Arkham Horror LCG musings

Hey everybody,
In the spirit of musing on board games I seem to be in right now, I thought that I’d muse a little on what has very nearly become my favourite living card game in the last twelve months, Arkham Horror LCG! It hasn’t yet tipped Lord of the Rings from the top spot, only because I have such affection for the earlier game, but I’ve had such fun playing this one across three campaigns so far, it’s certainly getting there!

I haven’t played it as often as I would have liked in the last few months, unfortunately, but now that the nights are drawing in (and there’s a reasonable chance that I can get an hour or two, with the kids being more settled!) I am finding myself gaming a bit more once again, so I think it’d be good to get back into this one! I have The Forgotten Age, The Dream-Eaters, and The Innsmouth Conspiracy campaigns all still to play through, with of course The Edge of the Earth campaign coming out sometime soon – I’m getting that last for my birthday/Christmas though, so it’ll be a while before that hits the table.

I had embarked on a campaign idea for playing some of the standalone scenarios, using Trish Scarborough and Agnes Baker after playing through Return to Night of the Zealot, though Agnes’ untimely death kinda put a downer on that one! But I think I’ll try to give it a go soon, maybe bringing her back from the dead to try out the print on demand scenarios if nothing else. However, I’ve got so much stuff for this game now that I haven’t yet played, I really need to get a move on.

Arkham Horror investigators

The five Investigator decks for Arkham Horror LCG have been a bit like gold dust since they were released last year- I guess supply issues are to blame. They’re a mix of new faces and old favourites here, with some very interesting ideas incorporated within each one. Harvey Walters and Jacqueline Fine are of course staples from the Arkham stable, but Stella, Winifred and Nathaniel are all new to the mythos.

Each deck is mono-class, and comes with a full play set of two copies of each card. Several cards are core set staples, so it’s nice to see these included for those players who don’t want to buy a second set. They also have class-specific upgrades for the neutral skill cards from the core set such as Overpower and Manual Dexterity. That was an interesting idea, as these have always felt pretty much at home in some classes, though of course I’m not the only person to use them to shore up weaknesses in other classes, too.

Arkham Horror investigators

Jacqueline Fine is a very interesting deck, to me, as it seems to have one thing that it just leans into: chaos token manipulation. There are the usual spells to use willpower in place of fight, evade and investigate attributes, with the odd bits and bobs to improve the willpower to boot, and then a whole load of different things that will allow her to manipulate the chaos bag. It’s not something that I’ve really thought of a great deal, when playing Mystics in the past I think I’ve always been attracted to other ways of building them, with only a couple of these sorts of cards involved. Mystic is one of my favourite classes though, so I can totally see myself taking this one out for a spin soon!

Arkham Horror investigators

Winifred Habbamock is a Native American with a reckless attitude to the rules. The deck principally seems to be all about passing skill tests with flying colours, and the more cards committed to each test, the more you get to draw. Another interesting thing, I find, as it really seems to drill down into just one of the core principles of the class. There’s a big theme around succeeding by at least 2, which gives the deck some unity, and the usual Rogue tricks to get there. I’m not hugely experienced with the Rogue class, though some of their cards are quite fun and I do feel like it would be interesting to build up a deck around the idea of multiple cards committed to each test. 

Arkham Horror investigators

The only other deck that I’ve really looked at is Stella Clark, the postal carrier. Once per round, you can take an extra turn when you fail a skill test, and the deck is all about interacting with failure at skill tests. Stella is of course of huge import to the mythos for being the first trans character, which has been a huge thing for the game. Survivors are a complicated class to my mind, though, so it’s definitely going to take some time to get into this deck. While playing through the Carcosa cycle last year, I thought I was finally getting to understand the Survivor class a bit, but after effectively a year off, I suppose it’d be like starting again now! Building a deck around losing tests seems like such a risky strategy, though, I’m not sure I’m brave enough for that just yet!

Nathaniel’s deck, god love him, really didn’t inspire me, as it seems to be principally concerned with just combat, so I’ve already sorted those cards into my main supply. I haven’t really looked at Harvey’s deck at all, either, so again I think there’s some homework for me there as I try to make sense of what I have!

