Irregular Evils #40: Scenario rankings 2022, part IV

The result of last three parts were the rankings of the scenarios within their campaign and putting them into one of five tiers. Next up is ranking the scenarios within their tiers and thus coming to a full list of scenarios against each other.
In case you missed any of the previous ones, here’s the handy list of links for you:
Part 1: Core, Dunwich, Carcosa
Part 2: Forgotten Age, Circle Undone
Part 3: Dream-Eaters, Innsmouth, Edge of the Earth

Instead of more preambles, let me cut straight to the final list.

Scenario rankings 2022

This paints a much clearer picture than the individual campaign rankings, especially for the second and third tier which both have a good number of scenarios in them. For example there’s quite a difference between what i think of Pit and Despair and what i think of Essex Express, despite them both landing in tier 2. Or between Search for Kadath and Thousand Shapes of Horror within tier 3.

Alright then, let’s compare it to last year and see what changed. As a reminder, i did this year’s ranking without looking up stuff from last year, so i do expect some fluctuation for sure.

Scenario rankings 2021

Starting at tier 1, we got three new entries, two of them from Innsmouth. In Too Deep went from middle of tier 2 to tier 1, which makes sense to me. It’s a scenario that proved to be really fun on replays as well, so it only managed to improve on its good first impression. Light in the Fog wasn’t released last year yet. The other one is Unspeakable Oath and i am really not sure why i didn’t put it near the top last time. While it can have it’s outrageous moments (Sign of Hastur…), it’s an extraordinary scenario. Leaving tier 1 are Clutches of Chaos, Point of No Return and Waking Nightmare. Waking Nightmare didn’t fall very far, it’s still at the top of tier 2, but slightly below other first scenarios from other campaigns. Again, this seems right to me. Clutches dropped a bit further down, all the way to #25. I attribute this to both Innsmouth and Edge making the sort of wide map that Clutches has more common. When i made the list last year, having more than 10 locations was almost a novelty and a big thing in Clutches favor. Point of No Return has some fun interactions, but looking at it now, it’s really not tier 1 material. The rest of tier 1 sees some minor reordering, but nothing too wild. The Pallid Mask stays at the top, but followed closely by Oath and Devil Reef.

There’s something that i find interesting about tier 2 right away. At the top of tier 2 are a lot of the introduction scenarios to the campaigns. Curtain Call, Pit of Despair, Ice and Death, Waking Nightmare, Gathering, Extracurricular Activity, they are all in one lump. Witching Hour is a bit further down, but still in the same tier. I guess the campaigns do know how to make an entrance. Compared to last year, the tier 2 is a lot bigger than it used to be. This can partially be attributed to Return to TCU upranking some scenarios and to Innsmouth just being good. But it’s also noticable that a bunch of what made up tier 3 has moved to the bottom of tier 2 now, scenarios like Essex Express, Phantom of Truth or Witching Hour. So maybe i was just a bit more generous this time around with where i drew the line.

This impression of maybe being a bit more generous continues through the last three tiers, with all of them being a bit more weighted towards the better tier. Note that this doesn’t have to be a fault of the process, it’s a valid conclusion to take from this that i might just like the game more as a whole than i did last year! Search for Kadath deserves a special mention here because i do actually think that i treated it a bit unfairly last year. It does have its annoyances from the midgame setups and general weirdness, but it’s not a bad scenario at all. I put it straight at the top of tier 3 this year and that seems like a much better place for it. Similarly, Dim Carcosa is a bit dull in my opinion, but it doesn’t deserve to be put into the company of scenarios like Gates of Sleep or Echoes of the Past that are truly boring.

Not much changed at the bottom, but it should be noted that Return to TCU did indeed save Before the Black Throne. I think it’s perfectly fine now.

Bonus round

Okay, here’s one more thing. I apologize for the colors in advance, i know that this looks absolutely ridiculous:

Scenario rankings by campaign

So what’s this? This is the scenario rankings 2022, but i replaced each scenario name with the name of its campaign. Then i gave every campaign its own color for a first impression. Then, i also calculated the average placement for each campaign.

What we end up with is Innsmouth and Carcosa at the top, with average rankings of 19.5 and 22.25. This should come as little surprise, after all these two campaigns are responsible for 7 of the 9 scenarios i put in tier 1. Forgotten Age follows with 28.7, quite a bit behind the first two, but still noticeably ahead of the following one. NotZ, Dunwich and Circle are all quite close, in the 33.0 range give or take a bit. (Of course NotZ is an outlier here with only three scenarios to its name, so it probably shouldn’t even be included in this comparison, but whatever. It’s not like i am doing science here, this is just messing around with numbers). Way behind the rest, we got Dream-Eaters and Edge of the Earth at the bottom. I was actually shocked to see Edge even below Dream-Eaters, considering the low opinion i have of Dream-Eaters… but it is what it is.

Now, we shouldn’t jump to conclusions here of course. Especially when it comes to Edge of the Earth, i don’t think it looks all that grim. This exercise only looks at the individual scenarios, not at the campaign as a whole. And EotE certainly has a very strong campaign structure that makes up for it’s individually mediocre scenarios. In a similar vein, Innsmouth might have the strongest set of scenarios, but its campaign is sadly very linear and loses a lot of its strengths on replaying it. At the same time, TFA has a great campaign structure as well, with different routes to take, lots of choices to make and scenarios changing depending on these choices. So this “result” up there is not at all how i would rank the campaigns among each other, there’s more to it than just having good scenarios. (For the record, my current campaign ranking would be RtTFA > RtPTC > TIC >>>> EotE > RtTCU > RtTDL >> TDE > NotZ, with a very large difference between TIC and EotE. Those top three campaigns are completely in a class of their own compared to the others.)

That’s Numberwang!

And thus ends the scenario rankings 2022. Thanks for checking it out, see you next year.

Irregular Evils #39: Scenario rankings 2022, part III

Welcome back to the scenario rankings.
I’ll just post the tier scale again, then get right into it:

Today’s entry will have the rankings for Dream-Eaters, Innsmouth and Edge of the Earth. The common thread between them is that these are the campaigns that do not have a Return To box yet, so I’ll just be looking at the base campaigns.

Looking at the ranking for Dream-Eaters, the immediately obvious thing here is how much higher i think of Web of Dreams than of The Dream-Quest. The ones i put into tier 2 are all from the B side of the campaign, with only Search for Kadath coming close from campaign A. To be fair, Search for Kadath is at the top end of the tier 3 though. But it’s been frustrating me often enough that i didn’t feel like putting it in the green. It does a lot of things that i like, but the fiddly mid-play setups and the frequent reshuffling let it down. Despite them having the same tier, there’s a big gulf between Search for Kadath and the other two scenarios i put into tier 3, Thousand Shapes of Horror and Dark Side of the Moon. Those two actually rank near the bottom of tier 3, as they are often rather uninteresting or (in the case of Dark Side) can be too punishing towards certain investigators. They both have some cool mechanics and interactions that i didn’t want to just shove them into tier 4 where i put the actual boring/frustrating scenarios. In this case, that means Where the Gods Dwell which destroys all good will that its novel boss mechanic would earn by having an utterly ridiculous doom clock and a random uninteresting first half that just straight up shouldn’t exist. Also at the bottom is Beyond the Gates of Sleep, possibly Arkham’s most boring scenario on replays. There’s just nothing happening here. You walk a few locations in a straight line without even an encounter deck, then come to a clearing with a few locations around it and investigate them all. It’s carried by story on the first and second plays, but after that there’s just nothing here. It truly puts me at the gates of sleep.
Saving Dream-Eater’s honor are the three scenarios at the top. Waking Nightmare scores with a creepy setting and an innovative (though slightly fiddly) gimmick. I also have a thing for spider enemies, so there’s that. I view Point of No Return as a better Search for Kadath. You investigate a large area that unlocks only piece by piece, but you do it without having to setup the game again in the middle. It also has some cool stuff going on with its enemies, playing off some interactions between ghouls, gugs and ghasts and also features the Slithering Dhole as a recurring enemy. Weaver of the Cosmos is the most gimmicky gimmick that ever gimmicked up an Arkham scenario, but it works. The fight is a bit easy for a finale, but there’s just no way i could ever dislike the rotating spider-god.

