With the arrival a few weeks ago of Lost in Time and Space, the Dunwich Legacy Cycle – the first full adventure cycle for Arkham Horror the Card Game – is complete. Today I want to take a bit of a reflective look at the campaign, what we’ve seen, and what we can expect for the future.
It’s worth saying now that this article will include a fair number of spoilers for the Dunwich Legacy Campaign so, if you haven’t played it yet, you might want to avoid reading this until later.
I’ve been doing a lot of reviews for Games Quest on the Arkham LCG line, and it would be remiss of me not to mention them as a place for some pack-by-pack breakdowns – you can find them at the following links:
- Dunwich Legacy
- Miskatonic Museum
- Essex County Express
- Blood on the Altar
- Undimensioned and Unseen
- Where Doom Awaits
- Lost in Time and Space (Ironically, never appeared…)
To recap, this is an 8-scenario adventure, which starts with the disappearance of Professors Rice and Morgan, the 2 men who assisted Professor Armitage in destroying the Dunwich Horror in Lovecraft’s story of the same name. Players will have visited a Nightclub and a University in search of the men, broken into a Museum to search for a copy of the Necronimicon, caught a train to Dunwich that was almost sucked through a rift in reality, tried to prevent grisly human sacrifice in Dunwich, and scoured the countryside for giant invisible monsters. In the final denouement, they will have scaled Sentinel Hill (despite mysterious forces opposing them), and stepped through a portal into the beyond, hopefully saving the world in time to return home.
Aside from a new wave of encounter cards in each pack, the Dunwich Legacy campaign made extensive use of cards introduced in the Dunwich Deluxe, as well as some encounter cards from the Core Set. Overall, it tended to be the more abstract cards that got recycled – obscuring shrouds on locations, Doom spread by mysterious rites, and strange hexes and curses to discard you assets and your decks.
This all created a very noticeable contrast with a game like Lord of the Rings where you could expect to see a particular pack of enemies showing up again and again throughout the course of the campaign – I was particularly surprised by how little we saw of the Mobsters from scenario 1b (The House Always Win) who show up at most once more all campaign (and possibly not at all, depending on the notes in your campaign log).
The Consequences of Your Actions
Fantasy Flight have made the point repeatedly that Arkham Horror is supposed to be played in Campaign Mode as the default option, with Standalone being the variant- we’d already seen a little bit of how this could work in practice from the Core Box’s Night of the Zealot campaign, as players can chose to burn down a location in the first scenario, thereby removing it from the second, and having the undefeated cultists from the second scenario reappearing in the third. Dunwich however, offered the chance to see this fully developed.
Overall, I was pleased with just how much use they made of this – the fact that you can only rescue 1 professor in the first two scenarios ensures that whatever approach you take, you will have some negative consequences to deal with: even once you’ve read all set-ups and outcomes for the whole campaign, there is no “perfect” path to take.
The interactions with the Necronomicon were also particularly intriguing – what will you do when faced with the chance to gain such a powerful card (the static intellect boost is handy for lots of investigators, and the resource acceleration is incredibly powerful), at the cost of a nasty token added to the campaign bag? I also liked the fact that even once you had decided to take it, it could still be lost in later scenarios, giving you the chance of acquiring the bad token, and the forces of evil getting the book. All of this interacted nicely, and gave a good sense of legacy, like your decisions really mattered.
Dunwich Legacy felt like it did a good job of ensuring that narrative continuity didn’t lead to a game that was unplayable – here the best example was probably in Undimensioned and Unseen, where the number of invisible abominations to be dealt with was actually increased if you were more successful in the previous scenario. Some people have raised thematic concerns about this, but I think it seemed reasonable if you assume that the more sacrifices the monsters have feasted upon, the less need they have to go rampaging around the countryside seeking food – they probably just stayed in for an after-dinner nap. Whatever the logic, it offered a welcome chance to right the ship for those parties that were doing particularly badly.
I also loved the fact that the designers were more than willing to mess with players’ expectations – the best example here was in Essex County Express where players could help themselves to some free resources, provided they remembered that they “had stolen a passenger’s luggage.” After the nasty side-effects of having a drink in the speakeasy, this was an option shunned by lots of players- only to discover that there was no nasty side-effect at all!
Probably the biggest disappointment with the ongoing aspect of the game came from the Strange Solution – there had been much speculation about what the pay-off would be, and when it came it was quite underwhelming – just some options for upgraded player-cards. In reality, the option to access powerful effects in Seeker – powerful healing and an explosive fight ability – shouldn’t be underestimated, and the cost of having to upgrade from a specific card AND having to perform a test on that card in a scenario is a really interesting one, it just feels disappointing that we didn’t get something more entertaining that was tied to scenario events more specifically.
Where we go
Aside from doing a great job of the campaign aspect of things, Dunwich Legacy also continued to do interesting things with our sense of space: in the course of the 8 scenarios we visited a nightclub, a university that had different buildings open or closed depending on what time you got there, a museum that could only be broken into in the middle of the night, and a train where you could only move from carriage to carriage in a straight line.
