|Size of the Encounter Deck
Should the Ghoul-Priest still be alive, it is also added to the encounter deck. It’s not included in the numbers above.
My take on this encounter deck: This scenario is mostly driven by the set aside cards outside of the encounter deck, including the Cultists from the Midnight Masks and of course Umôrdhoth itself. The encounter deck in turn is a cocktail of cards that attacks the players from various angles. There’s some very important Willpower tests due to Striking Fear and Umôrdoth’s Wrath. There’s a good amount of doom mechanics from Evils and the Cult. The Cult and the Ghouls provide some small enemies to complement the ones that are set aside. The addition of one of the four Agents sets is an interesting detail that is actually able to change up the scenario. Shub-Niggurath’s set adds a significant amount of dangerous enemies to the deck, the Dark Young is especially vicious. The other three all add two sizeable enemies of their own and a dangerous treachery that is worth keeping in mind. Of special note is Dreams of R’lyeh from the Agents of Cthulhu, which can make a lot of cards in this deck be more impactful.
As is probably appropriate for a Core set scenario, this encounter deck shows off a multitude of different ways how the encounter deck can screw with the players. While it is a bit unfocused in its assault, it is certainly quite powerful on average with only the Ghoul set offering some low impact cards that can often feel like a bit of a breather.
There are a lot of things wrong with this scenario and there are good reasons for Devourer Below to be among the least favorite scenarios of Arkham players… but i wouldn’t say that the encounter deck is one of them. This is a fine deck that offers variance and plenty of high stake tests and the suspense that comes with them.
Cancel these: Ancient Evils, Frozen in Fear. Umôrdoth’s Hunger in Return To. The agenda cards have low doom thresholds on them, which means that Ancient Evils is a high priority again. Frozen in Fear can be a huge pain as usual and can easily merit a cancel to stop it from crippling someone for multiple turns.
During Return to Devourer, the ability to cancel an Umôrdhoth’s Hunger can be a huge relief for the complete group as they can act more flexible around their own hand size.
What it does: The player facing Umôrdhoth’s Wrath has to take a difficult willpower test. For each point they fail by, they have to discard a card or take a damage and a horror.
My take: This card has a very high ceiling. Drawing the auto-fail or just a high negative modifier can take out the complete hand of a player and/or deal large amount of damage and horror. There is a good amount of player choice along the way to mitigate this with the choice between the two punishments and the discard not being random. Still, the raw potential of a completely failed test makes this card very dangerous.
Threat level: Mid to High. The worst-case scenario is terrible, but there are several mechanics in play that can help players to dampen it.
Dealing with it: The damage and horror are not direct, so you can use the usual ways to mitigate them. This card mainly tries to overwhelm your defenses by inflicting a large amount of damage and horror, so if you happen to be hit by a full strength Wrath then you will likely not be able to soak it completely with assets which is when the option to ditch cards comes in. Even when counting in the Return To cards, there are only two scenario specific treacheries in the encounter deck. Both care about the number of cards in your hand, so keeping a healthy amount of spares in hand to discard to this can help mitigate the otherwise hefty costs in stamina and sanity. Of course, while playing Return To, you should also always keep at least two cards in hand…
On the other hand, taking lots of damage and horror from this card opens yourself up to being defeated by either Grasping Hands or Rotting Remains, both of which are in the deck. This makes it difficult to give general advice on how to deal with this card, it will always be very situational which resources are easier for you to give up if necessary.
Return to The Devourer Below
My take on the modified scenario: The expanded Devourer Below changes the scenario by building a discard theme into the encounter deck. In the unmodified scenario, only Umôrdhoth’s Wrath attacked hand size, now there’s a big payoff added from a new scenario specific card. The replacement set for the Ghouls also plays into this theme, especially through the treachery which substitutes Grasping Hands. The other replacement set, the Cult of the Devourer, does not play into this, but instead opens up yet another way for the encounter deck to attack the players by going after their clues.
The Agents of Yog-Sothoth set gains a bit of importance in this scenario, as it also deals with hand-size. The other three sets are unchanged in their role and maintain their status as significant “mini-bosses”.
All things considered, the additions from the Return to Devourer Below do not change up the deck very much. The hand destruction theme is unlikely to come together, with only Chill from Below being a significant addition. Umôrdhoth’s Hunger is a dangerous card on it’s own, though. The changes make the deck stronger, more dangerous. But not really all that much more interesting.
The same goes for the other additions to the scenario. Some additional locations provide variety, but not much of an improvement to the scenario itself. Personally, i am sad to say that i’m not going to replay this any more than i would’ve done without the Return box.
What it does: Umôrdoth’s Hunger affects everyone, not just the one who drew it. All players need to discard a random card from their hand. Should they be left with an empty hand afterwards, they are immediately killed.
Unrelated, all enemies in play are also healed for one point of their stamina.
My take: The life gain for the enemies isn’t terribly relevant, while there are some high health enemies in this scenario one point of damage isn’t usually going to make much of a difference. The random discard for everyone is certainly annoying, though. When playing Return To, each player should be aware of this card existing, so they can keep two cards in hand at all times. If they want to be really safe, having three cards will protect them from drawing both copies of this card in the same Mythos phase. This is not very likely to happen from a 31 card deck, though.
Threat level: High. It does threaten an immediate game over, and in turn to avoid it players will have to keep the card in mind at all times. That alone gives it enough of an impact.
Dealing with it: As mentioned, every player should keep enough cards in hand to not fall to the instand kill condition. There are two other relevant cards to keep in mind. The first is Umôrdoth’s Wrath which will at least give you a choice to take damage and horror instead of the discard. The other one is Chill from Below from the Ghouls replacement set. Both of those cards can be mitigated with Willpower, but a failed test on Chill will randomly discard cards without another option and might lead to a turn where some card draw actions are needed to restore protection from Umôrdhoth’s Hunger.