Scarlet Keys is an interesting campaign and my thoughts on it were quite difficult to nail down. I am now on my fourth play through it and i feel like i’ve got a good grasp on what the campaign is about and what i like/dislike about it, so here’s a write-up of my opinions. This page has no concrete spoilers about specific scenario details or story developments, but in order to discuss a few things i do need to make some more sweeping observations. These don’t go past something like “Circle Undone has a lot of three health enemies” or “Dunwich Legacy has a lot of agility treacheries” (both made-up examples, of course). I also explain some of the global mechanisms of this campaign. Keep in mind this is an opinion piece. You can have a different opinion and we can both be right.
Good: Non-Linear campaign
Scarlet Keys is the first truly non-linear campaign. There’s basically two parts to playing Scarlet Keys: One, you are navigating between scenarios and interludes using a world map and a campaign book that is more or less laid out like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book. You are relatively free to plot different courses between scenarios, spending “time” as a resource to get from one spot to the other. Meeting certain thresholds of “time spent” can trigger events, including a forced transition to the final scenario at 35 time.
As a result of this unique campaign structure, Scarlet Keys is incredibly replayable. There’s different routes to explore, various decisions to make during interludes and scenario texts. Just wanting to see everything is going to take at least four or five playthroughs. Of course, this sort of thing is amazing for people like me that play a lot, that do want to replay a campaign over and over again and still have new stuff to figure out. It’s not all sunshine and roses though, because this campaign structure also means that your first run of the campaign is probably going to be … not great. You are guaranteed the first and last chapter, but if you just blindly wander across the map, you are likely only going to sandwich another three or four scenarios in between them. So the result is a somewhat short campaign of 5-6 scenarios which you nonetheless spent a lot of time on because you are reading a novel’s worth of interludes and intro texts along the way.
I do count the non-linearity of Scarlet Keys as a plus, but i can certainly imagine that playgroups or players that usually only play a campaign once because they got other games to play or just not the time for more might actually find this detrimental to their enjoyment. In any case, this campaign does a great showcase of the sort of new things that the designers are able to do now with the new release model.
Bad: Low XP payouts
Alright, with Scarlet Keys’ biggest plus out of the way, we need to discuss the bonus situation. This is a campaign that is very stingy with its rewards, with scenarios usually giving only 4-5XP a piece. If you consider that you might just play 5 or 6 scenarios in your first play because you aren’t optimizing your routes, you are looking at lower payouts than Dunwich Legacy. You have some extra ways of gaining points during interludes at the non-scenario locations, but this campaign is quite difficult. Difficult enough that having to prematurely resign from a scenario or two is very realistic.
The result is that TSK clamps down somewhat hard on what decks are suitable. Anything that requires more than 15XP to get going is basically out of the question because at that point you might actually only have two or three scenarios left.
This is counteracted by two things. One, you do get access to some powerful artifacts (the Keys) and a couple other story assets. These help for sure and one or two of them are even borderline broken, but generally don’t expect these to be as helpful as the partner assets from Edge of the Earth. On average, they are more comparable to the Mantle, Headdress and Idol from Innsmouth in powerlevel, I’d say. The other thing that helps with the XP situation is personal experience. Once you know more about what’s going on where on the map and you can plot better courses, you can hit eight scenarios pretty reliable and can cherrypick the better interludes and thus get more XP from the campaign to go towards building your decks. Again, this is of course not much of a relief to people who don’t play this game obsessively and who might have other things going on in their lives…
Good: Scenario design
So, i am not at a point yet where i would be able to sort the TSK scenarios into my scenario rankings. I’ve played every scenario now, but not every variation of those that have them. And i also haven’t won all of the scenarios either… But i can say that i am not sick of any of them yet (like i was with Fatal Mirage after just one play of Edge). I feel they are all doing something interesting. Two are new takes on flawed scenarios of old (Echoes of the Past and Wages of Sin) and both are much better than their predecessors. A low bar, sure. But i’ll take it! Jokes aside, the “new Echoes” might actually even be my favorite scenario of Scarlet Keys.
The scenarios are very different from each other. While some mechanisms overlap here and there (like the Concealment ability), there is enough variety in how those mechanisms are used that it doesn’t feel too repetitive. We finally have some real act and agenda decks again, for mid-scenario twists and the like. All just really good stuff and a great contrast to the comparatively bland Edge of the Earth. Of course the campaign doesn’t stick the landing, the finale is a bit too weird for my tastes. But ending the campaign on a whimper is sort of a signature AHLCG move by now, so whatever. YMMV, of course.
Yeah, this campaign is rough. Like, really rough. Imagine a chaos bag with three autofails and four -5 tokens in it. That’s how it effectively can look like near the end of the campaign in certain scenarios. On Easy. Meanwhile you are expected to reliably pass difficulties of 4 and 5, with the occasional spike up or down. The enemies are mostly fine, but especially the coterie members themselves are chunky Elites that are potentially very dangerous. Add to that the two main mechanisms of the campaign: Concealed, which is basically an action tax that you have to go through before being allowed to interact with the enemies in the shadows. And Hallow, which randomly removes cards from your hand, board and deck from the game.
The mix of all of these leads to a very challenging cocktail. Now, i am not one to think of difficulty as something bad (TFA is my favorite campaign for a reason), but couple it with the XP situation and you get into dangerous waters. I do like difficulty, but only if i feel like i have the tools to meet that difficulty with tools of my own. And i don’t think that Scarlet Keys gives me reasonable access to my tools. I do however put the blame for that completely on the XP scarcity.
To be honest, the difficulty of this campaign is probably going to be a negative for most players.
Sadly, this campaign seems to have a few bugs. Nothing that will sink your campaign, but just a noticeable amount of errors in card and scenario texts. Things like card texts with choices missing a crucial “Must” in there, so as written you’d be able to choose options that don’t do anything. Or scenario text referring to a campaign log entry with a different wording than the one that was actually given earlier in the campaign. The resolution of one scenario ignores a choice that was made earlier in the scenario.
There’s just a bunch of little annoyances like that sprinkled over the whole thing but as i said nothing major like the broken stuff we had in Dunwich. Hopefully those should be cleared up with the next release of the FAQ/Errata.
I suppose this is the price to pay for a massively more complicated campaign like TSK with all its non-linearity and branching decisions. There’s bound to be more opportunity to slip up than for something linear like Innsmouth.
Good: Encounter design and main mechanisms
I do like a lot of what’s going on in the encounter sets. It’s varied, it’s impactful and most of it is interesting. The enemies aren’t as generic as the ones in Edge either. The raised difficulty does stretch into the treachery cards as well, with barely a card being something you can ignore. Two things immediately stood out to me: There’s a surprising amount of direct damage and horror happening (often in addition to other effects) and it feels like more cards than usual are meant to target the clue gatherers of the group. The two main encounter mechanisms, Concealment and Hollow, are both very present.
Hollow is the one weak point of the encounter design in my opinion. Not because it removes cards, i am perfectly fine with that. But it does feel somewhat tacked on and the game doesn’t do enough interesting things with it. There’s a lot of effects around that remove cards as a hollow, but only few ways that this pays off. So it often plays just like a straight “remove a random card” which is a bit disappointing. I feel like this could’ve been explored better.
Concealment on the other hand has been given a lot of space to breathe, with a high amount of encounter sets devoted to it. Concealment is also the cornerstone of several scenarios and just by default has a higher immediate impact on the game than Hollow. It strikes a better balance of cards that setup the mechanic and those that have a payoff from them and that is despite Concealment not even needing much of a payoff. While it is almost everywhere in the campaign, there is a lot of variance to how the mechanism is used. I really like this one. It’s a bit of a pain to deal with while playing because it taxes your actions a lot, but you can build your decks with this mechanism in mind and it’s open-ended enough that several distinct approaches are viable. As seems to be a recurring theme in Scarlet Keys, that makes it feel very punishing on your first play, but is rewarding to overcome in future replays.
