Please note: This post was written during weeks zero and one of the expansion’s release. Most of what’s on here is speculative, i didn’t actually play with these cards much yet. Or at all, really. So take this for what it is, a series of hot takes. I think this is still worth doing, because one of the main goals here is determining how suitable this set is for a new player, what archetypes are represented and how the investigators work within the context of the set. So it doesn’t matter if i am under- or overvaluing one card or another as long as the general impression with each class comes across.
Once a month or three have passed and both myself and the community have gotten a firmer grip on how these cards fit everywhere i will return to this page and give it a complete do-over. Until then, this is Scarlet Keys: Hot Take Edition
This is an overview of the player cards in the Scarlet Keys Investigator expansion. I will be looking at the investigators first, then go over the rest grouped by class. For most cards I will try to keep it short and to the point to not stretch this article more than necessary.
For every group of cards I will nominate the three most useful and the three least useful cards. This isn’t necessarily about raw power, but more about how good they are at fueling a lot of your decks.
Finally, I will give my opinion on how well this selection of player cards stands on its own, answering if it’s worthwhile to get as a first expansion next to the core set and if this expansion + Core is enough to support the investigators contained in this expansion.
These articles do ignore the optional list of taboos. This is because they are mostly aimed at new players trying to figure out which investigator expansion to get next and taboo isn’t a thing that I want to weigh them down with. It’d also make things unnecessary complicated.
The ranking I use for cards is Bad < Okay < Good < Excellent < Staple with each of those spanning quite a range. I use something like “Okay to Good” or “Good to Okay” when I want to specify whether it’s on the upper or lower range of that rank. Please don’t take these rankings too seriously and more as a guide line, cards need to be evaluated in context and compressing these contexts down into just one word is really unprecise. I still find it useful for this overview as a shortcut to put the cards into relation quickly.
Please find a detailed overview of these characters here:
The Investigators of Scarlet Keys
Hunter’s Armor(C): Excellent. If you are looking for a defensive card, there’s not a lot that can compete with this. It also potentially doubles as a card draw engine or damage source.
Obsidian Bracelet: Okay to Bad. Seems too narrow to be worth it. Paying a sizeable amount of resources and reserving your hand slot just to prepare for possibly drawing a treachery in the coming turns isn’t appealing even if the 3/3 soak is a lot.
Runic Axe(C): Excellent. As far as two-handers go, this can do a lot of damage. Like the armor, the axe can also draw cards and it can even become a weird clue seeking device.
Bolas: Good. Getting to evade with your fight skill can be valuable for all sorts of enemies that you don’t want to kill and against Hunters it keeps slowing them down to the point where you can easily bypass them
Custom Modifications(C): Good to Excellent. One problem i constantly run in with Guardian is the lack of good one-handed weapons on the upper end. Using Custom Mods, you can now take even something like a lowly .45 and make it into something worth taking into the final scenarios.
Breach the Door: Good. A one-shot Skeletal Key which is solid. Better in multiplayer when more clues are on one location.
Grievous Wound: Bad to Okay. The most convoluted Vicious Blow ever. Has some borderline playability for its icons but in anything but the shallowest card pools you’ll find something better for your 30 cards.
Motivational Speech: Staple. A great way to save money without costing an action. And you are even able to use it on other players, giving them an action that way.
One in the Chamber: Okay. A fun card to play with the Extended Magazine upgrade of Custom Modifications. Or with shotguns. Or to follow up on a failed kill shot. There’s some use cases with this card, but the timing restriction is rather limiting.
Fighting Lessons: Okay. Guardian just has way too many good skills for evading and/or fighting that outclass this one. That being said, the card is decent and if you do think you can get some value out of the remote commit, this can do a good job.
Helping Hand: Bad. A skill card that requires another skill card and then only copies the icons, not the additional effects. It’s going to be hard to gain more out of this than with just another actual skill that can be used on its own *or* with others.
Bestow Resolve(2): Excellent. This card does a lot. Commits to other locations. Allows to commit multiple skills to another investigator’s test at once. Turns those awkward cards with three non-matching icons into 3 wild icons. It doesn’t even exhaust, so you can use this to just nuke a test from orbit.
Field Agent(2): Excellent. She’s good even if you can’t heal her. I’ve certainly gladly paid 4 resources for 2 clues before, getting an ally with an intellect boost in the mean time is just fantastic. Of course, if you do have healing, she gets even better.
Guard Dog(2): Staple. What a massive upgrade on an already amazing card. More stamina equals more damage dealt and the ability to provoke enemies can do some neat stuff. Also triggers on being dealt horror, which the level 0 doesn’t. So that’s even more potential damage dealt.
Handcuffs(2): Excellent. Solid upgrade. A resource saved is nice and so is the ability to shut down cultists. The real price is the Fast keyword, as it not only saves an action, but it also means you no longer have to play Handcuffs in advance. You can just drop them from your hand when something engages you now.
Martyr’s Vambrace(3): Good. I am keen on playing this card alongside Rosary(2) and/or Tooth of Eztli, using Relic Hunter. That being said, i am not sure i like it too much on its own, just seems a bit too expensive in terms of XP. It certainly does its job well, though.
