The Circle Undone – looking for doom!

Hey everybody,
I’ve faced the doom of the world, and to some extent, I’ve survived! Let’s take a look into the final scenarios of The Circle Undone campaign.

Now, last time I sided with the Lodge, and I “won” when Carl Sandford managed to bind the spirit of Keziah Mason into his little black book. Oh dear! The campaign was over for me, and the Silver Twilight would begin their true work. Oh dear, oh dear! So I shuffled up and replayed the scenario and decided to side with the witches, whereupon the revenant spirit of Keziah Mason possessed Anette Mason, and turned her evil. Oh dear! At any rate, Valentino is alive, but the remaining three characters from the prologue are now dead – this campaign is going really well, wouldn’t you say?!

 

So I am now In the Clutches of Chaos. Scenario seven brings us back full circle (there’s a pun there, somewhere) to the fortune-teller Anna Kaslow, and the streets of Arkham. The clouds above are not natural. Phantasmal shapes shift and churn within the mist above. The scenario is really pregnant with foreboding, and then it begins. The set-up here is so familiar to me as a fan of Arkham Horror the board game, as we have many of the locations from the original board – but it gets better! The unique thing with this scenario is the breaches and incursions special rule – breaches (represented by resource tokens) are opening across the city, and if a fourth token would ever be placed on a location, instead an incursion takes place, and a doom token is placed on it instead.

Doom isn’t added to the agenda as normal, but instead we have (investigators) +1 breach tokens placed in random locations. In addition, almost all locations have no clue tokens added to them when they’re revealed – instead, by clearing breaches we have the opportunity to add clues to a random location. It’s all very random, and it feels incredibly like the board game, where we’re trying to close gates before we reach the gate limit. It was really nice!

 

The scenario concludes when the possessed Anette Mason is defeated – which I managed to do quite cinematically, with Joe Diamond softening her up before Diana Stanley finished her off with the Twilight dagger. Wonderful! In the fourth Interlude of the cycle, we come to realise that everything we’ve been doing has almost been a distraction from the massive breach that has been in the sky this entire time, engulfing the stars. Oh dear, oh dear!

At this point, we’re pretty much resigned to our fate, and when a group of nightgaunts come down from the sky, we mount up and fly into the void, in a desperate gambit to try and push back the chaos!

 

Before the Black Throne is almost a spoiler in itself, isn’t it – clearly we’re going to go up against Azathoth in some description. In every other Lovecraft game we’ve got, Azathoth is always the end – it wakes up and destroys the world. How would that be implemented in the card game?

As is now the pattern for this game, the cycle ends with a trip into an Other World – this time, we’re into the Cosmos, the Void. The implementation is quite nice, though, using the top cards from the investigator decks to provide “empty space” that we have to cross, replacing them with Cosmos cards where possible. It’s not a straightforward trip from A to B, however, and we don’t have a map – we need to try to find the way, which isn’t as straightforward as all that. These Cosmos cards can only be placed in specific locations relative to where we currently are – it sounds very regimented, but it’s actually a really great way to implement that flailing in the unknown.

 

Of course, there are anchor points in the void, and we’re trying to get from one to another at each turn of the Act deck. It’s also really nice how all of the investigators need to make it to the same point before the Act can advance, or else they will be killed.

Azathoth is present right from the beginning, and cannot be influenced by player cards in any way. We cannot fight him, but we can be attacked, by it, and many treachery cards can cause that. It looms over the whole scenario, and it feels almost insurmountable right from the start as a result.

Something that I found really interesting about the finale here is that it isn’t over when the Agenda runs out. I was all for making a suicidal attempt, and both of my investigators were only 1 or 2 points of damage away from death anyway, but no! Things carry on, and any doom that would be placed on the Agenda is instead placed on Azathoth (who has been collecting doom throughout, I hasten to add!)

To finally advance to victory, we need to find the Black Throne, and remove all of the clue tokens on there. Its shroud value is potentially huge, as it is linked to how much doom Azathoth has collected, but in no small part thanks to the Seeker shenanigans of Joe Diamond, I was able to actually clear all of the clues and – with a lot of luck – win!

I mean, I call it victory – Joe is now insane, and has joined the immortal Pipers of Azathoth forever. But, for now, Azathoth slumbers…

 


What an absolutely fantastic cycle The Circle Undone is!

From the almost inauspicious beginnings when we’re at the Meiger Estate and we’re not sure what’s going on, through the strange investigations into both the witch coven of Anette Mason and the Silver Twilight Lodge themselves, this cycle has got so many twists and turns, it feels like an absolute labyrinth. The designers stated that they crafted a tale that pitted the all-male Lodge against the all-female coven, resulting along the way with the theme of good vs evil (though which side is which is, of course, a matter of perspective). Given the nature of this conflict, the choice of Azathoth being the Ancient One at the end was almost inevitable, as that particular god has no motive beyond wholesale destruction.

It all works together really quite well, but that is not to say that the cycle is without its flaws. I’ve said previously that the storyline feels very much like it is pulling us along, and regardless of what happens during each game, there is a sense, at times, that there is stuff in-between games that will place us on the right track, regardless. This wasn’t quite so obvious in either Dunwich or, particularly, Carcosa, and it did distract me at times, I can’t deny.

But that’s not to say that The Circle Undone is a bad campaign. Quite the opposite, in fact. The atmosphere of gothic horror is palpable, and the theme really drips off in great clots. I love that this cycle explores the witchcraft side of Lovecraft’s writings, albeit tying in with the cosmic horror represented by the blind idiot god at the end. There can sometimes be a weird feeling when you manage to shoot a Great Old One, but here we have no chance to actually fight Azathoth, and that’s something I really love! Instead, we’ve just got to try and survive so that the story can end a different way.

I also adored the way we get to explore Arkham as a town here. Sure, we’ve had glimpses in the earlier cycles, when we’ve been at the Historical Society or the Miskatonic Museum, but this cycle really strives to bring us back to the town as a place that, if we’ve played the board game, we’ll be intimately familiar with. We get to run around the different locations much like we do in the board game, and it feels absolutely delightful! I really haven’t had so much joy from the game as when I’m getting to play with stuff like this, so I heartily commend the designers for that.

Overall, it’s not without its flaws, but I think the final impression of The Circle Undone as a campaign is that it is one of the best out there. I am definitely playing this one again at some point, and I imagine the games will feel quite different in choosing different paths from the start.