Shades of Suffering

Encounter sets in this scenario: Dark Veiling, Mysteries Abound, Scarlet Sorcery, Spreading Corruption, Striking Fear
Available experience: 4 (locations) + 3 (saved geists) + 1 (Tzu San) +1 (using the Reaper against Tzu) = 9XP

Location: Kuala Lumpur (unlocked through Shanghai)
Involved Coterie Members and Keys: Tzu San Niang, The Shade Reaper
Time spent: 1 for the scenario itself, but getting there from Shanghai will require 5 more
Nearest other scenarios: Alexandria, Tunguska (2 time)

Size of the Encounter Deck30
# Enemies2
# Willpower7
# Agility0
# Doom2
# Damage0
# Horror5
# Concealment4
# Hollow0
Please note that in addition to the horror and damage cards in the table above are 4 cards that can cause enemies in the shadows to attack.

Synopsis: Agent Flint is on the tails of Tzu San Niang aka “Lady with Red Parasol”, an exceptionally influential woman. Either with or without Flint’s help, the players make their way from Shanghai over Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur where they finally catch up to her. As they soon learn from a local Bomoh (a Malaysian shaman), Tzu San and her parasol feed on the pain of the restless spirits in three places among the city. To stop the Lady with the Red Parasol, the investigators need to put those spirits to rest and finally confront Tzu San if they want to take possession of the artifact for their own purpose.

My take on this scenario: For better or worse, this is an iteration on the much maligned Wages of Sin from The Circle Undone. The parallels are immediately obvious, with the players being tasked to put spirits to rest using some conditions on the backside of the cards of those spirits. There is a lot of time pressure and efficient use of actions is key to getting somewhere in either scenario. I consider Wages to be one of the (or maybe THE) worst scenarios in the game, so i am happy to see a scenario that improves on it.
That being said, Shades of Suffering has its own problems for sure. Especially all the action taxing that we are exposed to here is too much for me. Far too much. The combination of Spreading Corruption with Striking Fear is already painful enough in other scenarios of the Scarlet Keys campaign, but here it is coupled with a key that takes away actions whenever it shifts and scenario objectives that don’t exactly help the situation. Moving around the locations and activating whatever is required to meet the geist enemies demands takes away a lot of available actions and so does messing around with the concealment part.
This scenario also scales very heavily with time already spent. Depending on how far along the campaign you are, the Shade Reaper already starts with 0, 3, 6 or 9 charges which not only makes the skull token a pain, but also makes Tzu San’s ability in the final confrontation a lot more deadly than it already is. Having more cultist tokens in the chaos bag will also contribute to this by putting charges on the Reaper whenever that token comes up.
One of the biggest differences to me when comparing this scenario to Wages is that there are almost no random enemies around. While Wages would bombard you with a constant barrage of unkillable shades, exploding witches and of course the Watcher, Shades is content with having the scenario mechanics stand on their own. I approve of this.
While i do like Shades of Suffering a lot more than Wages of Sin, i do still think it’s possibly the low point of the Scarlet Keys campaign. Constantly having my actions been taken away is just not any fun to me and the final confrontation also feels a bit cheap and non-interactive to me. You either have to tech fairly heavily for beating the fight or you can just randomly run into a situation where you don’t have the tools to do anything worthwhile. At least you have the option of resigning at any point, so you can just go for the victory points on the locations and hoof it when things start to derail too much.

Scenario specific encounter sets: Two scenario-specific treacheries are added to the encounter deck and looking at them already gives us a preview of how central the Shade Reaper is to this scenario. Spirit Harvest gives a rather difficult choice of dealing damage and horror to everyone or giving Tzu San an opportunity to shift her key and also charge it up. Shifting the key makes everyone lose an action, so whatever the choice, it will affect everyone at the table. Actions, sanity and stamina are all in short supply, so this is going to be an awful card pretty much every time. And since there’s three of them in the deck that’s going to be a frequent occurrence. Excruciate isn’t quite as bad. While it will always place a charge on the Reaper, it will at least give the chance to either pass a willpower test or discard cards to mitigate the damage. There are two copies of Excruciate.

Chaos Tokens: This one is nasty, with none of the symbol tokens being particularly pleasant. The Tablet is the only one of the four that doesn’t tie into the Shade Reaper mechanics. It’s just a -1, but at a location with a Geist another token will have to be revealed, so it becomes quite problematic then. It becomes a lot worse in Hard/Expert, where it’s a -3 and will autofail any test in the presence of a Geist. Oof. The Cultist is a -4 and will put a charge on the Reaper on a fail by 2 or more. Hard cranks this up to -5 and will always put a charge, even on a success. In comparison, the Elder Thing looks almost tame. It’s also a -4, but the player can choose to put a charge on the Reaper to treat it as a 0. Hard increases these numbers to -6 with the option to bring it down to -3. So there’s quite a few large modifiers around, even on Easy/Normal and each test taken during the scenario has the potential to increase the power of the Shade Reaper. An immediate payoff for this power is the Skull token, which is -X. On Easy/Standard, X is half the amount of charges on the Reaper, to a maximum modifier of -6 for the Skull. Hard and Expert just define X as the amount of charges (so no halfsies there) and there is no cap on the modifier either. Seeing the modifier grow to -20 and beyond is absolutely possible and unless you are Jim Culver you can probably expect them to just be extra autofails during the final bits.
This is a chaos bag that pulls no punches, which is oddly appropriate for this scenario.

Act/Agenda: With 3 cards each, there is some meat to both the agenda and the act deck. The scenario is neatly divided into three parts, with a pair of agenda and act cards for each part. The first act has the investigators try to find Tzu San while having a few clues at hand. Not too difficult, but the agenda only offers 3 doom worth of time to do so. Failing to do so is punished rather harshly with the loss of an ally, charges on the Reaper and 1 doom on Tzu San for good measure. No matter if the agenda or act is fulfilled first, getting to that point will trigger an interlude with additional setup that leads to act and agenda 2. Three Geist enemies spawn at seperate locations and Tzu San returns to the shadows, with herself and two decoys at the locations of the Geists. The act tasks the players with bringing the spirits to rest before Tzu can exploit them for her own cause. Tzu will make one such attempt every 3 doom (4 in solo) and the only way to prevent it is either removing her from the shadows in time or pacifying the spirit at her location. This cycle of Tzu returning to the shadows and making attempts at subjugating another geist before the players get to it returns until all geists have left play, either into the victory display or facedown under the Tzu San. The third act sets the stage for the final confrontation with Tzu San and the players will have to defeat her to win Shades of Suffering. The agenda for this has 4 doom and should it run out, everyone is defeated and suffers mental trauma.

Tzu San Niang: She is the primary opponent in Shades of Suffering and defeating her will ultimately win the scenario. But first you will have to stop her (in her “The Lady with the Red Parasol” form) from harvesting spirits to power up her artifact. There’s not much to her at that point and the mechanics are mostly driven by the action economy of making it to the spirits in time. The direct confrontation happens with her “Out for Blood” backside which is one of the most terrifying enemies this campaign throws at you. While her stats make her look rather unimpressive, it’s that Forced effect that can be just utterly devastating. Oversucceeding against her 2 fight or evasion is punished with an amount of horror and damage that is equal to how many point you succeeded by. This ability is limited by the amount of charges on the Reaper, but at this point there are often double digits of charges on the thing even if happened to save most of the Geists. To be able to defeat Tzu without immediately defeating yourself as well, you will need to manage at least one of the following:
– Keep the number of charges on the Reaper low. This is very difficult to do and will pretty much require you to go to this scenario early in your campaign to avoid starting changes through passed time and to keep the number of Cultist tokens in the bag low.
– Be able to take the pain. If you have exceptional amounts of soak at your disposal, then you might just be able to power through what the Reaper inflicts on you.
– Have testless damage available. If you don’t have to take tests, you can’t oversucceed and thus you won’t trigger the Reaper’s wrath. Shoutout to Brother Xavier for both bringing exceptional soak and testless damage.
– Don’t oversucceed (much). I feel like i have to mention this, but i don’t really see how you can plan for it. With the chaos bag being as nasty as it is, keeping your fight value low (by maybe attacking without a weapon) in hopes of not succeeding by too much just will make you fail … and of course Tzu San also has Retaliate to punish that! I suppose you can at least hold back your Overpowers and Darings.