Yep. I like The Innsmouth Conspiracy‘s scenarios a whole lot. I mentioned this plenty times before, but i do like Arkham the most when i get to investigate large maps and when the scenarios feature randomization that keeps replays interesting. After all, i did put The Pallid Mask as my #1 last year because it excels at exactly those two things. Well, Innsmouth is basically “Pallid Mask: The campaign” with its Tidal Tunnels making sure that most scenarios have some of those randomization elements and of course plenty of room to explore. I also really like the design behind the Deep One enemies, they are one of the few cases where fighting vs. evading becomes a situational thing and you actually have to think a bit and plan ahead. At the top, there’s Devil Reef, a scenario that i hear a lot of people talk very negatively about. But in my book, the layered randomization (first into islands, then into locations within those islands) is just great. Coupled with a simple but interesting movement mechanic (the boat), getting around this scenario requires some thought. The layout changes considerably based on where the Underwater Caverns land, etc etc. And there’s a fancy boss around. I love it. In Too Deep isn’t randomized, but there are different ways to approach moving around Innsmouth and there’s a bunch of stuff in the encounter deck that can make you have to improvise while a horde of fish monsters is on your tail. Vanishing of Elina Harper’s central investigation is super interesting. Narrowing down your suspects and leads makes for good drama every time. Light in the Fog is this campaign’s Unspeakable Oath, coupling high stakes with a lengthy trip around its map. It’s not quite as good as Oath (few scenarios are), but this is still always a thrilling scenario. It also uses some really cool interactions in its encounter deck with the Nurses, Hatchlings and Deep One Assault making sure you are never quite safe.
Pit of Despair is one of the best intro scenarios to any campaign. This is a quick and dangerous one and i see it on a level with Curtain Call and Untamed Wilds, both in quality and difficulty. Horror in High Gear is another quick one. It’s quite suspenseful which saves it from being ranked lower, but i do have an issue with it. It often feels like the scenario is playing me instead of the other way round. This is a scenario where the players often just react to what’s happening without much of their own agency. For a single scenario that doesn’t take too long this is fine though and even a nice change of pace. Closing out the ranking for Innsmouth are actually the last two scenarios of the campaign. Lair of Dagon’s curse integration doesn’t really feel great to me. I feel reminded of TCU’s Union and Disillusion in how different this scenario hits depending on your investigators. Into the Maelstrom has some really cool parts to it. I like the double Elder Ones and that you try to achieve your goal before they awaken. Having to reverse the flood makes a lot of thematic sense after being pushed around by the flood tokens all campaign. There’s a lot to like here… except it’s all really, really easy. A bit of a shame really. Still, both Lair and Maelstrom aren’t all that terrible, but after what came before it feels like Innsmouth didn’t quite manage to stick the landing after a really impressive first half.

This was really difficult to do. Edge of the Earth is carried hard by its campaign structure, the interludes and from having effects persist from one scenario to the next. As a result, i for example had a fantastic time playing the Ice and Death trilogy for the first time. However, this doesn’t really translate well to what i am doing here, evaluating each scenario for itself and Ice and Death is a really good example of that. Part I is clearly the best one, where you do the most part of exploring the map and setting yourself up for the following ones. Compared to part I, part II is really not all that interesting. You have only little time and poke at some locations, hoping to randomly find the correct facedown cards. It makes sense in context, but as a scenario there’s very little here. Ice and Death III has a bit more meat to its bones with all the fighting and some different options on how to tackle the Seeping Nightmares, so that’s not all that bad. Like part II, the part III is laser focused on just one thing, though. This can leave some investigators without much of a job. Forbidden Peaks can lead to some frustration due to how all-or-nothing it is with regards to failing it or not. There are enough cool things happening here that i can’t justify putting it into tier 4, though. Between the appearance of the Terror in the Stars and the challenge of having to conserve actions for managing the story assets, there are some things here that i find genuinely interesting. City of the Elder Things gives us not only one, but three different layouts for a huge randomized map. There’s even a second layer of randomization here with the tokens on the locations. Having to find pairs of tokens for bonus effects is a good mechanic, i like that a lot. What keeps me from throwing this into the same tier as other “huge map” scenarios like Pallid Mask or Devil Reef is the encounter deck, though. I generally find the enemies in Edge of the Earth quite uninteresting and a big step back from Innsmouth’s Deep Ones. The penguins are fine and two versions of the City even have the Shoggoths, but aside from that there’s not a whole lot going on here that we haven’t seen many times before. Heart of Madness I and II is a fine finale. The seals from part 1 do make the part 2 quite easy, though. I don’t really see a reason to ever skip part 1 unless you are really worried about losing another random crew member before the final scenario. The final enemy is weird, but i kinda like it. You really don’t want to be stuck there without someone that can evade really well, though.
Finally there’s Fatal Mirage, which i don’t like very much. It’s very formulaic and repetitive, a huge sin for a scenario that you are meant to replay even within the same campaign. At my third replay of Edge of the Earth i was already sick of Fatal Mirage and just didn’t do it. That being said, it does have some cool locations that are worth exploring until you’ve seen them all so i’d at least settle it somewhere near the top of its tier.

Irregular Evils #38: Scenario rankings 2022, part II

Alright, let’s continue our scenario rankings. If you missed it, check out part I HERE.
Also, to repeat just the most important stuff, here’s the tier scale again:

Also, remember that this includes the Return to, whenever possible.
… Enough chit-chat, let’s go.
Today we got TFA and TCU, both scenarios that have been changed a lot by the Return To box, much more so than RtDunwich (which is mostly bugfixes) and RtCarcosa (which is mostly just some neat encounter sets and little else).