The Investigator starter decks are very impressive products though, for coming with a whole deck plan for how to upgrade it over the course of a campaign. Of course, it’s prescriptive, but it does mean you could get one of these decks and shuffle up and play, without the need for deckbuilding – something I know that a lot of people don’t really enjoy. For those of us with huge collections, they offer a nice influx of new cards with which to build different decks. Part of me wants to keep the decks built for now, and give them a try to see how they work, but then part of me thinks why constrain myself like that? I did try Winifred and Stella at the Excelsior Hotel a while back, but whether it was the luck of the draw, or maybe just the pairing, they really didn’t work well like that. I wonder if they’ve been designed to work together to some extent, as part of a 4-player game?

As I said at the top, Arkham Horror LCG has really quickly become one of my all-time favourite games, and I think a large part of that was to do with the fact I was able to play so much of it twelve months ago, working my way through three excellent campaigns. I have such affection for this universe, though, I suppose really it’s no surprise that it would be up there in the top three. Playing these Arkham games can be such an incredibly immersive experience, it’s really rewarding to have a game that has a real campaign attached to it, and that sense of not knowing what to do that I recall from the Path to Carcosa campaign really feeds into that – you feel that you’re really living this game, somehow!

My plan, then, such as it is, will be to play through a couple of those stand-alone scenarios to get myself back into the swing of things, before then getting to another campaign! I’m really drawn to the Innsmouth campaign, now that I’ve finally picked up In Too Deep, though I’m also thinking it would perhaps make some sense to go for The Forgotten Age, as I missed that one out last year. It’s not essential to play them in order, of course, but I think it might be good to do so regardless. I find it difficult to choose because I like all of these settings! Innsmouth, Mesoamerica, Antarctica, they’re all just delightful!

Genestealer Cults in the Black Library!

Hey everybody,
It feels like it’s been a long few weeks as I’ve been reading some Genestealer Cults stories – or re-reading, that should be, as I have actually read both of these before, I’ve just never talked about them on the blog! As I’m still on the Cult kick at the minute (although painting has stopped due to lack of brushes!) I thought it was appropriate to get in the mood, and all that!

Cult of the Warmason is first on the list, and shows a Cult uprising on the shrineworld of Lubentina while the besieged Sisters of Battle attempt to put them down. There is a lot of story here, as we see the battle sisters defend the Warmason’s cathedral against the cultists. The Warmason of the title, Vadok Singh, was the man who helped design the defences around the Imperial Palace on Terra during the Heresy. The Ministorum clerical staff refuse to call for aid until it is too late, and when they think that the Adeptus Astartes have arrived to answer their call, instead it is revealed that the Iron Warriors have arrived to reclaim one of the relics in the cathedral. The cathedral becomes a nexus of the fighting, as the Astra Militarum, the Sisters, the Cult and then the Iron Warriors all converge upon it. The Cultists get the relic first, and so the Iron Warriors follow them into the catacombs below the surface, followed closely by the Sister Superior while all goes to hell up above. The Iron Warriors confront the Patriarch of the Cult, and eventually recover the relic, which turns out to be one of Perturabo’s flawed creations. In keeping with their primarch’s wishes, the launch the device into the sun, and leave the planet. While the world burns, the Sister Superior escapes Lubentina with the genestealer infection…

Like I said, there is a lot of story here, and it almost needs more space to be told at times, as the narrative feels a bit like it jumps around a bit too much. I love the inertia of the ruling Ecclesiarchy and Ministorum council, and there is something wonderfully gothic and very 40k about the flashpoint being centred around a monumental cathedral. However, the story did feel a little bit like it shouldn’t have been constrained by a page count, which is something a lot of Black Library books almost have in common. Perhaps if the Iron Warriors storyline hadn’t been included, things would have had the room to breathe a bit more? I believe that plot links in to the Space Marines Battles novel Siege of Castellax, also by CL Werner, which is on my list to investigate at some point, so maybe I’ll think differently when I’ve read the background there!

