) before. Getting to take actions to heal 2 damage can take the pressure of many situations involving high trauma, in particular during Innsmouth or TFA campaigns. Daisy is a lot less fragile with this thing in her arsenal as well.

Unearth the Ancients(2): Oh, this is powerful. Here’s what you get for 2XP: -1 cost, an extra icon, an extra asset put into play and possible an extra card drawn. Also, you no longer replace the clue. This last part is huge, especially since you can use this card to replace the shroud value on a tough location with the cost of some asset in your hand. And then still throw your Deductions at it to get multiple clues. Really, really good.

Toe to Toe: This card is amazing and will see so much play, it could rival Vicious Blow. “Automatically successful” are some powerful words. This is good even when you play it straight, but add some synergy to it from Guard Dog, Daniela, Calvin, Nathaniel… and you got an absolutely stellar card. And it’s level zero! And no cost! Beautiful.

Brand of Cthugha: Doesn’t compare too favorably with existing combat spells or Enchanted Blade once we consider that this costs an XP. However, this Brand has value as a side arm for Guardians with big guns that doesn’t require a Bandolier. It’s also the only sidearm you can carry with a flamethrower, which is weirdly on theme.

Gang Up: 3 resources seems like a lot, but this card scales really well. Remember that your investigator card counts for this, so all you’d need is Joe Diamond with an Enchanted Blade (or Brand of Cthugha) and Gang Up already hits for 4 damage. That seems really powerful and at that point we aren’t even trying to maximize it yet.

Prophesiae Profana: Ah, the obligatory level 5 seeker card that has the community in upheaval and clamour for pre-release taboos. I don’t think this is anywhere near that busted. Sure, a double stat boost is good and the teleport ability can also be, depending on the scenario. But that “ignore Attacks of Opportunity” thing doesn’t impress me much, to be honest. Maybe it’s a two-player thing, but AoOs are barely even a thing in my games? But still, obviously a powerful card worth the 5XP. I am just not sure how often i would actually play it.

Jeremiah Kirby: This is an interesting card, but it has the age-old problem of being in direct competition with Milan. A deck purposefully built to always draw 5 could get good value from him, but that’s likely going to be the exception. Personally, i like skills in Seeker way too much and Jeremy here will not be able to draw them because skills have no cost at all.

Defensive Stance and Survey the Area: These are skills can easily add 5 or more icons to your skill test. That is going to be worth it somewhere for sure. The first thing i am thinking of is making Leo or Harvey pass agility tests, but there’s likely a whole lot more to do with them. Both skills have a bit of competition from existing cards, some of which (like Daring or Mind over Matter) don’t cost XP. So it will remain to be seen how much play they get. These are certainly fine cards. Being Practiced but not working with Amanda or Practice makes Perfect is super weird, though…

Cyclopean Hammer: Finally a big weapon that can take it up with Timeworn Brand, even if it takes two hands. This thing packs a lot of punch and the forced enemy movement is useful for sure. Icons that make it excellent for use with Well Prepared round out the package. Now this is a card i would enjoy spending 5XP and 5 resources on.

Join the Caravan: I guess? To be honest, i find it hard to get excited about yet another Seeker move card. There’s so many of them already and i don’t see this being worth scaling Synergy for. Could have a spot in Joe’s hunch deck, but this card is sort of whatever to me.

Underworld Support: That’s more my thing! I already have played Highlander on occasion before without an official card that even rewards me for doing it. I don’t think this is all that efficient strictly speaking and i don’t think it should be – playing Highlander is something that you do to pose yourself a deckbuilding challenge. That being said, if you plan on running a couple powerful one-off cards anyways (like anything exceptional, for example), this could help you find what you need.

Nkosi Mbati: Oh, this guy is powerful. The two immediate things that come to mind are Jim Culver treating everything as a skull and that you can name Blesses with this guy. That’s some huge boost to consistency for those sort of decks. But even if you aren’t Jim, treating other tokens as skulls is usually going to be really good. What an interesting card to upgrade your Olive McBride into for token fishing decks.

Sled Dog: Oh my. These could seriously go into a lot of decks. Lola likes these a lot. Leo does as well. The limiting factor is going to be how well you can come up with the resource costs for the dogs. But if you can manage it, that’s a lot of potential power in a level zero neutral card. I am thrilled that these exist, they are going to be worth tinkering around for several investigators. Even Mandy could rather easily find all four of these, put them into play and attack for 4 damage with 5 fight. Mandy! Hilarious.

Blur(4): (This has been previewed by Veronica on the MB Discord, i don’t think i can link there directly). We’ve seen level 1 Blur before, so the interesting part for me here is that we can see how these sort of cards are being upgraded. It’s safe to say that for example the Cthugha blade will have a level 4 version following this template. As for the card itself, i am certainly interested in getting extra actions when evading. Not sure i like paying 4XP for an evade card, though. Suggestion is one hell of a competition here. The nice thing about Blur is that it doesn’t need high willpower, though. Someone like Finn might be interested and i feel like that is the most likely spot for Blur. Mystics probably have better already established cards.

So in conclusion we got a lot of exciting stuff going on right now. And we aren’t even done yet, there’s more to come in the next days.

Round Sequence in Arkham, LotR and Champions

Introduction, Disclaimer and Spoiler Warning

This is the third article in a series in which i try to tackle a specific mechanic or design piece from Arkham and break it down. To do so, i do not just look at the mechanic from within Arkham LCG, but also compare it with how it is handled in Lord of the Rings LCG and Marvel Champions, which both share plenty DNA with Arkham to make such a comparison useful. I’ll then try to come to some sort of conclusion about which implementation i like best and whatever else i can draw out of the comparison.
I want to make clear here that these are purely opinion pieces. I do not have any special access to the thoughts of Jeremy, Maxine or Caleb aside from what they publically released. Nor am i a designer myself, merely an interested individual that likes to take things apart to see how they tick. Especially when it comes to designer’s intents, there is certainly room for speculation and interpretation and i do not claim to have any sort of hard authority on the topic.
As for spoilers, i will try to keep it to a minimum. But of course i will have to grab specific examples from any of those games sometimes and that will absolutely include some encounter cards.

Upkeep, player phase, enemy phase

Why does round sequence matter?

Every round, the players take their actions and/or play their cards, whatever they need to do to advance their gameplan. Also each round, the scenario presents new challenges in the form of encounter cards. Enemies on the board take their predefined actions as well. This is all true for each of the three Living Card Games, however they all have their rounds structured in a different way.

The round sequence determines what sort of information the players have when they take their actions. Have the enemies already acted? Or do you need to hold back cards to deal with that? How much can you commit to certain actions when you might need some of those cards or resources later this round? Somewhere there’s going to be a step where all players earn their “income” and get to ready their exhausted cards. Where is that step in relation to the enemy phase? Are there maybe even multiple enemy phases?

All these things have considerable impact on the sort of decision making that is required from the player and by comparing the three games with each other this becomes readily apparent as they all work quite differently here. As a result, the games feel more or less urgent and decisions need to be more or less calculated. The player might have to act proactively, not knowing what comes up from the encounter deck. Or the player might already have that knowledge for this round and gets to react instead of just act. It’s a distinction that can make quite the impact on how the game plays.

So let’s start with a superficial overview of the round sequencing in the three games before we get into the implications of the differences:


First off, some conventions. I want to define a common start of the round for all three games to make it easier to compare them side by side. This is no issue because rounds are cyclical in nature, therefore it doesn’t matter where we start unraveling them. So for purposes of this article, a round starts with the players readying their cards and gaining their income. This refresh or upkeep phase is something that all three games have in common, making it a good common ground zero. Also, i will glance over some parts of the round that doesn’t have any relevance for what i am trying to discuss here.