I am an outspoken fan of The Forgotten Age and particularly of Return to TFA. Without the Return, there’d be a lot of yellow in here (and Boundary even lower), but Return pushes everything up a tier or two. On the top sits Threads of Fate, one of the most loved scenarios in the wider community. I don’t think i need to justify this more, it’s a fantastic scenario that changes depending on your campaign state and allows you to manipulate which roads down the campaign you want to follow. Untamed Wilds has a bad reputation because it’s one of those scenarios where Ancient Evils can randomly mess you up, but i find that happens very rarely (at least at 2 players) and i do enjoy this one a lot actually. A short and sweet bout of exploration and then the final conflict with Ichtaca. I deeply appreciate having to make my story choices ingame instead of during the setup/resolution/interlude walls of text. Depths of Yoth has one thing it does well and it does it so well that the Return didn’t even see a need to fudge with it. City of Archives used to be a scenario that i despised, but again the Return saved it with more options for objectives, making it a bit easier and introducing player choice. Great! Shattered Aeons i fail more often than i win it, but since its a finale that works for me. Some story threads are resolved here, you get opportunities for last minute twists and it features a bunch of iconic locations and weird enemies that make it memorable. Boundary Beyond used to be a hellscape of failure and misery, but the updated exploration makes it much more reasonable and i quite like it now. A good amount of diversity in locations, a nice selection of encounter cards capped off by a boss (and mini-boss!) that tempt you with XP if you are willing to also take some Vengeance. All very neat. Doom of Eztli has basically been reinvented by the Return, which is a definite improvement, but compared to what the campaign has to offer otherwise it lags behind. HotE#1 gets a lot of ill will by the community that i don’t necessarily share. It’s a small map with a bunch of Hunters. That’s it. Nothing too special but it’s short enough that it doesn’t overstay its welcome… as long as you don’t have to repeat it. I never had to 😉 Finally, there’s HotE#2 which commits the same sin as Carcosa’s Echoes of the Past: It’s just boring. It doesn’t need to exist, it achieves nothing, it’s just there. Big meh.

I talked a lot about the Return changes for TFA because of how influential they are and a similar thing is true for Circle Undone, at least for a couple of the scenarios. But let me start at the bottom for this one to get it out of the way. Wages of Sin is in my opinion the worst scenario in the game and the Return doesn’t really change that. It’s a scenario that is so damn random and hard that you would usually be glad to get two Heretics, often even resigning after only one. Barely. And the Return asks you to get three Heretics and then give up the XP for them to get anything out of it. It’s … it’s just a bad joke, honestly. Anyways, moving on.
Two of the scenarios in the green saw good improvements from the Return. Greater Good now can have an additional location connection that makes moving around the mansion easier to do. It’s always been one of the better TCU scenarios and i felt like putting it on the top now. The Return to Secret Name profited massively from the exchange of many willpower cards with agility cards. It’s still a very exhausting affair, but much more interesting due to the diversity in challenges. Witching Hour i always though was good, i actually like the gimmick of splitting up the party. The Return stuff is challenging to do, but much more achievable than what’s waiting in Wages. However, if you fail to get the three Heretics in Wages, your work in Witching Hour is undone, so … it’s kinda back to ground zero with the Return stuff. Might as well ignore it in the first place. Clutches of Chaos is a scenario i like quite a lot, with its large map and running around for clues and closing rifts. Used to be my favorite TCU scenario, but it got little more than a set of locations from the Return, while Greater Good and Secret Name both got some significant improvement.
Union and Disillusion is where a lot of story threads come together and to a conclusion, so it should’ve been a grand thing that blows you away. And it tries, with the circle tests as a cool central mechanic and the final showdown with the Watcher as huge story beat. But for me, it always ends up a bit too random for my tastes with some investigators just being unable to do certain locations while others just breeze through it. In true TCU fashion, this is also a long and exhausting one sometimes so i am not always looking forward to dive into it. Before the Black Throne was massively improved by the Return. It used to be an absolute crapshoot of a scenario where you are basically just the punching bag of the doom clock and the encounter deck. Now, this is not completely gone, but the removal of Ancient Evils from here is great and so is the introduction of the Nightgaunt Steeds which act as a safety valve against bad layouts. It’s still a flawed scenario that relies on the doom clock for drama too much, but it’s much more bearable on the Return. I’d go as far and actually call it fair now. Finally, there’s Death’s Doorstep, a scenario that is built around the Haunted mechanic. I don’t like Haunted, so that makes me dislike Doorstep. I realize it’s not a bad scenario and the thing about saving the cultists is even really cool. But i find it hard to get over some of the annoyance i get from all the Haunted nonsense you get bombarded with here and i also really don’t like the Watcher all that much.


Irregular Evils #37: Scenario rankings 2022, part I

In early 2021, about a year ago, i did a three part post where i ranked all scenarios against each other in one big list. To get there, i used a certain methodology where i first put everything into tiers, then rank everything within their tier. I think that was a fun thought experiment, so i am making it a recurring thing. When i did that last list, Innsmouth was only released partially. Edge of the Earth didn’t exist yet and neither did the Return to Circle Undone. So there’s easily enough new content to put into context here.

If you missed the 2021 rankings or want to reread them, here’s the links:
Part I – ranking NotZ, Dunwich and Carcosa
Part II – ranking TFA, TCU and TDE
Part III – full ranking

So let’s get right into it. The first step is going over each campaign, ordering their scenarios by preference and then assigning one of five tiers to each scenario:

When doing this, i didn’t look at my old rankings, i tried to go at it with a fresh mind. Obviously that is not entirely possible, but i tried to.
As you can see, this already contains some spoilers for what’s coming up. In total, 60 scenarios are being ranked. About a third make up the middle tier. Another third makes up tier 2. Half of the final third is tier 1. The rest sits at the bottom. I only put 3 scenarios into the tier 5, to get there i would need to actively dread having to play it. Luckily, that happens very rarely.
So this is clearly weighed heavily towards the positive side, but that shouldn’t surprise anyone. After all, i really like this game and enjoy it immensely. Of course more scenarios would end up in the green than in the red.

One final important thing before i start: Whenever possible, i am talking about the Return to a campaign here, because that’s what i actually play. So for anything up to Circle Undone, i am looking at the Return scenarios, for everything from Dream-Eaters on it’s the base campaign.

Let’s kick things off with Night of the Zealot. This one is rather easy, as there are only three scenarios here. The Gathering and Midnight Masks are much beloved scenarios that immediately did a lot of things right. With the Return To, The Gathering became a fully grown scenario that doesn’t have to hide from what we get in current expansions. They have both been iterated on in later campaigns, especially Masks has been effectively made obsolete by Threads of Fate. This is why they don’t go into Tier 1, but they are both super solid still and i occasionally put Return To The Gathering into other campaigns as a standalone side scenario.
Devourer Below though… is one of the worst scenarios in the game. It’s utterly frustrating and the Return To actually puts more rage inducing nonsense on top of what’s already there. This scenario would maybe make sense as the finale of a full 8 part campaign where investigators enter with 40+XP and prepared to the max… but in the Core Set this is just irredeemable.

Moving on to the first expansion for the game, we have The Dunwich Legacy. Dunwich has some early game kinks that still needed to be ironed out, but the Return To actually did some heavy lifting here. What is left is a campaign that has something on every part of the spectrum. Lost in Time and Space is in my opinion still the best campaign finale. It’s ridiculously alien with the locations coming from the encounter deck and the board just being in constant flux. It’s also tough as nails, as a finale should be. On the other end there’s Undimensioned and Unseen, a scenario that is as tedious as it is random. Hope you brought a high willpower investigator or you might as well resign turn 1. And if you did, prepare to wait for randomly moving enemies making it finally into the right positions. Ugh. Making up for this misstep there’s Blood on the Altar, an excellent version of the classic “investigate these locations while enemies are about” Arkham gameplay that also has two brilliant twists in store. There’s Essex Express, which might just be the most memorable scenario in the game. As i like to say, everyone has an Essex story. Usually a gruesome one. Essex is also the blueprint for a couple other newer scenarios, none of which quite reached the original. Again, the Return improves it a lot. Extracurricular Activity is in my opinion an even better introduction into the game than Gathering, as it not only features a big map with lots of Arham-y stuff to do, but also a choice in how you want to end and repercussions from that choice. Choosing your destiny is an integral Arkham campaign feature in my opinion and never as well implemented again as it is here. Gathering is for teaching yourself how to play, but Extracurricular Activity is for teaching others and showcase what this game has in store. I always had a soft spot for Miskatonic Museum and its “One Enemy” gimmick. Sadly the base version is a bit broken and can fall flat, but the Return fixes it into something i quite enjoy. House Always Wins is very cool when you play it the first few times, but falls off massively on replays. Where Doom Awaits has some good beats in it, but i don’t find it very enjoyable. It’s a bit too boring and linear for my tastes, i expect more from the scenario that leads into the finale.

