October – the Best-Laid plans

Not all Do(o)m and Gloom

In a lot of respects, October was a month of “might-have-been”s – a full day’s Arkham cancelled (because tightened Covid restrictions meaning we couldn’t send Ned to his grandparents for the weekend), a few days of annual leave earmarked for gaming, blogging and painting instead swallowed up by renovating the bathroom and taxiing the family around. Various plans not-quite coming to fruition.

It wasn’t all Doom-and-Gloom though (although there was a spot of Dominion and Gloomhaven!) let’s look at what we did manage…

Madness

Sister Mary, whatever are you doing that cave with a half-naked man?

For Arkham, we managed to squeeze in a couple of 3-player games of the new Innsmouth Conspiracy box, back at the start of the month, when we were still allowed people in the house. (the remainder of the campaign will inevitably relocate to Zoom). Meanwhile George and I continued with our Investigator Starter Deck pre-build campaigns through the Dream-Eaters. Winnie and Harvey got badly trounced on the Dark Side of the Moon, but Nathaniel and Jacqueline fared rather better through A Thousand Shapes of Horror and the Point of No Return. I like what FFG have tried to do with the Investigator starter decks, but we’ve definitely run into frustrations playing them, due to not having access to particular cards – definitely a topic worth visiting in more detail at a later date.

The big event for Arkham was Madness on the Airwaves, a re-run through Midnight Masks, using a bunch of custom cultists I’d created, based on the hosts of the Card Game Cooperative, Drawn to the Flame and Mythos Busters. In case a jokes-based set of custom enemies wasn’t a bad enough idea to begin with, we decided to play the game 5-player! Just to really ensure that everything spiralled.

It was an interesting experience overall – Midnight Masks has a really small encounter deck to begin with, and by the time you factor in a couple of cards that attach to locations and remain in play, we were cycling the deck every 2-3 rounds. We’d all brought stand-alone decks, and even when you factor in the extra weaknesses, we felt very powerful compared to the scenario itself. It took us a long time to gather the necessary clues, but once a Cultist landed, it was easy to squash them, generally in an action or two.

I’ve already changed one of the enemies, based on this experience (he had a joke ability that reasonably amusing, but made it way too easy to break the scenario with a single card), but want to try it again, in a 2-player game with proper campaign progression before I decide on whether I want to make any more changes, then maybe try to get a nicer set printed in the new year.

Other Lives

It’s really unlikely that this will ever happen, but it needs to at least be attempted!

Marvel Champions was actually my most-played game for another month running, but this was mostly just solo games as I attempted to test and refine a few new decks (with limited success). We also got to try out a 2-player game against the new Kang villain pack (for Lord of the Rings fans, this is Marvel’s take on Foundations of Stone) it was enjoyable, although I missed a step in set-up, and the end was interrupted by an unexpected Ned, so we need to try this again – once that’s done, I want to do another full run-through of the Red Skull campaign box, probably looking at taking a Ms Marvel/Captain Marvel team-up against that in November.

We also managed a Halloween meet-up for ¾ of the Card Game Cooperative, taking on some Pumpkin Bombs (wielded by Green Goblin – we were going to go for Crossbones, but Will doesn’t own Rise of Red Skull yet…) I think that my Ms Marvel Justice deck acquitted itself fairly well, but Aggression Thor and Protection She-Hulk both struggled with lack of cards and took a surprising amount of damage (you know it’s a bad state of affairs when you have 9 health between 3 Heroes, and 6 of that belongs to Ms Marvel) – the lack of thwart from the other 2 heroes meant we all had to spend too much time in hero mode, and ultimately the damage that gobby and friends were putting out was just too much. Clearly we should have listened to our own survey and not taken the lowest powered heroes against the highest powered villain!

It was a relatively quiet month for Lord of the Rings, but way back at the start of October, we took inspiration from the recent announcement for Voyage of the Dreadnought, and revisited the Grey Havens deluxe for a spot of sailing. George and I were joined by a friend who hadn’t played the game in a few years, but handled her dwarf swarm fairly well as we beat the first quest. Sadly the return of lockdown prevented a follow-up, and all being well, she’ll have a new baby by the time we get let out again…

Nobody Tosses a Dwarf

One of the surprise hits amongst the review games I picked up during my time working with Games Quest, was The Dwarves, based on the novels of Markus Heitz. Both games and books have an interesting story, presented for English speakers via some decidedly mediocre translation (in the novels I found it variously off-putting and annoying, but in the board game it’s just funny).

they aren’t exactly wrong… but it certainly isn’t what a native-speaker would write!

Earlier in October, a guy on Facebook was very kindly offering a selection of goodies for the game, awarded to those who could give the best reason and/or pun for why they should have it. I forget exactly what I said, but it was enough to land a copy of The Dwaves: The Duel, in-and-of-itself, it’s a fairly mediocre 2-player card game (albeit with the lovely mangled English), but it comes with a whole new set of objective cards to breathe some fresh life into the original game – our first game came down to a final throw of the dice before we lost, so we’ll need to try this one again soon.

Lots? Or None at All

definitely not a Bard…

Gloomhaven made it back to the table, with my Elementalist continuing to hang-around since I discovered I’d misread the rules months ago, and have to fulfil his retirement goal in 12 instalments rather than all-at-once. George’s Bard. Sorry. “Soothsinger” continues to rack up XP at a ridiculous rate, and after her last level-up, we’re up against some very hard-hitting enemies vs our power-level, so will need to bag a bit more XP to level things out again. We also managed another game of Mansions of Madness which, like Gloomhaven ended the month on 9 plays – that’s 98/100 down, and the hardcore challenge very nearly done!

On the flip side of challenges, I’m now 5/6th of the way through the year, and still have a far bigger pile of unplayed games than I’m comfortable with. For some, like Articulate and Dixit, I’m happy to just accept that 2020 is not the year for party games, but for others, there’s a definite element of wondering whether I should be crowbarring these into the gaming schedule or putting together a sales post.

Money

I made what felt like good progress on the money side of things – good chunks of table-time for several of the games with a “shortfall” versus that ever-elusive £5/hour target. Tainted Grail, Shadows of Brimstone, Death May Die, 7th Continent – all making progress in the right direction. However, I have now owned Call to Adventure for long enough to start counting it towards my totals, and at just under £35 for just under 1 ¾ hours’ play, this was enough to offset the gains made elsewhere. It’s a perfectly playable game, and should improve fairly rapidly on that £20/hour figure! Just as soon as a I get round to introducing it to my wife.

In terms of actual expenditure, it was another expensive month, there were a couple of pledge managers closing (I eventually decided to get Nemesis: Lockdown, but to skip the original game, on the basis that a friend is getting it, and hopefully by February we’ll be able to meet up again to play it, even if that does involve freezing our fingers off in his garage with all the doors open (or whatever Covid-compliant options are available then).

might be a while before we can do these in proper vs mode, but if the Mirkwood equivalents are anything to go by, they’ll make for decent generic quests anyway.

I also added several expansions to some of my most-played games: the Moria packs for Lord of the Rings LCG, plus ordering the latest releases for Arkham and Marvel. All of these are games that easily clock up the table-hours to justify the spend, so no real worries there.

Next?

As we head into the last 2 months of 2020, I’m not expecting anything particularly seismic to change the board-gaming landscape. National Lockdown basically just confirms the suspicions I had from Nottingham entering Tier 3 lockdown: hopefully not heading back into the office this side of Christmas, so continuing to make as much use as I can of the extra time saved from not doing an hour’s commute each day.

Right now, I don’t see there being any completely new games arriving before the end of the year, my last real hope was that the first wave of Sword and Sorcery might finally reach me in December, but latest update says January, so nothing doing there. There’s probably one more round of LCG releases, plus potentially Wave 2 of Tainted Grail this side of Christmas, but in terms of actually new games, I think it will be 2021 before there’s much to report.

Hopefully, November will be when I finish off the 10×10 Hardcore challenge, and take a chunk out of that pile of shame, which is feeling a bit big, still being in double figures this late in the year. Crucially, I’m hoping for a few weeks without any major home improvement projects, to finally give me the time to put out some proper game reviews!

Madness on the Airwaves

It’s almost time for Farkham Nights 2020, the Covid-safe, remote convention for fans of Arkham Horror the Card Game.

Together with the others at the Card Game Cooperative, I’ve put together some custom content for a classic Arkham LCG scenario. Enjoy!

Madness grips the streets of Arkham. A new cult has come to this Massachusetts city, intent on driving the populace mad with their Eldritch Broadcasts!

Madness on the Airwavesis a fan-made add-on by The Card Game Cooperative for fans of Arkham Horror the Card Game (and, in particular, for fans of Drawn to the Flame, Mythos Busters and The Card Game Cooperative Podcasts). It features a new Agenda 1b for the Midnight Masks Scenario, and a replacement deck of unique cultists for the Midnight Masks (and The Devourer Below if you’re playing in campaign mode). It should work with both the original version and the Return to…

I won’t spoil the surprise completely, but some of you may find that this guy looks a little familiar…

and he’s not the only sinister type around. Prepare for a whole deck of new cultists from your favourite Arkham Horror podcasts*

Here’s a link to a printable version of the whole thing – https://drive.google.com/file/d/1F-j01B7OGOsS-4AiQmibVpbFJd_HWdOH/view?usp=sharing

*Disclaimers. I don’t actually know who your favourite podcast is. Also, in case you hadn’t guessed, This expansion is in no way made or endorsed by Fantasy Flight Games. I don’t imagine they’ll object to you printing yourself a copy, but please don’t do anything stupid like trying to sell it!

September 2020

September was an interesting one, a month with a LOT of gaming all told. Certainly the most sessions in a single month that I can remember, although not the most hours. There were some big new additions for popular titles, and even a little bit of the brand new. I did a little bit of house-keeping around here, including a new section – “Story-Board” where I’ve gathered together, all my story-stuff (like Chance Encounters) as well as the growing number of book reviews I’ve been doing for Asmodee’s tie-in fiction subsidiary, Aconyte. The book reviews have kept me pretty busy recently, but I’m nearly caught up with their release schedule, so I’m optimistic about getting back on top of things.