Unfortunate: The selection of investigators in the Player Card box
Alright, so this one isn’t strictly a criticism of either the TSK Campaign or the TSK Investigator Expansion… but there is one thing that kinda bugs me and i want to mention it. I do like the TSK Investigator Expansion quite a bit, it’s a box full of powerful player cards, aimed at more expert level players and the investigators reflect that to a degree as well. While i do think that at least two of them are a bit underpowered, they all have a place in a collection. My argument however would be that this was a bad place to publish them because the selection of investigator clashes pretty hard with what the campaign wants you to do.
The TSK campaign consistently throws high difficulty tests at the players, tests that need to be passed to progress. Meanwhile the chaos bag gets incredibly hard over time, to the point where you want to be able to hit modified skill values of 8-10 to pass your tests against Retaliate enemies and the like. If you try to meet this challenge with Amina or Carson, you are in for a bad time. Carson at least can hide behind his playstyle of not actually doing anything except letting other players take his actions, but for Amina this is very rough. She already needs to assemble an assortment of assets that cost somewhere in the range of 20-25XP to consistently get a reasonable skill value of 6+ going and then that’s barely even enough for the campaign after all. And that’s before even talking about where she’s supposed to get those 20XP from…
There are six investigators in the box, but they are lacking a solid fighter. Sure, Vincent and Charlie can be competent at defeating enemies, but just looking at the investigator selection you’d get the impression that you are supposed to lean more heavily into evasion with Kymani. You are then in for a rude awakening because not only are you going to run into scenarios that require constant fighting, but you also need to be able to defeat the coterie members who are high powered Elites and you often don’t have an alternative way of getting past them. One scenario even hardcounters Kymani’s ability to discard enemies with their double evade, making them struggle really hard to contribute to that scenario. To be clear, Kymani is a fine investigator for Scarlet Keys. Good, even. But don’t expect them to be able to be your main enemy handler unless you come equipped with the necessary campaign knowledge that enables you to plot a route past the fight heavy scenarios.
So once more, we run into a situation where players on their first blind play are just set up to crash and burn in a rather unsatisfying manner. While technically the Investigator expansion and the Campaign box aren’t required to be linked mechanically, there is a certain expectation for that anyways and i think it’s really unfortunate how the two TSK products don’t line up with each other. Previous cycles handled this much better and all that was required here was saving up either Carson or Amina for a future product and have a fighty investigator in their place for TSK. The thought that some are out there doing this campaign on just Core+TSK with Roland (or maaaybe Agnes) as their only fighter is giving me second hand anxiety.
While we are on the topic of the player card box, i already talked about the XP situation … but let me just say that giving us amazingly cool XP pits like the Customizables and then a campaign where we have to play like 3-4 scenarios just to max one of them is a bit of a cruel joke. I find this very frustrating. Let me play my cards.
I do really like playing Scarlet Keys. The campaign structure is great, the choices behind the travel system is engaging, decisions around how to handle certain coterie members are suitably impactful. I’ve not played anything else (Arkham-related…) since TSK’s release and i will probably finish it another two or three times before finally going back to an older one. The main reason is the replayability. There is just so much to do, so much to explore. And while the difficulty is harsh, i am not particularly bothered by it. Failing is a part of AHLCG for me.
But that being said, all of the things i like about this campaign hinge on the ability to replay the campaign over and over. Not everyone has as much free time to waste as i do and especially gaming groups might find it hard to swallow that their first play is likely going to be a forgone conclusion of misery and failure. I already commented on the Investigator Box that i think of it as an Expert level product: Fantastic for people with large collections, but questionable as an early purchase. I feel like this is even more the case for the campaign.
TSK is often brilliant, but it has many moments all over that just invite frustration. Depending on your own threshold, this can prove too much even if you are entrenched into the game. Personally, i had to introduce a houserule into my own campaign to fix the XP situation (i am giving myself an extra XP for each 2 time spent that weren’t part of a scenario resolution) to be able to enjoy it properly. Scarlet Keys is a very unique experience that does everything right on a mechanical level. It’s just that a bunch of numbers are out of whack and it does require a lot of work on the player’s part to get into it deep enough that the cool parts open up to you.
As for my personal rankings, I don’t think Scarlet Keys will be able to push Return to TFA from the number one spot. But i do expect it to overtake Innsmouth and plant itself firmly on the second place… at least with my house rule in place.
My take on this set: This set does add yet another layer to the concealment mechanic of the campaign. It is a set that is particularly punishing if players keep a lot of enemies in the shadows. But on the other hand it rewards players who proactively seek out anything in concealment. The reason for that is that all cards in this set are only dangerous if they are allowed to stack up with other concealed cards, so if you have a handle on what’s in the shadows, this set of cards isn’t going to do much to you. It is a bit weird then that this set is used during On Thin Ice, since that scenario doesn’t even have that much concealment in it. Sure there is some, but On Thin Ice also features Outsiders and hollowing at least as much. In turn, Eclipse will be a rather tame or even free draw many times during On Thin Ice. This is much different during Dealings in the Dark of course. That scenario is all about concealment, with many cultists and coterie members hiding out in the shadows at the same time even at low player counts. Eclipse can be a very threatening card in that scenario. I think this is a well done set that succeeds at giving concealment more urgency. My one critique would be that mechanically it would’ve fit better into Dancing Mad than into On Thin Ice.
What it does: Emissary of Yuggoth is a moderately sized enemy with completely average stats and damage/horror values. It does however have Concealed 2 and is able to attack enemies while being in the shadows, gaining a free attack at any investigator that discovers a clue at a location with a concealed mini-card at it. Once exposed, it gains Hunter and Massive as relevant keywords. Defeating the Emissary awards a victory point.
My take: This enemy breaks the mold in a couple of ways, making it a bit of a weird card. It’s the latest in a series of Victory enemies from Agents of X sets but of all them it’s the one that poses the least problems in a straight up fight. Instead it is mostly notable for harassing the players through the threat of attacking from the shadows. Hunter is not really all that relevant on a card with Concealment, as it will only come into play if exposed, then evaded. And considering that Emissary isn’t terribly hard to defeat and also rewards doing so with a VP, running away from it isn’t a great plan in the first place. I don’t find this enemy particularly scary. It’s relevant sure, but we’ve come to expect much worse from the Agents of X sets.
Threat level: Medium. Concealed 2 makes it stack up well with other concealed cards. You will usually be able to avoid triggering its Forced ability, but of course playing around it is already a hindrance.
Dealing with it: Flush it out of the shadows and kill it. Since its not terribly threatening once engaged, this should be your first plan when facing the Emissary. This enemy is worst if it’s allowed to stack up with other concealed cards, so in preparation you should keep the number of enemies in the shadows under control. Especially during Dealings in the Dark that is of course easier said than done, but it does align with what you probably want to do in that scenario anyways.
What it does: Tenebrous Eclipse stays around for one round. While in effect, each investigator can only expose one mini-card per round, severely limiting their ability to go after the enemies in the shadows. If multiple of this card are in play at the same time, only one is discarded at the end of the round, making this limitation stretch across several rounds.
My take: Much more than the Emissary, this treachery can be very annoying. It his highly contextual. If there are no enemies in the shadows when drawing this, it’s even a freebie. But if you are already behind on exposing the enemies and have multiples in the shadows, then Eclipse will make the situation that much worse by limiting your ability to find them. Just like Deep Dark from the Forgotten Age, Tenebrous Eclipse also gets a lot worse if you draw multiples in such a way that its effect covers multiple rounds in succession. Especially in full groups this happens way more often than one would like.
