Top 10: Most punishing encounter cards

Introduction: An integral part of the game is having the encounter deck push back at our attempts of making progress towards our goals. When we go into the Mythos phase, we already do so expecting unpleasantry and complications. But some encounter cards just take this to the top and those are the ones that lead to us grimacing in frustration or sighing because we now have something new to care about that we really didn’t want to. Here’s my Top 10 list of encounter cards that i really don’t want to draw. For this, i am making no difference between scenario specific, campaign specific or core cards – meaning i try to ignore how frequently the card is used for its place on the list.

#10: Ants! As mentioned, there’s a certain expectation we have when going into the mythos phase, expectations on what a singular encounter card is going to cost us. A card? An action? Maybe even two? Some life? Well, what we certainly do not expect is having to discard up to 4 cards from our hand and/or board. Random ones from the hand, at that. This card is a menace and thankfully it’s contained to one specific scenario.

#9: Merging Timelines. Another one that can just wreck your hand. What adds to the frustration here is not only that it also can cost you your turn… but that it is completely random. “Ants!” at least gave you a test, this one isn’t that merciful. Short of building your deck to include more singletons there’s nothing you can do about this one. You have to close your eyes and hope you end up with at least part of a turn when all is done.

#8: Brotherhood Cultist / Stolen Mind. It takes a lot for an enemy to get on this list. Usually enemies aren’t terribly frustrating because they come with lots of ways to defeat them built in. Sure, they cost some actions, but usually there will even be investigators on the team that are actively looking for enemies so they find a use for their weapons and fight events. What makes these two special is that they not only collect doom, but they scale their stats with it. Brotherhood Cultist is the well known example, an enemy that you can not afford drawing the autofail against because each attempt at defeating them that fails only makes successive attempts more difficult. Meanwhile, they work towards ending the game faster. Stolen Mind was added by the Return and crossbreeds this behavior with the automatic doom collection from Wizard of the Order, for a disgusting end result.

#7: Meddlesome Familiar. Finally, something that’s not from The Forgotten Age! One of a very, very few cards in the game that are able to cause me actual IRL stress. Brown Jenkins just gets to me and Meddlesome Familiar is a huge part of why. The Secret Name is a drawn out affair that can be taxing and having this card make sure that you always have that stinking familiar in your face is just something else. Nothing quite like taking Jenkins down for the fourth time under use of actions and other resources, only to draw a card that goes “Okay, do it again. Also, have a damage.” It’s mocking me, i swear.

#6: Ancient Evils. Ah, the fan favorite. Probably the most overrated encounter card in the game, but obviously it does have quite the impact. It can be safely assumed that the doom thresholds on agendas are balanced around having Evils in the encounter deck, so i am usually not one to think to much of it. But things get quite sketchy when excessive randomization comes into play (looking at you, Untamed Wilds!), when the thresholds are very small (looking at you, Essex!) or when it comes bundled with Cultists, preferably in the same mythos phase (looking at you, Black Throne!). These are the moments where Ancient Evils can feel absolutely rotten, especially since it doesn’t just work towards killing a single investigator. It tries to directly end the game.

#5: Straitjacket. Man, this one just keeps getting me every time. Unspeakable Oath is a truly excellent scenario that i enjoy a whole lot, but i can not deny the amount of stress and grief that a deck with both Corrosion and Straitjacket causes me. Straitjacket is an immense setback. While it doesn’t send your assets to the bin, they are returned to the hand, so you do lose all the actions and all the resources you spent on them. And before you can replay them you even have to spend 2/3rd of a turn just on discarding the Straitjacket. This thing can just on its own cost two or even more turns. Drawing a second Straitjacket after rebuilding from the first one is a legitimate table flip.

#4: The Sign of Hastur. While we are on the topic of Unspeakable Oath, tableflips and IRL stress, who the hell thought this was a good idea? Increasing all horror by 1 over multiple turns translates into so much additional testless horror, it outclasses any other horror dealing card. It’s also really difficult to get rid of sometimes, so all you can do is try and weather the storm. This is one of those cards that makes me go into high alert mode immediately when it enters play, and for the whole duration that it stays there. I’m pretty sure this card is to blame for at least some of my grey hairs.

#3: Beyond the Veil. The card that holds a whole campaign hostage. It has all the hallmarks of a frustrating encounter card: No printed way of dealing with it. High consequences for having it trigger. Low to no interactivity. What Beyond the Veil adds to the mix is that you get a front row seat to your slow but inevitable demise. Oh, and Surge. Can’t forget the Surge. That always feels like getting a kick in your face while you are already down. I can’t think of another card that this actively discourages me from playing a campaign than this one. Some investigators just don’t stand a chance in Dunwich and it’s all thanks to Beyond the Veil.

#2: Frozen in Fear. A core set classic that has been keeping Rogues and other low willpower investigators down since the inception of the game. Arkham has a lot of debilitating treacheries, as anyone who has seen the typical TCU threat area can attest to. But what sets Frozen in Fear apart is the way its Willpower test works. Unlike so many other cards, this is a test that the player who drew the card will have to pass themselves. No helping out by your friendly Mystic or Guardian. It’s also guaranteed to hinder you for at least one full turn, as the timing is fixed. Fixed to a point just ever so slightly outside of your turn, so you can’t even use something like Eye of the Djinn on it. It’s like the wording of that Forced trigger was specifically crafted to be the most frustrating it can be. Since then, we’ve seen this same templating on other treacheries as well, with TCU’s Realm of Torment being particularly notable. But none of them gets quite the visceral reaction from me that Frozen in Fear does.

#1: Umôrdhoth’s Hunger. This frigging card. The Devourer Below is already a scenario that isn’t exactly known for how fair and fun it is, but the presence of this card just makes it that much worse. Threatening instant demise to one or even multiple investigators, even its best case of costing everyone a card is annoying. Having this card around also means that every discard effect in the encounter deck is more powerful – and RtNotZ introduced quite a few of those. And playing cards is also discouraged, something i never like. Really, this card looks like it came straight out of a LotR Nightmare scenario instead of an Arkham Return to box. This is an easy #1 spot for me, the only saving grace here is that i don’t see the card ever because i don’t play that scenario anymore.

Final words: This list features a lot of TFA and Carcosa. That might be partially influenced by the fact that those are the two campaigns i play the most, so of course they left the biggest impression on me. But it does align with the reputation of those campaigns. The surprise for me here is the relative lack of TCU. I find that campaign somewhat stressful and i expected more than just Meddlesome Familiar (and a mention of Realm of Torment) to make an appearance here. There’s 4 cards from Return To boxes on the list, which is about what i would’ve expected.
I’m sure that with almost 700 different encounter cards, i must have forgotten a few important ones. So please chime in and tell me which ones. What are the cards that make you want to open a window and chuck the damn thing out?

Leave a Reply