The Path to Carcosa is when the game hit its full potential for the first time and is still considered the favorite campaign of many players. While i don’t quite share that exact sentiment(Carcosa is only #3 for me), there is no denying that Carcosa has a lot of really good scenarios in it. One third of the scenarios i assigned to Tier 1 come from this campaign. The Pallid Mask was even my favorite scenario in ’21. Is it still? We’ll see. But that combination of a wide map, randomized locations to explore and a diverse encounter deck that challenges you in lots of ways is really Arkham at it’s best for me. Unspeakable Oath is one of the most thematically dense scenarios and an absolute nail biter. I like the setting a lot and playing this scenario is just exciting again and again. The Last King takes the crown when it comes to being flavorful and eccentric. This scenario is so wildly different from everything else, it has no right to work as well as it does. Also you can approach it in different ways, from sweet-talking the guests to just carving everyone up with a chainsaw. Mmmmh. Greatness.
Curtain Call is close behind and probably the best opener for a campaign. A lot is happening here and the players are dragged into the craziness that is Carcosa from the start. It’s also quite difficult, which i like. Phantom of Truth barely makes the Tier 2, but i think it still belongs there. Chasing the Organist around is a lot more fun than being chased by him, though. Basically, one version of the scenario belongs in the green, the other in the yellows. Black Stars Rise and Dim Carcosa, the two final scenarios of the campaign are … okay. I am not really all that impressed by Dim Carcosa, especially on replays i think it’s a bit too gimmicky. Black Stars gimmick does work very well, though. I just find it a bit too easy. Speaking of easy, Echoes of the Past is just boring. A long drawn out affair where you play whack-a-mole with cultists that are popping up around the building. The lack of a hard doom clock encourages players to play ultra safe and commit no risks, and as a result it draaaaags on foooooreeeeever.

<End of part I, to be continued soon>

Irregular Evils – #36: My thoughts on Edge of the Earth

Hey everyone. We had some time now to spend with the latest campaign release for Arkham and opinions have actually been a bit divisive. From what i gathered the community response is a lot more muted than for Innsmouth. It’s still mostly positive, mind you.
In any case, i figured i’d write down my own thoughts on the expansion. Some things that i liked, others that i liked less. Note that this largely leaves aside the story telling bit. That’s just something i don’t care too much about in the long run. It’s great for the first two plays, but i am someone that replays campaigns over and over and no story will be able to withstand that. Fwiw, i liked Edge well enough in that regard. But when i play now, i basically skip most of the pages and pages and pages and pages and pages and pages and pages of story text. It is what it is.

Good: Persistance

The Edge campaign has a variety of effects that follow the player from one scenario to the next. You pick up Tekeli-li weaknesses that are added to your deck, leading to a delayed effect that might not come into play until a scenario or two later. The chaos bag fills up with Frost tokens over time and in reaction to certain events, haunting players for the rest of the campaign. Both Tekeli-li and Frost also offer ways to players to counteract them, with effects on locations and offered by partners to mitigate the consequences or straight up remove the offending cards and tokens. Both Ice and Death and Fatal Mirage have sprawling maps that are not meant to be explored fully in just one scenario, but over the course of multiple plays. As a result of all these things the scenarios feel tightly connected throughout the campaign and the challenge presented to the players posed by them is an interesting one.

Bad: Punishing loss

Something that i always liked in Arkham is that it allows players to fail forward. If i fail a scenario in Gloomhaven, i have to repeat it until i win to move on. In Arkham i take the loss, some consequence and move on. This leads to great stories along the way. However, this is a bit of an issue in the first half of Edge of the Earth, as failing scenarios in Ice and Death or Forbidden Peaks can leave you way too battered and broken afterwards. Winning Forbidden Peaks will give you around 12XP and up to 5 very powerful story assets. Losing it will lose you all of those and whatever partner assets you had with you. The swing is just too much, undoing what you achieved in Ice and Death (by trashing the assets you dug out) and sending you to the City of the Elder things with little more than 10XP in total. Unspeakable Oath at least had the decency of killing you off, Peaks will ask you to still drag yourself through the rest of the campaign without much of a chance to get anywhere.

Good: Partner assets

There’s a wide variety of partners in the expedition team, all with their own abilities and story bits. Replays vary quite a bit by who was killed randomly and who is still available. This means that one playthrough you might have to live without Claypool and really need to work on keeping those Frost tokens away while in another those might be less of an issue but you find physical trauma stacking up over time from story effects after losing Mala. This gives replayability and adds some extra teeth to the campaign because it will ask players to react to what happens instead of being able to just do their thing unimpeded. Fatal Mirage allows players some limited amount of protecting their favorite team mates by turning them resolute, which is at least something. The memorial cards you can get when a partner dies add yet another facet to this. I find all of these multiple layers around the partners very interesting to think about while playing.

Bad: Uninteresting enemies

Innsmouth had some of my favorite enemy designs with the Deep Ones being a standout. Their engagement effects coupled with their stats made it often non-obvious how to deal with them. There were also plenty of interesting story enemies with wild effects around. I am a bit sad then to see how much of a step back Edge of the Earth is. Tekeli-li cards are cool, but they completely overtook the enemy design here. The eidolons are rather boring statwise and only notable because they add weaknesses. The elder things aren’t much better, they actually play almost identical to the eidolons except in how they interact with the weaknesses. At least the penguins and shoggoths are cool, i suppose.

Not Bad, Not Good either: No stinker scenarios, but also no standouts

More than other campaigns, Edge of the Earth feeds a lot off of its campaign structure. The scenarios taken for themselves aren’t all that great, at least in my opinion. To be fair, there’s no real awful scenario here either… it’s just all on the upper end of average? The high point and only possible exception to this for me is City of the Elder Things. I have a thing for big sprawling maps and this is just that. The gimmick with the keys is also great. On the low end there’s Fatal Mirage which seems to drag on fooooreeeeveeeer. And then you might feel like doing it multiple times. I was over this scenario on my first playthrough, replaying the campaign for the Xth time makes Fatal Mirage just something you have to slog through. The rest of the scenarios is okay. Ice and Death 1 is good. 2 and 3 are mediocre on their own. As a whole unit they work well enough. Peaks is an iteration on Essex, something we’ve seen a few times now. It’s a good iteration but still feels a bit derivative to me. Heart of Madness looks like the sort of thing i should like with its huge map, but somehow it didn’t really grip me much. Can’t even put my finger on it. I think it’s just too disjointed from the rest of the campaign for a finale? It’s also kinda easy and the boss isn’t really a boss. It’s just not what i expect from a campaign finale, i probably would’ve liked this one a lot more if there was more coming afterwards.
In conclusion, my feelings for EotE are basically the opposite to Innsmouth. Innsmouth has an absolutely fantastic roster of scenarios, held together by a weak linear campaign structure with unconvincing flashbacks mechanics. Edge has a well orchestrated campaign and very cool and inventive framework, but the scenarios themselves are nothing to write home about.

