Today is game day, and it’s time to return to the one that started it all – it’s time to Return to Night of the Zealot. Published back in 2018, the box is a bit like the principle of the Nightmare decks for Lord of the Rings LCG, adding more depth and complexity to the game rather than simply making things more difficult. As well as the new cards to swap into the existing encounters, we get new player cards – upgrades to several of the staples from the core set, which is very nice.
The main story though is all about the changes to the scenarios that this box brings. The core set scenarios are, almost by definition, fairly basic, as they are designed to take us through the learning process for the game. We don’t get anything like as complicated as some of those in Path to Carcosa or The Circle Undone, because the Night of the Zealot campaign is designed to teach us how the game works. Return to Night of the Zealot therefore has the great opportunity to actually make something out of the box.
Return to The Gathering is probably the most-changed in this regard. This is the tutorial scenario, of course, and it is probably the most-played scenario out there, seeing as how it’s the starting point for us all! Things are subtly different, however, as we start off on a different path out of the study and find ourselves in a whole different house, it seems! There’s a definite change to the way the game plays, this time around – it feels different enough that I have to say it really stands out for me as a cracking way to implement this type of expansion.
The familiar story beats are all there, of course – the Ghoul Priest, the rats, all the rest of it. The only changes here for me are that I didn’t seem to end up getting the assistance of Lita Chandler, and for what I think was the first time in the many games with this scenario, I decided not to burn the house down!
Return to The Midnight Masks has much more subtle differences, with some alternate locations as well as alternative cultists for us to interrogate. There is also a whole different cultist deck to shuffle into the encounter deck. These new cultists are part of the Devourer’s Cult, which not only have doom added to them when they enter play, but can also steal clues to slow us down. Again, it’s not so much about making things difficult, but rather adding a new depth to the scenario.
Something that I particularly like about the expansion is the addition of achievements to tick off, as we attempt to play the scenarios and accomplish set goals. It’s a very simplistic way to add replayability to the game, for sure, but even so, it’s interesting as we attempt to explore the entire city of Arkham in this one, or interrogate all six cultists. Not entirely sure how that last could possibly happen, without some serious attempts to remove doom and stop the implacable advance, but anyway!
The Devourer Below is probably the closest to a “regular” scenario of the three from the core set, and the Return to The Devourer Below is perhaps the least-changed of the trio. We have a card that increases the health of Umôrdhoth (just what it needed!) and we have some different Ghouls, but that’s really where the additions end. It still plays quite difficult, and I am still left gobsmacked by how many close calls I end up with during it! Having just managed to collect enough clues to advance the final Act, doom picks up and the Agenda advances to 3b, where the Great Old One wakes up and we need to kill it. With no Lita Chandler to throw into the gaping maw of the beast, I was left to actually fight the thing, which was hardly easy! Agnes ended up dying, and with the last shreds of her sanity fraying, Trish used a Backstab to do the final points of damage.
What a victory!
This is a great design for an expansion, and one that I really enjoyed finally getting to play with after having had it all these years! For almost three years, I’ve had this thing principally for the fact that it’s a storage box, with some nice player cards that are useful across the board of course.
The biggest thing is naturally the new scenario cards that change things up. A couple of encounter sets are completely swapped out, otherwise each scenario has just a few tweaks with maybe two encounter cards added into the deck. And yet, these scenarios play out much more interestingly, for the most part.
I think a lot of people are down on this expansion in particular because the price point is the same as each subsequent Return To box, and yet the content is much lighter because there are only three scenarios involved, and not a full eight. If nothing else, the additional space in this box is useful for storing the tokens and some standalone scenarios. I definitely am a fan, at any rate!