With last week’s entry in this series, we managed to cover the first half of Arkham’s scenarios and their placement in the difficulty rankings. I don’t know about you, but i was certainly surprised to learning that scenarios that I died in several times, such as Horror in High Gear, Thousand Shapes of Horror and (just barely) Last King placed somewhere in the lower half of the difficulty curve. So let’s see what the upper half looks like, shall we?
But first, a few words about attrition and what it means for difficulty.
On difficulty: Attrition
How scary is a Rotten Remains? What about Hunting Shadow from the Midnight Masks set? I have spent many, many (many, many!) hours on this site, writing on all the encounter cards and giving my thoughts on them. One thing that i would do for each treachery in those encounter set reviews is giving a rough “threat level”, something to gauge its impact by. To this day, i haven’t really found a way to do this in a satisfying manner for cards that deal damage or horror because more than other treacheries (say, Crypt Chill or Frozen in Fear), they need to be evaluated in the context of the rest of the encounter deck. A Hunting Shadow on its own is rather irrelevant. But stick it in a scenario that also has Grasping Hands, On Wings of Darkness and other treacheries that come after your health pool and things start to look very differently.
When an encounter deck tries to wear you down with a constant assault of cards that do a similar thing and try to deplete one of the resources that you need to finish the scenario, I sometimes call this attrition. This can be a scenario like Horror in High Gear that throws treachery after treachery at the players that tries to hit them for damage and/or horror until they are dead. But it can also be a scenario like Secret Name that asks a simple question: “How many rats does it take to kill a team of investigators?”
When looking at the scenarios and campaigns that have been released, attrition based scenarios seem to be a lot more common in recent releases than they were in the early days. Innsmouth and Edge of the Earth are almost completely attrition based, with treacheries, engagement effects, location effects, floodings, the Tekeli-li deck all just working towards a common goal: Stacking those red and blue tokens on your investigator card.
The encounter deck’s job is it to try and make us lose the scenario, so we as solo or coop players can have a good time overcoming the challenge. Attrition is one of the two main ways for the encounter deck to achieve this, making us lose through being defeated. The other way the encounter deck can make us lose is through slowing us down enough that the time runs out. I already talked about “Urgency” before, which describes the pressure coming from the doom clock. But I think this is worth a second look next week, where I will talk a bit about what the encounter deck does to elevate the doom clock over a mere timer that counts the rounds.
But for now, let’s get back to the difficulty rankings. Picking back up at #37, here’s the next seven scenarios.
#37: Threads of Fate
This scenario is superficially similar to several other ones that follow the Midnight Masks template. But between Brotherhood Cultists and Conspiracy of Blood, the scenario can run away from you fairly quickly. There is also a big chunk of damage/horror in the encounter deck, capped by The Secret Must Be Kept which certainly has caught me off-guard before. I did rank this a bit higher than other scenarios of its kind due to the importance it has for the rest of the campaign, determining which paths are open to you.
#36: Undimensioned and Unseen
Turns out that defeating enemies is kinda tough if you have to do it fairly. Broods hit hard, have a whopping 6 fight that your require to beat 2-5 times, depending on player count. Oh, and you have to do it with your willpower. Good luck. Also, there’s Monster Thralls about and our old friend Striking Fear is here as well of course.
Yeah, this is a rough one and that Resign option is certainly one to keep in mind. Actually, that Resign option is the reason that U&U isn’t even higher on the list. On more than one occasion I had to just pack up my things and go as I wasn’t able to deal with the very specific challenges of the scenario.
#35: Where Doom Awaits
Speaking of Monster Thralls and Striking Fear, we have those here again. But let’s throw a helping of Ancient Evils and Sorcery on top. Oh, and if you fail, the campaign is over.
What stops WDA from being a bigger menace is the size of the encounter deck due to a bunch of low-impact cards diluting the whole thing. While Sorcery is in the set, there is no further support for the deck decay theme here from other sets, so Beyond the Veil is weirdly at its weakest during this scenario. It is still a noteworthy card though, of course.
I feel like WDA doesn’t really a get a whole lot of respect in the community anymore due to being a bit basic and standing in the shadow of Lost in Time and Space. But the variance in the encounter deck can absolutely spit out some sequences that can make that threat of an early campaign end a reality.
#34: Dealings in the Dark
Dealings in the Dark thrives on its heavy use of the concealment mechanic and how players are going to need to spend their actions effectively to deal with it. The enemies are mostly cultists, but if you start adding the concealment on top of their health you quickly get to three or four actions required to root out and defeat one of them. That’s a huge impact from one encounter card and the scenario has multiple ways to get these cultists into play.
The scenario is also just very long. Since it doesn’t use the doom clock as a hard fail condition (instead only spawning more cultists every couple rounds) the scenario can drag on quite a bit. Given enough time, Shadowed, Light out of the Void, Accosted and Hunting Shadow can absolutely wear you down.
#33: Dim Carcosa
Dim Carcosa’s difficulty comes in a very “honest” way. It’s big dudes. Lots of them. No matter if it’s the Inhabitants of Carcosa set, the Byakhees from Agents of Hastur or any of the scenario specific enemies, everything has at least 3 or 4 health here. Even the cultist set throws in a 4 health dude. This makes Dim Carcosa the rare scenario where getting overpowered by enemies is actually the main cause of defeat, usually i think of creatures more as time sinks in this game (while treacheries do the actual killing).
The unique horror mechanics do offer a good amount of relief for the players however and that keeps Dim Carcosa from feeling as difficult as for example Shattered Aeons or Lost in Time and Space, both also finales with big chunky enemies.
#32: The Secret Name
There’s two things my mind immediately goes to when thinking about The Secret Name: The almost comical amount of willpower tests (there’s 23 of cards with them in the encounter deck) and that feeling of having played for eight hours when you finally meet Nahab face to face. This is one of the poster children for the attrition thing, mercilessly pecking away at the players one hit point at a time through rats and Haunted effects until they are barely able to hold on. There’s also no Resign option, so it’s literally do or die.
During the final confrontation with Nahab, the game abruptly switches gears and leans heavily into doom mechanics as Nahab will try to run out the already quite tight doom clock.
#31: Depths of Yoth
This is another one that is a bit hard to classify in this list because its difficulty is going to vary wildly depending on how the rest of the campaign went. Did you get by without angering Yig too much? Enjoy an almost casual stroll through the caves with plenty of time to get 5 levels deep. Chances are, you will be out of the scenario before the Father of Serpents even makes his appearance. Did you bomb a temple and went on a murder spree on every reptilian you could find? You will start this scenario with a handful turns left and with Yig and the Harbinger right on top of you at the starting location, unlikely to survive.
I decided to push Depths to the upper third of the list because just through its existence it dictates much of the rest of the campaign (since its the payoff for the Wrath of Yig mechanic). Botching the scenario also threatens to outright kill the investigators or at least severely maim them and send them off battered into the finale.
It a scenario that has a huge campaign presence and as a result, it commands respect despite the encounter deck being a bit unfocused and the whole pursuit mechanic working mostly in the player’s favor.