Investigator Expansion Review: The Feast of Hemlock Vale

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HOT TAKE EDITION

As i write this, the set isn’t even out yet. Hell, as i start on this, we are even still missing the last handful of Survivor cards for the full spoiler 😀 So take this for what it is, a collection of first impressions and discussion starters.
This page is going to be edited in like half a year or so once we all played a bit with the new cards and opinions settled more firmly to become the proper Expansion Review for this set.

One thing worth pointing out is that there is three instances of rulings where it’s not quite clear yet how things work. These are:
Rod of Carnamagos shenanigans. Using its free trigger during skill tests could with rules as written make those 5 tokens revealed count for any “tokens revealed during this skill test” triggers. This turns a 0XP card into some super-Olive Mc Bride worth 5+XP that makes you find 5 clues with each activation of Eye of Chaos etc. Seems pretty clear to me that this is not intended and will be fixed.
– In an email ruling from a while ago, it was ruled that you can feed Dayana Esperence with new spells if you want to, which pushes out existing cards. Rules as written this is not possible and with Hunting Jacket we get a card in this expansion that supercharges if you apply the Dayana specific ruling to it. Again, seems clear to me that Hunting Jacket is not meant to just give you 3 resources every turn.
– Similarly, a recent email ruling ruled that Snitch is a parley card despite not having Parley and thus can be recurred with Eldritch Tongue. This would then also make Grizzled a parley card for Alessandra to use. This doesn’t really break anything like the previous two things do, but has the same energy as the “Sure, let’s just pretend Hallowed Mirror is a healing card and so is Grey’s Anatomy” ruling that was reverted within weeks.

Personally, i will Grim Rule the first two cases to not work. Decide for yourself how the game is more fun to you, but for this ranking that means i will not consider these interactions.

Introduction

This is an overview of the player cards in the Feast of Hemlock Vale 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.

The Investigators

This is quite the diverse bunch of characters, with no common theme or mechanics to tie them together. This is of course not a problem, just pointing out that it’s not like in Dunwich or Edge of the Earth where everyone has the same deckbuilding.
Wilson Richards is a traitbased investigator, focusing on the Tool trait. He has a flat statline, but is supposed to make up for it by being able to play tools cheaper and being able to use them better. That makes him a flexible character that can fill multiple roles at once without excelling at something in particular. His deck building prohibits level 5 guardian, but gives him access to all tool cards and a more limited access to the Upgrade and Improvised traits.
Kate Winthrop also focuses on a trait, in her case Science (and some Tool and Insight on the side). She is able to leverage discovered clues into skill bonuses and can use this to spike her stats rather dramatically. That means that (for a Seeker) she is also capable of doing more than just picking up clues.
Alessandra Zorzi is the Parley specialist and gets access to all cards that mention parley on them. She’s another flexible character that can use her events (and some assets) to achieve a lot of different things.
Kouhaku Narukami utilizes both blesses and curses. Not only does he get access to both of those traits, but he can also trade in tokens for extra actions. Once more, this is an investigator that can fill any role.
Last but not least, Hank Samson is a tanky Survivor that can take damage and horror in stead of players and allies at his location. After passing a health/sanity threshold he becomes resolute in one of two ways, adjusting his statline but from then on is no longer able to heal. His card access includes much of the Spirit and Innate traits. Hank is for the most part a fighter, but of course any survivor can do some clue stuff on the side if they desire.

All of these are reasonable capable at first glance. We’ll have to check how well they are supported within the set as we go over the cards one by one, though.

Guardian

Ancestral Token: Excellent. This is pretty much a game changer for bless oriented guardians as it will allow them to generate a lot of tokens without asking any further investment from them beyond what you pay for the card itself.
Cleaning Kit: Okay. There’s not a lot what you get in terms of ammo at level zero, so this does at least fill a niche. But 3 cost for 3 ammo is costed a bit too conservatively for my tastes considering it also takes an equipment slot.
Katana: Bad to Okay. This is way too inconsistent. I would put this below the Winchester in how easy it is to trigger. Two-handed , too.

Ofuda: Okay to Good. Pretty great at its job. But that job is rather niche, making this a fine tech card for specific scenarios/campaigns, but nothing you’ll usually want to just play.
Wolf Mask: Staple. All the masks are fantastic and imo Wolf Mask is the best one. Its trigger gives you charges exactly when you need them and both stats that are raised here are useful for you.
Absolution: Okay to Bad. This is more random than I’d like. There is a niche for X-costed events that just let you dump resources into a big effect, but i don’t think it’s in Guardian?

Guided by Faith: Okay. Has some potential if your deck can guarantee the bless reveal for an extra clue, but paying 2 resources for a clue and 2 blesses is not quite impressing me enough.
Hold Up: Bad to Okay. If this wouldn’t replace the damage dealt by the attack, we’d be talking, but as it is it’s the most awkward resource card ever. Now, beggars can’t be choosers and Guardian has little in terms of resource events that would compete, but this really feels like scraping the bottom of the barrel.
Task Force: Okay. An extra action for 2 resources is the usual rate (and one i frequently don’t deem worth spending a card on) and Task Force does add a lot of stipulations to getting that extra action as well. In exchange you get a testless clue… which doesn’t seem good enough to me in most cases.

Tinker: Okay to Good. As a way to get an extra handslot, this doesn’t suck. You are binding that handslot to a specific item which makes it less flexible than something like a Bandolier, but you are also not taking up the Backpack slot like Bandolier does.
Purified: Okay. They couldn’t at least have given this a wild icon? This does potentially do a lot, i especially like the prospect of playing this into a test where you know you are going to reveal a Bless. But as high as the ceiling is, this one is going to also disappoint you too often.
Hand-Eye Coordination(1): Okay to Good. An extra action for a resource. That’s fine. While it’s limited to a weapon or tool action, the fact that you can play this even when you don’t have any actions left (for example, after autofailing an important attack on your third action) this potentially has a place.