Girish Kadakia(4): Good to Excellent. An ally well worth the 4XP, Girish can tank a lot of damage for the team while throwing around skill bonuses at the same time. Good icons too that invite to use him with Well Prepared. Or in Charlie, of course.
Prepared for the Worst(2): Good. The original level 0 is a staple of course. The 2XP here don’t make the card better at it’s primary job (finding a weapon), so you’d only get this if you want to use it on other players. It’s a niche and sure, that’s valuable. Getting a free action is also not nothing, but i don’t think it’s worth doing the upgrade unless you really end up with XP to burn which usually isn’t the case in Guardian.
Ever Vigilant(4): Good. A similar situation here. I am sure that some groups can get a lot of mileage out of this upgrade due to allowing everyone to play assets without an action. But just for a +1 card i wouldn’t want to pay 3XP, so this is also a card where i’d want it for a certain job and not otherwise.
Most useful: Guard Dog(2), Motivational Speech, Field Agent
Least useful: Obsidian Bracelet, Helping Hand, Grievous Wound
Verdict: A very solid card pool with a healthy mix of greats, no-so-greats and everything in between. There’s a noticeable amount of cards that care about taking hits, often even for other investigators. Those play well with Carson of course, but they are also a nice backdrop for the arrival of the Guard Dog(2) that was voted into existence on a stream almost 2 years ago. Speaking of Carson, many of these cards affect any investigator at their owner’s location, thus building into his support role. So the butler certainly got some attention within this card pool. Yet, i am skeptical if it’s enough to make him do well on just Scarlet Keys and the Core Set. Especially since most of these do actually require a good amount of XP to get.
When looking at the level zero cards, i feel like it’s a sharp decline in card quality when compared to the leveled up cards. Motivational Speech, One in the Chamber and Bolas are highlights, but the others are all various shades of meh.
The Customizables are all worth building into, with a wide variety of options. I especially like that both Axe and Armor give reasonable card draw engines to Guardian and that Custom Mods gives one-handed firearms more ways to compete against the large arsenal of two-handed guns that dominate the higher XP ranges.
The final card i want to mention here is Bestow Resolve, a very interesting build-around card that i could imagine trying to specifically tailor a deck towards using.
All together a good set of cards, with a more questionable investigator headlining it.
Alchemical Distillation(C): Good. I like this for seekers in a supportive role. The ability to use this on investigators that struggle with card draw or resources makes this useful from level zero on and the Empowered upgrade seems to me like it’s very worth it even for off-class seekers.
Dissection Tools: Okay to Good. Reserving your handslot for this is a tough ask for most investigators that frequently evade or fight. That being said, this is really easy to fill up (no limit like on the Hawk-Eye Cam) and there are no alternatives that do the same job, so this does have potential.
Empirical Hypothesis(C): Staple. This seems to be an insane card to me even at level 0 due to how easy it is to accumulate tokens on this. Just a few XP go a long way to make it almost trivial to fulfill each round. This is kinda a slotless Lucky Cigarette Case at level zero and scales up from there. Nuts.
Grim Memoir: Good. 4 cards for 3 resources and an action is decent, even if it trickles in over a couple turns. Potentially a lot better in Daisy, who now has a way to basic investigate with her bonus action. Especially level 0 decks will appreciate the +2 skill bonus a lot! I like this more than Fingerprint Kit(0).
The Raven Quill(C): Excellent. There’s so many weird uses to this one, something is bound to stick around as worth doing. Personally i am most excited about the prospect of no longer needing a handslot for my Occult Lexicon, but there’s a lot more possible with this.
Research Notes: Good. It’s an enabler for an archetype with little use outside of that archetype. Knowledge is Power apparently combos with this, but that’s more a sign of KiP being busted than Research Notes.
Bizarre Diagnosis: Okay to Good. I wish this was flexible enough to also allow horror healing. It’s just a bit too narrow for my tastes, but the icons are good and if this does something like bringing your Guard Dog(2) up to full again you will love it.
Captivating Discovery: Good to Excellent. Really good at finding what you need. I think this has some great use outside of the “Dropping Clues” archetype as well. I am lowballing this rating because i want to try it, but i think it might just become a staple.
Map the Area: Okay to Bad. Replacing the investigation kills this for me. I’m sure someone will find a use for this in something like a Barricade Minh deck, but for most decks this won’t be great.
Analysis: Okay. Can allow you to force a test through by dropping a clue or two, but in most cases i’d just be happy to play something with more icons instead.
Lab Coat(1): Good to Excellent. This is virtually +1 to a test every turn, with some extra utility against 13th Vision. If you managed to drop the difficulty to 1 or 0, this effect even beats the tentacle token. Only works on Seeker assets, but especially now that there’s a Fingerprint Kit(4) there’s good ways to use it. Only takes the body slot, too.
Orphic Theory(1): Good. This is a useful ability with a good amount of uses. Capable of dealing with a wide variety of problems.
Existential Riddle(1): Excellent. Fantastic piece of removal that is only held back by the requirement for cards in hand.
Guidance(1): Good. The skill bonus for the whole turn is just the sort of additional value that Guidance needed to become interesting. Seekers are still the ones least likely to be able to spare an action, but the card is significantly improved now.