Threat level: Medium. Highly dependent on the board state. This card doesn’t cost you any of your resources, actions or cards so as long as you can play around it, you don’t actually lose anything. However, the way it can limit your options can absolutely be very punishing.
Dealing with it: Since it’s a card that depends on the current board state, dealing with it proactively instead of trying to clean up after it is the best way of meeting this treachery. With three of them in the deck, you can expect to draw them multiple times per scenario, so working towards minimizing their effect is going to pay off. Mostly that means going after enemies in the shadows straight away and not letting them stick around for too long. You will want to avoid situations in which you have three or more enemies in concealment and then not be able to do anything about them because you drew two Tenebrous Eclipse in back to back turns. During On Thin Ice that wouldn’t even be that bad, since it’s not actually all that focused on concealment and just has a splash of it. But in Dealings in the Dark that situation could easily make you struggle to keep up with the cultists.
One of the things i like most about deckbuilding for Arkham is how many options we have. Between 5 classes and more than 50 investigators all with their unique twists there’s a lot of neat things we can do. One card busts this pool of options even more open: Versatile. This is an article that aims to take a deep look at Versatile, how to use it, who might use it and what cards are worth the cost.
The card itself
First things first, let’s look at Versatile itself, what it does and what those things mean.
One the plus side: – Versatile allows adding a level 0 card from any class to any deck. This is the main effect of the card and in the vast majority of cases the reason why you are taking this card. – Versatile is Permanent. It doesn’t take up deck space or clog up draws. Once we bought it and modified our deck, we can forget about it for the most part.
On the negative side: – Versatile costs 2XP. That’s not a whole lot, but since we are getting a level 0 card in return, we are overpaying a bit for the privilege of reaching out of our card pool. This also means that Versatile isn’t available at deck creation unless we take it in tandem with In The Thick Of It, Offer You Can Not Refuse, Father Mateo, Kymani Jones or the print&play Parallel Roland. – Versatile increases your deck size by 5. This is the big scary looking drawback that has people shy away from using Versatile. Increasing your deck size decreases your consistency when drawing cards, making it more unlikely to find specific cards. Turning this drawback into a positive or at least minimizing its impact is going to be one of the key things for making Versatile work.
You get +5 Deck Size.
Conventional wisdom teaches us that increasing your deck size in a card game is inherently bad. If you are looking for a specific card, you have a certain chance to draw it and increasing your deck size decreases that chance. However, this is only really important if your deck relies on finding specific cards. But very often that isn’t actually the case. The card pool is deep enough today that it offers redundant options for most things. Also, many decks are built to be more generally good, to meet the different challenges that a campaign throws at you over the course of multiple scenarios. Often it won’t matter if you draw Deduction, Sharp Vision or Winging It… as long as you can keep the clue train rolling, you are in business. Most decks aren’t looking for a specific card, but for a mix of cards that allow following whatever the act deck asks of you.
There are of course cases where the deck increase hits harder. Any investigator built around their signature card (like Diana, Bob or Tommy might be) is already struggling to find their one copy in a deck of 30. Increasing the deck size to 35 only makes it harder. A deck that is built around the likes of Practice makes Perfect and/or the Research events will work better if they keep their deck as lean as possible. If you dumped 10XP into a pair of level 5 cards, a Customizable card or even a single copy of an Exceptional card, then adding Versatile can make the difference between actually seeing that card and … well, not getting to play with the thing you invested so highly into.
So the short of it is that to make the most out of Versatile, you will want to equalize the powerlevel within your deck. If every card is good, it doesn’t matter which one you draw. If you have spikes and valleys in how impactful and useful your cards are or you are running overly situational cards, then you should probably stick to a 30 card deck.
Also to consider is what cards to add in those 5 slots. One is spoken for by the card from the other class that you are targeting. The other four can be used in whatever way you like, but there are broadly speaking four options: – Redundancy. Just add more cards that are good for your deck. Use these slots to double up on some important roles in your deck, like maybe some weapons for your fighter. Basically, this is just the generic “more stuff” option. – New things. Deck space is very limited and getting an extra 5 can enable you to add another aspect to your deck that wasn’t in there before. This isn’t terribly common and probably also not advisable in most cases as this will only increase the consistency issue introduced by Versatile. But it is an option. Just make sure you aren’t stretching yourself too thin in too many directions. – Minimizing the size increase. By adding cards that draw cards you can minimize how much this deck increase really matters to you. For example a Luke deck with Versatile could opt to add 2 Guts and 2 Perception into those slots, cards that cycle for free thus making those extra slots barely matter except for mulligans. There’s also Tempt Fate, a card that is completely neutral in terms of card economy and can be added by anyone. But the Curse/Bless tokens it adds lean slightly negative unless you have some synergies so it’s not something i would suggest in most cases. Cards like Glory or Laboratory Assistant also can be included for this purpose. – Adapting your deck. Adding new level 0 cards to your deck during the campaign costs 1XP. Rogues have the card Adaptable to help them change their cards on the fly, other classes aren’t that flexible. Buying Versatile allows adding 4 level 0 cards to your deck “for free” and that can be worth it. Maybe you are planning to pick up some high XP card down the road and use it with a level 0 card. Usually that’d mean taking that level 0 at deck creation and having a semi-dead card in your deck until you get to buy the card that enables it. Planning to Versatile it in later can make your deck more efficient until you got all the pieces together. The other use case are the five investigators from Edge of the Earth who move from one class to the next. Getting to upgrade out of their initial 5 level 0 cards and add new ones with Versatile later on can make a lot of sense.
Another thing to note about the deck size increase is that its significance scales with your initial deck size. Or in other words, the +5 don’t matter as much if your deck is already bigger. Or matter more, if it’s low. Patrice would go from 42 to 47 cards, which doesn’t seem bad at all. Similarly, if your Seeker deck is already extended to 45 cards because you are running Forced Learning, then upping the deck size to 50 doesn’t matter much. Now, the argument in the other direction would be that finding your one bonus card in a bigger deck is more difficult than in a standard 30 card deck… but both Patrice and Forced Learning offer enough card draw that this doesn’t necessarily hold up, at least not in full. Characters with smaller deck size also exist, mostly in the world of parallel investigators or rogues with Underworld Support who have 25 cards. For them, the added +5 weighs higher and is a bigger ask. Finally, there are some special cases where the card added with Versatile doesn’t go into the regular deck. It could be a Permanent card or it could be something for a special side deck like Joe Diamond’s hunch deck or it could fit on Stick to the Plan. Those cases can make Versatile a lot more attractive because you are more likely (maybe even guaranteed) to profit from your singleton card.