After an Arkham investigator readies their cards, collects their resources and draws their cards in the upkeep phase, the game moves into the Mythos phase where doom ticks up and encounter cards are revealed. Treacheries resolve and enemies are added to the board. Then players get to have their investigation phase which allows them to play cards, move, investigate, attack monsters and whatever other actions are available to them. Players can take their turns here in any order, but a turn has to be finished completely before the next player gets theirs – they can’t be woven into each other. After that, any remaining enemies get to take the enemy phase, where they move (if they are Hunters) and/or attack (if they are engaged to an investigator). After that it’s upkeep again, looping back to the beginning.

LotR players also get to enjoy a refresh phase where their stuff readies, resources are earned and cards are drawn. Well, technically its two phases and threat also ticks up there but for the purposes of this article there’s little practical difference. Where Arkham players would go into Mythos next, in LotR it’s now the player’s turn though. And unlike the all-in-one big phase of Arkham, LotR employs a more structured sequence. First, everyone gets to play cards from their hands, like allies or items. Then, the players have to commit any number of heroes and allies from their board to questing. This exhausts those characters. Only after this happens, the encounter deck reveals the cards for this round, resolving treacheries and other cards, possibly influencing the result of the quest or putting enemies into play. Once the quest is done with, a new active location is traveled to if the old one was explored. Then, the remaining characters have to face enemies which now might engage (possibly including those just revealed) and immediately attack. Shadow cards are drawn here and players can declare blockers from the ready characters they still have. Doing so will exhaust those characters. Enemy attacks are then resolved, including shadow effects. Only once all of this is done, the characters that are still ready at this point get to attack the enemies. Afterwards, the game loops back to the refresh phase. Whenever the players have to decide their actions, they do so in player order, without the option to have overlapping turns.

In Marvel Champions, players get to ready their cards at the end of the player phase. At the same time, they get to draw new cards (which are simultaneously resources). With a full hand and everything ready, they go into the villain phase where threat ticks up and the villain either attacks or schemes against each player once, using a facedown boost card. Engaged enemies join into this attack/scheming. Players declare their blockers for the attacks, which will exhaust those characters. Then the attacks resolve, including the boosts. Afterwards, encounter cards are dealt out. Treacheries resolve while enemies, schemes and upgrades are added to the board. Then its the player turn which follows a similar model to the one of Arkham: Players are free to use their actions and play their cards in any order they desire. This includes attacks on enemies. There is a fixed player order that has to be followed. Once the players have done everything they want to, they ready their cards and draw a new hand, then proceed into the villain phase again.

Marvel superheroes
Ready for the next villain phase

Decision Points

The fixed sequence of phases in Lord of the Rings leads to a very structured way of playing the game. The players go from one phase to the next and at each point have a limited amount of things they can decide or do. I call these steps “decision points”, where the game asks for the players input before proceeding. This is sort of comparable to how a turnbased video game might take the control away from the players and hand it back in a set rythm.

A LotR player will find that different decision points vary in how much freedom of play they have and in how much information they possess. For example, the first decision point has them play cards (allies, items, events, etc) where they have a high degree of freedom to their actions. They can play whatever they have in their hand in any order. They are also not impacted by any enemies they are currently engaged with. However, they are still working off of incomplete information from going before the encounter phase happened. This last bit is especially relevant for the quest phase which immediately follows and asks the players not only to assess what’s on the board but also what might still come from the deck.
The back half of the turn, everything after the encounter phase, swings in the other direction. While players have more information to work with here, they are limited in what they can do at a given decision point, like only declaring blockers or deciding on where to travel next. In total, i count seven decision points for LotR: Play cards. Quest. Encounter response. Travel. Engage and block. Shadow response. Attack.

The other two games are much less restrictive on the player in terms of what they can do and what they know when they are doing it. For both games, the round starts with encounter draws right after the players ready their cards, so in the player phase they do not have to fear any nasty surprises inbetween their actions (well, unless they provoke it in some way). Marvel even has all attacks happen right at the beginning as well. So in the player phase, the heroes are completely undisturbed and can do their actions, card plays and attacks in any order they desire. Or in other words, there are only three decision points in Marvel Champions: Block. Encounter response. Player actions.

Arkham has one notable difference to Champions, however. While it does also have the big player phase where everything happens, enemies do in fact impact player actions there. Anyone engaged with an enemy will have to deal with that first or face attacks of opportunity. Basically, this puts another decision point right at the beginning of their turn, where they have to deal with enemies first before they can move onto other actions safely. The other major difference is the existence of locations which start out unrevealed, so there is a progression of information during the player turn as a result of moving around the board. This sort of leaves us with five decision points, even though the order between the three in the middle is not completely fix: Encounter response. Enemy handling. Movement. Player actions. Block.

Conclusions up to here

I’d like to point out here that this is just an observation about how the games operate differently in this regard. It’s not meant to be in an evaluating way, more (or less) is not better (or worse). What we can take away from this is that Marvel is the game both with the highest degree of player freedom and with the most information available. LotR is most “on rails”, very deliberately confronting the player with one specific problem at a time. Arkham is somewhere in the middle between the two, but a bit closer to Champions than to LotR.
Also, both Marvel and Arkham have the players mostly react to what happens in the encounter phase. And any actions left after dealing with the fallout can go towards advancing the scenario. Lord of the Rings on the other hand asks players to do the advancement first and then presents the player with new threats to overcome. As a result, some actions or resources might actually go to waste when the threat turns out to be less impactful than expected. Or worse, there’s more coming from the encounter deck than expected, catching the player off-guard.

Other observations

While we are looking at the round structure, there are some other things worth noticing, even if i don’t want to make a bigger point based on them. In no particular order:

  • Ready phase vs encounter phase: Champions goes back to how LotR did things for many of its mechanics, but there is one thing in particular that immediately stood out to me as a huge difference and that is how the ready phase happens right after player actions. As a result, players are free to spend everything they have in their turn, without having to worry about holding things back in case its needed later. Once the encounter deck gets to do its thing, players have drawn to full, readied everything – basically, they are at maximum strength during the enemy turn. This is opposite to LotR which frontloads the player turn and then has the enemy act afterwards, so there’s a lot more guesswork and risk management involved. Arkham is similarly “generous” regarding this, but since resources do not refresh in full every turn like they do in Champions, it still has a degree of pre-planning that is simply not present in Champions.
  • Enemy attack vs player attack: In LotR, the enemy attack phase happens before the players get to retaliate. For the other two games, players always get a chance to kill the enemy first. I don’t want to go too deep into the role of enemies in the three games here (i’ll hold that one back for its own article), so for now i will leave it at the observation that having the enemy attack first in LotR is a huge part of why they are so much scarier than the ones in Champions and Arkham.
  • Player windows: All three games have player windows scattered across the various phases. A player window allows the use of some cards and actions to increase the interactivity of that step. So while you are usually not allowed to do anything but declare blockers in a given step, some card might allow you to be played there to remove an attacker instead or ready exhausted characters for emergencies. Or a cancel might give you the option of not dealing with a treachery.
  • Player order matters: Marvel, LotR and Arkham all ask that the current player finishes their turn before the next one gets to take theirs. Again, LotR plays this one very strict with only the player windows as a way to do something on another player’s turn. A first player token determines who goes first and it goes to the player to the left during the refresh phase. The same goes for Champions, but it does have a rule allowing to “request” actions or cards from other players that allow criss-crossing of turns in a limited fashion. This rule removes a significant part of the restrictiveness. Arkham does not allow such overlap between turns, but it does allow to choose the player order during the player phase freely. This is often relevant, because when enemies are around, you might want to use your fighters first. On the other hand, there are situations where it’s more important who goes into an unrevealed location first.
Battle Your Way Through Middle-earth - Fantasy Flight Games
This player is committing a lot of characters to the quest, let’s hope it works out

Final words

Ultimately, the types of available actions over the course of a turn aren’t all that different between the three games and they do obviously share a lot of mechanics. So a large part of the difference in gameplay has to come from the round sequencing. It’s obviously not the only contribution, but it’s certainly a large factor. The effect is deliberate, of course. For example, having the ready phase right after the player phase in Marvel encourages taking big turns and spending all your resources on high impact turns as is appropriate for a super hero game. Meanwhile, the fact that in LotR the enemies attack first hammers home how dangerous they are to the group and that the group needs to be ready for ambushes once their threat value goes too high.

