Dunwich Revisited

DunwichLegacyWith 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:

Professors 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.

Familiar Encounters

BeyondTheVeil
THIS card kept reappearing…

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

MidnightCultists 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.

Necronomicons
Sadly, the campaign always specifies which Necronomicon gets stolen…

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.

Drinks 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!

AcidicIchorProbably 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

FacultyOffices 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.

GatheringLocations 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

AvianThrallThe 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?)

Whippoorwill 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

Brood 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.

Yog-Sothoth 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?

ShrivellingsAs 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.

ExceptionalThe 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.

Carcosa

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.

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Monsters of the Mansions: Part II – The Investigators

I’m aware that this blog has a habit of getting a bit number-crunch heavy at times, lots of theory, and not a lot of board game.

As part of an ongoing attempt to stem this tide of text, I try periodically to introduce some more visual content, looking at my efforts with the Paintbrush.

Today I’m going to return to Mansions of Madness- I did a painted low-down of the base game back in the autumn, and today I want to look at some of the expansions.

Mansions-Investigators-All

Suppressed Memories and Recurring Nightmares were 2 boxes that provided the tiles and figures of Mansions of Madness 1st edition for 2nd edition players – they disappointed some 2nd-edition fans with their lack of scenario/card content, but they way that they extend the range of Investigators and Monsters at your disposal made them a must-have for me.

Mansions-Investigators-Kate
Sadly, I can’t really get the pens in focus – that’s how detailed they are!

Between the 2 boxes, there were no fewer than 16 new Investigators made available. Some of them were really nice figures to paint, and I was really pleased with some of the details, like the creases on Kate Winthrop’s lab-coat, and the pens in her pocket.

Mansions-Investigators-Monterey-DexterThe Guys

Generally speaking, the male investigators in Mansions of Madness tend to be less interesting to paint – Darrell the Photographer, and Bob the Salesman particularly fade into the background, although figures like Dexter the Magician and Monterey the Archaeologist have a bit more of the unusual going for them.

Mansions-Investigators-Joe-MichaelThere are also a few rather more dynamic male investigators appearing in these boxes – Michael the Gangster and Joe the PI both come out all guns blazing – Joe feels a little bit over the top to me, but I like Michael’s scope, and he’s a fun investigator for scenarios that have a heavy focus on monster-bashing.

Mansions-Investigators-Vincent-Harvey

Relying more on mind than body, the next 2 male investigators are Vincent the Doctor, and Harvey the Professor – a lot more brown in the palette for these men (there’s no way I was going to paint Tweed pattern on something that size). I also liked Vincent’s Saw – definitely the approach to medicine you expect your Arkham Investigator to take.

Mansions-Investigators-AshcanOf course, no Arkham Investigators set would be complete without everyone’s favourite Arkham LCG Investigator, Duke, who comes to Mansions in the company of his faithful sidekick, Ashcan Pete.

Because Duke is so small, it’s quite difficult to get any meaningful detail onto his miniature (aside from the red scarf around his neck, but being the only dog in the set, he still stands out from the others quite well.

 

 

The Gals

Mansions-Investigators-JennyJenny Barnes is a character who takes quite a bit of flak from various members of our play-group, and you have to admit that her outfit looks better suited to society balls than creepy old houses. However, she’s a character with quite an interesting backstory, and very good utility in most of the different games, so I still wanted to do a good job on this one – the colour-scheme for her dress and hat vary across the different Arkham Files games, but on personal preference I went for the blue rather than the purple end of the spectrum.

Mansions-Investigators-GloriaGloria, the author was another fun one to paint- the shades of green weren’t that remarkable, but anyone who carries a typewriter like a handbag has done more than enough to catch my attention.

Sadly, this miniature arrived slightly damaged (leaning forward at quite a funny angle) and, although I’ve been able to correct it a bit with a hair-dryer and pot of cold water, there’s still a noticeable lean.

Mansions-Investigators-Amanda-Carolyn Amanda and Carolyn, the student and the Psychiatrist respectively, both have fairly blank outfits, but with a lot of utility in Elder Sign and Eldritch Horror, I still wanted the figures to look good – they certainly aren’t the stand-outs of the bunch (Amanda’s glasses are way too dark/thick-framed), but I think they’re passable.

Mansions-Investigators-Mary-MatteoSister Mary, like Father Matteo from the 2nd Edition core box, appears in clerical robes, and I decided to follow FFG’s illustrations with a brown colour-scheme, rather than black and white, which leaves them looking a bit less similar to one another.