Dr. Maleson(2): Excellent to Staple. The good doctor has always been playable already just for his soak, but now the ability is great, too. Choosing between either of two encounter cards will make the mythos phase a lot less stressful and dropping a clue is a small price to pay for that privilege. I could see a seeker using Maleson to just never draw an enemy unless there were three of them stacked .
Press Pass(2): Excellent. Four resources is a lot, enough that this is likely not worth playing without any clue dropping synergies. In a deck that does have those, it’s completely nuts though. The combo with Maleson(2) alone is amazing.
Surgical Kit(3): Excellent to Staple. I actually think this is playable even as your only source of healing. Using two actions to heal 3 damage, 1 horror and also draw a card? That’s a more than decent deal! In a deck with other healing, this takes off completely. Doesn’t even use an equipment slot and you can refill it comletely with Emergency Cache(3). It’s cheap. It has good icons. There’s simply a lot to like here.
Fingerprint Kit(4): Excellent to Staple. Clearly, this is a card with a lot of raw and obvious power. One of the few instances where a card gets more expensive to play when upgrading it from the default, but since this discovers 6 additional clues instead of 3, that might be worth it. With every use being worth (more than) a Deduction(2), gaining more supplies also becomes very worth doing.
Gray’s Anatomy(5): Excellent. A repeatable source of up to 3 damage per action is worth attention, even if there’s a test required and an actual primary damage source. The healing is also good, but needed far less often. Attacks of Opportunity are a concern, but even this set has Raven Quill already as a potential solution.
Most useful: Empirical Hypothesis(C), Existential Riddle(1), Fingerprint Kit(4)
Least useful: Map the Area, Bizarre Diagnosis, Analysis
Verdict: Very good set of cards. Even the three i mention as “Least useful” do have their niches to fill and i could see putting any of them into decks. A class pool without a misfire is a rare thing.
The seeker of the set, Vincent, can only take level 0-3 Seeker cards and that shines through on the card pool here, with only little of the card pool caring about healing and mostly just your regular clue tech. There’s even some Tool cards thrown in for good measure. The level 4 and 5 cards are a Tool and a “card that heals” (yes it counts, as per designer’s decree) so there are no cards in here that can’t be used by anyone in the box, which is a thing that happened in some other sets before and that i always thought was a bit awkward.
Many of the cards focus on an archetype that drops clues for value. There have been cards doing that before, but now they get a coherent umbrella and some cards that deliver additional payoff for leaning into this playstyle. The cards involved in this are pretty much all good, so that’s certainly going to be a valid way to play your seeker going forward.
Despite Vincent being here, healing isn’t a huge focus of the Seeker card pool. There are a few good cards here, but again the relevant cards for the investigator support require a decent pile of XP to even get. So if you are basing your Vincent on just Scarlet Keys and the Core, you will likely end up being after clues most of the time with some healing on the side. Unless you really plan on spending most of your time with Medical Texts(0)…
Again, the Customizables are really nice. I particularly like how Alchemical Distillation enables a very support heavy seeker, even aside from just healing.
Very nice set addition to the Seeker card pool here.
Damning Testimony(C): Okay. This is fine for rogues with high intellect, but there’s only so many of them. And even then, investing a bunch of XP into a souped up Fingerprint Kit is not really something i think as worth doing. The remote investigation is solid, but the dependence on where enemies are currently makes it a bit awkward to use, too.
Disguise: Good. If evasion is something you plan on doing as your main job, this is nice. Paying the resources (and an extra action) upfront is a real cost, though. So for those that only evade occasionally, a more reactive card like Slip Away(2) probably beats using Disguise. As a source of four +2 skill bonuses to a skill that most rogues are good at already, Disguise can be a neat part of an oversuccess strategy.
Friends in Low Places(C): Excellent to Staple. This has a chance to become Rogue’s version of Prepared for the Worst. It’s much more flexible and can be used for card advantage as well. That to me sounds like it justifies the XP cost.
Embezzled Treasure: Good to Excellent. Translating an abundance of resources in the lategame (which rogues often have) into a smoother early game for the next scenario is fantastic. You can even pass those resources to someone else. The only question is if this can find a deckslot in 30, as it has a similar problem to cards like Delve Too Deep in that it’s not immediately useful.
Honed Instinct(C): Good. A couple extra actions never hurt anybody and as long as you can reliably oversucceed, these are easy enough to trigger. That being said, finding three deck slots for this is probably not going to be easy most of the time.
Thieves Kit: Staple. Using your agility to investigate is very useful for many rogues. This complements Pilfer very well. It also pays for itself over time … and then some. Fantastic card.
Hidden Pocket: Okay. There’s way too many conditionals on this one to be generally useful but as a way to get extra value out of a Toolbelt, Fine Clothes or similar it’s decent enough.
Hit and Run: Good. There’s a lack of really good targets for Hit and Run, at least outside of Seeker. It’s a card with lots of potential though and just like Calling in Favors i expect this to only gain in value over time.
