Encounter sets in this scenario: Agents of the Outside, Cleanup Crew, Crimson Conspiracy, Secret War, Shadow of a Doubt
Available experience: 4 (locations) + 1 (Desi) = 5XP
Involved Coterie Members and Keys: Desiderio Delgado Alvarez, The Mirroring Blade
Time spent: 2 time on a a successful finish, otherwise 1 time. Actually acquiring the Blade afterwards requires 6 more time, during which you are free to pursue other things.
Nearest other scenarios: Anchorage, Buenos Aires, Marrakesh (2 time)
|Size of the Encounter Deck||27|
Synopsis: The investigators gather in Havana’s hot spot location Cafe Luna to meet Desiderio Delgado Alvarez, nicknamed “The Man in the Blood-Soaked Suit”, that everyone just calls Desi because nobody has time for either of those full names. Also, he only wears a red tie with his black suit, so nobody is quite sure where the fancy nickname comes from in the first place. In any case, the investigators strike a deal with Desi: His key, “The Mirrored Blade”, in exchange for assistance with clearing up the disappearance of many of Desi’s men. As soon becomes obvious, the Outsiders have been kidnapping members of Desi’s “operation” and taking their place… and as it turns out, the investigators come just in time to witness the Outsider’s attempt to replace Desi himself. Hijinks ensue.
My take on this scenario: There are two versions of this scenario, one where Desi strikes a deal with the investigators in earnest and one where he betrays them and leads them into an ambush. This changes the first act of the scenario, but those two storylines converge soon, so we can mostly look at these two versions at the same time.
This scenario is special in that it strikes a good balance between the two main mechanisms of The Scarlet Keys, concealment and hollows. Most scenarios are focused on either of these, but Dancing Mad is the one that is best at striking a balance that keeps both of them relevant. Looking at the numbers above we can see that there are only two cards that don’t belong to either concealment or hollows support. And that one is Matter Inversion from Agents of the Outside, so it still supports the Outsider theme. Concealment does have a bigger presence here than the Outsiders, but thanks to the many sources for hollowing cards the hollowing mechanic is still relevant. The other scenario that tries to do both mechanics at the same time, On Thin Ice, does not manage this as well as Dancing Mad does.
This is one of the better scenarios from The Scarlet Keys that keeps being challenging but not overbearing. The small location grid in this one works well with the concealment and the abilities on the enemies that do stuff from the shadows. There’s also a good balance between the usual challenges, with willpower tests and agility tests around, some necessary clueing, a good amount of fighting. Just good old Arkham that incorporates the new mechanics instead of being overshadowed by them.
The climax with the two Desi’s is a bit too gimmicky for my tastes and the logistics of having to keep one of the cards stored away until the final scenario without looking at its back are awkward. It’s still fine, but i would’ve preferred a more immediate resolution to whether the group helped the real Desi or the fake one.
Scenario specific encounter sets: Two copies of Body Snatched go into the encounter deck, otherwise the Dancing Mad set only has the usual scenario trappings of acts, agendas, locations, etc. Body Snatched is quite a relevant card. Not only does it act as a variant of Crypt Chill that comes for your assets after failing a difficult willpower test, it also feeds into getting more cards removed as hollows. To top things off, this even has a clause to deal substantial horror if there’s no asset to remove. It’s just a better Crypt Chill all around and nobody ever complained about Crypt Chill being too mild.
Chaos Tokens: In the context of Scarlet Keys, Dancing Mad uses a relatively mild collection of token modifiers. They are still going to be quite relevant, though. The skull scales with the number of enemies in the shadows, capped at -3 on Easy/Normal and -5 on Hard/Expert. This can be troublesome in the variant of Dancing Mad that starts with an ambush and several enemies in the shadows right away, but can otherwise be handled fairly well. The Cultist is a -4 (-6 on Hard) and will put a decoy into play on failing the test. The extra decoy can be annoying, but the high negative modifiers are the more relevant part here. Overly trusting folks have it more difficult here than deceptive ones, as the Tablet token is much worse than the Elder Thing. Tablets are set at -3 and on failing, any cards committed to the test are hollowed. On Hard, this even happens on succeeding. This can remove a large amount of cards from the game and can screw hard with investigators depending on commits, like Silas, Wini or Amanda. The Elder Thing on the other hand is set at just a -1, but will creep up to -3 (-5 on Hard) if there’s a concealed mini-card on your location. The investigator can take 1 damage (2 damage on Hard) to push the Elder Thing back to a -1. Incoming damage is something that players are going to have to tech for in Scarlet Keys anyways and Dancing Mad doesn’t have a whole lot of it otherwise. So handling the Elder Thing here is a lot easier than the Tablet which just eats your cards. On Normal, you can at least make sure that you beat the -3 whenever you commit cards, but on Hard this no longer saves you from the hollowing effect.
Act/Agenda: The agenda deck is the same for either variant of Dancing Mad, with 17 doom spread evenly across 3 agendas. This doom clock is accelerated by a Forced effect on the agendas that removes hollowed cards completely from the game in exchange for extra doom. The threshold of hollows per created doom decreases as the agenda deck progresses, slowly increasing the pressure from this mechanic.
For the act deck, there are five cards in total. Two each are for act 1 and 2 of the two variants. The fifth card is act 3 which is shared between both variants. Variant 1 is the one where Desi strikes an earnest deal with the investigators. Act 1 is a simple hunt for clues in the locations near the Club Luna, with the Cleanup Crew and Crimson Conspiracy starting out of play. Advancing into act 2 will have the Outsiders attack the players: The real Desi is removed from play and replaced by an imposter who will hide in the shadows together with other (fake) Coterie members. The two encounter sets with the Coterie enemies are shuffled into the deck at that point as well. Act 2 states the players will now need to root out all hiding coterie members and also have a few clues available. After that it’s off to the climax with two Desis.