The Geists: There are three different Geist enemies and the players should try and banish them before Tzu San can exploit them. Doing so requires defeating the enemy while having one of the special actions on the locations already fulfilled. It’s not strictly required to defeat these Geists in the first part of the scenario, but failing to do so will put them into play alongside Tzu San in the last part while also putting more charges on the Shade Reaper. You are awarded a Victory point for each geist you save from being exploited by the Shade Reaper.

Other enemies: The only other enemy in this campaign is the Coterie Envoy from the Mysteries Abound set. This guy is quite annoying here as he limit you options when it comes to sniffing out Tzu San among her decoys to buy time. At the same time he can, between his 3 health and Aloof, take away a complete turn to be defeated. So either way, he increases the time pressure on the players in a big way.

Treacheries: This is a very narrow-minded encounter deck that does two things and it does them in a horribly efficient manner. On the one side are cards that deal damage and/or horror to the players, from cards like Seeing Shadows over In Plain Sight to Rotting Remains. On the other side are cards that take actions away. Like the Marrakesh scenario, Shades of Suffering combines Spreading Corruption with Striking Fear to make sure players barely get to take turns. However, Shades cranks this up further with the Shift ability on the Shade Reaper itself, which will take actions away from everyone through the scenario-specific Spirit Harvest and even the surging Key Charge.

Locations: The location grid isn’t anything too special. There’s a total of seven of them making up Kuala Lumpur and players are going to need to backtrack between rather often to find the correct location abilities that match with whatever the Geists are requiring to be put to rest. A resign location is available right from the start *wink wink nudge nudge*

Reward and Failure: Apart from the sheer satisfaction of putting this horrible person in her place, there are a total of 9XP to gain here. Four of them are on locations and another one of the boss enemy itself, so these aren’t hard to miss. One more is awarded for each geist you manage to pacify before Tzu San gets to them. If you get the final one will depend on a choice you have to make in the resolution: either use the Shade Reaper against Tzu San or don’t. If you do, you get the XP, but you will also gain a physical trauma. You will also put Tzu San under your sway which will have her abstain from the final vote.
Should you spare her, you won’t get either XP or trauma, but you will “not have seen the last of” Tzu San and she will vote against you in the finale.
Either outcome will make you the new proud owner of the world’s most horrifying umbrella. As impressive as it was in Tzu San’s hands, it’s considerably less so in yours. It does have a very useful ability that moves enemies and possibly makes them attack each other, however the steep cost to flip it back from Unstable to Stable put a strong limiter on how often you can take advantage of it.
Should you lose the scenario, either through full defeat or resignation, you’ll at least keep the XP from the locations and any geists you managed to put to rest already, but of course the Shade Reaper stays with Tzu. And since she is going to be added to the “not seen last of” list, you might run into her with that thing in hand in later scenarios which can be rather annoying. Her “Whisper in Your Ear” form that follows you around is a rather generic Hunter with high fight and evade values and Retaliate to make further use of those stats. Oversucceeding against her will make her shift her key, but at least that doesn’t deal damage anymore, it will “just” cost your team an action each. She’s a respectable enemy but not much worse than for example the Red-Gloved Man.

Secret War

Set Size6
Number of unique Cards3
RoleEnemy, Willpower, Hollow
Threat LevelLow to Mid
# of scenarios3
Appears in: Dancing Mad, Without a Trace, Congress of the Keys (all)

My take on this set: This set is mostly notable to me for Secrets Lost. Most campaigns do have some sort of treachery that potentially discards a lot of cards from a player’s hand and i consistently find those very hard to play around if i am unable to meet whatever tests are on them. Mimic is a bit too dependent on a card from another set to really matter, but it is a card from a set that is always used when Secret War is. Finally, Memory Variant only pulls its weight in one of the scenarios unless your deck is particularly vulnerable to having key cards removed (…which is a bad idea in Scarlet Keys in the first place…).
So in total this is a bit of a mixed bag of conditionally relevant cards propped up by a potent mass discard treachery. Fair enough.
I feel like this set is let down by a lack of good payoffs for the hollow mechanic. By itself it’s really good at setting those up however. If there was some other way for hollow cards to matter in one of the encounter sets commonly used with Secret War, the distinction between removing something and having it in the discard would be a lot more relevant.

Number in the encounter deck: 2

What it does: Otherworldly Mimic doesn’t engage the player directly, instead it hangs back with Aloof and follows them around with Hunter. While ready and in the same location as an investigator, it will attack that player whenever they play, commit or activate a card which has a copy in the set-aside hollows. This attack deals 2 horror, so it’s rather threatening. Once engaged, it is not all that difficult to defeat.

My take: Otherworldly Mimic tries to go for a similar line of play as the Paradigm Effacer from Agents of the Outside: Hang around aloof, trigger the occasional attack and threaten to come down if the player happens to draw Matter Inversion. I don’t think it succeeds at being as much of a balanced threat as Effacer is, though. For one, it’s ability barely ever triggers, so it’s much easier to ignore and just have it stick around. And if you do want to get rid of it, that’s also much easier, as the difference between 2 and 3 health here is huge. Even if you have to engage it first, defeating it in two actions is not all that difficult. And if you have something like Blood-Rites or Sneak Attack that deals damage to unengaged enemies you can even do it in one.
Mimic has a rather high evasion difficulty, but that matters very little as you’ll very rarely have situations where you evade enemies with Aloof.

Threat level: Low. Mostly a vehicle for Matter Inversion from a different set and often completely ignorable on its own.

Dealing with it: As it has only 2 health and not a particularly noteworthy fight value or combat ability, Mimic is easy enough to handle by a fighter. Most cards that deal damage to enemies at your location are also able to defeat this cleanly and without much fuss.

Number in the encounter deck: 2

What it does: Following a failed willpower test, the player has to hollow one card from their hand for each point they failed by. As a silver lining, succeeding by 2 or more allows the player to regain one of their hollows to their hand if they are willing to take 1 horror for it.

My take: This is one of the cards from The Scarlet Keys that i dread the most. As someone who enjoys their low willpower rogues, this card has the potential to just shred my hand. Thankfully it is limited to 3 cards, so it isn’t quite a repeat of Innsmouth’s “Memory of Oblivion”. But it’s still plenty rough. Even high willpower investigators can easily lose a card or two to this treachery and just the threat of an autofail can of course mean the same for anyone.
Secrets Lost gets additional power from being one of the few ways the game has to set up the various hollow synergies on some encounter cards in a consistent way.
Succeeding by 2 or more can get you a card back, which is nice to see on a treachery. It will only rarely come up (it hasn’t for me yet after playing more than 4 full campaigns…) but when it happens it’s going to feel good… that point of sanity you have to pay for the card is a real cost as well, though.

Threat level: Mid. Shreds your hand and sets up various synergies with hollow for further punishment down the road.

Dealing with it: The Scarlet Keys doesn’t test willpower overly much, but when it does the repercussions of failing are fairly harsh. Therefore is pays to have plans for passing a couple of these tests in your decks, for example by including cards like Savant or Defensive Stance in your decks that can give you 3+ icons.
Of course, even a Promise of Power for +4 won’t reliably make a 1 willpower investigator pass this treachery so anyone vulnerable to the treachery should probably anticipate it and keep a couple sacrificial cards in their hand if possible.

Number in the encounter deck: 2

What it does: Memory Variant stays in play next to the agenda until an investigator spends and action and succeeds at a rather difficult willpower test. While active, any events played by any investigator is hollowed instead of discarded.

