Hot Takes: The Investigators of The Scarlet Keys


Here’s an overview over the six new playable characters that we are getting with the Scarlet Keys Investigator Expansion. I am writing this on the final week before release. We have the full spoiler of cards (albeit in Spanish), but i don’t actually have played any of them. So keep this in mind going forwards, i didn’t call this one “Hot Takes” for nothing.
What i want to do here is take an extended look at everyone and brainstorm some first ideas on where to take these investigators on my first play with them. Afterwards i want to collect my thoughts on these investigators and how the Scarlet Keys box presents itself to new players and veterans.

Carson Sinclair: The Butler

Carson follows similar deckbuilding as Tony, Mandy and Gloria: Picking either Seeker, Mystic or Survivor, he gets to play all cards from Guardian and up to 10 level 0-1 events or skills from the chosen side class. This deckbuilding is quite a bit worse than the standard 5/2 split, something that Tony, Mandy and Gloria got compensated for with absolutely fantastic statlines (actually among the best in their classes) and powerful investigator abilities. Looking at Carson, we see a rather dreadful 2/2/2/2 statline instead and also the 6/6 stamina/sanity split that already was a pain to work with on Lola. Looks like we are going to have to face an uphill battle for this one. Supposed to turn it all around is his investigator ability and to be fair, it’s a great one. There’s a couple of investigators whose abilities basically translate to an action, but always with some conditions attached like on Tony or Ursula. Carson does get a full free action and in fact, it’s even better than that. He gives this ability to anyone at his location, which affords a good amount of flexibility. Also, this action can be used in a way to weave turns into each other, breaking up the usual sequencing of turns.
The question then becomes whether this action makes up for otherwise being severely hampered to contribute to anything requiring a test. And the answer is a clear “Eeeeh, kinda? I think? Maybe?” As long as you are able to minimize the impact of your statline by playing cards that work without tests, you can contribute and still get that powerful extra action for your team. This does of course limit your deckbuilding even further, but it’s certainly doable.
His signature skill is pretty good and he does get two of them, so that’s something to appreciate. His weakness is fine. Similar to Ursula’s Call of the Unknown in how it works, but with only 1 horror instead of 2 as a penalty. Thank god, 2 horror on there with 6 sanity would’ve been an issue. But like this is perfectly okay.

My initial rating: He’s likely fine but I’m not a fan. I can see how he can work out, but my biggest issue isn’t even about the power of him. It’s that he doesn’t really bring anything to the table in terms of deck building that wasn’t already there. I wish his investigator ability would be something that rewards him for playing support cards, like getting an extra resource/card when playing such a card on someone else. Anything that interacts with his deck, that gives him something he can do better than anyone else. Or some novel deckbuilding with 0-4 skills or something. Because as is, he’s just very limited in what you can do with him. And what you can do with his deck can be done with other investigators already, so there’s just nothing new for me to get excited about.
I do however think that from a pure power level he is fine. On the lower end, though.

Ideas: There’s two parts to this. One, what to do with his own deck and his own three actions. Two, who to pair him with because that’s whats going to determine the worth of his investigator ability. For his own actions, i see him best as a clue hound, using testless events to collect clues while throwing out some extra card, money and/or healing for the team. Each of the three classes has something like that to offer for clues and Guardian has some as well. Another idea that i didn’t come up myself, but read about on the Mythos Busters Discord: Carson can use Blessing of Isis on someone else to trigger both their and his own Elder Sign ability at the same time. While that alone probably doesn’t make him better at blessing than Mary or even Tommy, it’s at least something that only he can do. As for who to pair him with, anyone will work really and in the end it’s just about total party composition. Amanda Sharpe however sticks out in how well she can use additional actions to make her skills last longer. There’s also Skids whose ability to buy an extra action is limited to once per turn (instead of once per rounds like most investigators) so he can double up on the action he got from Carson. Finally, Luke’s ability to reach into other locations with events is also limit once per turn, so Carson could double that up… but since he can’t follow into the Dream-Gate, I’m not sure how useful that is in practice.

