Scenario difficulty rankings #3: Not to be underestimated


As I mentioned last week, Arkham is by and large a fairly difficult game. And what that means is that todays installment of the difficulty rankings does actually already have scenarios in it that do pack a certain punch. They are still not really where I expect to lose to them because I am able to prepare for them well and/or because they are at the tail end of a campaign where i already have a well-upgraded deck. But underestimating would certainly be a mistake, too.

Like the previous two weeks, let’s have a short excursion talking about difficulty before moving on to the next batch of scenarios in the list, ranking from #60 to #53.

On difficulty: Urgency

When looking at the difficulty of a scenario, a big part of it comes from the urgency that it creates, most prominently through its doom clock. A scenario could have a really terrifying encounter deck, but if the doom clock is very forgiving, it will afford players the necessary time to react to it. On the other hand, if you are already under tight pressure and have to care about your efficiency simply because there isn’t a whole lot of time, then a lowly Ghoul can create a problem for you. A good example for a scenario with a impactful cards, but a lenient doom clock would be Horror in High Gear. You aren’t going to doom out in that one unless you park your car for several turns and also run into a “Long Way Around”. But it will pelt you with treacheries until you are either dead or made it through the gauntlet. On the other end of the spectrum, the superficially very similar Essex County Express has you under threat of dooming out constantly with very short agendas and a large amount of doom accelerants in the encounter deck. As a result, even a somewhat unspectacular enemy like Grappling Horror can become very threatening. (That being said, Essex County also has a rather nasty encounter deck on top of the doom, which is why we are going to see it rather late in this list!)
The point is, I often find that the agenda deck and the doom clock it dictates have a higher influence on how difficult a scenario feels than even the contents of the encounter deck.
The other thing aside from the doom clock that can drive the feeling of urgency in a scenario is the threat of consequences. But let’s table that subtopic for next week and get back to today’s part of the list!

#60: Return to Doom of Eztli

This is the first entry in the list that is specific to the Return version of a scenario. The original Doom of Eztli is a bit of a nightmare (I always thought that it’s a bigger problem than Untamed Wilds, even though Wilds is the one that usually gets all the crap when people complain about TFA), but we are going to talk about that later in the list. Much later. The Return to TFA completely changed this scenario, it tossed out most of the doom mechanics and switched out most of the locations and many encounter sets. It’s honestly completely different. And in the process, it become much more forgiving in total. That is not to say it’s a pushover or that the Return only made things easier. The Snake Pit can cause a lot of headaches (especially if you need to move through it on the way out of the temple) and the Vengeful Serpents are a high profile enemy that demands a solution. But you do have a lot more time for everything now and the scenario feels very much appropriate for a second scenario in a campaign.

#59: A Phantom of Truth

Are you able to kill a Byakhee by scenario 5? If not, you really should be. If you are, then this scenario is not likely to give you any grief in either of its versions. Staying ahead/on top of the Organist isn’t terribly difficult, especially considering today’s cardpool and the movement options we have available. This placement in the list is a bit of an average between the two versions, the one where you run away from the Organist and have to have the doom clock run out is a good deal easier because the doom effects in the scenario have very little punch there.

#58: Dancing Mad

Let me quote the scenario page here because I think it does a good job of benchmarking where we are in terms of difficulty with this list:
This is one of the better scenarios from The Scarlet Keys that keeps being challenging but not overbearing. […] There’s also a good balance between the usual challenges, with willpower tests and agility tests around, some necessary clueing, a good amount of fighting. Just good old Arkham that incorporates the new mechanics instead of being overshadowed by them.
Diversifying the threats we face makes for a good and interesting scenario, but of course not necessarily for a particularly threatening one. One of the versions of the scenario starts with the investigators in one location with a bunch of enemies right on top of them and that is probably the tightest spot that Dancing Mad has for you.
“Good old Arkham”… nothing wrong with that!