Champions Rising

Marvel Champions had fallen a little behind Arkham in the race to be the most-played game of 2020 for the last 2-3 months. However, the arrival of the Rise of Red Skull box saw Champions reach double figures for the second month in a row, almost 30 sessions since the start of August, and 100+ sessions since I picked up the game just under a year ago! It’s now looking like a near-certainty to be my most-played game of the year by sessions (the only serious challenge to this will be if Covid restrictions remain light enough for us to send Ned to his grandparents and do an Ironman session at Farkham Nights).

I think that the difficulty level is pitched much more enjoyably in Champions than in Lord of the Rings, in terms of being able to take a deck and go, without being required to custom build for each individual scenario, and the addition of 5 new scenarios (as well as 2 new Heroes) more-or-less doubled the number of combinations available to be played in a single box. September was also the month when we got to chat with Caleb Grace, lead developer of Marvel Champions and Lord of the Rings, and you can listen to some of his thoughts over at the Card Game Cooperative.

The Ring goes North and South

Speaking of Lord of the Rings, this also got a bit of table-time this month: Spurred on by Caleb’s comments on how proud he was of how a particular set of Orcs used in these quests turned out, I finally finished off the last 2 quests of the Haradrim cycle which (for some reason which now eludes me) I’d never gotten to in the past.

I had a Radagast/Tactics Eowyn/Hirgon deck, the basic bones of which I believe I net-decked a while back, and I swapped the new Gwaihir hero in for Hirgon, as well as shuffling the other cards around to make space for the new Eagle allies in the most recent pack. Gwaihir Hero is a fun little puzzle to play around, although the deck is definitely dependent on getting some key cards early (Radagast’s Staff, Eagles of the Misty Mountains).

Around the same time, George and I are playing through the Ered Mithrin cycle, which I had played Solo around the time it was coming out, but we’d never tackled 2-player. We’re still using the Rohan Forth, the Three Hunters deck that I’ve had built for a while, paired with an Eomer/Imrahil/Lothiriel deck – it’s nice thematically, and can handle a lot of the challenges that the encounter deck throws at it, although unavoidable damage is a problem for the no-agenda deck, as there’s no Lore amongst the various decks – I did consider an off-sphere Warden of Healing (together with some kind of resource card) but eventually opted for a Dunedain Remedy – it’s often dismissed as a bad card, but I tend to not need it until mid-late game, by which time I’ve got the resources and the draw to hit it fairly consistently and be able to afford to shuffle it around.

this guy can **** off!

We completed the Deluxe box and the first scenario of the cycle, but ran into a brick wall with Fire in the Night, which basically requires the ability to take a hit from a 7-attack, immune to player-card effects Dragon, not just once but anywhere up to 3 times a round! Back to the drawing board for some new swarm decks.

Dogs the Bark in the Night

Compared to the other 2 co-op LCGs, Arkham looks a bit like the poor relative for September, but it still hit the table 6 times! – after a worrying few hours when I discovered that my pre-order wouldn’t be fulfilled, I ultimately managed to secure a copy of the wonderful Barkham Horror! We beat it at the first try with Bark Harrigan and Kate Winthpup, although Bark died in the final round and a later spotted a mis-play that leaves a definite asterisk next to the win.

 Meanwhile, we’re also taking the various Investigator Starter Decks through a few campaigns, using them as standalone products, with upgrades coming from within the box only (it really pains me to not take Charisma when given story-allies, so we’ll see how long my resolve lasts). So far Harvey and Winnie have made their way Beyond the Gates of Sleep and done a bit of searching for Kadath, whilst Nathaniel and Jacqueline cleared a hospital of Spiders in Waking Nightmare – overall the pair of linked  2-player campaigns seem to have been going pretty well, although my wife has basically given up playing Daredevil level zero because it’s “too much effort” to discard half of your deck as you look for a Rogue skill card to commit!

For all of the investigators, I’m seeing a lot of potential synergies with the wider card-pool, and Winnie will definitely benefit from having additional skills in her deck. Meanwhile, Stella has been making her way through the Dreaming side solo in a 4-part only campaign – she managed scenario 1 fine, then utterly crashed and burned in her search for Kadath, defeated by enemies 1 location from the start, with no Signs discovered. Fortunately she at least got 2xp from the Intro, so will have a slightly better gun for session 3!

Innsmouth Conspiracy should be here very early in October, so a bit of catching up to do with all the overlapping campaigns.

Once More Unto the Breach

Another big feature for September was Aeon’s End – technically this wasn’t a new game, but we did roughly double the amount of it we own, and have (so far at least) played the new stuff by itself, and not mixed in with what came before. For anyone not familiar with the game, it’s a Marketplace deck-builder, where the players control “Breach Mages” – women and men who have learnt how to sunder the fabric of reality and call forth power from within, in order to defend their homes from powerful abominations known only as “Nameless.” It’s a really interesting, fairly unique fantasy setting, as well as a really solid co-op card game.

So far, they’ve released 5 “waves” of content, each of which was its own Kickstarter campaign, combining a stand-alone big box of content, plus 1-3 small boxes worth of expansion content. I reviewed Wave 1 (Aeon’s End) back in 2017, and backed Wave 2 (“War Eternal”) on Kickstarter, but then dropped out of tracking their new releases when they went Legacy for Wave 3. Having had the game long enough that some fresh cards felt like a good idea, and heard positive things about the stronger emphasis they were placing on the narrative in the more recent releases, I jumped back in with the 5th Kickstarter, picking up wave 4 (“The New Age”) and 5 (“Outcasts”) which arrived earlier this month.

We’ve played all through the mini-campaign that was introduced in New Age, as well as a few standalone games before starting the expansion campaign. Once that’s done, I expect we’ll try a few more stand-alone games before breaking into Wave 5. There are a few odd features – like the weird way that they send you the Kickstarter edition in 1 big box, with the expansion boxes flat-packed inside, and one unfortunate printing error, where a punchboard didn’t get punched (so it’s just a giant board with 2 separate components for 2 separate characters stuck to each other), but overall the narrative/gameplay experience remains really good.

Building

My obsession with Solo Carcassonne continues. I’ve been playing this a lot, ever since the solo rules came out, and have managed most of the achievements now, although a few keep eluding me. First is the challenge to Score 4+ Monasteries. The problem here is that a Monastery cannot be shared between multiple colours, so in order to complete the challenge, you not only need to completely surround 4 Monasteries with tiles, (invariably leaving meeples tied up for a fair while as you do so) but you also need to do so in a sequence which ensures that at the point of completion, the colour occupying the Monastery is the one in last place.

still yet to manage this. It’s always one of the colours that’s already in the city that draws the tile which you need next.

The other challenge is to score a 4-tile city with 3 different colours: this one is fairly straightforward conceptually, you need to get 3 end pieces, each with a different colour meeple on them, all facing towards the same tile. Then you need a 3-sided city tile to join them all together – in terms of scoring, this one is a fair bit easier, as the city is shared by all 3 colours, so will always count for scoring – however, the number of specific tiles you need to come, and – crucially – the timing of when they appear (each of the 3 colours needs to draw an end-piece, and be able to join it to the existing map, and not run out of Meeples whilst waiting for the 3-side piece which can only come at the end). [yes, I’m playing this too much. Yes, I’m thinking about it too much. Yes, I should have beaten this by now].

Everything else

Between those 5 games, that was over half the sessions accounted for. Aside from that, things looked fairly normal – a bit of D&D, Zombicide, Death May Die. We introduced a friend and his wife to Pandemic and Mysterium, and I even played a couple of games with Ned that felt enough like a real game to warrant inclusion on the spread-sheet. A lot of people might say that playing Cobra Paw without the “race to find it first” element is pointless, but for a fairly-distractible 3 year-old, I decided that counts!

Challenges

The 10×10 hardcore challenge continued to tick along. Dragonfire became the 8th game to read 10+ sessions, and the 2 outstanding titles got some table-time too. Mansions of Madness will hopefully be getting a new lease of life now that I’ve got Valkyrie working properly on the laptop, but there were definitely some teething difficulties which choked some of the life out of our first game. For Gloomhaven, the obstacle is the same as always – finding the time to set it all up and pack it all away again!

September was when I finished off my 12×12 Challenge(?) with a 12th game of Dominion. The question mark is because the BGStats App tells me that I’m still a session short, as it has inexplicably decided to exclude D&D. A single session of Imperial Assault or Eldritch for October will definitely finish things off (if needed) – in fact, I thought I had finished it, until I looked back to check the date, and realised that I was still 1 play short!

What’s left?

We’re into the final quarter of 2020 now, and like most folk around the world, just hoping that the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t the headlamp of an oncoming train. Aside from a couple of smallish expansions, I’m not convinced that anything new is still yet to arrive, with delays cropping up across Kickstarter projects left, right, and centre. As mentioned above, we’re hoping to send Ned to his grandparents for a day or so at the end of October, so that we can attempt to play an entire Arkham LCG campaign in a day! We’ll find out later whether that turns out to be a good idea or not…

The Intrepid Miss Walker – Blood on the Altar

Chance Encounters: Season 1: Episode 5

Blood on the Altar

I was woken by a strange noise in the night, and quickly realised that my companions were gone. Prudence told me that I should wait until morning before looking for them, but I had a strong feeling that there was no time to be so careful. As I stepped out onto the Village Green, I noticed I was not alone – a man in an overcoat and fedora was inspecting the ground and did a poor job of trying to look nonchalant. For my own part, I was busy checking my bag and my pockets: the emergency supplies I had stored, notes from Dr Christopher’s lectures, even my grandmother’s old Rosary. After a moment, the man seemed to decide that he was not going to introduce himself, drew out a gun, and disappeared across the green, heading towards Bishop’s Brook.

No sooner had he gone that I realised that I had more company, this time of a decidedly unsavoury kind, as a man came striding out of the darkness. I did not recognise him, but I recognised the type – hired muscle, probably working for the O’Bannions.

A shot rang out in the night, and the thug spun around, suddenly clutching his arm. He roared in anger, but taking one look at the mystery man returning in our direction, he decided that he didn’t like his chances and fled.

Roland“Hope you don’t mind me handling that one, miss” the man said, adjusting his hat slightly in greeting “Banks. FBI.”

He paused, picking something up from the ground. “Ha! O’Bannions, I might have known. You know you really shouldn’t be out this late miss, it isn’t safe!”

“I’m quite aware of the dangers, Agent. In fact, I think I know far more about them than you do. There is something far more sinister than Irish mobsters out there, things which I don’t imagine the Bureau has the slightest understanding of.”

