Carnivale of Horrors

Encounter sets in this scenario: Carnivale of Horrors. Yep, just the one.
Available experience: 4 (Masked Carnivale-Goers) +2 (Baleful Reveler) = 6XP
Cost to run this as a side scenario: 3XP

Size of the Encounter Deck26
# Enemies8
# Willpower7
# Agility3
# Doom0
# Damage8
# Horror8

Synopsis: The players find themselves in the famous carnivale of Venice which has been infiltrated by cultists that are planning the usual end of the world shenanigans. The carnivale is represented by a circle of eight locations and the unique twist is that players are only allowed to travel clockwise from one place to the next. Their job is finding innocent people among the masked crowd and escorting them to safety. Obviously, soon all hell breaks loose, with powerful cultists entering the scene, Deep Ones crawling from the canals and even the occasional tentacle lashing at the players.
In the final act, the Ancient One by the name of Cnidathqua makes itself known and the investigators have to either flee the place by rowboat or defeat it in a long and grueling fight against a sea of tentacles.

My take on this scenario: One of the defining advantages that Arkham LCG has over other coop card games, no matter if it’s other LCGs from FFG like Marvel Champions or stuff from other companies like Legendary, is the use of an actual board made up from the cards where you move your investigator tokens around. And Carnivale of Horrors is one of the scenarios that leverages this advantage to the fullest. The movement restriction combined with the various effects that the locations have when entering them gives this scenario a whole different feel from everything else in the game and presents a very unique challenge. Now, today’s card pool with its strong movement options and even wanton teleports is certainly able to remove this challenge from the scenario, but i would strongly advise anyone to hold back on those things when playing Carnivale. Using Seeker nonsense to move in any direction defeats the whole purpose of the scenario and you are ultimately not cheating anyone but yourself ;)
Something that i found surprising on my first playthrough of this scenario is how tough the enemies are. Since you can often not kill them right away when they appear, i found myself fighting multiple enemies of 3/3/3 size or above at the same time a few times. This can get quite scary.
There is also considerable pressure on the sanity and stamina of the investigators, from location effects that trigger just for moving into there, but also from the majority of treacheries which usually offer the choice of either taking damage/horror or having something else happen. Managing your sanity and stamina levels becomes very important very soon into the scenario as a result. Consider bringing healing.
3XP is sort of a steep entry tax, so you will want to make sure that you get the most XP back out of the scenario. To do so, prepare for even more difficult fights. Having one investigator in the team whose main job is fighting is certainly a good idea, however note that the movement restrictions can make it difficult to keep the team together. Your Guardian might very well not be able to help out a Seeker that gets ambushed by a strong enemy. So having some plan for emergency evades or the like would also be advisable.
The best reward for the scenario, the Abbess story ally, is locked behind the condition that you get all three innocent revelers into safety. Fulfilling that goal should be what you shoot for right away, she’s worth it. Failing that, make damn sure that you at least save one of them or you will be punished in the end.

Act/Agenda: There are basically two big parts to this scenario (with a short intermission in between), marked by the act deck. In the first act, which is the main part, the innocents need to be rescued from the carnivale. Once all three innocents are dealt with (in whatever way), Cnidathqua appears and the players all need to get to the Canal-Side location to meet there. Once this is done, all locations and enemies are removed from the game and the players are moved to a gondola from where they go for the last stretch: Defeat the big bad or row away into safety.
There is only little agency for the players in how this progresses, the breakpoints are all very well defined and there’s no reason to draw any of them out. Something to be aware of is the timing of when the first agenda flips, as this will put a very dangerous Elite enemy into play that is likely going to dominate the board while around.

Masked Carnivale-Goers: Four of the seven masked carnivale visitors are in fact these cultist enemies, all of which come with their own challenges. Two are Hunter enemies. One of them behaves like a typical cultist, being Aloof and collecting doom. All of them are at least somewhat difficult to fight and will several actions to take down. Salvatore’s ability makes him difficult to fight for Guardians and Retaliate only helps to make this an actual problem. But on the other hand he becomes easy prey for most Mystics or for a Seeker with “I’ve Got A Plan!”. Due to how different they are, using clues to scout the cards while they are still face-down becomes important as it allows you to engage the enemies with whoever is best suited for it. Of course doing so will immediately flip Elisabetta, but in the end that will only save you the action you’d need to flip her yourself.
All of these aren’t necessarily the kind of huge mid-game threats we’ve seen before in other scenarios (like for example the Servitors in War of the Outer Gods), but considering that their timing can often be annoying and that there are likely also other sizeable Hunter enemies already making the rounds in the carnivale, they do have a bigger impact that one would think from just looking at the raw numbers.