However, I also think the novel suffers a little from comparisons with the next book that I read…

Cult of the Spiral Dawn is the rebranded novel from Peter Fehervari originally published as part of the Legends of the Dark Millennium series, back (I think) when the original Genestealer Cults codex came out at the end of 7th Edition. There are a lot of similar ideas to the Warmason book; Sisters of Battle and Astra Militarum fighting the Genestealer Cults uprising on a remote world, but there the similarities end. Spiral Dawn is somehow a lot more complex, and yet also a more compelling read. It starts with the genestealers besieging the abbey stronghold of the Sisters of the Thorn Eternal on the planet Redemption 219, then fast-forwards a century to the arrival on world of a group of pilgrims seeking the light of the Emperor through the Cult of the Spiral Dawn, an officially-sanctioned sect of the Imperial creed. However, when the pilgrims land, a hundred are pressganged into the Vassago Black Flags regiment of the Astra Militarum, who are on some obscure guard duty, though nobody has explained to them what they’re guarding. The tension mounts from the Imperial side, while we get some glimpses into the activities of the Cult and their kindred followers, until it all boils over with the emergence of the Primus war-leader. The colonel of the Black Flags is almost seduced by the Magus, but in so-doing he learns of the existence and location of the Spiral Father, and launches an assault with his ogryn bodyguard while the on-world Inquisition presence also launches its assault. Despite the carnage of the assault, three of the purestrains manage to escape Redemption for deep space…

Also included in here is Cast a Hungry Shadow, a short story that takes place within the narrative of the novel, dealing with the early years of the genestealer infestation and filling in some blanks around the betrayal of the Sisters. There are some interesting threads in the story, which felt a little confused towards the end, but ultimately it is the tale of the cult securing their hold on Redemption, the discovery of an untrained psyker hiding beneath one of the spires who is taken in by the genestealers to birth their Magus. There are some interesting scenes in the story, particularly involving another cult, called the Scorched Creed, which may or may not be a Chaos Cult dedicated to Khorne.  

I do think that Cult of the Spiral Dawn is one of my favourite 40k novels. I hadn’t really realised that I’d read it before – I mean, I knew that I’d read the Legends hardcover, but I didn’t remember which one that book was. It’s a really good story – some of it could perhaps do with a bit more meat for the bones, and help to further the atmosphere, but it’s still a really good story. It’s also my first exposure to Peter Fehervari’s Dark Coil … series? I’m not sure if you could call it that, but all of the 40k stories that he has written are linked in subtle ways, either with shared characters or worlds, etc. It’s an incredibly interesting way to write in a shared universe and carve out a niche without limiting yourself to staying in a random corner. The links in this book to the Fire and Ice novella, for example, give the sense of history without feeling forced, if that makes sense. It’s really good, anyway – I like it a lot! And will no doubt be investigating more of these stories in the not-too-distant future!

Hellboy Musings

It’s been more than two years since I took delivery of that big box full of evil goodness, and in that time, I’ve managed to play it a grand total of just four times. Four times! It’s shocking, even though I have moved house and had two children in that time! I honestly don’t know why I’ve not wanted to get it to the table, either, as it is a really nice dungeon crawler. It reminds me of Descent in many ways, but with a much more unique theme than the fairly generic (by comparison) fantasy realm of Terrinoth.

The box is huge though, being a Kickstarter game and all, full of miniatures that basically make up two fairly substantial expansions, plus a few smaller ones, as well as the main base game. It can be quite off-putting, and it has got me thinking about either splitting the box up, so that it’s much more clear what I’m looking for, or else making a list (who doesn’t love a list?) of everything and where it belongs. It never ceases to amaze me, when I look at this game, just what precisely is the actual base game.

I’ve played the tutorial three times now, as well as one of the “proper” case files once. The tutorial game is a bit drab by comparison to the main game, as I think a lot of other commentators have said. When I played the game last week, I did veer away from the tutorial and found it to be a bit better. You’re still going up against an incessant number of frogs though, which does get a bit boring… I think if you had the retail core set and played this tutorial, without any of the additional bits and bobs, I could well imagine a lot of people might feel this is hardly a game worth keeping.

Once you get past the tutorial game, of course, things can be pretty exciting. There is some level of customisation available through the Requisition cards, something that is almost tucked into the back of the rule book, but which does give a bit more to the game. In a two-player game, you get 8 points to spread around among the agents, from extra equipment to backup agents. The main thing, though, is getting to play with more of those wonderful minis that are weighing the box down so much!

