It’s been a whirlwind of a ride, but I’ve made it through to the end of the Path to Carcosa campaign! What a glorious campaign it was, too. I’m going to talk about the final two packs first – with spoilers, no doubt – and then give you all some of my thoughts on the whole thing. But let’s start with Black Stars Rise.
This one has got to be the most complicated setup that I have seen from any of the scenarios to date! It’s unique in that it doesn’t have an Act deck, but instead uses parallel Agenda decks. When we place doom during the mythos phase, we get to choose on which Agenda it is placed – however, doom in play does count towards both Agendas, so it is possible (and indeed happened to me!) for both of them to advance at the same time! The crux of the matter is that we’re trying to prevent the cultists of Hastur from enacting the ritual to bring him back into reality. We’ve come to Mont Saint-Michel to prevent this ritual, and I do feel like the designers are messing with me when it looked quite clearly like there was a good and a bad Agenda, but these obviously proved to both be terrible events! Why did I think one might be better?!
I really enjoyed how this scenario seems to be holding out on us. There is just so much that we don’t know, or at least that I don’t know – we’re almost just hoping for the best each time. And the fact that the setup is so randomised, subsequent play-throughs of this scenario will still be the same, I don’t think it’s likely I’ll have any benefit of experience that is sometimes seen when you play through a scenario again.
The way becomes clear when we investigate the Abbey Church, and a whole other suite of location cards opens up – that was quite a revelation, really! Investigating through the church, however, leads us on to the path we have been pursuing since we woke up in the theatre – for me, I plunged into the water in pursuit of Lost Carcosa!
Well, I opened the path below, and have gained an extra point of conviction. In addition, I’ve gained 2 experience points, so immediately spent that to upgrade Ashcan Pete’s Lantern, and swapped out the Archaic Glyphs from Daisy’s deck in favour of an Otherworldly Compass. I know it’s late in the game to be doing this, but I’m mindful of my experience in Dunwich, and want to be sure that I’m maximising that experience!
The finale of the piece, Dim Carcosa follows a similar theme to the Dunwich Legacy, where we jump through the gate and into the Other World. while some people may find it a bit repetitive, I personally like it as a call-back to the board game, and having those adventures in other realms adds to the cosmic horror that I’m here for.
This one is again a little different, as each location is double-sided with a Story card (similar to the VIPs back in The Last King), and so they all start out in play and complete with all of their clues. The stories on the back of these cards are revealed by gathering the clues from them at the right point – they don’t auto-flip as soon as they have been investigated. This is because a lot of them will allow you to deal direct damage to the Unspeakable One himself, Hastur!
There are three different variants of this particular Great Old One, and the variant you face very much depends on the way the campaign has been going up to this point. For me, I had much more conviction than doubt – and so I found myself going up against the toughest of all three! This is a wonderful mechanic, as it represents the fact that you’ve not kept that healthy scepticism – you haven’t stayed rooted in the real world. Consequently, you’re so convinced that what you’re experiencing is real, you bring into being a much more powerful Elder God. It’s really well done, and shows how the choices you make throughout the campaign really have an effect.
Something that I really enjoyed about this one, too, is how the Act/Agenda cards incorporate call-backs to the earlier scenarios, such as the party and the asylum, before requiring you to take an attribute test to see if you remember these things happening before. It’s really representative of the truly shattered state of your psyche at this point, and I got a real thrill from seeing these when they came up!
And speaking of shattered psyches, I thought this was quite funny in that, during setup, each investigator takes a sanity hit equal to half of their total sanity, and taking madness throughout the game doesn’t eliminate you – you’re basically beyond the edge of reason at this point, after all! However, there are a lot of cards in the encounter deck that get nastier if you have no sanity left. It’s really thematic for being in this particular Other World, and I really enjoyed it.
Did I win? Well, I think so! Daisy managed to do a lot of damage to Hastur through investigating locations and turning over those cards to deal 1 or 2 points of damage per investigator to him. I had a couple of very lucky draws from Ashcan Pete that allowed him to do 4 points of damage per hit, though in his toughest incarnation, a -1, 0 or +1 Chaos token counts as an auto-fail, so I had to really over-commit to make sure I pulled out the -2 or worse, which would allow me to actually get the damage on him! For the win, I then threw my Lantern at him to deal the final 2 points of damage. Felt really weird, but I guess that tattered yellow robe is really flammable!
Well folks, the investigators prevented Hastur from escaping his prison, although it was at the cost of 2 physical trauma each. I had 0 victory points on the board, but did gain an additional 5 points for all of my experiences. Most importantly, however, the investigators won the campaign!
I still don’t know why the end of a campaign gives experience points, although I suppose it can be used if you want to try out a standalone scenario. I’ve seen some theories that it’s future-proofing against adding special scenarios to the end of campaigns, but who knows.
Anyway, it’s time to give my thoughts on The Path to Carcosa as a campaign. Unless it’s not immediately obvious from having read through this series of blogs over the last few days – I really enjoyed this one! I think the fact that it was completely new to me really helped here, because at several points during The Dunwich Legacy campaign, I did have that sense of having been here before, etc, and while it didn’t ruin things for me, it still felt a little like re-treading old ground. But I think that could also have been due to knowing I had lots of new stuff waiting for me to get to, so I wanted to get through it!
I first read The King in Yellow – well, I read the first four stories of that book – back in 2016. Some of the story beats I may have missed, for sure, but I was blown away by how close A Phantom of Truth came to the source material, and really enjoyed that aspect of the game. In the main, though, I think this campaign tries to be its own thing – it takes as the starting point the idea of the macabre play, which has been developed so much within the confines of the Cthulhu mythos, and really runs with it, incorporating along the way stuff from In the Court of the Dragon, and I think the onyx clasp comes from The Yellow Sign, but we don’t have such a reliance on the source material as in the last campaign. Which I think is a definite plus, because it blows the possibilities right open.
I’ve read a review of this campaign that describes it as a full flowering of the campaign possibilities of this game, having shown how the principle works during the Dunwich Legacy. I think that’s pretty on the nose, although I have no idea how future campaigns play (we’re currently in the middle of the sixth full cycle, remember!) Seeing how the story unfolds from scenario to scenario, and the changes that are made along the way, it was really informative of what could be done. Even down to the stuff with changing tokens added to the Chaos bag between scenarios, there was so much going on! I was very impressed each time.
The new Story cards in particular were very impressive, and add that extra point of narrative to what is already a very story-driven game. I don’t think I ever really felt like the game was forcing me to play a specific way, or trying to lead me to a specific conclusion. The doubt/conviction mechanic, something that I’ve read quite negative opinions for, does seem to lead to very different set-ups as we go. Playing one scenario often depends on how you did in the last one, and less on whether a specific thing happened. I think it helps that the narrative often has the scenarios spaced out with days or weeks between them, but here it felt so much more like a choose your own adventure, rather than being guided through a pre-set game as was the case to some degree with Dunwich.
I’ve talked about this before, but throughout the campaign, I was really not sure about any of the choices I was making, from the start I felt really torn over whether there was a “right” or “wrong” choice to make. It was difficult at times, and I had that sense of paranoia, maybe I’m doing things wrong, you know? I think it was during or after the third scenario where I decided to just go for it, and see how things went. I think I tried to play it in character, and go with that feel of believing the events around me, with the sense of trying to investigate the mythos, as opposed to trying to stay cynical and doubtful of things.
It’s a mark of the design of this campaign, though, that these choices are taking me down such divergent paths that I know I could play this again and have a really different experience. That said, I feel so exhausted by the whole experience that I’m not sure I’ll be playing it again anytime soon…!