Hemlock Vale Spoiler Roundup #7

Intro

Last week and this week we got a preview, with multiple cards each time. So let’s catch up on that. First there’s a couple of neat Guardian events. Then there’s the full reveal for the new Mystic investigator.

Sources

Tinker and Hand Eye Coordination were previewed by Tengu Un Plan on their Twitch.
Kohaku Narukami and his associated cards were previewed by Drawn To The Flame on their podcast.

Guardian

Oh, this isn’t bad at all. Getting extra slots usually costs us around 3XP and hand slots aren’t even available that way. So having a way to get extra hand (or accessory) slots at level 0 is quite interesting. Now you do need to draw this first and you do need to pay for it, but i could see this being a legitimate alternative to Bandolier in some contexts. It is of course limited to Tool cards, so unlike Bandolier it won’t help you with carrying a two-hand weapon and a sidearm unless one of them is a tool weapon. But there’s absolutely a niche for Tinker to be relevant. As an upgrade it could even get you some extra value from interacting with Custom Modifications. (EDIT: There are no assets that are both Firearm and Tool around that would make this interaction possible. And unlikely to come later, so disregard that)
I find it interesting that it also can count as an extra accessory slot. If i am not mistaken, the only two Tool cards this is relevant for are Riot Whistle and Chemistry Set, so i am not sure that’s actually going to be terribly relevant… but who knows what else Hemlock Vale might have for us. Neat card, not immediately jumps at me as inherently crazy, but it will probably find a home, even if it just to give Wilson Richards an extra hand slot.

An extra action for a card is fine. This is limited to Tool and Weapon abilities, but considering that extra actions for Guardians are most useful when they offer additional fight actions, that is pretty much what we’d usually want anyways. There are already ways to get actions for cards and they don’t see a whole lot of play. Galvanize is the closest comparison as they both offer you a free fight action on a Fast event. Galvanize also readies an ally, but costs an extra resource. Insight vs. Spirit as traits can also be relevant.
I can see some situations where I’d be happy to have this card in my hand, but am i really going to spend an XP so i can put it into my deck? I am somewhat skeptical of that to be honest. This doesn’t have quite the sort of impact that i want from cards that i invest into. As a level 0 card i would probably find plenty opportunities to just put a singleton into a deck here and there, but asking me to spend XP on it might just be asking too much.
It is an Insight though, so if i can get some value out of that trait, i might give this extra consideration. Fast Insight cards are always something interesting to look at for Joe Diamond for example.

Mystic

Ha. A while back I made an extensive write-up for a Charlie Kane deck that i built, combining his access to yellow curse cards, green curse cards and a stable of synergistic allies. Well, there’s now another investigator in town that can run the core of that deck. And then some!

There’s a lot to unpack about Kohaku, with lots of interesting things all over his cards. I had high hopes for him after seeing the front side a few weeks ago – and neither his back nor his signature or weakness do disappoint. Full access to both Blessed and Cursed is exceptional and actually covers a wide array of bases, allowing him to be very flexible and contribute to everything. His statline is also excellent for this, allowing him to use spells and investigate competently while still having enough base fight to use cards like Riastrad or Holy Spear. With 4 willpower, he’s also a candidate for using the cursed spell suite from Innsmouth, but i would still say that Dexter stays first choice for that.
Kohaku doesn’t get access past Mystic 3 (unless it is Blessed or Cursed as well, of course) but that’s mostly upgraded spells anyways… and i feel like trying the vanilla flavor boring spell thing with Kohaku is just massively missing the point, so that’s not much of a loss tbh.
If his deckbuilding ended there i would’ve been happy, but he also gets Occult level 0. Hallowed Mirror is already blessed, but Occult Lexicon is a fantastic card obviously. For an investigator that heavily invests in curses, the ability to deal testless damage sounds very desirable.
His investigator ability is a bit of a mystery to me still. Obviously the ability to throw a token into the bag every turn a nice thing, but what about spending them for extra actions? Is that something to build around or just something to just use when you really need to? You could go either way and depending on your answer you will want to either run other cards that payoff for drawing curses/blesses or avoid them. Is there a Kohaku build that just creates tokens but doesn’t spend them except for taking 4 action turn after 4 action turn? Maybe…
One huge argument for making use of tokens in other ways than his bonus action is his signature. Allowing easy access to blurse tokens to throw into tests is quite powerful and would do wonders to make all sorts of payoff cards more reliable. It even combines very well with Favor of the Moon or Sun to activate Paradox Covenant at will.
His weakness is an enemy and it’s a very intriguing one. The combination of Aloof, Hunter and Elusive leads to an enemy that stalks you and makes hit and run attacks when triggered. Interestingly, attacking it with anything that uses a test can already trigger it if your bag is very full. You might want to keep a Blood-Rite in hand for this one.

Verdict: A very interesting character that can be built in several ways. That’s right up my alley. I feel like i already have plenty of options on where to take him and that’s just with the Innsmouth card base … we’ve not even seen much from the new set yet which can only increase his options.

Scenario Difficulty Rankings #9 – The Top 15

Intro

After almost two months of ranking scenarios on a weekly basis, we are finally left with the Top15. The scenarios that are left are indeed all ones where I expect struggling, where I feel like i am more likely to fail than to make it through unharmed.

For this last bit, I am going to switch up how I am doing things just a bit. Instead of having a short talk about a difficulty related topic, we are going to power through all 15 of the remaining scenarios today. And the final article next week is going to go into some analysis of the full list. Sounds good? Let’s go.

#15: Shattered Aeons

Chunky enemies, a good amount of doom mechanics, lots of locations and backtracking that make movement important and a location mechanic that punishes players for being on their own without being able to find clues…. while also punishing them for following a player before that one finished picking up clues. Shattered Aeons has a lot going on, working hard to split up the players, both through the location mechanics and through encounter cards that push them back to central locations. Weirdly, the final encounter deck of the campaign stops caring much about agility like the rest of the campaign did and instead focuses back on willpower, which can make some of the cards you took to deal with the rest of TFA’s bullshit powerless here. To deal with the likes of Temporal Devourer or any of the unique enemies in this scenario you will also need a lot of firepower. Shattered Aeons is a worthy final scenario that truly tests the player group from all directions.

#14: City of Archives

Robbing the player characters of their identity and abilities is cruel. For many investigators, their deck is focused all around that central identity and City of Archives can in turn your finely tuned deck into a pile of cards that do very little. Despite stranding you in a body with low stats that needs constant feeding of cards to even do basic tasks, the scenario isn’t shy of having you go through high shroud locations and making you pass all manner of tests. The enemies here would be no problem at all for a fighter on scenario 6, but when having to play as a fragile Yithian they suddenly become quite dangerous.
The scenario doesn’t offer a simple resign option and failing it is punished fairly hard. You might even end up stuck in the Yithian form for the rest of the campaign. You thought Shattered Aeons was hard before? Try it while cosplaying a bowling pin with arms.

#13: Devourer Below

I have little pleasant things to say about this piece of junk, so let’s keep it short instead. Devourer Below is simply unreasonable, considering that it comes as only scenario 3. Yeah, it’s technically a finale, but if you are going into it with 10XP, is it really?
It has an alternate win-condition and that is what pushes it out of the single digit ranks, but even with that in place, this is just an unpleasant experience and has no business being in the Core box that is meant to sell new players on this game.

#12: Without a Trace

Full disclaimer, I only played this one twice so far, so my impression of this one is not as fleshed out as it is for any other scenario. What stood out to me about Without a Trace is that it has some really tough enemies, high shrouds, lots of movement requirements. And all the while it is shredding your deck, being the one scenario that turns the hollowing mechanic up to a point where it actually matters.
That all makes it quite difficult to prepare for and your investigators will need to be generically strong because relying on certain cards is something that can just easily end in a painful crash-and-burn after going through all the trouble of unlocking this scenario in the first place.

#11: Union and Disillusion

Oh, how i struggle with this one. The combination of Haunted, the dreaded “Circle tests” and frigging Whippoorwills goes hard. This is one of the few encounter decks that feels incredibly coherent. The damage/horror treacheries that all link into each other can even feel like the encounter deck comboes out on you, as they create a downward spiral that can be hard to deal with.
Some investigators struggle more or less with certain circle tests and since you don’t know beforehand which ones you get, most investigators will find that they have problems with at least one or two of the locations.
And that is before even mentioning that the Watcher is around as an invulnerable Hunter on a very interconnected map or that the gang gets split up again at one point, potentially making anyone face a huge souped up spirit enemy.
It also takes forever! This is a scenario with reasonable challenges, but a lot of them stacked on top of each other.