 

Mansions-Investigators-MandyLast, but by no means least comes Mandy, the Researcher – this was a really difficult figure to paint, combining my two pet peeves from this range of figures – glasses and excessively detailed shoes. Overall though, I was quite pleased with the end result, particularly when viewed from a table-top gaming distance: the dark wash bringing out the detail lines in the jacket really well.

 

That’s about it for today – I want to aim more towards little and often with these pieces, but hopefully I’ll be back soon with some more Monsters

A new year: 5 of 5

2017 Gaming got off to a good start in January: 25 different games played, and already a few racking up repeat plays. I thought I’d offer a quick run-down of a few of the different things I’ve been tracking.

5 of 5

Not surprisingly, I’m still some way from getting anything up to 10 plays for the year, but I have passed a few mini milestones.

deadeyes
It’s good that this still gets lots of play. Maybe one day I’ll even finish the painting…

“Play 1 Once” I managed on New Year’s Day (Elder Sign being the first game out of the box this year), and “2 Twice” a few days later as both Star Wars Destiny and Zombicide made repeat appearances.

“3 of Three” took a bit longer to pin down – Legendary and Zombicide got there relatively quickly, but they had to wait for a third to join them (Eldritch Horror felt like it had earned a place on the list after a normal game with two of us, as well as an epic 5-hour, 8-player session but, as Gimli would say of the big game- “that still only counts as one.” Instead, it was beaten to the punch by Elder Sign.

“4 of Four” was where things started to get a bit skewed – some games were already past the mark, with 5 or more plays, but getting a 4th game past 2 or 3 proved a bit of a sticking point, especially when a game like Eldritch or Mansions needs several hours at a time to be played. In the end it was Destiny that got me there as I manged to make it to another meet-up.

By the time it came to “5 of Five” things were starting to look fairly familiar, with the usual suspects making up the list: Legendary, Elder Sign and Zombicide, got there first, with Arkham Horror and Eldritch Horror lagging just behind.

By the end of the month, it looked like this:

1 of 1 01/01/2017 Elder Sign
2 of 2 04/01/2017 Zombicide, Destiny
3 of 3 13/01/2017 Legendary, Zombicide, Elder Sign
4 of 4 Zombicide, Elder Sign, Legendary, Destiny
5 of 5 Legendary, Elder Sign, Zombicide, Arkham Horror, Eldritch Horror

 

Some of those games have made it up to 6 or 7, and there will be more to come from them in the coming months, no doubt.

2017 actually got off to a much slower start than last year, although with hindsight January 2016 does look like a bit of a freak occurrence – in the whole of 2016 there were only 17 instances of a single game getting played 10+ times in a month, and 5 of those came in January, with Pathfinder, Lord of the Rings LCG, Dice Masters, Legendary and Game of Thrones LCG all making it into double figures at the first attempt. It was the most prolific month of the year overall, with 90 total games played, and there’s really no disgrace in failing to repeat those numbers – 71 games for January 2017 feels more than respectable.

 

Un-played

As I mentioned when doing the 2016 wrap-up, I won’t be keeping a running “un-played” list in quite the same way as last year, if only because it would only have 2 games on it if I did (just for completeness sake, both have been crossed off). That said, I still want to keep track of the games I haven’t played yet this year, even if that will be “most of them” for the first little while.

The Hobbit and Trivial Pursuit found their way to the Charity Shop, 23 games actually got played, and I sold a handful of small games that were “fine” but unlikely to ever have people clamouring to play them. Not a massive financial windfall, but it frees up a little space, and hopefully the games have gone to somewhere they’ll be better appreciated.

The whole area of removing the un-played, by sale or by play, is the one place where I have out-done January 2016, and if I sustain this rate, I’ll have played everything I own by the end of March!

 

Money for Nothing

2017 has also started well for keeping above the red line in terms of the cost of my gaming. I’d already started scaling back my Memoir ’44 collection in the autumn, and I sold another couple of bits in January – thanks to them being out-of-stock, I got about double what I would have originally paid for these, meaning that gaming is a hobby I’ve actually made money from at this point. I don’t expect this to still be the case by the end of the year, but it’s certainly nice to be given a bit of a head-start in game-play over spending.

lovecraftjan
I can’t even find the Dunwich box, so instead, here’s the Elder Sign expansion I got my wife for Christmas…

Mid-January saw a wave of new Arkham Files content – Beyond the Threshold was the first “proper” expansion for Mansions 2nd ed., (the others were technically “tile and figure” packs) and there were multiple releases for the LCG, with both the Dunwich Legacy deluxe box, and the Curse of the Rougarou stand-alone scenario appearing. I managed to resist getting Dreamlands for Eldritch Horror, and picked it up as a review copy, along with Beyond the Threshold, so it was only the LCG where I actually shelled out a significant amount of money.

the-dwarves-board-game-4th-defenceI also picked up the Combined Might expansion for The Dwarvesthis is a fun little co-op based on a set of German Fantasy Novels, with a number of clever and innovative mechanics that really make it stand out. That said, there are a few pinch-points in the base game – 90% of the Quest cards which drive the flow of the game are the same every time you play, and the expansion was well worth the tenner it cost to more than double the number of possibilities in this area.

