|Size of the Encounter Deck
My take on this encounter deck: This is the smallest encounter deck used in any of the scenarios so far, but this scenario is not really driven by that deck anyways. The thing that makes this scenario tick is the unique party guests and their piece by piece transformation into horrors that come after the players.
One such transformation is scheduled to happen every three turns, but the presence of Ancient Evils in a small deck makes this very volatile and seeing two guests hulk out on back to back turns is not uncommon at all.
The rest of the encounter deck is a couple of smaller enemies, some horror and damage dealing and the cards that deal with the Man in the Pallid Mask who is easy to seek out and defeat in the small map of locations. Take note that the card Dance of the Yellow King from the Hastur’s Gift set becomes a lot more dangerous here as the unique enemies are indeed Lunatics.
The Decay and Filth is in here mostly for flavor reasons, the shroud manipulation aspect of the set doesn’t really do a whole lot here as gaining clues is usually not related to shroud here. In fact, Seekers will sometimes find themselves out of a job for the first half of the scenario as only Constance is immediately convenient for them as a clueing target. The others use either other skill tests or, in the case of Jordan, require some extra setup to be done before they can be interrogated.
The scenario specific cards both attack the number of available actions to complete the scenario. Those actions are also the most precious commodity here.
This is a fantastic scenario, ranking among my favorites because it is so unique and because it can be played in different ways. You can either go into it “the intended way” and try to grab as many clues as possible before running from the overwhelming force of the enemies. Or you can go in guns blazing and try to murder every last one of them before the time runs out. Both approaches work perfectly well and are very engaging – even more so since this is only the second scenario of the campaign and everyone is still running relatively low powered decks.
Cancel these: Ancient Evils, Tough Crowd. In a scenario as time constrained as this, every action counts even more than usual. Obviously this makes Ancient Evils the public enemy number one and being able to counter it is so massive that i would seriously recommend upgrading any Wards of Protection to level 2 from your Curtain Call XP. Tough Crowd is a distant second, especially on high player counts it can also be a huge drain on your actions. If you are playing Return To and replaced your Evils with the much less threatening Delusory Evils, then Tough Crowd is a good card to hold a cancel back for, but something like Dance of the Yellow King can certainly be a valuable target as well.
What it does: The player must put one of their clues back on one of the five (untransformed) dinner guests or take a horror and damage.
My take: The card gives a lot of options on how to resolve it which most of the time means this card isn’t particularly bad to deal with. Picking up the clue again only costs one action and it offers a free choice on which guest to put the clue.
The damage and horror option is also very valid and saving an action here can make a lot of difference due to the close time constraints of the scenario.
Threat level: Low. The player choice involved offers a lot of ways to mitigate any bad cases.
Dealing with it: If you plan on putting back a clue and accepting the net loss of one action, there are two good ways to go about it: Either put it on some guest that is easy for you to pick the clue back up from. Or put it on someone who is at a low shroud location so you can investigate those clues the usual ways once that guest becomes an enemy and the clues drop down to the location. If you are sitting on some unused clue discovery cards like Read the Runes or Scene of the Crime, those can even completely offset the loss of the clue from this treachery down the road.
What it does: Tough Crowd is put into play for the duration of this round. While in play, all parleys require and additional action.
My take: Annoying little card. Its effect is simple enough, eating up some actions for parleying. Depending on when this is drawn and on the player count, this can potentially be quite hindering. There are only two of them in the deck, so it’s at least not terribly likely to be drawn in two consecutive turns despite the small size of the encounter deck.
While this is certainly a bit more impactful in high player counts, it’s not irrelevant in one or two player games either. Anyone with the standard 3 actions will only be able to parley once, so it reduces the number of possible parleys for the turn from 3 to 1. This is a serious setback towards completing the scenario.
Threat level: Medium to High. Lost actions are quite meaningful in this scenario and this can potentially translate to losing several.
Dealing with it: If you have anything worthwhile to do with your actions other than parleying, this card offers a good window to do that. During the early turns that can mean spending some extra time on setting up another asset or ally. Later, contributing towards fighting off the enemies can be an option for flex investigators that don’t want to spend the extra actions for parleying. At that point, it is often better to just accept the loss of the action. Anyone who can gain extra actions is also better equipped to deal with this card, as increasing the number of actions from 3 to 4 will at least allow to get two parleys done.
Return to The Last King
My take on the modified scenario: Return to Last King improves on an already excellent scenario in many ways, adding extra cards to the special Sickening Reality deck and making Dianne a more relevant presence on the board. Only one new card is added to the deck, but it’s a very high impact card. Shocking Display is there to offset the addition of the extra cards to the Sickening Realities and will throw one extra random transformation into the game at any point.
In terms of replacement sets, it’s a more mixed bag. Decay and Filth becomes Decaying Reality, introducing another Hunter enemy and also another treachery that taxes player actions. This makes it fit much better with the mechanics of this scenario, absolutely an improvement. The change from Ancient Evils to Delusory Evils is much more of a controversial one, though. Personally, i think removing Ancient Evils from this scenario and replacing it with a card that reads “Lose an action. Maybe. Sometime down the road.” is just a massive blow to how tight the scenario is on the action economy. I have a distaste for Delusory Evils at the best of times, but in this scenario it makes zero sense to me. Personally, i ignore this switch and just keep on using Ancient Evils and deal with that and Shocking Display at the same time ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
On another completely random note, this Return To also adds one of my favorite pieces of illustration from the game: Kudos to Andrea Ugrai for the Party Guest/Crazed Guest pair of artworks, especially the latter one. Just look at how much fun that girl is having once she lets loose. Cracks me up.
What it does: One of the set aside Sickening Reality cards is chosen at random and immediately resolved, transforming one of the party goers into its enemy version. Shocking Display has Victory 0, removing it from the encounter deck after resolving. It can not be canceled.
My take: As long as this card is in the encounter deck, any of the party guests is potentially a ticking time bomb. The uncertainty added by having this around is great. Of course it’s also a very high impact card, leading to multiple transformations happening right after another, severely changing the board state from one turn to the next.
Threat level: Very High. This card equals to dropping another big elite enemy into play.
Dealing with it: This card should be considered being a part of the scenario setup and agenda that just happens more than something from the encounter deck that you try to defuse. “Cannot be canceled.” speaks a clear message: Something big is happening now and you will not prevent it. Dealing with the fallout usually requires either defeating a difficult enemy or taking this as the final cue to get out.
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