#57: Midnight Masks

Speaking of Good Old Arkham. Midnight Masks has quite the focused deck, being all about stopping the players in their tracks and halting their progress towards collecting the unique cultists. And that deserves some respect. The thing about Midnight Masks, though… it doesn’t really care about defeating the players much. It stalls you and accelerates the doom clock, but unless you get eaten by a Nightgaunt or a really untimely Hunting Shadow there isn’t much of a chance of failing here. Which of course begs the question … how do I rate this?
Failing to get all cultists will lead to those appearing in the already difficult Devourer Below, so the scenario is not completely without urgency. But I feel like it belongs into the lower third at least.

#56: Ice and Death #2

This is a very similar case to Midnight Masks. Go into the scenario, there’s a doom clock, do as many things as you can. The encounter deck tries to slow you down and/or make the time run out. Compared to Masks, there isn’t even a Nightgaunt sized enemy in this. The doom clock is much tighter though and resigning in time actually requires some planning ahead. One in three cards in the encounter deck adds doom, so getting defeated from the agenda running out unexpectedly can happen if you take too many risks.
But then again, you can literally skip this scenario if you don’t feel like it.

#55: The Pallid Mask

At the risk of repeating myself: Good Old Arkham. Pallid Mask has a bit of everything i like in this game, which is why it’s my favorite scenario overall right now. For a scenario #6, it’s not particularly difficult however. The amount of enemies in the encounter deck is way above average, but includes mostly small fry that is not all that threatening on its own. There are some chunky Hunter enemies about in the catacombs to pick up the slack, though. Options for movement are often limited and the encounter deck has some cards in it that limit it further.
By scenario 6, you shouldn’t really struggle with the challenges in this one (except for the big Elite enemy, but engaging that one is optional) but getting caught in a bad spot between several Hunters is absolutely something that can happen, especially if a Corpse Dweller made it through.

#54: Search for Kadath

So, we are doing the Masks thing again, with a nonbinary goal, a doom clock and doom mechanics. Unlike the other two that I talked about today, Kadath has some scary monsters skulking about and not all of them are avoidable. This can be a problem in the blind play, when you suddenly run into the Manticore and aren’t yet prepared for that sort of thing, but on replays you control which islands you visit first so that becomes a lot more easy to handle. Like in Ice and Death, you can’t just resign at will, but seeking out the nearest port is much easier to do than moving back to your camp in the icy wastes. The doom cards in the deck pack quite a punch and the frequent reshuffling of the deck keep them in circulation. What makes me put Kadath down here is the lack of a real consequence for failing to discover a certain amount of Signs of the Gods. You can’t completely punt the scenario or else the Onyx Gates in Where The Gods Dwell will be a major issue, but the difference between getting 5 or 7 Sign of the Gods here is not all that relevant.

#53: The Witching Hour

Let’s get one thing out of the way: The Witching Hour is an absolute menace if you go into it blind. Splitting up the team is incredibly nasty if you don’t know it’s coming. For this list, i do assume knowledge of the scenarios though. And i feel like it’s reasonable to expect any investigator to have *something* that is able to defeat a Goat Spawn or at least evade it for a turn or two when they know about it in advance. The other major part of the scenario is Willpower based treacheries, which is just the TCU special – you should have a plan for that as well. So what does that leave us with? Not a whole lot, to be honest. The doom clock gets rather tight near the end due to the extra doom from witches at the circle and that’s the largest remaining threat on replays. Annette is no pushover, but the alternative wincondition through discovering the clues at the circle allows a way around her if she poses too much of an issue in scenario 1.
One thing to note about Witching Hour is that it gets a nasty surprise in four player groups: A random player will be stuck with a Relentless Dark Young instead of a Goat Spawn. And that thing is terrifying, even more so in a campaign opener. Full groups also actually have a chance to assemble the Daemonic Pipings which is barely a concern in small groups. So if you play in a full group, this scenario’s ranking goes up for you by a good chunk.

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