In the immediate aftermath of buying the new stuff, all the games I had spent money on were looking like bad value for the year – fortunately this was generally in pretty low numbers, and aside from the LCG, everything was clawed back to within a fairly small margin of difference by the end of the month. I know from experience that LCGs can get expensive quickly and whilst I’m not too worried about having shelled out on the first 2 expansions at once, I will be keeping a careful eye on this one, just to make sure it continues to justify its place.

 

Themes

destiny-villains
Thanks to a spot of trading, I can finally put together a viable villains deck

Zombies maintained their strong positions from last year, with Zombicide remaining the most-played game, and spanning some fairly hefty sessions to boot. Overall though, it was Lovecraft that dominated January, thanks to that flood of content: It ultimately accounted for well over a third of sessions, and nearly half of all gaming time in the month. Comics and Fantasy were still notable elements, but definitely a smaller portion of the time spent gaming than in previous years.

Mechanically, Surviving the Monsters was a full third of what we did (up to 45% when measuring by time). Mystery Solving was a consistent 22% whether measured by time or by session. World-saving, Quest Completion and Villainous Plot-stopping were the other significant activities. “Kill the other side” was also a more significant chunk than has previously the case, thanks to Destiny – 13% by session

Closing Thoughts

Obviously, I don’t expect these trends to continue all year, particularly not the crossing off of ‘unplayed’ games – After all, it’s much easier to play a game on the list when all the games are on the list. Some games will always be more of a struggle to get to the table than others and as the year goes on it becomes more-and-more likely that those are what will be left on the list. I don’t know right now whether it’s possible to make a profit out of gaming for the entire year, but I certainly intend to keep new spending a lot lower than previous years. Lastly, spread-sheets or otherwise, I’ll be continuing to stay mindful of what actually gets played, and looking at what needs to happen to those games which don’t.

Play it again

 

[Warning: This article contains extensive Spoilers for The Night of the Zealot Core Box Campaign in Arkham Horror the Card Game]

Play it again

And again?

Leaving aside the recent trend towards “Legacy” games, very few of us go out and buy a board or card game, expecting to only play it once. For one thing, the complexity of many modern games means that you need to play it once before you’re fully comfortable with the rules, mechanics and interactions, and for another, it would be an incredibly inefficient use of money and storage space.

For a lot games, that isn’t a problem – No matter how many times you play Pandemic, Carcassonne, Dominion or Ticket to Ride, the game remains basically the same, and the nuggets of information that you gather (what worked well last time, what is player X likely to be trying to achieve when they do Y) are fairly abstract, and equally available to all.

nightofthezealotFor a game drive by narrative though, this can be a very different matter. If part of the thrill is about uncovering a mystery, how is that going to play out once the mystery is no longer mysterious? Taking the initial campaign, Night of the Zealot from the Arkham Horror LCG Core set, I want to consider some of the practicalities of this.

The Gathering

The first scenario in the game, The Gathering, starts off with everyone gathered in the study of the first investigator – they have no choice in where they gather, because the door has vanished!

As we will no doubt see in a lot of scenarios over the course of the game’s life, in order to advance the act from this first stage, players need to gather a certain number of clues (2 per investigator). Once they have done this, they can read a brief bit of flavour text about the door mysteriously reappearing underneath the rug, and advance to the next stage, adding in the Hallway, Cellar and Attic locations. So far, no bother- the narrative detail here seems fairly limited in impact.

atticecellar2Moving on to stage 2, players need to explore the cellar and the attic to find clues: due to extremes of heat and cold, you can expect to suffer physical and mental damage when you enter these places and, on a second or subsequent run-through, you might want to avoid sending a particular investigator to the place which will hamper them the most. That said, the number of clues required means that you will have to visit both locations at some point, and unless you want your party very thinly spread, you might just have to suck up that damage and horror in order to reach the parlour.

ghoulpriestThe final stage of The Gathering is where the spoilers start to come thick and fast. For one thing, the rather large and unpleasant Ghoul Priest is going to spawn in the Hallway, and having advance knowledge of that is likely to impact where you position your investigators immediately prior to paying the clues to advance.

