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 Return gets two thumbs up from me. It does significantly alter the campaign, shaking up mechanics that are core to the campaign and smoothing the notorious difficulty curve in many places. Return to TFA plays a lot better than the base campaign and offers more venues for players to interact with things like supplies and exploration.
Alongside fixing up scenario specific issues and improving what were already fan-favorites, the box also rewrites how exploration works from the ground and includes changes that make the much maligned supply system more forgiving.
The encounter sets can not really be used outside of the RtTFA campaign, but they do a great job in there.
The player cards are a very nice selection of playable cards, some of them are even what i would consider staple cards that enable or widen deck options.
The cardboard box itself with the dividers is a suitable storage solution, of course.
Really, i don’t actually have anything negative to say here. This is an excellent buy. As a Return To, it is inherently a bit of a luxury product, of course. So i would always suggest buying a Deluxe box you don’t own yet over this. But if you do own a complete TFA cycle and want to replay it more often, this box will be great value for you.
Due to the complexity of some changes i would suggest not using this box for your first TFA play. That would probably be a bit overwhelming.
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. So going into a Return To scenario “blind” is not really going to happen either way.
Just like the other Return To sets, RtTFA comes in a sturdy box suited for storing all the cards for its campaign. Included in the box are 26 player cards and 79 encounter cards. 25 of those encounter cards go towards new encounter replacement sets, the rest are specific to one of the scenarios.
The insert for the box is not all that functional and mostly exists so the cards don’t move around too much during shipping and transport. Feel free to toss 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 Forgotten Age.
As a first for a Return To product, the little paper leaflet does not only come with some general instructions on how to use the cards and a list of suggested achievements, but also with some changes to the setup and resolution texts of three scenarios.
Each class gets two new pairs of cards, as expected they are all down- or upgrades from cards that were released during the Forgotten Age cycle. It’s a pretty good selection of cards, with several standouts that see play often.
Guardians gain Blood Eclipse(1), a downgrade from the existing level 3 card that makes the opportunity cost to include it more bearable. Certainly an option for the likes of Mary or Carolyn, but still sort of narrow. More interesting is the level 2 Survival Knife which allows killing attackers before they hit you. Excellent card that can go into many decks.
For Seekers, a new Ancient Stone is the highlight here, giving free moves whenever you draw a card. Great option to have. Truth from Fiction (2) is less universal, but we’ve seen an uptick in secret related cards in Seeker recently so this might be a card to stay aware of.
Rogues get the short straw, as both of their cards aren’t that great. The Decorated Skull(3) allows trading in those charges much more efficiently, but it still has to contest with the likes of Cigarette Case and Crystallizer, so… meh. Colt Vest Pocket(2) turns an abysmal card into one that is merely bad. Hard pass, sorry.
In Mystic, we have the Chthonian Stone(3) which can take several tentacle reveals before going back into the hand. Niche card, but fair. The upgraded Mists of R’lyeh is a very important stepping stone for all Mystics with Arcane Research, though. Very good card to have.
Survivors got some great stuff. Alter Fate(1) is a very important card for offclass survivors, giving people like Minh and Preston a very good solution to many problems. On Your Own(3, exceptional) is so good, it spawns its own archetype.
The Neutral card, Backpack(2) is also excellent. As long as you are looking for items, this is one of the best search cards in the game and can make tons of decks.
This is a very strong selection of cards, with Alter Fate, Backpack and Survival Knife leading the pack. Of course, there are a few stinkers in there, but on average this is probably the best set of player cards in a Return To set so far.
Also part of the player cards are two new weaknesses, one of which actually consists of three cards. Offer You Can Not Refuse walks in the footsteps of Doomed and uses a similar three-staged approach. Unless the player can pay off an increasing amount of resources when drawing the card, their weakness will upgrade to the next stage until it finally reaches a point where it can outright drive them insane. A very, very harsh weakness that is most certainly not offset by the two bonus XP it offers the one who has to bear it.