The final point to make about the deck size increase is that it doesn’t just impact your chances of drawing a certain player card or signature. It also decreases your chance to draw one of your weaknesses. Now, you usually won’t want to take Versatile just to make your weakness slightly less likely – the 2XP can often be spent otherwise to mitigate the weakness. But in extreme cases, like Doomed or Offer You Can Not Refuse, this can make the difference between seeing that weakness that one extra time that defeats you. Conveniently, Offer You Can Not Refuse even hands you the 2XP required to buy Versatile at deck creation. I could imagine spending the 2XP on Versatile for Faustian Bargain on a Guardian that drew Offer as their weakness…
Keeping in mind the effects of the deck size increase, there are therefore these reasons you might have to include Versatile in your deck: – Adding a new high impact card. The default reason. You use Versatile to throw something into your deck that would make a huge impact when you draw it, but that your deck doesn’t rely on. This could be a Leo De Luca, Dream-Enhancing Serum, Pete Sylvestre or similar. – Enabling a combo. Different from the previous option through the intent of it. By using Versatile, you add a card to your deck that interacts with your investigator or your class in a particularly powerful way, then build your whole deck around this interaction. A popular example is splashing a copy of Premonition into Wendy and replay it over and over with her amulet to make a mockery of the chaos bag. If you are going for something like this, note that you will have to somehow fish out that one copy out of your 35+ card deck (or one of two copies out of 40+ cards) which can be a challenge in itself. – Increasing your options. This has overlap with the previous two, but is slightly its own thing. What i mean is giving an investigator access to cards their ability cares about but that their card pool innately doesn’t support. So you aren’t adding just pure power but something that adds to what you can already access. Examples would be an off-class Insight card for Joe Diamond or an off-class and non-Innate skill for Silas. Of course that card would still need to actually be worth running! – Adapting your deck. See above. You get to add 4 level 0 cards for 2XP which can be attractive in some contexts. – Mitigating your weakness. See above. The lower chance to draw a certain card applies to your weakness as well. Mitigating your weakness can also mean something a bit more proactive than just tweaking down the chance to draw it a bit by including cards that directly combat the weakness. If you are stuck with an enemy weakness, adding a copy of Spectral Razor into your non-Mystic deck can do wonders if you are otherwise badly equipped to deal with it but have decent willpower. Deny Existence deserves a special mention here as it is able to apply to a surprising number of weaknesses, no matter if they are basic ones, campaign specific or investigator specific. – Making room/Toolboxing. Again, see above. This is the most shaky reason to use Versatile, increasing your deck size to fit more stuff into your deck. Increasing your tool box can make sense if you have very good card draw or card selection. However, Seekers are better off using Forced Learning and other classes often struggle with that card selection requirement. Of course, once you already run Forced Learning, feel free to throw Versatile on top. The extra +5 don’t add much when applied to 45 cards and the card selection from Forced Learning will mitigate Versatile further.
You can of course have multiple reasons for adding Versatile and since you are adding 5 cards to your deck, you should actually make good use of every one of them. Increasing your toolbox in a draw heavy deck might not be a good enough reason to run Versatile on its own, but if you gain access to a potent off-class addition AND ALSO increase your options, then you are starting to get somewhere.
What makes a good Versatile target?
Since we are not only overpaying 2XP for our level 0 card, but also messing with our deck consistency, we want our Versatile target to really mean something when we draw it. For that reason, assets will have a much easier time of impressing us than events or skills do. A one-and-done effect on one card in a stack of 35+ is just going to have a hard time to be impactful enough, but there are certainly cases where they do work out. We will want the target card to do something that our innate card access can’t replicate. There’s little need to Versatile for Beat Cop’s +1 fight if you can just run Jessica Hyde or Lonnie Ritter instead. As another example, using Versatile for Track Shoes used to be a thing for Ursula decks. While still not at all bad, the Hiking Boots from Edge of the Earth are a close enough alternative that will make Track Shoes (for 2XP and +5 deck size) much less attractive. Investigators that do something special with events or skills can of course easily get enough value out of those, too. Amanda or Silas can use and re-use skills many times and there are several good targets for them to do so. Similarly, a Diana or Sefina can potentially get enough mileage out of events to put them on a level with assets. But for the most part you will be looking at assets that either shore up some weak spots or add just generic power.
The level zero Permanent cards
Before i finally go over the card pool, there is one cycle of cards that deserves special mention: Edge of the Earth introduced a cycle of five Permanent cards, one for each class: Geared Up, Forced Learning, Underworld Support, Down the Rabbit Hole, Short Supply. These cards have two things in common: One, they have to be bought at deck creation. Two… well, they are Permanent. What that means is you can only get these if you use In the Thick of It during deck creation or if you get starting XP from your investigator or weakness. Them being Permanent means you don’t have to care about having to draw the card, so the “one in thirtyfive” problem is already solved. You do however still have to add 5 level 0 cards to your deck, the Versatile target won’t count towards those.
Geared Up: This one is difficult to use at the best of times because it demands that a high number of cards in your deck is Item traited to work. Increasing the deck size will probably mean that you’ll also have to include a couple extra Items. There are some fun things you can do with Geared Up in Sefina (who draws a 13 card start hand to make that first turn really count) and in Bob (who has innate synergy with the Item trait). Forced Learning: Versatile for Forced Learning adds 20 cards to your deck size, but also counteracts this by giving you card selection every turn. This can either be used to create a huge toolbox that allows players to shape their hand to meet current demands. Or Forced Learning can be used as a discard outlet for Survivors that want to go deep on discard synergies. As an example, a William deck that has both Forced Learning and Short Supply would have an insane amount of options to choose from each turn. Underworld Support: That’s the one that doesn’t make sense at all. The whole point of Underworld Support is decreasing your deck size by 5, which would just be canceled out by Versatile. Hard pass. Down the Rabbit Hole: Rabbit Hole is used to save XP. Paying 2XP for it means you have to make up for that, but the card is powerful enough that this can be worth it, provided you plan ahead far enough. I built a Roland decklist with it, but i’ve seen a bunch of other interesting decks with this card on arkhamdb. One particular interaction that i liked when reading about it is using Rabbit Hole in Survivor to pay for rebuying Exiled cards. Short Supply: Making use of cards dumped in your discard is really a Survivor only thing, so there’s going to be limited use for Short Supply in other classes. Of note, there isn’t a single (non-survivor and legal) deck with this combo on arkhamdb. Just to throw something out there: Mark using Winging It and Improvised Weapon through his Tactics access could use Short Supply to have those cards start in the discard. Yeah sorry, that’s the best i got for this one. Maybe as an enabler for the Synergy keyword to give a token Survivor asset for other classes?
Cards to Versatile for
Alright, with all of this mumbo jumbo out of the way, let’s finally get to the fun part. I’ll be going over the current level zero card pool and point out cards that i think are worth going for. Grouping them by class doesn’t make much sense in this context, so i will loosely arrange them by role.
The Top Tier
The best of the crop. These six cards are all generically useful and fit into a large variety of investigators because they require little support.
Dream-Enhancing Serum: The mother of all card draw engines. Not only does this asset allow you to draw extra cards, but it also allows you to keep those extra cards in your hand for more options. Keeping those card in your hand also slims down the deck should you reshuffle, so the extra deck size won’t matter anymore on your second (and third, fourth…) go through the deck. Finally, it uses a card slot that isn’t always hotly contested. Leo De Luca: The value option. Everyone can use additional actions. Of course there’s a real cost to spending 6 resources and your ally slot, but Leo has been worth it since the Core and he won’t stop soon. If your deck can swing the cost, then this is an option to consider. Crystallizer of Dreams: As long as your deck plays a reasonable amount of events, Crystallizer offers double value on those by also turning them into skills to bank for later. Again, this is something that most decks can make great use of. Crystallizer is cheap, but of course it does take up the accessory slot and adds an enemy to your deck. Peter Sylvestre: If you can get value out of both things he offers, then he’s a great addition to your deck. But even if you won’t make consistent use out of the +1 agility, the sanity buffer he provides is still exceptional. Drawing Thin: Utterly broken card that should never have been printed. Personally i refuse playing with this card, but if you want you can add this abomination to all of your decks for just 2XP (5XP, if you use the taboo). Just a completely busted resource and card engine that doesn’t cost any resources to play and doesn’t even take up a slot. Deny Existence: Deny Existence can neutralize a wide number of cards. This includes a couple of weaknesses and that is indeed one of the better uses for Versatile. Deny Existence can for example help Harvey overcome his Thrice-Damned Curiosity or it can be an answer for any investigator to an otherwise crippling Paranoia or Amnesia. Versatile for Deny Existence is also hot tech for the Dunwich Legacy, to combat Beyond the Veil both through making your deck bigger and through having Deny as a silver bullet that neuters the damage trigger. It’s simply a workhorse of a card and having access to it give you an out to many, many problems.