ObannionRather than try to convince me to return inside, the G-man gave a resigned shrug, and turned sharply on his heels, this time heading downed towards the burned ruins. I heard another gunshot ring out, suggesting that this village was less deserted than first impressions might suggest. Rather than pay it any mind, I made my way quickly down to Bishop’s Brook, where I found the first signs of the creatures responsible for the disappearances. Not wanting to be caught unprepared, I searched my bag for a vial of the acidic ichor brought from the University, making sure I had some readily to hand in the event of another attack.

For a moment, I could feel an oppressive weight on my mind as I started to wonder what hideous things were being done to those kidnapped, but clinging to familiar possessions – old books and the bag in which I carried them – I was able to shake myself out of this reverie, and focus once more on the task in hand. I found the last clue I had been seeking, establishing for certain that those who had been taken were not here. Sadly, there was another O’Bannion thug lurking, but an acidic splash to the face was enough to send him running free.

Alt-RolandWhen I saw Banks a little while later, he told me that he had being investigating the silent, sordid ruins of the Burned Farmhouse. He likewise found no evidence of the missing persons, but did flush out another servant of this vile cult and whatever darker power they served. The cultist had been up to no good on the village green, and the first I became aware of him was when I suddenly found myself plucked from the ground by some bizarre creature, born aloft for a brief, terrifying moment, and then dumped, unceremoniously on the green. Fortunately, the cultist seemed as shocked as I was by my sudden appearance and, as Banks unloaded his firearm at the winged monstrosity that had taken me, I was able to drive the man off with another well-aimed splash of acid.

“It looks like they’re holed up in the church, miss” Banks called out to me, without any introduction. “Got the place locked up tight though, we’ll need something to get in with.” A sudden, strange, instinct told me that Banks had been looking in the wrong places at the Burned Ruins, and I struggled to recall the lessons of the Pathfinders as I made haste to investigate the place myself.

Dunwich

The ruins were truly silent and sordid, but it did not take much searching to find the missing clue – a large and ancient metal key which, I had no doubt, would unlock the vaults beneath the church. With an alacrity that would have made the Pathfinders proud, I sped back over to the church and, as Banks flung away his empty gun and drew a large knife, I unlocked the door, stepping down into the darkness.

I was not prepared for the sight that awaited me. A monstrous creature, chained to the walls and muttering in a strange, guttural tone that made its words hard to fathom. Opening the door had clearly startled some creature inside, and as I staggered back up to the main hall of the church, I felt myself buffeted by strange wings in the darkness, as another winged monstrosity emerged and it took all my courage – both that which I knew I had inside me, and that which arose from a determination not to look like some cowering schoolgirl in front of this government agent – to cling onto a pew, and not be dragged away into the night sky once more.

Church-MonsterWith a fateful sigh, I drew it from my bag. Olaus Wormius’ interpretation of that darkest of tomes, the Necronomicon. Contained herein, I was sure, were the answers: what this beast was, and how it could be defeated.

Careful observation showed that the beast was chained to the wall, and although it was clearly aware of us, lunging every few moments as if in search of a fresh meal, I was able to observe its patterns, and step back into the church each time it made a big grab for us.

Banks had chosen a different approach – I heard him mutter under his breath “Luxley, where are you, dammit?” but rather than explain who this mysterious ‘Luxley’ was, I saw him dive down the stairs to the hidden chamber, trusting in his own ability to dodge for surviving the creature’s flailing limbs.

Although I don’t doubt that the agent gained a better view of the scene of the crime, I felt that he was as likely to be dazzled by fresh, strange, signs of mysterious forces, and resolved to continue my methodical approach: reading a few more lines of the book; observing the creature and the contents of the room around it; retreating before it could hit me. Banks finally came staggering back up the steps as another of the winged creatures burst through the large eastern roof of the church, and I saw him grapple the beast, fighting it with his bare hands, and driving it into the dirt with a vicious blow of his fist.

EagerDrawn by the clamour, a flock of Whippoorwills had gathered, and they seemed eager for the death that they witnessed. However, I knew that I was close to an answer, and no force of evil, no matter how ancient was going to stand in my way. I stepped into the chamber for a final time, gathering up pages from a ripped journal that lay on the floor. I needed only a single word to add to the incantation on the black pages before me, and now I knew it. “Silas”

 

Resolution 2

  • The Investigators Restored Silas Bishop
  • Earl Sawyer was sacrificed to Yog-Sothoth
  • 2VP – The Hidden Chamber
  • 2 Bonus XP – insight into the hidden world of the Mythos

Roland Decklist

Roland for Blood on the Altar, was one of the earliest Investigator/Scenario pairings I’d identified when planning this first volume of Chance Encounters. Even though I’ve not played Roland all that much since the days of the Core Set I had two fairly clear (and hopefully not mutually contradictory) plans for how I wanted his deck to work.

For one thing, I really enjoyed the combo of Well-Prepared with the upgraded versions of Hyperawareness and Physical Training, that I’d briefly used in a standalone deck, and had wanted to include all of these as a cheap, repeatable boost to any stat.

I’d also been thinking for a while that Roland was the ideal place for an Alice Luxley/Scene of the Crime deck. His access to seeker cards mean that Roland can actually get some decent use out of an intellect boost, and these two cards interact nicely with his unique ability. Best-case scenario, you can play Scene of the Crime, get 2 clues for free, exhaust Alice to deal a damage to an enemy, then allow Roland to finish it off for second action – 3 clues and a dead enemy in 2 actions for only a single card, a single test, and 2 resources.

Of course none of this mattered as I basically failed to draw most of the key components – lack of card-draw was definitely my biggest mistake in building this deck. I did manage to pull off a Scene of the Crime in the Hidden chamber, but I drew Alice so late on that I didn’t manage to play her, and generally Roland felt a bit light in investigation tools. I think it’s fairly natural that when you build a Guardian deck to partner Daisy that you expect Daisy to do the heavy-lifting when it comes to clues. However, the way Blood on the Altar ends, you have to either clue, clue, clue, or fight, fight, fight, and as Daisy had managed to get the Necronomicon out, I definitely wanted the “Restore” resolution to make things easier in Where Doom Awaits. Roland’s intellect certainly isn’t bad, but the 3 Shroud on the Hidden chamber meant that he was only even without bonuses, so not much use investigating. Of course, if I’d drawn Hyperawareness and a copy of I’ve Had Worse, then things would have looked very different.

The fact that Silas is Massive and hard to evade (at least for Roland) meant that he couldn’t really even tank the attacks, and would have spent more time moving than investigating (thank goodness for Pathfinder for Daisy!) on reflection, upgraded Shortcut would have been another good pick for doing this one in standalone. Even with hindsight, I don’t think I’d have bothered with Keen Eye, as I just don’t think it’s worth the money.

4xp total  – as Daisy never drew Delve, I think that this was all that was available. Given the flurry of Allies Daisy picked up in the Interlude (we only lost Earl), she went for Charisma, with 1xp spare carried over to the next scenario.

 

Blood on the Altar: Epilogue

After the horrors in the chamber below the church, Agents Banks and I parted ways. I had wanted to ask him some further questions about what had brought him to Dunwich but was prevented by the arrival of the mysterious “Luxley”-  Detective Alice Luxley was a stern-faced woman who angrily attempted to bustle me out of “her” Crime Scene. A large part of me wanted to stay and argue with her, but there were some worrying notes in the journal pages I had found which would need following up in the morning – there was maybe an hour before dawn and I would need my strength for what the next day brought.

July Noted

Another month has been and gone, life starts to shuffle back towards something like normal (whatever normal means these days) there was even a slight increase in face-to-face gaming with people who don’t live in my house.

(Pro tip: if playing a game outside, starting at 8pm, then even in July, you should probably bring a jumper!)

July was a really busy month for gaming, a whopping 85 games played all-told, which I’m pretty sure is a new record. Let’s take a quick look at some of the headlines.

 

Milestones

LukeJuly was another busy month, with a lot of the old favourites on display once again. Arkham Horror LCG probably got the most play, reaching 50 sessions in 2020, and 300 all-time. For the most part, George and I were taking Tommy Muldoon and Luke Robinson into the jungles of Mexico for a Forgotten Age run – things have been going relatively well, but we have killed a lot of snakes, which seems destined to come back and bite us. (The decision to kill them. Not the snakes, as they’re dead…)

We also managed to get ¾ of the Card Game Cooperative around one table (and Mike on Zoom) for an investigation into the strange goings on at the Hotel Excelsior.

 

Carcosa-nneCarcassonne is also hitting heights that it hasn’t seen since the days when we only owned about 5 board-games. The new solo challenge continued to hit the table, and we also had a few more traditional games with visiting family and friends. I’m still having a difficult time getting my head around the best way to play the solo version – my instinct is always to go for points, but I invariably lose to a lack of Meeples. Hopefully if I keep going long enough, I’ll manage to adjust my play-style properly. This also got a few plays in the more traditional multiplayer, vs format, for a total of 13 plays across the month. In case that wasn’t enough, I even picked up Carcosa – a game very obviously derived from Carcassonne, but with the twist of building a palace for the King in Yellow we do not speak his name). Only a couple of sessions so far, but already enjoying some of the fresh twists they’ve put on the mechanics, even if it does make the game a little more fiddly/complex to master.

 

Something Massive this way comes

Massive DarkNed
A much smaller Ned, with the newly-arrived Massive Darkness behind him…

Massive Darkness was one of the first CMON Kickstarters that I packed, and it arrived in the summer of 2017, at which point which had a 6 month-old baby who we hadn’t known about when the KS campaign was running. Despite our gaming situation being somewhat changed, we still managed to play this one a lot, and I’d definitely rank backing this as one of my major Kickstarter success stories – the cost worked out really well compared with retail, and it’s easily been played enough times to more than cover the money shelled out. The figures were fun enough to paint, and I’ve been able to use some of the monsters – as well as many of the Treasure Chests and Pillars in D&D games (amongst other things) since.

That said, it’s not without its faults. A lot of the game seemed to be changed mid-way through the KS campaign, and the in-game campaign felt awkwardly shoe-horned in. Some elements were a bit fiddly, and after the mid-point, the difficulty often trailed away to being fairly trivial – aside from the occasional bad-draw which would see a monster 1-shot a hero and prematurely end the game in defeat.