The other weakness is Dendromorphosis, which occupies both hand slots of the player, discarding everything that was previously in there. This is another rough one. Apparently it’s also player designed? What the hell, Botanists at Arkham Nights 2018?
Campaign wide changes
Aside from the changes that are tied to specific scenarios, the Return To TFA also manages to tinker with more campaign wide mechanics.
Exploration got a major overhaul, with every scenario having some changes in it to make it play better. These changes aren’t always the same, so players should take care during setup to read the setup card carefully. Generally speaking, the new exploration rules mean that the exploration deck no longer starts with treacheries in it. Instead, cards from the encounter deck are shuffled into the exploration deck after a location was successfully found there. So basically, you replace the location with a random encounter card. This has some side effects: Players no longer know exactly what’s in the deck. And there could be enemies in there. But the biggest effect is how exploration no longer frontloads the danger. Instead of starting out with very risky explorations that become easier as the treacheries thin out from the deck, the deck now only gets more loaded over time in exchange for an easier start. This plays a lot better than it did before.
For supplies, there is now a lot more supply points available after Threads of Fate. Many supply items also got applications on the new locations from the Return sets. This takes a lot of the pressure from the supply system, provided Threads of Fate went well.
Speaking of Threads of Fate, you can now gain a new story ally there. Veda Whitsley is quite powerful and helps out with exploration in particular.
For those who are looking to end the campaign with the bonus mission, there is now a (sadly not guaranteed) possibility to turn the “strange liquid” from Depths of Yoth into something useful. By combining it with a “sticky goop” that can be found in HotE#2, players can acquire a key that opens a shortcut in Turn Back Time.
As a final note, it should be mentioned that many of the changes serve to make the campaign more forgiving and easier in places. It’s of course still a tough ride (like it should!). But where previous Returns have only increased the difficulty, this one does smooth out many of the rough edges and makes The Forgotten Age a more well-rounded experience.
Replacement Encounter Sets
There are five replacement encounter sets in the box which can be used throughout the campaign, replacing the original sets. While one of them is a Core set replacement, it doesn’t really work that well outside of The Forgotten Age. 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.
Return to the Rainforest: Four new Jungle locations are added to the base Rainforest set. At setup, it is randomized which ones are used. All of the new locations do refer to some supply item for a bonus (or the absence of a penalty…). They do have the same connections as the old ones, so the location layout doesn’t change.
Cult of Pnakotus: These replace the Core Dark Cult. This set is quite dangerous with the potential to add a lot of doom to the board quick. The new Acolyte’s gimmick is that they add doom to all other cultists at their location, something that is not terribly relevant at low player count but can be very relevant otherwise.
Doomed Expedition: A replacement for the Expedition set that is on equal footing with the original. I like this one and found it very suitable for mixing and matching with the base set as well.
Temporal Hunters: A brutal replacement set, but to be fair the original was no slouch either. Merging Timelines can be absolutely devastating and Tindalos Alpha is dangerous as well. Again, mixing and matching with the original set is cool.
Venomous Hate: While the other sets replace sets that were actually totally fine before, Venomous Hate does remove the lackluster Yig’s Venom from the picture and switches it for a much better designed set. All cards from Venomous Hate are reasonably high impact, Vengeful Serpent is even enough to change how players might approach a scenario. Due to how the set is put together, mixing it with the original doesn’t really work, but that’s fine. The new one is superior in every way.
Except for the Vengeful Serpents, these cards do not change how the scenarios play by a whole lot, but they are a nice change of pace. In previous Return To boxes, the replacement encounter sets have been the main attraction, that’s not really the case here. While absolutely fine, these do get overshadowed by the exploration and scenario changes.
Return to The Untamed Wilds
The scenario itself is unchanged, however the exploration changes are in effect in full here. This serves to mellow the difficulty a bit, giving players the room to set up in the beginning without completely forsaking the discovery of new locations. The map supply item is also very strong here now.