In the parlour itself is the mysterious Lita Chantler – with a big enemy like that in play, can you afford to use an entire turn evading the Ghoul, then moving to the Parlour and then performing an Intelligence check of difficulty 4 in an attempt to take control of her? First time round, we didn’t bother: Roland had Dynamite, and a beat-cop which was enough to put a good-sized hole in the Ghoul Priest without using that many actions in hope of gaining her “+1 to combat” “+1 damage to monsters.”

There is also, of course, the option to resign at various points in the game. Do you cut your losses and run? Well, once you know that at least one possible resolution leads only to death, you’re unlikely to bother with that one. Knowing that a surviving Ghoul Priest will find his way into the Encounter Deck for all future games is also likely to give you pause before turning your back on him.

Burning Down the House

yourhouseBy far the biggest issue for me with re-playing this campaign, is the question of burning down the house. In our first play-through, I reasoned that a by-the-book Fed like Roland was very unlikely to torch his own home, merely on the word of a strange woman who had appeared in his kitchen. The house remained standing, and we were rewarded with an extra XP for Roland, and the chance to start the second scenario at “Your House,” a location with clues, a low shroud value, and a powerful action ability to draw cards and resources at once.

The second time through, we torched the house. Obviously, there’s an element of wanting to just explore the different possibilities, but in all honesty, we were mostly motivated by the challenges we faced in scenario 3. We wanted to have Lita on the team, and correctly guessed that burning the house would bring her to our cause. No bonus XP, no “Your House” for scenario 2, and 1 mental trauma for Agnes, but in return we had a powerful ally who might prove… useful, in scenario 3.

 

Midnight Masks

cultistrevealThe second scenario is a fairly confusing one first time out, just because it is so open ended. At least with the current card-pool, I think it must be near-on impossible to defeat all the cultists in the deck before Doom causes the Agenda to advance at least once. Of course, having it advance from stage 1 to 2 is no bad thing as you quickly discover when you realise that the back of the first Agenda card is one of the 6 cultists you seek.

The first time we played this, we were very uncertain a lot of the time –how long could we spend investigating? How many cultists did we need to find? We defeated 4 in the end, and called it a day.

The instant you set up the third scenario, a lot more about the second one becomes clear: any cultists who survive are going to reappear looking for a fight just at the moment you need to get past them to the Ritual Site. Cultists still at large will also mean starting the third scenario with Doom already on the Agenda, effectively cutting the amount of time available to you there. Perhaps more to the point, you realise that there is no real drawback to allowing the agenda to advance once in Midnight Masks (as noted above, it can be a blessing in disguise, providing a cultist to defeat at the cost of zero clues). If you do run out of time, going “Past Midnight” leads to a simple cards-in-hand penalty at the start of the next game: certainly not something an investigator would wish for, but a price you may decide to pay if you think it will mean the difference between taking down that last cultist or leaving them to roam free.

The Devourer Below

At last then, you come to the third and final scenario of the campaign. First time round, Roland and Wendy were both in full health, and we had arrived ahead of Midnight. However, we then found ourselves in all manner of trouble – Doom was advancing fast, Roland got stuck in the twisting paths, and when it was time to head to the Ritual Site to stop the dark deeds underway, the way was blocked by 2 Cultists. Wendy was able to get past them thanks to the help of the Cat Burglar, but by the time Roland had cleared them out and joined her, all they were able to do was to die together.

umordhothhighlightedPlaying The Devourer Below crystallised things about the earlier scenario for us in a way that no amount of actually playing the earlier stages could have: we knew that we needed to be much more successful in defeating cultists first time out (Wolf Man Drew is a particularly nasty one to have to deal with). Agnes and Skids felt a lot more optimistic going into their attempt at Scenario 3 knowing only Victoria (pay resources) and Herman (discard cards) would be standing in their way.

Above all though, coming face-to-face with Umordhoth made it clear to us that we needed Lita in the party: obviously our investigators are decent folk and will do what they can to win the investigation properly, but knowing that there’s an ally we can throw under the bus makes a big difference.

Locations and Encounters

Away from the meta-narrative there will, obviously, be variation in every game of Arkham Horror that you play. The encounter deck is randomised and, even if you shuffle as badly as I do, that will mean some variation between whether you have to pass a skill test, sit hampered by a treachery you can do nothing about, or fight an enemy.

southsideOn top of the pre-existing randomness built into the mechanics of the game, there are some elements where additional unpredictability is built in through randomised cards: choosing between the 2 different versions of Downtown, or the different Southsides for example. That said, it’s still important not to get too carried away: there are exactly two versions of each of these locations, and even drawing at random, it won’t take that many plays to get through all of them.

twisting-pathsArkham Woods in the 3rd scenario is a little more complex: even though you will fairly quickly get to know all 6 of the locations on the revealed side, you still never know from game to game which one is which or where. Given the different challenges that these offer, this can make for a lot of variety in the final scenario, even if it also leads to a lot of frustration (Roland wasting 3 entire turns trying to get out of the twisting paths springs to mind).

