Introduction: We are moving towards Christmas and the surrounding holidays at a fast pace, so for the next two or three lists at least i want to dial down the controversy and instead give praise to some of my favorite Arkham encounter cards. Starting with the enemies today. This is from a point of view of game mechanics. I’ll do artwork later 😉 These are enemies that i like either because they have cool mechanics, because they are iconic or just because i think they are interesting in some way.
#10: Acolyte. The Core Set classic sets the template for how a cultist looks in this game: Not terribly dangerous by itself, but once many of them congregate, their presence on the board alone becomes a huge issue. Cults need to be stopped and this is mechanically represented extremely well with this card. Huge win on both flavor and mechanics. Getting a card like this right on the first try was extremely important for the Core Set, considering its encounter sets are used in all following products as well. It’s astonishing really how much the designers got those sets exactly right. I’d go as far and say that the game wouldn’t work without how extremely well made the Core is. The Acolyte is a hallmark of that design work.
#9: Corpse Dweller. This chunky boy is just one of the many reasons why The Pallid Mask is my favorite scenario. A minor reason only, but still. What’s cool here is that having this monster in the encounter deck gives a whole new feel of urgency to the basic enemies from the Ghoul set. You could be tempted to just evade a Ghoul Minion and leave it behind, but then this thing might just break out of the Ghoul and start following you. Even in the two-handed games that i play, i have very often cursed the timing on this enemy. I imagine it is only harder to keep from the board in bigger groups.
#8: Eater of the Depths. This is basically the “Refuses to elaborate further” meme, but as an encounter card. We know nothing about this thing. All we know is we are trekking through the Depths of Yoth, minding our own business when out of nowhere this massive thing can show up and deliver a boss fight. 2 victory points, Hunter with truckloads of damage and horror, a bundle of stats. What is even going on here. And yet, this somehow fits that part of the campaign, after all we just left the City of Archives behind us so nothing makes sense anyways. This enemy is probably the one that is most alien to me, most other things are at least explained or handwaved somewhat. In it’s own way that’s fascinating.
#7: Hunting Horror. It’s a real shame that The Miskatonic Museum does have some parts that just don’t work correctly, at least in its original pre-Return incarnation. The idea of having only a single enemy in the scenario that just won’t die but instead return stronger over and over is fantastic and for all it’s faults it has to be said: When the scenario works, it is a really good one. This enemy becomes the primary threat, but also at the same time it works as a timer for the scenario. Really cool stuff mechanically and i wish this concept would be revisited some time. It did take the Return To box for Hunting Horror to become what it should be, but i think in the end it got there. My most recent plays of Return to Museum were all tight and suspenseful affairs and the Hunting Horror is obviously the key element to that.
#6: Arkham Officer. The first half of Murder at the Excelsior Hotel flips a lot of what we assume from the game on its head. We see Arkham’s Finest, represented by enemy cards, investigate the locations like we would. Doom represents the progress in their investigation against the players and should the doom threshold be met, they can make a case against us. This is very well represented on a number of cards, but most importantly on the Arkham Officer himself who seeks out clues and turns them into “doom” progress. We can chat them up, learning what they learned and take the pressure from ourselves at the same time. It all just makes sense, which is impressive.
#5: Whippoorwill. This little birdie (and its partner in crime, the Eager for Death treachery) are another huge flavor win. According to Lovecraft’s Dunwich Horror (and superstition in general) these birds are harbingers of death and hearing them sing is an omen of bad luck. Well, looking at the card, they certainly got the bad luck part right. Whatever you are trying to do gets a lot harder once one (or god forbid, multiples) of these are around. And Eager for Death nails the harbinger of death part, causing horror to those who are wounded. The encounter set is one of my favorites from the early days of the game and the Whippoorwill in particular is just cool because it shows that you don’t always need tentacles and huge fangs to pose a problem to the investigators.
#4: Harbinger of Valusia. Speaking of harbingers of death, this mean green mother from TFA seems to pop up whenever it is the least convenient. She’s a powerful enemy on her own, but her timing means that she often appears when you are already having all sorts of other things to take care of. She’s a constant presence throughout TFA and like so many other things in that campaign she asks for both fighting and evading. She’s also able to punish either if you are bad at it, so there’s that. I particularly like the “Then, if there are 2i resources on it, it vanishes with a sinister hiss.” bit. Starts out with very formal rules conform talk and ends on what is basically flavor text. Arkham gets away with that sort of thing sometimes and i just think that’s neat.
#3: Ghoul Priest. Arkham is a harsh place where failure and defeat lurk at every corner. This is one of the lessons that the Night of the Zealot teaches fledgling players, to make sure they go into any further campaigns with the right expectations. And none better to teach this particular lesson than the Ghoul Priest. An enemy that would command respect if it appeared at the end of a modern campaign with its full card pool, it’s something for the best fighter of the group to sink their teeth into. But here it appears in the Core Set, right in the first scenario where investigators and players alike are as vulnerable as they will ever be. Best case, you are Roland with a .45 Auto or Agnes with a Shrivelling(0). Worst case, you are Wendy with a Baseball Bat. Between 4 fight, a chunk of health points, Retaliate and a boatload of damage and horror, the odds are completely stacked against the players when the Ghoul Priest shows up. I mean… just compare him to the Harbinger of Valusia who is very similar but meant to be a recurring enemy that haunts players for most of a full campaign. Of course, this lesson leads right into the next one, with Lita Chandler teaching players about the value of getting +1 skill and bonus damage. The Gathering is expertly crafted and the Ghoul Priest a perfect capstone for the scenario. A much more memorable villain than Umôrdoth could ever hope to be, defeating it is the first real high that a player gets with this game.
#2: Atlach-Nacha. How crazy is it that we can talk about our favorite card game while using the phrase “Rotating Spider God”? After being largely unimpressed with The Dream-Eaters, Weaver of the Cosmos just blew me away. Which surprised me quite a bit, after all at some point you think (foolishly) that you have seen everything over the course of 5+ campaigns and that surely you can’t be blindsided by this game anymore. Well, i distinctly remember opening the Mythos pack and finding the 5 cards that make up the spider in it. I had the dumbest grin on my face when i realized what’s up. It was like when i first set up Essex Express and marveled at what the game can do with locations. An utterly unique enemy in a fun scenario.
#1: Vengeful Serpent. Everything about Vengeful Serpent is perfect. It does something very unique, but at the same time reinforces what The Forgotten Ages is all about. Like so many other TFA enemies, this one makes the player think about whether to evade them or defeat them, but with most other enemies this is way too often too binary and obvious. You really have to think about this one, though. It uses the Vengeance keyword in a new way. While it doesn’t contribute to Yig’s Wrath, there is some actual vengeance happening here. It’s a Hunter. And a Serpent. And it’s actually really dangerous if you choose poorly in how to handle them! The scenarios that use the Venomous Hate encounter set are all vastly improved by having this guy around because its’ impact is just that big. It also replaces the Fang of Yig, a very inconsequential and frankly boring enemy. Oh, and it also has really good art. This card is fantastic.