Rasputin is of course a classic Hellboy villain, especially after his appearance in the film, and it was great to play against him in my one and only game outside of the tutorial game. But looking through the Kickstarter bits and pieces, and trying to get a sense of what it all is in there, and I’m particularly intrigued by the idea of the Unexpected Threats. This mechanic allows you to include up to three random enemies in the deck of doom – so you have the chance to come up against Ilsa Haupstein or Karl Ruprecht Kroenen, which again is rather magnificent to see! The scenarios are mainly geared towards that final Big Boss confrontation, while the comics do have a lot of small threats because so many of them are short stories.

The Kickstarter box comes full of stuff that supports the BPRD Archives expansion, a way to allow for near-infinite replayability to the game. The main Archives expansion comes with a series of generic case file cards, split into seven types, which are put together to create a custom scenario to play. So it’s a bit like a guided custom thing, if that makes sense. There are cards which determine the setup, the minions, and so on, providing random twists as we go much like the main case files. I think it’s really cool to see the expansions building on this, though, and giving yet more cards to feed into this custom generator. I’ve not really dabbled much at all with the expansion yet, mainly just looking through it all to see what’s in there. But there is something of the random nature of the Hellboy comics that comes through here, with the support to allow for games against random witches and swarms of bats.

With the additional amount of Kickstarter content, though, the possible case files become kinda ridiculous in their scope, and it really feels like an endless array of stuff that you’ve got to enjoy. I think this is an expansion that I can see being one of the go-to sets in the future, where I just fancy a bit of a random game involving all manner of weird stuff. I mean, while it seems meant to be completely random, there’s nothing to stop you from pre-selecting a couple from each deck, and then making the final selection random, to help give a bit more theme. Or perhaps pre-selecting the final confrontation, and the journey there will be a bit more random? The scope is fairly huge, really!

I’ve not made a tremendous amount of in-roads with the Box Full of Evil, either, but that thing is also choc-full of miniatures! It contains two expansions, plus additional bits and pieces from the original Kickstarter, such as the Oni and the Floating Heads. The sheer amount of options for this game is staggering, to say the least, and it’s going to take a long time to work through things! I suppose that’s part of the issue, of course, because the game has almost been designed for built-in replayability, with a myriad of monsters and such that make no two games exactly the same. It does this almost at the expense of any kind of campaign system, but then the comics don’t really tell a linear story.

But then, as I’ve said before, I kinda like the fact that this is a game that you can set up and play, without worrying about any bookkeeping. It’s nice to have the RPG feel of a campaign brought into some games, for sure – but some games are just nice to pick up and play, you know? And Hellboy is definitely one such game, designed for straightforward fun with next to no fuss. The co-op aspect is fantastic too, and the fact you can decide on the order of each agent’s actions, rather than each agent taking their whole turn at once, is a fantastic way to keep the whole group involved. I’ve read a few reviews where people recommend three agents at a minimum, and I can definitely see me trying this at my next game; two seems much more all-or-nothing, somehow. Certainly, in my last game we had our asses handed to us by the Giant Frog Monster!

That’s for sure part of the appeal of this game, however. It feels like it’s straight out of the comics, where Hellboy is routinely thrown into a brick wall by a wayward tentacle (gonna be sore in the mornin’!) but nobody is an absolute pushover if the team works together. It’s definitely one that I want to play more often, so hopefully I’ll be talking again about the game before we see the end of 2021!

Arkham Horror: Third Edition

Hey everybody,
Today’s game day blog has been a long time coming, let me tell you! Today, I’m finally getting round to talking about the third edition of Arkham Horror! I first played this game in January, and have been meaning to do a first impressions blog pretty much ever since! Having recently returned to board games to some extent, though, I thought now would be a good time to feature this game here. So, without further ado, let’s dive in!

Arkham Horror 3rd edition

The third edition of Arkham Horror came out in 2018, so I’m already late to the party. It’s had a pretty huge makeover since the second edition, as well, no longer having the traditional board that represents the city of Arkham, but rather a series of tiles that are interconnected to form the map for each scenario. This is now most definitely a scenario-driven game, as opposed to the classic “just try to survive” of the earlier version, which I suppose could be boiled down to the same game each time you play it, just with various tweaks and so forth.