I’ll Take That: Excellent. A way to play an item without an action is great and getting a discount on it is even better. The Illicit trait is probably not going to be too relevant but feel yourself invited to store all kinds of junk in your Hidden Pocket…
Kicking the Hornet’s Nest: Good to Excellent. As long as you are capable of handling enemies, this is a nice way to get some momentum through extra resources and a clue. Is also able to fish for victory points or for enemies that would otherwise spawn in inconvenient places later on. Unlike the somewhat similar On The Hunt, this can’t find Elites, which does limit the card significantly and stops it from doing some of the more creative things that On the Hunt does (like breaking Where The Gods Dwell)
Quick Getaway: Okay. Useful when a Hunter catches up to you, but can also be used on an attack of opportunity. Those 2 resources are a bit much, after all nobody is playing Swift Reflexes which seems like a much more open-ended way to gain an extra action. The Trick trait is what might get Quick Getaway a few spots in a deck or two.
Calculated Risk: Good. This is a real neat way to trigger a big oversuccess after taking a few extra actions. Even just as a skill with 3 icons, this is decent in spite of its restrictions.
Stylish Coat(1): Good to Excellent. As long as you can reliably trigger this, the extra income stacks up over time. Needs some upfront investment and the soak isn’t all that useful, so this isn’t something to play in most decks. But when you want it, it will be very good.
Chuck Fergus(2): Staple. Hot damn, an early version of Chuck. Chuck is one of the more influential cards of recent times and getting a stepping stone towards the level 5 is going to be very valuable. I might even just stick with the level 2 and spend the 3XP that would otherwise go towards the level 5 upgrade on getting a copy of Crafty.
Dirty Fighting(2): Excellent to Staple. This anchors an fight/evade archetype that was already hinted at with the upgraded .25 Automatics. That it even gives bonuses towards parley gives it even more interesting uses. The “evading an exhausted enemy” thing is clearly tailored specifically for Kymani, but sure… i’ll take it in them as well.
Breaking and Entering(2): Excellent to Staple. Yet another way for rogues to leverage their agility to find clues. We’ve seen this recursion clause on a handful of other upgrades before. It’s been great so far, i see no reason to think it’s any worse here.
Thieves’ Kit(3): Excellent. Sure, 3XP is a lot to spend on an investigation tool, but look at all this money this thing can create. Paying 3 to be able to investigate and also get back 6-12 resources? Sounds like a plan.
Trigger Man(3): Good. A way to use an asset once per turn without it taking an action. That’s pretty great and you even save the resources for the asset. A base skill value of 4 isn’t too hot, but might be even an improvement in some cases. Note that he doesn’t save equipment slots the way Elli or Abigail do. He eats up a lot of resources, but since you are getting actions for it, that’s probably fine. Is he better than Lola or Delilah though? Or if all i am after is another action, the Leo De Luca does still exist and he doesn’t require a resource per turn and can do anything. I think Trigger Man is reasonably strong, but he’s got some serious competition to muscle through to carve out his niche among Rogue allies. One such niche: He can feed you Liquid Courage and lets you test willpower at base 4. That seems… fine? But not “3XP and an ally slot” fine?
Underworld Market(2Ex): Good. It’s card draw in Rogue. That’s kinda cool. It’s also a way to ensure you draw a weapon early on with your fighting rogue… or an investigation tool with your clue rogue. Or both with your flex! This is one of the cards where the jury is still out on whether it’s worth 4XP, but it’s absolutely worth testing. What i like is that i can just throw all my assets into this side deck and have my actual deck be full of events and skills so every draw is more impactful… until the reshuffle at least.
Clean Sneak(4): Okay to Good [EDIT: Just Okay]. If you can use this to nuke a bunch of enemies or gain a couple clues, this is really nice. But to be 4XP worth of “nice” i would want there to be three enemies at my location. Two would be tolerable at least. I just don’t see that happen very often, but maybe in a full multiplayer group this happens more often than i think? [EDIT: It has been pointed out to me that you have to pick different options, so you can’t just go and pick up 3 clues or nuke a group. That makes it rather mediocre in my opinion, at least not worth the 4XP.]
Most useful: Thieves Kit(all), Friends in Low Places(C), Chuck Fergus(2)
Least useful: Quick Getaway, Hidden Pocket, Damning Testimony(C)
Verdict: Between the Thieves Kits and B&E(2), this set enables rogues to investigate reliably with their agility. That is of course great for turning Kymani into a clue seeker, but is useful for many other rogues as well.
Chuck Fergus, the popular engine card that holds together the Trick/Tactic archetype in Rogue, gets a level 2 version here alongside enough Trick and Tactic events to not feel out of place. You’ll still want the Winifred deck to make that archetype well-rounded, though.
Illicit as a trait gets some cross synergies here. While that doesn’t really help Finn and only serves to make Preston look at this card pool in despair, it does enable some neat things and especially Fence from Forgotten Age suddenly looks quite a lot better than before.
Kymani looks well supported to me, even with just Core + Scarlet Keys they can fill the role of a clue seeker that evades enemies (and occasionally even discards them) very well.
The Customizables i am less keen on. Damning Testimony requires too many prerequisites to be good. Honed Instinct is fine, but takes up too much deck space. The third customizable card, Friends in Low Places, is amazing. A flexible twist on Prepared for the Worst that can be turned into something that draws a full grip of other cards is exactly the sort of card that Rogue needed to glue their decks together the same way that Seeker gets to do it.