Strong-Armed(1): Staple. Vicious Blow is good. It’s even better when it comes with autofail-protection. That this can’t be used to enhance fight events is a flavor tragedy, that it can’t be used with firearms is a balance tragedy. But it’s a very good card where it can be used.
Second Wind(2): Okay to Good. This is solid healing. 2XP is a bit of a steep price for it, but if you are starting with damage trauma on you, you could do a lot worse to adress that issue.
Cleaning Kit(3): Good to Excellent. The upgrade is pretty spicy. Not only will this fuel anything from Shotgun to Fingerprint Kit(4), but it will also give free skill bonuses on top of that. You can even use Emergency Cache(3) to put more supplies on this to then filter them through to the assets.

Blessed Blade(4): Staple. One-handed, no ammo, +2 fight, +1 damage. Guardian finally got its faction-specific Timeworn Brand. It’s cheaper on XP and on cost. And it also produces 2 blesses per turn. Fantastic card, even if you don’t do anything with blesses otherwise.
Eyes of Valusia/Blade of Yoth(4): Okay. Good to Excellent. The blade is quite the good weapon (and thankfully one-handed too), but having to spend 3 extra actions to charge it up is rough. I’m not sure what to think of this one, seems like the effort isn’t completely worth the payoff? Things look better when you can gain more value from the chargeup on Eyes. In a big group, this could hand out a lot of skill bonuses to a lot of actions when everyone gangs up on one boss-like enemy. (EDIT: I read this wrong, i was under the impression that you need to charge it up three times before you even get access to the blade. Being able to swap it back and forth at will makes it A LOT better and i am upgrading this one’s rating from “Okay” all the way up to “Good to Excellent”.)

Flurry of Blows(5): Okay. 2 resources and a card to gain 2 actions is a good rate for sure. But 5XP can buy you a lot. I think the final nail in the coffin here is that it ends your turn, limiting it in that way really wasn’t necessary. This is fine on a value level, but personally i will stick to One-Two-Punch(5) if i want a big damage nuke like this to put on Stick to the Plan.
Miracle Wish(5): Okay to Good. There are some very attractive best case scenarios to this one, but there is a bunch of limitations that keep it in check. The worst one is that triggering Ascension doesn’t actually cancel the other revealed tokens, so if your Elder Sign only gives you +1 and you failed by more than 2, then this doesn’t turn the test into a pass. That’s a bit rough considering the XP cost and setup and that you will most likely only get 2 charges out of this.

Most useful: Wolf Mask, Strong-Armed, Blessed Blade
Least useful: Hold Up, Absolution, Katana

I feel like Guardian got the weakest set of cards in Hemlock Vale, but there are definitely some standouts here as well. Strong-Armed and Blessed Blade are both going to be staples for a long time, Ancestral Token changes the whole way the class gets to look at the Bless archetype(s) and Cleaning Kit is enticing as well. But then there is a sea of rather safe events that are just “okay”, but don’t really move the needle much. The Double events are particularly unimpressive here, compared to some of the ones in the other classes.

All together, this is fine. Nothing special, but not a crash landing either.

As for Wilson Richards and his viability on just the Core and this expansion, he’s going to be on shaky ground if he isn’t supported with cards from other sets. At least if you also want him to be able to fight. This set has a lot of investigation tools for him to use and that is probably the direction to take him on a limited card pool. Pitchfork is good, but only goes so far. For him to become a proper fighter/flex, you will likely want to have access to things like Chainsaw from the Stella deck and/or Fire Extinguisher(3) from the Edge of the Earth expansion. So… he is supported and can certainly be played, but i don’t think he quite lives to his potential on a limited card base and is a bit sketchy compared to the others.

Seeker

Chemistry Set: Okay. Nothing too special on its own, but if you are getting value out of its Science or Tool traits, then this starts to look better. Pretty solid for a level zero card, but since it doesn’t give a bonus itself, you’ll likely not hold onto it for too long.
Dr. Charles West III: Bad. I don’t see the appeal. Alice Luxley already appears underpowered and West makes the trigger to get the damage worse while also not having the +1 intellect. You get an extra tool slot instead but trading your ally slot for a hand slot is usually also not what you want to be doing.
Microscope: Good to Excellent. I really like this one. You will be limited in how often you get to use it because you’ll always want to use it with 2 evidence. But every time you do, you get a free Pilfer. That is fantastic, even if you only get it twice and starts taking off if you do it three times. For a level zero card, this is brilliant.

Mouse Mask: Staple. Not as easy to recharge as some of the other masks, but does give bonuses to what are arguably the two best stats.
Control Variable: Okay to Good. A card for a clue. Pretty standard seeker fare and in the right deck it’s super easy to trigger.
Testing Sprint: Okay. Pretty cracked in Luke who can investigate everything at once or in Amanda who can add a Deduction into every one of those tests. For general use, i am less enthusiastic. It’s pretty easy to investigate three connections at once with it, but at that point you are only doing “Card for a Clue” again. So you do want four locations at least for this to be worth it and that requires a bit of setup and possibly intentionally leaving clues behind. Not a fan of the gameplay that his expects from you.

Thorough Inquiry: Good to Excellent. Turning one card into five is good, even if there are some strings attached. Two and a half card per action is a perfectly fine rate. The value is the same to playing two Deep Knowledges back to back, except without the curses. I consider Deep Knowledge a staple, so that seems like a great baseline even if the whole Double thing is quite limiting in practice. Also… look at those icons, those are massive for a level 0 card!
“Throw the Book At Them!”: Bad to Okay. Can be used as an emergency evade, but having to test against fight is super awkward for Seekers.
Transmogrify: Excellent. A much better emergency evade, testing intellect, discovering a clue in the process and nailing down the enemy at that location. There’s some potential drawbacks to giving the enemy Massive, but overall that is a very potent package.