I think it’s quite interesting how reordering the steps in a round can fundamentally change how a game plays and feels. For previous articles i chose a “winner”, a game where i most liked the implementation of what the article is about. I am going to skip on that for this article as i think these games all have their reason to be the way they are. They are different enough in how they work and their intention behind it that i don’t want to pick one as “the better one”.


Continue reading here:

The Random Element in AHLCG, LotRLCG and Marvel Champions

Introduction, Disclaimer and Spoiler Warning

This is the second in a series of articles in which i try to tackle a specific mechanic or design piece from Arkham and break it down. To do so, i do not just look at the mechanic from within Arkham LCG, but also compare it with how it is handled in Lord of the Rings LCG and Marvel Champions, which both share plenty DNA with Arkham to make such a comparison useful. I’ll then try to come to some sort of conclusion about which implementation i like best and whatever else i can draw out of the comparison.
I want to make clear here that these are purely opinion pieces. I do not have any special access to the thoughts of Jeremy, Maxine or Caleb aside from what they publically released. Nor am i a designer myself, merely an interested individual that likes to take things apart to see how they tick. Especially when it comes to designer’s intents, there is certainly room for speculation and interpretation and i do not claim to have any sort of hard authority on the topic.
As for spoilers, i will try to keep it to a minimum. But of course i will have to grab specific examples from any of those games sometimes and that will absolutely include some encounter cards.

Why is randomization needed?

With this article, i want to take a look at how each of the three games introduces some random elements into its gameplay. Doing this is needed especially for this sort of cooperative game to stop it from being too deterministic which would lead to ultimately becoming “solvable”. A game with a clear solution becomes stale and loses replayability. It also removes a large amount of interesting decision making from the game. While constructing decks and watching them perform just as planned can be relaxing and satisfying, the real juicy parts of the game usually happens when the plan goes of the rails. That’s when players need to prove they are able to improvise and to make good calls under pressure. While this can lead to defeat and frustration, the reward for pulling it off is so much more satisfying. Even when everything goes right, it feels better if you know that it *might* have gone wrong instead.
As in the previous article, i will start with a superficial look at the three games so we get an overview. I will then break it down further afterwards.


In the Arkham LCG, there are two main contributors to making the game less deterministic: One, the encounter deck consists of a few dozen cards, shuffled up and coming out in random order during a specific phase of the game. Usually, one per player is drawn. Two, the game uses the “chaos bag” as a way to test if players are actually able to perform the tasks they attempt. To do such a test, a random token from this bag is drawn, showing a numerical modifier that is applied to the investigators skill value. The result has to beat some difficulty value or it’s a failed test. Tokens can have other effects tacked on as well and includes an “auto-fail” token.

Like Arkham, the Lord of the Rings card game also uses an encounter deck where random cards are revealed from during an encounter phase. While the weight of those cards is certainly different than it is in Arkham (a topic for another day), the method of randomization is the same. However, LotR does not have a chaos bag or similar to affect player actions specifically. Instead it uses so-called “shadow cards”, which is basically a second round of encounter deck draws, using seperate shadow effects that are on many cards. These shadow cards are not drawn per player, they are instead assigned face down to attacking enemies, giving each attack an element of uncertainty that players will have to deal with when deciding on how to do combat. Shadow cards can have a wide range of effects, sometimes rivaling proper treacheries.

Marvel Champions is close to LotR in how it does randomization, however there are a few interesting differences. As with the other two games, Marvel uses an encounter deck to draw from during the encounter phase. So nothing special on that front. Villains attack or scheme against each player once per turn, and when they do so they are assigned a face down encounter card, similar to LotR’s shadow cards. Champions calls these “boost cards” and they are a lot tamer than LotR’s quasi-treacheries. Usually, the boost cards will just apply a bonus of 0-3 to the villains attack/scheme value, for a bit of uncertainty when it comes to blocking. Tacked on effects do exist, but they are by far not on LotR’s scale. It should be noted though that Champions does have the design space for bigger effects here, something that could easily be cranked up for some villains or modular sets in the future.

Let’s get into some observations about the three main ways of randomization noted above (encounter deck, shadow cards, chaos bag). I don’t really have much of a point with most of these bullet points, just take it as a list of notable things about these methods for now.

The random encounter deck

The use of an encounter deck that randomizes the order of challenges is a feature of all three games, so let’s start there.

  • Many encounter cards vary in impact depending on when they are drawn. Timing often matters with certain cards. Examples: In Arkham, a card that drains your resources hits hard during the setup turns, but can be a freebie in the final turns. In LotR, drawing enemies early gives you time to prepare for them, while they would immediately attack later on when your threat is already high. In Champions, many of the heroes are considerably more vulnerable to having the board flooded with enemies while they are still building up their kit, even more so than in the other two games.
    By having the deck randomized, the difficulty curve for the game becomes less predictable, with valleys and peaks at certain points.
  • Encounter decks often contain notable singletons. Speaking of difficulty peaks, many times the encounter deck contains few copies or even just one of a card that is a good deal more dangerous than the rest. Knowing that these can come from the deck from the first encounter phase makes those encounter phases extra tense and provides a deckbuilding challenge. When finally drawing these cards, it can lead to some sort of a mid-game mini-boss or some other memorable moment. Examples: The Deep One Bull in Innsmouth Conspiracy. Chieftain Uthak for the LotR Core scenarios. The hero’s nemesis in (almost) any Champions game.
  • Multiplayer enables encounter card combos. Encounter cards are drawn one per player, all in the same phase. Often, there’s combinations of cards that will be especially potent if drawn in the same phase. That can be as simple as drawing multiple enemies in the same turn, making your fighters scramble to get their job done. Or specific effects building on top of each other. Ideally the encounter deck is constructed in a way that these things happen and make it seem like the deck really has it out for the players, but arguably not all of these are desired. Examples like the dreaded Cultist -> Chanting -> Ancient Evils in Arkham or the “location lock” in LotR showcase what happens when the stars align a little too much against the players.
    (Quick explanation of the “location lock”: Players can travel to and clear one location per turn. If they draw multiple locations for several turns, these start stacking up in the staging area where they in turn make clearing the one travelled to harder to do. This can spiral out of control and ultimately lead to a failed scenario)
  • It matters who drew the encounter card. In multiplayer, it’s not only relevant when an encounter card is drawn, but also by whom. A low willpower rogue will hate Frozen in Fear, which is far less of an issue for high willpower mystics. Enemies drawn by a clue focused investigator are more dangerous than one drawn by the main fighter. This is still true for Champions, but much less so. Due to the lack of locations, players are able to attack enemies engaged with anyone, making this less of an issue. LotR uses a shared staging area for most of the cards in the encounter deck, so it’s the game where this effect is the least pronounced. Enemies and locations aren’t tied to whoever drew them. Treacheries can still be be, but even there LotR is often using more sweeping effects that are either global or tied to threat levels.

Shadow/Boost cards

Since these are also drawn from the encounter deck, it make sense to move onto those next. I will keep using the term shadow card, unless noted otherwise i will include boost cards in that term.