My take: Often you can almost ignore this thing because just losing a couple cards in itself matters only if you use recursion or plan on cycling through your deck often. And even then, it needs to be drawn rather early to have an impact. Getting it in the later half of the scenario is almost a free draw. I say “Almost”, because notably this is one of the better cards for setting up hollow synergies. Also there are a few event based investigators like Sefina or Nathan that will have this become rather worrisome. In terms of payoffs, there isn’t really a whole lot. This set has the Mimic and for Dancing Mad that’s already it. Congress of the Keys adds Substance Dissimilation from the Outsider set as a potent payoff. But the real important scenario for this card is of course Without a Trace where the number of hollowed cards plays into the scenario mechanisms.

Threat level: Low to Mid. Can be a freebie and unless you are playing Without a Trace, this usually isn’t going to impact you too much, …

Dealing with it: … however *when* it does bother you because you are one of the investigators or deck types this targets and you drew it early enough to matter, it’s remarkably difficult to remove. Increasing the difficulty on the test to 4 from the more standard 3 makes this a big bother to get rid off.

Dead Heat

Encounter sets in this scenario: Scarlet Sorcery, Spreading Corruption, Ghouls, Striking Fear
Available experience: 1 (Amaranth) + 1 (Khalid) +2 (more civvies saved than dead) + 2 (twice amount of saved than dead) = 6XP

Location: Marrakesh
Involved Coterie Members and Keys: Amaranth, Razin Farhi, The Last Blossom
Time spent: 1-2 time (2 only if you restore Amaranth to her real self, 1 in all other cases)
Nearest other scenarios: Alexandria, Havana, Istanbul (2 time), Anchorage, Buenos Aires (3 time)

Size of the Encounter Deck32
# Enemies8
# Willpower7
# Agility3
# Doom2
# Damage5
# Horror3
# Concealment0
# Hollow0
Note: These numbers do not include the two copies of Ancient Raider and the unique Khalid elite enemy. Those three cards do start out of play and enter the deck as the acts advance.

Synopsis: Following reports of dead people walking the streets, the investigators arrive in Marrakesh to confront Amaranth, the likely source of the troubles. What follows is straight out of a zombie movie, with risen dead and ghouls feasting on the remaining survivors. It’s the group’s job to fulfill two goals at the same time: Stop Amaranth, gaining control of her key. And save as many civilians as possible before they are slain by the enemy horde. Sounds simple enough, right?

My take on this scenario: You know how the scenarios have some sort of dossier coming with them and how those have a sort of threat rating at the top? For Amaranth, the dossier says “Subject Class: Red.” and they aren’t kidding around. This is basically your only warning to not just stumble into this scenario right after Riddles and Rain on your blind playthrough and get absolutely slaughtered.
Marrakesh takes a break from what is going on everywhere else in Scarlet Keys mechanically, with not an Outsider or concealed enemy in sight. Instead we are getting the first real zombie apocalypse scenario (unless you count The Gathering) and its a doozy. It’s actually a really simple scenario in concept and mechanisms, just put a bunch of small enemies in a cramped arena and add an Elite or two. And voila – panic in the streets of Marrakesh and on the table in my house as well. This is a stressful scenario to play that pushes fighty characters to their limits. With the amount of enemies around, even the usually less combat-ready characters are sort of expected to chip in – even if it’s just throwing a few Blood-Rites, Toe to Toes or Improvised Weapons around to take some of the heat from the dedicated fighters that have to deal with Amaranth, Khalid and Razin.
What makes this scenario really stand out as so difficult is two things. For one, the encounter deck has some nasty treacheries in it. Striking Fear and Spreading Corruption work together very well at disabling players and making them struggle to even find the actions to fight back. Two, Scarlet Keys is generally just not that heavy on fights. So Dead Heat asks for a skillset that many other scenarios don’t need, at least not to that extent.
This is one of the scenarios that has the potential to really make an incredibly bad first impression as it blindsides the players with a hefty difficulty spike and also incredibly punishing consequences for failing. I do like that this scenario exists now on replays as it provides a certain challenge that i might want to overcome but the first play is potentially just very frustrating. I wish the resign option was more viable, similar to how The Last King in Carcosa also offers a very early and difficult combat challenge but allows players to bug out if it gets too much.

Scenario specific encounter sets: The encounter set contains several unique enemies that are set aside at first: Amaranth, who is the main antagonist. Razin Farhin, who Amaranth is trying to bring back from the grave. And Khalid, her … pet zombie lion. Yep, you read that right. Also set aside are two copies of Ancient Raider, who join the undead horde in the final act. Immediately into the encounter deck go 4 copies of Thrall, who is rather weak by itself (and even comes with an ability that lets players evade it for free), but an enemy with Surge is never good news. Since there’s 4 copies, you will see these a lot. Two copies of Famine provide a bit of redundancy for Striking Fear’s Dissonant Voices, making it harder to play your cards. It’s on the tamer side of cards in this deck, though. Finally, we get two copies of Cornered!, because apparently having both Grasping Hands and Rotting Remains wasn’t enough and we needed another scaling source of up to three damage.

Chaos Tokens: How bad this chaos bag is, depends wildly on your difficulty. The gulf between Easy/Normal and Hard/Expert is extreme on this one. It also scales quite heavily with how late you are doing this scenario in the campaign because coming later will not only add Cultists to the bag but also make the skulls start with a negative modifier instead of being a +0 at first. Skulls scale with slain civilians, so as long as you can keep a lid on that you are somewhat fine. Notably there is no upper limit for how negative the skull can go, so this does have the potential to escalate. On Hard, where the skull is worth -2 for each 1i slain civilians (i is number of investigators), the skulls are certainly a bigger concern than they are on Standard where they are only half as bad. The Elder Thing is a -3 (-4 on Hard) which is well within expectations, with a discard on fail which is also pretty regular. The Tablet however has a quirk that is nasty. On Standard the Tablet is just a -1, but the player has to either take 1 damage or have a civilian die. So it adds to the damage coming from the encounter deck and plentiful enemies, but it at least allows for a choice. This choice is taken away on Hard, where the Tablet is -2 and the player both gets a damage and has a civilian slain at their location. Especially that last part is incredibly punishing (i’d go as far and call it unfair) and i would recommend anyone who wants to tackle Dead Heat on Hard or Expert to make choices that remove Tablets in favor of Elder Things. The Cultist token is the highest negative modifier at -4 (-6) aside from the skulls so there’s value in coming here early to not have many of those in the bag. In addition to the modifier, the Cultist token will ready a non-Elite at your location and have it attack. On Standard, this happens only on a fail, but on Elite this again happens on every draw of the token. For most enemies in the scenario this “just” means an additional point of damage and/or horror, but both Khalid and the Ancient Raider are also viable targets of this token’s effect for additional pain or slain civilians.

Act/Agenda: There are two agenda cards, for a total doom threshold of 15. Their fronts modify the spawn abilities of all Risen and Ghoul enemies, making them spawn in random locations instead of engaged. Once the first agenda advances after 8 doom, a number of Risen and Ghoul enemies are spawned depending on how many civilians were slain so far. Also, each player has to either have a civilian at their location be slain or they have to let every Elite in play heal 2 damage. Note that if there is no damaged Elite in play, you have to pick the other option which especially in high player counts almost guarantees that civilians die here (Note: This was confirmed by lead designer Duke. The card is missing the word “must” here and will be errata’d to do so.)
The act deck consists of three cards, one for each stage of the confrontation with Amaranth. The first has the players search for her by finding clues and spending them at the Ritual Site. This will spawn Amaranth, shuffle Khalid into the deck and put the story card “Save the Civilians” into play and start act 2. Once either a certain amount of civilians died or Amaranth was defeated, the fight escalates. If the civilian threshold was met, Razin Farhi joins the fight alongside Amaranth. If she was defeated, she is flipped to her second form instead and moved to a random spot. In either case, the Ancient Raiders are finally also shuffled into the deck. Act 3 simply states the final goal: Neither Amaranth nor Razin may stay in play.
Parallel to the act and agenda, the story card “Save the Civilians” handles everything related to saving and slaying the people of Marrakesh. It provides an action to save a civilian at an investigators location for a cost in clues. Saved civvies go onto this card until the end of the game when the card is flipped for a sort of endgame scoring. If more civilians ended up saved than dead, then everyone gains XP. Even more if it’s twice the amount saved. However, if more civilians were slain, then everyone gets trauma. If it was twice the amount slain, it’s even two trauma.

