|Size of the Encounter Deck||31|
My take on this encounter deck: On the flavor side, it’s worth mentioning that there are no non-TFA sets used in either of the Hearts of the Elders scenarios (or Depths of Yoth, for that matter), hammering home that we are truely far away from home here in the jungle. As for the contents of the encounter deck itself, i think the best word to sum it up would be “Hostile.” This is an incredibly nasty encounter deck, dead set on killing your stuff, poisoning you and dumping Yig’s Fury on your campaign. There are only few enemies in the deck and all of them go to the victory display, so there’s no recurring threats if you should kill some of them. Despite of this, the small map and the additional threat of the scenario specific Feathered Serpent means that the scenario feels much more crowded with enemies than the numbers would suggest. Especially players who want to avoid taking any Vengeance upon them will feel the pain as four big Hunter enemies are breathing down their necks while the rest of the encounter deck tries to hurt them or block their path. Between Ants, Snake Bite and Low on Supplies it’s hard to keep assets on the field. This in turn means that it’s harder to soak any of the numerous sources of damage that are around. Poison Spores, Overgrowth, Strangleweed and Lost in the Wilds can block players from moving, making them vulnerable to the Hunter enemies. There’s a lot of synergy in the encounter cards here, and that is the main reason for this scenario to be much more threatening than one would expect from one that only makes up half of a Mythos pack.
Counter these: Ants!, Lost in the Wilds. Ants potentially costs way too many cards than is reasonable; preventing a major blow to a player’s assets and cards would be well worth a cancel. Lost in the Wilds is this scenario’s premiere time waster, costing precious actions and leaving the investigator open to attacks from the Hunter enemies. It thus also earns a spot on this list of priority targets.
What it does: Poisonous Spores attaches to the player’s location and has no immediate effect. However, at the end of the round it will poison any investigator at its location. Investigators who are already poisoned take two horror instead. The treachery is then discarded for good.
My take: In most other scenarios this card wouldn’t be too bad, however the small map, the Hunter enemies and the other movement restrictions around play right into this card. Avoiding the Poison weakness will likely cause the players to lose a few actions to play around this card and actions are very precious in this scenario.
Threat level: Mid. Moving out of the location and back in the next turn equals two lost actions, which can be considered the standard impact of the card. Depending on other circumstances the card can be much worse (when already under pressure) – or almost a freebie (when you already were planning on moving along).
Dealing with it: If it appears on a location that still has many clues left, it’s usually best to just accept the loss of two actions and not risk the poison. In other cases, investigating the last clues and either moving or exploring then can be the correct choice instead, albeit a risky one as a failed exploration can get you stranded in the location.
Investigators that are already poisoned might consider just soaking the horror if able. There is not a whole lot of other pressure on horror in this scenario, so taking the hit could save some much more important actions.
What it does: Similar to Grasping Hands from the Ghouls set, Pitfall asks the player to take an agility test and then deals damage depending on how many points they failed by. Pitfall does offer a choice to the player, though: Instead of immediately dealing with the effect, they can choose to shuffle Pitfall into the exploration deck. Once drawn from the exploration deck, it can not be shuffled back, it has to be resolved then. The card has Peril, so no other players get a say in the decision and they are also not able to help with card commits or cancels.
My take: An interesting variant of a classic Core set card, there’s an extra player choice here. Appropriately enough, this is largely a trap though as postponing the effect will cost an extra action down the line from the failed exploration. Still, for players who are already carrying a lot of damage tokens with them this can be an option that saves their lifes. It also means that the card loses its teeth once there is no more exploration to do.
Threat level: Low to Mid. The extra player choice weakens the impact somewhat, but Peril counteracts this. It’s slightly less weaker than Grasping Hands, but not enough to warrant a “Low” rating – Graspng Hands is already on the higher end of the Low to Mid category.
Dealing with it: Unless the players do not plan on doing further exploration (or only very little), shuffling the card into the exploration deck should be avoided to prevent the extra action cost from a failed exploration. An exception could be made if the bulk of the exploration is being done by a high agility investigator or if the player who drew this card is risking death on a failed agility test.
What it does: Basilisks are large Hunter enemies with an impressive 4/4/4 stat line. They deal two damage on an attack, which is absolutely to be avoided considering the amount of other damage sources in this scenario. Killing it will incur a Vengeance 2 penalty, but they come with a special Forced effect that can get rid of them temporarily: Whenever a player pays the clues for another pillar token, one Basilisk is shuffled back into the encounter deck.
As a rules clarification, note that the Forced effect is only active while the Basilisk is in play. So it won’t be shuffled back from the encounter discard or the victory display.
My take: These snakes make up half of the Hunter enemy contingent in the first part of Heart of the Elders. They hit hard, they are difficult to evade and defeating them is tough. When these show up, they are basically always a huge problem.
Threat level: High. It’s a large enemy that can not be ignored and whatever way you choose of dealing with it, it will likely cost multiple actions.
