The “Return To” boxes expand the original Arkham LCG campaigns by adding more cards, more mechanics, more challenges to the existing scenarios. This series of articles takes a look at each of them, one by one. Immediately following this Introduction is a spoiler-free verdict on the viability of the product, answering the question “Should i get this box?” without spoiling anything about the campaign relevant contents of the box.
Anyone not phased by spoilers can continue reading as i will go into detail about the player cards, the encounter replacement sets, the campaign wide changes and of course the changes to each scenario. On that note, the article assumes you played the campaign before. Using the Return boxes on your first playthrough of a campaign is not recommended.
This is a good product and worth its cost. While it does not significantly alter the scenarios the way that Return to Forgotten Age does, it does have excellent replacement encounter sets. Those do a lot of good for the campaign, smoothing out some of the rough edges related to focus on willpower and tight doom clocks.
The player cards are great. There is a lot of support for the tarot slot, but also equally worthwhile cards with more wide appeal. This is the best set of player cards in a Return box.
As a special gimmick, a deck of oversized tarot cards is included that can be used to apply random modifiers to scenarios. This is a pure upside and doesn’t take away from any other things in the box, so this just gets two thumbs up.
As usual, the cardboard box itself and the dividers included are a good storage solution for the campaign and its associated cards.
The one weakness that the box has is a lack of major changes to some of the less great scenarios. Return to TCU very much plays and feels like the original, with all its ups and downs. It’s up to the encounter replacements to do the heavy lifting here.
As usual, i recommend not using this box for your first play of the campaign, even if its just for all the additional setup you have to do. But if you own the full campaign already and are looking to improve its replay value, this box is great value.
This is where spoilers start. The following paragraphs ramp up in how “spoilery” they are, starting with just descriptions of what’s in the box, going over the player cards and then moving into the changed mechanics and campaign contents. Finally, i will give you a summary of what changes per scenario. So feel free to tag out whenever you think that you don’t want to see anything else. It should be noted though that these things are kinda spoiled while setting up the scenarios themselves and/or require knowledge what is contained in the updated campaign guide. So going into a Return To scenario “blind” is not really going to happen either way.
Just like with the other Returns, the actual box of Return to The Circle Undone should be considered a major part of the product. It’s reasonably sturdy and has enough room to store all the encounter cards needed for the campaign. Inside the box are new cards as well, of course. In total it’s 26 player cards and 84 encounter cards. 33 of those encounter cards go towards new encounter replacement sets, the other 51 are specific to one of the scenarios.
There’s an insert in the box, but it’s not at all functional and mostly exists so the cards don’t move around too much during shipping and transport. Just trash it.
A set of dividers is included to help you organize your old and new campaign cards within the box. These dividers are both good looking and functional.
The box itself works very well for its purpose, there is plenty of room in there to store all of the campaign cards, no matter if sleeved or not. There is also enough room (and dividers) to hold the cards from the Core that are used for The Circle Undone.
Instead of a folded paper leaflet like before, Return to TCU comes with a small stapled booklet. In there are several additions to the campaign log, fleshing out some of the choices made by the players. It also has rules for the new tarot deck, which is the final thing that is contained in this box. The tarot deck is a set of cards with the Major Arcana on them and can be used with any campaign to put random modifiers on scenarios, with the goal of increasing replayability. Note that those tarot cards are actually tarot-sized, they do not have the same dimensions as other Arkham Horror cards.
Each class gets two pairs of new cards, one of them a tarot card. There’s also a few neutral cards and as expected some weaknesses for the basic pool. For the first time in a Return set, many of those cards aren’t upgrades or downgrades from existing cards, but instead completely new ones. Almost all of the cards are level 3. It’s a very nice set of cards that fleshes out the tarot mechanic and provides an enabler for a tarot archetype that is a lot better than Anna Kaslow. The non-tarot player cards are also all useful.
All classes gain a new level 3 tarot card. For Guardians, that is The Star which increases health and sanity of all your assets. Noteworthy because it can make Anna Kaslow survive and at least okay otherwise. Seekers gain The World which offers card draw when you already have a full hand. Fine in a handsize deck, but not terribly exciting otherwise. Rogues gain the Knight of Swords, a great tool to enhance their many “oversuccess” cards. Mystics gain The Hierophant which allows them to use their accessory slots for arcane cards and vice versa while also giving an arcane slot. Excellent card and a real alternative to Relic Hunter. Survivor’s Nine of Rods allows redrawing an encounter card per round, obviously a very powerful effect. The neutral The Fool can be used once per round to save a resource on a card which can be huge over the course of the game if you do actually get the Fool on your initial draw. The final neutral card that deals with tarot is the Moon Pendant, a level 2 card that not only offers a second tarot slot, but also allows pitching tarot cards to tests for 2 wild icons. Great enabler if you want to go deep on tarot cards with your deck.