Fix it with Zombies

A lot of the expansion enemies are a fair bit tougher than the core set ones, and this is particularly true of the Zombicide cross-over cards, which is what we’ve been using for our most recent play-through (both heroes and monsters being drawn exclusively from the Zombicide box, aside from when the scenario calls for a particular core-box Wandering Monster). Of course, this brings its own challenge, as I now have to dart between 7 different Zombicide boxes to fetch enemies (it kind of takes over the whole room at that point..)

Whether because of the logistical effort of dealing with that many boxes, or simply because we were distracted with other things, we hadn’t really played this one since moving house, but we broke it out 3 times in July, pressing on with the campaign, and getting some long, hard-fought wins, despite a few near-death run-ins. Up to over 50 plays all-time now.

The Future

HellscapeIt’s an interesting time for Massive Darkness, as CMON have recently announced that their next Kickstarter will be for “Massive Darkness 2” coming early in August (probably “tomorrow” by the time this article goes live). Despite sharing a name, it looks like this new iteration is going to be a substantially different game and, as much as the current version can be fun, I think that most of the changes sound like positives that will make this one worth keeping around a bit longer. New dice (both attack and defence) to flatten the curve, asymmetric class powers and abilities, making the different heroes play in a far more unique fashion, and a streamlined card system to replace the old paper tracking sheets that were a massive table-hog. If you want to link your games together, then that’s now something you’ll do via a campaign expansion box. It all sounds very interesting – let’s just not think too much about how much it’s likely to cost…

 

The Knights who say… wait for me!

We re-started a run of Tainted Grail. This is a fairly grind-y grimdark game, and even after doing the reset, we were getting thoroughly crushed by it – my wife is playing Ailei and, until you can do some significant levelling up, she struggles to fight her way out of a paper bag. Playing Beor (the very smashy, not very anything else guy) felt like he was constantly having to go and bail her out – or provide her with food.

Tainted-Characters
the setting is so Grimdark that they couldn’t even afford clothes for the female hero…

Just as we were about to throw in the towel, we remembered the remarkably obvious thing that we’d missed, and that we could just have the 2 of them travel around together, at which point, all Ailei really needs to do is “not lose/die” and leave most of the punching to Beor. We set off in a different direction, and are now getting quite close to Kamelot.

One thing which entertained me greatly was an inscription found in a cave – as mentioned earlier, the overall setting is pretty humourless and grimdark, so it was nice to stumble across a Monty Python reference!

 

Gen Can’t

Mutant-InsurrectionRather unhelpfully (for the purposes of this article) straddling July and August would have been Gen Con until, surprising no-one, it was decided that ramming 70,000 geeks into a tight space would be a really good way to increase covid infections. Personally, the negative impact of this was minimal, as it’s not like I had the money to go to Indianapolis anyway, but a lot of companies still decided to use this weekend for big announcements. Personal highlights for me were confirmation that FFG has the licence for X-Men – it’ll be a fair while before we see them in Marvel Champions but they will be appearing in an Elder sign-derived game called Mutant Insurrection in early 2021.

marvelchampionsthegalaxysmostwantedFor Champions itself, they confirmed the already-leaked/suspected Ant-Man, Wasp, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch packs for the autumn, and announced the next big box will see the game go cosmic with the arrival of Rocket and Groot! There was no new Star Wars game (something a few folk had been predicting), but there was a brief flash of a massive box that appears to be a new edition of Descent. There were also announcements for various other things, but I don’t want to bore you all with the details.

 

Challenges

10x10JulyAll 3 of the games in my hardcore challenge got played this month, taking me to 92/100 overall. 4 sessions of Dragonfire pushed it to 9 games for the year, and over the 50 mark for all-time. Gloomhaven still has the farthest to go, with 4 sessions still needed, and I’ll be looking to break this out again soon.

My H-Index for the year is up to 11, and 10 of those have already been played 12 times. Just one more game needing a few more sessions to join the leaders for a 12×12 (Imperial Assault, Dominion, or Shadows of Brimstone looking like the most probably candidates).

 

Numbers

Money-wise, July was a pretty good month: moving in the right direction for most of the games that are in the red. There are still 5 games with a shortfall of one size or another – just a very small margin for The Ravens of Thri Sahashri and The 7th Continent, much bigger for Tainted Grail and Death May Die. Shadows of Brimstone remains in a bit of a weird state, due to a mix of spending on retail stuff that we have, and Kickstarter that won’t be arriving until at least 2021. We did pick up Mysterium as a joint wedding anniversary present to each other, and will probably give this a try 2-player sometime soonish, although I’d imagine that multiplayer is where it’ll get the most mileage.

 

Next

We’ve got a holiday coming up at the end of this week – 4 nights away from home, which has given me a bit of a wake-up call regarding how many of our games now span multiple large boxes. I’d hoped that the new wave of Aeon’s End stuff might have arrived by now (as it should offer a very good ratio of box to repeatable game-play), but that was always a long-shot, and disappeared as a practical idea around the time the world started shutting down to prevent virus spread. Hopefully I’ll still manage to find space in the car for something more interesting than 20-piece Fire Engine jigsaws for the evenings. Beyond that, I’m not sure what else is going to be happening next, but I’ll be back in a month’s time with all the news.

The Intrepid Miss Walker – The Essex County Express

Chance Encounters Season 1: Episode 4

The Essex County Express

I boarded the Essex County Express from the train station in Northside. Although I still could not quite piece together what was happening, I felt sure that it all tied back to Dunwich. Back, no doubt, to the horrendous creatures Armitage had faced before. For the moment, all of that lay ahead – I was travelling alone, as I did not trust the mettle of any of Arkham’s criminal elements to accompany me, and the first order of the day was catching up on some long-overdue sleep whilst the train carried me onwards.

Sadly, my sleep was not to last long…

Carriages

There was a sudden clamour from somewhere behind me. The train had come to a halt, and a large hole appeared to have opened up in the sky. Normally, I suspect that this sort of thing would have been cause to drive me quite mad, but the last few days had given me a rather unique perspective on unexpected phenomena, to the point where this no longer felt particularly strange.

It was clear that the train needed to be re-started, and equally clear that this could only be done from the Engine Car. That said, I could hardly consider myself an expert in locomotive manipulation, so I resolved to move carefully and thematically through the train rather than rushing. I checked my bag, ensuring that my Medical Texts and my Pathfinder’s Manual were both easily to hand, then began my exploration of the cabin.

My first realisation – and, indeed, it would have been hard to miss – was that I was not the only one engaged in searching this train. A dirty and, quite frankly, rather smelly man accompanied by a dog was also picking through the things scattered on the floor. Suddenly, the dog shot through the open door, disappearing into the next carriage, leaving me glad that this particular train had been equipped with the new, enclosed vestibules.

“Hold up, Duke!” the hobo shouted, disappearing through the door after him.

Ashcan

I started to follow them, but found myself suddenly frozen in fear as I tried to step between the carriages. I knew, logically, that it was perfectly safe to step between the carriages, but could not make my legs obey my mind. I thought again, of the instructions on rapid movement in the Pathfinder manual, and was able to move once more, although I felt foolish at having tarried for so long. Fortunately, I was able to use my powers of Deduction to clear the car quickly, and move on to the next one before the fear had another chance to return.

I immediately began to question the wisdom of my decision as I reached the next car. This was clearly the dining car, meals left half-eaten in the panic. In the centre however, there stood a woman wearing long dark robes, a silver dagger held in her right hand, and profane words spilling forward from her lips. Before I could move towards her, the drifter was alongside me, and had lunged at the woman. For a moment, it looked like she had avoid his attack but by pure luck, the carriage jerked suddenly, knocking her off balance, and sending her tumbling backwards. Her head cracked hard against the corner of a table, and she was still. I had to look away from the gruesome sight, but I felt like the pressure in the Carriage dropped discernibly as she coughed out her last breath.

“Don’t mind Duke, miss” the man said “he’s a good boy – only goes for the bad ‘uns.” He didn’t pause long enough for me to respond, moving over to where a train waiter was frozen against the wall, starting in horror at the corpse. The man slipped him a filthy-looking dollar-bill, and started to help himself to a discarded plate of food.

Bystander“the-the-body” the waiter finally stammered. The man looked round, the colour suddenly draining from his face as he looked: although she could only have been dead seconds, there was little more than a few fragments of rotting remains left lying in the robes. For my part, I steeled myself against the sight in front of me, but felt assailed by something more distant, a terror from beyond. The spell I had most recently been recalling, an incantation to flee from foes, was suddenly absent from my mind.

The man had moved on to the next table, and was making a vague showing of searching for clues as he gnawed on a chicken bone. Curiously, he once again deposited a filthy dollar bill on the table as he ate.

“Is this really the time to be eating, Mr…?” I realised I did not know the man’s name, and my sentence petered out, limply.

“Folks call me Ashcan, miss” he replied with a smile and, before I could reply, he was gone, chasing after his dog into the next carriage. It was hard to make out the words, but I was sure I heard him shout “Run for your life” as he disappeared.

Of course, I did no such thing, but I did cast my mind once more to the Pathfinder manual, working out how to move there as quickly and efficiently as possible. I had stumbled as I entered the previous carriage, and there was now a significant amount of blood pouring from a gash above my knee, but I did not let it distract me from making a thorough search of the carriage, instead using a trick I recalled from my medical texts to staunch the bleeding.

tear-in-reality

It seemed like we were almost done searching the carriage, when I heard a sudden cacophony of sounds. From the front of the train, a man burst into the carriage, and started shouting: “Pete. I might have known I’d find you here! Time to answer some questions!” Ashcan – presumably, ‘Pete’ looked dumbfounded, gesturing out of the window at the strange hole that had been ripped in the sky, but the man was apparently too stubborn to pay any attention. Before I could plead on his before, I heard the sound of a fellow-passenger screaming in terror from the carriage we had just left and, further off, strange chanting coming from the back of the train.

By this time, the rearmost carriage of the train had start to lift from the track, being pulled inexorably towards the hole in the sky, and it seemed that whoever was chanting would soon be gone too. However, my conscience would not let me abandon the screaming passenger, and I headed back the way I had just come and taking a few moments to calm the old man, persuading him to follow me up the train. The bandage around my leg was coming lose, and I had to flick open the medical texts to check the best knot for re-applying them.

dukeI returned to the passenger car just in time to see the Detective sent flying out of the window by Ashcan’s dog… what he called the creature? Prince? My shock at seeing an officer of the law so unceremoniously removed was only slightly less that it was to see the detective not falling down towards the tracks, but upwards towards the tear in the sky!