All together, this is rock solid. Not quite as powerful throughout as the Guardian and Seeker pools, but nothing to complain about at all. Ever since the Winifred deck, Rogue had access to one-handed guns on level (or better) with what Guardian has, now they also get the investigation tools to (not quite, but well enough) rival Seeker. This allows them to be built in a hyperflexible way, similar to how Mystic can do most things well if they put their mind (=deck) to it.
Living Ink(C): Good to Excellent. Mystics like their skill boosts and now they have a way to cram +1 willpower into the body slot as well. That alone makes this card playable, but the card has a lot more up its sleeve and it can be used to make those 3s on Amina (or others, of course) more suitable to be built on. Everything that moves mystics away from just pumping willpower gets my approval.
Ceremonial Sickle: Bad. Did i say “Everything”? I misspoke, because this is clearly not it. Even in Amina i wouldn’t be happy to run this. This is simply not good enough, gaining a doom just to get your basic 2 damage attack at skill level 5. And to clear the doom that you might have put on there just to use it (or in Amina’s case, to play it) you attack for 1 damage at skill level 3. Oof.
Summoned Servitor(C): Good. Very costly on slots and even requires a sacrifice, but with the right upgrades you gain a Pathfinder that can also move out and kill cultists. Or do some other things, like getting you clues. Its base stat of 4 is a bit iffy to rely on, so bring some skills to enhance whatever you need it to do.
Dowsing Rod: Good. Unlike the Sickle, the Rod is actually reasonably capable of clearing its doom. Again, i find this suite of cards very unappealing for Amina specifically because of her stunted skill line. But i can imagine this working out with her anyways.
Power Word(C): Okay. I won’t call it Bad, because frankly i don’t fully understand what it tries to do or why you should do this instead of something less convoluted. Seems like a fine card to quasi-evade something without having to test for it as a baseline and i suppose there are other abilities on the upgrade sheet, too 😀 Sorry, this one has me stumped.
Onyx Pentacle: Bad. Yes, let me take this skill level of 3 and oversucceed by 2 real quick. No biggie.(That was sarcasm, btw) I must be missing something here because that just seems ridiculously bad and i somehow can’t imagine the designers putting one of the central cards for the class out like this unless they felt it was worth. But try as i might, i see few reasons to ever put this into a deck here. Well, i suppose it can evade into neighbouring locations. That’s not nothing?
Hallowed Chalice: Okay. As a repeatable source of healing, this is … inefficient. But at least it doesn’t run out? I am not too keen on this one, but at least removing the doom on this doesn’t require testing something, it just happens. So that’s good.
Eldritch Initiation: Okay to Good. Either you draw this early and use it to get two cards (that’s good) or you draw it late and need to somehow set it up to be at least okay. If by the late game you have some chaff in your hand, drawing two and discarding one with this isn’t awful at all. And of course it has the potential to go deeper if you use it with more arcane slots.
Explosive Ward: Okay. Doesn’t have an upper limit, so someone will somehow one-shot something like The Experiment or Yig with it. I think this card has some potential in some decks but it just really lags behind existing cards for non-extreme use cases.
String of Curses: Excellent to Staple. This is a fantastic card. Both of its halves are very useful in multiple ways. The thought of using this to nuke a Wizard of the Order and get some cash for it has me all hot and bothered, but even just wiping away an Acolyte or evading something big while finding a clue are great for a cheap little level zero card.
Binder’s Jar(1): Good to Excellent. Screw canceling attacks, the real use is taking annoying enemies out of the encounter deck. That Wizard of the Order you nuked? It’s not coming back, even if the deck reshuffles. And then you also get some arcane slots out of it. Super cool card.
Ghastly Possession(1): Good to Excellent. I don’t see myself ever using the first mode, but the second one is very nice. Removing doom is obviously good and replenishing charges works well on anything that has at least 4 base uses (otherwise you only get 1 use back which is underwhelming)
Astral Mirror(2): Excellent. This is already useful for the slot shenanigans, allowing your mystics and off-class mystics to carry an obscene amount of tomes, candles, athames or whatever around. But it also comes with a free play action for those assets on top. Sweet card.
Elle Rubash(2): Excellent to Staple. Masking doom from the agenda allows benefiting from any synergies you might have (like Marie does) without repercussions. That’s very powerful and you also get skill bonuses on top for those assets. Basically a prerequisite before one even starts thinking about the doom charm cycle.
Moonlight Ritual(2): Good to Excellent. There’s a lot to like about this upgrade. The level zero was already basically a staple for the decks that needed it to protect themselves from their own and the upgrade improves it on all fronts. I also like that this can be used on enemies and locations, not just player cards.
Ceremonial Sickle(4): Good to Excellent. “Remove all doom”. Those three words make all the difference because now you can imagine taking this, attacking a couple times with +4 skill, then finishing something off to clear it completely. I still wonder how this compares to Abyssal Tome, but with the upgrade it’s definitely something that can be built around.
Dowsing Rod(4): Good. No bonus clue, huh? Shame, that is something i do expect if i am to spend 4XP on something and also manage doom. I suppose it does the job, but I wouldn’t be happy about it and i would much rather play Sixth Sense or just a bunch of events.