  • Shadow/Boost cards can have extra effects. Once the attacking enemies are determined and have gotten their shadow card, the defending player has to assign their defenders with the incomplete information in mind that comes from that face down card. The wide variety of effects (and the magnitude of them…) makes this a big deal in LotR. There’s shadow cards that punish blocking, there’s those that punish not blocking and there’s those that punish you just for existing. Knowing what to expect is of tremendous value here. This is less the case for Marvel Champions. The boost cards might have lesser effects tacked on, but usually it’s just a modifier to the combat/scheme value. While certainly able to mess up your combat math, deep knowledge of the scenario contents aren’t important here.
  • Shadow cards drawn scale with the number of enemies, Boost cards with the number of players. Every attacking enemy in LotR will get a shadow card, so should someone get attacked by multipe enemies, this can stack up fast. Not only does the combat math become increasingly fuzzy the more face down cards are introduced, but the extra effects can potentially also feed on another similar to how treacheries can in the encounter phase. For Marvel, this effect is not a thing. Villains gain their boosts once per attack, their minions (with exceptions) do not gain any boosts at all. And since villains usually attack once per player per turn, the rate at which these boosts are drawn is relatively constant.
  • Shadow cards and boost cards can have no effect. Drawing cards from the encounter deck that have no shadow effect or boost icons at all is absolutely possible. So players might just get lucky, it’s just that they don’t know before they decided about declaring blockers so those cards can still have an influence on the player’s actions.

Chaos Bag

Where Shadow and Boost cards introduce uncertainty into the combat situations of LotR and Champions, the Chaos Bag does so for almost everything a player does in Arkham.

  • The modifiers are applied to any player tests, not just combat. This is the biggest edge that the chaos bag has over the facedown cards from LotR and Marvel. The chaos bag can be applied to anything the player does (or has done to them). It can even be used as just a general device to determine a random outcome for some effect. When playing Arkham, this thing is active all the time. While boost and shadow cards are only used in one specific phase of the round.
  • The contents of the chaos bag are known information. While you could in theory memorize the contents of the encounter deck and count cards while playing to know which shadow or boost cards are still around, this is hardly feasible or at best limited to one or two notable cards. The chaos bag is open information, however. That means you can have at least a good idea of your chances to pass certain tests and make informed decisions on whether you want to commit an extra icon or maybe not even try. On your first play you could meet the encounter deck (and by extension the shadow cards) completely blind. At lest that will not happen to you with the chaos bag.
  • Tokens might have other effects in addition. Comparable to the boost cards, not all tokens are just pure modifiers, some of them have extra effects. These symbol tokens often only do their effects on failed tests, but there are multiple examples where they just always work. One thing that is notable here is that the extra effects and modifiers of those tokens aren’t set by the token themselves but by the scenario. They also vary by difficulty (Easy/Standard vs Hard/Expert). This gives scenario designers two interesting screws to finetune their intended difficulty with. For example, in the easy version of the Pit of Despair special tokens will only deal extra horror/damage when the test fails. In the expert version this is no longer required, the punishment can just pile up with every test no matter how much you succeed. Other scenarios, like The Gathering, use a mix of both “on fail” and “on draw” as the default.
  • There’s an autofail. No matter how good your stat is, no matter how easy the task… the chaos bag will always offer a way to fail the test. The existence of the tentacle token means that no tests are truely trivial and that any encounter card can end up being hurtful.
  • Drawn tokens go back into the bag. This is another thing that differentiates the chaos bag from all the card draw based things before. Encounter cards, shadow cards, boost cards all go into the discard pile after they are done with. So you end up with the knowledge that all Deep One Bull is the discard or that you have seen every Sleeping Sentry or that you drew your Shadows of the Past as a boost card. And in turn you can rest easy for a while, knowing that these dangers are out of the picture. Well, the chaos bag isn’t that merciful. You can potentially draw that tentacle over and over.

Making your own luck: Mitigating the random effects

Since all of those randomization methods are clearly stacked up against the players, often even pure downside for them, the players will want to prepare for this. Luckily, there are player cards that offer reprieve from these effects or allow to tip the scales back in the player’s favor.

The most direct way to mitigate the effects of an encounter card is canceling it. Counterspells have been a staple in card games since forever and they are a part of the LCGs as well. For Lord of the Rings with its huge sweeping treacheries it could even be called mandatory to bring a set of Test of Wills if you can. Similar brute force methods exist in Arkham and Marvel as well, usually attached to some sort of downside like having to take a horror when putting up your Ward of Protection or having to take an extra attack for playing Get Behind Me!
Other effects that help here are less common, but also exist in the card pools, like reordering the top of encounter deck, stacking it so cards go to the players best set up to deal with them. If you can combine this with a search or other shuffle effects, this can delay unwanted cards for even longer.
Some treacheries ask the player to search for an enemy of a certain type. This can sometimes be used in the player’s favor as well. For example, drawing Mysterious Chanting at an opportune time can allow you to intentionally spawn the Wizard of the Order now so he won’t come later when the board might be more crowded already.

Since boost and shadow cards come into play whenever attacks against the players happen, the first line of defense against them is minimizing the number of those attacks. For LotR that means either staying low threat enough that enemies don’t engage you unless you want them to or to kill them while they are still in the staging area. Both of those strategies are well supported in the card pool, but of course not available to every hero. The Dunhere hero from LotR is an example where attacking into the staging area is even the main gimmick.
For Marvel, it means stunning or confusing the villain, which will make them skip their next attack/scheming. These effects are generally quite expensive, so while there are a few decks around that can keep a villain stunned for a long time, these are the exception and those breathers will usually be rather infrequent.
Either way, it’s very likely you will end up drawing at least some of these over the course of a game. Some specialized counterspells for these do exist, but they are a much less common thing than the ones for treacheries. For either game, it is thus important to consider them in combat math several times. Any card in your hand that can react to the combat modifiers is much more valuable than one that has to be used in advance. Also consider the option of “chump blocking” which means throwing cheap allies into combat situations as sacrificial lambs. If you expect your guys to die, you don’t have to care about how much he dies…
Especially for LotR there is one other thing that will help you make the right decisions against shadow cards: Knowledge. Knowing what effects are in the deck goes a long way towards winning tight combat situations because that knowledge can inform your decisions immensely.

As omnipresent as the chaos bag itself is, as many player cards are there that basically only exist to shift the odds in the player’s favor for tests. At a bottom level, this includes even things like a Magnifying Glass or Machete, as raising your skill level will turn more of those negative modifiers into successes. Due to the small numbers used by Arkham, every +1 counts a whole lot and stacking up multiple modifiers is a great way to stay ahead of the chaos bag. For important tests, this includes committing cards from your hand, of course.
Survivor, Rogue and in a lesser capacity Mystic each have their tools to more directly influence drawn tokens. Options such as Lucky Dice or Third Time’s A Charm allow to redraw tokens. Mystic effects are usually tied to the symbol tokens, like Eldritch Inspiration allowing to ignore a symbol token’s additional effect.
The tentacle (or “auto-fail”, if you insist) is much harder to influence, with only very few cards allowing to ignore, redraw or beat it.
To increase your chances of passing tests, make conscious use of my earlier point that the contents of the bag are open information. You don’t have to math it out completely of course, but for most tests you should have an idea if you should be +2, +3 or +4 over the difficulty with your skill value to have at least 70%-ish chance to pass. Take certain token effects into account as well. As an example, the Elder Thing token in Miskatonic Museum have you discard an asset from play if you fail, so you’ll want to stay above its modifier more than usual.
Decks can also be built to minimize their need for testing, something that is especially worthwhile in the harder difficulties. By using testless damage or testless clue discovery you can circumvent drawing tokens, usually at the cost of more actions or more resources. Of course, that will still have you wide open to drawing tests on encounter cards, but every bit helps.


Luck is an important part of gaming, but especially so in solo or co-op gaming where there is no sentient opponent around. In order to become better at the game, it is helpful to realize where the moving parts are, which sort of uncertainties exist. Because that way you can start doing something against it. These random devices do not just exist to torment the player, they also open up a wide space for cards and play actions that work against those events. Either by straight up negating them, by mitigating them or by dealing with the aftermath.