#10: Boundary Beyond

There are a couple of achievements in this game that even veteran players will reach only rarely and that are legitimate reasons to brag about the decks you built. Capturing six cultists in Midnight Masks or clearing all three acts in Threads of Fate, for example. But arguably the most satisfying one to pull off is six ways in Boundary Beyond and in turn skipping Heart of the Elders #1. Doing this is incredibly difficult though. Getting the locations to their Ancient version requires a bit of luck as explore actions can easily fail (the biggest difference to the significantly more mellow Return to Boundary) and there is potentially a lot of doom around to cut the available time short. But even if you don’t shoot for the stars, Boundary Beyond has some really tough things in store. The enemies are without exception very relevant, the treacheries mostly pack a lot of punch. And the showdown with Padma on the final location is quite difficult, even if you don’t have to deal with the Serpent of Tenochtitlan or the Harbinger at the same time. Here’s a fun bit: There’s a 50/50 chance that the Templo Mayor which is the location where Padma spawns, is the one that puts a random Serpent into play from the encounter deck. Unless you are allied to Alejandro, the Serpent of Tenochtitlan is the only Serpent in the deck. So the double whammy of Serpent + Padma actually comes up more often than one would think.

#09: Unspeakable Oath

Sign of Hastur. Jesus. The Return To version certainly puts Oath to new heights, but the base version is honestly challenging enough already to keep you on the edge of your seat for all of its runtime. This scenario to me is the poster child for “difficulty done right”, it’s an incredibly tense affair that ramps up from just poking at the player’s investigator’s sanity to utter chaos once the monsters that accumulated under the act are released. The combination of Straitjacket and Corrosion makes keeping a weapon in play an ordeal, something that is the case way too rarely. You can’t really take any of your assets for granted in this scenario.
A huge part of Oath’s impact is of course the knowledge that failing it spells Game Over for that investigator and resigning is not an option either. There are a couple scenarios like that, but they usually aren’t in the first half of the campaign.
Failing Oath the first time is not quite as iconic as failing Essex is, but i’d argue it has the more longlasting impact. Damn, do i respect this scenario in all the best ways.

#08: A Light in the Fog

So this is just Oath, but under water. While the mechanics are very different, the general feel is very similar. You are locked in the caves under the lighthouse with no option to resign (unless you bug out very early without achieving much) and there is two outcomes: You either get out of there or the campaign is over. Like Oath, this scenario can take a good while and it does hit you with lots of horror and damage along the way. Especially the signature card of A Light in the Fog, the Hatchlings, makes this tension very visible. Usually, when having to choose between taking a horror or losing an action, you’d easily take the horror. Well, during Light in the Fog, this dynamic changes as you get more and more beaten down by all sorts of effects until you cling to every bit of sanity and health you have.
Deep One Assault is a card that has been a huge menace all campaign but it goes into overdrive here, making those Hatchlings and Nursemaids that much more potent.
This to me feels like the actual finale of Innsmouth and with Oceiros Marsh it even has a boss that is … well … worth its salt. Honestly, i find Oceiros more frightening than Hydra and Dagon taken together. Light in the Fog is like Oath a showcase for how to do a difficult scenario right, the high point of Innsmouth and in my mind indeed the high point of the game’s releases of the last couple years.

#07: Wages of Sin

And with that high note behind us, we have to look at the other end of the spectrum and talk about Kevin Wages of Sin. Because this is also a showcase, but for how not to do difficulty. Wages is random and Wages is frustrating. The map leaves little room to get away from the many Hunters, some of which are even unkillable (or at least situationally so). At the same time, the Unfinished Business cards that players need to secure often force players to backtrack through the map (past all those Hunters) while pelting them with quite punishing effects every turn. The saving grace then is the option to resign once the board state becomes too overwhelming.
My discussions with other players suggests that there is a good amount of broken player scaling responsible for Wages being so difficult for me, but i honestly can neither confirm or deny that. All i know is that at two players i am happy to get just one Heretic, i might if i am very lucky with my reveals get a second one. A third seems near impossible and the fourth like a bad joke that i can’t laugh about. Maybe a full group can do this more easily.

#06: Dead Heat

Dead Heat is a trap laid out for first time players of TSK, ready to demolish anyone unprepared who goes here right after London. But that’s not what we are measuring scenarios by for this list, we are assuming a knowledge of what’s going on. And Dead Heat still makes it this far up the list because of its very specific challenge: Fighting. Lots of it. Constantly. Across multiple locations. Against multiple Elites at the same time. While fighting smaller dudes on connected locations. This is Arkham Horror: Horde Mode. And honestly, i am here for it. It’s a pity that the encounter deck mostly consists of straight action draining because that just feels miserable when you don’t get to actually play the game.
Amouranth Amaranth is a fantastic boss, both in theme (in my opinion it’s TSK’s best character) and in mechanics. Fighting and finally beating her is very satisfying. The consequences for failing are large. While it won’t outright kill you, being defeated and/or losing too many civilians to the horde will cost you XP and multiple trauma. Resigning is an option, but actually a trap as it will count the remaining civilians as defeated with all the consequences that brings with it.
This is a very enjoyable scenario to do if you have good fighters that just want to unleash their arsenal. For once, you can show up to a scenario with Nathan, Tony or Mark and feel like you need to actually put work into keeping the board under control.

#05: Return to Essex County Express

Top 5! Return to Essex Express is an interesting case. Looking at its encounter deck and the new makeup of the agenda deck, there was clearly some effort done here to try and make this scenario a bit easier. The edge cases where you insta-lose are buffered by an extra agenda 0 and that’s appreciated, but imo doesn’t really do much for the actual difficulty as the total time frame is still the same. The encounter swaps remove Frozen in Fear and replace Ancient Evils with Resurgent Evils, both things that help towards making encounter draws less swingy. So why then is Return to Essex up here, with its own seperate entry? Well, because of the Conductor of course. Introducing a second fail condition (dying to this Massive Hunter enemy with 2 damage per hit) and in a way, a second timer is a huge deal in this scenario. When the Conductor catches up with the team, he will deal his significant attacks to anyone at the location but even worse, he will pin everyone there until defeated or evaded, stopping further investigations unless the seeker is willing to take some attacks of opportunity. This shifts the action economy in this scenario massively, the extra actions that will need to be spent on handling this enemy are very impactful.
Now, i should point out here that my personal point of view comes from playing this game two-handed. The Conductor doesn’t scale with player count (aside from the Massive keyword), so in a full group he is much more reasonable to push back.

#04: Shades of Suffering

“Hey Wages of Sin, can i copy your homework?” – “Sure, just change a few things so it’s not obvious.”
Well, sorry to say but it’s pretty obvious. Sadly, Shades doesn’t fix the most glaring offense of Wages (the randomness behind the spirit’s requirements) but to be fair the geists are a bit easier to handle than the Heretics. This is more than counteracted by Umbrella Girl showing up at the end though. She hits HARD. That ability on the Shade Reaper goes against anything the campaign teaches you and punishes you with extreme amounts of damage and horror just for doing what you were doing before. Luckily, you do get the option to resign early (just like in Wages) if you feel not up for the task of meeting Tzu San… but since we are looking at these scenarios from a perspective of a player that has campaign knowledge, we hopefully only went to this scenario if we felt comfortable to beating it. Unlocking it takes quite some time, so this is more of a thing to do for bragging rights than anything else. Honestly, there’s very little to gain here and the scenario is hard as balls, so i struggle to come up with reasons on why you’d voluntarily do this to yourself. It’s not even required for any of the special endings to Scarlet Keys.
An easy skip in my book. I suppose it has at last that over Wages of Sin.

#03: Lost in Time and Space

Well, place #3 to #1 are all campaign finales. Actually, we had two more already in todays Top15. While that seems about right at first glance there are some massive differences in why these scenarios are considered difficulty. And similar to the earlier Oath/Light vs. Wages/Shades examples, there’s a bit of a “difficulty done right” vs. “difficulty done wrong” thing going on with these three. First up is Lost in Time and Space. It’s where everything went great. As is appropriate for a final scenario, LiTaS has very tough enemies, lots of clues on non-trivial locations and challenges that we ran into in the campaign that went before it. Sure, Beyond the Veil is a bit cheap and frequently infuriating, but when you get to LiTaS you hopefully found a way to deal with it somehow. LiTaS then also introduces a fancy location mechanic to wow you and give players lots of room to interact with this mechanic and feel clever. It’s a very tough scenario, but at all times it allows players to interact with its bullshit and thus it feels satisfying to overcome.