The Baleful Reveler: This guy is likely the most dangerous enemy in this scenario (and i am including Cnidathqua in that). When the first agenda advances, he spawns behind the group (or at least behind the lead investigator) and will sooner or later catch up thanks to his ability to hunt twice. Note that unlike other enemies we’ve seen with double hunts, the Reveler will still get to attack after his second activation. Usually he will get the first hit in and it’s going to hurt a lot. Even if the investigator that was ambushed by the Reveler happens to be the fighter of the group, this enemy is still not easy to take down. Especially in bigger groups, he has a lot of stamina to chew threw and that will take a lot of time and actions away – time that the encounter deck will use to spawn more enemies and/or have other existing Hunters also pile on.
Retaliate on an enemy that takes this many attacks and that hits that hard AND also has a respectable fight value is just plain dirty. Having someone that can evade this enemy before everyone piles on their attacks is likely the best way forward.
Killing him will award 2 victory points, a third of what is available in this scenario. These are well earned indeed.

Other enemies: There’s three Appendages, three Sentinels and two of the Deep One Polemen in the encounter deck. The tentacle is a bit of a breather when compared to what else is going on in the encounter deck, but of course gains significance in the final act. For the first part of the scenario, it only foreshadows things to come with its still defunct second Forced ability.
The Sentinel can be quite annoying. Since he spawns away from you and has at above average combat stats while also hitting hard (and with Retaliate!), you’ll really not want to run into him with a non-combat investigator first. And that means you’ll have to move into his location with a fighter (or at least an evader) first, adding to all the movement restrictions you already have. If your fighter is currently behind because they had to clean up some other mess this can delay the whole team for a turn or more.
The Poleman also doesn’t spawn at your location (well, unless you happen to be at Canal-Side) and will start hunting. The issue with that is that this enemy will usually get the first hit in if it manages to catch up with you since you aren’t allowed to move towards him in anticipation. With four combat and stamina, this Deep One is also an enemy to take seriously.

Cnidathqua: The Ancient One that makes its appearance in the final stretch of the scenario. Players are able to attack it, however it is not considered to be engaged with them or at their location. Or at any location at all. As a result, Cnidathqua doesn’t make any regular attacks against the investigators. However, this also means that any location based attacks can not be used against it. So no Marksmanship, Dynamite Blast and the like. The Ancient One only attacks whenever Agenda 3 runs out, and it will attack everyone at once then. Agenda 3 resets after these attacks, so due to its doom threshold of 3, players can expect to be attacked for 2 horror and damage every 3 rounds at least. This is where the tentacles become more dangerous. While agenda 3 is active, they come into play with 2 doom on them, meaning that any surviving tentacles will advance the agenda during Mythos and immediately cause Cnidathqua to attack. This makes killing all tentacles as they pop up very important. Luckily, doing so will also cause damage to the Old One, whittling it down turn by turn. Likely, most of the damage caused to Cnidathqua will come from dying tentacles than from directly attacking it, turning this fight into a drawn out affair that can span many turns.

The Gondola: If fighting Cnidathqua sounds like a chore to you that you want to avoid, the scenario offers another way out. The Gondola is put into play with the final act and serves as the only location. So all players will be here. By spending actions and passing tests, the investigators can earn resources on the location and once they accumulated four per player, they win. Of course, they will likely still want to cut down tentacles along the way, to make sure they don’t get slapped around by the Ancient One.

Innocent Revelers: The focal point of the first act, the Innocent Revelers are the civilians that the players will want to find, recruit and escort to safety. Finding them requires peeking under the face-down Masked Carnivale-Goers, recruiting them requires passing an intellect test and escorting them finally requires the players to haul these bystanders all the way around the gauntlet back to the San Marco Basilica. Obviously the encounter deck has several cards dedicated specifically to making this as hard as possible, with Watchers’ Gaze and Chaos in the Water going after all Revelers at once while Abduction asks the investigator how much they are able (and willing!) to sacrifice to protect their objective. Meanwhile, Mesmerize potentially isolates and hurts Revelers on the other side of the board, which can not only put that asset in danger, but also cost a lot of time.

Other treacheries: The other treacheries in the deck resolve around two things: Dealing more damage and horror to the investigators to keep up the pressure. And interacting with the location setup, moving either players or enemies around. These movement effects are a bit situational in how much they actually do, but they have a huge potential to hurt your progress by costing you turns, isolating group members or moving you straight into the arms of a Carnivale Sentinel.

Rewards: There’s 6XP up for grabs, which means you can net a 3XP profit here. Those XP are hard earned, this is a fairly difficult scenario and failing it is a real risk. And it’s not just your XP that’s on the line: Should you fail to rescue even a single Innocent Reveler, you have to add a random Madness, Injury or Monster weakness to your deck.
So what can we look forward to as our prizes? Like all standalones, this one also gives the opportunity to add some story assets to your decks. For completing the scenario with a win, each investigator can choose one of four masks. Their usefulness ranks from “Pretty Good” (Medico della Peste, Pantalone) over “Fine” (Bauta) to “Underwhelming” (Gilded Volto). Personally, I find it hard to be excited for these. At least they have some good icons, i suppose.
But while those masks are sort of like participation trophies, the real prize is getting to add Abbess Allegria Di Biase to a player’s deck. She acts as a souped up Pathfinder for any class, as is easily worth the deck slot as long as the player can afford the ally slot for her. She might just be worth buying Charisma for, though. To earn the Abbess, it is required to save all three Innocent Revelers. Certainly not easy, so this is a worthy reward for a challenging task.