Many decks will stack up on skill values through their assets to help them pass tests. Some will even go further and try to squeeze such boosts to the skill(s) they are interested in into every equipment slot. A shame then that some classes don’t have a full set of such boosters. Well, that’s where Versatile comes in of course. Personally, i don’t find this a particularly interesting or even powerful use of Versatile, but it’s certainly an option.
Willpower: Mostly interesting for Mystics and they are of course also the ones that have most willpower boosters. David Renfield, Holy Rosary and Crystal Pendulum are all available and could for example go into a Guardian deck that tries to get the most out Martyr’s Vambrace. Mystics on the other hand can only look towards Granny Orne (or Dario el-Amin if they are desperate) for a willpower ally if they don’t want Renfield. Intellect: Again, most of these are allies. Alice Luxley, Whitton Greene, Jeremiah Kirby, Milan Christopher and Alyssa Graham are available here. Additionally, Magnifying Glasses can go into the hand slot. Fight: More allies. Beat Cop, Grete Wagner and Lonnie Ritter give fight options to the two classes that want it the most so those don’t need to Versatile for them. Survivor gets Jessica Hyde at 1XP, so they also don’t need either of these options. That leaves Mystic and Seeker as classes that might want a fight ally? Akachi with Lonnie Ritter and Robes of Endless Night, anyone? Agility: Peter has already been mentioned and it’s not going to get better than that. Outside of allies, there’s Track Shoes. Those used to be a thing in some Ursula decks, but Hiking Boots exist now. Still, i could see Winifred or Kymani pick up some Track Shoes! Multiple: Multiple skill boosts at once at level zero is mostly kept to the accessory slot. Tooth of Eztli, St. Hubert’s Key and Moon Stone are the options here. As is the Crystallizer, sort of. Finally, there’s also Dark Horse if you want to throw that into even more decks.
Card draw/Card selection
As with most card games, having more cards means more options and that is just something that all investigators are interested in. It’s a bit unfortunate then that most of the good card draw and card selection is limited to the Seeker class with a bit of Rogue on the side. The others get the occasional draw event here and there, but nothing that really lasts longer. Again, Versatile to the rescue. We already went over what i consider to be the best of the bunch, Dream-Enhancing Serum, but there are other options.
Mr. Rook: If DES is the best at card draw, then Rook is the best at card selection. Getting to dig 9 cards deep 3 times is pretty much guaranteed to find you what you need. Rook is good enough even when playing with errata, using his ability as an action is still quite potent. Lucky Cigarette Case: As long as you can reliably pass your tests, LCC will keep feeding you cards. Mystics usually have their accessory slot spoken for, but both Guardian and Seeker might be interested in this. Rabbit’s Foot: If you reliably fail your tests and are not a Survivor, i do sort of wonder what you are doing, but you might as well get a Rabbit’s Foot to get something out of your incompetence unique strategy. Empirical Hypothesis: Interested in either Cigarette Case or Rabbit’s Foot, but don’t have an accessory slot? Well, if you can pass just a bit harder (or fail harder!) then the slotless version is available, too. Note that this is the only customizable card on this list and that you won’t be able to upgrade it further after getting it with Versatile. Pickpocketing: The other slotless alternative to Lucky Cigarette Case. It doesn’t block your accessory slot, it doesn’t require oversucceeding… but it will only trigger on evasion successes. This is a semi-popular option for Rita. Laboratory Assistant: Finally, the last three options are one-shot options. Lab Assistant becomes interesting in decks that use Calling in Favors to get enough out of it to make it a worthy Versatile target. Otherwise I’d not consider it. Jeremiah Kirby: The better Lab Assistant. Digs deeper and even provides a stat boost while in play afterwards. Kirby also profits a lot from Calling in Favors, but he’s absolutely good enough even without that. Note that when playing with taboo, Kirby costs an extra 2XP even when added via Versatile, so you’d pay a total of 4XP. Deep Knowledge: As a card that costs zero and draws 3 cards in one action, this is as good as it gets for an event at level 0. Still, a one-shot card draw seems questionable at best to me as it barely counteracts the deck size increase. I would only consider this if I (or someone on the team) had curse synergy, maybe as something to spice up a Curse Dexter build.
Basically a subset of card draw/card selection, recursion draws you cards from your discard pile. This is usually strictly a Survivor theme, but Versatile can give you a taste in your class, too.
Scavenging: I almost put this in the S-Tier, but it’s not quite as universally useful as the others. For one, you need to be investigating. And you need items to recur. But if you have those, Scavenging is an incredible value machine. Tons of decks have been built around this card since the Core Set days and it’s only getting stronger over time. Scrounge for Supplies: Spending a card and an action on a card is quite slow. But if it gets back the right card, it can be a winner. Scrounge can prop up combos, increase consistency, insure against encounter effects or just simply double up on your strongest cards.
Finding clues is an essential part of winning the game. Raising intellect is something that was already covered and firmly in Seeker hand. It will surprise then that in terms of cards that directly investigate or just scoop up clues, Seekers are actually not all that present. At least not in terms of cards that we might consider Versatile for. Again, we aren’t interested in increasing our deck size just for one extra clue per go through the deck, we expect a bit more juice than your common Working a Hunch.
Fingerprint Kit: Up to three extra clues and a decent intellect boost. Worth considering if you have a way to refill or recur it. Otherwise it’s probably a bit too expensive. The power is certainly there, though. Mariner’s Compass: The other good investigation asset. Unlimited uses, but does come with its own restrictions. Magnifying Glass: If neither Kit nor Compass appeal, then Magnifying Glass is probably your best bet in terms of clue support. I don’t think it has enough oomph to be a Versatile candidate, but it’s on the cusp. Pilfer: Three clues in one action is a big game. Of course you do need to have the agility to pass this, but you can certainly use two of the four extra slots you have to fill after Versatile to get a pair of Manual Dexterity to use with Pilfer. Read the Signs: Unlike other Mystic spells, Read the Signs doesn’t rely completely on willpower, making it a reasonable option for investigators as long as the sum of willpower and intellect is okay. That being said, a 2 clue event that requires a test is slightly on the shaky side for Versatile. Drawn to the Flame: If i am getting two clues once with the card that i Versatile for, then i don’t want to be able to fail. I’d take Drawn to the Flame over Read the Signs. But likely i’d take neither and instead go for… Intel Report: Both the ability to pick up two clues in one go and the ability to reach two locations far make this the sort of one-shot effect that has enough impact to be worth considering. Of course it’s expensive, but you do get your money’s worth. Winging It: Perhaps i am just slightly obsessed with this card. It just keeps giving you extra clues over and over thanks to recurring itself. That of course sidesteps the whole event issue with Versatile. You’ll need some sort of discard outlet for it to be good enough, but there’s some in most classes. Look What i Found: Probably the actual best investigative event. Pay 2, gain 2 clues. No risk, no extra action, no frills. Just fail an investigation which is easy to do even on accident.