Conclusion

I have no problems with replaying Edge multiple times more. It’s not like it’s bad. But it’s also a step back from Innsmouth. It’s also in various parts very similar to TFA, a comparison that Edge also loses. If i had to rank the available campaigns right now, it’d look something like this:
1. Return to TFA
2. Innsmouth
3. Return to Carcosa
4. Edge of the Earth
5. Return to Circle Undone
6. Return to Dunwich
7. Dream-Eaters
With a rather big gap between Carcosa and Edge. The top three are really in another league when compared to the bottom four in my book. Edge is on the wrong side of the divide, but at least it is the best of the rest. That’s something?

Top 10: My favorite encounter artwork

Introduction: Okay, one more Top 10 list to go before i go back to the usual encounter review shenanigans that this site is actually meant for 😉 To close out the triplet of lists where i just want to share some of my favorite cards, here’s the one for encounter artworks. Obviously this is as subjective as it gets. I know nothing about “art” or how “well done” something is. These are pieces on cards that stuck out to me for some reason or another and that i like looking at whenever i return to that particular campaign. As before, i am sure i missed a lot of contenders as well. There’s like 700 cards, and picking 10 out of them isn’t trivial.

#10: Malformed Skeleton. As far as i am aware this is the only skeleton enemy in the game right now. But they went all out on this one, an enormous thing with many heads, a snakelike body made of rib cages and limbs of all sorts sticking in all directions. This piece really has a whole lot going on and makes the enemy appear a whole lot more dangerous than it ends up being in the end.

#9: Grasping Hands. Probably my favorite from the Core Set, it’s just a very iconic scene. I grew up on lots and lots of horror movies and this is just so utterly familiar. Of course you can’t have a horde of zombies/ghouls break into your house without them clawing at you through the walls and floor boards.

#8: Daemonic Piping. The Circle Undone has a couple artworks that deviate from the usual fantastical, slightly comic-y style that Arkham monster art usually goes for and that instead dive head-first into more grotesque stuff. Daemonic Piping is the best of them, which makes sense considering how much more often we see it than the Piper itself or say, a Mindless Dancer.

#7: Somniphobia. Confession time: I should’ve put this one on the list for most unsettling treacheries. But i forgot about it because i don’t play Dream-Eaters that often. However, it does belong on this list as well. Something about the colors in this one just appeals to me. Dream-Eaters has another card, Night Terrors, that is themed and framed very similarly, but in my opinion that one doesn’t hold a candle to Somniphobia. Creepy, great colors, sticks in your mind.

#6: Beast of Aldebaran. Turns out that not every creature artwork needs to be dark greys and browns. I don’t have anything too substantial to say about the art on this one, except that it sticks out from most of the other art by how bright it is. It shows us the monster in all its snakey glory and while doing so it also shows us some of the spires of Carcosa, with the twin suns in the back ground. For a recurring enemy this sets some of the themes of the campaign whenever it appears, but of course especially during the final scenarios where we can easily imagine this thing sitting around the Abbey Tower or on top of the King’s Palace.

#5: Vengeful Serpent. Well, turns out that my favorite snakepeople artwork is also on my favorite snakepeople card. To be honest, it might very well be that my fondness for the card in general makes me appreciate this artwork more than it would’ve otherwise. But i do really like this one, shown in an action pose with swords drawn. It’s also that most of the other serpentfolk in TFA are just looking goofy. Pit Warden and Serpent of Tenochtitlan are pretty much the only ones i like from the base campaign, so getting a proper one here is good. I especially like the head and neck, which look much more snakelike here than the pretty much human ones seen on Harbinger of Brood of Yig.

#4: Constance Dumaine (monster version). The Last King is a scenario that is blessed with tons of great art, and of course the six main guests stick out among them because they actually get two pieces of art showing off their transformation from innocent bystander to monster. Constance Dumaine is the one of them i like the most by a long shot, something about the style she’s drawn in, the color and the lighting does it for me here. Her monster art is quite horrifying, with her bloody mess of an open rib cage she’s a lot more than we usually see in this game. Hands you your first real welcome to the sort of stuff that Carcosa pulls on the player: Things aren’t always what they appear at first, also this can get a bit ghastly at times. Her flavor text is very, very appropriate.

#3: Eager for Death. The use of the Whippoorwills as harbingers of death was probably the most eerie thing that H.P. Lovecraft did in the Dunwich Horror. It’s great then that FFG absolutely nailed that part when they made the Dunwich Legacy. I’ve talked at other parts of this site before about how much i appreciate that the flavor and gameplay of the Whippoorwill set works so well together, but of course the art plays a huge part as well. This scene with the woods being full of these birds is quite spooky and just well done with the different layers (foreground, middle, back) to the image. And the ones in the front seem to be particularly interested in us, the viewer. I hear that’s bad luck…

#2: The Rougarou. Werewolves in media have it rough. They look goofy on film and even in images, most depictions of them are laughable. And if we’re being fair there are also some questionable ones in the Curse of the Rougarou pack. Not so with this artwork, which rightly is used for the card of the monster itself. It doesn’t look goofy in the slightest, this is a vicious wolf creature that is about to tear you apart. It’s wild, it’s primal and a complete force of nature. No #TeamJacob nonsense here. One of the best werewolves i’ve seen.

#1: Crazed Guest. If you thought Last King wouldn’t be able to shock you anymore, check out Return to Last King. Crazed Guest has much of the same things going for her that Constance Dumain has, but with one addition: Just look at her. Look at the pure FUN this girl is having.
The art on Crazed Guest manages to walk that fine line between horror and camp that Arkham Horror thrives on when it’s at its best. On the one hand, we have a very graphic scene here of a dead body, the killer with his heart still in her hands, blood is everywhere.
But then, this is at the same time so over the top that it makes me laugh. The facial expression of the girl. The dutch angle. That one foot we see of the person fleeing off-panel. Never has someone worn the trait “Lunatic.” with such pride and joy. This girl cracks me up.

Final words: There’s something that surprised me here and that is the high number of enemy cards in this list. Compared to treacheries, enemy cards are just at a disadvantage when it comes to artwork because there is so little room for it and it’s in a very awkward and squished format. That being said, there are certainly cards where the treachery frame with its over intrusive “wings” on the side has stood in the way of the artwork. This is really apparent if you ever made some custom cards yourself and try to fit existing art into frames, but you can also see it on cards like Maddening Delusions, which takes a well-known and liked piece of art and completely butchers it.

That The Last King made the list twice isn’t really a surprise, that scenario is just a banger in all regards. What is surprising though is that both Constance Dumaine and Crazed Guest are from the same artist. Here’s Andreia Ugrai’s ArtStation, where you can also find a full artwork of monster Constance. None of the Crazed Guest sadly.

Aaaaand that’s it for my little Top 10 detour. Hope you liked it. I had fun doing these and reading the responses and discussions it spawned. Even learned some stuff. I had some more ideas for lists, but for now i am going to back to my usual stuff. Edge of the Earth arrived on my doorstep last week and i finished the first playthrough already. Instead of doing lists, which was just meant as a filler, i’ll be looking to use my Arkham time to get another play in. It’s a fun campaign and i want to head back in 😉 There’ll surely be more filler time later this year when i run out of official stuff again.