Well-Funded: Okay. Needs three assets of the right type before it beats Unexpected Courage. I’m not a fan of this one.
Gabriel Carillo(1): Excellent to Staple. The only thing keeping Gabriel from becoming an immediate staple is the existence of Milan in the Core Set. Do you want resources or cards from your intellect ally? Either is a valuable resource and i will play Gabriel a whole lot, but i am giving the overall nod to Milan just because he’s level 0 and i think that Seeker’s access to cards is in general a bit better than to resources. Also, curses. But yeah, this is a great ally to have access to and I’d be interested to see how he stacks up with Jeremiah Kirby.
Steady Handed(1): Good. It’s an enabler for the Science cards that ask you to succeed by an exact amount. Also has some applications for oversuccess in Rex and Trish. Rather narrow card, but good at what it does.

Fine Tuning(1): Good. Another specialized enabler, allowing to double use tools and science assets. There are some neat targets for it like Lockpicks, Mariner’s Compass and Darrell’s Kodak, but nothing that really wows me quite yet. That of course, is just a matter of time.
Esoteric Method(1): Okay to Good. Practiced skill in Seeker with 4 wild icons? At that point the textbox almost doesn’t matter. Well, this does spam the bag full of curses which isn’t really what you want. Even in curse decks you want to gain curses in more productive ways. But just the baseline skill is ridiculous enough that you might consider this despite its heavy drawbacks.
Prismatic Spectacles(2): Excellent. Moving the investigation tool from the hand to the accessory slot makes it a lot easier to hold some tomes or other fancy stuff alongside it. You also get a +2 bonus, don’t use charges and don’t exhaust either. That seems solid even before the chance of getting extra clues out of it, but with that also on top we are looking at something that is actually really good and competitive with other accessory options.

Confound(3): Excellent. A souped up version of Breaking and Entering that gains 2 clues and also super-evades the enemy. Seems pretty great and even better if the Parley does something for you.
Microscope(4): Good. That’s a rather steep XP cost. As much as i like the level 0 one, this might just be a step too far in most cases. You do get the ability to spend an extra evidence on use, so you can pick up 4 clues with one test and a double action. Granted, that is pretty hot. Notably, this also doesn’t exhaust on adding an evidence anymore, so in multiplayer games you can really farm those counters. In bigger groups than what i am used to this is probably a much more significant upgrade than i am giving it credit for.

Ravenous Myconid(4): Excellent… actually this one might possibly be cracked. Rather easy to research and the three strains are all quite powerful. Since Uncanny Growth counts as an Investigate, it does even find a clue. So the Seeker won’t even lose much tempo while charging up the Myconid. And the amount of growth counters per play of the card is unlimited, so you can charge the Myconid up in one go. Considering the impact of the abilities on either strain, that seems scarily powerful as it gives Seekers a way to deal with treacheries and enemies without really losing much tempo.

Most useful: Prismatic Spectacles, Gabriel Carillo, Mouse Mask
Least useful: Charles West, Throw the Book, Well Funded

This looks quite good. A smattering of powerful investigation tools that manage to set themselves apart from the already existing ones. A new ally that can muscle its way past Kirby and Milan in some decks. An impactful Researched card. There is just a lot to like here.

Kate is well supported, finding a good range of Science assets in this expansion to use as batteries for her investigator ability. She’ll hit the ground running even on a limited card pool of even just the Core + Hemlock Vale and can be a powerful seeker for any team.

Thumbs up for Seeker.

Rogue

Bianca “Die Katz”: Okay to Good. I am a fan of Gregory Gry and Bianca occupies a very similar space. The possibility to turn into a weakness enemy is offputting, but a net win of eight resources over time is pretty sweet and does actually beat out what Gregory offers.
Blackmail File: Okay to bad. Bizarro evasion using your willpower against their health. Willpower is often not a rogue’s strongest suite, so that limits who wants this from the get go. Unlike Disguise from Scarlet Keys which turned out to be a super star, I don’t really see this one getting anywhere too productive.

British Bull Dog: Excellent. It’s a rogue Shrivelling! Has the potential to end up a staple, but at the very least will sit comfortably with Mauser and .25 Auto, to have a collective laugh about Guardian firearms. I don’t care about the parley text, this thing would be great even if it wasn’t there.
Fake Credentials: Okay to Good. I think this one is pretty solid. Ignoring shroud values is nice, setting up easy tests enables some shenanigans and gaining clues is always welcome. Not as universally useful as Lockpicks or Thieves Kit, but this has a solid niche.
Fox Mask: Excellent. Not quite as good as the other masks due to a very awkward way of recharging. But still, a 1 cost asset that gives a couple of Courages on tap is excellent and the two stats raised here are exactly what we want to see on a rogue mask.

Scrimshaw Charm: Okay. I believe we can do better when it comes to getting value for our curses. Even in dedicated curse decks, we want to get paid out more than just a buck per curse we put in the bag. It’s also an accessory, a famously contested slot in Rogue.
Bank Job: Good. Not as good as Seeker’s Inquiry, but still solid. Certainly beats those sketchy Doubles that Guardian gets. Gives the value of two Emergency Caches played back to back, but just costs one card. I like the idea of using this to set up yourself and a teammate on turn one. Obviously, it has steep competition from other resource generators, but i think this has enough of a baseline value to carve a niche.
False Surrender: Good to Excellent. A free action for a card that also allows keeping a weapon in your hand until you actually need it. Two relevant traits as well.