Vincent Lee, the Doctor

Not exactly a typical member of the Seeker class, Vincent has more than just clues on his mind. He’s a healer and also one of the few Seekers that are decent at fighting. He’s actually the most fighty of the six investigators in the box. He can only take Seeker up to level 3, however he can take any card that heals damage and also up to 15 cards from Guardian or Survivor up to level 1 in any combination. Despite being barred from Seeker 4 and 5 this is a very flexible way of deckbuilding, as fans of Carolyn Fern can attest to.
His investigator ability hands out free Unexpected Courages when healing, with the only limitation being that each player can only hold one at a time. That makes his ability stack not as well as Carolyn’s does, but it’s still a very nice effect and useful for anyone.
His other signature is the Bonesaw, a reasonable weapon in his hands that can also do some emergency amputations when needed. Funky. And fun.
His weakness, the Wounded Bystander, is quite unique. If he dies, Vincent suffers trauma. But if he doesn’t there are actually a good amount of opportunities to gain value out of this weakness. I suspect the play is often going to be to not heal him to full and instead keep him around

My initial rating: I really like how flexible he is. He’s support. He’s a fighter. And as a seeker with 4 intellect he’s going to grab his fair share of clues as well. Hell, he can work as the main clue seeker and just do some light healing on the side. I’m looking forward to playing him, this sort of flexibility appeals to me.

Ideas: The idea of using the Gateway to Paradise version of the Archive of Conduits with Vincent is sort of stuck in my head as something i want to do. Add a Surgical Kit and you’ll be drowning in value. Of course that’s only two cards, so the rest of the deck can still go in whatever direction. I am currently eyeing a fighting direction, using Derringer, Meat Cleaver and Survival Knife as the weapons?

Kymani Jones, the Security Consultant

Kymani is a bit of a weird one for me. They are a rogue with 5 agility and a decent ability to turn that evasion into a way to defeat enemies. But their deckbuilding once again doesn’t do it for me. At least not yet. In addition to the usual Rogue 0-5, Kymani can play all Tool traited cards up to level 4. This is potentially great, i like traitbased deck rules a lot because they lead to new combinations of cards that weren’t possible before. But Tool simply isn’t a trait that has many options that actually excite me for Kymani specifically. The list of tools pre-Scarlet Keys mostly consists of investigation tools and a couple survivor weapons, but with 2 intellect and 2 fight, Kymani’s not really set up well to use them. The Riot Whistle is really the only thing that looks like it might be a thing for them, but playing the Whistle over one of the rogue accessories is going to need some serious convincing… Scarlet Keys does include a couple tools that are more interesting, like the Dissection Tools (a agility/fight spin on the Hawk-Eye Folding Camera that gets counters for defeating enemies) or Fingerprint Kit(4) which is powerful enough that it might just be worth working more for it. Still, it’s rather limited and as a 5 agility rogue with almost Rogue-only deckbuilding Kymani does have some considerable overlap with Winifred (but with wildly different investigator abilities of course). The designers acknowledged this shallow card pool and gave them an extra 5XP to start out, just like was done for Mateo in TFA. I quite like this and i do actually think that this bonus does a good deal towards opening up some lines of play that other investigators might not have or only after a few scenarios in.
Their signature asset is the Grappling Hook, an asset that lets them take three different actions. Unless you are engaged to multiple enemies (or there are no enemies around at all), there should be a way to use evade, move and investigate in some order that makes sense.
Agent Fletcher, Kymani’s weakness, is not a huge issue at all. Evading him works still well enough and for the most part i expect to just throw a Backstab at the guy as soon as he shows up.