#02: Before the Black Throne

Before the Black Throne takes all the components from Lost in Time and Space, but then fails to recapture the magic. You get chunky enemies again, both the Dancers and the Piper are terrifying. Love those guys. Sadly, past that the comparison to LiTaS lets Black Throne look less appealing. You also get a non-standard location thing with fancy rules and a definite wow factor to it. But there’s not a whole lot of play to it that would allow mitigating its randomness. Setup decides randomly where the right paths are and you either get them or you don’t. You also get a large helping of doom mechanics here that have a similar “That’s bullshit!” vibe to them as Beyond the Veil had in Dunwich. Except maybe even less interactive because those cultists tend to spawn in locations that can’t (reasonably) be reached so you need to tech for the ability to hit stuff across the map or just roll the dice and hope that it works out. Not great. In many ways, Before the Black Throne mirrors its challenges to those of Lost in Time and Space, but by increasing the non-interactive parts, players are afforded less opportunities to solve those challenges through their own play. This increases difficulty, but does so in a way that feels cheap and unearned.

#01: Where the Gods Dwell

Where the Gods Dwell is a bit of a tragic case. It’s mostly well designed (although i could’ve done without the first bit… it’s just a bit bland and railroaded), but the issue here is that there’s simply not enough time to do what you are supposed to. Unlike Black Throne which I think has some design issues, the issue with Gods is one of development and balancing. It simply needs more time on the doom clock or have its player count scaling fixed. Because it simply doesn’t work in solo or two-player out of the box. Even when you blitz through the first part, the confrontation with Nyarlathotep needs to go flawlessly on your part, there is no time at all for mistakes. For some godforsaken reason, the encounter deck even has two copies of a card, Myriad Forms, that partially resets your progress and basically loses you the game because there is little way to recover from that setback. And it’s really a pity because the idea behind how you defeat Nyarlathotep is great. Mechanically the scenario is fun. But if it’s balanced in a way that it is near impossible for certain group sizes and also has a card that might as well say “You Lose” on it, then that’s all a bit of a moot point.

Outro

And with that, we reached the end of the difficulty rankings. In the next and final article, i will put the whole list together so that we can analyze it in full. I’ll do some comparisons with my “scenario enjoyment rankings” so maybe I can see a trend on whether I gravitate more towards easy or difficult scenarios. We can check out how the campaigns placed on the difficulty scale, if something scored exceptionally on the easy or difficult side. Stuff like that.
Cheers o/

Scenario Difficulty Rankings #8

Intro

We are on the homestretch of a series that went on for far too long now. Thank god.
Let’s quickly get into today’s mini-topic before moving up into the upper ranks of the difficulty ladder.

Campaign Context

Unless we are talking about standalones (and for this article series, we aren’t), scenarios do not exist in a vacuum. They are part of a bigger campaign and that does have some influence on where they place on how difficult they are.
The most obvious influence is whether it is an early scenario or a late one, with special consideration to the opener and finale of a campaign. It will heavily influence the player’s capabilities because their decks are just going to be much more capable after 20XP went into upgrades than at the start. And again much more capable after another 10XP were spent. As an easy showcase of this, consider Untamed Wilds and Heart of the Elders #1 from The Forgotten Age. Both scenarios share a lot between them. Their encounter decks are very similar, the map is pretty much identical. And yet, Wilds is regarded as one of the most difficult scenarios in the game while Heart of the Elders is mostly known for being kinda forgettable. One big reason for this is that players going into Heart of the Elders do so with 20 or even 30XP already allocated to their decks. At that point, Pit Viper is simply not something you fear anymore.
But there are other things to consider as well. Something that I always find remarkably difficult is when a scenario suddenly offers a challenge that the rest of the campaign didn’t ask for so far. To stay with TFA for a moment, it has one of the poster children for this in City of Archives which just completely switches gears from what went on before and thus poses a deckbuilding challenge even when you know it’s coming up. Dunwich Legacy does it with Undimensioned and Unseen, forcing everyone to fight big monsters with their willpower. As another example, Dark Side of the Moon tests player’s agility in multiple ways and punishes them fairly hard for not meeting those tests. This would be nothing to write home about if it was a TFA scenario where decent to high agility is already something you are rewarded for. In its campaign (Dream-Eaters A) it stands on its own with this however and in turn it can throw off players a bit or require deckbuilding concessions for just a single scenario.
I do feel like no other campaign illustrates my points about campaign context like The Scarlet Keys does. Scarlet Keys is a rather difficult campaign (until you start heavily metagaming it) because of its non-linear nature. Because scenarios needed to work even if you went into them after already doing 5 others, some of them are quite hard if you do them early. Dead Heat which is cruelly placed directly next to the campaign start location is probably the best example. The other reason that Scarlet Keys can often appear a lot harder than expected is how varied the scenarios are. As alluded to, this can be metagamed pretty hard (by for example just not doing any combat heavy scenarios if you are weak in that department) but if you are going for a specific ending (and thus have certain requirements for scenarios to play) you have to cover a lot of different bases.

Alright, time to check out the next batch of scenarios. These are the ones that rank at the bottom of the upper third, so while they aren’t quite at the top they are scenarios that are very possible to faceplant already. You will also notice a lot of early scenarios here, placing this late in the list due to the considerations that i just talked about!

#22: Doom of Eztli

Return to Doom of Eztli already made an appearance on this list, all the way down at spot #60. Quite the difference! The original Doom of Eztli is rough. An encounter deck that mostly forgoes enemies, but lets it rain asset hate and action taxing. There is also a lot of doom mechanics at play, even the locations get in on it. The result is a scenario that has very little in terms of interactivity that would allow players to mitigate what the encounter deck is doing to them. The consequences of failing are also harsh, either stacking on trauma and forcing to go through this whole thing again or taking a huge hit in terms of Yig’s Fury that will have echoes throughout the campaign.
I usually don’t shy away from difficult scenarios but this is one where i am glad that it got a complete makeover in the Return To.

#21: Untamed Wilds

Before you get into the Temple of Doom, you need to get past the introductory scenario of TFA. And what an introduction it is, giving you handsful of everything you need to expect from the campaign. Notably, this is one of the three or four scenarios where Ancient Evils is actually a problem due to variance from reshuffling. But even if you get lucky on that front, there are plenty of challenges in this one that are particularly harsh for fresh level 0 investigator decks, such as the Boa Constrictor, Arrows from the Trees and of course Ichtaca herself who you hopefully have a plan for.
I adore this scenario for being just a fantastic introduction into the campaign, both thematically and mechanically. But hot damn, it can be a nail-biter.

#20: Devil Reef

A wide-open map with multiple layers of randomization, populated by plenty of Deep Ones (both from the campaign-wide encounter set and from the scenario specific ones). Add a somewhat tight doom clock and a fat boss monster and you have a recipe for a scenario that is just not relenting at any point of its run time. The mechanics around the boat work both in the players favor and against them. While it’s a free party-wide Safeguard, it’s also something that encounter cards care about and something that funnels players into the path of the Kraken.

#19: Curtain Call

I do appreciate how this scenario just keeps ramping up. The encounter deck already starts fairly strong, with some standouts like the Poltergeist and the Agent of the King being dangerous enemies and with treacheries like Frozen in Fear and Spires of Carcosa making a huge splash. Thankfully, the presence of Rats and Fanatics keeps it from being too ridiculous. But once the Man in the Pallid Mask goes down the first time and the theater goes up in flames (or goo, or …) things get very uncomfortable. Then the Royal Emissary is added on top of that. If you are playing Return To, the Emissary itself even ramps up. This scenario just constantly ups its difficulty until it passes the point of what we expect from a campaign opener and its easy to just succumb to everything stacking on top of each other.

#18: Pit of Despair

We don’t do ramping in Pit of Despair. Pit starts rough and stays rough. Every turn spent in the caves is dangerous and the doom clock is hard (but fair). Like Curtain Call it has a recurring enemy that you can knock down but it will get up again. It’s not as high impact as the Emissary is, but the rest of the scenario easily makes up for it. While the doom clock is ticking away, it is often the stamina or sanity of investigators that is threatening to run out beforehand, as the encounter deck gnaws at it at every corner.
This placement is for the Normal/Easy version of the scenario. It should be noted that on Hard the difficulty of Pit of Despair shoots up, beyond the usual considerations of playing on Hard. That is because the token effects will now fire even if the test succeeded, putting an even bigger pressure on health and sanity. On Hard, really everything is trying to kill you, even just taking any test.

#17: Essex County Express

Look, we all fell off the train the first time. It’s a time-honored ritual. But even on replays, Essex just dumps on you sometimes. It has what is probably the tightest doom clock in the game and between very short thresholds and a gazillion (i counted) doom effects in the deck it advances the agenda almost every second turn. Frozen in Fear is astonishingly horrible in Essex and every single scenario specific card is awful for the players. Also, failing the scenario resets your campaign progress to zero in every conceivable way. Necronomicon? Gone. Story allies? Inexplicably captured. XP? Lol, here have one. You want to resign? Buddy, there’s only one way off this train. Down.
Oh right, in case you thought it can’t get worse, this entry is only for the base scenario. We will talk about the abomination that is Return to Essex later in this list.