The designers have made heavy use during this campaign of location sets with identical unrevealed sides and assorted different revealed sides. Whilst this quite quickly stops feeling particularly “new,” I still think it’s a great way of doing things – when I play The Gathering now, I know exactly what locations are going to be where, and what effects will trigger and when (In case you’re wondering why I’m still playing The Gathering, it’s where I go to watch Daisy die as my latest attempt at a solo deck fails miserably). Having these other locations, where you don’t know until you first enter them what you’ll find, and where you can’t plan out of every detail of the game ensures that these scenarios are still playable once you’ve done them a few times.
It’s also worth reiterating how well Arkham does “place” generally – if I compare it to the Lord of the Rings LCG, a game I’ve enjoyed playing for many years, the difference is night and day. In Arkham my investigator is always somewhere, your investigators is always somewhere – if those aren’t the same place, then we can’t help each other, and the monster at my location is going to attack me, even if you make a better target. It’s little touches like this which make the game so much more engaging than if decisions about movement become abstracted.
Who we fight
The core box for Arkham LCG established the basic nature of enemies – a fight value, a number of hit points, an evade value, its attack values, and possibly some ability text. Dunwich Legacy hasn’t strayed too far from that, but it has certainly stretched our expectations of what a monster can do. Things like the Conglomeration of Spheres or the Avian Thrall care about what weapon you use to fight them with, and make you think twice about relying too heavily on that Machete (and let’s face it, which Guardian doesn’t love the Machete?)
The designers also did a great job of capturing the feeling of the Whipporwhills, the flocks of sinister birds which are so often looming harbingers in Lovecraft’s tales- they won’t attack you, and you’ll have to waste actions taking them out, but if you try to ignore them they will follow you around, nagging away at you, and undermining your ability to carry out normal activities.
Of course, the biggest change to “normal” combat we encountered was in Undimensioned and Unseen, with the Brood of Yog-Sothoth, who could only be attacked using the in-scenario card Esoteric Formula
I’m still in 2 minds about the Esoteric Formula – obviously it makes sense that something as large as a Brood of Yog-Sothoth should take more than just knife-work to bring down, and I liked the idea that clues could be used to aid you in the fight.
My problem with this scenario was the fact that everyone had to use Willpower to fight it – generally speaking in this game, different investigators have different strengths: most of the time, there are ways around things – fight with strength, use spells to fight with willpower, evade using agility, or simply focus on clue-gathering, whilst your teammates take care of combat. The fact that this scenario didn’t have an alternative win condition, and didn’t have a way for investigators to substitute a different skill made it feel a bit annoying.
The last scenario, of course, was Lost in Time and Space, and if you were particularly unlucky, you might have found yourself facing Yog-Sothoth itself. Whilst this was more-or-less inevitable, given how the scenarios up-to-now had gone, I was glad that this didn’t just turn into a boss fight: even in the slightly pulpier world of Arkham Horror files, a chef with a Machete and an ex-con with a tommy gun are not supposed to be able to just knock over an ancient one. If anything, I was surprised at how plausible it might to fight him, with careful use of boosts, weapons etc, but I was glad to see that he could not be evaded, and was going to do a massive 5 Horror each time he attacked. Ultimately, it’s entirely fitting for an Arkham Campaign that the way you “win” is by finding your way back home and sealing the gate long before you ever catch sight of Yog-Sothoth.
What’s on the Cards for us?
As well as having dramatically expanded the range of what was available for the players to confront, the Dunwich Legacy campaign has also given us a load more player cards, particularly cards at the higher experience levels. I wrote an article for Mythos Busters back in the autumn of last year, lamenting how few opportunities there were to really level up into the powerful options, and how a secondary class might as well be a primary one, given how few cards were out of scope.
Since then, things have improved massively, and probably at the time they needed to, when we actually have the XP to spend: XP is a bit harder to come by in Dunwich Legacy than it was in Night of the Zealot, but you’ll still chalk up a fair amount over the course of the campaign, and there’s plenty of choice on what to do.
The introduction of permanent cards like Charisma, or the skill-boosting talents allow you to really focus the direction of your deck, but even without them, there are plenty of choices to make between powerful bomb effects like a Pocket Watch or Lightning Gun, and basic efficiency upgrades like simply taking the better version of a card.
I’ve never been the world’s greatest deck-builder, and the more the card pool expands, the more I’m sure I’ll find myself floundering with the best route to take. That said, the fact that we’ve reached the end of a full cycle and my wife is still choosing her own deck upgrades (in 6 years she has never built her own LotR deck) is another great testament to how well this game has been put together.
That’s about all I wanted to say on the Dunwich Legacy. A good mysterious cultists and forces which should not be tampered with story to get us started, with a few 1920s mobsters thrown in for good measure. From the little we know about the next cycle, Path to Carcosa, it looks like we could have a very different feel, something more psychological, where the danger is in your own mind, just as much as in the cultist’s knife.