As for the comparison between the three games, i’m giving this one to Arkham in a landslide. That chaos bag is pure genius. Able to affect anything and permeates the whole game. It gets even better when we consider that campaigns will sometimes add or remove tokens as a result of your actions. It’s fantastic. And i didn’t even touch on things like curses and blesses that allow for further interaction…
That doesn’t mean that shadow and boost cards are disappointing. It just shows that the focus of LotR and Champions is much more on the fighting than it is with Arkham. They also do contribute to a more ‘mathy’ feel to the games though, especially for Marvel. Depending on what you are looking for, this can either be a positive or a negative. Personally i prefer just eyeballing everything instead of going too deep into the raw numbers over every decision.


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Murder at the Excelsior Hotel

Encounter sets in this scenario: Murder at the Excelsior Hotel, Alien Interference, Excelsior Management, Dark Rituals, Vile Experiments, Sins of the Past
Available experience: 5 (locations) + 1 (Mr. Trombly) + 2 (“Boss”) = 8XP
Cost to run this as a side scenario: 3XP

Size of the Encounter Deck25
# Enemies11
# Willpower4
# Agility2
# Parley7
# Doom4
# Damage2
# Horror4
Note: The above numbers are with the police in the deck, but before the cards from the variable sets come in.

Synopsis: The players find themselves in a hotel, with just a handful of locations available at first. There’s been a murder, the lead investigator is a suspect and the players have just a few turns before the police show up. Their choice: Either cover up the evidence or get on discovering clues towards the true culprit right away. Once the police are on the scene, they do their own investigation, represented by moving clues from locations onto their cards as doom. Player can parley them to turn those doom back into clues for themselves or they can go an start murdering people… there is in fact a large number of “enemies” in the deck, most of them marked as innocent. The decision on whether the players kill innocents or not is on them. While investigating the happenings in the hotel, the players find two out of five possible leads and assign clues to them by using abilities at the correct locations. Should they manage to do so before the police finish their investigation (=before the doom clock runs out), they get to confront the final baddie, either with help of the police or not. There are 10 different final agendas, depending on the combination of leads. As a final bit of weirdness, the scenario allows you to reset it once if you lose through investigator defeat or the agenda running out, keeping only gained trauma from the first try.

My take on this scenario: Murder at the Excelsior Hotel is probably the most replayable of all the Arkham scenarios. For one, the ten different permutations of how the second half of the scenario plays out do change up the scenario significantly. But aside from that, there are also a decent number of decisions to make about how to approach the first half: Are we avoiding innocent deaths at all costs? Do we cover up the evidence or not?
All of this makes for an excellent experience, Hotel is among the most well-crafted scenarios around in my opinion. Provided you don’t go on an actual murder spree, the focus on parleying and evading enemies gives the scenario a very different feel from most others. Picking up clues is important as always, of course. But to apply the clues to the leads you at least need to be in the correct location and fulfill some condition or another. On your first play, you do not know where to go, but the flavor texts of the leads and locations actually have hints for you. So there’s even a small meta component to the thing where you as the player are looking for clues in the card texts. Of course, on replays you might already know which lead belongs to which room, so things get a bit easier.
If i had to name one gripe with the scenario, it’s that the encounter deck sometimes feels a bit repetitive. Especially before the deck size is upped to full, you are somewhat likely to end up drawing the same cards over and over, due to the below average deck size and the fact that most of the cards have three or even four copies. It’s a very small gripe, though. And as soon as the lead specific cards enter the deck, it’s no longer an issue anyways.
Excelsior has a large number of available experience points for a standalone scenario, up to 8 in total. However, it’s not all that easy to actually get them. The second half of the scenario usually won’t afford the time, as you need to act towards shutting down the big bad. So you would need to go after those XP in the first part, however doing so will open up more crime scenes with clues, which the Arkham Officers will gladly move into.

The Murder at the Excelsior Hotel: The primary encounter set has the policemen, the hotel staff and the hotel guests for enemies. The guests and police aren’t openly hostile, but need parleying to not add doom. The staff are aggressive and have Hunter, but are not all that dangerous. The unique Mr. Trombly is a bigger pain, though. In terms of treacheries, the main theme here is making those innocent “enemies” engage and attack the player, making it harder to not respond in kind. Around the midpoint of the scenario, two of the following five sets are also added to the game:
Alien Interference: Adds a treachery that deals horror or damage when the player fails a willpower test. Also adds doom to the final boss of this set, a Mi-Go that accumulates doom and uses it to shield from damage.
Excelsior Management: Adds the Hotel Security enemy, who is stronger than most other enemies in this scenario and seeks out Guests. The boss here is a Shoggoth that lures guests to its location and feasts on them, adding doom.
Dark Rituals: A couple cultists are added to the deck. These have a chance to add doom to the agenda with each attack. The Dimensional Shambler is a tough Hunter enemy that can possibly defeat attacked players instantly.
Vile Experiments: Something sinister comes out of one of the rooms. The treachery added by this set deals horror to players failing a willpower test that gets more difficult the closer the investigator is to that room. There’s no boss enemy here, instead there’s a brain in a jar that deals horror and damage to everyone for every turn it is around.
Sins of the Past: The specter of the first victim has taken hold in one of the rooms. It’s resilient to damage from anything that is not a spell, relic, charm or encounter card. The treachery from this set works like Rotting Remains, but passing the willpower test will actually damage the specter.

Act/Agenda: Before the finale kicks in, two acts and two agendas are present. The first agenda represents the time before the police show up, the second one the state of their investigation. Before they finish, the players need to find the two leads (first act), then assign clues to them (second act). If they manage to do so in time, both act and agenda are replaced by one out of ten possible final agendas that determine how much time you have to deal with the big bad. That agenda will also give some sort of ability to the clues you collected on the leads, to help with your goal.

Notable enemies: The first half of the scenario is dominated by the need to do something about the policemen working their way through the clues and the nosy hotel guests peeking into crime scenes. This can easily be a fulltime job for one investigator with high willpower (or Fine Clothes) who just spends his actions moving around and parleying. At any time, Mr. Trombly can pop up from the encounter deck, presenting an immediate challenge. As a silver lining, he appears in the Foyer, where Sergeant Monroe is able to help out.
The final boss enemies are of course quite dangerous as well, but can often be reined in with whatever ability the agenda is giving your lead assets.

Notable treacheries: Driven to Madness and Violent Outburst, both of which have 3 copies in the deck, make otherwise Aloof enemies engage and attack you. If you want to keep a clean conscience, evasion is going to be necessary here to get of it. Thankfully, the aloof enemies all have an evasion of only 2, but for someone like Leo Anderson that can still be an issue. Four copies of Blood on Your Hands are ready to punish you if you do end up becoming a murderer. Three of the five optional sets add three copies of a treachery, and all of them deal damage or horror in some way. Should you get two of those three sets combined with each other, that can make for some significant pressure on your stamina and/or sanity.

Rewards: At 3XP, the buy-in for Excelsior is relatively high. In exchange, there is a good amount of XP to gain back, allowing players to go out of it with a net win of 5XP. This isn’t all that easy, though. Expect having to leave some crime scenes (and therefore victory points) unattended, unless you plan on murdering your way through everything…
No matter the outcome of the scenario, the lead investigator will earn the Bloodstained Dagger and the What Have You Done? weakness. The dagger is a reasonable weapon. Nothing to get too excited about but can allow you to run one fewer secondary weapon in your regular deck. The weakness is usually not a big deal… but when it is bad, it’s a huge pain that drains card draws, actions and/or cards from your hand. Luckily parley is often not that relevant and it does affect only the lead investigator.
Should the players manage to get the police on their side, the reward for that is pretty great. Sergeant Monroe is expensive to play, but offers both soak and a damage ability and even works for other players at his location. Pretty sweet if you can swing the resource cost.
If you do end up killing innocents, be aware that killing a policemen will add a random Madness or Detective weakness to the lead investigator’s deck. There’s a couple nasty ones there that it’s worth trying to avoid that. On that note, the same happens for losing the scenario through having the agenda run out.