Onyx Pentacle(4): Okay. Like with the other two, removing all doom is an important feature. But i still can only shake my head in disbelief about that oversuccess thing. That’s so weird. And so unnecessary.
Sin-Eater(3Ex): Excellent. The card that makes Amina tick. Not only eats doom, but also readies assets (which those doom charms desperately need). Non-Amina investigators have some ways to combo this card with something like Abyssal Tome or David Renfield, but for them it’s probably not worth the 6XP?
Uncage the Soul(3): Good. An expensive upgrade, but in the right deck i can see myself taking it. Getting to play Rituals with it as well is nice, but obviously very deck dependent. Reaching into your discard is super good, though. As is the added flexibility to discard something from play first, which basically allows using Uncage(3) as a slightly worse Recharge(4) for your spell assets.
Most useful: Elle Rubash(2), String of Curses, Living Ink(C)
Least useful: Onyx Pentacle(all), Ceremonial Sickle(0), Explosive Ward
Verdict: This pool of Mystic cards does something that i appreciate a lot, even though that means that it sacrifices a lot in terms of wider playability for these cards. For a large part, Mystic is dominated by cards that work with the investigator’s willpower, the most obvious examples being the different versions of the “spell assets” suites that we got by now. Scarlet Keys breaks with that by having cards that don’t focus willpower, a very good thing for entrenched players who want something fresh for their purple cards. Doing so however led to a set of cards here that are very closely designed with each other in mind and that’s a bit of an issue.
Taking the space of the spell asset suite are a full cycle of handheld doom charms. Using them requires putting doom tokens on them, which can be cleared off with a weaker secondary ability. Sadly their power level is very low and my impression here is that they are balanced under the assumption that you already have Elle Rubash and Sin-Eater in play which is iffy. It leaves you without a very functional deck if you don’t draw your Elle… or if you simply didn’t get to spend that required 10XP entry tax into the archetype. If Amina had some better stats on her than 3s across the board, she could use these charms in a way that would be better than just what mystics usually do. But as it is now, you have to go far out of your way with attribute boosts, upgrades to the charms and assorted doom synergy just to get where Mark is after playing a Machete. The charms don’t even give a particularly great payoff, you get 2 damage or 1 clue per action only even with the level 4 upgrades in play. It’s a whole lot of work just so you don’t have charges on your assets. I don’t want to trash these too hard in a speculative hot take article and maybe i am missing something, but that whole cycle of charms doesn’t seem worth it to me at all. And even if it is, it’s only in Amina?
Switching gears, the doom support cards aside from the doom charms are great. Both Elle and Sin-Eater can work very well in other contexts, and especially Marie is going to be happy to know that she now can keep her 1 doom she wants at all times on the board without it counting for the agenda. Ghastly Possession, String of Curses, the upgraded Moonlight Ritual – those are all great cards to have that will make plenty of decks.
There’s a couple of cards here that care about equipment slots, something we’ve also seen in Edge of the Earth. Having more freedom with your slots is a catalyst for interesting decks and it looks like this is even being grown into its own archetype over time with some payoff cards being dropped here and there. I’m into it.
Mystic gets the weirdest set of Customizables, with Servitor and Power Word both going for a thing where the player commandeers something else to go around and do stuff in their stead. I find these very hard to evaluate, i definitely need to play with these before i feel comfortable claiming whether these are just a convoluted way to do what you’ve always done or if they let you do enough new stuff to be worth the investment. The Living Ink is much more generally useful and allows to tweak the skill line of investigators to ones liking. I think this has a lot of potential, even at low XP cost this is something that can empower some lines of play in a cool fashion.
The mystic of the box, Amina, is well-supported here. In fact, i would go as far as saying she almost comes with her own pre-constructed deck built around the doom charms and the various doom removals. It’s a safe bet that this deck is something that was playtested to hell and back during development of the box, so that should work just fine if assembled in exactly that way. Other cards interesting for Amina include Living Ink, which can save her stat line from mediocrity and the other two customizables which could be used to let her do things without using those stats in the first place. Due to being so self-contained, i think Amina can work well with just Scarlet Keys and the Core.
To sum up my thoughts on Mystic, i do applaud the effort on giving us something fresh here instead of just the next iteration on Shrivelling and Co. I feel like the doom charm cycle is executed way too conservatively and just not worth the effort, but the rest of the cards holds up very well and provides some interesting options for other archetypes as well.
Pocket Multi Tool(C): Excellent. A great piece of encounter protection with various other uses as well. Spring-Loaded is an incredibly powerful upgrade.
Idol of Xanatos: Okay to Bad. One of those cards that does a job and does it well, but that is often just going to be too costly. Thanks to their many recursion options, just cycling through teddy bears is often going to do the same without costing as many resources and ravaging your hand. I could see this in Patrice who doesn’t put as much value into sheer card numbers, but even Calvin probably has better things to save him. As just a way to get cards in the discard, it’s too expensive and takes up too valuable of an equipment slot.
Makeshift Trap(C): Good to Excellent. A bit dependent on the campaign that is played, but as a way to deal with Hunters or cultists on the cheap, this is pretty good. I also like the 6XP Fireball Trap you can build with this!