Grift: Okay to Good. You could gain six resources from this, but you also might not. It’s a bit too much variance for my tastes, but in an agility oversuccess deck it will probably work out just fine. Those are also the decks where adding curses from Faustian can come back to bite you, so that is worth a go.
I’ll Pay You Back: Okay to Bad. It doesn’t really do a whole lot and if your goal is letting your rogue pay for other peoples stuff there are alternatives that i like better.
Stir the Pot: Okay. Makes a decent impression of Storm of Spirits in rogue. Testing intellect limits it to just a couple investigators that can really use it well (or have to combo it with Fine Clothes which isn’t really standard issue on rogues either). But to be fair, those are the types of rogues that actually do tend to have a couple enemies around.

Vamp: Okay. In a dedicated Parley deck, this can fill up your number of Parley events, but taken for itself this is very low impact for a card. Flexibility is nice, but some of these options are also sort of redundant and your statline will lock you out of two of them most of the time.
Diabolical Luck: Good to Excellent. Reverse Promise of Power! This seems really good to me, basically flipping a -2 token into a +2 is a huge gain and will help you oversucceed even when drawing curses.
Lightfooted: Good. Boring, but practical. I almost can’t believe that it took so long for rogue to gain this effect. Really nice as a panic button if you intentionally kept an enemy around (for parley or Trish shenanigans) and now face the consequences of your actions after drawing another enemy or two.

British Bull Dog(2): Excellent. And here’s Shrivelling(2) in green! You love to see it. I still don’t care about the parley clause, but that Aloof ignore might just come in handy here and there.
Snitch(2): Excellent. It’s a one-cost testless Pilfer. That’s amazing and worth running some more parley for than you’d otherwise would. There is an email going around where it was ruled that Snitch counts as a parley card that can be recurred with Eldritch Tongue… but since those email rulings are all made up from dreams, dust and the inability to say “No”, we will have to see how many weeks that will take until its reverted because it’s nonsense. While it lasts, though… sure, i’ll Pilfer my heart out if you want me to.
Bewitching(3, Ex): Excellent to Staple. Well hot damn, it’s Trick to the Plan. As with the guardian original we all have been playing way more than is healthy, Bewitching is all kinds of awesome. Trick is a very versatile keyword by now, arguably more than Tactic. This is limited by the need to engage something, so it doesn’t quite help as much with setting up as Stick to the Plan does with Ever Vigilant and Prepared for the Worst. Then again, just dropping decksize down by 3 is notable. Mmmmh, 22 card highlander decks are so hot. Ahem, that got weird, moving on.

Dirty Deeds(3): Good to Excellent. I appreciate the low resource cost, means this can be done dirt cheap. The sequence of “1: search an asset”, then “2: play it” and “3: activate it” is a very natural one that you’d likely want to do anyways, so Double actually doesn’t come at much of a cost here. You are pretty much just paying the two actions to play and activate your thing and get an Illicit tutor for a card and a resource on top. That strikes me as rather good. There is some tension between having Illicits in your deck for this and having them in your Underground Market, but this definitely has a place.
Vamp(3): Good. Pretty much made to be used with Fine Clothes, so your stats don’t matter and you get all four payoffs. That being said, there is a good amount of redundancy here. Removing a doom from an enemy doesn’t matter if you end up killing it afterwards with 2 damage. Evasion also only matters if the enemy survives 2 damage. When at a location with many enemies, this starts to look better, but i still mostly view Vamp more as a Snitch enabler than as something worth playing on its own merits.

Fake Credentials(4): Excellent. You get a lot for your 4XP here. Not only do you not add suspicion as long as you oversucceed, but you also get to pick it back up if you fail. Since it starts at 0 and only add a token if you don’t succeed by 2, you can keep ignoring all shroud as long as you keep beating an intellect(2) test. That seems almost trivially easy to engineer. Oh, and it goes into connecting locations as well. Oh, and it doesn’t exhaust either. At now 2 cost, it’s also cheaper to play than the other rogue investigation tools. This thing is nuts if you are on the intellect side of rogue instead of the agility side. Sprinkle some Snitch on top and you are golden.
Stir the Pot(5): Okay to Bad. And we go from a card that gets as much as possible tuned to one that gets as little as possible. This upgrade is comically bad. Instead of dealing a static 2 damage, this can conditionally deal more (or less!) if you have a particularly hard hitting enemy around. There are some high moments for this to do good things, but the times where this outperforms Storm of Spirits(3) or even just level 0 Dynamite Blast are going to be rare. And you are supposed to pay 5XP for a conditional damage upgrade here? Not even a skill bonus to the test, no cost reduction, no fast? Hilariously, Stir the Pot(5) doesn’t even get an extra commit icon. I suppose you no longer need to oversucceed to get the free move after you dealt your damage… you decide for yourself if that’s worth the cost to you, to me it’s a hard pass. I like my Dynamite Blast effects, but i’ll stick to the level 0 with this one.

Most useful: British Bull Dog(both), Snitch, Bewitching
Least useful: Blackmail File, I’ll Pay You Back, Stir The Pot(5)

A bit of a mixed bag here, with high highs and low lows. So very appropriate for Rogue, in a way. There’s some game changers in this pool, most of all the final piece to let rogues really do everything with their agility and basically play the Mystic game. In an unexpected twist, Rita is eating really good here as well, as there are several more pieces towards a Trick archetype that we’ve been seeing more and more of ever since the Wini starter deck.

Alessandra and by extension the Parley archetype is extremely well supported, some might even say too well 😀 Everything is Parley now and Alessandra gets a lot of options to pick and choose from even on a small card pool. As a clue getter/enemy handler flex she will work very well even without having to buy into many other expansions.

Mystic

Cat Mask: Excellent to Staple. Even when you don’t do any doom related activities yourself, the typical scenario will give you one or two complete recharges on this. More if cultists get involved. A lot more, actually. This is extremely good value as long as you care about one of the two stats, which most Mystics do.
Speak to the Dead: Okay to Good. Has potential with Favor of the Moon or with Kouhakus signature to get you back a lot of events. Even just with Olive you get a pretty good hit rate without having to throw many offerings into each try. A bit clunky and action intensive though.
Wicked Athame: Excellent. The ability to recharge your spells with this looks fairly enticing. Mystics run into a common problem with 3 health enemies and having to use 2 charges from their Shrivelling for it. With Athame, they can finish those off now and even get their charge back. That seems like a very solid line of play that comes up often.