Top 10: My favorite treacheries

Introduction: Here’s part two of the totally non-controversial set of “Favorite” lists for the christmas holidays. Following the favorite enemies, it’s now time for the favorite treacheries, of course. Again, this is based on card mechanics or their place in their respective scenarios and not artwork. That’s going to be the third list, coming very soon. 😉

#10: Deep One Assault. Many campaigns have a treachery in their ranks that seem to pop up all the time and that have enough of an impact to be sort of the signature treachery for that campaign. Taken to its extreme, you get something like Beyond the Veil, but Deep One Assault is not quite that oppressive. What it does ensure though is a consistent flood of fishpeople and that all those Hunters or evaded enemies have an edge on the players. Can be quite rough in some scenarios (In Too Deep and Light in the Fog are probably the worst) but aside from those, the card plays an important part. It’s absolutely a love/hate relationship, though!

#9: Rites Howled. Taken for itself it’s not all that impressive really. Even if you play Dunwich a lot, you would be forgiven having to look up the card. What i like about it is its interaction with weaknesses in the player decks. I think more treacheries should do something like that.

#8: Captive Mind. The City of Archives is a strange scenario, so it’s appropriate that it has some cards in it that work differently from what we are used to. The one i appreciate most of them is Captive Mind, which uses skill tests in a way that has not been repeated since then (i think?).

#7: Endless Descent. I am not a huge fan of the full scenario, but the last bit of Thousand Shapes of Horror is quite cool. Whenever this game does something unusual with locations, i usually like it, so this ever expanding stair case is right in my wheelhouse. Of course, when you play the actual scenario, this card can be hella frustrating. But there’s no doubt that it is interesting!

#6: Kidnapped! One of the few treacheries that can have repercussions beyond the scenario it is in, this can snatch up something from your deck for the rest of the campaign. This was a huge deal when Dunwich was fresh and even today it’s one of the cards that sparks some stories. Got to respect that.

#5: Morbid Awareness. Another cute mechanic that hasn’t been reused since. There’s something bad in a location and the closer you are to it, the worse the treachery is going to hit you. Stay far enough away and you can resist it more easily. I just think that’s neat, one of these rare cases where some theme translates perfectly into more abstract game rules.

#4: The Shadow Behind You. Speaking of hilarious things to translate into game text… “Action: You Look Behind You” is just a great line. Of course it helps that the card also plays really well, giving the player some decisions about whether to just take it now or spend actions to delay it.

#3: Terror From Beyond. The Peril keyword has been around since the core set, but this is the first time that it is used to let one player make a choice based on imperfect information. And it’s a banger of a card, making all other players sweat bullets while the one who drew it considers their options. High drama, high impact and creates stories. A recipe for a good and memorable treachery.

#2: Painful Reflection. I don’t have much love for the Return to Carcosa box, but the replacement set for Striking Fear is just excellent. Most of all Painful Reflection, a card that sits in your threat area and taunts you. Do you play other events to bait it? What if it doesn’t trigger? So just play what you were going to? But that might counter it! There’s a lot of mindgames with this card and the beautiful part is that it’s mindgames you have with yourself. If that’s not appropriate for Carcosa, then what is?

#1: Ancient Evils. Anyone surprised by this being my top pick hasn’t been paying attention. The doom counter is a very integral part of the game, a fail condition that makes sure that games don’t take forever and that players don’t durdle around. Turns are limited and so are actions. The doom clock is what gives the whole system of having actions a meaning in the first place. Ancient Evils is a direct extension of the doom clock, giving it just that bit of wiggle room to make sure you can’t properly calculate how many actions you have left. Now, sadly there are like three or four scenarios out of the 20+ that it is a part of where it introduces too much variance through reshuffling or bad interactions with other cards, but in the 15+ other scenarios it’s just an important part of making the game tick.
Remember, the turn you lose is the one at the end. That can very often be better than losing actions now. So stop worrying about Ancient Evils and enjoy your turn free of having immediate pressure and invest those actions into getting a move on. Nobody cares if you have two, four or eight doom left at the end of the scenario 🙂

Top 10: My favorite enemy cards

Introduction: We are moving towards Christmas and the surrounding holidays at a fast pace, so for the next two or three lists at least i want to dial down the controversy and instead give praise to some of my favorite Arkham encounter cards. Starting with the enemies today. This is from a point of view of game mechanics. I’ll do artwork later 😉 These are enemies that i like either because they have cool mechanics, because they are iconic or just because i think they are interesting in some way.

#10: Acolyte. The Core Set classic sets the template for how a cultist looks in this game: Not terribly dangerous by itself, but once many of them congregate, their presence on the board alone becomes a huge issue. Cults need to be stopped and this is mechanically represented extremely well with this card. Huge win on both flavor and mechanics. Getting a card like this right on the first try was extremely important for the Core Set, considering its encounter sets are used in all following products as well. It’s astonishing really how much the designers got those sets exactly right. I’d go as far and say that the game wouldn’t work without how extremely well made the Core is. The Acolyte is a hallmark of that design work.

#9: Corpse Dweller. This chunky boy is just one of the many reasons why The Pallid Mask is my favorite scenario. A minor reason only, but still. What’s cool here is that having this monster in the encounter deck gives a whole new feel of urgency to the basic enemies from the Ghoul set. You could be tempted to just evade a Ghoul Minion and leave it behind, but then this thing might just break out of the Ghoul and start following you. Even in the two-handed games that i play, i have very often cursed the timing on this enemy. I imagine it is only harder to keep from the board in bigger groups.

#8: Eater of the Depths. This is basically the “Refuses to elaborate further” meme, but as an encounter card. We know nothing about this thing. All we know is we are trekking through the Depths of Yoth, minding our own business when out of nowhere this massive thing can show up and deliver a boss fight. 2 victory points, Hunter with truckloads of damage and horror, a bundle of stats. What is even going on here. And yet, this somehow fits that part of the campaign, after all we just left the City of Archives behind us so nothing makes sense anyways. This enemy is probably the one that is most alien to me, most other things are at least explained or handwaved somewhat. In it’s own way that’s fascinating.

#7: Hunting Horror. It’s a real shame that The Miskatonic Museum does have some parts that just don’t work correctly, at least in its original pre-Return incarnation. The idea of having only a single enemy in the scenario that just won’t die but instead return stronger over and over is fantastic and for all it’s faults it has to be said: When the scenario works, it is a really good one. This enemy becomes the primary threat, but also at the same time it works as a timer for the scenario. Really cool stuff mechanically and i wish this concept would be revisited some time. It did take the Return To box for Hunting Horror to become what it should be, but i think in the end it got there. My most recent plays of Return to Museum were all tight and suspenseful affairs and the Hunting Horror is obviously the key element to that.

#6: Arkham Officer. The first half of Murder at the Excelsior Hotel flips a lot of what we assume from the game on its head. We see Arkham’s Finest, represented by enemy cards, investigate the locations like we would. Doom represents the progress in their investigation against the players and should the doom threshold be met, they can make a case against us. This is very well represented on a number of cards, but most importantly on the Arkham Officer himself who seeks out clues and turns them into “doom” progress. We can chat them up, learning what they learned and take the pressure from ourselves at the same time. It all just makes sense, which is impressive.

#5: Whippoorwill. This little birdie (and its partner in crime, the Eager for Death treachery) are another huge flavor win. According to Lovecraft’s Dunwich Horror (and superstition in general) these birds are harbingers of death and hearing them sing is an omen of bad luck. Well, looking at the card, they certainly got the bad luck part right. Whatever you are trying to do gets a lot harder once one (or god forbid, multiples) of these are around. And Eager for Death nails the harbinger of death part, causing horror to those who are wounded. The encounter set is one of my favorites from the early days of the game and the Whippoorwill in particular is just cool because it shows that you don’t always need tentacles and huge fangs to pose a problem to the investigators.

