|Size of the Encounter Deck
My take on this encounter deck: This deck is very light on enemies and more than half of the ones that are present aren’t actually all that dangerous in terms of combat stats. Instead, Essex County Express turns the scenario into a race against the doom clock, with one in four cards adding doom counters to the board. To pile onto this theme, a good amount of cards are designed to stall movement. Willpower checks are a big part of the deck as well while agility tests are completely absent. Something of note is the surprisingly high amount of asset hate in this deck – between Rails, Claws and Pushed some concern should be spent when trying to keep expensive allies in play.
Cancel these: Ancient Evils, Frozen in Fear. Ancient Evils being a priority should require little explanation. This scenario is a race against time and few cards cost more time than Evils. Frozen in Fear can ruin a player’s day if they aren’t able to pass the Willpower test. Someone vulnerable like Joe or Finn will deeply appreciate having this card prevented.
What it does: The Emergent Monstrosity is a large roadblock. It has enough life that it will likely require three strikes to go down. A decent fight value means that there is a reasonable chance to miss your attacks, consuming further actions. It will spawn ahead of the player exhausted, so unless the players can use this turn to advance two wagons, they will be forced to deal with the Monstrosity. The massive amount of damage means it can not be ignored or tanked for a long period either. You can evade it, but then you will miss out on the Victory 1 in a campaign that is notorious for being stingy with experience.
My take: The big decision here is whether you can afford to kill it or if you need to evade. This will usually be dictated by how well you are currently doing. Especially drawn early this enemy can be a large threat and will have the fighter of the group scramble to somehow get rid of it. Making use of its clause to come into play exhausted to completely bypass it is rarely possible. It’s more useful as a way to get the first hits in without immediately being hit back.
Threat level: High. This is the strongest enemy in the encounter deck for this scenario and requires a good deal of effort to get rid off without losing too much momentum.
What it does: A medium sized threat intended to slow down the player. While engaged, you cannot move, so you need to deal with it right away. It’s easy to evade, but can try to catch up later on with the Hunter keyword. The health value of three means it will usually go down in two attacks.
My take: Not terribly challenging, this is a fairly standard monster. I like the design here, how it gives a choice between evading or killing it and how that interacts with the rest of the scenario. The Hunter keyword gets a lot of power in a scenario that is focused on stopping the players from moving.
Threat level: Low. Every investigator is able to deal with this creature in some way and it’s easy enough to dispatch.
What it does: Appearing in a wagon you already crossed, the Helpless Passenger asks the players to get back and come to their rescue. This equals to using a whole 3 actions (move, parley, move) to deal with it. Should a Passenger leave play, usually due to the agenda advancing, it will deal 1 horror to each investigator. This card has Surge, so this always comes in addition to another encounter card on top.
My take: I have a confession to make. As far as i am concerned, this card might as well read “Each investigator takes 1 horror. Surge.” I am not going to spend a whole turn on saving these guys. Surge usually means i have other pressing matters to attend to and need to advance the race to the engine car.
Threat level: Medium. Obviously this is going to depend a lot on how much horror the investigators already have on them. Unless someone already had a run-in with an Emergent Monstrosity go bad, it shouldn’t be unbearable, though. The Surge keyword means that you will never be happy to see this coming off the top of the deck.
What it does: If you fail the Willpower check, it stops you dead in your tracks. Not being able to move at all is a huge downside in this scenario, god forbid you get hit by two of these in succession. As if that wasn’t bad enough, it also deals damage and comes with a clause that is designed to kill your allies. Or to kill the Helpless Passenger you spent a turn on saving.
My take: This is a nasty one. Luckily the Willpower check isn’t unreasonably high, but if it hits you are screwed in at least two ways. This is one of the cards i would always pitch some icons from the hand for to make sure it misses.
Threat level: Mid to High. The only thing keeping this from getting a straight up High here is the somewhat restrained Willpower check. If you are playing an investigator like Skids or Preston with low Willpower, make sure to be an extra step ahead of the agenda so you don’t fold to these.
What it does: Not quite as rough as Claws of Steam, this will still always cost an action. Potentially it can also cause you to lose an asset, but at least that part is conditional and can be mitigated by having disposable assets in play. Broken Rails can become more impactful if it manages to hit multiple investigators, something that is very possible in the cramped confines of the Essex County Express.
My take: It’s fine. I usually expect a treachery card to cost me about 2 actions and this is in line with that expectation. Investigators will often be in the same place during the Mythos phase, so that clause about hitting multiple players is very relevant. If you do have a Helpless Passenger around, note that they can be discarded to protect a more important asset.
Threat level: Low to Medium. In three or four player games this could potentially cost a lot of actions and assets. Since there are three of them in the deck, the possibility to draw multiples in the same turn becomes threatening at high player counts as well. Outside of those cases, this is in line what you would usually expect from a treachery.
Return to the Essex County Express
My take on the modified scenario: The “Return to” box does not add any scenario specific encounter cards to the encounter deck. It does however make the investigators deal with the Conductor, who adds a whole new mechanical layer to the scenario. It also removes the Striking Fear, The Beyond and Ancient Evils and replaces them with their counterparts Erratic Fear, Beyond the Threshold and Resurgent Evils. These card swaps actually make the encounter deck lose a good deal of its power, as all of these are a bit weaker than the original ones. Notably, the lack of asset hate in Beyond the Threshold makes that particular set have little actual role to play in this scenario as deck discard is mostly irrelevant. The swap to Resurgent Evils is a good one however as the unmodified Essex County Express is notorious for being able to create unwinnable game states in the early turns of games with 3 to 4 investigators when everyone draws doom acceleration.
What it does: The Conductor follows the player through the train relentlessly, respawning in the leftmost wagon whenever the agenda advances. It will go down with two hits of most weapons and has fight and evade values that are perfectly reasonable. But players will need to deal with it multiple times throughout the scenario.
My take: I like what it adds to the scenario. The encounter deck is very light on enemies and this gives fighters something to do other than failing investigate checks. It’s not outrageously strong, but provides enough of a punch that it needs to be dealt with.
Threat level: Medium to High. The threat comes less from the actual enemy itself, as a draw from the encounter deck it would be weaker than the Emergent Monstrosity. However, it doesn’t cost encounter draws, so it’s on top of everything else going on and thus becomes a very credible threat.
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