Rod of Carnamagos: Good. Has the potential to miss, but since its a fast trigger that’s not too bad. The opportunity cost of just dropping this in play is fairly small when considering that you can just get something out of it every turn without perpetually having to invest more. What really makes this interesting is that it targets enemies that aren’t at your location. Except for Scarlet Rot, these are all not helpful against Cultist type enemies, but you do get something out of these attachments in most cases. If you play the Rod early enough, it is sure to pay off over time, even if the return per turn isn’t that impressive taken by itself.

Antediluvian Hymn: Bad. Peeking at some cards is not worth 2 actions to me. You get to put some things under the deck, but i find it hard to imagine this doing something that a Ward of Protection wouldn’t have done without taking an action at all. Solo players might appreciate stacking the encounter deck a bit more, but from what i gather, spending 2 actions is even more of an ask for them so i don’t see it making the cut there either.
Drain Essence: Excellent. Healing yourself for 2 while dealing 2 to an enemy is a great swing. And you can even bypass Aloof, Retaliate and Elusive with it because it doesn’t count as an attack. Finally, a worthy combat spell to run alongside Razor.
Accursed: Okay. Can be a way to dump some curses into the bag for fun and profit, but there’s probably better opportunities for that. Protects an important test from the consequences of your reckless cursing and that can be a reason to play this one.

Mesmeric Influence(1): Good. Practiced and with good icons, that makes it immediately playable. The ability to ignore a bunch of keywords on locations and enemies is broad enough to find some sort of use in most scenarios. It will have to compete with Guts(2) and Fearless(2) though.
Olive McBride(2): Excellent. It can’t be overstated how good looking at an extra symbol token is in this context. Level 0 Olive is already very good, this just pushes her over the edge for all sorts of chaos bag related strategies, from blurse tokens to elder sign farming.
Rod of Carnamagos(2): Excellent. For 2XP, you lose the random reveal and can choose the Rot to put on an enemy. That alone is actually huge because you can now snipe cultists with Scarlet Rot or nail down hunters with Virescent Rot. But you also gain the opportunity to put multiple rots into play if you got multiple curses. Fantastic upgrade to an already good card. Oh right, and weirdly the upgrade drops the “limit 1 per investigator” and there’s actually two of the upgraded Rods in the box. Note that you have to upgrade the level 0 one first, you can’t have a level 0 and a level 2 in the deck at the same time.

Read the Signs(2) and Spectral Razor(2): Excellent to Staple. Like Olive McBride, these are upgrades to staple cards with level 0 versions that we’d already be happy to pay an XP for. So how bad can a level 2 upgrade for them really be, considering the baseline. What you get here is a set of better icons and the possibility of getting them back to your hand. The effect of the spell itself stays the same. And you know what, that seems perfectly reasonable. Considering mystic XP cheatery, you will often not even end up paying 2XP for these, so that ends up a solid investment. Even if you don’t particularly force the issue, having your Razor come back to your hand 1 out of 2 times you play it is going to feel good. It should also be noted that these return to your hand even if you fail – and most often you will fail because of symbols. So notably, these are now autofail protected which seems great. Now, you can of course force the issue. Playing bless or curse skews the chaos bag heavily towards symbols and with just a bit of chaos bag manipulation you can gain very consistent recursion going on.
Ethereal Form(2): Good. Sorry mate, you are simply a full tier below your peers. It is what it is. That being said, as Cheap Shot(2) and Breaking and Entering(2) taught us, evasion events gain a lot from being repeatable. So if you are in the market for that, Ethereal Form can certainly beat out asset based options like Mists of R’lyeh or Sword Cane.

Call the Beyond(2): Excellent. Now this walks all over Recharge, doesn’t it. Flexibility to refill either charges or secrets is very appreciated. Since it also activates the thing immediately it doesn’t even cost a net action. You do add 3 curses and that is not nothing, but that just seems very worth it.
Ethereal Weaving(3): Okay. Has a good ceiling if you can assemble the parts, but that assembly might be a problem. Not only do you need three different events in addition to this one in your hand, you must also be in a situation where you actually want to play those. Sure, you get discounts and skill bonuses and that’s all very worth it, but setting up the perfect situation for this is going to be hard and i am afraid that this will lead to the temptation of playing events at suboptimal times just to fulfill this card’s expectations.
The Key of Solomon(4): Good. If you are wondering how to get the funds to play Spectral Razor every turn, here is one of the options. The healing side is also quite nice and can singlehandedly keep the team alive. There’s nothing proactive going on here (no damage or clues), so this is pure support. But similar to Rod of Carnamagos you just drop this once and then can just reap it once per turn every turn. Do you have room for both? Which one is better, considering that you can two Rods for the price of one Key? I think i am leaning Rod here, but i could certainly see Key become a thing.

Seal of the Elders(5): Good. Keeper of the Key gives you 4 clues over time, Servant gives you 4×2 damage over time. Either of these is easily worth a 5XP event, but of course you need to assemble the necessary triggers, first to put the Summon into play and then after that more to trigger them. I am honestly not all that sure on what to think of these. The numbers check out but i am a bit hesitant about the timings working out so that for example you can get that damage out when you need it.

Most useful: Cat Mask, Rod of Carnamagos(all), Drain Essence
Least useful: Ethereal Weaving, Antediluvian Hymn, Accursed

Oh, there is some really good stuff in here, and much of it well off the beaten path as well. As a fan of event based play, i am very happy to see Hemlock Vale give several great options to Mystics that want to leave their Shrivellings and Clairvoyances behind. Rod of Carnamagos is one spicy card. And Mystic gets the blurse enablers here that it was missing in Innsmouth. This is a really great haul for Mystic.