Let’s face it, level 0 weapons are for the most part kinda junk. They also need a decent fight value to even be used, so anything that doesn’t at least give +2 fight is already out for this discussion. Long story short, there are three weapons worth looking at… and they are all survivor weapons. Guardians, you should be ashamed of yourselves. .18 Derringer: Deals 2 damage, gives +2 attack, so technically it fits the bill. I’d rather run Knife than Versatile for this dorky little pistol, though. Meat Cleaver: That’s better. Both the damage and +2 attack are conditional, but you have good control over the conditions and can make this weapon work. This is my pick for most generally useful weapon to Versatile for. Fire Axe: Running the Axe requires some concessions in terms of your resource economy. But it does give you a monstrous amount of fight value which make it even usable on someone with very low fight to kill the occasional cultist. Machete: Outside of those three, i suppose that Machete is the last one that is at least bearable, but at that point, in-class options should be comparable enough to not be worth the 2XP and deck size.
Investigators that dabble in fighting are better off with some damage effects that are either testless or at least offer good chances and a lot of damage at once.
Occult Lexicon: A beast of a card that offers card draw and/or resources when you need them, but is also a potent weapon as long as you have some resources and extra cards stockpiled. Testless 2 damage while digging through the deck is really powerful and it even gets around things like Aloof or Retaliate. Dynamite Blast: I was asking for events with high impact and this certainly fits the bill. As with many of these events that i champion for Versatile, it does cost a bunch of resources, but it also nukes a complete location so that seems fair! Spectral Razor: There’s a couple of events that deal 3 damage to one target, but since Versatile allows us to pick the best one, I’ll only mention Razor here. It has all the hallmarks of a great card. 3 damage. Combines two skills into one for an easy test. And it even sidesteps Aloof. I am not convinced that Versatile for a single target kill spell is quite impactful enough, but if it is for you, this is the best of the bunch.
This is of course the other option to deal with enemies. Evade them and either outrun them or let someone else deal with them later. This is mostly Rogue territory, but thanks to Versatile, others can at least dabble.
Disguise: This is a brilliant card that you can rely on to take you of the danger zone and also give you a headstart towards getting away from the baddie. Versatile for Disguise and a pair of Manual Dexterity is going to go a long way towards shoring up an investigator’s weakness to enemies that would otherwise be able to pin them. String of Curses: If the whole idea of having to make a test to evade doesn’t appeal, there’s a couple of options as well. String of Curses isn’t the best when it comes to just pure evasion, but it has a couple of other things going for it as well that might be valuable enough to you. Decoy: This is the default one-shot evade. Just pay your way out instead, with the option to go bigger. Cunning Distraction: Or just go with the nuclear option and throw a turkey into the room, then hoof it. Usually Decoy will be preferable to Gobble Gobble Turkey Time thanks to its ability to scale, but if you expect a lot of enemies or want your card to be a Tactic, then this is worth a look.
Especially Mystics and Guardians often struggle with their resource economy, due to relying on expensive assets and having limited options to pay for them. Versatile can allow those paupers to learn a few tricks from the rich guys.
Faustian Bargain: 5 resources, no questions asked. Doesn’t get more simple. There’s the small matter of the two curses, but those hardly matter if Faustian allows you to play your assets when you otherwise wouldn’t be able to. This is the best card for a quick cash injection. Crack the Case: The only other one-shot option that i would consider instead of Faustian. It’s worse at generating resources because it’s dependent on shroud values, but in return it doesn’t cost an action. Voice of Ra: This is a bit out there, but with the recent errata this now triggers on pulling curses and blesses as well. That means that in the correct deck this can semi-reliably go for 5 to 7 resources which is a big game indeed. Lone Wolf: In one and two player games, Lone Wolf is an excellent constant source of extra resources. Depending on your exact needs, this can beat Faustian. Charles Ross: Ross is a bit of a weird card in that his abilities are quite unique, but he is in a class that isn’t really able to use it well. With Versatile we can fix that and hand Charles Ross to someone like Preston or Jenny that has the money to pay for the team’s items.
Using Versatile for healing is rarely going to be something to go for. If trauma stacks up near the tail end of a campaign there’s always the neutral Bulletproof Vest, Elder Sign Amulet and Moment of Respite to take up the slack. But just for completeness sake, there are two cards that have enough power to possibly be worth using Versatile for.
Hallowed Mirror: The best healing card in the game. Almost unique in that it can cure both damage and horror and it also does so in an efficient way, thanks to the Soothing Melodies refunding their card cost. It also is usable on others, so Versatile for Mirror could fix issues for the whole team. Liquid Courage: Like Mirror, Courage can heal efficiently and across the whole team, but only for horror. Usually Mirror will be better, but Courage does not require an equipment slot and it is able to dump all its charges immediately without having to draw them first. That gives it a niche.
Canceling encounter cards is extremely potent, but limited to the Mystic class. Again, we can use Versatile to sneak this effect into different contexts. Deny Existence i mentioned earlier, but i at least want to mention Ward here as well.
Ward of Protection: The classic solution to almost anything that comes from the encounter deck. Just for value, paying 2XP and the deck size for the cancel is unlikely to be worth it, but as part of a toolbox approach and/or in combination with getting good value out of the other four cards you can make this work.
A couple of cards allow using Versatile to overcome the slot limit which is another deckbuilding limitation – and thus open up more options. There are neutral solutions for more accessory or ally slots, but for anything else an in-class option has to be co-opted.
Bandolier: Give up a body slot for a handslot, limited to weapons only. Offers the option to carry a sidearm with a two-handed gun for non-Guardians. Arcane Enlightenment: Also adds a handslot, but only to tomes. Much more limited than Bandolier, but if a tome is part of your plans, then this beats Bandolier thanks to taking up a slot that is often less valuable and the tacked on bonus to hand size. Sign Magick: I don’t see a reason why you would want additional arcane slots if you don’t have innate access to Mystic, but if you do see one… well, here’s how to get them. Familiar Spirit is an alternative, but sacrificing the ally slot is an even bigger ask.
Some smart person came up with that Premonition Wendy deck. Who knows what else can be infinitely recurred by Wendy to break the game? Sorry to disappoint, but i don’t actually have any similarly game-breaking combos for you. What i can give you is a couple of cards that look like typical combo cards to me, cards that can supercharge others to great effect. Maybe you can connect the dots on these.
Eldritch Sophist: The vast majority of cards with secrets on them are Seeker, but there are a couple in the other classes. By splashing Eldritch Sophist, you can recharge those assets. Mind’s Eye and Eon Chart look like the two best candidates for this. Truth from Fiction also exists, but doesn’t have enough raw power to qualify. Eldritch Sophist also manipulates charges. One well-known combo with it uses either version of Red Clock, which allows to keep the clock at the same number of charges at all time while feeding the generated charge into another card for more value. Daredevil: If you use Daredevil in a deck without other Rogue skills, you can reshuffle your deck at will. There is the matter of the weaknesses staying in the deck, but this is a powerful effect nonetheless that can be abused for shenanigans. Quantum Flux: Does what Daredevil does and without caring about weaknesses. However, it removes itself from the game on use which limits its potential for combos. Double or Nothing: The only card to make its way to the Forbidden list for how insane it is. If you aren’t using taboo, Versatile gives you all the opportunities to break Double or Nothing in new and exciting ways. Sleight of Hand: Another taboo list frequent flyer. If you play it unrestrained, it works with all sorts of fun cards from Necronomicon over Shotguns to Chainsaws. But even in its limited form it can do some neat things. Nothing terribly broken in its taboo’d form, but that can always change as more cards are released. Hit and Run: Sleight of Hand, but for allies. It’s biggest limitation is being printed in the one class that can’t really use it well. But that’s what Versatile is for, right? The obvious combo is Seeker allies with Enters-Play effects, but there are other things to do with it as well, like blinking in a high cost ally only to then return it to your hand with Calling in Favors. Again, even if there’s nothing horribly unfair yet, this is the sort of card that is going to break eventually. Chance Encounter: Sleight of hand, but for allies, but from the discard pile! Same basic principle, if you can abuse Hit and Run some way then Chance Encounter can probably do the same thing. What’s even better, Versatile can make you put both into one deck. Add Calling in Favors and the sky is the limit on what you can do with your allies. Practice Makes Perfect: Sleight of Hand, but for skills, but from the deck! I’m sure you are picking up the pattern here. PmP is of course well known as a very powerful card that lets you double dip on skills (and also search for them, something the previous cards need Calling in Favors or Backpack for). Not sure if there’s really much ground to explore with it that hasn’t already been explored but I just couldn’t leave it off the list after going over all of the Sleight of Hand variants. (Quick Thinking): This one is just for completeness sake. Quick Thinking was recently errata’d to only be playable once per round. Before that, Versatile could make it part of infinite actions – or at least a lot of them. Now it’s just a good skill. Speaking of those…
There are going to be few reasons to include a skill via Versatile. It would need to do something very unique because otherwise it’s just going to be outclassed by an asset that does something similar. Daredevil was mentioned already, as were Quick Thinking and Double or Nothing. The following ones are all skills that i wouldn’t consider on their own merits, but because the investigator i take them in (or some card i run) might have special interactions with them due to being skills: Vicious Blow, Deduction, Eureka, Quick Thinking, Promise of Power, Take Heart. Amanda and Silas are the two that immediately come to mind when talking about skill cards and they might be interested in any of these they can’t innately take. To be honest, they probably don’t need them though… but maybe you are seeing something i don’t! There’s a couple assets that care about skills that can be interesting in this context as well. As an example, Versatile can enable you to put the combo of infinitely recurring Take Heart via the Survivor level 3 version of Grizzly Totem into Amina. Or maybe you want your Guardian to have an Eureka or two to commit with Bestow Resolve?