Dealing with it: Evading and running away from it is probably the standard way to keep the Basilisk from eating you. That being said, the evasion on this serpent is quite high and if nobody in the group is up for the task, it comes down to either killing it (which requires a dedicated fighter and will lead to two points of Yig’s Fury) or triggering its Forced effect. The latter requires running all the way to the starting position and back to the group, possibly running into other Hunters (like the Feathered Serpent) or obstacles along the way. It is not an Elite enemy, so there exists some tech in the player cards that can neutralize the Basilisk cleanly, such as Waylay, Close Call or even just Stray Cat.
What it does: At 6 health, the Strangleweed will usually require at least a full turn to defeat. It has strength and agility of three, so the difficulty to hit or evade it is standard, but failing any of those will be punished by the Alert and Retaliate keywords.
Should the Strangleweed get to make an attack of opportunity, the victim will have to lose all actions and end their turn immediately unless they carry a pocketknife.
Killing the Strangleweed awards a victory point.
Rules clarification: Attacks resulting from the Alert and Retaliate keywords do not count as attacks of opportunity, so they will not trigger the Forced effect.
My take: For a proper fighter, grabbing this victory point isn’t very difficult, but it does cost a considerable amount of actions that may be needed elsewhere. If the plan is not to defeat this card, it will usually act as a roadblock that sits on a location and makes players take another route on their way back to the starting location. Not getting hit by the Forced effect is perfectly avoidable but it will mostly stop a player from deploying a weapon or spell while engaged.
Threat level: Mid to High. Unlike the Basilisk, a successful evasion allows to deal with the card more permanently.
Dealing with it: Fight and Flight are both very vald options here and which one to pick will mostly depend on how well you are doing at that point. If it’s fine to spend the two or three extra actions, killing the Strangleweed is a good way to earn extra experience. Otherwise let it stick and take a different path on your way back to deliver the clues.
What it does: The player has to take an agility test at difficulty four. If they fail, they’ll have to discard a random card from their hand or a chosen card from their assets for each point they failed by.
My take: Yuck. With Ants!, drawing a bad chaos token or simply being bad at agility tests can really rain on your parade. And with a -5 and the autofail in the bag even on Standard, this is a real possibility even for high agility investigators. Losing up to four cards can be really impactful and you don’t even get to choose which cards to discard from your hand.
Threat level: High. The test has a high enough difficulty that even someone like Rita or Wendy has to be afraid of this treachery.
Dealing with it: As with every scaling tests, it can be worth committing cards to the test. Ideally you’d want to commit something with two or more agility pips, of course. But even though committing a single icon card only breaks even, it does at least give some control over which cards to lose.
Having disposable assets in play that can be discarded to the effect can help soften the blow and so can keeping lots of cards in hand. However, it should be noted that this approach is not perfect as there are three Ants! cards in the encounter deck and the second one is likely going to hurt a lot more than the first.
If you are running cancel cards like Ward of Protection, Test of Faith or Deny Existence, consider holding one of them back to neutralize the Ants.
Return to Heart of the Elders #1
My take on the modified scenario: There’s only one card that is added to the encounter deck by the Return to Forgotten Age box. The brunt of the changes to the scenario are the result of the new exploration rules and the new Rainforest locations. The Expedition set is replaced by Doomed Expedition, a change that i don’t care much about. That replacement set is not better or worse, it’s just different. Which is perfectly fine, of course. The first act now has to be advanced, so you can no longer ignore the Serpent. All things considered, nothing huge changed about this scenario. You are still running through the jungle, grabbing clues while being followed by a bunch of Hunter enemies that you can’t kill without collecting Vengeance. It is fitting then, that the new card that is added to the deck twice is another Hunter enemy. That you can not kill without collecting Vengeance.
On a final note, the change to the resolution of the scenario that lets you skip repeated plays of HotE#1 for a price doesn’t do anything for me at all. The price is so comically high that it fixes nothing. But to be honest, i never had to replay this scenario before anyways.
Final verdict: Return to Forgotten Age is a great box that changes up many scenarios and makes them more interesting. This is not one of those scenarios, it plays exactly as before. The exploration change is nice, but that’s pretty much it as far as HotE#1 is concerned.
What it does: Feathered Serpent becomes a Hunter as soon as three pillar tokens are placed on Mouth of K’n-yan. Unless the investigators horribly bungled Boundary Beyond, that should be the case pretty much at all times. Their stats are in line with other Hunter enemies in this scenario, but as a unique twist they can be evaded automatically by using the Mysterious Scepter, a supply that possibly can be picked up during Return to Doom of Eztli. Killing the Feathered Serpent will add a Vengeance to the victory display.
My take: Nothing too new here. The Feathered Serpent doesn’t change how the scenario works, it just adds more Hunters to the deck, making it more likely to be swarmed right away. The interaction with the scepter is cute, but you aren’t guaranteed to get that thing in the first place. Maybe the most relevant thing here is how they are another Vengeance enemy in a scenario that is already hard to do without angering Yig.
Threat level: Mid. Three life is a lot less than four, so these flying snakes play second fiddle to the creatures from the base scenario.
Dealing with it: Picking up the scepter in Doom of Eztli is not terribly difficult, so do that for sure if you get the option. Aside from that, treat these enemies just like the other enemies that are following you through the jungle. Try to evade them, stay ahead of them and only kill them if you have to.
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