Amaranth and Razin Farhi: Immediately after finishing act one, Amaranth engages the investigators at the Ritual Site, with the Lost Blossom attached to her. She hits fairly hard and the small circular location layout makes it difficult to stay far enough away from her to not be threatened by her Hunter keyword. If you have a damage dealer that can reliably deal 3+ damage in one action, you could burst her down fairly fast, but otherwise she can take a decent amount of punishment… enhanced by the healing she gets from her flower. She’s also rarely going to be the only enemy on the table, making her a lot more dangerous in practice than her card text and stat line would immediately suggest.
Defeating Amaranth during the second act will flip her into her second form which sees her horror and damage values inversed. But more importantly, she will now trigger the flower on every attack, healing herself more often. And she will gain a point of combat and Retaliate… which of course is yet another venue for her to attack you and heal herself. This version of Amaranth is incredibly dangerous and to defeat her you will pretty much need to be able to repeatedly hit her hard or at least to keep her evaded all the time so she can’t outheal the damage you put on her. If your modified skill on attack isn’t comfortably high, then evading her somehow can be worth it just to prevent Retaliate from being a factor. Missing her, being damaged yourself and seeing her heal is the worst! Note that when flipping her from Lurking Corruption to Corruption Revealed, you keep every token and attached card on her. This includes the damage tokens from act 2 that you used to defeat her in the first form! Of course that gives her something to heal away with the Last Blossom, but you are at least not starting from zero again.
If you didn’t manage to defeat the first version of Amaranth in time and the act advances because too many civilians were killed, then Razin Farhin joins the fight and the group now faces both Amaranth and him. This will keep Amaranth from flipping to her stronger version, but Razin is arguably worse as you will now face two Elite enemies at the same time which is harder to control through evasion and any healing triggers from the Blossom (or other sources) will pull double duty. Hopefully, Amaranth is already at the brink of defeat when Razin shows up so you can concentrate on him after quickly finishing her off…

Khalid and the Ancient Raiders: Khalid is yet another sturdy and dangerous Hunter enemy and gets shuffled into the encounter deck as soon as Amaranth shows up for the first time. From that point on, you can draw it at any point and whenever you do, things are sure to get rough. Kahlid hits just as hard as Amaranth does and also has Hunter. It doesn’t scale its health with player count which means that when playing solo and arguably even at two players, Khalid is tougher than Amaranth herself. Dealing with both Amaranth and her cat at the same time (while the encounter deck also heavily taxes your actions) is very hard and likely going to be the most difficult part of this scenario overall. Again, the ability to deal big chunks of damage at once is essential. Without that, you need to at least be able to keep Amaranth from triggering the heals from her key while you whittle down Khalid. As a small silver lining, Khalid is not Elite. So you might be able to use some potent cards on it, like Waylay or Disguise. Its ability on entering play is a bit random in what it actually achieves, but notable consequences are possibly pushing enemies into your location and more importantly, turning a location into its “Abandoned” version.
A pair of Ancient Raiders only enters the encounter deck during the final act, so small groups might not even draw one before the scenario is over. These simply serve to bring up the number of undead bodies in the deck a bit. At 3 health, they are stronger than most others, but not outrageously so. Their most potent feature is the ability to cause civilian losses on attack, something that can even be triggered on Retaliate if you are unlucky.

Other enemies: Except for the big Elites, the encounter deck throws only small enemies at the players. They do however come in impressive numbers, with the Thrall even surging into another encounter card. While these aren’t dangerous by themselves, the investigators are already occupied by one or more dangerous Elite enemies and possibly shackled down by treacheries to the point where they will find it difficult to actually deal with these creatures. Only Ravenous Ghoul (and the two Ancient Raiders in the final stretch) have more than 2 health, so these mostly go down in one swing and you can save your big guns for … well, the enemy’s big guns.

Treacheries: In terms of treacheries, the encounter deck mostly does two things: One, deal damage and horror. Two, take away player actions. This is only the second scenario since the Core that has both Rotting Remains and Grasping Hands in it (the other one is Point of No Return) and it actually triples down on the theme with Cornered!. Remains is the only horror treachery in the deck, but of course Amaranth herself deals plenty of horror on her attacks – enough to make Remains relevant as a thing that can either put you on the brink or finish you off. Low willpower enemies have more to fear than Rotting Remains, as public enemy #1, Frozen in Fear, is back to torment us. Whats worse, it gets significant backup from both Compulsion and Distorted Reasoning as cards that stop players from reacting to what’s happening to them.
Finally, the Scarlet Sorcery set has two potent cards for this scenario. Bound in Red can absolutely not be allowed to stick around on any of the Elite enemies as it takes their damage/horror up to eleven while the fight increase makes especially the Retaliate on Amaranth a huge threat. Key Charge is a heal with Surge (triggering the Blossom) and can range from simply annoying to utterly frustrating when it affects multiple enemies.

Locations: The map consists of five locations arranged in a circle, so it’s a small and intimate encounter with very little room to run away from one of the Hunters in this scenario. At best, you can be two locations away from wherever they are.
Each location exists in two versions, with the regular being swapped out for the Abandoned version once all civilians there have been either saved or slain. Note that Khalid showing up is going to turn its random spawn location into the Abandoned one as any remaining civilians are scattered to the two connected locations.
Of special note is the Bahia Palace Gardens, which is the Ritual Site. The investigators need to go there to spend the clues for advancing act 1 and it is also where Amaranth will appear (and likely immediately engage whoever is there).

Reward and Failure: Up to 6XP can be earned here, but they are earned indeed. There are no handouts in this scenario. No locations have Victory on them, you do need to defeat Amaranth and save the city to walk out of this scenario with anything to show for it. In addition to the XP, you do get the Last Blossom which is a very powerful key. Just using it first turn when everyone is still in their starting location can wipe away a lot of trauma. It would be worth using it just for that, but it’s also able to flip back as long as there’s an enemy with damage on it around that you can heal. (Note: You do need a damaged enemy in play to be able to shift the Blossom back to Stable. A very strict reading of the card could imply that ALL enemies in play need to be damaged for the ability to be usable, but this is unclear for now. Duke suggested playing it as if only one enemy needs to be healed until this is resolved.) Unless you knew Amaranths real identity and restored it, the group will “not have seen the last” of her. When randomly encountering her later, she retains much of her abilities but thankfully is lacking her high health then. So she can be dispatched reasonably cleanly with a Vicious Blow or something like that.
It’s possible to avoid the unpleasantness that is Amaranth following you around by getting the “best” resolution where you restore her to her real self and make her shake off the evil influence she was under. Doing so requires getting the intel on her from San Francisco before going here and then finishing the scenario successfully. This will stop her from randomly appearing in later scenarios and also remove her from the vote in the finale. Since this game doesn’t just hand you things (not even things you already payed for in time by jetting around the world to get this intel), this resolution will however for some reason cost you an extra time.
Failure has dire consequences in this scenario. Not even resigning will protect you from them, as all remaining civilians will be counted as slain when everyone resigns or gets defeated. If more civilians were slain than rescued, a mental trauma is dealt to each investigator. If twice more civilians were slain than rescued, everyone even gets another mental trauma. That means that if you got defeated, you will likely leave Marrakesh with 3 trauma, zero XP, no key and with either “the lovers united” (which has both Amaranth and Razin vote against you in the finale) or with Amaranth on your tail, still wearing the Blossom. Yikes!
Marrakesh is only 1 time away from London, so together with Istanbul it’s one of the more inviting places to go right after Riddles and Rain. A bit of a trap, if you ask me! So you will only want to come here if you feel confident in your ability to handle several big Elites at once, something that is a big ask at the start of the campaign. Don’t wait too long though, after some time the scenario starts with some civilians already slain and Amaranth already in play. Yet some time later, and there’s not even a scenario in Marrakesh anymore, only a description of the carnage, a few pity XP and some mental trauma. The sweet spot would be arriving in Marrakesh at 9 time. At this point, you don’t have any additional cultists in the bag yet and also don’t have to start with slain civilians. That’s enough time to do Istanbul and/or Dogs at War first to get some upgrades that help you deal with the carnage in Marrakesh. Alternatively you could use that time to go to San Francisco for the intel on Amaranth and do either Anchorage or Havana on the way back.