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Clocks/Timers in Arkham, Middle-Earth and the Marvel Multiverse

Introduction, Disclaimer and Spoiler Warning

The Ancient Evils site was originally started out of my interest in the design behind ArkhamLCG (and games in general). With this new article series i want to go back to that original intent. In each article, i try to tackle a specific mechanic or design piece from Arkham and break it down. To do so, i do not just look at the mechanic from within Arkham LCG, but also compare it with how it is handled in Lord of the Rings LCG and Marvel Champions, which both share plenty DNA with Arkham to make such a comparison useful. I’ll then try to come to some sort of conclusion about which implementation i like best and whatever else i can draw out of the comparison.
I want to reiterate here again that these are purely opinion pieces. I do not have any special access to the thoughts of Jeremy, Maxine or Caleb aside from what they publically released. Nor am i a designer myself, merely an interested individual that likes to take things apart to see how they tick. Especially when it comes to designer’s intents, there is certainly room for speculation and interpretation and i want to make clear that i do not claim to have any sort of hard authority on the topic.
As for spoilers, i will try to keep it to a minimum. But of course i will have to grab specific examples from any of those games sometimes and that will absolutely include some encounter cards.

What are “Clocks” and why are they needed?

This article is about what i call a “clock”. What i mean by that is the mechanic that makes sure that a game doesn’t drag on forever. Aside from making sure that games actually end and resolving stalemates, this stops players from playing completely risk averse and instead forces them to engage whatever the scenario has in store for them head on. These timers are typically not reversible or only in a very limited way. Having a time limit increases the opportunity cost of every decision in the game and thus gives actions taken and cards played more importance than they would have otherwise.
Okay, let’s have a superficial look at the three different clocks in the LCGs before going into more detail.

The clocks in the three LCGs

Scenarios in Arkham LCG are time limited by doom. Doom (in other Arkham Files games sometimes depicted as an actual doom clock) accumulates on the agenda, at a base line of one doom token per turn. If a threshold noted on the active agenda card is reached, the game moves onto the next agenda card (possibly triggering a range of effects noted on the agenda backside) and all doom is cleared from the game, restarting the clock. If there’s no further agenda card to advance to, the game will move on to one of the resolutions, ending the game. Doom is binary, if it’s not currently reaching a threshold it has no innate effect on the game.

Lord of the Rings LCG also has a timer that advances per turn until a game end is triggered, however there are several notable differences between LotR’s “Threat” and Arkham’s “Doom”. First, every player has their own threat dial here. So if one player gets eliminated by threat, the others can continue. Also, the numbers work out much more granular due to being bigger. Arkham rarely goes into the double digits with its doom clock, meanwhile LotR players already start at a threat level depending on their chosen heroes that will usually range anywhere between 20 and 40. Should a player’s threat dial reach 50, they are eliminated. Another huge difference is that threat level has other innate gameplay effects as well, determining which enemies outright attack you. Also, it increases not only from turns passing, but also from failing to explore successfully.

Marvel Champions does not have a hard timer like the other two games, but that doesn’t mean it is completely untimed. Champions does have agendas that gain tokens each turn and will make the players lose when a threshold is reached, however players are able to remove these tokens with their base abilities and thus indefinitely prolong the game that way. So this isn’t really the equivalent to the Doom and Threat from the other two games, it’s more akin to clues and questing. However, the encounter deck itself is used as a sort of timer: Whenever the encounter deck runs out of cards, an acceleration token is put into play. Each acceleration token will add more threat to the main scheme each turn until the players are no longer able to keep up with it which will then force a game end. Compared to Arkham and LotR, this is a much softer clock that will not outright end the game, but it will continuously increase the difficulty over time. Acceleration tokens can not be interacted with.

Going into detail

So, how does Doom fare when compared to Threat and Acceleration? To determine this, let’s first take a look at the strengths of the system and relate them to the other two:

  • Doom characteristics are set by the agenda deck. This is a big one where Arkham is ahead of LotR in particular. While the base line for doom is fairly rigid, it does gain some flexibility from being tied to the agendas. That means that thresholds can be tuned per scenario and are not set game wide. LotR’s final bar is set by the game rules and while the starting value is flexible, it is independent of the scenario. Champions timer depends on the decksize of the villain, so there is potential for tuning here… however this is barely used (if at all) and would get drowned out by the player scaling that happens from drawing multiple encounter cards per turn. Arkham also has the liberty of doing more fancy things here like multiple parallel doom clocks (Black Stars Rise) or an agenda deck that “races” with the act deck (Light in the Fog). These are things that are not an option for the other two games without great effort (Wrecking Crew is a very interesting one for Marvel in this regard).
  • Multiple doom thresholds can exist. Another consequence of the agenda deck, the doom clock can trigger developments midgame through progressing that deck. This gives doom some relevance beyond being just the countdown to the game end and allows it to be used as a timer for things like major enemies appearing (like the Harbinger in TFA), but also for much more involved things. This does not exist for LotR except when it relates to enemies as those all have their own threshold for when they engage the player on their own (the Hill Troll in Journey down the Anduin would be an example that comes close to the Harbinger one). As for Marvel, it does have only one threshold, but that one does repeat indefinitely. Neither Marvel nor LotR use passage of time to trigger major midgame developments the same way that Arkham does.
  • Doom can trigger other things than a game end. An extension of the previous bullet, Arkham uses these additional thresholds to do all sorts of things. This can go from a mere “Reshuffle the encounter deck” to “Remove everything from the board, refer to the campaign sheet for how to completely re-setup the game.”
  • Doom is simple. The current doom level can usually be determined fast with just a glance at the tokens on the board due to the numbers being small and the interactions being limited. That means that there’s limited amount of bookkeeping to be done and it doesn’t get in the way of the rest of the game. Arguably even simpler is the implementation in Marvel, where it’s rare that more than just a couple of acceleration tokens hit the board. Lord of the Rings does not use tokens, but requires a threat dial for each player that is adjusted and referred to very frequently. In turn, LotR has the most “clunky” version of the three, but of course that is the price for the high degree of interactivity that the threat system has compared to the other two.

Next up, we’ll do the same with some of the inherent disadvantages of Doom:

  • Doom is a system of small numbers. This is actually true for nearly all of Arkham’s systems, but in case of the doom clock it has some consequences relevant to this discussion. Individual thresholds rarely reach double digits and are most often around 6-8. As a result, every card that interacts with doom is incredibly impactful because even an increment of 1 does a whole lot. Too much of these effects and the whole system becomes very swingy and can spiral out of control. We’ve seen this happen in scenarios like Essex County Express which combines doom effects with very low thresholds or in Before the Black Throne that has just a whole lot of those effects overpowering the player with the variance from the random encounter card draws. LotR’s threat counter is much more granular and cards that add threat as a penalty can be used much more freely, both on the player and on the encounter side without throwing the balance out of whack easily. Marvel allows even more leeway with this, thanks to its acceleration system not triggering a hard game over, but instead only increasing the difficulty incrementally.
  • Doom is not very interactive. This is sort of a continuation of the previous point in some ways. The difference in how the games operate allow for a smaller design space for doom play than there is in LotR or arguably even in Champions. While there are a handful of player cards that allow gaining power for accepting doom in play, doom removal is almost nonexistent. At least it is when we are talking about doom on agendas, Arkham does use doom on other cards to force players into action fairly frequently. On the other hand, threat management is a huge deal in Lord of the Rings LCG: increasing your threat as additional cost (somewhat ironically, the keyword for that is called “Doomed”) or as an intentional way to draw enemies are both an important part of gameplay. And so is removing threat, with numerous player cards available. There’s whole archetypes and keywords built around staying above or below certain threat values. Champions started tapping into that space as well, with heroes like Scarlet Witch and Star-Lord having access to powerful cards that do burn through the encounter deck as a drawback to balance that power. The villain side even got into it with the Power Drain modular set that adds a set of cards to any villain that deal with melting down the encounter deck faster. At the time of writing, it needs to be seen how much more the designers can wring out of this for Marvel. Personally. i don’t see it being much more interactive than Arkham in the end. Maybe even a bit less because it’s really only tied to specific heroes, but we’ll have to wait and see on that.
  • Doom effects scale with player counts. This is a bit of a weird one in Arkham. There is only one doom clock for everyone and the threshold on the agendas does not scale with player count (exceptions do exist, but they are very few). This does however mean that any additional doom effects are suddenly much more powerful when more players are involved, because instead of taking away only one turn, they take away one per player. At the same time, more players means more encounter cards drawn… and thus more doom effects, which as we just established are more potent in big groups. So these two things stack with each other immediately and can mean that a scenario that offers plenty of time to a 2-player group can be very tight and difficult for a full group. This is more relevant the more doom acceleration cards are in the encounter deck, so things like Ancient Evils or the various cultist themed sets because drawing multiples in the same turn will make it even worse still. Something similar is true for Champions, but by far less pronounced due to the lack of encounter card specific acceleration. You only dig through the encounter deck faster. Here, the faster accumulation of acceleration tokens is pretty well offset by having more heroes available to thwart threat from the schemes. LotR avoids this issue almost completely by having individual threat trackers per player. The “Doomed” cards do add threat to each players dial, but due to the leeway granted by the wider number range, this isn’t as much of a deal as it is for Arkham.