Overall I think location variety is a good way to stop you from reaching a point where you have “cracked” a scenario, and it no longer offers any challenge, or reason to play again. However, I’m not convinced it really compensates for a narrative that has become sufficiently well-worn to feel excessively predictable.

Reflections

Overall, I enjoyed Night of the Zealot. At times, we found the difficulty really frustrating, but that’s a lot to do with the limited deck-building options you have from a single Core Set. No doubt in time, a couple of properly rounded-out decks will make the easy mode feel just that: easy. At that point, we’ll probably try it on a higher level (standard at least, we may not be going near “Hard” for a while yet).

Overall though, I do wonder how much re-play value this campaign will have. I’ve played it a fair few times now and I’m pretty confident that I know all the different ways it could play out. At that point, it’s very easy for the game to shift from being a narrative, role-playing experience, to a mechanical puzzle where theme is a slightly secondary consideration. That isn’t necessarily a problem – the game can scratch two different itches on early / later replays, but I think it’s important that we don’t have unrealistic expectations: the outcomes and possibilities within a given scenario or campaign are finite, and we’ll only be setting ourselves up for disappointment if we expect any different.

Nothing to see here

Move along…

un-played
Right now, this is the complete set of games I own but haven’t played this year.

November was a very quiet month as far as the gaming challenges go. The un-played list remains at 3 games: I’ve tried to sell 2 of them (1 repeatedly), but without success. As I mentioned before, I’m fairly confident of getting Trivial Pursuit played at some point over Christmas, and I’m sure the others can be squeezed in with enough effort.

The “New” un-played list did get pruned a bit more – thanks to some games being played and others being moved on, there are only 3 games which made it out last year, but haven’t this year – generally these are big group/party games, so it will depend slightly on what activities end up going on over the festive period whether any of these see the light of day.

It’s probably worth mentioning at this point, that I’m not going to be counting games I’ve owned less than a month as “unplayed” – with Games Quest very busy right now, there’s potential for a sudden wave of review games to all hit at once, when someone gets a chance to send them out, and if “all at once” happens to be the week before Christmas, they might not all get played right away.

16 of 10

fireflylegendaryThe “10 plays group continues to grow, with a couple of 2016 late arrivals hitting double-figures. Legendary Encounters: Firefly technically landed at the very end of October, but that’s still a fairly swift progression to get up to 10 (13 in fact) games already). The game was originally released in August, but took a while to reach us here. I’m still making my mind up about how I feel about it overall, and I’ll probably put together a proper review once I have.

The other game, only released a fortnight ago, is the Arkham Horror LCG – I’ve already done a review of it here, along with a few guest articles I’ve written for the guys over at Mythos Busters. Expect more content on this, once I figure out the best way to pitch it.

 

So, as I said, not too much of note happening this month milestone wise. Next instalment of the challenges update will be in 2017, when I’ll be doing a full run-down of the year’s gaming.

Arkham Horror LCG – Single Core Set Review

Utter Madness

Warning: This article contains some minor spoilers in image form

arkham-lcg-contentsArkham Horror the Card Game is the latest release from Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) in their popular Arkham Horror Files range. It is a Living Card Game, meaning that the Core set released last week is just the first in a long line of products planned for the game, but before we go ahead and take out a subscription for everything yet to come, let’s take a look at what we get for starters.

Your Investigator

wendy-token
It would be nice to use miniatures for all the characters, sadly there’s not much crossover yet between this game and Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition

First of all, the basics. In Arkham LCG, you control a character represented by a mini-card that you move around to track your location, a larger card showing your stats and powers, and a deck of 30ish cards that you draw from during the game in order to assist you in the various tasks and challenges that you undertake.

Your character has stats for their Willpower, Intelligence, Strength and Agility. They also have a health value and a sanity value. At various points throughout the game, you will be required to perform checks using these stats: to do so, you take your stat, add any modifiers for assets or other game effects in play. You then draw a random token from the “Chaos Bag” which will modify your total (usually downwards). Finally compare this total to the difficulty of the check: if your result is equal or higher, you have passed the test and can reap the reward.

Each investigator performs three actions per turn. Ideally you will want to use these for gathering clues, but you will also need to move, deal with enemies, and invest in acquiring tools for the tasks that await you, by drawing cards, gaining resources, or playing assets.