#4: Harbinger of Valusia. Speaking of harbingers of death, this mean green mother from TFA seems to pop up whenever it is the least convenient. She’s a powerful enemy on her own, but her timing means that she often appears when you are already having all sorts of other things to take care of. She’s a constant presence throughout TFA and like so many other things in that campaign she asks for both fighting and evading. She’s also able to punish either if you are bad at it, so there’s that. I particularly like the “Then, if there are 2i resources on it, it vanishes with a sinister hiss.” bit. Starts out with very formal rules conform talk and ends on what is basically flavor text. Arkham gets away with that sort of thing sometimes and i just think that’s neat.

#3: Ghoul Priest. Arkham is a harsh place where failure and defeat lurk at every corner. This is one of the lessons that the Night of the Zealot teaches fledgling players, to make sure they go into any further campaigns with the right expectations. And none better to teach this particular lesson than the Ghoul Priest. An enemy that would command respect if it appeared at the end of a modern campaign with its full card pool, it’s something for the best fighter of the group to sink their teeth into. But here it appears in the Core Set, right in the first scenario where investigators and players alike are as vulnerable as they will ever be. Best case, you are Roland with a .45 Auto or Agnes with a Shrivelling(0). Worst case, you are Wendy with a Baseball Bat. Between 4 fight, a chunk of health points, Retaliate and a boatload of damage and horror, the odds are completely stacked against the players when the Ghoul Priest shows up. I mean… just compare him to the Harbinger of Valusia who is very similar but meant to be a recurring enemy that haunts players for most of a full campaign. Of course, this lesson leads right into the next one, with Lita Chandler teaching players about the value of getting +1 skill and bonus damage. The Gathering is expertly crafted and the Ghoul Priest a perfect capstone for the scenario. A much more memorable villain than Umôrdoth could ever hope to be, defeating it is the first real high that a player gets with this game.

#2: Atlach-Nacha. How crazy is it that we can talk about our favorite card game while using the phrase “Rotating Spider God”? After being largely unimpressed with The Dream-Eaters, Weaver of the Cosmos just blew me away. Which surprised me quite a bit, after all at some point you think (foolishly) that you have seen everything over the course of 5+ campaigns and that surely you can’t be blindsided by this game anymore. Well, i distinctly remember opening the Mythos pack and finding the 5 cards that make up the spider in it. I had the dumbest grin on my face when i realized what’s up. It was like when i first set up Essex Express and marveled at what the game can do with locations. An utterly unique enemy in a fun scenario.

#1: Vengeful Serpent. Everything about Vengeful Serpent is perfect. It does something very unique, but at the same time reinforces what The Forgotten Ages is all about. Like so many other TFA enemies, this one makes the player think about whether to evade them or defeat them, but with most other enemies this is way too often too binary and obvious. You really have to think about this one, though. It uses the Vengeance keyword in a new way. While it doesn’t contribute to Yig’s Wrath, there is some actual vengeance happening here. It’s a Hunter. And a Serpent. And it’s actually really dangerous if you choose poorly in how to handle them! The scenarios that use the Venomous Hate encounter set are all vastly improved by having this guy around because its’ impact is just that big. It also replaces the Fang of Yig, a very inconsequential and frankly boring enemy. Oh, and it also has really good art. This card is fantastic.

Top 10: Most fun basic weaknesses

Introduction: Alright, “most fun” might be overselling it slightly, but there’s no doubt that some weakness are just more interesting than others. In a sea of weaknesses that merely ask to spend an action or two to discard them or are just some damage here and there, these standout weaknesses give players something to play around, some actual challenge that spices up the game. Here’s my Top 10 of basic weaknesses i’d rather draw randomly than most others because they create interesting situations.

#10: Dark Pact. Arkham LCG has a couple of “campaign only” multi-stage weaknesses. While some of those are also the most frustrating things ever (i actually removed Doomed and Offer You Can’t Refuse from my pool), Dark Pact is the best of them. It gets the lowest spot on the Top 10 because it’s probably one of the weakest in the pool, but i do appreciate the flavor of the card and that you can use it to stab a teammate, one of your allies or even yourself.

#9: Your Worst Nightmare. When a weakness can promote interactivity between the players, that’s a win all around. This enemy can’t be defeated by its carrier, so someone else has to take it. Now, of course this is already true for many enemies that come off naturally from the encounter deck, after all most teams have investigators that already need to be protected this way.

#8: Reckless. As one of the few skill weaknesses, Reckless immediately stands out. It sticks with you, draining your resources until you finally manage to get rid of it by failing a test with it. This reminds me a bit of Rex’s Curse, but without all the annoying token pulling. Reckless is quite impactful for investigators that like keeping their resources and does often require taking some lines of play you usually wouldn’t just so you get to take some tests that you can fail on purpose.
EDIT: Okay, so i messed up here. I got how Reckless and Arrogance work mixed up. Obviously you will want to pass a test with Reckless and not fail it. So what i wrote above is poppycock. Sorry about that! Not sure it still belongs on the list now, but it is what it is.

#7: The Thing That Follows. The enemy that keeps coming back. Most enemies you just want to defeat as soon as possible so it’s out of your hair. This one you want to let stick around as long as possible so it doesn’t replace more of your draws. Its impact on the game depends on the location layout of the scenario, so there’s some variance to the card as well which is something i usually appreciate.

#6: Stubborn Detective. This guy is famous for the stories he creates, being so stubborn that he’d literally follow you to the City of Archives because he has a hunch. His ability is also quite unique in that it makes get by without you investigator ability while he’s around. Ultimately he’s not difficult to defeat, but he certainly can create some interesting situations.

#5: Narcolepsy. More multiplayer goodness. Literally only take a single action to disable, but the timing this card has is often awful. Especially when it is in the deck of someone who is usually supposed to take their turn first. There’s also something deeply hilarious to having your team mate get all sleepy while you are fighting Atlach-Nacha or trying to run through a disintegrating train.

#4: The injuries. Hot of the presses, these new EotE weaknesses ask the players to run specific cards to deal with them. In turn, these are more or less impactful depending on how well you adjust to them in your deck building and upgrade choices… i find that very satisfying and rewarding.

#3: Kleptomania. The final three weaknesses are where i’d actually go as far as claiming they are fun to play with. As some other cards mentioned before, Kleptomania has that multiplayer interactivity going on. But more than the others, this one rewards using it creatively and can even create opportunities for combos or at least mildly positive outcomes.

#2: Damned. This one uses the tarot deck from the RtTCU box. While it is wildly unpredictable and often downright nasty, there is just something to be said for a weakness that changes from scenario to scenario and gives you different challenges. Sometimes the effect is minor but often it is major enough that it requires some adjustment of the playstyle for the duration of a game. That’s basically exactly what i want to see from a weakness.

#1: Through the Gates. Of all the weaknesses, this is the one i like playing with the most. Like Damned, it creates different sorts of experiences whenever it is drawn. Sometimes it just plucks something inconsequential from your deck. Other times it costs you something from the board or from the hand. Or goes straight for some key piece of your deck and you will now have to go into damage control mode. Like the Injury weaknesses, this one can be built around when upgrading, as it encourages diversifying your cards instead of buying cards in pairs as you’d usually do.