Additionally, Guardians gain a level 3 version of Hallowed Mirror which not only can either enhance or shuffle back your Soothing Melodies, but also doesn’t remove them from the deck if the Mirror is discarded. Very potent card. Seekers follow suit with an upgraded Occult Lexicon, which is also great for all the same reasons. Well Connected(3) comes in for the rogues, an okay upgrade on a card that sees a decent amount of play. I wouldn’t call the upgrade essential, but it’s certainly going to find a few decks. Mystics gain an upgraded Sign Magick that allows free activations of spells and rituals. For Survivors, there’s Trial by Fire(3), which either increases the skill bonus or extends it to all skills. That’s fine, but probably not useful often enough to warrant spending the 3XP on it. Finally, there’sa neutral card that interacts with the new tarot deck: At the start of a scenario, a random tarot card takes effect for just the player that has Observed(4) in play.
This is an excellent collection of player cards. The tarot assets do hog the spotlight, but the other upgrades are also quite good. Standouts to me are the upgraded Mirror, upgraded Lexicon, The Hierophant and the Moon Pendant. While there are some weaker cards in here, like The World and Trial by Fire(3), those are still nowhere near as bad as some others we’ve seen before. They are still decent cards that i could see myself playing sometime. The only other Return set that even comes close to rivaling RtTCU in terms of player cards is RtTFA, but RtTCU wins that comparison handily (at least for the player cards).
Also included in the box are two new weaknesses, one of them being a tarot weakness and the other one interacting with the new tarot deck. The Devil comes with two copies and mirrors the dreaded Tower from base TCU, preventing you from playing cards while it’s in your hand. Like the Tower, it also can not be mulliganed. Yuck. The Damned weakness has the player draw a random negative effect from the new tarot deck each scenario and apply it to themselves. This one wildly fluctuates in how bad it is, but it can certainly hurt a lot.
The player cards have been almost an afterthought for me in previous Return To sets, something that just adds a little bit on top for what i am actually looking for: campaign changes and replacement encounter sets. Due to the quality of the player cards in this box, the fact that more than half of them are completely new and that they enable a new archetype (tarot specialist), that balance is shifted a bit here. While the encounter cards are still the main attraction, these player cards can go a long way towards justifying the price of the box for people that are not interested in the cardboard box.
The tarot deck
The tarot deck is a stack of 22 oversized cards with beautiful illustrations of the Major Arcana. These cards also feature some gametext on both of their sides that act as modifiers for a scenario which are affected by them. Each tarot card can either be upright and have a positive effect or be in reverse and have a negative effect.
The rules book offers up a few ways to use this tarot deck to enhance your Arkham campaigns. So you might draw one card in a random alignment per scenario. Or draw a bunch of them at once at the start of the campaign, then assign them. Or draw multiples per scenario, one up and one down. Players are encouraged to come up with their own system of using this deck. One important note however: This is all entirely optional.
Unless you draw a lot of cards for a scenario, these modifiers are usually not going to be complete game-changers. But they do give a spin to the game that can make it feel a bit different from previous times if you are someone who replays their campaigns a lot.
As a small negative about this system, some of the cards are going to be a non-issue for certain investigators while simultanously being really bad for others. Like getting an agility penalty which is mostly irrelevant for Agnes, but can be a huge deal for Ursula. But i suppose that is unavoidable – considering that we have close to 50 investigators in the game now, there’s always going to be issues like that.
All things considered, this is a bit gimmicky, but it is a *cool* gimmick. Personal preference is going to be a huge factor on how much you will want to use the deck for other campaigns. It fits perfectly with the TCU campaign but how often will you use it to add some randomness to your Innsmouth campaign? TFA? Dunwich? But even if you are sceptical of getting much use out of the cards, it has to be said again that these are entirely optional. And it’s not like other content slots were sacrificed for it when compared to previous Return To set. So this deck is entirely an upside for the players. So thanks for that to the ones responsible!
Campaign wide changes
Players have the choice to align either with the witches or the lodge in TCU, however in the base game the lodge side was a lot more fleshed out with options to save them, betray them or even to celebrate an early campaign win with them. Meanwhile, the witches were only background without much player agency behind them. Return to TCU aims to change this by introducing some extra scenes, resolutions and a new story ally. With these changes which are mostly limited to The Witching Hour, The Wages of Sin and Union and Disillusion, there is now the possibility to earn the help of Erynn MacAoidh for your campaign and there is also the possibility of an early win for the coven, mirroring the one for the lodge.