Return to The Doom of Eztli
Doom of Eztli is significantly revamped. All the locations (except for the Chamber of Time) are removed and new locations are used instead. The amount of doom play is reduced by a lot, in its stead come various interactions with supply items. The number of enemies is increased, most importantly through the presence of Vengeful Serpents. This is still a difficult scenario, but is much more interactive than the old Doom of Eztli.
Return to Threads of Fate
Hard to believe, but one of the best scenarios in the game actually got better. A whole fourth set of acts is introduced, with the setup text and resolution instructions to go with it. Player can earn Veda Whitsley here, a very powerful ally asset. The XP allocation after Threads was changed as well: Instead of earning 1XP for each finished first act, players now gain 1XP for every single act card they complete. However, this XP can only go towards buying more supplies or reversing trauma.
Return to The Boundary Beyond
Notorious for its difficulty, Boundary Beyond has been reduced in how punishing the exploration works here. The exploration deck does not have any bad cards in it at start and will also not gain any for successfully exploring. That means that explorations are always finding a location, at least until Timeline Destabilization gets shuffled in over the course of the game. In turn, finding the first two to three paths is considerably easier.
The Return also includes one new version for each Present-Day location, increasing the variety there for replays.
Return to Heart of the Elders
Return to HotE#1 doubles down on the Hunter theme with a pair of new enemies, the Feathered Serpents. The first act is also replaced and is now mandatory to advance once the required clues are collected. This is a reaction to the players choosing to not advance the act before they picked the jungle clean which was possible in the base campaign. HotE#2 stays pretty much the same. While the exploration changes and the encounter set swaps do improve the scenario, they don’t do so in a significant way. There are three new locations to randomly choose from (among them the one that grants the “strange goop”) for replayability.
Return to The City of Archives
Another scenario that got a bit easier to fulfill. A new wing of three locations is added to the board, introducing another 2 objectives. To finish the scenario, there’s still only 6 required though, so players can now actually go and choose which ones to do and which ones to skip. This added agency opens up the scenario a lot and makes it more interesting.
Return to The Depths of Yoth
Depths of Yoth got the fewest changes from the Return. Only a single card is added to the exploration deck that can sometimes lead to failing the search. Aside from that, only the encounter set swaps have some influence on how the scenario plays.
Return to Shattered Aeons
In terms of difficulty, not much changes between Shattered Aeons and its Return. While the exploration change are in favor of the players, the encounter set swaps offset this a bit. Also, there are two copies of a very nasty treachery added to the encounter deck that can deal large amounts of horror and damage in one blow.
Three new Shattered locations are added to the exploration deck.
I really like this box. It does a great job of taking some of the rough edges that Forgotten Age has, smoothing them and making the whole campaign just a bit more fun to play. Interaction with several systems has been increased, giving players more tools to react to what happened. And the most egregious difficulty spikes were at least addressed.
One thing that i noticed is how the number of cards allocated to the scenarios varies wildly. While Depths of Yoth only has a single card added to them, Untamed Wilds actually doesn’t have even that. The exploration rule changes have to pick up the slack for some scenarios that weren’t changed too much, but to be fair they do a good job at that. Still, it feels like some scenarios could’ve gotten just a little bit more love. On the other hand, that opened up the space in the cards to do sweeping changes in other places, like devoting 11 cards to rewriting Doom of Eztli and 10 cards to giving Threads a fourth act. Both things that payed off very well, but those are already 21 out of the 54 cards just for two scenarios… so of course some cuts had to be made elsewhere. As another casualty to this lack of card space, there are also almost no additional locations for variable setups included which had been a welcome thing in the other Return To boxes.
I also enjoy many of the player cards and use them frequently in decks.
Final verdict: Excellent! I have pretty much only good things to say about this box, i feel like a lot of thought went into how to optimally use the card slots that they had to improve the campaign the best way they could.
Return to Forgotten Age is currently my favorite campaign and this box is probably my favorite Arkham LCG product. I would still suggest buying other deluxe boxes before going for this, but if you do own the complete TFA cycle, this will give those cards A LOT more appeal and staying power.
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