Kouhaku with his immense deckbuilding pool to draw from will find no difficulty in putting together a good deck from just what’s in this box. Obviously, Innsmouth blessed and cursed cards will add to his potential, but even on just Hemlock plus Core you are quite comfortable.

Survivor

Matchbox: Excellent to Staple. Even when you are not doing broken things with Keyrings, this is just a super solid card that comes at almost no opportunity cost. Slotless, one cost and helps with 3 full turns of investigations. Fantastic.
Pelt Shipment: Good to Excellent. Oh, the things we do for XP. You can of course just keep it in your discard and recur it near the end of the scenario… but honestly i think most survivors play in a way that you can just keep this in your hand. Hell, it might even be helpful in getting your Winging Its in the discard after drawing them.
Pitchfork: Good to Excellent. For a level zero weapon, the Pitchfork just does a whole lot of work. Dealing 3 damage in one go is super good and even if you have to “reload” the weapon after each use you are getting a solid rate out of this one. Great card to bridge the time until you get your chainsaws.

Sparrow Mask: Staple. Easy to activate and gives a very significant boost to encounter defense. Becomes even stronger if your investigator uses one of these stats offensively (Agnes, Rita…).
Elaborate Distraction: Good. Eh, i am not really all that on board with this one, but that’s likely colored a lot by me only playing two-player. The potential to exhaust everything across multiple locations is pretty great and i am sure that there are groups that will use this to great effect.
Pushed to the Limit: Good. Super flexible when you have a decent amount of targets. Simply a solid card that allows you to get more uses out of your key assets.

Stall for Time: Okay to Good. As an alternative to evasion, this is iffy because it doesn’t disengage. But if you gain something from any of its special properties (testing will, being a parley, allowing you to drag an enemy around) this starts to look pretty interesting.
Wrong Place, Right Time: Okay to Good. This is a super powerful effect. The Double is awkward of course because you are spending most of your turn just healing (kind of). The card draw helps with making that more bearable, but i do think you want some sort of extra payoff for having your things die. Be Tommy, be Hank, move stuff onto Tetsuo, something like that. Otherwise it’s just a bit too clunky.
Long Shot: Staple. Basically a Vicious Blow in Red. Doesn’t give a skill bonus, but can be added to tests that are going on in connecting locations. Notably, it’s also its own damage source, so it works different mechanically. But that’s details, “skill deals damage” means “skill is good”.

Hatchet(1): Okay. This is very awkward to use because you need to not kill something or its gone. It does give a large skill bonus for many investigators though and that gives it a solid niche.
Persistence(1): Okay to Good. This is never bad, but won’t really excel either. I am slightly worried about it reshuffling too often and replacing too many of my draws with a rather unimpressive skill. Once you have ways to get more than face value out of it (Minh, Grisly Totem) it starts to look better.
Devil(2): Okay. There’s some fun ways to play around with the exploding goat, but the timing on it is just going to be super difficult to get right consistently. That being said, i am quite interested in seeing this in action in a William deck.

Fire Axe(2): Good. It gains fast. That’s it. It’s basically a bonus action and there’s nothing wrong with that, but is going to be fairly low on the totem pole when it comes to upgrade order. To be clear, Fire Axe is better than just “Good”, but the upgrade doesn’t impress me too much here and i think i can get by on the level zero basically until the end of the campaign.
Hunting Jacket(2): Excellent. This has a lot of uses for a lot of different things. It fairly efficient just at face value, offering solid amounts of soak while also paying for itself and then some. But once you factor in synergies with Dark Horse, Patrice and a bunch of other survivor cards, the jacket starts to generate a lot of value.
Mariner’s Compass(2): Good to Excellent. I still wouldn’t call this a priority upgrade, but this offers a lot more than the Fireaxe one. A cost reduction is fine, but this actually does improve the card mechanically, with the “ready on fail” bit.

Survival Technique(2): Excellent. As encounter defense, this works a bit too inconsistently, but as a secondary mode that encounter defense is quite nice. The real strength lies in all the various card combos this enables, from traps over Hiding Place to Breach the Door.
Keep Faith(2): Okay to Good. Again, a rather unimpressive upgrade. A fast card that costs 0 resources is particularly nice in places like Patrice or if you want to couple it with frequent recursion, so i think this will find a place or two.
Providential(2): Okay. Pretty high ceiling, someone that can live with stacking damage and horror on them could potentially gain a lot of tokens here for very little effort. It also plays quite nicely with Spirit of Humanity. That being said, this seems a bit redundant for Spirit of Humanity decks and too inconsistent for others. Is this really worth it if you only add 2 tokens to the bag? For that you already need to have both 2 damage and 2 horror on you. I think we can do better than this.

Token of Faith(3): Excellent. Global autofail protection alone makes this worth it. Taking the risk out of curses while also being a passive bless generator pushes it over the edge. This card does a lot of powerful things.
Dark Horse(5): Good to Excellent. On the one hand, Dark Horse isn’t really the type of card that you need in play from turn one. Even dedicated Dark Horse decks will usually spend a turn or three on setting up their board before they go into resource starvation mode. On the other hand. this upgrade removes the variance of never drawing Dark Horse or only drawing it after you already drained your resources with Fire Axe or Compass. This is clearly not a bad upgrade, but probably rather low priority?

Most useful: Sparrow Mask, Hunting Jacket, Longshot
Least useful: Stall for Time, Hatchet, Wrong Place Wrong Time

Where rogue had very high highs and very low lows, Survivor is kind of flat this time around. Many of the red upgrades are just very minor, lacking the sort of wow effect that Survivor often has in other sets. That being said, there’s also no real downfalls here either. This is the only class where i actually had to look around a bit to fill the three nominations for “Least useful” because nothing really stuck out and i could see all three cards i put there making a deck. Now there are some standouts here, i am particularly interested in the Hunting Jacket. But overall, this just seems a bit too safe.