Final words: Lots of these are just hitting the same buttons: Interactivity, Variance, Uniqueness. Weaknesses are something we have to include in our deck so there’s always some sort of roadblock happening along the way. If i have to see that like once per game (or more) for all of a campaign, it better be something that’s not boring. Something that actually interacts with what else is going on and that gives me something to think about. To be perfectly honest, Dark Pact and Worst Nightmare are already stretching it by that definition, but it turns out that once you remove all the “spend 2 actions” weaknesses and all those that are just a bit too punishing… there’s not all that many left to talk about!

Top 10: Most punishing encounter cards

Introduction: An integral part of the game is having the encounter deck push back at our attempts of making progress towards our goals. When we go into the Mythos phase, we already do so expecting unpleasantry and complications. But some encounter cards just take this to the top and those are the ones that lead to us grimacing in frustration or sighing because we now have something new to care about that we really didn’t want to. Here’s my Top 10 list of encounter cards that i really don’t want to draw. For this, i am making no difference between scenario specific, campaign specific or core cards – meaning i try to ignore how frequently the card is used for its place on the list.

#10: Ants! As mentioned, there’s a certain expectation we have when going into the mythos phase, expectations on what a singular encounter card is going to cost us. A card? An action? Maybe even two? Some life? Well, what we certainly do not expect is having to discard up to 4 cards from our hand and/or board. Random ones from the hand, at that. This card is a menace and thankfully it’s contained to one specific scenario.

#9: Merging Timelines. Another one that can just wreck your hand. What adds to the frustration here is not only that it also can cost you your turn… but that it is completely random. “Ants!” at least gave you a test, this one isn’t that merciful. Short of building your deck to include more singletons there’s nothing you can do about this one. You have to close your eyes and hope you end up with at least part of a turn when all is done.

#8: Brotherhood Cultist / Stolen Mind. It takes a lot for an enemy to get on this list. Usually enemies aren’t terribly frustrating because they come with lots of ways to defeat them built in. Sure, they cost some actions, but usually there will even be investigators on the team that are actively looking for enemies so they find a use for their weapons and fight events. What makes these two special is that they not only collect doom, but they scale their stats with it. Brotherhood Cultist is the well known example, an enemy that you can not afford drawing the autofail against because each attempt at defeating them that fails only makes successive attempts more difficult. Meanwhile, they work towards ending the game faster. Stolen Mind was added by the Return and crossbreeds this behavior with the automatic doom collection from Wizard of the Order, for a disgusting end result.

#7: Meddlesome Familiar. Finally, something that’s not from The Forgotten Age! One of a very, very few cards in the game that are able to cause me actual IRL stress. Brown Jenkins just gets to me and Meddlesome Familiar is a huge part of why. The Secret Name is a drawn out affair that can be taxing and having this card make sure that you always have that stinking familiar in your face is just something else. Nothing quite like taking Jenkins down for the fourth time under use of actions and other resources, only to draw a card that goes “Okay, do it again. Also, have a damage.” It’s mocking me, i swear.

#6: Ancient Evils. Ah, the fan favorite. Probably the most overrated encounter card in the game, but obviously it does have quite the impact. It can be safely assumed that the doom thresholds on agendas are balanced around having Evils in the encounter deck, so i am usually not one to think to much of it. But things get quite sketchy when excessive randomization comes into play (looking at you, Untamed Wilds!), when the thresholds are very small (looking at you, Essex!) or when it comes bundled with Cultists, preferably in the same mythos phase (looking at you, Black Throne!). These are the moments where Ancient Evils can feel absolutely rotten, especially since it doesn’t just work towards killing a single investigator. It tries to directly end the game.

#5: Straitjacket. Man, this one just keeps getting me every time. Unspeakable Oath is a truly excellent scenario that i enjoy a whole lot, but i can not deny the amount of stress and grief that a deck with both Corrosion and Straitjacket causes me. Straitjacket is an immense setback. While it doesn’t send your assets to the bin, they are returned to the hand, so you do lose all the actions and all the resources you spent on them. And before you can replay them you even have to spend 2/3rd of a turn just on discarding the Straitjacket. This thing can just on its own cost two or even more turns. Drawing a second Straitjacket after rebuilding from the first one is a legitimate table flip.

#4: The Sign of Hastur. While we are on the topic of Unspeakable Oath, tableflips and IRL stress, who the hell thought this was a good idea? Increasing all horror by 1 over multiple turns translates into so much additional testless horror, it outclasses any other horror dealing card. It’s also really difficult to get rid of sometimes, so all you can do is try and weather the storm. This is one of those cards that makes me go into high alert mode immediately when it enters play, and for the whole duration that it stays there. I’m pretty sure this card is to blame for at least some of my grey hairs.

#3: Beyond the Veil. The card that holds a whole campaign hostage. It has all the hallmarks of a frustrating encounter card: No printed way of dealing with it. High consequences for having it trigger. Low to no interactivity. What Beyond the Veil adds to the mix is that you get a front row seat to your slow but inevitable demise. Oh, and Surge. Can’t forget the Surge. That always feels like getting a kick in your face while you are already down. I can’t think of another card that this actively discourages me from playing a campaign than this one. Some investigators just don’t stand a chance in Dunwich and it’s all thanks to Beyond the Veil.

#2: Frozen in Fear. A core set classic that has been keeping Rogues and other low willpower investigators down since the inception of the game. Arkham has a lot of debilitating treacheries, as anyone who has seen the typical TCU threat area can attest to. But what sets Frozen in Fear apart is the way its Willpower test works. Unlike so many other cards, this is a test that the player who drew the card will have to pass themselves. No helping out by your friendly Mystic or Guardian. It’s also guaranteed to hinder you for at least one full turn, as the timing is fixed. Fixed to a point just ever so slightly outside of your turn, so you can’t even use something like Eye of the Djinn on it. It’s like the wording of that Forced trigger was specifically crafted to be the most frustrating it can be. Since then, we’ve seen this same templating on other treacheries as well, with TCU’s Realm of Torment being particularly notable. But none of them gets quite the visceral reaction from me that Frozen in Fear does.

#1: Umôrdhoth’s Hunger. This frigging card. The Devourer Below is already a scenario that isn’t exactly known for how fair and fun it is, but the presence of this card just makes it that much worse. Threatening instant demise to one or even multiple investigators, even its best case of costing everyone a card is annoying. Having this card around also means that every discard effect in the encounter deck is more powerful – and RtNotZ introduced quite a few of those. And playing cards is also discouraged, something i never like. Really, this card looks like it came straight out of a LotR Nightmare scenario instead of an Arkham Return to box. This is an easy #1 spot for me, the only saving grace here is that i don’t see the card ever because i don’t play that scenario anymore.

Final words: This list features a lot of TFA and Carcosa. That might be partially influenced by the fact that those are the two campaigns i play the most, so of course they left the biggest impression on me. But it does align with the reputation of those campaigns. The surprise for me here is the relative lack of TCU. I find that campaign somewhat stressful and i expected more than just Meddlesome Familiar (and a mention of Realm of Torment) to make an appearance here. There’s 4 cards from Return To boxes on the list, which is about what i would’ve expected.
I’m sure that with almost 700 different encounter cards, i must have forgotten a few important ones. So please chime in and tell me which ones. What are the cards that make you want to open a window and chuck the damn thing out?