Examples: Encounter cards

Let’s check out a couple of encounter cards from the three games, to illustrate the points i made above:

We probably can not talk about doom in Arkham without mentioning Ancient Evils and Acolyte, the two poster-children for this mechanic that have been harrowing us since the core set. Evils is a great card to showcase the “small numbers” effect. Despite only adding the absolute minimum of doom counters (one…), it is often considered to be one of the most brutal things the encounter deck can throw at you. So to create weaker doom cards than Evils, the game has to do one of two things: Either present you with a treachery that gives you a choice to accept some other bad effect and only gain doom if you don’t. Or put the doom on a card that the players can try to remove from the game before the threshold if met. Aside from a couple non-enemy cards like Spires of Carcosa, that second option is usually represented by some sort of cultist. Acolyte was the first one, but almost every cycle has their own variants of the theme. I also want to highlight Brotherhood Cultist here because it is one of the few exceptions where something scales with the amount of doom. Due to the relevance of each doom token, such effects are very rare. The final card i want to show off is agenda 2a of Curtain Call. It’s an example of how the agenda cards can influence how the doom counter works, here it is introducing a way to reset the agenda, turning it more into a soft timer than in other scenarios. Of course, if you do eventually reach that threshold, you are still not going to like it…

Perhaps the most memorable card of the Lord of the Rings LCG Core Set, the Hill Troll can serve as an example for many of the things mentioned earlier. The scenario it is introduced in makes a big deal out of that engagement cost number in the upper left. As long as the players stay below 30 threat, the Troll won’t attack. What makes Hill Troll an even better example is that it also comes with an ability that can increase the threat of players trying to hold back the troll with expendable allies. The Core Set also made sure to introduce the Doomed keyword right away, as on the Endless Caverns location here. It’s easy to clear, but the combination of Doomed and Surge is one you really don’t want to see. The final highlight for LotR goes to Evil Storm, yet another Core Set card. This time a treachery, this is an example of how some powerful effects from the encounter deck will only hit players that are struggling to manage their threat.

Since the encounter deck itself is the timer in Marvel Champions, the interactions with the timer are often secondary to other effects. Klaw for example will boost himself with additional encounter cards when attacking, thus depleting the deck faster if he gets to attack a lot. Another thing that Champions does differently is how it handles search effects. Where LotR and Arkham usually ask you to search the encounter deck for something (like a Deep One enemy or whatever), pull out that one card and then shuffle afterwards, Champions usually just discards cards from the deck until it finds what it is looking for. This can potentially dump big chunks of cards, like with the Masterplan example above. Both Klaw and Masterplan are from the Core Set, but to find examples that burn the deck more consciously we have to look at expansions. Early on the Power Drain modular set gave us cards like Electromagnetic Pulse above. Not only does it dump 7 cards in one swoop, it can also potentially Surge. Note that while Surge is a keyword in all three games, it’s only in Champions that it also works towards speeding up the game by directly impacting the timer.

Examples: Player cards

Arkham allows players to add their own cultist to their deck in the form of Arcane Initiate and that includes the doom on it of course. A couple of other cards that accept doom in exchange for power exist, mostly in the domain of the Mystic class. Marie Lambeau even exists as an investigator for that playstyle and there are a few cards like Sacrifice and the above Moonlight Ritual that can help with it. When it comes to preventing or removing doom, options are very slim. After all, it’s only thematic that the workings of the Elder Gods can not just be reversed that easily. Fortune of Fate and Marie’s signature event Mystifying Song can stall for a turn, but it took until Innsmouth’s Hallow to give us a card that can actually undo doom from the agenda. And that one has quite a few hoops to jump through as well.

Unlike Arkham, LotR allows rewinding the clock, and sometimes (like with The Galadhrim’s Greeting) in big chunks. There are a good amount of effects like this around in the game, mostly in the Lore and Spirit spheres. The other side of the coin, increasing threat for personal gains, was initially not as developed but got a huge shot in the arm with the Voice of Isengard deluxe and its Ringmaker cycle. There, the use of Doomed on player cards was a major theme that spawned some really powerful cards like Legacy of Numenor above. It also introduced Grima Wormtongue as a playable hero who can reduce the cost of cards in exchange for raising everyone’s threat. As mentioned, threat does some other things in LotR as well, but i will stick with these examples to things that relate to the use of threat as a clock. Otherwise we’d be here a lot longer than we already are.

The hero Scarlet Witch does exactly what the Doomed playstyle from LotR does: By advancing the game’s internal timer, she gains additional power for her cards. This ranges from her iconic Hex Bolts that use the discarded cards to determine the outcomes of her spells to more impactful cards like Chaos Magic which trade discarded cards for power, ignoring what is actually printed on those cards. So far, she is the only one who plays this mechanic so straight. As with the encounter effects, player card effects usually only advance the timer as a secondary effect to something else. As an example, Star-Lord has a theme where he cares about encounter cards played against him. By using his own hero effect and a few of his cards, he puts enough extra encounter cards into play that everyone will notice going through the villain deck faster than usual. In terms of rewinding the clock, i am actually not aware of anything existing in the card pool yet. Doing so in a meaningful way would probably mean reshuffling the discard pile into the encounter deck, as just skipping single card draws or reshuffling just a few cards isn’t likely to do much. There are also no cards so far that directly add or remove acceleration tokens, which could be another venue that future heroes (or villains) might explore.


I’ve played a lot of LotRLCG before i even started getting into Arkham. I am pretty much fully converted now and do consider Arkham to be the superior game overall, but i have to say… that threat system of LotR is really something else. All three of the LCGs do have their timer so the game doesn’t spin into a stalemate, but LotR managed to have that timer be something that the player also interacts with, something that pulls double duty for engagement mechanics and tons of player and encounter card effects. It’s just a delight and i can’t help but feel like something got lost in translation when the other two LCGs got developed.
The doom clock of ArkhamLCG has its roots in the other Arkham Files games as well, of course. And i am not saying that it’s a bad mechanic. I just don’t think it’s very deep. It’s a binary thing that does its job. So the heavy lifting for the scenario has to be done by the agenda cards instead and that’s fair enough. There are a lot of cool and unexpected things that have been done with agendas and it’s safe to say that Arkham’s designers are using this space the best way possible. I mean… we’ve seen enemies and locations on the other side of agenda cards as early as the core set and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
What i like most about the Marvel Champions system is that its open ended. This very much fits what the game is trying to do. You really don’t want your fight between Iron Man and Ultron be decided by some timer that tells you to pack up. So instead the game just escalates over time until Ultron overpowers Iron Man eventually… or not, after all there is the possibility to fight through this and that makes exactly for the type of story telling you want from a superhero game. Neat. Right now, there isn’t a whole lot of ways to interact with the system from the player side, but some of the recent releases have at least shown that the game has room for such things.