#16: To The Forbidden Peaks

In spite of all the rage that it induces, i ultimately like Essex Express just fine. I even enjoy it for how ridiculous it is. Sadly the same cannot be said for one of its many offshoots, Forbidden Peaks. Potentially the second scenario you play in Edge, Peaks is similarly rough on players as Essex is. It doesn’t have the constant threat of instant defeat from disappearing locations, but the overall time limit is similar. While it doesn’t constrain the time limit further through doom mechanics, Peaks does throw some heavy duty enemies at the players that they will have to get past because of the linearity of the location layout. Actions are heavily taxed and there are even encounter cards that will push players back down the mountain, having them move through the locations again (and suffer their location effects).
But the thing that really sets Forbidden Peaks apart is the consequences for failing. All the supplies? Gone. Any partner allies you have with you? Gone. XP? Even if you did play all of Ice and Death without skipping anything, you might be going into City of the Elder Things on 10ish XP instead of 25ish. I think this scenario is the biggest fail in terms of allowing players to fail forward a campaign and it puts a huge pressure on the team to make it through here.

Scenario Difficulty Rankings #7

Intro

You know the drill by now. Scenarios ranked by difficulty, a couple of them per article, with at least 3 more articles to go.
Also, some words on a difficulty-related subject. Go go go.

On difficulty: Action Taxing

It is said that nothing is as certain as death and taxes, and that holds true in ArkhamLCG as well. Death is always something that is in the cards for our investigators, and taxes is just one further facet that pushes them towards death. Action taxes, to be precise.
An earlier installment of this series already had a few words about urgency, the concept where a timer is anchored in the game to apply pressure on the players and forces them to make compromises with their decision making instead of always having the freedom to make perfectly safe choices. Action taxing goes hand in hand with urgency and is the way that the encounter deck further enforces the pressure on the players. If urgency means speeding up the clock, then taxing means slowing down the players.
On a surface level that can mean treacheries like Frozen in Fear, Best-Laid Plans or Compulsion which are very literal about their effect, taking away actions from the players directly. But there’s actually another large group of cards that mostly fall in this area: Enemies. This is a bit counter-intuitive. Usually we would expect the lovecraftian monsters and horrors to be primarily concerned with killing us (by depleting our health and/or sanity), but AHLCG has this weird dynamic where it’s actually treacheries that gnaw on those resources the fastest and in bigger chunks. Meanwhile, many enemies do carry the threat of dealing damage/horror, but will usually not actually get around to it because players will need to handle them in some way before the enemy phase. In other words, most enemies can have their impact measured in actions spent to defeat (or evade or otherwise handle) them. This is obviously not true for all enemies, but it is for most of them.
When looking at Taxing and Urgency, one could easily come to the conclusion that they both are pretty much doing the same thing, trying to run out the doom clock before the players can achieve their goals. But that isn’t quite right. While speeding up the doom clock doesn’t have an immediate impact (its payoff is only felt once the agenda flips), action taxing will immediately have effects. It can stack up with other things on the board in a nasty fashion and often without a lot of counterplay. After all, your options are just severely limited if Compulsion made it so you only have 1 action this turn.
For that reason, action taxing can be one of the most punishing thing the encounter deck can do to you and as we get closer to the top of the list, it will become a prominent thing to look out for. Speaking of the list, let’s actually do try and get closer to the top, shall we?

#30: Ice and Death, part 3

Oh boy, this one is rough. It’s a very short scenario either way, as the players find themselves confronted with an onslaught of Eidolons. The Seeping Nightmares are particularly dangerous and are almost guaranteed to stack up with other enemies. Despite the size of the Ice and Death map, there’s also little room for dodging Hunters, which in term will happily get a first strike in.
This would be even higher on the list if it wasn’t so easy to just straight up skip. Note that once you committed to playing the scenario the Resign option does actually cost a non-trivial amount of clues to use.

#29: Dark Side of the Moon

Some very chunky enemies, a nasty alert mechanic and a tight doom clock come together to make Dark Side of the Moon a rather challenging affair. Investigators with low agility will struggle especially as many of the alert mechanics are tied to the stat. Stacking up alert and later being unable to evade a big stack of Cats from Saturn can easily spell your end. As can getting bogged down in the many mechanics leading you to just plain run out of time.

#28: Heart of Madness, part 1

Nothing really spoils your day like drawing Rampaging Shoggoth in your first Mythos phase. But even aside from such extreme possibilities, the scenario has plenty to offer that can just smack you down. There is a random element to the placement of the mission objectives, but chances are that you will need to be able to have some extra movement around or get bogged down in extra actions you simply need to take to get where you need to be.

#27: Return to Before the Black Throne

Before the Black Throne is one of the harder finales in the game, with a combination of merciless doom mechanics and a good deal of randomness. This entry on the list is for the Return version, which tones down the scenario significantly by giving players more venues of interacting with the challenges. Especially the Nightgaunt player assets that allow traversing Cosmos locations are an incredible help in mitigating the randomness from running into dead ends. We will of course see the original Before the Black Throne again, higher on the list.

#26: Fatal Mirage

Lots of Edge of the Earth in today’s group of scenarios. Fatal Mirage is a distant relative of the other scenarios that do the “achieve as much as you think you can in the time you got, then resign” line of scenarios. What makes Mirage stand out is that opportunities to resign don’t come particularly often. When you do get the opportunity, it’s very hard to estimate if you can pull off another branch of Mirage’s huge map or not as it will usually take several rounds to get one done and doom mechanics and action taxes are plentiful. There’s also big honking monsters about while players get exposed to Tekeli-li. If you are bringing partner allies into this scenario and care about their survival, you better be sure that you don’t take any unnecessary risks.

#25: Return to Boundary Beyond

Another Return To version of a notoriously difficult scenario. We are of course going to talk about Boundary Beyond again further up in the list and about all the horrors it has in store for us. The big difference between the original version and the Return To is how the exploration mechanic got tones down considerably. You will no longer start any treacheries in the explore deck and you will also no longer gain any. What that means is that your explores are actually going to hit and you don’t stumble around in the early turns, trying to line up the specific conditions of a location multiple time as you try to get the damned thing to become the Ancient version. The big exception is Timeline Destabilization which indeed does still get shuffled into the explore deck if you fail it. Of course the scenario is still plenty challenging, the showdown with Padmé Amidala at the Templo Mayor is as suspenseful as ever.

#24: Vanishing of Elina Harper

Innsmouth Troublemaker. I could end this here and just let those two words stand for what’s going on in this scenario. Vanishing first looks to be a more clue focused scenario in the spirit of Midnight Masks, but once Troublemakers, the Winged Ones and Nightgaunts are in play, potentially aided by the Innsmouth Mob your fighters will have more to do than they had in Pit of Despair. And that’s saying something.
Vanishing stands out to me as a scenario that is challenging on every level. Fighting, investigating, even moving – it all gets put to some sort of test.

#23: Clutches of Chaos

As has been a trend for the last couple scenarios in the list, movement plays a big role in Clutches of Chaos. The map has a decent size, but more importantly it involves a lot of backtracking between locations as the investigators work to close the randomly appearing breaches. A lot of damage is going around here, threatening to knock out an investigator despite the lack of particularly dangerous enemies in the encounter deck. There is however a real possibility for the Piper of Azathoth to make an appearance and that guy is of course as scary as it gets. What makes me put Clutches this high is a number of high impact treacheries in the deck that can really put the hurt on the investigators as they accelerate the breaches, deal chunks of damage/horror or even recur treacheries from the discard pile.

Hemlock Vale Spoiler Roundup #6 – Wilson Richards Edition

I wasn’t going to make a spoiler roundup post for a single reveal, but I think we can make an exception for a full investigator. It’s kinda like getting 4 cards, right? Here’s Wilson Richards.

Sources

Wilson Richards was previewed by Los Archivos de Arkham on their YouTube.

Guardian

When i saw the backside, a wave of relief washed over me. Thank god, he has great access to Tools. His front was (pretty much) known already from foreign language promo images, but so far it was unclear what Tools he’d actually have access to. After all, Guardian isn’t really known for great Tool cards and getting bad deckbuilding would’ve lead to another Amina situation. Well, turns out he can just straight up run all of them. Awesome, crises averted!