The actual Keys of The Scarlet Keys

I’ve been asked if i could put up a visual spoiler of the Keys from the Scarlet Keys up on my site, so … well, here it is. To put some more meat on this page, i also went and commented on how useful their Stable side is, how difficult it is to flip back to Stable and how difficult it is to actually acquire in the first place.

Stable: This key is super useful for rogues and other investigators with low willpower and/or agility that struggle with treachery tests. When i use this key, it’s usually to discard something like a Frozen in Fear or deflect a Rotting Remains. Super worth it.
Unstable: If you use this key the same way i do, the key basically allows you trading one encounter card for another. That seems like a fair trade to me in most cases. If this is in enemy hand, this key is a menace though.
Acquisition: All you need to do is finish Riddles and Rain without wiping out. Easy enough.

Stable: Useful, but not extraordinarily powerful when used fairly, but in some situations that come up in the campaign, this almost lets you skip certain challenges. Without going deeper into spoilers, the Sable Glass lets you trivialize much of the final scenario. Gets better with more players since that makes it more likely that mini-cards stack up in one location and the Sable Glass can help you get a handle on that.
Unstable: In low player counts, this is barely a cost but with more players this becomes a bit more annoying to set up as someone will usually mind having their highest cost card taken away. Still fine though, this isn’t a key that needs to be flipped back and forth a lot. If this ends up on a coterie member that can trigger it often, this key can become trouble.
Acquisition: Rather difficult to get, as you need to either need to do very well in On Thin Ice or defeat Thorne if you have not done that well… and they are maybe the most terrifying enemy in the whole campaign (at least on their own merits… Tzu San with her key is a special kind of BS). Note that if you do ally with Thorne, they will show up with the key in hand for the finale, so you do get to abuse the crap out of the Sable Glass then anyways.

Stable: Quite powerful. Both parts of the effect are great, moving enemies around and getting free attacks can both be useful and if you can profit from both at the same time, you get great value here.
Unstable: Flipping the card back scales very heavily with player count, while the Stable side doesn’t (or at least only very little). That makes this a tough sell to flip to Stable if you can avoid it. Another one you really don’t want to see on enemies.
Acquisition: Well, i didn’t manage to beat Shades of Suffering yet. Maybe some day.

Stable: Pretty great, as it doesn’t just give you -3 cost, but also an extra action. Fantastic key to have for your first setup turn, even if you never plan on flipping it back.
Unstable: That being said, it’s often reasonable to actually do use that Shift back to Stable. I consider this to be less restrictive than Sable Glass to stabilize… but worse in enemy hand because getting hit by it multiple times will just rip apart everyone’s hand.
Acquisition: You need to go against the Claret Knight and take the thing from him. Doing so requires some firepower but isn’t particularly hard (compared to what else the campaign has to offer). You can do so relatively early in the campaign too.

Stable: A free clue. Sure. Always useful, but rarely something to get excited about. You can use this key to expose a mini-card at your location as a free action, which seems more interesting to me than just a free Working a Hunch. One of the limited ways to expose a mini-card at a connecting location which is super useful in several circumstances.
Unstable: Can be set up to work well, but again the Unstable side scales with player count when the Stable side doesn’t. If you end up with assets that ran out of charges (or that have doom on it) this can even end up being useful, but most of the time it’s not worth flipping. ABSOLUTELY HORRIFYING on enemies that can trigger it repeatedly, most of all its natural owner, La Chica Roja.
Acquisition: Win the race for 3 targets against notCarmen notSantiago. Making it to the “secret” second part of the scenario is not required, so this key is reasonably easy to grab.

Stable: Highly dependent on what you have to add uses to. Putting another piece of ammo or a charge on a spell is usually not terribly exciting, but i could see this being solid if you have something like a Fingerprint Kit(4) or a level 5 spell to feed.
Unstable: Again, scales with player count, the other side doesn’t. Considering that the usefulness of the Stable side is already dodgy, this will almost never be worth shifting yourself. In enemy hands it’s super unfun, but at least it’s not The Weeping Lady.
Acquisition: No fighting necessary, just get on Tuwile Masai’s good side. To do so, you need to not betray the coterie (too much) and possibly follow the guy around from Nairobi to Bermuda. If it’s reasonably on your way, might as well pick it up but i’d argue this is the weakest of the keys.

Stable: Great emergency button to press and notably it’s not restricted to non-Elite which is huuuuuge in this campaign. Worst case, it exposes a mini-card without taking an action.
Unstable: A point of horror for everyone is a small price to pay if this alone keeps Amaranth and her pet zombie lion from attacking every other turn. Obviously this cost can still be problematic, but depending on the circumstances it can absolutely be worth it. On an enemy, this provides a rather strict clock that will force you to deal with it as soon as possible.
Acquisition: Again, just requires some travelling, you’ll get it from Dr. Irawan when you follow her from Rio to Manokwari. There are some time requirements to this one, which makes it a bit more awkward to get than the Bale Engine, but then again it’s also much more worth getting.

Stable: Amazing for wiping away trauma for the whole team on turn 1. Even if you never end up using it a second time, that alone is so very powerful.
Unstable: How strict exactly we are to interpret this ability is apparently still up for debate, but current provisional ruling has been that it only requires one enemy with damage on it to be able to shift back (a stricter read would be that EVERY enemy in play needs damage on it that can be healed). This is not a huge cost, in fact i found that i often would need to specifically set it up so that i don’t just kill things immediately if i want to flip this back. On an enemy, this makes quite the impression in its original scenario (Dead Heat) but is rather tame if it appear later on.
Acquisition: You gotta rip it out of Amaranth’s head. While very satisfying to do, this is not an easy task. But if you have the firepower, it’s very much worth doing.

Stable: Dealing 1 to multiple enemies is pretty much never worth doing, but 2 testless damage to one target, no questions asked? That is spectacularly useful for fighters and non-fighters alike. Again, this can be used to expose a mini-card without an action, but you will likely have better uses for it available.
Unstable: Worth the cost for shifting it. I consistently find this to be one of the most useful keys and getting more uses out of it is great. Of course you need some healing if you really want to go deep on this, but even if you just shift it back once or twice, you get to snipe two or three enemies with it.
Acquisition: Desidorio has this one and he is a bit extra about it. Not only do you need to finish Havana, you also need to spend some time durdling around in the area before you can grab it from his safehouse. Not difficult, just annoying and can be hard to fit into your travel schedule.

Stable: Card draw and card selection, that’s always useful. I like this particularly during the early setup where it gives more options, almost as if you get another mulligan to try and get your most important cards. But of course this effect is just consistently useful, no matter when you use it.
Unstable: Doom mechanics are scary, but when you have control over it, then you can get some great opportunities to bypass the drawback. Whenever you want to get rid of an asset anyways or when you are about to take out an enemy or discard a treachery at your location, you can also get a key shift out of it for near no cost. That being said, if an enemy has it, it quickly gets less pleasant…
Acquisition: Either betray Ece or just do Istanbul without her and the key is yours. Not too difficult, not too easy, perfectly reasonable.