The Scenario

The pace of Arkham is driven by two decks: the Agenda deck and the Act deck. The Agenda deck is the game trying to execute its dark plan, and the Act is you trying to solve the mystery or stop things first. Although each deck is a separate pile of cards, they are designed to sit side-by-side, so that they give the impression of a single book.

act-agenda-book

study Each scenario sets up with a series of locations. These are double-sided: a blank side, and a more detailed side that is revealed once the players enter the location. It costs an action to move between locations, and there are coloured symbols at the bottom of each location showing you where it connects to. Once revealed, most locations will have a certain number of clues (often scaled based on the number of investigators in the game), and a “Shroud” value, indicating how difficult it is to discover clues at that location. To investigate, you perform an intelligence check against the shroud value, and if you are successful, you take one of the clues from the location. Typically, you will need to acquire a certain number of clues in order to advance the Act, although sometimes there will be other conditions like defeating a particular enemy.

Each round, after the players have had their actions, all enemies engaged with them will attack, then everything refreshes, each player draws a card and a resource, and a new round begins with the Mythos Phase. The Mythos Phase is when the dark forces which oppose you do their work. First of all, a Doom token is placed on the Agenda deck, which may cause the Agenda to advance, then each player reveals a card from the encounter deck – either an enemy or a treachery.

Ending

resign The end of an Arkham LCG scenario is more complex than a simple win/lose check. You may have the option to resign and even if you do not, there are likely to be 2 or 3 different possible outcomes, creating knock-on implications for later scenarios in the campaign. This variable outcome structure adds to the replayability of the game, but it also lends weight to the designers’ assertion that the game is best played in campaign mode rather than just cherry-picking individual scenarios.

At the end of a scenario, assuming that you are not dead, various things will happen: you will be told to log certain pieces of pertinent information, and may gain cards or benefits, or suffer trauma that will affect you in future games.

survivor-upgrades You will also be given experience points (XP) based on cards you have defeated or objectives completed, and these can be spent on upgrading your deck. At the start of a campaign, all the cards in your deck will be “Level 0” but you can replace them with more powerful cards as the campaign goes on: the “Level” of a card (0-5) is the same as its cost in XP (although it always costs 1XP to swap a card, even if the new card is a level 0 as well).

When you finally reach the end of the campaign, you will be given an ultimate resolution – typically either a hollow victory that leaves you permanently scarred in mind or body (this is Lovecraft, after all) or outright death and destruction. The detailed consequences of the “positive” outcome are there for the particularly masochistic individuals who want to take their already-harrowed investigators onto a further campaign without starting anew.

First Thoughts

signatures
Roland and Daisy’s Unique Cards

Overall, I think that Arkham Horror LCG is a good game. It feels like the designers have learnt a lot from 5 years of experience with Lord of the Rings, along with ideas borrowed from elsewhere. Having smaller deck sizes increases the chance of you seeing a given card, whilst the 2-copies-per-deck limit for cards (as opposed to 3x for most other LCGs) keeps deck-building interesting. Signature cards are also a nice touch: these have had fairly haphazard implementation in other games, so having each investigator always start with 1 unique asset and 1 unique weakness in their deck levels the playing field and allows the character’s narrative to truly influence their gameplay.

magali-tokens The aesthetic of Arkham Horror is good: the iconography on the locations take a little getting used to, but is actually quite intuitive. The investigator art is particularly high-standard, with many of the characters depicted by Magali Villeneuve, everyone’s favourite artist from LotR.

The components generally are high standard too – including the trademark hearts and brains common to most of FFG’s Arkham games. It’s a little sad that they didn’t include an actual bag for drawing chaos tokens, but it’s easy enough to find a substitute.

Places

rooms-away
Roland will need to spend an action to go from Cellar to Hallway, and another from Hallway to Attic, before he even thinks about fighting that Ghoul.

The separation of locations from the Encounter deck allows the designers to convey a really good sense of place: you are always at a location – if you’re two rooms away from another investigator and they need help, expect it to take time for you to get to them. Making the locations double-sided, and having more copies of some locations than you use in each game allows them to retain an element of mystery of what you will find when you go there.

Having an encounter deck of 2 card-types from the outset (rather than 3 in LotR) reduces some of the variability in terms of what the encounter-deck throws at you, and thereby improves the overall sense of balance. LotR has had lots of location issues over the years, and having this approach from day 1 feels like a smart move.

Play it Again, Sam

dunwich I’m planning on writing a lot about this game over the coming weeks and months – I certainly want to take an in-depth look at the question of just how much replay value there is within a given campaign, but I think that will work better as a full-spoilers piece.