And that’s a very good thing, because that 3/3/3/3 statline is usually a harbinger of an investigator just being kinda meh. Not in this case though, as his investigator ability will allow you to basically treat your statline as 4/4/4/4 as long as you have tools involved. Since there is by now a good variety of them for all sorts of jobs, that’s not actually that tall of an order. It might take some investment of XP to have him really take off, but Wilson ends up being one of the most flexible Guardian investigators we have now, able to flex into fighting and clueing similar to a Joe Diamond or William Yorrick. Sadly he can’t run Michael Leigh, but looking at the list of cards at Guardian 5, that seems to be the only relevant thing he has to give for only being Guardian 0-4 instead of getting the full range. Fair enough.

He also gets access to Improvised and Upgrade cards 0-1, which is an interesting twist. His statline comes to bite him here when it comes to the likes of Winging It or Improvised Weapon, but it does give him Jury-Rig (which is going to be amazing for him), Hidden Pocket (which fits on a Tool Belt), I’ll Take That (which turns things Illicit to fit into the Hidden Pocket) and Pushed to the Limit (which is a natural combo with his signature). Full list of relevant cards.

Ad Hoc is very interesting because it’s not just a one-shot event, it stays in play to work its magic over and over. Turning cards from your hand into extra actions can be very valuable by itself and if you can get further value out of ignoring the activation costs of the discarded card, things might even get a little dirty. Discarding a M1918 BAR to the effect allows you to blast something for 5 damage. Now, you might say that running a 4XP card just to discard it is iffy, but since Pushed to the Limit actually lets you double up on it… that might actually not end up being such a meme after all. Also, an almost Fast event that hits stuff for 5 damage is actually worth 4XP. EDIT: Oh no, i have just been informed this likely doesn’t work. Because no ammo was spent when using the BAR this way, X would just default to 0. Sooo…. use Sledgehammer instead!
I also feel like Versatile for Scavenging could do some dirty things here, returning discarded Fingerprint Kits to your hand after using them in non-conventional manners.
Or you know, just play it straight and get some extra actions out of your surplus weapons you draw. That’s fine too. Either way, this is a fun signature that can pull off some interesting tricks. I like it a lot.

Which finally leaves the weakness. Uh… it’s boring? No big deal at all, just discard it for 2 actions. Standard weakness fare, I am almost disappointed that he gets such a bog standard vanilla weakness when the rest of him is so interesting, but sure. Why not. Don’t really have much more to say about that.

Great investigator, looking forward to juggling Sledgehammer and Fingerprint Kit in my toolbelt while a BAR a second Sledgehammer bounces back and forth between deck, hand and discard.

Hemlock Vale Spoiler Roundup #5

And with that, the actual Hemlock Vale spoiler season has begun. Over the next weeks, nay months, we are going to get a trickle of new cards to talk about until the thing finally releases in January. As with the Scarlet Keys previews, these are going to happen all over the landscape of content creators which i personally found to be great fun last year.
As last year, i will be bringing you weekly roundups of everything we saw so even if you missed one or two of the reveals, you will always be able to catch up here.
Also remember there’s a Visual Spoiler on this site that compiles all card images for easier reference!
Alright, let’s dive in. Lots of Parley stuff this week Oo

Sources

False Surrender and Eldritch Tongue were previewed by ElseWhere on their blog, Strength in Numbers.

Speak to the Dead and Blackmail File were previewed by the Card Game Cooperative on their podcast.

The upgraded Olive McBride was previewed by Arkham Chronicle on their YouTube.

Rogue

First “I’ll Take That”, then False Surrender. Seems like we really aren’t supposed to spend actions on playing our assets in Rogue anymore. Almost makes me forget about how Sleight of Hand got mistreated by the taboo list to pay for Seeker’s sins. Almost!
False Surrender has some interesting things going for it. Playing a weapon only when your really need it without it taking an action and without provoking an attack of opportunity is quite valuable. Unlike with Sleight of Hand, you even get to keep the weapon afterwards and False Surrender’s discount on the weapon asset is enough to pay for the event itself. You do pay for this with an action, though. False Surrender isn’t Fast like the other two green cards i compared it to.
The thing about this card that feels a bit iffy to me is the stat replacement of fight to agility. While generally a positive for Rogues, it also means that you won’t get any of the +X fight bonuses that fight actions usually have. This introduces a bit of a tension into deckbuilding because if you were planning on fighting you probably planned on running the likes of Overpower in your deck which won’t help you here.
Then again, this attack happens during a Parley effect. That means your Fine Clothes will apply. And so will Dirty Fighting. As a Tactic and Trick, there’s cards like Chuck Fergus and Crafty that can boost you for the action. So there’s way to make this work.
Obviously, this is pretty swell for Alessandra who can make it Fast, but other investigators will have to find a way to make the traits work for them (or find another way to make it Fast) to get enough value out of it, i think. Chuck is really the obvious one here, allowing you to make it Fast and giving you that crucial +2 to the test.

A green tome? Is that even legal? Ah wait, it has the Illicit trait. We are good then. This one is a bit bizarre, isn’t it. This is a weird form of evasion that doesn’t exhaust the enemy which makes it a bit worse against Hunters (but still will stop them from attacking that turn). Testing willpower instead of agility is not something I expected to see on a green card anytime soon. Unless you are Sefina or Alessandra (or Tony lol), that’s not a great trade and even then, it’s an even one.
While I am starting on a bit of an uneven note here, there are some neat things to the card. It doesn’t take a slot, which combined with its level 0 gives it a low opportunity cost to just throw into your level 0 deck and see how it plays. The really interesting part is being repeatable without any charges. Putting this down as Alessandra guarantees that you have an outlet for your bonus action available without having to spend an event like you have to do on most Parley opportunities. Testing against the enemy’s health can be both good and bad. While it means that you can use this to bizarro-evade some enemies with high evasion values more easily, it also gives it only limited utility against big enemies which are usually the ones you want to evade in the first place. Against Elites it even doesn’t work at all. But unless you are playing TFA, do you really want to evade low health enemies? I usually just defeat them.
Maybe the saving grace aside from the unlimited uses is that you don’t need to be engaged with the enemy? So unlike with regular evade, you can use this to handle an enemy engaged to another investigator at your location without having to spend an Engage action. This is somewhat canceled out by the need to play the asset beforehand, however…
Yeah, i don’t know. There are some good bits to this one, but I don’t see this fixing any existing problems. I could see it as a one-off in Alessandra, just so i can trigger it with my free Parley action, but aside from that it doesn’t really do what i want from a rogue card.
It’s another slotless tome for Parallel Daisy, though. So however else this card shakes out, it at least has a home in her. She might even use the action on it, she has the willpower for it…

Mystic

Combine it with Favor of the Moon and recur Spectral Razor six times? That sounds good to me and isn’t even all that hard to assemble. You can even recur Ward of Protection and laugh in the encounter deck’s face while doing it. That being said, if you aren’t cheating at it through the Favor or at least Olive McBride, then Speak to the Dead falls off sharply. Spending an action on it and failing is going to feel miserable and even if you do throw 3 offerings, planning on activating twice, chances are uncomfortably high that one is going to whiff.
So, i don’t think I’d ever play this one straight, I’d always want to be able to cheat. Favor, Olive, Premonition, Jacqueline… even Nkosi if you want to fish for skulls instead of curses. There’s a decent amount of bag manipulation available for Mystic and this can be a fine payoff. Pretty sure you want to build your deck in a way that means that the correct amount of offerings to spend on an activation is 1. After all, if all you are looking for is one or two recurs instead of five or six, then Dayana already gives you a similar payoff for less work (but at the cost of an ally slot and some XP, of course). Thanks to Razor, Read the Signs and Ward of Protection every mystic has impactful spells available right from the start, so you don’t need to wait for high-XP cards to enable Speak to the Dead either. Although… Mary throwing around Fangs of Tyr’thra? Eh? Eh? Anyone?
This is a card with good potential, the sort of card that I can see myself picking up just to build a deck around it. Is it necessarily a better payoff for curse than Armageddon and Eye of Chaos are? No, but at level 0, it doesn’t need to be. I like this one.

I did not expect to ever see an upgraded Olive. Her level 0 is already incredibly pushed, so an upgrade would really need to bring something to the table to be worth upgrading. Is this the case here? I think so. Revealing an extra token is of course super relevant for her primary task, which is fishing for tokens. That makes her upgraded version just much more consistent no matter what you are looking for, be it curses, blesses, skulls or even the Elder Sign. The other important consequence of the extra reveal is that you are no longer getting hosed by the tentacle. With base Olive, drawing the tentacle in the three tokens pretty much forces you to take the other two tokens which can often be not what you want. If you draw the tentacle on Olive(2) you still have a full Olive(0) reveal left to use. That is actually really huge.
She doesn’t get a cost reduction or extra soak, which is sort of expected to be honest. As I said, her level 0 is already pushed a lot and not pushing it further seems fair enough. We do get a second willpower icon on the commits which is something that Mystics can always use, so at least that’s something.
I think Olive(2) is a very strong ally and one that i look forward to playing. But since her level 0 is already so good, the upgrade is going to be low priority as you can hold out on the base version for quite some time.