(Disclaimer: I don’t own Fortune and Folly yet, so i didn’t have opportunity to play with this key myself. Also i can’t make proper scans of them, so these two images will have to do for now…)

Stable: Seems fine. Gives better chances at a single test, but doesn’t guarantee it and especially in Scarlet Keys the chaos bag is rough enough that i probably would rather have a solid skill bonus than just a redraw. Still, some investigators and player cards do care about specific tokens and those could get good mileage out of this ability at important points.
Unstable: On the other hand, the Wellspring is quite easy to flip back and this doesn’t even scale with number of investigators like so many others. You often run into tests that you either don’t care about or are going to fail either way. Worst case, you can just take an action to investigate and trigger the Shift on that. In an enemy’s hand, this can potentially be annoying and cost important tests. However, since it is limited to a test in the same round and many Coterie enemies trigger their keys in the enemy phase, this often will do nothing.
Acquisition: You get it in Fortune and Folly, the Scarlet Key related scenario that is released as a standalone. I don’t own it yet, i have not played it yet and i have not spoiled myself yet on any of the things happening in it. So no idea how easy this key is to get.

Scarlet Sorcery

Set Size4
Number of unique Cards2
RoleKey manipulation
Threat LevelHigh
# of scenarios4
Appears in: Dead Heat, Dogs of War (all versions), Shades of Suffering, Congress of the Keys (v1)

My take on this set: This set gives some more play to the keys, both on side of the enemies and the players. Key Charge is particularly nasty and one of the very few Surge cards in The Scarlet Keys. Thankfully Surge is not a huge part of this campaign at all, but this one card does pack a punch for sure. Bound in Red meanwhile makes the strongest enemy even stronger and turns them into a real pain to fight head on. By giving the players the option to depower the enemy back to normal by using up one of their own key charges, Bound in Red does manage to give a tough choice that i find interesting to think about. It’s one of those rare cards where the choice isn’t always all that obvious and i appreciate that a lot.
I frequently groan when drawing these cards because they are a pain to deal with, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It just means this is an impactful encounter set that does leave a mark on its deck. It also interacts with various other cards in interesting ways. I like it, but it’s probably not a coincidence that the two scenarios that are generally regarded as the most difficult of this campaign (Dead Heat and Shades) both have this set in it.

Number in the encounter deck: 2

What it does: Bound in Red attaches to the Coterie member with the highest printed health and increases their fight, evade, damage and horror values by one. To get rid of Bound in Red, an investigator at any location can take an action and shift one of their keys from Stable to Unstable.

My take: Very often, the coterie member with the highest printed health is going to be one of the unique enemies, like the Beast in Crimson and Amaranth in their respective scenarios or one of the people you “haven’t seen the last of”.
Discarding the card is easy to do in principle since it doesn’t require a test, however it does require flipping a key which will vary in how much of a cost that is depending on whether you were planning on using it and/or how easy it is to flip back. It’s also an action, so it can trigger an attack of opportunity which would include the extra damage/horror from Bound in Red if the investigator is engaged to that enemy.
Since most of the unique enemies tend to have rather high fight/evade values, the +1 from this card only makes matter worse. As a result, this is usually a card that you can’t ignore and spending that action should be done early if the enemy is still concealed.
This card is particularly nasty in Dogs of War version 1, where it will bring up the Beast’s damage and horror to 3 each, enough to defeat a Key Locus on two players in one strike when the Beast patrols into its location.

Threat level: Mid to High. Sometimes not an immediate threat and it does come with a way to discard it. But it’s impactful and hard to ignore.

Dealing with it: The earlier you get this out of the way, the better. Unless the card happens to attach to a regular enemy that goes down in one hit, having this attached to something you intend on fighting can be a real issue. If your group only has one or two keys, the cost of having to spend one of them can sting, especially if you already used them. For example, if all you have is the Eye of Ravens and you used it earlier to pass some other treachery test, you’d have to first turn that back to Stable (which will draw an encounter card, basically giving this Surge) and then spend the key again. Obviously that’s a rather grim effect and at that point, just pushing through the extra fight/evade might become worth the effort. Meanwhile a team that has multiple keys and maybe even doesn’t necessarily need them or is easily able to switch them back and forth will find this treachery easy.

Number in the encounter deck: 2

What it does: Key Charge makes each Coterie enemy use their keys, if available. The card surges, so this happens in addition to another encounter card.

My take: Another high variance card that will depend a lot on circumstances. Since it’s a Surge card that you just get as an addon to whatever regular card you are drawing, you aren’t ever going to be happy to see this treachery, but the actual effect can be all sorts of nasty things like having to draw another encounter card (effectively turning this into Overzealous… yikes) or having to discard random cards from hand or play. For the most part, these effects are going to hit everyone at the table, too.
If your luck is really rotten, then you will draw this with multiple enemy keys on the board. That is going to hurt, no matter what.

Threat level: High. A surge card with potentially high impact.

Dealing with it: Interacting with the card itself is sort of difficult and usually you’ll just have to weather the effects of the key(s) when it happens. As a Surge card, it even is awkward to cancel with cards like Ward of Protection as the Surge will still happen.
This card hurts most when you are already behind, when you had to concede keys to your enemies and might run into the possibility that you have two enemy keys on the board: One from whoever is the unique enemy of the scenario and one from a coterie member you “haven’t seen the last of”. As a result, that extra coterie member should be a priority to take out whenever Key Charge is part of the encounter deck just to take the key off the board. Of course, that’s not going to be easy to do with the key of the scenario specific enemy… after all defeating that one usually ends the scenario itself.

Spreading Corruption

Set Size6
Number of unique Cards3
RoleAction Tax, Doom
Threat LevelHigh
# of scenarios5
Appears in: Dead Heat, Dogs of War (all versions), Shades of Suffering, Without a Trace, Congress of the Keys (all versions)

My take on this set: This set puts the “Suffering” into “Shades of Suffering”. It has high impact throughout all of its cards and attacks from an angle that every investigator is vulnerable to: The action economy. Spreading Corruption is a big part of why Dead Heat and Shades are so difficult to deal with, as those are both scenarios where the players are required to get a lot of stuff done against a tight doom clock without much of a setup period. Randomly losing a couple actions or even turns can quickly become devastating under that sort of pressure. Oh, and those two scenarios have Frozen in Fear as well, which just stacks up in a ghastly way with the two curses from this set. Spreading Corruption is a bit milder in the other three scenarios, but still ranks among the more awful things you can draw from the encounter deck.
That being said, this set is well designed and puts new and fun spins on basic effects that we have seen before. All three of these offer ways to play around them and are just interesting. My only gripe with this set is that this should never be in the same encounter deck as Striking Fear because… ugh. And certainly not three times in one campaign! Have some mercy, MJ.

Number in the encounter deck: 2

What it does: Compulsion enters the player’s threat area and stays there until it is discarded through a double action. While active, it doesn’t do anything … however, the player needs to draw a token from the bag each turn and on skull, cultist, tablet or Elder Thing they must activate the double action at the start of their turn.

My take: This is the rare card that actually made me laugh out loud when i saw it the first time. In spite of the slightly hilarious way how it works, it is a treachery that will cost two actions to deal with which isn’t great. If you are forced to activate this while engaged with an enemy or while required to do something important, this card can really screw up your plans in a painful way. You might not always be forced to use this double action all the time, but you will want to do so as early as possible anyways. Because when you are staring down Amaranth, the Beast or are trying to banish some Geist, this is going to be just awful.

Threat level: Mid to High. It’s two actions to discard without a test, so you know what you get. But there’s also only few ways around it and the timing will often bite you and provoke and Attack of Opportunity to add some injury to your insult.

Dealing with it: This whole set is a great reason to include Alter Fate in your Survivor decklists. Depending on how you are able to handle Distorted Reasoning and Touch of the Beyond, Compulsion can easily be the worst out of the three for you.
Don’t fall for the trap of letting this stay on the table for longer than absolutely necessary. Alter Fate aside you *are* going to lose two actions to it, do it while you are still somewhat in the clear.

Number in the encounter deck: 2

What it does: While Distorted Reasoning is in your threat area, you are no longer able to use the same type of action twice in a row. At the end of each of your turns, you get one chance to discard this curse by passing a willpower test.