Hank is the primary fighter of the set, having to pick up that role from Wilson in a limited card pool that doesn’t have enough weapon tools. Now, Hank can certainly fill this role very well. And while i wouldn’t see him as a primary candidate for Dark Horse strategies in the wider cardpool, i see no reason why he wouldn’t be able to go to town with a Fireaxe if you are playing with just the Core and Hemlock. So that should work just fine! His traitbased access would however gain a lot from other sets, so like with Wilson you’d be playing a somewhat limited version of him when you don’t have at least some of that.

Neutral

Eldritch Tongue: Good to Excellent. Getting more uses out of your events is great. Especially if you aren’t stacked with card draw, this makes for a very nice card advantage engine.
Bide Your Time: Okay. Not generally a useful tradeoff, but there can be some situations where this does things. Amanda can set up some huge Deduction turns with this. And in certain campaigns you can use this the turn before a big monster shows up to then proceed and fight it with 5 actions in your pocket.
Well-Dressed: Good to Excellent. I mostly see this as scenario tech (convincing Ichtaca during Untamed Wilds just got a lot easier…). But of course in a Parley deck, having a 4 wild skill around is pretty great and an auto-include.

Dawn Star(1): Good to Excellent. Most of the time, this is a Lucky that deals a damage. Occasionally you might deal 2 with it. And that seems very much worth an XP! Lucky is a good card to have and in curse contexts, it now is available out of Survivor.
Occult Reliquary(3): Staple. This goes straight next to Relic Hunter and Charisma to the forefront of the binder. Extra permanent slots are great!

Broken Diadem/Twilight Diadem(5): Okay to Good. Kouhaku can trigger this relatively easy with his signature, everyone else basically has to throw a whole Favor worth of triggers into charging this up. Seems like a whole lot of effort to me. That being said, farming your Elder Sign is a great effect so the effort can be made worth it if you set your mind to it. Notably, this shares the mask slot with all those great stat boosting masks, which actually is a bit of an opportunity cost as well.

Final verdict

This looks overall quite good to me. The investigators of the set are well supported and the overall powerlevel of the cards seems appropriate. And at least under the provision that the Rod of Carnamagos rules get cleared up/fixed, we are also not dealing with a Cyclopean Hammer situation here where one card overpowers everything else in its niche. So well done on that part!

If i have one thing to critizise, it’s that there are a bunch of themes in this set that almost all don’t really interact with each other much. We have Blessed/Cursed which is centered around one investigator and not terribly relevant for the others. The same is almost true for Parley, but the neutral cards do give some support for non-Alessandra investigators to get something out of that ability word. We then have a cycle of 10 Double cards where i am unsure if they really needed to be a cycle. After all, being a double doesn’t do anything special, there is no reason to run multiple doubles to combo with each other – if anything, the fact that you have 3 actions discourages playing multiple doubles because usually you’ll only be able to play one per turn. So having a whopping 10 of these here and not having them overlap with any of the other themes (where’s the Double Blessed card? Double Parley?) seems like a bit of a missed opportunity to me. Survivor as usual does its own thing, and this time around that’s returning to Dark Horse, an archetype that was already quite good. We also return to that archetype with a smattering of upgrades that do very little to change how the deck plays. Again, Hunting Jacket is nice, though! The Science and Tool things are then the final two archetypes that are spread out a bit across the classes, but again don’t overlap much with the rest. It all seems a bit insular. It’s not a problem in the big picture of course, in the end the cards will all end up in the big collection anyways.

So would i suggest this expansion as a first buy for someone new to the game? Probably not. While you do get functioning investigators here and an array of cards that you can make work, a good chunk of it is a bit too specialised for new players looking to start a collection. Things like the Trick support in Rogue isn’t really able to shine without more cards from elsewhere (although to be fair, the Wini deck is all you need for that). So i would still rather point newbies towards Dunwich (which lays solid foundations for most things), Edge of the Earth (which has the most value to deckbuilding due to the double-class cards) and the investigator starters (which have the most bang for your buck, with concentrated support for specific archetypes). But Hemlock Vale is certainly not on the level of Scarlet Keys either which mostly was geared towards players with full collections, you don’t need much to make this set’s cards work very well.

Final verdict: A well-rounded set that offers cards for both new and entrenched players. Well worth owning no matter where you deep you are into the rabbit hole with your collection, but not a priority either.

7 Replies to “Investigator Expansion Review: The Feast of Hemlock Vale”

  1. I don’t quite get the extra synergy of Hunting Jacket for Patrice? Sure, if you find some way to defeat it in Mythos- or Investigator-Phase, you get some extra cards, the turn you want it. Mythos-Phase is unreliable, and AoO would be inefficient, because it costs at least an action before you get the cards. Sure, there are ways with Smoking Pipe, Forbidden Knowledge and the like, but defeating it at the right time does not seem trivial. If it is just from an attack in Enemy Phase, the just drawn cards will be instantly discarded. Even if the Watcher attacks you in Upkeep-Phase, due to the deck running out, you can keep the cards, but still won’t have more than 5 cards next round.

    Personally, I’m quite stoked for the new upgraded Spell suite with token recursion. Token manipulation has been a Mystic signature archetype for a while, but never with enough pay-off. Now they finally do that, and in a way, that is kind of equivalent with the Rogue-suite, that started in Winifred, returning cards on over-succeeding. I expect more cards in that line in the future. “Seal of the Elders” might actually also be a great payoff. Sure it looks hard to trigger, but the Summons seem like a worthy pay off for that. And the fellow Rogue will likely try to reap benefit from it, too, with Tristan Botley.