Return to TCU also deals with a few things that have been bothering many (including myself) about the original campaign: You now have official rules for skipping the prologue, determining the fate of the lost persons with tarot draws. You can choose to accept your fate without gaining the Ace of Rods and The Tower, but have to accept a predefined tarot reading instead. Finally, the interlude going into Before the Black Throne will now give rewards for a lot of the things that were previously just flavor without gameplay consequence, like learning spells from Anette or taking over control of the lodge.
Something else that deserves mentioning here is how Return to Circle Undone replaces many of the willpower tests on encounter cards with agility tests. This opens up the campaign for more investigators without having to feel like you are starting with a handicap right away.
Replacement Encounter Sets
There are seven replacement encounter sets in the box, two of which are for core encounter sets which might be used outside of TCU as well. The individual cards are discussed elsewhere on the site, so i will only give a short summary here and link to the appropriate encounter set page.
City of the Damned: This replacement removes the oppressive force that is Centuries of Secrets and replaces it with a version that is weaker but still relevant. It also switches Evil Past with another delayed effect, which is roughly an equal exchange. I like this set.
Unspeakable Fate: This is a weird one, but in a good way. Unavoidable Demise removes some of the player scaling from the set, but introduces an absolutely massive threat to player’s stamina. Fate of All Fools gets replaced by another card of the same name, which makes them compatible with each other. The new one doesn’t add doom or damage, but draws more encounter cards and gives them bonuses. An interesting set for sure.
Unstable Realm: Like with City of the Damned, this replacement removes some of the more infuriating cards from the campaign and offers up some toned down versions instead. I’m in favor of that.
Bloodthirsty Spirits: This one gets a bump to its difficulty, with a Geist enemy that is a lot more threatening than Wraith and a treachery that follows the always uncomfortable templating of Frozen in Fear. The set is only used twice, so the impact is limited despite the surface power of the cards.
Hexcraft: This is the only one of the sets i am not too fond of. While more hexes is certainly great (especially if you mix and match old and new sets), the replacement for the excellent Diabolic Voices leaves much to be desired.
Impending Evils: Here we go replacing Ancient Evils again. This one basically replaces the doom with damage and horror and threatens some big effect in the future without really being able to enforce it. I’d usually frown on this, but it actually makes a lot of sense in the context of the TCU campaign. Several of the scenarios were already quite tough on doom clock, so a bit of relief is not the worst thing. And damage/horror can stack up fast in TCU, so the card still has some bite. I wouldn’t really play this replacement outside of TCU, though.
Chilling Mists: The most notable thing about this replacement is the switch from testing willpower on Crypt Chill to testing agility on Supernatural Tempest. Mists from Beyond is a spin on the original Obscuring Fog that uses a neat mechanic that moves the mist around on the board. This is a good set that works both as a full replacement and as a mix and match with the original. It’s also a set i could see using outside of this campaign.
These are all good replacements, with only Hexcraft lagging behind a bit. But even Hexcraft is still fine and nowhere near some of the missteps in Return to Dunwich or Return to Carcosa. I appreciate that there’s some interesting things happening here with unique mechanics we’ve not seen before, like on Unavoidable Demise and Mists from Beyond.
As mentioned earlier, these sets are the reason that agility now takes a more prominent role in the scenarios. Many of the new sets are using agility tests instead of all the willpower tests that the original campaign is notorious for. I think that works in the campaign’s favor.
Return to The Witching Hour
The number of both Arkham Woods and Witch-Haunted Woods to randomly draw from is increased for more replayability. More importantly, there is now a second fourth act card that enters play together with the original one when the third act advances. As a result, the scenario can now be finished in one of three ways, the two from the base scenario and one where the players have to exhaust a number of witches at the Circle and spend a couple clues. The number of required witches scales with the number of players, making it quite difficult at higher player counts. Finishing this new objective is the start to the storyline around enlisting the help of the witch Erynn.
If you are not going for this new resolution, the scenario is mostly unchanged except for the three replacement sets that are used.
Return to At Death’s Doorstep
One new location is added to the mansion, both in its normal and in its spectral variant. It has a rather powerful ability to remove doom from cultists in play, but also a high shroud value and no victory. A new story enemy starts in play at the entry location from the beginning. He has some clues but parleying them off of him risks turning them into doom and wasting actions. More importantly, this means that there’s always at least one Twilight cultists in play to interact with treacheries and token effects.
The encounter deck looks quite different from the base version, with an additional unique enemy and four encounter sets replaced. But the scenario itself doesn’t play out any different.
Return to The Secret Name
Again, four encounter sets are swapped out which significantly shakes up the mythos phase. All that’s left from the base game are the scenario specific cards and the rats. Particularly noteworthy is that there’s now a good number of agility tests in this scenario which was previously the record holder for most willpower tests.