My take: Ah, there’s the obligatory treachery with Frozen in Fear’s dreadful timing for discarding it. Can’t make it too easy for those rogues with their 1 and 2 willpower, am i right? Personal trauma aside, this is a great effect for a treachery. It is quite impactful though. At its most basic, it stops you from attacking or investigating twice in a row, limiting how good you are at your primary job. It can also stop you from moving around efficiently, something you will feel especially hard in Shades of Suffering and Without a Trace.
This card does require a bit more attention to detail as usual, as you will need to keep close track of what type of actions you are performing. Especially the “Activate” action can trip you up here. As an example, after using Shrivelling to fight you obviously aren’t allowed to use a Spectral Razor as both would be fighting. However, you also wouldn’t be able to discard Compulsion after using Shrivelling, because both are of type “Activate”. Another example, you would be able to play Shortcut(0) after taking a move action because Shortcut is fast, so it doesn’t count as a an action and also it doesn’t have a bold Move designator. You wouldn’t be allowed to play Astral Travel or activate Sled Dogs afterwards though, as both of them do have the Move designator and count as an action.
Oh, also here’s a “fun fact”: Shades, Dead Heat and Congress of Keys all have both this set and Striking Fear, so if you don’t have at least 3 willpower you better get used to being tied down by Frozen in Fear, Distorted Reasoning, Compulsion or any combination of the three.

Threat level: High. If you aren’t able to pass that willpower test, this will severely hinder you from taking your actions in an efficient manner.

Dealing with it: Well, the line of treacheries with this particular timing for their willpower test are notoriously hard to get rid of for some investigators. And even if you hold an answer like Alter Fate or Logical Reasoning (this is a Terror… being able to discard Distorted Reasoning with Logical Reasoning makes me unreasonably happy) you might be tempted to hold onto that for Frozen in Fear. At least you can play around this card somewhat. Worst case, you’ll have to weave in a resource or draw action inbetween your investigations and moves or an evade between your fights.

Number in the encounter deck: 2

What it does: Touch of the Beyond places a doom token on your most expensive asset. If you have no valid targets, it surges.

My take: As far as variants on Ancient Evils go, this isn’t the worst. It doesn’t advance the agenda as part of its effect, so if you draw it during the “Witching Hour” (the turn before you’d advance anyways) it’s basically free. If the doom is put on an asset that you might want to get rid of before the doom threshold is met, you also get off easy.
That being said, it is still a doom effect that comes bundled with other high impact treacheries that are already slowing you down and in scenarios that are already among the more difficult ones. It’s a weaker Ancient Evils, but you still won’t be happy to see this most of the time.
As a rules note, as far as i am aware an asset with cost “-” can not be considered highest (or lowest) cost because it simply doesn’t have a cost. So if all you have in play while drawing it is a couple Permanent cards (Charisma, Charon’s Obol, Short Supply, etc) then those won’t be getting a doom and Touch of the Beyond will surge instead. Let’s all be thankful for the little things.

Threat level: High. There’s some scenarios with nasty doom clocks using this set, so this card is high impact.

Dealing with it: If you are playing high cost assets with limited charges, you might be in luck and be able to get rid of the offending asset without it costing you much. Otherwise you might have to decide if for example overwriting your doomed asset with a fresh one from your hand is worth it. In Without a Trace and Congress of the Keys, you might even be able to use the asset with the doom token as a hollow when forced to sacrifice something.
Finally, there are of course a couple cards in the Mystic card pool that remove doom or mask it from the agenda threshold. Touch of the Beyond isn’t enough of a reason to play those cards, but if you are already doing so for other reasons, you certainly are well equipped to safely defuse this treachery in many cases.

Dealings in the Dark

Encounter sets in this scenario: Dark Veiling, Agents of Yuggoth, Ancient Evils, Dark Cult, Locked Doors, Midnight Masks Treacheries
Available experience: 5 (locations) + 1 (Umbral Harbinger) +1 (Emissary of Yuggoth) = 7XP

Location: Istanbul/Constantinople
Involved Coterie Members and Keys: Ece Şahin, The Twisted Antiprism
Time spent: 3 or 2 time, depending on whether you have Ece accompany you or not
Nearest other scenarios: Alexandria (1 time), Marrakesh, Tunguska (2 time)

Size of the Encounter Deck33
# Enemies8
# Willpower2
# Agility4
# Doom14
# Damage7
# Horror6
# Concealment12
# Hollow0
Note: The cultists in this scenario collect clues instead of the usual doom. I still counted them under the Doom category here because the purpose is much the same: Provide a timer to race against.

Synopsis: The investigators arrive in Istanbul (formerly known as Constantinople) and meet with Red Coterie member Ece Şahin, who asks the team to help her find The Twisted Antiprism before more sinister forces do. The group can either accept, deny or deceive her. Whatever the choice, the scenario itself plays out the same, as a race for clues between the players and the opposing cult. There’s three distinct parts to Dealings in the Dark: First just a few locations around the Hagia Sophia are available. Then, the search leads towards the Great Bazaar. Finally, with the Key found by either faction, the cultists and the players try to secure the key by bringing it to the docks of Galata.
If successful (depending on their initial choice on how to treat Ece), the players then hand over the key to Ece or keep it for themselves. They also either make an ally out of Ece or not.

My take on this scenario: This is a brilliant scenario driven by great mechanical interactions. Alongside Sanguine Shadows, it’s the one most heavy on concealment, but it uses it in an interesting way to shield the otherwise comparatively fragile cultists from the players. There are basically two timers, with the cultist clue count taking the role of what the doom timer usually does. Meanwhile, doom takes a backseat while still being relevant because it spawns more waves of cultists. The result is a scenario that for most of it similar to Carcosa’s Echoes of the Past, but working much better in terms of creating urgency and making the cultists a credible threat. The third act can get quite mad, with the key changing hands until one faction finally gets out of the city with it.
This is a scenario that feels very long and exhausting to play due to how much is going on. I don’t mean that as a bad thing, but after playing Dealings i am definitely ready for a break in a way that i usually only get from The Secret Name…
This is easily my favorite scenario from the Scarlet Keys, i enjoy it both for the relentless pacing and the unique structure. If i had to make a complaint, it would be about how this scenario isn’t really able to be done with evasion based character as enemy handler. The ability to “evade clues away” from cultists is mostly a trap, you really need to be able to defeat these guys. Of course it’s nothing new that evasion is weak against cultists because it doesn’t do anything against their doom, but the way this scenario spawns wave after wave of them means that even someone like Tony or Mark is going to have to work overtime to wipe all of them from the board. Most unfortunate though is that Kymani, who is actually a TSK investigator, gets hardcountered here. The cultists go back into the shadows after being evaded, so Kymani never gets an opportunity to use their double evade to defeat thing.

Scenario specific encounter sets: Aside from the usual locations, acts etc., the Dealings in the Dark set adds four different cards that are shuffled into the encounter deck. One of them, Shadowed, is actually a reprint from The Forgotten Age, where it already was a quite potent card that combines doom, horror and surge to a package that one is never happy to see. In this scenario, it also gets a damage counterpart in Accosted. Light Out of Void piles on even further, adding more doom, damage and/or horror. Each of those treacheries gets 2 copies. Finally an enemy is added to the deck with 3 copies. The Sinister Aspirant collects a doom every turn, similar to Wizard of the Order (although with different timing) and brings a relevant 3 health to the table, making him less trivial to wipe from the table as most other cultists.