Phew, we somehow made it through the whole card pool. If you are still with me, here are some decklists that i used myself over the last years. Nothing i created specifically for this article, but things that i had uploaded on arkhamdb before.
Dynamite Luke: Turning Luke into a mad bomber was good fun. Luke is able to throw Dynamite anywhere on the map while standing in his Dream-Gate. DES Agnes: Parallel Agnes, built around drawing an insane amount of cards using either Dream-Enhancing Serum, Heirloom of Hyperborea or both. De Luca Amanda: Leo De Luca is one hell of a card by default, but for Amanda he pulls double duty, not only giving her an additional action, but also gaining additional value out of the skills under her. Rabbit Hole Roland: Fueled by DtRH, this Roland deck runs fully upgraded at 23XP. Quick Thinking Darrell: The rare example where i included a skill card with Versatile. Using Quick Thinking here offsets the action cost of True Survivor and makes the deck never lose any tempo. True Survivor is powerful, but normally sort of clunky. On Your Own and Quick Thinking turn it into something that’s barely fair anymore.
I’ve used Versatile on other decks before, those are just the ones that i documented on arkhamdb for some reason or another. While we are on the site, let me point out some other lists there that do something cool with Versatile. I won’t comment on them further beyond the link since they aren’t mine, i am going to let the authors of those decks speak for themselves.
And that’s it for the deep dive on Versatile. It should be pretty obvious that this is a card that i enjoy building decks with a lot. In terms of pure efficiency, Versatile doesn’t often measure up with some of the more ridiculous cards out there, but that’s also not really what the game is about (at least for me). Beating the game with some Flamethrower Mark and overtuned Rex/Darrell deck is easy enough, the real fun starts when some of the more out there ideas come together in a satisfying way. And few cards do enable that sort of ideas like Versatile does.
I hope this article gave a good impression of what’s possible with this card. Inevitably i will have missed a lot of things, so while i tried to be as comprehensive as possible i am sure you will come up with even more interesting combinations, making cards shine in wholly new contexts.
Encounter sets in this scenario: Dark Veiling, Mysteries Abound, Shadow of a Doubt, Strange Happenings, Locked Doors, Nightgaunts Available experience: 3 (Targets) + 2 (Sanguine Watcher) = 5XP
Location: Buenos Aires Involved Coterie Members and Keys: La Chica Roja, The Sanguine Watcher, The Weeping Lady Time spent: 1 to 3 time (1 if Seeing Red never enters play, 3 if Sanguine Watcher is defeated, 2 otherwise) Nearest other scenarios: Havana (2 time)
Size of the Encounter Deck
Synopsis: The investigators try to catch the “Girl in the Carmine Coat” aka “La Chica Roja” in Buenos Aires. La Chica Roja is currently breaking into a couple of potential places trying to recover pieces to one of the keys. The aim for the first half of the scenario is getting to those pieces before she does by exposing her before the time runs out. The locations have abilities that allow spending clues for help with this task. This has to be done 3 times. If the investigators have to concede at least one of the pieces to La Chica Roja, the scenario ends after either party gains 3 pieces, but should the team cleanly beat her 3-0, then a second half is played. During that second part, the group teams up with La Chica to defeat The Sanguine Watcher, a much more menacing coterie member that is also after the keys. Defeating the Watcher can be done either by brute force or through exposing Ritual Sites that the Watcher’s life is bound to.
My take on this scenario: This scenario is quite different from what we are used to. Gaining clues is usually the way to advance the game in the players favor, but it takes a backseat here. In theory, you could even finish this scenario completely without ever picking up a single clue. That being said, there are definitive advantages to having some on hand for location abilities, so it’s not like your seekers are suddenly unable to contribute. In fact, everyone is able to contribute just fine thanks to the open ended nature of the concealment ability which allows exposing mini-cards with fighting, evading or investigating. The first part of the scenario, where you try to expose La Chica Roja under time pressure, is not all that difficult to win. But in order to gain access to the second part, you need to do it three times without ever failing… which can be more of an issue depending on luck and your action efficiency. The main things to look out for is the incoming damage and horror from the encounter deck and from exposing decoys. Especially if one investigator is doing the bulk of the exposing, this can stack up fast. Having soak and/or healing available to help with that should make the whole thing bearable enough, though. If you decide for going after the Watcher in part two, a rather steep boss battle is in order. The Sanguine Watcher is a tough one and between his stats and the novel way of how to beat him in an alternate fashion, he’d actually make a reasonable final campaign boss. One interesting decision about this scenario is *when* to do it. The scenario itself doesn’t have any elements that scale with time, so you aren’t penalized with extra doom etc. if you get here late unlike in some others. On the other hand, the Watcher can be a serious problem for many teams before they got a chance to upgrade their weapons and soak. But then again, those Cultist tokens are quite nasty in here, so maybe doing Buenos Aires in the first half of the campaign would be preferable after all… Of course, there’s also always the alternative of going to Buenos Aires early on and just do the first part. That will make La Chica Roja an enemy to possibly encounter later, but it will get you a rather powerful key early on and just cost 1 time.
Scenario specific encounter sets: As usual, the scenario set does provide the locations, acts, agendas, token reference and the unique enemies. In addition to those, there are also some cards for the encounter deck. First is the Bound Nightgaunt, an enemy that mirrors the ability of the Nightgaunt from the Core Set (which is also used in this scenario), but for attacks instead of evasions. Then there’s Outsmarted, which can make the nearest Coterie enemy attack you or put a doom on the agenda. Luckily La Chica Roja qualifies for this treachery even from the shadows so you can always take a damage and a horror instead of the doom. Calling Card stops players from spending clues which can be quite awful and the card is also not easy to remove. Doing so however rewards with a free peek at a concealed mini-card. Finally, Cat and Mouse surges, but is completely optional. So the player can just ignore it if they choose. Should they opt in, they get to expose a mini-card at their location. If it’s a decoy, they are lucky and can just discard it. If it’s an enemy, all mini-cards are flipped back and re-shuffled, potentially wasting your efforts on previous locations. Since the card is completely optional, you can view it as strictly positive … just don’t risk the reshuffle if it would hurt too much. However be aware that exposing a decoy for free with this will still trigger the attack from La Chica Roja.