Once again, Ashcan was on the move immediately, charging relentlessly towards the engine. The sudden horrific sounds coming from just beyond the walls suggested that he had found something truly hideous in there, and I could hear the sound of something grappling him as the dog tried to force it back.

The sight which greeted me on entering the carriage was not a pleasant one – Ashcan was crumpled in a heap on the floor, muttering to himself. Whatever had happened him, it had clearly effected the dog, who was similarly cowed, lying meekly at this master’s feet. I also felt a strange sensation near my leg, and as I peered down at my bag, I saw that my Pathfinder Manual had mysteriously disappeared, into the beyond. On top of that, it sounded like a new monster was emerging from the next carriage along.

NightmaresAshcan seemed to lie still for a strangely long time, then rose unsteadily to his feet. “Come on Duke,” he said, “no time to be dwelling on Nightmares, there’s work to do.” As suddenly as he had dropped, the dog was up again, leaping at the Horror that was reaching in through the carriage windows, driving it away.

I quickly appraised the man’s condition with a cursory glance at the medical texts then, deciding that he was in no imminent danger, set off again, moving into the next carriage. There was a large monstrosity occupying much of the space and I found it too distracting to be able to search the carriage properly.

The creature seemed sluggish, slow to rise, but as it loomed towards us, I felt my head spin, strange visions clouding my eyes and a dark, ominous voice uttering “The First Twelve were false…” I stumbled, hearing the sound of a further monstrosity in the next card up the train, whilst a humming of arcane energy towards the rear suggested that some kind of barrier had erected itself between my carriage and that of Ashcan.

Fortunately, neither the man nor his dog seemed deterred, and they came crashing through the barrier, looking only slightly harmed by the process.

Steam-Claw“Snap out of it, miss!” he told me sternly placing a firm, but not unkind, hand on my shoulder, and shaking me out of the trance. I knew he was right, and it was a simple case of Mind Over Matter to dart out of the way of the Monstrosity, and continue searching the carriage for anything that would prove useful as we made our way towards the locomotive car.

The train lurched suddenly, the steam from the funnel somehow formed into claw-like shapes, pulling at the train which rocked dangerously on the broken rails. I steeled myself mentally, and shook off any despairing thoughts, finding what I believed was the final piece of information I needed to get into the locomotive car. Ashcan was now dealing with the Monstrosity, although he seemed more focused on evading its attacks than on actually hurting it. The dissonant voices that suddenly seemed to echo from everywhere and nowhere were a painful distraction but neither this, nor the way the train rocked once more on its broken rails seemed to deter him as he deftly side-stepped the creature once more, then leapt into the engine car.

Train

I followed after him, and was swiftly able to begin puzzling out how to re-start the train, making swift progress thanks to a spot of simple deduction. Another of the monstrosities had arrayed itself against Pete, and I thought he was surely done for as it rained a pair of thrashing tentacles down on him. Somehow, as if by the Devil’s own luck, he avoided the worst of the blows, and came to his feet, still in one piece.

I felt a strange Terror, something from beyond this mortal world clutch at me, but it seemed to fail in its attempt to impact me, striking at skills which were no longer of use to me. Ashcan however, seemed to be Frozen in Fear, as if only just realising how close he had come to being crushed by the beast. Fortunately I had puzzled out enough of this place that I now had a plan, and was able to trick the beast into lunging past me, and plunging its tentacles into the furnace. The pain was enough to send this monstrosity crashing to the floor, and as the flames gripped its tentacles, it seemed to provide the final spark of hear the engine needed. A final check to understand the controls, and I was able to release the lever, starting the train back into motion.

 

Resolution 1

  • 3 Victory Points: (Engine Car, Parlor Car, Emergent Monstrosity)

Ashcan Decklist

There’s a fair amount in Ashcan’s backstory about trains, so he seemed like an obvious choice for this scenario. Deck-wise, it was another one where I let theme drive the deck design, rather consciously at the expense of efficiency. Both Peter Sylvestre and Madame Labranche offer a lot of benefits for Survivors, and I’ve generally struggled to justify including On Your Own. For our rail-riding hobo though, it seemed a bit unlikely to have the captain of the football team showing up to help out (even in flashback).

Instead, I went for a Dark Horse build that still had a chance to run some of those pricier events. The desperate skill cards are always a decent shout for Duke, and worked well with the requirements on the passenger carriages to discard cards.

The card-discard mechanic was a difficult one to handle thematically – what exactly is it that you’re doing as you enter these places?

The stubborn detective as Pete’s weakness was every bit as thematic as you’d expect him to be – one card that never fails to disappoint in its thematic nonsensensicality. Having a stand-alone investigator does allow you to cheese a few things – Pete can be the one to jump into the engine carriage without worrying about trauma (he pulled an Elder Sign, so was fine anyway). I thought about sending Daisy first, but given that there was an emergent monstrosity waiting for them, I decided he was too much of a gentleman to send our intrepid librarian off into danger by herself.

 

I upgraded the second Strange Solution after this scenario. I was already starting to regret the decision to take these – they’re a massive XP soak, and it’s rare that Daisy is going to be needing to fight that much. However, I can pretty-much guarantee drawing the Unidentified version at the crucial moment if I haven’t taken the second, so I felt like I needed to double-down.

June 2020

So, that was June, and already the year is half-done!

 

Who remembers May? For most of the month, it was lots of sunshine, lots of time to stay home and play games, and nothing to worry about aside from going mad seeing the same 2 people 27 hours a day, and the chance of being killed by Coronavirus.

The tone for June felt very different – a lot of anger, a lot of things which had been brewing for a really long time, suddenly very out in the open. From the murder of George Floyd in the USA at the end of May, so much has happened.

I try to avoid politics here, because it’s generally not relevant. However, I think we’re at a point where not saying anything is saying something, by omission.

BLM-LogoIn case there was any doubt, and because – somehow – this still needs saying in 2020, let me be clear. Racism is Bad. Black Lives Matter. That doesn’t mean that other lives don’t matter, it just means that when one group of people are living in fear for their lives, from the very people who are supposed to be protecting and serving them, they need to take priority. The US seems to be the place where this has really exploded, but I don’t think we can pretend that racism isn’t an issue here in the UK, or in a lot of other places too.

I’m not going to try to tell people what to do about it, because there are thousands of better places to get advice than a white guy writing about Board and Card Games (if you don’t know where to start, this is probably as good a place as any – https://blacklivesmatter.com/) but it didn’t feel right to pretend that there was nothing going on as I try to write an article which boils down to “what’s been happening in June?”

 

Half-Time

As football kicks off again in the UK, it feels like an opportune moment to borrow from the world of sport a metaphor for what’s happened this year so far.

ZombiZoom
Zoombicide?

I think it’s fairly safe to say that if I’d had to take a guess at what 2020 would have looked like back at the end of last year, there’s a fair few things I wouldn’t have predicted – not playing a single game outside of my own home between late March and June would definitely be one, as would the sheer amount of gaming via Discord or Zoom (like most of you, I suspect, I hadn’t even heard of Zoom 6 months ago).

Theme-2020-HalfTaking a look back, there are still some very familiar-looking things. Cthulhu Mythos (30%) and Fantasy (25%) remain the biggest settings for games, and having played 700-and-something games in each of the previous 5 years, just under 380 at the mid-point makes a lot of sense.

That said, there are some big changes. For one thing, Comics are up to third place as the theme of choice (about 18% of all gaming) Zombies by contrast are down to 5th, having fallen behind Sci-Fi (as noted a while ago, the fact that I’m categorising Zombicide Dark Side / Invader as Sci-Fi rather than “Zombies” does seem to skew that slightly, but it also reflects the revival seen by Imperial Assault)

 

What got Played?

Return-Doom-Awaits
Anyone who’s played the original Where Doom Awaits with a mystic will appreciate these new locations.

For June itself, there was plenty of fun gaming. We carried on with our Return to Dunwich campaign in Arkham LCG. Where Lord of the Rings LCG had the Nightmare packs, which primarily seemed to focus on punching you really hard in the face, Arkham’s “Return to…” line is a much more nuanced product – there are certainly some newer, harder cards to face (Return to Essex County Express beat us up particularly badly), but they’ve also taken the opportunity to correct some things in original quests that were a bit broken and less than fun.

SHIELDWe completed the last of the Season 1 Scenarios in Death May Die vs Cthulhu, and just have one left to beat with Hastur, before we dive right into the expansion contents. Legendary SHIELD also hit the table a few times – like a lot of expansions, the power-levels get a bit crazy if you go for everything from the expansion, and it dips a fair bit behind the curve if it gets too diluted. Still, it’s nice to have development for a theme that already exists in the game, rather than just getting a new team affiliation appear out of nowhere that’s more-or-less-doomed to never get any further support (looking at you, Asgard box…)

 

Challenges

10x10JuneFor my Hardcore 10×10 challenge, it’s still the same 3 games that have yet to hit 10: Dragonfire, Gloomhaven, Mansions of Madness. Each of them got played in June, and each has been played 5 times or more by the mid-point in the year, so still well on track.

Jaws-of-the-LionI was struck when we played our last game of Gloomhaven just how many moving parts there are simply to get going on a single game. In that context, I can definitely see the appeal of the new “Jaws of the Lion,” a streamlined standalone version of BGG’s #1 title. Not that I’m going to be getting it, one massive box of Gloomhaven is enough to keep us going for a long while yet.

For the non-hardcore version of the 10×10 challenge, I’m on 99 games out of a hundred: a single session of Imperial Assault, Carcassonne, Hogwarts Battle, or Dominion will see this done, and I’m expecting it to all be wrapped up before the end of July. For the 12×12, that same cluster of games on 9 plays each mean I’m about 10 or so away from hitting the target.

There were a few notable gaming milestones in June, as both Eldritch Horror and Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle hit an all-time total of 50 plays. Eldritch remains our go-to game for “we’ve got a day/afternoon both off work, and Ned is at nursery” and is a definite favourite, despite its length making it a challenge to fit in at times.

 

Balancing the Books

DiscworldI sold a couple of bits and pieces this month. A few excess Fatty Bursters from Zombicide Green Horde and – most significantly – Discworld Ankh-Morpork. It’s a fun game, and we used to play it a lot, but it really isn’t great at 2-player, and the only people we’d be likely to manage a 4-player game with have a copy of their own. In the end, £95 (or, as I like to think of it, “most of a Nemesis pledge”) for a game I’d only played 3 times in the past 5 years was just way too good to say no to.