Arkham Horror 3rd edition

Third edition is built to give you a new experience each time, through the use of scenarios tied to the Great Old Ones, rather than simply going up against them that we’re used to. The game was redesigned by Nikki Valens, who was also heavily involved (if not responsible for) the ongoing development of Eldritch Horror after the core set, and so there are a number of classic Arkham Files beats coming through loud and clear.

Arkham Horror 3rd edition

Each scenario has got its own win condition, and you don’t always know what you need to do to win. This was a little bit disconcerting to me at first, because I had a bit of AP as I tried to decide what to do with my actions. But then I just embraced it all and it’s actually an incredibly effective and thematic way to go about this type of game! The game uses this idea of the “codex”, a collection of cards placed next to the scenario sheet, which represents the changing objectives throughout the game. So you’re not simply trying to gather clues to throw at the monster, or whatever, and there are both success and failure paths to follow as the story unfolds. It takes some getting used to, but it’s actually really nice and very flavourful when you get into it.

The game is played across 4 Phases. To start with, there’s the action phase, where the investigators get to do their thing. The monster phase comes next, with monsters moving and attacking the investigators. The AI for monsters is somehow slicker than 2nd edition, which was itself quite nicely done. Here, they either move to a specific investigator, or to a specific location, or they just cause chaos by adding doom. Monsters are represented with cards in this edition though, which is a little more tricky to manage on the board than the tokens of 2nd edition or other Arkham games.

Arkham Horror 3rd edition

The encounter phase is next, and this is similar to other iterations where you draw a card and have a short adventure, usually involving a skill test of some sort. Some encounters have been seeded into the deck by the scenario, and will allow you to further the investigation with clues. The last phase is the mythos phase, where players draw a token from the mythos cup, and resolve its effect. These can spawn clues to spawn monsters, resolve the reckoning effects of cards in play, or resolving a headline – a new type of card that kind of acts a little like mythos cards of old. The tokens are interesting because there are also blank ones, which add an element of surprise, but you also don’t throw them back into the bag after drawing them until all have been drawn, so you can get an idea for how good or bad a mythos phase is going to be, based on what has already come out.

At its core, third edition is very much a blend of second edition and Eldritch Horror, with some new or streamlined elements that make it feel very much like a new game. While I’ve been happy to play and replay second edition many times, I think third edition has an increased replayability simply from the scenario aspect. The Codex is a very interesting idea as well, as it contains a bunch of numbered cards that are added in as determined by how the game is going, but are used in varying ways across the scenarios, allowing for some interesting gameplay as time goes on.

Arkham Horror 3rd edition

Gates don’t really exist in this edition – instead we have Anomalies, which don’t appear in every scenario, but are functionally the same as Gates of old. You can enter an Anomaly and have an encounter, which might help to seal it, or you can attempt to Ward Doom to prevent one opening in the first place. An interesting addition is the Remnant token, which some monsters leave behind when you defeat them, or from removing multiple Doom tokens with a Ward Doom action. They can later be spent for profit or to help with casting spells, which I find super thematic!

Third edition is a very different, very interesting game that I think definitely needs a lot more exploration to see what it has to offer. I find it a very interesting amalgamation, between Eldritch Horror and Arkham Horror second edition. There are also elements from the card game present, in terms of how the game is strongly tied towards the scenario, and being a big fan of that game it is very nice to see.

I do like second edition, and the opportunity that it has for telling your own stories. I do love Eldritch Horror, and the global scale of adventure and exploration that it gives us. I also love the card game, as has been well-chronicled here on this blog over the last twelve months! This third edition doesn’t have anything that I could say really detracts from it, in my view. It’s a solid addition to the game line, pulling elements from across several other games to make something very thematic from the previous version.

So far, we’ve had two small box expansions, and one big-box, coming at a rate of one per year. So we’re seeing a fairly steady stream, but nothing that seems to be difficult to keep up with. In a new move for me, I’ve not bought into any of these yet, although I have been eyeing up the most recent one, Secrets of the Order, as I love anything to do with the Order of the Silver Twilight! It will be interesting to see how these expansions integrate into the base game, in the fullness of time of course! For now, I definitely need to try and play the core set some more, even if I just play each of the four scenarios once!