Irregular Evils #39: Scenario rankings 2022, part III

Welcome back to the scenario rankings.
I’ll just post the tier scale again, then get right into it:

Today’s entry will have the rankings for Dream-Eaters, Innsmouth and Edge of the Earth. The common thread between them is that these are the campaigns that do not have a Return To box yet, so I’ll just be looking at the base campaigns.

Looking at the ranking for Dream-Eaters, the immediately obvious thing here is how much higher i think of Web of Dreams than of The Dream-Quest. The ones i put into tier 2 are all from the B side of the campaign, with only Search for Kadath coming close from campaign A. To be fair, Search for Kadath is at the top end of the tier 3 though. But it’s been frustrating me often enough that i didn’t feel like putting it in the green. It does a lot of things that i like, but the fiddly mid-play setups and the frequent reshuffling let it down. Despite them having the same tier, there’s a big gulf between Search for Kadath and the other two scenarios i put into tier 3, Thousand Shapes of Horror and Dark Side of the Moon. Those two actually rank near the bottom of tier 3, as they are often rather uninteresting or (in the case of Dark Side) can be too punishing towards certain investigators. They both have some cool mechanics and interactions that i didn’t want to just shove them into tier 4 where i put the actual boring/frustrating scenarios. In this case, that means Where the Gods Dwell which destroys all good will that its novel boss mechanic would earn by having an utterly ridiculous doom clock and a random uninteresting first half that just straight up shouldn’t exist. Also at the bottom is Beyond the Gates of Sleep, possibly Arkham’s most boring scenario on replays. There’s just nothing happening here. You walk a few locations in a straight line without even an encounter deck, then come to a clearing with a few locations around it and investigate them all. It’s carried by story on the first and second plays, but after that there’s just nothing here. It truly puts me at the gates of sleep.
Saving Dream-Eater’s honor are the three scenarios at the top. Waking Nightmare scores with a creepy setting and an innovative (though slightly fiddly) gimmick. I also have a thing for spider enemies, so there’s that. I view Point of No Return as a better Search for Kadath. You investigate a large area that unlocks only piece by piece, but you do it without having to setup the game again in the middle. It also has some cool stuff going on with its enemies, playing off some interactions between ghouls, gugs and ghasts and also features the Slithering Dhole as a recurring enemy. Weaver of the Cosmos is the most gimmicky gimmick that ever gimmicked up an Arkham scenario, but it works. The fight is a bit easy for a finale, but there’s just no way i could ever dislike the rotating spider-god.

Yep. I like The Innsmouth Conspiracy‘s scenarios a whole lot. I mentioned this plenty times before, but i do like Arkham the most when i get to investigate large maps and when the scenarios feature randomization that keeps replays interesting. After all, i did put The Pallid Mask as my #1 last year because it excels at exactly those two things. Well, Innsmouth is basically “Pallid Mask: The campaign” with its Tidal Tunnels making sure that most scenarios have some of those randomization elements and of course plenty of room to explore. I also really like the design behind the Deep One enemies, they are one of the few cases where fighting vs. evading becomes a situational thing and you actually have to think a bit and plan ahead. At the top, there’s Devil Reef, a scenario that i hear a lot of people talk very negatively about. But in my book, the layered randomization (first into islands, then into locations within those islands) is just great. Coupled with a simple but interesting movement mechanic (the boat), getting around this scenario requires some thought. The layout changes considerably based on where the Underwater Caverns land, etc etc. And there’s a fancy boss around. I love it. In Too Deep isn’t randomized, but there are different ways to approach moving around Innsmouth and there’s a bunch of stuff in the encounter deck that can make you have to improvise while a horde of fish monsters is on your tail. Vanishing of Elina Harper’s central investigation is super interesting. Narrowing down your suspects and leads makes for good drama every time. Light in the Fog is this campaign’s Unspeakable Oath, coupling high stakes with a lengthy trip around its map. It’s not quite as good as Oath (few scenarios are), but this is still always a thrilling scenario. It also uses some really cool interactions in its encounter deck with the Nurses, Hatchlings and Deep One Assault making sure you are never quite safe.
Pit of Despair is one of the best intro scenarios to any campaign. This is a quick and dangerous one and i see it on a level with Curtain Call and Untamed Wilds, both in quality and difficulty. Horror in High Gear is another quick one. It’s quite suspenseful which saves it from being ranked lower, but i do have an issue with it. It often feels like the scenario is playing me instead of the other way round. This is a scenario where the players often just react to what’s happening without much of their own agency. For a single scenario that doesn’t take too long this is fine though and even a nice change of pace. Closing out the ranking for Innsmouth are actually the last two scenarios of the campaign. Lair of Dagon’s curse integration doesn’t really feel great to me. I feel reminded of TCU’s Union and Disillusion in how different this scenario hits depending on your investigators. Into the Maelstrom has some really cool parts to it. I like the double Elder Ones and that you try to achieve your goal before they awaken. Having to reverse the flood makes a lot of thematic sense after being pushed around by the flood tokens all campaign. There’s a lot to like here… except it’s all really, really easy. A bit of a shame really. Still, both Lair and Maelstrom aren’t all that terrible, but after what came before it feels like Innsmouth didn’t quite manage to stick the landing after a really impressive first half.

This was really difficult to do. Edge of the Earth is carried hard by its campaign structure, the interludes and from having effects persist from one scenario to the next. As a result, i for example had a fantastic time playing the Ice and Death trilogy for the first time. However, this doesn’t really translate well to what i am doing here, evaluating each scenario for itself and Ice and Death is a really good example of that. Part I is clearly the best one, where you do the most part of exploring the map and setting yourself up for the following ones. Compared to part I, part II is really not all that interesting. You have only little time and poke at some locations, hoping to randomly find the correct facedown cards. It makes sense in context, but as a scenario there’s very little here. Ice and Death III has a bit more meat to its bones with all the fighting and some different options on how to tackle the Seeping Nightmares, so that’s not all that bad. Like part II, the part III is laser focused on just one thing, though. This can leave some investigators without much of a job. Forbidden Peaks can lead to some frustration due to how all-or-nothing it is with regards to failing it or not. There are enough cool things happening here that i can’t justify putting it into tier 4, though. Between the appearance of the Terror in the Stars and the challenge of having to conserve actions for managing the story assets, there are some things here that i find genuinely interesting. City of the Elder Things gives us not only one, but three different layouts for a huge randomized map. There’s even a second layer of randomization here with the tokens on the locations. Having to find pairs of tokens for bonus effects is a good mechanic, i like that a lot. What keeps me from throwing this into the same tier as other “huge map” scenarios like Pallid Mask or Devil Reef is the encounter deck, though. I generally find the enemies in Edge of the Earth quite uninteresting and a big step back from Innsmouth’s Deep Ones. The penguins are fine and two versions of the City even have the Shoggoths, but aside from that there’s not a whole lot going on here that we haven’t seen many times before. Heart of Madness I and II is a fine finale. The seals from part 1 do make the part 2 quite easy, though. I don’t really see a reason to ever skip part 1 unless you are really worried about losing another random crew member before the final scenario. The final enemy is weird, but i kinda like it. You really don’t want to be stuck there without someone that can evade really well, though.
Finally there’s Fatal Mirage, which i don’t like very much. It’s very formulaic and repetitive, a huge sin for a scenario that you are meant to replay even within the same campaign. At my third replay of Edge of the Earth i was already sick of Fatal Mirage and just didn’t do it. That being said, it does have some cool locations that are worth exploring until you’ve seen them all so i’d at least settle it somewhere near the top of its tier.

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