    Can’t believe, they are still pushing Rita that much. Won’t they stop, until she is S-Tier in any list? “Lightfooted” looks less impressive, and she already had similar effects, like “Survival Instinct” (2) and “Impromptu Barrier”. I guess, in TDE (or another cycle, if they are ever return to swarming enemies with it), you could go full jank, playing around her elder sign with the Diadem-Mask. That would be weird, giving, her Elder Sign is almost as unimpressing as her Signature event. But “Bewitching”? Holy Moly. Put one “Easy Mark” on the stick, add “Short Supply”, and if the other two don’t land in the discard, you can tutor them 9 cards deep out of a deck, that starts with 15 cards. (If they do land in discard, you obviously know, and use “Bewitching” accordingly.) This can solve the economy for your recursion-events (two of which you obviously also stick to the trick) if you don’t find Crafty early.

    1. Well, the last sentence is of course less obviously, if you don’t stick just events, but a singleton “Dirty Fighting” on “Bewitching”. I missed the fact, that you can attach any type of cards, not just events. This makes it even better with a “Limit 1 per Investigator” asset!

    2. Even if you don’t get the cards back at the right timing points, having a way to turn spare cards into money is valuable for Patrice. Good backup for the Violin and doesn’t take a handslot either.

      I am already quite high on event based spellcasters, i have been eating good in this Mystic card pool 🙂 In a way i do appreciate Drain Life even more than the upgraded Razor though because it means i actually get to play enough combat spells now.

      The Trick trait has been given a lot of goodies here. Not just for Rita, but also for just any rogue that might want to play Chuck Fergus. Tricks is its own genuine archetype and i am pretty happy about that. The only thing that is missing is the errata on Backstab from Tactic to Trick 😀

      1. @ Patrice: Sure, but to be honest, I didn’t have any real resource problems with Patrice, at least not, once I bought an “Unscrupulous Loan”. (So I might try a Hunting Jacket in a level 0 deck for her.) Having a way to store cards for the turn, you need them, would excite me more. And the card has that, but you have to work around to defeat it (not overwrite the slot, not discard it to a treachery) in time, and preferably without taking actions, to make that really worth it.

        “Drain Essence” is sure exciting. And I do hope, they will give it the same level 2 treatment further down the line. I’m quite sure, if “Backstab”, and probably also “Pickpocketing” were released today, they would be Tricks as well. But I doubt, they would ever errata a trait. (I thought, they did that on “If it bleeds…”, but see no indication for that on ArkhamDB.)

  2. Slight correction: Matchbox helps with 3 turns of investigations, not 3 investigate actions (it’s shroud reduction is until the end of the turn). The rest of your assessment is spot on, though; cheap and slotless (both ups on poor Arcane Insight (4)), and an Item for Schoffner’s Catalogue and Scavenging shenanigans, this thing is one of the best cards from the box.

    Regarding Call the Beyond (2), this is actually a bit of a worry I have with regards to modern cards; it feels like a lot of the risk and drawbacks from older cards is being designed out. On the one hand, quality of life changes (like the “return to hand on fail” text on Stall for Time) can be a very welcome addition; on the other hand, sometimes those quality of life changes can make the game less challenging and, to be blunt, less interesting (Runic Axe replenishing its charges means you don’t have to be as careful with them as you would with something like a .35 Winchester’s ammo, which also means you don’t have the opportunity to problem solve and figure out a way to get around the usage restriction). My problem with Call the Beyond isn’t that it basically outclasses Recharge, it’s that it does so in a fairly boring way; if it was “add X curses to the bag to replenish X charges/secrets” then it would be interesting because you would actually have to put some thought into it. The fantasy for Arkham isn’t that the investigators can brute-force their way through the Mythos, asserting the will to power against the cosmos, it’s that regular people, coming together, using their talents, and making do with what they have on hand, can help hold back the Mythos. We don’t want to swing Cyclopean Hammers or Runic Axes to destroy monsters, we want to use the .18 Derringer we carry for self-defense, the Moxie inside of us, and our wits to hold back the tide for a little while longer. Arkham Horror isn’t about superhumanity, it’s about the surprising strength inside regular humanity when the chips are down. But in order to see that, the chips need to be down, and that means player cards need to have more risks and costs than “add a handful of curses to the bag in exchange for a recharge and an action.” Recharge (2) is, to be blunt, not a good card, primarily because it gets the balance of risks and reward wrong, but it feels like some of the newer cards swing too far in the opposite direction. Again, I’m fine with Call the Beyond being stronger than Recharge (2) (it’s not exactly that difficult), but I don’t like how it feels like it’s stronger in a way that inspires less thought on the part of the player.

    1. Good callout on the Matchbox, i will edit that part to be clearer.

      I don’t mind Call the Beyond. Recharge wasn’t breaking any barriers and at 4XP for the good one it was usually priced out of being a consideration. It’s a card worth improving on and i don’t really have any issues with its design.
      I agree with your comments about the Arkham fantasy, but Mystic is a bit of a special case, right? Spellcasters already don’t really fit with my own headcanon for the Arkham world, so i am less bothered by something weird in Mystic than i am for example with Lightning Gun just being in the general card pool for Guardians or Enchanted Blade being one of the best weapons for the Fed and the PI.

      1. Actually, I would argue that Mystic, as exemplified by cards like Shriveling, Voice of Ra, and David Renfield, fits perfectly into the Arkham fantasy; there is magic in Arkham, and regular people can use it, but it’s really, really risky. Like the Doomed cards from the LotR LCG, they allow you to use the arts of the enemy against them… for a price. You’re right, Mystic should be weird, but it should be weird in the sense of “I’m meddling in forces I don’t understand and hoping things turn out right.” I guess you could say I’m fine with weird theming so long as it’s backed up by properly weird (and costly/risky) mechanics. It could be argued that cards like Spectral Razor break this mold, being relatively straightforward and safe, but I would argue that their very nature as events serves as risk enough to balance them out. Also, mage (event-based) builds are fun.

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