|Size of the Encounter Deck
My take on this encounter deck: The Witching Hour uses no scenario specific cards in its encounter deck at all. Looking at the complete picture, there are a few things that immediately stand out:
Low enemy count. The scenario has only four enemies in its deck, and since its the witches those aren’t exactly terrifying. They are substituted with some set aside enemies, though. This is the only scenario that uses the Agents of Shub-Niggurath in a meaningful way and guarantees that everyone gets to meet one of its goat-like creatures. And then there’s Anette herself, of course. And, at least in a full party, the threat of meeting the Piper. So things can get pretty wild despite the low enemy count in the deck.
About 60% of the deck has willpower tests on it. That is just an insane amount of pressure for anyone who is vulnerable to these. This works as a preview of what is to come, after all The Circle Undone is infamous for being very harsh on the Joe Diamonds and Finn Edwards of this game.
Ancient Evils rears its ugly head once again and can be a major pain especially in the last stretch, when the agenda is already gathering multiple doom per turn depending on the number of witches at the final location.
The Agents of Azathoth set in this scenario is … inconsistent. At lower player counts, collecting all of the Pipings is fairly unlikely, so the set mostly serves as an ominous warning for things to come. It’s excellent in that role and fits the campaign perfectly. At higher player counts, the chance to meet the Piper ramps up dramatically, though. And having that monster appear in the very first scenario is kind of rough. Especially since the scenario seperates the players from each other for most of it. This can randomly just screw over players and i can’t say i am particularly fond of that.
To prepare for this scenario, make sure that your decks have some ways of dealing with the willpower treacheries and/or with the curses that attach to your threat area. Having those is going to invaluable for the rest of the campaign as well. Also, this scenario forces every player to handle an enemy for a few turns. So even die hard Seekers should have ways to deal some damage or to evade and stall until players are able to help each other out again. Aside from that, the scenario is actually pretty straightforward. Investigate locations, collect clues, slap a few witches and deal with the finale in whatever way you want.
Cancel these: Ancient Evils, Diabolic Voices.
I find it very difficult to recommend something in particular here. Usually we’d look at Ancient Evils immediately but i think the agenda thresholds are generous enough that Evils is actually pretty mild.
Canceling a Daemonic Pipings can be a great way to ease your mind about the Piper until the encounter deck cycles, consider doing that if none of them gets discarded by a Coven Initiate.
Since it’s the first scenario, you won’t have access to Ward(2) yet, so a Mystic also can’t plan to cancel any of the willpower treacheries for other players.
One card that i would want to single out is Diabolic Voices. If drawn, it can cause a mass discard and dump your cancel cards that way. Might as well just play it safe and cancel the Voices to be done with it.
Return to The Witching Hour
My take on the modified scenario: As is a bit of a running theme throughout the Return to The Circle Undone, the first Return scenario (i’m not counting the prologue) doesn’t change a whole lot about the actual scenario plays out and instead relies on swapping out a chunk of encounter cards with those from replacement sets. Most notably, this takes Ancient Evils out of the picture here and its replacement Impending Evils isn’t all that dangerous here. Witchcraft is taken out in favor of Hexcraft, which removes the other high impact card of the scenario, Diabolic Voices, out of the picture. The final replacement, City of the Damned introduces investigators to the new concept of actually having to test agility in TCU. But it’s the only card in the deck that does so for now, so this is just a taste of things to come.
5 new locations bolster up the variety in Arkham Woods and Witch-Haunted Woods without increasing the difficulty. If anything, these new locations are actually in the players favor due to 4 out of 5 having low shroud.
Investigators following any of the win conditions of the base scenario will likely find the Return a bit easier than the original. There is however a new win condition as well that starts the new story branch about allying with Erynn from the coven. Depending on player count this is pretty hard to do, requiring timing and the ability to exhaust multiple enemies at the same time. If you want to go for that, consider packing something from the rogue and survivor cardpool to help with that. Cunning Distraction never looked that good before…
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