There’s also four new locations for the Unknown Places deck, which gives the scenario good variety in that area. However, it should be noted that this does increase the variance in how many victory point locations there are.
There are no changes to act, agenda or general workings of the scenario.
Return to The Wages of Sin
This is where Erynn’s story branch is continued, depending on your resolution of Witching Hour. If you did get Erynn’s invitation, you will now another parallel act card that offers a new way to finish the scenario: Banish 3 Heretics and pay a couple extra clues for each of them. If you do, this will end the scenario with one Heretic still around and you can add Erynn to your deck. If you are not on the Erynn branch, nothing changes about the structure of the scenario. The extra act is not used then.
In terms of encounter replacements, this scenario uses 5(!) of the replacement sets, keeping only the Witches, the Watcher and the scenario specific cards as they were. A pair of new treacheries is also added that moves from the worldly deck into the spectral deck when drawn the first time and when drawn from the spectral deck, it will trigger haunted effects. It’s a fine card, nothing that makes too much of a splash though.
Return to For The Greater Good
In contrast to the previous four scenarios, this one only uses two of the replacement encounter sets. They are however relevant ones, especially the alternate Evils gives a bit more leeway in dealing with the cultists and moving around the mansion. In terms of locations, there’s a new alternate Lounge that can randomly replace the old one. If it does, it will give access to a secret passage that connects to the sanctuary and has one of the keys on it (the one that would otherwise be put on August Lindquist).
There’s also a rule change concerning the keys here. If you already have all four keys in play, then any additional ones will come into play as a spare +/- chaos token that awards a victory point. This can give a neat little bump to XP earned from For the Greater Good.
Return to Union and Disillusion
Only very few cards are devoted to this scenario, but again four encounter set swaps make sure that the scenario provides something new for seasoned TCU players. Two copies of a new treachery are added and they are a doozy: Attaching to the agenda deck, they increase the difficulty of circle tests. To get rid of them, you’d have to pass a circle test on them using your two worst skills. A very nasty card that is just begging for an Alter Fate.
A new act 3 card is used here if you followed Erynn’s path, bringing it to an end here. Also, you get the opportunity for a premature win with the coven now, similar to the one with the lodge from the base campaign.
Return to In the Clutches of Chaos
Clutches of Chaos is probably the TCU scenario that is least changed by the Return. Two encounter sets are switched out, which doesn’t change too much in this case. However, the Return to Clutches gives us a new version of each of the Arkham locations to shuffle in with the old ones. With three versions of each location, all of them randomly determined at setup, this scenario now has a lot of variance to increase its replayability.
Return to Before The Black Throne
Again, the Return scenario uses two of the encounter sets. However, the switch from Ancient Evils to Impending Evils has a huge impact on this doom laden scenario. As another way to take the edge off from this notoriously hard scenario, investigators are now able to spend two of their scenario resources (from the interlude) to make each player start with a Nightgaunt Steed. This asset provides either much needed soak or allows passing empty spaces in a limited fashion. Having the Steed available can take a lot of the randomness out of the scenario, a very welcome addition.
Three new locations are added to the cosmos deck, which provides some extra variance to the scenario. Two of them connect in any location, so they are making this part a bit easier as well.
This Return To box is very different from the previous one in how it sets its priorities. Where Return to The Forgotten Age did major changes to the whole campaign and wasn’t holding back from pretty much redesigning scenarios, the RtTCU keeps the general structure of the base campaign intact. The scenarios pretty much play out the same. And unless you are on Erynn’s path (which is very hard to stay on!) the campaign structure stays the same as well. However, RtTCU adds some very good replacement encounter sets that do the heavy lifting here. The shift of some of the extreme willpower requirements towards agility is opening up the campaign to a lot more investigators, a change that is felt throughout the whole campaign.
For the first time, the player cards are also a major attraction of the box. If you do want to play tarot focused decks, you won’t get past this box. Even if the tarots are not that exciting to you, then the upgraded cards are excellent – especially the Mirror, Lexicon and Sign Magick are intriguing cards that open up some interesting options for deckbuilding.
And then there’s of course the special tarot deck. While certainly a bit gimmicky, it does offer a way to bring some more life into not only TCU, but also other campaigns.
All together, this is a very good box. In terms of freshening up the campaign, arguably the main goal these Return to boxes have, it doesn’t reach Return to Forgotten Age, though. I appreciate the new stuff and as i mentioned the replacement sets are excellent. But when i look at scenarios that i didn’t like before (Wages of Sins, Before the Black Throne), this isn’t really changed by the Return all that much. RtTFA did a better job of “plugging the holes” there. I also think that the new Erynn route is way too hard to stay on. That being said, the player cards are better and the tarot deck is a cool extra. So this makes up for it in part and i think this is a product that players who have a full TCU campaign at home will want to get.
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