Improvised Shield: Okay. This doesn’t seem a great payoff for an Improvised card to me. Like with the Idol of Xanatos, there’s other options that are both better and more reliable.
Grizzled(C): Excellent to Staple. More amazing encounter protection in Survivor. A self-recurring skill that can commit for 3 or even more icons? Yes, please.
End of the Road: Okay. Survivor has a couple good discard outlets, including some investigators, so the drawback of sitting in your hand doesn’t have to be too bad. And at some point you can just cash this in for an extra action. That seems worth doing to me, but i suspect this is a card you’ll upgrade out of rather soon for more immediately impactful things.
Exploit Weakness: Okay to Bad. Quite limited in its application. Even with the support that archetype gets in Scarlet Keys, lowering the difficulty of attacks or evasions isn’t terribly common. There’s a few good targets for this (like the Conglomeration of Spheres) but not enough that are worth nuking with something like this. Doesn’t do much on its own, so unless we get a weapon equivalent to Old Keychain some time that gives a repeatable fight reduction on enemies, i don’t see this card be worth it except maybe in Darrell. (I’m aware of the Trap. No, i don’t think that’s a particularly good combo either)
Making Preparations: Okay. Coordinating this across a team is going to be awkward as usually people need different things. Even if you can pull it off, it’s just a +1 so it’d need to apply to a whole bunch of tests to be worth a card. Maybe that can be set up, but i am skeptical of this one.
Predator or Prey: Okay to Good. Awkward timing like all of the Dilemmas, but giving a free move to everyone has potential.
Shed a Light: Excellent to Staple. Rewards your setup of lowering shroud to zero by giving you two clues for 2 resources. A fine effect but i don’t think this beats Look What I Found. Of course it doesn’t have to, you can just play both. Pretty great for a level zero.
At a Crossroads(1): Excellent to Staple. This is my favorite of the Dilemmas. Drawing cards is always useful and so is taking actions, so this will only very, very rarely be awkward to draw. I expect to use that action to draw 3 a whole lot.
Lifeline(1): Okay. This is a card that either does nothing or is completely insane. Taking like 5 actions with this is possible with a bit of minor prep work and that’s just going to be nuts. But in the vast majority of decks this is just an extra action after a fail. Which is fine, i guess.
Nature of the Beast(1): Good. It’s a free clue from anywhere. That seems very worth taking an extra encounter card to me, especially since the choice out of three will make it likely that you’ll be able to shrug it off fairly well.
Gumption(1): Excellent to Staple. Finally, payback for how bad Unexpected Courage(2) is. This is a fantastic upgrade on UC, lowering tests is just a lot better than increasing skill by default. Also, this stacks with other difficulty lowering effects, which is still a rarity. Most of those effects are tied to cards that can’t be used at the same time, so Gumption enables some interesting new stuff.
Baseball Bat(2): Okay to Good. That’s cute. Returning to your hand is absolutely fine, considering its relatively low resource cost. And occasionally being able to deal three damage on a skull can be relevant too. It’s been worded to not completely combo with William’s ability, but i could see him getting good value out of this card anyways.
Katja Eastbank(2): Excellent. She’s intended to do Dilemma support, but i am actually more interested in redrawing up to 5 cards. And then just killing her off with damage or horror. That’s some potent card selection, even if it blocks the ally slot for a while.
Heed the Dream(2): Good to Excellent. Given enough time, this will shred everyone’s deck until there’s nothing left. Of course, games don’t go that long and having to remove a few cards is also no biggie unless you are emotionally attached or something. This is just outright great card draw for the whole team.
Salvage(2): Excellent to Staple. Both modes are great here and fit well within existing Survivor decks.
Old Keyring(3): Staple. That thing is insane. The regular Keyring is already nuts, but giving it an extra charge and the potential for extra clues is huge. What a ridiculous card.
Fickle Fortune(3): Good. Removing a doom from the agenda is super powerful and i gladly take some damage and horror on everyone for it. The first option looks a lot less appealing at first glance, but i suspect that it’s going to be the correct one a surprising amount of times.
Most useful: Old Keyring(3), Gumption, At A Crossroads(1)
Least useful: Making Preparations, Idol of Xanats, Improvised Shield
Verdict: There’s a lot of fancy stuff going on in this Survivor set and i like the overwhelming majority of it a lot. There’s really everything here: More cogs in the recursion engine, incredible encounter protection, beginnings of a new archetype and finally what is basically a new card type. Let’s go through them one by one.
Survivor recursion at this point is ridiculously powerful, but Salvage is good enough to stick out even among what we already have from other sets. With Improvised Shield and Baseball Bat(2), there’s two more items that can play into the strategy as well, although those might be a harder sell.
For encounter protection, Grizzled offers recurring stacks of wild icons. Fantastic. And so is the Pocket Multitool, which has “repeatable Lucky for treacheries” as just one of its modes.
Survivor has always been able to reduce difficulty (possibly to zero for a near-guarantee to pass) and that strategy gets a major shot in the arm in this expansion. Most relevant is getting more ways to stack these reductions so that you can now do things like play Winging It with Gumption and reduce a shroud 3 to zero. Really nice.
Dilemmas are a set of cards that trigger as soon as your draw them, sort of like a weakness would but (hopefully!) in a way that helps you. Several of these are nice and it will be interesting to see how they play in practice. With Katja Eastbank, the strategy even got its own ally to build around. Neat.