ShubOverall, the numbers moved in the right direction for June, albeit not by as much as I might have hoped. Cthulhu Death May Die remains one of the games with the biggest cost/value deficit, but it’s also one of our most-played games this year (certainly in the top 5, with 16 plays at end of June), and Ned kindly got me an expansion for father’s day (ok, I doubt he actually knew anything about it, but he is still only 3…) I deliberated over how much an extra Ancient One would really add during the campaign, and once the game actually landed, regretted not having grabbed the Shub-Niggurath box – I now have one, and will be cracking it open shortly.

Dark-Chest
what’s in the box?

We started up a new 7th Continent game, this time tackling The Dark Chest of the Damned – or, as it inevitably becomes in our house “the one with the mysterious box.” It was interesting starting in a whole new location and trying to remember which places we’d visited before. That said, this particular curse doesn’t offer much in the way of guidance for the aim beyond (presumably) “open the box.” We haven’t got hugely far, so hopefully will get more of this done soon.

 

Tiles for 1

One unexpected development for June was the release of an official solo variant for Carcassonne. Essentially, this involves picking 4 meeples in each of 3 random colours, then each colour taking it in turn to place a tile. The main twists are that 1.) you must place a meeple on the new tile if able, and 2.) you only score for a completed feature if the colour in question is currently the one with the lowest score. There’s a little bit of flexibility on the scoring aspect, that if more than one colour is tied for control of a feature, only 1 of those colours needs to be in last place for all of them to get the points.

Carcassonne-soloThe game ends when all the tiles are gone or – in all of my games so far – when you need to place a meeple but have none left (of that colour). At that point, your overall score is that of the colour in last place on the score chart.

It’s a really interesting challenge. You can add to/complete features controlled by other colours, and often that’s a good way of not having to put down a new meeple. Cloisters can mean instant defeat if you’re out of Meeples though, so that’s something to keep an eye on. It also really sucks to finish a big city but get no points because that colour wasn’t in last place, so there’s some interesting planning that needs to be done there (as much as you can ever plan when you don’t know what the next tile will be…) my first few attempts all ended quickly with a paltry score of “4” (managed this 3 times in a row, then realised a week or so later that I was missing end-of-game scoring, which might have got me up to double-figures!) before hitting the 30s with what felt like a ‘proper’ attempt a things.

 

2020: Part II

WinterJuly is here, we’ve passed the longest day, and the nights are drawing in as we head towards winter! More seriously, from 4th July we’re actually allowed in people’s houses again, so am hoping that this might open up some more opportunities for gaming.

Aside from that, the teaching term will soon be over for my wife, at which point I think we’re going to make a fresh attempt at Tainted Grail. (turns out that frantic end-of-term meetings/timetable planning/office relocating doesn’t leave much mental space for learning a forgotten game…)

I’m hoping that the expansion for Journeys in Middle Earth will be along in July, but not expecting anything else of note. Hopefully an article or 2, and we’ll be back in a month for the next round-up.

Investigators Revisited – I Am the Waitress

(koo-koo-ka-choo)

Agnes-ArtBy day a friendly server at Velma’s Diner, by night fearless investigator and challenger of the Mythos. Oh, and did we mention that she may also be the reincarnation of a mighty sorceress from Hyperborea?

Next up for the Investigators Revisited series is Agnes Baker, the Waitress.

All-Agneses

Arkham 2nd Edition

Regular readers of the blog will know that the last year has involved a spot of enforced downsizing/relocation. Sadly, Arkham Horror 2nd Edition was one of the victims in the cull of my games collection – my wife didn’t really enjoy it, and we’d almost always rather play Eldritch Horror. As such, from Agnes forth, any thoughts on investigators in 2nd Edition are going to be purely theory-crafting.

Agnes-2ndThat said, even just reading the sheet is enough to get an early sense of Agnes: unassuming Waitress Agnes Baker is first made aware of her past life when she falls from a ladder and hits her head! She wakes up in the hospital with one repeated word whispered in her head: “Hyperborea” – as implausible a starting-point as this may seem, after trying one of the newly-remembered spells in secret, she finds that it works, and begins to hone her spell-craft.

Mechanically, this version of Agnes is not especially exciting – she has very high Lore, balanced 5 health and 5 sanity, and the ability to pay the cost of casting spells with Stamina instead of Sanity, as well as getting a slight bonus when casting combat-related spells. However, the names of her abilities definitely evoke a particular theme: “Memories of Conquest” and “Blood Magic.” whoever former-life Agnes was, she doesn’t sound like anyone you’d want to get on the wrong side of!

 

Elder Sign

Elder-AgnesElder Sign takes a slight step back from the powerful witch who enslaved demons, and (given the lack of biography in this game), presents a much more normal figure, albeit one who can cast spells.

Normally in Elder Sign, if your dice rolls don’t allow you to complete a task (or if they do, but you’ve also rolled something that would be useful for the next task), then it’s just tough luck – you can focus 1 dice if you failed (as well as having to discard one dice) and everything else has to be re-rolled. In this context, the large number of ‘basic’ spells in the game can be very useful, as they allow  you to save a result you’ve rolled (rather than re-rolling it). Agnes takes things to the next level, still allowing you to save your dice on spells, but first allowing you to change the face that is showing: in other words, you can save a result you haven’t managed to roll! – really powerful,  provided you can keep it fuelled with new spells.

Elder-SpellsAlthough they probably make up the majority of the spell-pool, these blank, ‘save’ spells are the boring kind and often you’ll be hoping to get the ‘special’ ones with a unique ability that you can trigger. Agnes pushes things in the opposite direction, as those ‘saves’ suddenly become an on-demand way of finding a particular symbol.

Of course, the one problem with this is keeping up a suitably steady supply of spells to fuel the ability. Spells aren’t generally that hard to come by, but just like any investigator whose ability interacts with a particular type of reward, you’ll need to keep it in mind when choosing which adventure to send her to.

Agnes has 6 sanity and 4 health, following the standard approach of making mystic-types stronger mentally than physically. It’s worth noting that there are no casting costs to play spells in Elder Sign, nor does this version of the character have a ‘blood-magic’ ability, so leaving her stats tilted towards mental over physical strength feels like the best approach, all things considered.

 

Eldritch Horror

Eldritch-AgnesEldritch Horror picks up the Blood Magic theme, allowing Agnes to spend a health in order to roll extra dice when casting spells. It’s a very powerful ability, but you need to be careful about using it. She can also spend an action to test Lore and (if successful) acquire a spell. Add all of this to a basic Lore of 4 and Agnes comes out as one of the most effective spellcasters in the game.

Agnes-Eldritch-StartersHaving clearly honed her coffee-pot patter, Agnes has a decent 3 Influence, and 2s in the remainder of stats – certainly not strong, but at least there are no 1s. She has 7 health and 5 sanity, which seems a bit odd for a spellcaster, but actually facilitates her special ability quite well. The weak link feels like her willpower of 2, is going to see her taking quite a bit of horror from various tests and checks: a 3 here, even at the cost of that 3rd influence, or taking strength down to a 1 would probably have made her a fair bit more resilient. As Agnes always starts with Storm of Spirits, she can fight using Lore instead of Strength, so this wouldn’t have been a huge loss.

Agnes-Personal-MissionHer personal mission is an interesting one – it requires her to keep a pile of the monsters she defeats, and stack them on the mission card until she has amassed a total of 10 toughness amongst the bodies, all before dropping to 1 health. This does put a little extra pressure on you to keep resting, and presents an interesting tension between wanting to fight monsters, but needing to avoid taking too much damage! As already mentioned though, that low willpower is going to cause issues in combat encounters, so you’ll probably be resting a fair amount.

The reward for completing Agnes’ story is quite nice – 6s count double for successes when spell-casting, and once per round, Agnes gets to re-roll any number of dice during a spell effect. That said, I’m not convinced that it’s anywhere near as impactful as the failure penalty which increases the Damage and Horror or all monsters she encounters, and makes all of her spells discard after use unless she spends health to roll extra dice. This leaves you with a spell-caster who quickly runs out of spells and is likely to be defeated by even a small monster.

 

Living Card Game

Agnes-LCG-FrontIn the LCG, Agnes was one of the Core Set Investigators, the first ever Mystic. She has very high Willpower – 5, meaning that she can do just about anything once she has a spell that allows her to use Will instead of whatever the default stat is for that activity. High Will also gives her good resilience against the Encounter deck, meaning that she can survive long enough to get set up.

Agnes’ unique ability allows her to deal a damage to a monster when Horror is placed on her – sadly, this doesn’t work when placing Horror on Allies or Assets (otherwise Agnes + Peter Sylvestre would go from “good” to “game-breakingly broken” as a combo…), but the range of Horror soaks available in Mystic and Survivor (her off-class) do allow her to save her own sanity for the moments when there’s actually a monster around to beat up. With 6 health and 8 Sanity she has a decent amount of leeway to play with horror, without being too squishy physically. I won’t spoil the specifics, but there’s also a really funny interaction for anyone taking a particular route through the Path to Carcosa cycle. Hastur! Hastur!

Agnes-LCG-SignaturesProbably the biggest let-down for Agnes is her signature cards. Her asset is a necklace, the Heirloom of Hyperborea, something which needs to be paid for, put out, and takes up the accessory slot. Once you’ve done all of that, it allows you to draw a card every time you play a spell…

… and that’s it!

Obviously you want your Mystics to be playing spells, but there’s only so many times a game that this is going to trigger. The Heirloom has certainly got better since the core set days when you might only play a couple of Shrivellings and a Rite of Seeking throughout the game – nowadays you’ll probably chuck out a decent number of Spell-traited events – but it’s still quite a high cost for a middling effect. The biggest saving grace is probably that you don’t have to exhaust the Heirloom to trigger the reaction, so at least you can trigger it twice in a turn (to make up for all the turns when you don’t). Alternatively, it has a Willpower Icon, a Strength, and a Wild, so you might be best off just chucking it to a test.