Chaos Tokens: The skull is tame in this one, scaling by the number of targets you secured. So it will only scale up to -3 (-4 on Hard), and only for the last act. So that’s fine. The Elder Thing is also not too bad, with just a -2(-3) and only doing something on failing. Beyond those two, things do get more worrying, though. Tablets do only have a -1(-2) to them, but drawing the tablet will also cancel all committed card icons and effects which can be quite bad for a couple of investigators. Finally, the cultist token is a whopping -5(-7!) and if you fail by 2 or more, you have to shuffle and redistribute face-down mini cards at your and connected locations. Cultists are added over time during the campaign, so this is the primary way the scenario scales the difficulty depending on if you are coming here late or early in your travels.
Act/Agenda: There are two parts to this scenario. The act and agenda deck only applies to the first one, where you try to expose La Chica Roja before the time runs out. The agenda deck consists of only one card with a doom threshold of 7, but starts with 1 doom on it per player for some party size scaling. The agenda also gives an extra ability to La Chica Roja, allowing her to attack any player that uncovers a decoy. The act deck has two cards, one for when you are trying to expose La Chica Roja and one for when you engage her. The second act provides a parlay ability as an alternative to defeating her. The final part of the scenario, where the group faces the Sanguine Watcher, uses one shared act/agenda card. It affords a solid 11 doom to close out the game, but will gain a doom when exposing a decoy. Aside from that it just states the new objective: Defeat the Sanguine Watcher.
La Chica Roja: Most of the text on her card relates to scenario mechanics, you aren’t really fighting her straight on all that much. The only time when you do that is after exposing her, when the act 2 card makes you defeat or parlay her. Since she only has 3 fight and 2 health (which also doesn’t scale with player count), defeating her is quite easy and more like a formality. Of note is her doing a damage and a horror on attack which will come up whenever someone exposes a decoy (the agenda will make La Chica Roja attack then) or when In Plain Sight attaches to her.
The Sanguine Watcher: This guy is a lot more terrifying in a straight up fight. 5 health per player is a lot, he hits for 2 damage and horror and he has Retaliate with decent fight to leverage that further. So fighting him will be a tough challenge for sure, but it is certainly doable with investigators that specialize in defeating enemies. If fighting him head on is too dicey, there is an alternate route to hurting him. The Apportioned Ka, a ritual that represents how the Watcher prolongs his own life, can be found out among its decoys. Doing so will deal 5 damage to the Watcher, so it would need to be done once per investigator to defeat the Watcher. Going this route avoids having to deal with the high damage and horror that the Watcher deals in combat, but comes with its own risks. For one, exposing decoys adds doom to the agenda. But more importantly, this will expose players to the Forced ability on the Watcher: If he’s ready at the end of the enemy phase (so if he didn’t attack), he will deal either 2 damage or 2 horror to everyone. So there are different ways to handle the Watcher and you can of course also do a little of each, weakening him through the Ritual before finishing him off the direct way. Evasion can also come in handy as a way to stop the Forced effect from happening while the rest of the team goes after the Apportioned Ka.
Other Enemies: Aside from the confrontation with the Watcher, fighting isn’t a huge part of Sanguine Shadows. There are however four Nightgaunts in the deck that do require being dealt with. Due to how small the map is and the frequent backtracking you do, evading them isn’t something i’d recommend. The scenario specific Bound Nightgaunt works similar to the one from the Core Set, doubling the negative modifiers of tokens drawn when attacking it which is offset by a fight value of 1. As a result, the token pull has a lot more variance than usual and committing additional icons to the test has less value than usual. It shouldn’t be a problem for any competent fighter as they would just be able to take it down without committing cards. Aside from the Nightgaunts, the scenario uses the Coterie Envoys from the Mysteries Abound set. Those aren’t dangerous in the usual sense, but they can hinder you from exposing mini-cards. If you can use a location ability to peek at the mini-card the Envoy is protecting, it can very well turn out that they are just covering a decoy and that you do not have to spend a turn on defeating them. So quite often, you can just let them stick around.
Treacheries: According to the numbers in the table at the top of the article, 16 out of 30 cards in the encounter deck relate to the concealment mechanic in some form. This is especially emphasized through the scenario specific Cat and Mouse and Calling Card treacheries. There is also a good amount of damage/horror coming the players way even though there isn’t too much fighting happening. Cards like Heavy Rain from Strange Happenings or even just the classic Wings of Darkness from Nightgaunts stack up in a dangerous way with all the free attacks that La Chica Roja is getting from exposed decoys and also from the In Plain Sight treachery. Something else to note here that is a bit atypical: There’s more agility testing in this encounter deck than willpower. It’s still not a large amount, so you aren’t screwed if you don’t have a high agility investigator. But on the flip side, a high willpower will do next to nothing in terms of encounter protection for you here.
Locations: The locations are all arranged around a central one, the Avenida de Mayo. Of the other 7 locations, one is always removed at random during setup as a minor randomization element. Since all the locations are clustered like that, ways are short here. This is of course necessary due to all the backtracking you have to do each time the act and agenda reset for another bout. The shroud and clue values on the locations are a very mixed bag. Not only do the shrouds range from 2 to 5, but the clue numbers are also wild with some of them being fixed and others scaling by player count. Gaining those clues is a bit of a secondary thing in this scenario though. You don’t need them to advance the act, but you can spend them on location abilities that allow peeking at concealed mini-cards.
Reward and Failure: The Key for this scenario is The Weeping Lady. This artifact can be gained comparatively easily, it simply requires succeeding in getting to three targets before La Chica Roja does. So you don’t need to get to the Seeing Red part of the scenario for that. The Weeping Lady is reasonably powerful, allowing to discover a free clue without an action at any time which of course can also be used to expose a concealed mini-card. Flipping it back requires discarding a card from play from each player though, which is a cost that scales heavily with player count. At one or two players, paying this cost can usually be engineered to happen once or twice per scenario, but for three or four players this is a huge ask and just might not be doable. In fact, having this Key around becomes downright risky at those player counts because you might run into situations where the Paradimensional Understanding weakness forces you to shift it at the worst of times if you don’t play around that risk. After completing this scenario, you will also not have seen the last of either La Chica Roja or the Watcher. La Chica Roja is a rather awful enemy to draw in later scenarios as she will not only drain resources while on the board, but also easily shifting any keys attached to her. And if she ends up with the Weeping Lady (due to failing the scenario during act 1 or 2) this will completely decimate your board to the point that it’s going to be very hard to recover from. Sanguine Watcher isn’t great as an enemy either as he retains his high stats and his insane damage/horror. He no longer retaliates, but he will gain Hunter as a way to leverage this damage/horror. He’ll shift keys on defeat, but that will only come up if he steals one. There is no scenario resolution that will both make the Watcher the bearer of the Weeping Lady and keep him around as one the players have not seen the last of. Ending the scenario (either in win or fail) during act 1 or 2 will make players have to face La Chica Roja from then on. The Watcher will pursue them if the players win during Seeing Red. In a strange twist, failing during Seeing Red will add neither La Chica Roja nor the Watcher to the groups list of enemies. The amount of time spent does increase the further you get into the scenario: Winning or Failing during act 1 or 2 takes 1 time. Failing during Seeing Red takes 2 time. Winning Seeing Red takes 3 time. In terms of XP, you gain 1 for each target found during act 1 and 2, so up to 3. If you go into Seeing Red, you gain the opportunity for another 2XP from the Sanguine Hunter for a total of 5.