The Customizables are all three well done and i can see myself playing all of them in different configurations in different decks.
Darrell, the Survivor of the set, can be built into quite well even with just the Core and Scarlet Keys. As an investigator with 5 intellect it doesn’t take much for him to be a very good clue seeker, and he does get some fantastic cards here like Old Keyring(3) and Shed a Light (and of course Flashlight(3) in Neutral!). Throw in the usual Seeker and Survivor staples from the Core and you got yourself a very competent and immediately powerful investigator.
There are some questionable assets in this bunch and not all the Dilemmas appeal to me, but overall this is an excellent selection of cards that do a lot to deepen the Survivor card pool.
Hyperphysical Shotcaster(C): Good. Gives everyone access to some basic capabilities, but without infringing on class identities too much. The only thing that really sticks out to me as special is giving rogues the ability to remove treacheries with their agility. It’s a flexible card and there’s value in that, but i don’t see myself playing this often over in-class options.
Refine: Good. Hey, it’s 3 resources, 2 actions and 1 card in exchange for 1XP. I have done much worse for an XP. Can unlock an upgrade on a customizable mid-game. While i don’t think that’s going to come up often, it might come up in a pinch with some of the upgrades that are situational but only have one checkbox.
Tool Belt: Okay. There’s likely a good use for this one, but i haven’t seen the killer application for it just yet. It is a cheap way to simulate additional hand slots though, and as such it certainly has value.
Flashlight(3): Excellent. The thought of putting 3XP towards something like a flashlight feels a bit weird, but the upgrade is a sizeable one. Like Gumption, this Flashlight stacks with other investigation (or evasion!) effects, which is great. So for an investigator focusing on that, having 4 charges of an Almost-Gumption sounds like a pretty sweet deal.
Soul Sanctification(3Ex): Good to Excellent. Obviously great in Vincent and Carolyn if it allows them to just use their healing at will. How good is it in regular decks, though? It can probably do some very nice things with Surgery Kit or Hallowed Mirror, but is that worth 6XP? It just might be, having a bunch of skill bonuses on tap is quite powerful.
Let’s talk about Charlie Kane: To make a long story short, i think that Charlie Kane can be built a deck for on Scarlet Keys and Core, but not necessarily a really good one. Charlie’s card access favors a large collection, as the 0-2 restriction really limits his options otherwise. The selection of allies is also a bit thin and there’s actually surprisingly few interesting allies in this set to use with Charlie, pretty much just the three in Guardian and maybe Maleson. That being said, Girish *is* amazing for Charlie. So you’d have to fill the deck with stuff from the Core, but aside from Leo De Luca and again a few Guardian cards it’s not looking too great. So i’d say he’s rather firmly on the side of investigators that need further support from other expansions to do their thing well.
The Scarlet Keys Investigator Expansion delivers a fantastic set of cards that is both interesting and powerful. Every class has several new good entries into existing archetypes, some even have anchors for new ones. I’d go as far as saying that this is the best set of player cards we’ve gotten so far… with one important caveat: You need to already have a decent collection. Otherwise you won’t be able to use many of these cards in their intended way which will diminish how good this set is compared to something like Dunwich, Edge or Forgotten Age which are much better picks for getting early on.
The best showcase of this are of course the investigators themselves. Darrell, Amina and Kymani are playable fine even with just Keys + Core, but Carson, Charlie and Vincent are on more shaky footing. Add to that how Amina, Carson and Charlie are fairly “out there” in terms of mechanics and playstyle and you get a product that isn’t exactly friendly to new players. But then again, for an already entrenched player this sort of break from traditions is exactly what is needed to breathe fresh air into a game they have been playing for years.
The player cards in the classes follow the examples of the investigators in some ways, often focusing on aspects that are either new to the class or so far have been a bit underappreciated. Guardian tilts more towards support and tank instead of the usual fighting implements. There’s still some potent new entries to the arsenal, of course. Seeker turns “Dropping Clues” into an actual archetype instead of just something you can do with some cards for a short term benefit. Rogue gets an investigation focus and also deepens the interactions with the Illicit trait. Mystic goes all in on Doom synergy instead of doing the usual willpower thing. Survivor has “Difficulty Reduction” turned into an archetype and introduces Dilemma cards as a new weird thing they have. A lot of these themes do build on the framework of existing cards though, so again this is fantastic for deepening an already developed collection, but a bit too fragmented and “out there” for a fresh one.
I like the new Customizable cards a whole lot. While they do look a bit intimidating at first, my thinking is that they aren’t nearly as clunky or unwieldy as some people make them out to be. I expect them to play really well, actually. And i absolutely like the choices these offer to me as a player. It’s basically as if i got 5 or more different versions of a card in those card slots and i can see myself making great use of the decision space they give me. They seem super cool to me, huge fan. Can we make this an evergreen mechanic please? With one or two new customizables in each class per expansion from now on? Pretty please?
Bottom line: I am confident i will absolutely love this expansion. I think most other players who have been into the game for a while will as well. I would steer new or semi-new players towards a different set, though.
That’s it for the Scarlet Keys player card overview.
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