LCG-Attack-SpellsBy contrast, Agnes’ weakness is seriously punishing – it’s an event card that you have to pay (costing you 2 resources and an action), which puts Doom on the Agenda and can cause the Agenda to immediately advance. Why on earth would anyone ever choose to play such a card you might be asking? Well, for every round that it sits in your hand, it’s going to deal you 2 horror, so if you don’t you’ll very quickly be going mad! – at least you get to damage an enemy as your sanity slips away!

Agnes is still a very powerful investigator – as already noted, her 5 Willpower makes her very resilient to the encounter deck, and as the card-pool continues to grow, she just gets better, able to use her Willpower for more and more situations. Survivor is an ideal off-class, as it provides a lot of ways of covering short-falls

 

Mansions of Madness

Mansions-of-AgnesAgnes was one of the later investigators added to Mansions of Madness, and her stat-line is fairly unremarkable: an even 7 Health / 7 Sanity split. Her worst stat is Strength at 2, her best is Lore at 5. Her unique feature is that she starts with the Storm of Spirits spell again.

Mansions-Storm-FrontStorm of Spirits is powerful – one of the most devastating spells in the game: it has a damage rating of 4 (only Wrack, with 5 is higher) and an option to take a damage when casting to deal an additional damage.

Mansions-Storm-BacksHowever, it’s equally devastating in both directions: Agnes can take down enemies at will, but she rapidly burns through her own health and sanity at the same time.

As with Eldritch, her Willpower – which is only 3 – feels a bit on the low side, and in many of our games, she went mad relatively quickly, even if not forced into lots of spell-casting. Her lore is very strong, but beyond that her stats don’t really shine. Of course Mansions does sometimes provide ways of healing horror, but the challenge there is the tempo hit that this involves – with only 2 actions a turn, can you really afford to spend 1 on not going mad? sometimes you may have to, but if you reach that point more than once or twice, it’s probably a lose/lose situation.

 

Arkham 3rd Edition

Agnes-3rd-EdIn 3rd Edition, Agnes is – once again – a spell-caster, and also a warder of doom. Unlike second edition where spell-casting took a quick and brutal toll on your sanity, if you gather enough remnants, it is generally possible to keep casting spells on an ongoing basis – how do you get remnants again? That’s right – by warding lots of Doom, or by killing monsters!

Whilst her Lore of 4 is pretty good for warding Doom, Agnes really takes things into overdrive when she starts spell-casting.

  • Her unique ability allows her to spend Health instead of Sanity to pay casting costs, and she has a nicely balanced 6 health / 6 sanity stat-line to facilitate that.
  • The Heirloom of Hyperborea lets her focus a skill every time she casts, quickly getting her stats up, and then providing a steady drip of re-rolls.
  • She also gets to add 2 bonus dice whenever she uses health or remnants rather than sanity to pay the casting cost.

Agnes-3rd-Starting-CardsOf course these abilities are only as good as the spells she casts with them, but Agnes is well-served here too – She has a choice of 2 starting spells – Storm of Spirits which, as in Eldritch Horror, lets her fight with Lore instead of Strength, and Flesh Ward, which allows her to prevent damage that would be suffered by others – this lets you build her as a fairly aggressive, combat-focused damage dealer, or as much more of a support character. Personally, I find the aggressive build more fun, and a bit easier to keep that Remnant habit fuelled.

Even if she does nothing else, Agnes will keep Doom at bay fairly handily, whilst those with more than 2 observation research clues to advance.

 

Story

Agnes has yet to grace the pages of an Arkham Novel(la) so we have only the flavour text on her various cards and her entry in the Investigators of Arkham Horror book to go by.

The broad strokes of Agnes’s story have been fairly consistent throughout. 1920s Agnes is a waitress in a diner, but centuries before, she was a mighty sorceress in a former life. The silver key, mysterious relic of this bygone age is also a consistent element, although there’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation going on: in the LCG and Mansions of Madness, finding the key is what awakens the memories of her previous life – whereas in the board game and the Investigators book, a head-injury is the spark, leading her to find the key, in a place she could not possibly have known it would be.

Mansions-BackstoryThe Investigators book gives us the most detail on Agnes’ back-story: it explains that she thinks she may have visited Arkham as a child, but was brought back there by her memories of magic. It also describes her job in Velma’s Diner as simply a way of paying the rent whilst she explores the mysterious old town and the magical insights it may be able to offer her.

3rd-BackstoryWhat none of the stories really do is offer that much insight into what Agnes plans to do with the knowledge and power that she is unearthing – certainly, as an Investigator we have to hope that she is fighting against the dark forces of the Mythos rather than for them, but there is no clear indication of what drives her – a quest for knowledge? Or just an attempt not to go completely mad? Interestingly, the back of Agnes’ investigator card in Eldritch Horror hints at this question, asking whether she is simply trying to learn, or being possessed/driven by her former self…

Art-RestaurantMechanically, I feel like FFG have done a good job of portraying Agnes across the various games. The biggest inconsistency seems to be around her willpower: very strong in Arkham LCG (which, although not her first appearance by any means, was probably the first place I was really conscious of her as an investigator), much weaker in Eldritch and Mansions. Beyond that, she is someone who leans hard into the mystical forces of the Mythos, and the toll it takes on both her mind and body is clear to see.

I hope we get to see a bit more of Agnes soon – ideally a novella to give her a more broadly useful Signature Asset, as there aren’t really any other obvious options for her to make further game appearances (IIRC, they’ve said somewhere not to expect too many Mystics in Final Hour, assuming it ever gets any expansions).

Sunshine and Lockdown – May 2020

May 2020 has been and gone.

StayFor anyone new around here, I tend to do a bit of a round-up of what I’ve been playing, what I’ve been enjoying, and how I’m getting on with a few gaming challenges that I set myself each year.

Lockdown meant that May didn’t involve much going outside (aside from a walk to the woods with Ned every other day and 1 or 2 trips to the shops each week). It also meant that there wasn’t much coming out in the way of new releases for existing games. What there was, was plenty of time to play the existing games I have, so let’s have a bit of a re-cap.

 

Living

RtDunwichIf you don’t know me personally, chances are that you’ve found your way here via one of FFG’s Cooperative LCGs, so it will come as no surprise that the 2 most-played games in May were Arkham Horror LCG and Marvel Champions – Arkham was mostly finishing up a couple of campaigns, including solo Norman Withers through The Circle Undone, as part of Drawn to the Flame’s Think on Our Feet. My wife and I have also started a Return to the Dunwich Legacy campaign. Despite having this for… ages, we’d not actually played any of the scenarios, firstly because I was waiting for the replacement locations needed to match the first printing symbols, and then because I had my ongoing Chance Encounters campaign of original Dunwich going.

FoolishnessIn keeping with the theme of “stuff we should have done ages ago” this will be my first campaign using Carolyn Fern with her real signatures (no Foolish cat this time). It’s interesting to get a fresh look at this very familiar campaign. Not very far yet, but seems fun (provided Carolyn can make it through a scenario without drawing Beyond the Veil).

May was a very exciting month for Marvel as The Card Game Cooperative got involved in a few community projects (#Klawyourwaythroughmay), and even got given a card to announce by FFG! Whilst we haven’t actually played the spoiler card yet (they sent us an image, not a physical copy of the card) we did managed to get plenty of games in with the existing content, including several run-ins with our custom Klaw level IVs.

 

Milestones

DandD-ShelfMay also had a couple of significant milestones for some of my games, as I chalked up my 100th-ever game of D&D, and my 250th Game of Zombicide. As I think I mentioned last month, our D&D is 100% online at the moment, and for the 2 most regular games, I’m DMing, so that’s a lot of prep, as the sessions were coming at least weekly at one point. Things have settled down a little now, and we’ve even been re-joined by a player who’d previously left the city [as a new character after I killed the last one]. In terms of actually playing D&D, the only game I’m in is an audio-only one on Discord, and I’m definitely looking forward to being able to play face-to-face again, hopefully sometime soon.

Blitzers
Q: What’s worse than a Tank or a Hunter? – A: A Tank that’s ALSO a Hunter

Zombicide has been one of our most-played games for at least the past 4 years – it’s had a few lulls in recent times, but we keep coming back to it as something that’s invariably fun, and offers enough interesting decisions without creating too much brain burn. We’ve currently got a Green Horde campaign going, with a lot of added enemies from the KS extras (Ratz, Tainted Orcs, assorted Abominations), which provides an interesting twist compared with the base version of that campaign, which we’d played a couple of times before. Although I log the space-age games separately from the Medieval stuff, we’re also playing through the Zombicide Dark Side base campaign at the moment, and it’s a bit of an odd feeling to be playing new scenarios in a basic setting like that, and be winning them very comfortably most of the time. It looks like we actually got kind of good at this game whilst playing it 250+ times! – next run-through, we’ll be mixing in some add-on bits to up the challenge.

 

Challenges

This year, I’m doing a challenge to play 10 games 10 times each (having specified in advance which games), as well as trying to play (any) 12 games 12 times each.

Dragonfire-Mountain
It’s a tough journey into the mountains

For the 10×10 Hardcore challenge, Dragonfire was really lagging behind at the start of the month, having only been played once. This hit the table several times this month, as we continued our slog through the Moonshae Isles. It’s always an interesting puzzle to play this one, but the very high base-level difficulty and overall complexity can make for some fairly frustrating experiences -sometimes it’s just impossible, sometimes you get to the end of the session and suddenly realise that you missed a key rules interaction that puts a massive asterisk (or worse) next to that result.

DmD
Death May Die – Cultists messing with the moon

All-told, 4 games made it to their 10th session in May, joining the 3 Co-op LCGs that were there already: Zombicide, Cthulhu: Death May Die, Legendary Marvel, and Journeys in Middle Earth. Death May Die continues to be good fun, and we’ve nearly completed all of the S1 scenarios against Cthulhu. We’ll probably try to beat them vs Hastur as well before diving fully into the expansion content. I just received a Legendary expansion (SHIELD) as a somewhat-delayed birthday present, so will be playing more of that soon, whilst we continue to plod along with our Journeys campaign.

FFoM-May-2020With 7 of the 10 games already at their target, things are looking pretty positive for this challenge. The 3 games that are lagging a bit behind are still Dragonfire, Gloomhaven and Mansions of Madness. These are only a little bit behind the curve (4/10 plays in 5/12 months), but definitely want to get some more games in for all of them soon. Total 82/100.

The 12×12 challenge is at 116/144, so a bit more of a way to go, but less than half way through the year, I’m not particularly concerned by this.