All three systems have their charm and are certainly well adjusted to the needs of their game. I do personally enjoy the LotR threat system the most because i value interactivity, but the others aren’t bad either. For all the frustration that Arkham players sometimes have with doom in general and with Ancient Evils in particular, there’s no denying that the game would be worse off without them.


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Curse of the Rougarou

Encounter sets in this scenario: The Bayou, Curse of the Rougarou
Available experience: 3 (locations) + 1 (Dark Young Host) = 4XP in total
Cost to run this as a side scenario: 1 XP

Size of the Encounter Deck33 (28 + 5 Surge)
# Enemies10
# Willpower6
# Agility4
# Intellect3
# Doom2
# Damage7
# Horror3
These numbers include both encounter sets. While the Curse set doesn’t start out in the deck right away, it’s typically only two or three turns before it gets shuffled in.

Synopsis: The players start out in a small map that only spans 3 locations. After some very basic clue getting which should easily be doable in a turn or two, the map triples in size though. This is also when the encounter deck is brought to full size and the titular Rougarou (basically a werewolf) enters play. At the same time, the lead investigator suddenly finds themselves under a curse that chips away at their sanity if they don’t damage something every turn. The players are faced with two options: Either hunt down the Rougarou and kill it, breaking the curse. Or embrace the curse and become the Rougarou yourself. The first option entails hunting the creature through the swamp. It has aloof, engaging it costs clues and damaging it will send it fleeing. So the enemy isn’t actively hunting you – it’s actually running away, forcing players to deal with the dangers that come from the locations and from the enemies in the deck. Choosing the second option sends the players on a scavenger hunt, trying to get the right mix of clues, story assets and location effects to complete the ritual.

My take on this scenario: Curse of the Rougarou is a rather simple and easy scenario when compared to the other standalones. Especially when the players just go for killing the creature, it becomes apparent that todays card pool has outgrown the challenge of the Rougarou a bit. Thanks to all the ways we have these days to deal 3, 4 or even more damage in one swing, it’s often possible to kill the beast in just a few swings, minimizing its ability to move around the bog. Going on the scavenger hunt to piece together all the things needed to take the curse on yourself is a bit more involved and can be more of a challenge for sure. There are some really nasty tests on some of those locations and managing the resource and horror costs on the locations also becomes a more prominent feature of the scenario then.
What i like about Curse of the Rougarou is that it’s a side scenario that can be done early in a campaign because it’s not too difficult, giving a couple bonus XP and access to pretty great story ally. I rarely go for the Monstrous Transformation, though. While it is powerful for sure, it usually ends up either going against what i want to do with my investigator (dropping will to 2 on a Mystic isn’t fun…) or feeling cheap and cheaty (when it’s all upside like on Preston).
When you start this scenario, be aware that choosing your lead investigator means that you also choose who gets to bear the curse weakness. Ideally, that should be someone who is actually able to hurt enemies, otherwise that’s going to be a massive drain on your sanity. Of course, if you want to earn the Monstrous Transformation, that one will also go to the lead investigator in the end, so consider that right from the start.

The Bayou: This encounter set includes two different enemies that are both not terribly difficult to handle. More importantly, it has treacheries that test willpower, agility and intellect while introducing a solid chunk of damage (and also a bit of horror) to the deck.
Curse of the Rougarou: The enemies from this set are a much bigger deal than those from The Bayou. One of them is even a victory enemy that puts up a solid fight. The treacheries all deal with the Rougarou in some way, either moving it around, giving it stat bonuses or making it attack out of order.

Act/Agenda: There’s nothing too special happening here. The act deck advances early to the second and final act that presents the two ways to finish the scenario and that makes the Rougarou drop clues whenever it moves about. Meanwhile, the agenda deck has three cards with doom thresholds that total up to 19 doom across them. Advancing the agendas has no surprise twists, just extra movement for the creature and a reshuffling of encounter cards.

Notable enemies: The first thing to mention is of course the The Rougarou itself. It has moderate fight and evade values, but at 5 health per investigator it can take a beating. With 2 damage and 2 horror each, it hits hard, but will only attack through its Retaliate ability or when the investigator who engaged it fails to deal enough to damage to trigger the flee ability or when one of the two copies of Beast of the Bayou is drawn from the encounter deck. Players who plan on taking it down will have a much easier time doing so if they have hard hitting attacks available. Being able to get past Aloof without having to spend actions to engage is incredibly helpful as well, no matter if it’s Spectral Razor, Marksmanship or Righteous Hunt.
The other notable enemy is Dark Young Host and since it’s the single victory point that is hiding in the encounter deck the players will hope to encounter it eventually. It hits just as hard as the Rougarou and has a higher fight value, so in some ways it can even be more dangerous. It is weak against evasion, though. So that is a viable way to stop it from getting a hit in. Since it doesn’t have Hunter, this can even park the Dark Young until the fighter finds the time to dispose of it properly. As a final note, the Dark Young Host is not an Elite, so feel free to Waylay.
The rest of the enemies isn’t too bad. The ones from the Curse set are both Hunters with more than 2 health, so they aren’t trivial. But not something we haven’t seen many times over already. One thing that almost all enemies in the deck share is that they come with Spawn instructions, which means that even when a vulnerable Seeker draws an enemy, there’s a good chance they don’t even have to engage it and can put it somewhere more convenient instead. Of course, someone will have to deal with the enemies eventually, the scenario has you backtrack a lot.

Notable treacheries: A few things are worth mentioning here. For one, Cursed Swamp and Ripples on the Surface are treacheries that deal damage/horror equal to the points failed on a willpower test. So low willpower investigators are going to have a hard time with that, as there are 3 copies of each of them. At the same time, Dragged Under is another damage treachery (that comes with 4 copies) and tests agility, another thing that can easily become an issue for certain investigators.
Building on that is Beast of the Bayou, which gives The Rougarou a free attack against anyone at its location or adjacent to it. Considering how hard the werewolf hits and that Beast of the Bayou can hit multiple investigators, that’s potentially a huge issue. There’s only two of them in the encounter deck, so it’s going to come as a surprise more often not. Consider keeping a cancel handy for this card.

Notable locations: Except for the three victory locations, locations in this scenario do not have any clues on them. For clues, the players mostly have to investigate the trail left behind whenever the Rougarou moves. Instead, the locations either work towards providing the tools to get the second objective done (which includes things like willpower and/or agility tests against difficulty 7) or towards dealing horror and costing resources. Note that the horror effects are not to be underestimated and can easily overtake the damage focus on the treachery cards and turn sanity into the number to most care about (especially since the Curse of the Rougarou weakness also chips at the lead investigators sanity).
There is some randomization involved: There are 4 sets with 3 locations each. Of those, only 3 sets are used. This mostly impacts the route where you want to inherit the curse. If your plan is killing the beast, this randomization is much less relevant.

Rewards: For finishing the scenario, up to 4XP are awarded, leaving players with up to 3 extra experience when taking the cost to start the scenario into account. Depending on which resolution the players picked, there are also different cards that are awarded. Killing the Rougarou will add Lady Esprit to any players deck, an expensive but powerful ally that can either soak a ton of horror or turn that extra sanity into resources or healing.
Embracing the curse will instead add Monstrous Transformation to the lead investigator’s deck. Aside from its gamebreaking (or at least gamebending) effect for Calvin, Preston and Amanda, this can be a huge boon for many other investigators, too. Having a repeatable 2 damage attack and the stats to use it makes it very powerful. At the same time, the player will also have to permanently add the Curse of the Rougarou weakness to their deck and the constant drain on sanity can certainly a problem for some investigators.


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