For now I’m just going to say that whilst you can play through the same campaign repeatedly, once you’ve done it a few times, and seen all the different resolutions, the narrative surprise is going to be significantly reduced: decisions which you take first time round from a purely narrative standpoint may become non-decisions once you know exactly what the gameplay outcome will be.

Obviously the nature of an LCG is that FFG expect people to buy into the game in a long-term fashion, and the replay value will grow with time: once we have the full Dunwich Legacy campaign, and the option of taking a detour to deal with a Rougarou, the scenarios should feel a lot more varied, and hopefully it will be easier to stay in character as you play.

Nothing to Build.

guardians
Roland & Skids – both want the Guardian cards, but there aren’t enough to go round

The Core set comes with 5 investigators, and allows you build legal decks for them – but only in certain combinations. For each character, you will be using all of the level 0 cards from both their primary and secondary classes at the outset, meaning that they cannot investigate alongside any character who shares one of those classes. In practice, each Investigator has to choose one of two others in order to start their investigation.

Once you have chosen your pair of investigators, the decks largely build themselves: take all of the level 0 cards from both classes, and top up with level 0 neutral cards. There is some scope for customisation here, but again the options are limited – by the time you’ve given everyone a couple of knives, a couple of flashlights and a couple of emergency caches, you’re only really picking skill cards to round out the numbers.

agnes-shrivelling There are a number of ways round this, of course – with a second Core Set you can combine any pair of investigators (or play with 3 or 4 players). If you stick to the suggested pairings, a second Core gives you actual decisions to make about which cards to include. Aside from allowing you to play around with deck construction, a second Core makes some characters a lot more viable. Take Agnes for example – her base combat stat is a fairly weak 2, but her willpower is 5, making her a much more viable combatant once she has an attack spell out. Sadly, with only 1 copy of shrivelling in a core box, and only 4 uses possible, she’s going to really struggle until you can bulk out her card pool.

cold
This encounter set is used in both the first and second scenarios – a second Core saves you a few seconds having to fish them out when moving from one to the other.

Even without the second core set, the card pool will grow over time, and players who don’t want to acquire the dead cards from a second core will see their options grow over time. (there is some labour-saving between scenarios to be had from a second set of encounter cards, but those duplicate acts, agendas, and unique cards are basically dead cardboard).

I think there’s a good argument for hanging fire until we’re seen what the Dunwich Legacy will offer us in terms of player-cards, (I think it’s due out before Christmas, so not long to wait) before deciding on a second Core set. Deck-building is going to be another area I look at more in the future, so I won’t go into any more detail here.

Overall thoughts

I think that Arkham Horror LCG is going to be a good game. We had fun playing it, even though our initial run-through of the campaign ended in death and destruction (and that was on easy mode). As an LCG Core Set, I think this offers a good starting point, and shows that the designers have crafted some solid mechanics, which offer a lot of potential for the future.

That said, as a stand-alone product, this feels very limited: the restrictions on deck-building mean that you are pushed strongly towards the lower-end of the difficulty level and for our purposes hard/nightmare might as well not exist. We played it 7 times over the first weekend we had it, and will probably play another half dozen or so times, but once I’ve taken all the characters through the initial campaign and done a mix of solo and 2-player (well, completed it 2-player, and gotten fed up with dying in solo), I’m not sure how much life is going to be left in it.

TLDR: A good start for an LCG. Very limited as a 1-and-done.

14 of 10, 3 of 6, and 1 of a hundred!

An update from October on the 2016 Gaming Challenges

3 of 6

3 more games disappeared from the unplayed list in October, 2 of them waving goodbye for good.

Lord of the Rings

pic479124_mdLord of the Rings was possibly the first cooperative Board game, certainly an early example of the genre, from back in the year 2000. For its historic value, it is a fairly important landmark, but the game itself felt very dated: the gameplay doesn’t really offer anything that exciting, and I was never a big fan of the visuals: identical plastic Hobbits in different gaudy colours of plastic, and lots of John Howe illustrations that look lovely in landscape paintings but just feels a bit flat as game art (there was also a miniature plastic Barad-Dur, the same height as the Hobbits, iirc.) I shipped this out in what ended up being a fairly traumatic and somewhat unproductive Maths trade. I can only hope it found a better home elsewhere.

Mystery of the Abbey

mystery
Also a stock image – should have photographed it before sending it away…

The other game to go was Mystery of the Abbey. A sort of Cluedo crossed with Guess Who, and a light Medieval Monks theme over the top. It was an entertaining enough thing to play, but there were various elements which just weren’t that clear, including the timing of rounds, and the way that information was passed between players. Ultimately, it never seemed that likely to make it back to the table.