My initial rating: Sure, seems fine. I am not completely blown away because of the limited pool of cards they can take. But their ability to discard enemies through evasion puts a spotlight on a couple cards that i didn’t give the time of day before, like for example Stealth. It also gives them a solid niche despite superficial similarities to Wini in terms of skills and card access. In any case, an investigator that cares about a specific trait is only ever going to raise in value as more expansions release and feed into this trait (unless that trait is Illicit, apparently…) Tool is a very common one and even if the number of relevant cards is still quite low, this can potentially change very fast.

Ideas: The 5XP handout is tempting to use on some expensive Exceptional card early on. Getting a Charon’s Obol and saving up the rest will pretty much make sure that you can go for something like a Double, Double or Borrowed Time after the first scenario. Or maybe just blow it all on a Customizable. The rogue ones all don’t scream at me to invest into them massively, but Kymani can take the Pocket Multi Tool and check up to eight boxes on it. With their bonus XP and an In the Thick of It, they can do so at character creation already.

Amina Zidane, the Operator

Amina breaks the mold because she’s for once a mystic that doesn’t care (exclusively) about Willpower. Instead she has an even spread of skills, which is both a blessing and a curse: She can be built towards using any of them, but she isn’t really great at any of them by default. So whatever we are trying to do with her, we’re going to have to work for it a bit. In terms of deckbuilding she, like Kymani, gets to take level 0-4 of a trait in addition to her main class. That trait is Charm. Like with Tool, this is a trait that is spread across classes but not with very many options. They are also mostly tied to the accessory slot, with only few charms sitting in the arcane or hand slots instead. That being said, there’s certainly some very good cards among the list of Charms and they are diverse enough that this card access can be taken in different directions.
Her investigator ability allows her to play assets for cheap, but with a doom cost instead. This is a rather massive boost for her economy, 3 resources per turn without an action cost is immense. But you do have to do something about the doom of course. This can mean getting rid of the assets before the agenda catches up, removing the doom with some player card or masking it with one of the new cards from Scarlet Keys, Elle Rubash.
Her signature cards continue this doom theme. One of them allows using an asset without any costs, but adding a doom. The other gives a sizeable skill bonus to any test on an asset with doom on it. Drawing these in the right order and when you need them is probably going to be a bit of a crap-shoot and i am mildly concerned about there not being any icons on these two cards. We’ll see how this works out, but put me in the skeptical camp for now. Her weakness makes one of the doom tokens she’s been playing around with permanent by moving it to the agenda. I feel like this is not as bad as it sounds? If you are playing Amina, you probably count on advancing the agenda a turn or two early sometimes and try to make up for it in other ways.

My initial rating: Innately very powerful, as long as you are able to overcome the 3/3/3/3 line of skills. Aside from this very surface level take, I don’t have a very strong opinion on her yet. She’s the one where i am least able to relate her to existing options to gauge her.

Ideas: For Amina, i have my eyes on one specific card, the Living Ink. That could be the crucial piece to get Amina’s skills to a level where she can work well with a variety of assets. The other card that can help with the skill issue would be the Dream Diary which – for some reason – actually is a Charm and thus in Amina’s wheelhouse.
Another card that might be interesting if the Charm access is worth building into is The Hierophant. Since Amina doesn’t need to use her arcane slots as much as other mystics, she could put her various accessories in there.
Regarding the doom issue, i think i am most interested in trying to use it with temporary assets, with just a few doom staying on the board to be hidden behind Elle Rubash. That set of handheld Charm items look mostly uninteresting to me personally.