Neutral

Ooooh, i like this! This is a huge enabler that makes sure that all the Parley business is not only contained to Alessandra, but can be relevant for other investigators as well. Joe Diamond that starts out Interrogate and Persuasion in his Hunch deck, then uses Eldritch Tongue to double-tap on those? That has potential. Charlie Kane being really fond of his Motivational Speeches? Sure. Play String of Curses to put a doom on something, then play it again from the discard to discard that enemy? Now we are cooking.
Since it costs 2 and an action upfront, this is well balanced i think. But as a level 0 neutral card that does a solid impression of De Vermis Mysteriis this is the type of card where it’s just a matter of time before it becomes incredible. Sure, you won’t be recurring any Spectral Razors and Read the Signs with Eldritch Tongue, but you also don’t have to pay XP and play around with doom for it. Also, you never know what sort of Parleys will see print in the Future, Hemlock Vale or otherwise. We might just get a Read the Signs with Parley down the road and once we do that will make Eldritch Tongue deliver a lot of value.

Scenario difficulty rankings #6: Where Doom Awaits

Intro

With last week’s entry in this series, we managed to cover the first half of Arkham’s scenarios and their placement in the difficulty rankings. I don’t know about you, but i was certainly surprised to learning that scenarios that I died in several times, such as Horror in High Gear, Thousand Shapes of Horror and (just barely) Last King placed somewhere in the lower half of the difficulty curve. So let’s see what the upper half looks like, shall we?
But first, a few words about attrition and what it means for difficulty.

On difficulty: Attrition

How scary is a Rotten Remains? What about Hunting Shadow from the Midnight Masks set? I have spent many, many (many, many!) hours on this site, writing on all the encounter cards and giving my thoughts on them. One thing that i would do for each treachery in those encounter set reviews is giving a rough “threat level”, something to gauge its impact by. To this day, i haven’t really found a way to do this in a satisfying manner for cards that deal damage or horror because more than other treacheries (say, Crypt Chill or Frozen in Fear), they need to be evaluated in the context of the rest of the encounter deck. A Hunting Shadow on its own is rather irrelevant. But stick it in a scenario that also has Grasping Hands, On Wings of Darkness and other treacheries that come after your health pool and things start to look very differently.
When an encounter deck tries to wear you down with a constant assault of cards that do a similar thing and try to deplete one of the resources that you need to finish the scenario, I sometimes call this attrition. This can be a scenario like Horror in High Gear that throws treachery after treachery at the players that tries to hit them for damage and/or horror until they are dead. But it can also be a scenario like Secret Name that asks a simple question: “How many rats does it take to kill a team of investigators?”
When looking at the scenarios and campaigns that have been released, attrition based scenarios seem to be a lot more common in recent releases than they were in the early days. Innsmouth and Edge of the Earth are almost completely attrition based, with treacheries, engagement effects, location effects, floodings, the Tekeli-li deck all just working towards a common goal: Stacking those red and blue tokens on your investigator card.
The encounter deck’s job is it to try and make us lose the scenario, so we as solo or coop players can have a good time overcoming the challenge. Attrition is one of the two main ways for the encounter deck to achieve this, making us lose through being defeated. The other way the encounter deck can make us lose is through slowing us down enough that the time runs out. I already talked about “Urgency” before, which describes the pressure coming from the doom clock. But I think this is worth a second look next week, where I will talk a bit about what the encounter deck does to elevate the doom clock over a mere timer that counts the rounds.
But for now, let’s get back to the difficulty rankings. Picking back up at #37, here’s the next seven scenarios.

#37: Threads of Fate

This scenario is superficially similar to several other ones that follow the Midnight Masks template. But between Brotherhood Cultists and Conspiracy of Blood, the scenario can run away from you fairly quickly. There is also a big chunk of damage/horror in the encounter deck, capped by The Secret Must Be Kept which certainly has caught me off-guard before. I did rank this a bit higher than other scenarios of its kind due to the importance it has for the rest of the campaign, determining which paths are open to you.

#36: Undimensioned and Unseen

Turns out that defeating enemies is kinda tough if you have to do it fairly. Broods hit hard, have a whopping 6 fight that your require to beat 2-5 times, depending on player count. Oh, and you have to do it with your willpower. Good luck. Also, there’s Monster Thralls about and our old friend Striking Fear is here as well of course.
Yeah, this is a rough one and that Resign option is certainly one to keep in mind. Actually, that Resign option is the reason that U&U isn’t even higher on the list. On more than one occasion I had to just pack up my things and go as I wasn’t able to deal with the very specific challenges of the scenario.

#35: Where Doom Awaits

Speaking of Monster Thralls and Striking Fear, we have those here again. But let’s throw a helping of Ancient Evils and Sorcery on top. Oh, and if you fail, the campaign is over.
What stops WDA from being a bigger menace is the size of the encounter deck due to a bunch of low-impact cards diluting the whole thing. While Sorcery is in the set, there is no further support for the deck decay theme here from other sets, so Beyond the Veil is weirdly at its weakest during this scenario. It is still a noteworthy card though, of course.
I feel like WDA doesn’t really a get a whole lot of respect in the community anymore due to being a bit basic and standing in the shadow of Lost in Time and Space. But the variance in the encounter deck can absolutely spit out some sequences that can make that threat of an early campaign end a reality.

#34: Dealings in the Dark

Dealings in the Dark thrives on its heavy use of the concealment mechanic and how players are going to need to spend their actions effectively to deal with it. The enemies are mostly cultists, but if you start adding the concealment on top of their health you quickly get to three or four actions required to root out and defeat one of them. That’s a huge impact from one encounter card and the scenario has multiple ways to get these cultists into play.
The scenario is also just very long. Since it doesn’t use the doom clock as a hard fail condition (instead only spawning more cultists every couple rounds) the scenario can drag on quite a bit. Given enough time, Shadowed, Light out of the Void, Accosted and Hunting Shadow can absolutely wear you down.

#33: Dim Carcosa

Dim Carcosa’s difficulty comes in a very “honest” way. It’s big dudes. Lots of them. No matter if it’s the Inhabitants of Carcosa set, the Byakhees from Agents of Hastur or any of the scenario specific enemies, everything has at least 3 or 4 health here. Even the cultist set throws in a 4 health dude. This makes Dim Carcosa the rare scenario where getting overpowered by enemies is actually the main cause of defeat, usually i think of creatures more as time sinks in this game (while treacheries do the actual killing).
The unique horror mechanics do offer a good amount of relief for the players however and that keeps Dim Carcosa from feeling as difficult as for example Shattered Aeons or Lost in Time and Space, both also finales with big chunky enemies.

#32: The Secret Name

There’s two things my mind immediately goes to when thinking about The Secret Name: The almost comical amount of willpower tests (there’s 23 of cards with them in the encounter deck) and that feeling of having played for eight hours when you finally meet Nahab face to face. This is one of the poster children for the attrition thing, mercilessly pecking away at the players one hit point at a time through rats and Haunted effects until they are barely able to hold on. There’s also no Resign option, so it’s literally do or die.
During the final confrontation with Nahab, the game abruptly switches gears and leans heavily into doom mechanics as Nahab will try to run out the already quite tight doom clock.

#31: Depths of Yoth

This is another one that is a bit hard to classify in this list because its difficulty is going to vary wildly depending on how the rest of the campaign went. Did you get by without angering Yig too much? Enjoy an almost casual stroll through the caves with plenty of time to get 5 levels deep. Chances are, you will be out of the scenario before the Father of Serpents even makes his appearance. Did you bomb a temple and went on a murder spree on every reptilian you could find? You will start this scenario with a handful turns left and with Yig and the Harbinger right on top of you at the starting location, unlikely to survive.
I decided to push Depths to the upper third of the list because just through its existence it dictates much of the rest of the campaign (since its the payoff for the Wrath of Yig mechanic). Botching the scenario also threatens to outright kill the investigators or at least severely maim them and send them off battered into the finale.
It a scenario that has a huge campaign presence and as a result, it commands respect despite the encounter deck being a bit unfocused and the whole pursuit mechanic working mostly in the player’s favor.