This one at least was in good nick, and hopefully worth a bit, although the murky nature of the Maths trade makes it slightly hard to determine what went in exchange for what. I believe it was for a copy of Eldritch Horror, which has already been played (we lost horribly) and will be hitting the table again, as soon as we get a few spare hours.

Alhambra

alhambrabigThe only game from the unplayed list to actually hit the table was Alhambra. Alhambra is a game I like, but it’s always struggled for table time (more on why exactly coming soon in another article).

I enjoyed the game we played, and wouldn’t mind playing again soon, but don’t know how practical this will actually be (it depends who else we have around for gaming), so I think this one remains on thin ice for its long-term survival.

 

Right now, I’m down to 3 games that haven’t been played this year or last, and 6 that got played in 2015, but have been quiet since. Of the 3 that are nearing a 2-year drought, one is Trivial Pursuit, which can generally be brought to the table at Christmas if I really want to, which leaves 2 others needing a serious look at (1 has been offered up for sale and in the aforementioned Maths trade, but didn’t go).

 

Perfect 10s

For the happier of the gaming challenges – the “playing lots” one, it’s possible to look at things with a slightly more positive spin. Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu, Dominion, and Elder Sign became the 12th 13th and 14th games to reach ten plays.

dominion-comparisonAs I mentioned back in August, Dominion is a game I’m quite a fan of, although it’s slightly less of a favourite for my wife, which has led in the past to it being played in short blitzes until she got fed up with it, and it disappeared back onto the shelf for another year. Both the fact that it’s made it to ten, and the fact that it did so by being played in 3 different months were pleasing on this score.

pandemic-cthulhu-board-game-showdownReign of Cthulhu is a really interesting game: somehow Pandemic and yet not Pandemic at the same time. I can’t think of 2 other games so similar where I see value in keeping and continuing to play both (that said, with the wave of novelty that has carried Reign of Cthulhu to 10, Classic Pandemic has found itself becalmed on 9 plays, unsure whether it will make it to 10 by New Year).

ElderOmensElder Sign is a game that’s really grown on me this year. I played it a few times back in the spring, mostly because it was manageable solo, and needed to be taken off of the un-played list. I then played it some more when I picked up the latest expansion to review for Games Quest. It’s been a good time for all things Lovecraft in our house over recent months (Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition, the aforementioned Pandemic Cthulhu, this, and most recently Eldritch Horror, all whilst I eagerly await the arrival of the Arkham Horror LCG), I think having a bit more invested into the thematic side has been key in this one reaching double-figures.

A New Century

This month also saw a notable landmark being passed by Marvel Legendary, for which I clocked up my 100th play since I first discovered it back in July 2015. Since then it’s hit the table at least once per month in every month bar one (April 2016) until it finally made it to 100 plays.

Boxes
ALL the Legendary (apart from Deadpool, who hasn’t arrived yet)

Legendary is a true monster of a game – we’ve picked up all the expansions (except the Fantastic Four, which is out of print, presumably until Marvel and Fox resolve whateverexactly the dispute they’ve been having over rights is) and it now needs 4 separate boxes to hold all the content, with another expansion expected for Reviewing any day now.

The fact that Legendary is both a deckbuilder and (mostly) a co-op game probably goes some way to explain why Dominion has had a quieter year or so than in the past (and why I won’t be getting the recently released Dominion 2nd Edition upgrade packs, there are few games that suffer more from the short-term perspective employed in my cost/value spreadsheet). The fact that it’s Marvel is a definite positive, as the last few years have been big for comic-reading (me) and MCU watching (my wife as well). The only other Marvel game I own is Dice Masters, which she is definitely not a fan of, so there aren’t really any thematic competitors. It’s probably the best semi-co-op I’ve played, and it has so many options for scaling in terms of player-count and difficulty that I can play it solo, with my wife, or as part of a group anywhere up to 5.

It’s still a long way behind the “Big 3” (Pathfinder ACG, Lord of the Rings LCG, Dice Masters), which all have more than 200 recorded plays in the past 2 years, but it feels like a worthy addition to the 100 club. I don’t doubt that Zombicide will be joining it in time (currently on 83 plays since I acquired it in March), but after that it’s a long way down, especially as I recently sold my collection of the Game of Thrones LCG, dooming it to sit on 60 plays forever.

The Final Stretch

Obviously, the big challenge for the remainder of the year, is to get those last 3 games played, and then try to finish off the other 6 to prevent the formation of a new “unplayed” list. Overall, with the year 5/6ths done, 2016 has been a good time for gaming, and I think these challenges show that well.