Darrell Simmons, the Photographer

Finally something normal and open-ended. Darrell is our long awaited Survivor/Seeker, following the 5/2 mainclass/subclass split introduced by the Core Set investigators. That is a rather impressive pool of cards for cluevers especially, and Darrell stakes down his claim further with a stellar intellect of 5.
His investigator ability allows him to lower the difficulty of tests, a very open-ended and powerful effect. It is however limited by the amount of evidence tokens he has available and there’s not many cards that provide these.
One of those cards is his signature of course. It allows getting more evidence, but will in many cases require discovering clues with an enemy around. That means either evading the enemy himself (not unreasonable with 3 agility and full survivor access), finding clues through Fast means (like Working a Hunch) or just hiding behind someone else. Well, or taking attacks of opportunity, i guess :> In any case, the Kodak alone will need some help doing its thing consistently, but since you start out with it in play that seems absolutely fine.
His weakness looks like a nightmare to me. Removing 4 evidence is going to be awful, considering that you usually had to work for them. And taking a bunch of horror isn’t ideal either, so just spending all evidence asap isn’t going to be great either. At least Darrell has 8 sanity, so maybe just spending the evidence is going to be the play after all. Of course that means that Ruined Film will deplete your Hawk-Eyes, so … ugh.

My initial rating: Stellar. Darrell is powerful in a very obvious sense, any investigator with 5 intellect and Seeker access can only be great. Thanks to his investigator ability he can even do a good job at evading and a respectable job at fighting, so you can lean him into any direction… as long as investigation is at least a part of it to keep the evidence train going.

Ideas: Eh, just the usual ones for now i suppose. If the Seeker spot is taken by the fighter of the set, it only makes sense to have the survivor roleplay as the seeker. The obvious thing to go for with Survivor/Seeker is Scavenging… the level zero got a good user last expansion with Bob, now it’s Scavenging(2)’s turn to shine. The main thing to figure out with Darrell is going to be where to get the evidence from, to add to what the Kodak gives and hopefully get a buffer to protect from Ruined Film. The existing card pool only has Hawk-Eye as a card that uses evidences and that can be used by Darrell. But Scarlet Keys does offer a couple new toys, most importantly Empirical Hypothesis which does a good job of creating tokens even at level 0.

Charlie Kane, the Politician

Now this is a wild one. Joining Lola Hayes in the lonely ranks of the neutral investigators, Charlie Kane works quite a bit different than we are used to. The first thing anyone notices is the 1/1/1/1 stat line and the 6/6 stamina/sanity split. But Charlie does indeed have built in ways to mitigate either of these weak spots as he starts with 4 ally slots from the beginning and can exhaust allies for skill bonuses. So as long as he has enough people around to manipulate motivate like the politician that he is, he can become competent at anything. At the same time, he can hide behind those allies to preserve his own skin. Wow, this is so on brand, i need to be careful to not turn this fully into a social commentary.
His deckbuilding lets him access level 0-2 of two classes of his choice. Also all Ally cards and all Neutrals. So in comparison with Lola his card access is quite a bit more shallow, but he doesn’t have any limitations one what to play when, so he ends up being able to use card combos that Lola can’t. Also, Ally 0-5 is actually pretty great. Allies are among the most powerful assets in the game and getting a blanket permission on any of them is just going to climb in value more and more.
His signature is fantastic for him. Not only does Bonnie let him do any test at +2 skill, but she also readies another ally for even further bonuses. Or to use an exhaust ability on an ally again this turn.
His weakness doesn’t seem particularly bad to me. In the upkeep phase, readying happens before drawing a card, so you’ll be able to choose for each of your allies then. It can be more of an issue if you happen to draw this during your turn, though.

My initial rating: Highly intriguing and i think he’s genuinely very good. Being able to keep 3 more allies on the board is a huge deal, and gaining enough power out of that to make up for his unimpressive numbers seems not difficult at all. There’s also a lot of different ways to build him, with all those combinations of subclasses offering their own interesting possibilities.