Scenario difficulty rankings #5: This is getting spicy

Intro

As we move towards the half-way point, one thing is getting clear. These aren’t easy scenarios we are talking about anymore. Looking at last week’s scenarios and the ones we are going to talk about today, i find that there is quite the difference in how i look at them. Obviously, the actual placements of the scenarios on the list become less defined as we get to the middle, it’s mostly the order near the bottom and near the top that is easier to do. But let’s try anyways. For those catching up, here’s a link to last week’s entry which also has an overview over what came before: <click>

On difficulty: I’m Outta Here!

But before we get to the scenarios, let’s say a few words about something else that impacts scenario difficulty: The option to resign. Or, more importantly, the lack thereof in many cases. This does of course tie into the two topics that we already covered, Urgency and Consequences. If we don’t have a Resign option to fall back on, then the urgency created by the doom clock will weigh much heavier on us than if we can bug out at any moment. Similarly, the threat of campaign altering consequences for defeat is much more credible if we don’t have a way out. Many of the scenarios that have a reputation as particularly difficult lack a resign option. Essex Express for example ends in one of two ways: With a win or total failure. The option to resign will usually come with its own consequences of course and that goes all the way back to The Gathering. Can’t defeat the Ghoul Priest? That’s fine, you can resign and run away. But you will meet the Ghoul Priest again.
There are plenty of nuances for resign options as well. At its most player friendly, the option is just straight up provided to the players by the agenda or act, to be used at any time. Midnight Mask for example allows players to work towards their goals until the last possible moment, then get out. A different scenario that has players wander out into a map to get as much done as possible, then resign does it in the opposite way: During Ice&Death, part 2, the players will need to wander back all the way back to their camp to resign. Considering the presence of many treacheries that slow you down and also Ancient Evils, there is therefore a much higher “push your luck” element to I&D#2 than there is to Masks. Search for Kadath is yet another one of these “wander out, do as much as possible, then resign” scenarios and it’s situated somewhere in between those extremes: While you do need to resign at a certain location, that location is rarely all that far away.
So that’s todays takeaway: A scenario can be a lot more forgiving in practice than its mechanics would suggest if it allows the players to cut their losses at certain times. On the other hand, a scenario that has to be played out will be able to wear players down, even if the mechanics of the scenario are otherwise maybe not even all that scary. But this is getting dangerously close to next week’s topic, Attrition, so let’s get to talking about the next batch of scenarios!

#45: Horror in High Gear

Death comes easy in Horror in High Gear. The scenario tries very hard to kill you, its encounter deck is very focused. And the location effects do their part as well. There are two mitigating factors that keep HiHG from being super oppressive, though. For one, it’s in the Innsmouth campaign which already asks players to run cards that help them survive more damage and horror than usual. So you should hopefully be prepared for this aspect of the scenario already by the time you reach it. And the other thing is that it almost doesn’t have a doom clock. It’s very generous by default, allowing for Ancient Evils to do its thing and even running into a dead end or two.
Horror in High Gear is however very non-interactive. You strap in for the ride and hope you make it out alive. That earns it some points in my book. There are also a couple very scary treacheries around, Eyes in the Trees and Memory of Oblivion in particular are notable for ripping apart the player’s hands so they can’t even rely on keeping the damage treacheries in check through Wards, Deny or similar reactive events.

#44: In Too Deep

This is another one that is somewhat hard to classify. Finishing the scenario with a win by reaching the other end of the board is rather easy. But of course you will want to grab the keys along the way and that’s when things get spicy. Getting all seven is one of the big benchmarks available that are very hard to do, like six cultists in Masks or all six ways in Boundary Beyond.
I feel like the one to shoot for (and thus the one that i will judge it on) is getting 5 keys because that will earn you the Teachings of the Order which is a significant power boost for the rest of the campaign.
Often you will be able to get those 5 keys without backtracking, but if the black key starts in a bad position, returning to the jail can put you on a collision course with the DeepOne™ MurderBall™. If that happens, the difficulty spikes a bit, but any other time you can usually pick your fights very well and just methodically snake your way through the locations and clear everything.
Not easy, but not that hard either. The Shoggoth also looks more impressive than it actually is. Coming into play exhausted is huge considering that on replays you can time when you go into its location to best take advantage of it.

#43: Lair of Dagon

More Innsmouth! I expect some pushback on this one, Lair of Dagon does have a bit of a reputation since its final part can be quite hard. That final part can be made a whole lot easier if you can remove the flooding from the Lair with Teachings of the Order though. And if you do, not much else remains honestly.
The scenario does drain your actions like crazy and it’s definitely annoying as hell to play for that reason. Frustrating, even. But not overly difficult once you know what you are doing.

#42: Ice and Death, part 1

The opener to Edge of the Earth. This is another scenario where the blind play is quite different from the subsequent ones. One of the main themes of Edge, exploration, is somewhat at odds with the static map setup that is used for the first three scenarios of the campaign. In turn, experienced players will know what locations to go for and what to prepare for. Ice and Death #1 does have its tight moments for sure, like the appearance of the Terror for the Stars which the players will often not be equipped to deal with on just their level zero decks. The treacheries are also able to dish out a surprising amount of damage and horror due to both the local Rotten Remains and the Grasping Hands variants being present for this one.
But the fixed map is the huge difference that separates I&D#2 from other campaign openers that work similar, like Pit of Despair or Untamed Wilds. Even Curtain Call employs some extra randomization that puts it a good bit ahead in terms of difficulty over I&D.

#41: City of the Elder Things

Disclaimer on this one: This is a scenario i feel like i have not played it enough yet. The plays i had with it weren’t overly awful, about on par with the likes of Pallid Mask. But looking at the encounter deck it’s apparent that City of the Elder Things does have quite a bit going for it that can make it escalate. Depending on the version of the scenario you get, this can even include the imposing Shoggoth set. Arguably, the size of the map works in the players favor here, keeping City from being more oppressive. The amount of Hunters would have been a lot more terrifying on a narrow map like the one that Pallid Mask tends to create and you do get a special movement ability in City of the Elder Things to further allow picking fights on your terms. Still, the contents of the encounter deck are a lot more scary than the ones of Pallid Mask, so this one appears to be at least a bit more difficult to me. Dunno, or i just played Pallid Mask often enough that i lost some of my respect for it over time…

#40: Heart of Madness, part 2

Another one from Edge. I swear, i didn’t plan these to be sorted by campaign! This of course is the campaign finale. I did struggle a bit with its placement because your decision to play part 1 and which keys you manage to pick up there greatly influence your experience here. As you will have noticed by now, part 1 didn’t actually turn up on the list and i believe that part 2 is easier than part 1 simply because those keys are very, very powerful and can almost trivialize parts of the challenge. That being said, the final bit of Heart of Madness deserves some respect again due to the final enemy working differently than what we are used to. And getting caught on the ramp will quickly spell your end as well.

#39: Black Stars Rise

Carcosa does this thing where it throws some heavy duty monsters your way with surprising frequency and expects you to just handle everything before the next big boy turns up. Now, this is of course scenario 7 of the campaign, so this is something that we can face head on and welcome the challenge. Black Stars Rise then also adds doom mechanics on top and that’s where things get more interesting. I usually don’t struggle with the doom clock in this one, mostly due to being able to tell the correct way as soon as I see the first locations in the chapel. This does afford a lot of extra time as you can confidently manipulate the agendas to buffer doom for you. Again, a case where the scenario loses some of its teeth on repeat plays due to metagaming becoming a thing.

#38: The Last King

The Last King baffles me. It completely defies what i think is appropriate for a scenario that comes this early in a campaign. On scenario 2, you simply shouldn’t be expected to be able to deal with this many giant Elite enemies with all sort of scary abilities.
And yet… somehow this always works out. I think this is probably because the encounter deck itself is rather lenient with a good amount of cards that simply don’t do all that much except deal a horror here and there. This in turn gives the players the chance to focus their efforts on parleying the party guests and handling the enemies.
Still, the lineup of enemies you face in this one puts most campaign finales to shame and as your second scenario in the campaign, it can quickly escalate if you start to struggle. If that happens, you can always get out through the front door (and torch the place!).

Hemlock Vale Spoiler Roundup #4

That was the Week of Horror, Halloween is upon us 🙂 Now, this week didn’t yet officially start any sort of extended preview season, but it did give us another round of cards from the upcoming expansion to gawk at, many of which were provided by FFG to several content creators. It even includes the full reveal for the new rogue investigator… so let’s get gawking!

Sources

Wicked Athame was posted by Nick himself to the Mythos Busters discord (i think this link only works if you are a member of that discord).

Accursed was previewed by the r/arkhamhorrorlcg subreddit.

Occult Reliquary was posted by Duke himself to his Instagram.

Grift was previewed by Archivos de Arkham on their Twitch. Their channel history is paywalled so I won’t link it, but they uploaded the video to their YouTube.