Chaos Tokens: In comparison to some of the nonsense this campaign gets up to, the chaos bag is actually almost tame in this one. Still, that’s only when compared to the rest, this is not an easy bag at all. The skulls scale with the amount of tokens on cultists, capped to -3 (-4 on Hard/Expert). Tablets are pretty rough, with a -3 (-4) and if you fail you have to place one of your clues back on your location. Elder Things are only -2 in all difficulties. On Easy and Standard, failing a test with an ET will add a doom to the nearest Cultist. One Hard and Expert, it will add the doom no matter the outcome. This is a massive ramp up from E/S to H/E. On E/S i would prefer having ET in the bag, but on H/E the tablets seem a bit milder. Finally, the cultist tokens that are added over the course of the campaign are -5(-7), but can be brought down to -1(-3) by putting a doom on a cultist. That is actually fine by itself (at least on E/S), but will potentially stack up with the Elder Thing. In theory there could be 7 tokens in the bag that all add doom to cultists…

Act/Agenda: The scenario is divided into three parts and this is reflected in the act deck, of course. Act 1 covers the hunt for the first 4 clues per investigator, among the initial four locations. When advancing from act 1 to act 2, the two big set aside enemies enter the deck and all players and enemies are moved over to the bazaar, a separate set of six locations. During act 2, the players will have to bring their total clue count up to 8 per investigator. No additional abilities are mentioned on the act cards, but a separate story card handles how doom added to cultists is added as clues instead and how they can collect permanent clues when more than 3 clues are on one enemy. During these first two acts, only one agenda card is active, with a small doom threshold of 4. When met, new cultists will spawn or the cultists will outright gain clues to their story card. Each time the agenda flips, it will trigger an additional time, severely ramping up over the course of the game.
For act 3, the previous act and agenda cards are removed and replaced by a single card, “The Chase”. During the chase, the story card is also flipped to its other side with a new ruleset for moving cultists and them trying to steal the key away from the investigators and fleeing with it. Like agenda 1, the chase resets itself when its threshold is met and increases the pressure on the investigators.

Ece Şahin: This coterie member is on our side for once. During setup, Ece asks for our help in retrieving the Twisted Antiprism and we have the choice of either promising her our help, deceiving her or outright telling her that we will want the key for ourselves. In either of the first two choices, Ece will start in play under an investigator’s control. She is quite powerful, with a significant amount of health and an ability that basically draws an extra card per turn as long as you have keys to shift.

The Umbral Harbinger: This is one of two victory enemies in the encounter deck (the other one being the Emissary of Yuggoth) and the only enemy without Concealed. With 5 health it takes a couple of actions to take out, but its most important ability is putting doom on cultists whenever its being hurt. This will usually result in two or three additional doom tokens. It has low agility, so evading it is an option especially if you are already in act 3. Of course, doing so will forfeit the victory point…

The Cultists: There is seven cultists in the deck. While that doesn’t seem like very many, the scenario also has Mysterious Chanting to fetch them up, several cards that cycle when no cultist is around and of course the recurring effect from the agenda that finds more. So these will constantly enter play and the players will want to stay on top of this threat, defeating these enemies whenever they pop up. Instead of doom they collect clues in this scenario, but ultimately that’s still very similar in that it’s a counter for the players to race against.
The scenario offers players the ability to evade cultists to steal one of their clues, however doing so will return that cultist to the shadows. However, that ability is a bit of a trap. You end up spending many actions on exposing and evading an enemy for just 1 clue which you could’ve gotten easier from a location. And after that you still have that cultist running around which will gather more clues or come after you in the final act.

Treacheries: This is a scenario with Ancient Evils in it, but thankfully it doesn’t (directly) stack up with the cultists. There’s also no reshuffling of the encounter deck, so Evils is rather tame in this. It still does move you towards more waves of cultists, of course.
The encounter deck has quite a bit of damage and horror in it, mostly from the three scenario specific treacheries, but also from Hunting Shadow which is often a difficult choice to make. Of note, the four initial locations have 4i clues among them, the exact number required to advance the act. If you spend a clue on Hunting Shadows, you will need to make up for it either through the ability on the Hagia Sophia or through evading cultists. While we are on the topic of the Midnight Masks treacheries, False Lead is an absolute pain in this scenario and can set you back severely, especially when you have to drop 3 to 4 clues on a shroud 5 or on a Locked Door. I’d argue that the two treacheries from Masks have never been more impactful than in this scenario.
Aside from the doom/clue shenanigans, Dealings of the Dark is of course dominated by the concealment mechanism. Both cards from Dark Veiling are basically just more sources of damage and horror for the pile. Tenebrous Eclipse is more interesting, stopping you from exposing more cards after your first. This is usually only relevant after exposing a decoy, but this scenario has enough enemies in the shadows at the same time that it can matter.

Locations: There’s a lot of locations in this one, at least for a Scarlet Keys scenario. It starts out harmless enough with 4 locations for the initial act. For the second act, another 6 (out of seven possible ones) is added. And for the final act, yet another location comes into play. Since you have to go through all of the bazaar and then also back again, you are going to travel quite a bit in this scenario, making cards like Pathfinder or Sled Dogs very valuable. Of special note is the Hagia Sophia which has the capability of giving you more clues in case you had to give some up to treacheries. This becomes very difficult very fast though. While the first clues are easy to pick up at difficulty 2, the next ones are at 5. And then 8, 11, etc. Realistically, getting more than 2 clues per investigator out of the location will require testless ways like Drawn to the Flame, The Weeping Lady key or Grete Wagner.

Reward and Failure: Depending on how you answered Ece Şahin’s request, your rewards are a bit different. If you decided to help her, the Twisted Antiprism will go to her but you will secure her help for the finale (both the vote and the scenario itself). She’s a rather good ally and she will of course bring her key to the finale as well, so that’s definitely worth considering. Taking this route will make the scenario take 3 time.
If you deceive her, you will steal her key after she helped you in this scenario. In that case she still won’t vote against you in the finale, but she will abstain. Again, this makes the scenario take 3 time.
If you outright refuse her offer, you go into the scenario alone, but are of course able to keep the key for yourself if you succeed. Ece will still vote in your favor this way. Also, the scenario will only take 2 time because you can embark straight after fleeing the Galata docks without having to meet up with Ece first. So this version let’s players sort of have the best of each world, but it will mean that they have to play Dealings without Ece’s support which can be tricky early on.

The Twisted Antiprism is one of the better keys, offering card filtering and draw that is super useful during setup. Shifting it back to Stable requires putting a doom on one of your cards, which can often be done without repercussions if you have assets that you want to get rid of anyways. You can put the doom on an encounter card at your location as well, so if you are about to defeat an enemy or discard a treachery from your threat area, you can get a free flip to Stable out of it, too.
This is also one of the very few scenarios that offers a reasonably high XP payout of up to 7. Getting all of these can be tricky, though. Two VP are hidden inside the encounter deck and you have to find them first. One of the bazaar locations is removed from the game at random, this might bring your possible total down to 6. Finally, the Galata Docks can be very awkward to clear because at that point you are likely already fighting tooth and nail to get out of the scenario. Clearing a 5 shroud location might not be in the cards for you then. Keeping a Drawn to the Flame or Intel Report in your backpocket for that can be a good idea.
Thanks to the decent XP, a useful key, possible support by a powerful ally and the lack of a highpowered coterie enemy, Istanbul makes for a great first scenario after Riddles and Rain.

The Scarlet Keys: A spoiler-free(ish) campaign review


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.

Neutral: Difficulty

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.

Bad: Bugs

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.

Final verdict

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.

Agents of Yuggoth

Set Size4
Number of unique Cards2
RoleConcealment, Enemy
Threat LevelMedium
# of scenarios2
Appears in: Dealings in the Dark, On Thin Ice

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.

Number in the encounter deck: 1

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.

Number in the encounter deck: 3

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.

Single Card Deep Dive: Versatile


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…

Use Cases

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.

Skill boosters

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.

Cancel cards

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.

Equipment Slots

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.

Combo pieces

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…

Good skills

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.

In no particular order:
Geared Up Sefina
Track Shoes Winifred
Crystallizer Joe
Scavenging Mateo
Crystallizer Nate
Pickpocketing Rita
Forced Learning William
Sophist/Red Clock Skids
Cipher Patrice
Joey “The Rat” Tommy

and many, many more!

Closing Words

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.