 

Dusting Off

Ghillie
for EACH new character you’ve got a double-sided reference sheet and half a tray of dice to master!

There were quite a few games that got their first run-out of the year in May. One notable one was Too Many Bones, which hit the table 3 times. In a fairly big contrast to something like Zombicide, this is one that’s pretty high on the complexity scale, and always offers a lot of tough decisions to make. As mentioned before, I only have the Undertow box (a stand-alone expansion) and one added player character, and wonder periodically about getting the original game, but it’s just so expensive that it feels very hard to justify. If this continues to see plenty of table-time, I probably will look at one of the other small expansions to help round out the options though.

 

Money

NemesisAs lockdown started to ease, I managed my first few sales of the year, games that weren’t bad per se, but just didn’t get played often enough to justify sitting on my shelf all the time – I’ve got a few more games that I still want to shift, in the hope of freeing up some cash for a Nemesis (Lockdown?) pledge (currently back on Kickstarter).

For all of the games I own, I try to keep a track of how much I’m spending on them, and how much I play, them, aiming for an economy of £5/hour or less, both on an all-time basis, and within any given year (there’s a long discussion about how I arrived at that figure). There was nothing new for any of the LCGs this month, and probably won’t be in June either, and all 3 are comfortably getting played enough to justify the money already spent on them, as well as what I’m expecting in the near future.

TaintedGrailRight now, my focus is mostly on playing existing games, particularly looking at some of the games that have been short of this figure for a while – big Kickstarters tend to be a particular culprit here, as there’s a big initial outlay, and by the time they arrive, it’s not necessarily the best moment to fit in time to play them. Tainted Grail is currently the worst offender here – it got played a few times when it arrived at the end of last year, but has sat idle since – it did at least get played in May, but our main conclusion was that we couldn’t remember what we were doing and needed to start again!

CynderHothI’m also in the red for both Shadows of Brimstone and Star Wars Imperial Assault, having recently expanded these: both got played in May, but not as much as I’d have liked – hopefully more to follow in June. Cthulhu: Death May Die and The 7th Continent are also still in the red, but Cthulhu is moving in the right direction, and 7th Continent isn’t far off break-even.

 

The Best-Laid Plans

The end of May/beginning of June is normally defined by the most reliable fixture of my gaming year, UK Games Expo. This year however, it was not to be, cancelled along with Insomnia, and Essen Spiele. There was definitely a bit of disappointment over that final weekend stuck at home, rather than being away with all the new games and all the gamers. Right now, I’m just hoping that the Pandemic has calmed down enough by 2021 for the conventions to run again then.

 

Perhaps the best way to avoid having plans disrupted is not to make any, and that’s more-or-less where I’m at for June! I can’t think of anything particularly pressing, novel, or unexpected that’s coming. I’ll try to make sure that I get a few new articles out, and I’ll be back in a month with another update.

The Intrepid Miss Walker – The Miskatonic Museum

Chance Encounters Season 1: Episode 3

The Miskatonic Museum

Armitage wanted us to reclaim the Necronomicon from Miskatonic Museum. At the best of times I would have harboured reservations, but his insistence that we make our attempt in the middle of the night made it anything but the best of times.

Miskatonic

Despite his enthusiasm for roughhousing with mafia goons in the Clover Club, Finn made it clear that breaking-and-entering was further than he was prepared to go. The very brief telephone conversation I had with him also suggested that he may have been dipped into some of his own merchandise as he recovered from the evening’s ordeals.

Although he would not be joining me for my next escapade, Finn did put me in touch with another associate of his. I never actually learned Mr O’Toole’s name, but was repeatedly assured that everyone knew him simply as “Skids.”

I met with Skids on the wide square that stretched out in front of the Miskatonic Museum. It was late, and the streets were largely deserted, making me feel highly conspicuous as I stood beneath a street lamp, and awaited his arrival.

Naturally, the Museum was locked at this hour, and Skids was all in favour of simply smashing a window. Fortunately, with a little help recalled from a few of Dr Christopher’s lectures, I was able to detect some shadows of movement from within, and soon attracted the attention of a rather hapless young Security Guard, one Adam Lynch.

As I tried to reassure young Adam of our intentions, Skids had already disappeared inside to the administration office. He returned a few moments later having found keys to some of the main exhibit halls, but muttering something about having lost his lucky cigarette case, the metal suddenly cold as a crypt, falling broken to the ground.

Whilst Skids was doing this, Adam and I had visited the security office, and found several other keys. Still, moving back into the main foyer of the museum felt like a great strain, like some kind of arcane barrier was blocking my path. A frown and a determined stride though, was sufficient to push it aside.

“Hey doll, you found what we’re looking for yet?” the voice sounded behind me.

I gave Skids a sharp glare which could leave him in absolutely no doubt as to how I felt about being addressed as ‘doll’ but I felt my heart soften slightly as I saw the strain that even being in this place was having on him. The unspoken terrors and threats that seemed to come from somewhere beyond our mundane plane of existence were quite clearly wearing away at the man’s brittle soul, and I started to worry that too much longer in this place would open his eyes to what lay beyond the veil, a sight which I did not believe he could withstand.

“Not yet” I replied tersely, taking a key, and heading for the first of the exhibit halls, indicating that he should do the same with the second.

Behind-youI was quickly able to identify the first fall as being the home of the Athabaskan exhibit. Although I had lost my bearings somewhat in the darkness, I had visited this hall before, and knew that there were unlikely to be clues for me to find here. I felt like something had cursed my luck, leaving my senses dulled. I moved back to the lobby, and found another door, this time leading to the Hall of the Dead: I busied myself looking for clues, and felt my mind clear, as I found an employee’s jacket hung carelessly on the back of a chair- sure enough there were more keys in the pocket, enough to access another hall.

Returning to the lobby, I was greeted by a terrifying sight: at first glance the strange creature before me resembled a snake, but as I approached I could see that it was enormous, and it flitted about above the ground on giant, leathery wings. Skids seemed to be trying to beat it back with his bare fists, then diving to one side to avoid the hideous fangs that darted towards him.

He would later tell me that he had successfully checked the Medusa Exhibit, or – as he put it “a stone statue of some broad with snakes for hair.” For now, all I could tell was that there would be little aid I could give him against the creature, and so I went to the next hall, which turned out to be an Egyptian exhibit. As I entered, I was suddenly confronted by strange visions – familiar people and places spun before my eyes, but time itself seemed to be unravelling, and I could not tell whether what I saw was future, past, or perhaps something else entirely.

SkidsOTooleBy the time I returned to the main hall, Skids was looking decidedly the worse for wear – aside from having been bitten once or twice by the creature, it was clear that he had seen the same strange visions that had so afflicted me in the Egyptian Hall. However, whilst this man might have the strength to go toe-to-wing with this monstrosity, he lacked the willpower to withstand the potential collapse of reality before his eyes.

I tried to move on, into the next hall, but once again, felt the way blocked, not by the physical bounds of the museum, but something far more arcane. I tried to simply steel my will against it as before, but this time it was not enough, and I felt like a great chunk of my mental reserves were worn away in the effort.

A momentary silence fell, as if the beast was stalking us through the darkness. It seemed that Skids had finally managed to escape the foul creature. A shout from the next room told me that he had found the restricted hall, but his cry was also enough to draw the monster’s attention.

I ran from the Nature exhibit, seeking to reach Skids as quickly as I could, but a cruel twist of fate tripped me, and I went sprawling, a sharp pain lancing through my ankle. This time, I was not prepared to be stayed by whatever Eldritch energies shrouded the lobby, and I pushed through, feeling the staying presence wilt back before me.

I thought to ready the spell of warding that I had used against the creatures on the campus, but as I entered the hall, I saw Skids twist suddenly, using his – admittedly rather impressive – agility to appear behind the creature and deliver a harsh stab in its back. The creature let out a great shriek that made my ears ring, then seemed to dive through a void in the fabric of reality itself, leaving us alone.

Skids was a wreck: blood seemed to flow from numerous wounds in his arms, legs, and torso – although a single look in those haunted eyes told me that his mind was closer to giving out than his body – the veil was worn thin, and a single push from the Eldritch forces opposing us might be enough to push him beyond it.

Fortunately, we almost had what we came for – we were in the right room, and even with the exhibit largely unconstructed, a little deduction was all it took to find it.

The Necronomicon.

NecronomiconIt was not our first encounter of course – even now, John Dee’s rendering of the dark truths within could still come out of my memories to haunt me at times. However, Armitage had spoken of the dark forces which might yet oppose us: there was power in this profane tome, and if I could harness that, perhaps glean something from this translation which the previous one had omitted, then it might make the difference. The difference between what and what, was a question I did not want to answer.

I felt like I heard a hollow laugh in the distance as I slipped the book into my tote bag and ushered Skids towards the exit. Adam still stood looking blankly about him, but I gave him a reassuring pat on the arm as we left. The book would be kept safe – and more than that, it would be put to work.

 

Resolution 2

  • The Investigators took custody of the Necronomicon
  • Necronomicon (Olaus Wormius Translation) added to Daisy deck
  • Elder Thing token added to chaos bag

 

Skids Decklist

This was an interesting scenario – Miskatonic Museum generally isn’t the trickiest of scenarios, and I made some deliberate concessions to theme at the expense of efficiency in the Skids deck – no Leo de Luca for one thing. His main task was to evade the Horror, and then kill it at the end – he failed badly at the first, pulling several tentacles on evade checks AND twice getting whacked due to the in-built readying on the Horror. Still, we did manage to keep it in play, and avoid it powering up via shadow-spawned.

Fortunately Daisy managed to hoover up clues pretty efficiently, aided by Dr Milan and Higher Ed, and even had a Shrivelling ready to go for the Horror before Skids managed to Backstab it. With Beyond the Veil on the table from turn 3, and the famous Skids willpower, he was only about 3 cards from decking out by the end (hence why Daisy didn’t take the extra turn to clear the Nature Exhibit or fish for Delve Too Deep) – thankfully for him, he won’t need to worry about the terrors of the train to Dunwich.

4VP – Medusa Exhibit, Egyptian Exhibit, Hall of the Dead, Restricted Hall

Daisy was now up to 10 XP, and I upgraded a Strange Solution. Essex isn’t generally too bad for enemies, but the few that do show up can be really nasty, so I’ll be saving this for the big monsters. Luckily Daisy can still Shrivel cultists (or hope from some assistance from her newest companion).