Variant 2 plays out differently, with just the Club Luna location in play at first and several Coterie members in the shadows. The Outsider enemies start removed from play for this one. The players need to fend off the ambush by collecting clues from the Club while under fire from the enemies. Once they manage that, the rest of the locations enter play and the Outsiders are shuffled into the deck. The coterie members are re-distributed around town and for act 2 the players now have to find out why Desi betrayed them. To do that, they have to first find a considerable amount of clues and then put them onto enemies through a parley option instead of defeating everyone. Succeeding at this moves to act 3, the same as for variant 1.
For act 3, two Desi cards are in play, one with an encounter back and one with a story asset back. They are shuffled among each other so players don’t know who is who and if the group didn’t get the necessary intel from the Moscow safehouse beforehand they won’t be able to tell before it comes to the final scenario of the campaign. The objective is simple: Decide on one of the copies of Desi to support and defeat the other.
Desiderio Delgado Alvarez: Desi fights alongside the other coterie members but there’s not much pressure to get him out of the shadows early on and his stats are fairly tame. As a Hunter that can not die, he can make good use of the small location grid and get attacks in if players aren’t proactive about evading him. His impactful attacks for 2 damage and 1 horror are further enhanced by Retaliate and Alert which both act as sources of additional free attacks. While he isn’t as oppressive as some of the other big Elite coterie members we encounter in this campaign, he also shouldn’t be underestimated.
At least he doesn’t have a key with him (as it turns out, the Mirroring Blade is tucked away in a safehouse in Ybor City), so that’s one fewer thing to worry about during Dancing Mad.
The Coterie: Most of the enemies in this scenario are concealed Coterie members. They aren’t all that imposing in a fight, but especially in higher playercounts they can add up and put some pressure on the players. With how small the map is, there is little in the way of staying out of their way, so it should be a priority to keep the number of these down to a manageable level. Coterie Enforcer sticks out among these as a rather action intensive enemy to defeat, as you will not only need to expose him, but he also brings decent stats so that at 3 health and 4 fight that will usually take another two actions to stop him.
The Outsiders: The outsider theme is supported with two encounter sets here. This leads to a somewhat spotty support in low player counts, but the things that are here are impactful. Effacer is a solid enemy on its own even when it doesn’t get backed up by more hollow effects. The Mimic can sometimes fall flat a bit though.
Treacheries: Like with the enemies, the rest of the encounter deck is mostly split between support for concealment and for hollowing cards. The two treacheries from Secret War (Memory Variant and Secrets Lost) are among the most powerful cards that hollow multiple player cards. How impacted you are by them is not only going to decide how bad the Effacer and Mimic enemies are going to be for you, but also if you get additional doom from the effect on the agenda (which trades hollows for doom).
Between the Coterie Agents and Conspiracy in Red, there’s also just enough doom effects in the deck to be worth paying attention to as they will potentially stack up with the extra doom from hollowed cards.
Locations: There is a total of 6 locations, the Cafe Luna and five others. These are honestly nothing too special by themselves except for the fact that 4 Victory are spread across them. So cleaning up the town from clues is certainly rewarded here. Shroud values range all the way from 1 to 5, but shroud counts are only 1 per investigator at every location. This shouldn’t be a huge problem for any competent clue handler.
Reward and Failure: There’s 5XP up for grabs here and they are fairly easy to get. Desi’s VP can’t be missed (as long as you finish the scenario successfully, of course). And the other four are all on locations with low clue counts. Unlike in most other scenarios, finishing successfully doesn’t just hand a key to you, there is one more hoop you have to jump through to get it. Instead, you get the passphrase to a warehouse in Ybor City where you will have to travel to get the key. While Ybor City is directly next to Havana, it will take 6 time before your password will actually be accepted there though. So you’ll have to spend some time in the surrounding locations, come back for the key later or just pass on it. Personally, i like combining this time that i have to wait with the search for the stolen key that happens at the 20 time mark. Quito and San Juan, two of the possible locations where you can recover your key, are right next to Havana. Alternatively, you could visit Buenos Aires or Anchorage and do the scenario there before you advanced the time far enough to pick up the Mirroring Blade in Ybor City.
The Mirroring Blade is a rather useful key that can be used to kill off a wide range of enemies with its 2 damage ability. It can also be used to expose a mini-card without an action which comes in handy. Flipping it back deals damage to every player which depending on the scenario can be painful, but it’s one of the more reasonable keys to use multiple times in a scenario.
Failing the scenario, either through resign/defeat or through having the agenda run out, will pit Desi against you and you will “not have seen the last of him”. He’s a rather chunky elite enemy at 5 health that also dishes out a decent amount of damage. His ability to protect other coterie in his space is less useful (as those usually hang out in the shadows) but just his raw stats make him a considerable threat to just randomly come down from the encounter deck.
Failing the scenario through having the agenda run out has another potentially steep side effect: All hollowed cards are removed from the game, then each investigator has to exile their removed card with the highest experience cost so it is permanently removed from their deck. They even have to note the names of those cards in the campaign log and all players are unable to acquire that card from that point on. This can be a huge blow for decks that are built around a high XP cards like Chuck Fergus or Holy Spear and if such a card is currently among the hollows during the scenario, the players should consider a mass resign (or even defeat) to force an end to the scenario before the last doom is put on agenda 3.