Ideas: There are two things that come to my mind first with Charlie, and i am going to call those two directions Quality and Quantity. Quality means getting allies out with good icons and preferably additional static skill boosts to use for your tests. Quantity means getting lots of them out fast, so things that are cheap and with as many ally slots as possible.
Let’s check out the quality approach first. The look at the currently available level zero allies makes one thing very clear: Good icons cost XP. Only once we get in the 3XP+ range we are getting 2 matching icons. So especially at the beginning we are going to need allies like Beat Cop, Milan, etc to get our skill to 4 or more so we can start using it properly. That being said, there are some truly stellar allies here like Delilah and Lola, Gene Beauregard and/or The Black Cat but it’s going to cost some XP to get that train rolling.
The quantity thing is going to be much easier to start out with. Using cheap allies like Stray Cat, Mysterious Raven, Lab Assistant, etc you just try to flood the board, if possible expanding your ally slots further with Charisma or even Rod of Animalism. Then, when you have to take a test, you just exhaust three of them for a smooth +3 to +6 and know you have three more more further tests.
Obviously you can also go testless or with Survivor tech and pick allies for their abilities. To throw out something i have been mulling over: A Survivor/Guardian Charlie that builds around Bless tokens could use Nephthys, Nkosi, Olive McBride and Jacob Morrison all at the same time. Sadly he can’t use Blessing of Isis to farm his Elder Sign … Wait … Hey, what’s that… Bah god it’s Carson Sinclair with a steel chair Blessing of Isis, triggering both his and Charlie’s Elder Sign over and over! What a turnaround. The Mythos stands no chance.

Final thoughts

It’s very apparent to me that this is an Expert level product. Darrell and Kymani are the most grounded out of the set, but the other four are all … special… both in terms of their playstyle and regarding their card pool. These are definitely not investigators that i would want to try and build decks for with just a Core and the Scarlet Keys box. While that box does make efforts to cater to all of these characters, it’s going to be a real struggle and i am kinda getting second hand anxiety on behalf of the fresh players that decide to go for the hottest new box after the Core and end up trying to wrap their heads around Carson, Charlie and Amina 🙂

From the point of view of a veteran player with several expansion under their belt or even a full collection, this is an intriguing set of characters though. Shaking up assumptions about their classes, these do shine a new light on many of the cards in our collections and that’s something i absolutely love. You aren’t just getting value from the new cards themselves, but also from new uses of what you already had before.

I do have one personal complaint with this set of investigators though. It’s not necessarily something that is going to be relevant for everyone, but for me building the decks is a huge part of the game. I thus value investigators very highly that have several different way to be built, i used the term “open-ended” a couple times for that. Only three out of the six here are appealing to me in that way: Vincent has many roles he can fill and his deckbuilding is just as broad as Carolyn’s is with lots of interesting options. All of the 5/2 investigators are great in this regard too, Darrell is of course no exception. And Charlie who can just choose any 2 subclasses is fun to think about as well. That however leaves Kymani who has very narrow deckbuilding and a statline that pushes them into a very specific corner… and “Evasion Rogue” isn’t exactly a corner that is fresh and new. They do come with a neat twist on it, of course. But they don’t really get me to look at the card pool in all new ways. Carson is similarly limited, but he does at least have the class choice going for him which is able to give him some variation. Still, nothing new opens up through him that wasn’t already doable by Mary/Tommy/Roland. And Amina has a fresh theme going for her with the doom stuff, but (and i appreciate that this is probably a personal hang-up) she’s kinda comes with a deck built for her. There’s a very obvious suite of cards meant for her (and maybe Marie) with little use outside of her. Reminds me a bit of Marvel Champions where you pick your character and then get half your deck prebuilt for you, add another couple staples and then maybe pick three more deck slots. Just doesn’t appeal to me. I will absolutely play all of these investigators, no question about it. But will i return to the last three often? Probably not.
Of course, that is ultimately fine. In fact, i am sure there are plenty people that find this a point in favor of Amina (or Carson, or Kymani). And even if i find that one of them doesn’t work for me at all, with six investigators in the box there’s wiggle room so i am not worried.

Even though i have ended on a complaint here, i don’t want to appear like i am unsatisfied with this set of investigators. This looks to be a fantastic box for players already deep in the game and does a great job of deepening several archetypes and concepts. Can’t wait to dive in.

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