Ofuda was previewed by Drawn to the Flame on their podcast. This link leads to a facebook post that has an image of the card, a link to the podcast and the rules for the Elusive keyword.

Ravenous Myconid(4) was (accidentally???) previewed by FFG on the spanish version of the Hemlock Vale announcement article.

The rogue investigator Alessandra Zorzi was fully previewed by the Mythos Busters on their Twitch.

Guardian

Seems fine. Not a card that i would generally leap to playing, but if a campaign heavily features Aloof, then this becomes an option. Not taking an equipment slot is huge here, as that was what killed Riot Whistle’s playability. I don’t suspect i’d run this with the intention to blank Alert or Retaliate, but if i happen to run Ofuda as a bullet against Aloof i would probably get mileage out of the Alert and Retaliate blanking as well. Finally, Elusive looks like it could be a problem as well that would take away actions to deal with. We’ll look at Elusive in a bit.

Seeker

Ravenous Myconid – Sensitive Strain
Level 4, asset, 2 cost
Creature. Science.
Researched. Limit 1 per deck.
Free trigger: Search your bonded cards for Uncanny Growth and add it to your hand. Limit once per round.
Reaction: When an investigator draws a non-weakness treachery card, if their location’s shroud value is less or equal to the number of growth counters on Ravenous Myconid: Cancel the effects of that treachery and discard it. Remove all growth from Ravenous Myconid.
1 health, 1 sanity

A repeatable way to cancel treacheries? Is there anything that Seeker can’t do? 😀
Honestly, after the initial shock wore off, i am not sure how good this really is. One of the biggest strengths of a card like Ward of Protection is that you can just keep it in your hand and be completely reactive. If you want to cancel stuff with this version of the Myconid you will need to prepare an amount of growth counters beforehand which can easily translate into one or two (or even more) actions spent on playing Uncanny Growth. So you will need to frontload your effort in the hopes that it’s going to pay off later. Depending on how often you expect to cancel something (=how often you think you can afford to make that preloaded effort to collect counters), you might just be better off with Forewarned. That being said, any way to repeatably cancel treacheries is going to be breakable in some way. At just 1 copy per deck, it remains to be seen if building too heavily around it is going to be worth it, but someone is going to build something degenerate with it.
(EDIT: I overlooked that Uncanny Growth is actually an Investigate itself. That makes it a lot more efficient as you’d just be able to accumulate counters while finding clues without too much of an extra effort. Hmm, this might be a scary card after all!)
This is of course not going to be the only upgrade for the Myconid. What we can see here already is that the action ability to retrieve Uncanny Growth on the level zero got changed into a free trigger. Presumably that’s going to be the case for the other versions as well, making it significantly easier to use Uncanny Growth to stack counters on the Myconid. Something i find curious is the loss of two traits from level 0 to level 4. This version is only Creature and Science. Level 0 is Flora and Monster as well. Prediction: We are getting three level 4 Myconids, with one being a Creature, one being a Flora and one being a Monster.

Rogue

Alessandra has some cool things going for her that set her apart from her rogue colleagues. That 3 willpower is quite something on a rogue. Full Parley access is what we expected, happy to see it confirmed. That’s actually a pretty good trait to get access to, with a healthy amount of variety in it. I definitely can see her as both an enemy handler, as a clue getter or anything in between.
Getting three copies of her signature is very promising and it does a good impression of Power Word (R.I.P. 2022-2023). Most importantly it allows Alessandra to convert her free Parley action into a free Investigate or free Evade, both of which are very desirable. And she does have the statline for these things as well – especially once you factor in that Fine Clothes will also apply to those investigates and evades.
That weakness is a bit of a pain that will need to be cared for during deckbuilding. Elusive will really be annoying if you can’t hit for three damage, so after Kymani that’s another Rogue that might want to pack some Backstabs to cleanly deal with their weakness enemy!
I am quite happy with this investigator and think she is potentially very powerful. Definitely a reason to perk up whenever you see the word “Parley” on a card from now on.

The requirement to have an enemy at your location will make this unavailable in a reliant way during the first turns when you try to plop your assets into play. So I don’t expect this to replace Faustian Bargain for example. Spending actions while engaged that don’t deal with that enemy is also a bit of a cost in itself. This card does look pretty great if you can turn it Fast, though. And there are several ways to do that, including Fence and Chuck Fergus. Chuck even gives you a +2 to your test which directly translates to money here. Alessandra Zorzi of course gains an extra action to use Parley cards which is almost like making it Fast. This is a good card that will see play, but i would put it somewhere in the same category as Payday or Cheat the System where you want to make sure your deck supports it. If you do spend an action on it, you will want to make sure that you can end up with a modified skill value of at least 4. Otherwise you might as well have played Emergency Cache. Notably, Dirty Fighting gives you +2 to the test as well. The final thing that Grift is good for is providing you with a difficulty 0 test. This is great setup for any oversuccess shenanigans that you might want to trigger off of it. For example “Watch This!” on a Grift can earn you a tidy bunch of resources!

Mystic

An investigator on the art that can’t take the card? Come on, we have talked about this before. With that out of the way… the card looks good. Niche, but good. There’s basically two modes for it, one to add curses to the bag as fuel for something else. Two, to protect an important test against those curses. You will want to be interested in both of those modes to make Accursed worth playing, but if you are doing something like a Mystic that focuses on the Cursed spells (Eye of Chaos, etc), then this does a lot of good. Of course the trick is turning the addition of curses to the chaos bag into something beneficial first, but there are way to do it already and likely the Hemlock Vale set will have more of them.

This is a very good card. Obviously, you don’t evaluate it as a weapon, because that’s not what you run it for. You run it for the curse and charge generation. That being said, getting up to +6 to your test is a big game, even Amina can kill a cultist with that. The card also works very well with your basic 2 damage fight spells to dispatch 3 health enemies. Use an action to attack for 2 damage with Shrivelling (or better yet, Armageddon), then finish off the enemy with the Athame, recouping your spell charge in the process. It’s cheap, it’s level zero, what’s not to like. The only thing i can think of is that it directly competes with the Candles for the hand slot, but holding a candle and an Athame seems a lot better to me than holding two candles, so that might just be the way to go here.

Neutral

Oh, this is exciting. Neutral permanent equipment slots are very relevant in, no matter how restricted they are. And this one actually does open up some things that weren’t able to be done before by everyone. Accessory slots were of course available before through Relic Hunter, but hand slots and arcane slots were locked behind specific classes before. One thing to note is that the extra slot is not fixed, so you can for example flexibly choose between gaining an extra hand or an extra accessory depending on what you drew during the game. Obviously, the trait restriction to Blessed and Cursed will make this less universally playable than Relic Hunter or Charisma, but Occult Reliquary is still a very good card to get and a real shot in the arm for the archetype. It might even be enough to push a couple of cards over the edge that were on the cusp of being good enough, but held back by their equipment slot (like Book of Psalms or Bangle of Jinxes). It can hold your Hallowed Mirror. It enables you to run around with two candles and a Wicked Athame.

Game rules

“If a ready enemy with the elusive keyword attacks or is attacked, after that attack resolves, that enemy immediately disengages from all investigators, moves to a connection location (with no investigators, if able), and exhausts. This effect occurs whether the enemy was engaged with the attacking investigator or not.”

The above rules text was taken from Drawn to the Flame’s facebook, who were relaying this info they got directly from Duke.

Okay, so this isn’t quite the reversed Hunter we speculated about after seeing the keyword on Hank Samson’s weakness card. Instead it’s a triggered ability that can do its thing at any time, even in the middle of the investigator turn. Actually, the current read is that it will trigger even in the middle of resolving a card like One-Two-Punch, making the enemy run away from the second punch.
Crucially, this movement triggers on both being attacked and after the enemy itself makes an attack. That means that Elusive enemies that also have Hunter are going to be a royal pain in the butt as they dip into combat only to hit someone, then immediately bail again. For even more !fun!, Elusive also pairs incredibly well with Aloof…

In terms of game effect this will have for the players, this means that the enemy handler will need to plan for some extra movement to get to those enemies. That can potentially be a big action drain, which is of course especially relevant during combat. If Elusive plays a major part during Hemlock Vale, then a silver bullet against it (like this week’s previewed Ofuda) might translate to a lot of saved actions.

What works in our favor though: The enemy exhausts after doing its Elusive move. That means we can remove an enemy from the enemy phase by attacking it, without defeating it. Actually, we don’t even need to succeed. Mandy or Wendy can just take an action to appear threatening and shoo the enemy away. That’s something to keep in mind!

We’ll probably not see a whole lot from the campaign side for a good while, so that discussion will have to be tabled for a month or three. But i am looking forward what new designs the team came up with. I am always super interested in enemy designs and this is a great start.