Edge of the Earth: The Heart of Madness

Hey everybody,
I’ve finally completed the Edge of the Earth campaign for Arkham Horror LCG! I think this one was started at the end of August, so it’s taken me three months or so to get here, but I have finally done it. The final scenario in the campaign is a bit like the first, in that it is a long game that offers players the chance of using a checkpoint to check the game halfway through. The difference here is that we actually have a choice whether we play the first part at all, or just rush for the conclusion.

I opted to play it this time, so spent some time studying the great portal before going through, thinking I would learn something that would be of great benefit to me in the next part. We’re near the end now, having explored the city of the Elder Things and made our way to its beating heart. This heart of the complex, however, looks like the Elder Things were actually running from something. Unfortunately, whether through lack of comprehension or something, I spent way too long on part one! During part one, we are seeking runes by exploring locations and paying clues etc, but while some locations allow us to find these runes, others allow us to activate them. There isn’t really any explanation about why we’d want to do this, although the act is advanced when an activated rune is placed on the central gate location – I didn’t realise we could enter this location (I thought I had read that we actually couldn’t), so was playing almost the whole thing wrong! As such, I kinda fluffed the ending so that it was closer to what I would have done, without being entirely in my favour.

Part two then begins in mostly the same way, with the same sprawling map that we have to explore. This time, we’re trying to damage the huge pylons that hold up the roof, hoping to trap the nameless horror in here. As the pylon locations are explored, you can trade the clues for damage, and each has hit points equal to the number of clues; you can also fight them, and their fight value is equal to the shroud value. This proved to be a much more effective strategy, and I had Patrice collapsing the cavern with her .18 Derringer until it ran dry, then using Wither and all sorts of craziness to bring down the roof. Trish was able to get one pillar down, but really Patrice became the star of the show at this point!

However, the last stage of the agenda is really interesting, because we’re no longer placing doom but instead spawning these massive Nameless Madness monsters, which cannot take damage. What’s worse, when we finally bring down the roof, everything is re-organised into a series of ramp locations, and an exit – the act and agenda are replaced with a single objective: Run! We need to test evade to move between locations though, so Patrice was almost left behind when Trish was running.

In the end, through a combination of luck and probably some mis-plays, I was able to escape!

Campaign Thoughts
I can’t say that this has been my all-time favourite campaign, but I think part of this might be down to the fact I had competing priorities, and it took me a while to play it. The extended downtime between parts one and two of the first scenario in particular did somewhat ruin things for me. It’s a very different way of playing, and while the campaign does have a variable length insofar as you can opt to skip certain parts, it is still quite linear as you move through. I believe that the next box, The Scarlet Keys, does things differently in that you have to play a minimum number of scenarios, but you choose which ones and in which order? That seems more like what I had been expecting from this – the box is almost like a hybrid, as it tries to shake up the traditional cycle order we’ve been used to, but it’s almost for the sake of it, as the story being told is still quite linear.

There is a significant chunk, therefore, that I haven’t played with from this box. It makes it great to come back to at some point, and I think after a suitable break that’s exactly what I will do. Knowing more about what is involved now, I think I’ll pick some suitable investigators and maybe try my hand making some different choices in an effort to change things up. Although ultimately I’m going to be playing that scenario where I’m punching pylons and then escaping up the ramp again.

While I haven’t even bought it yet, I suppose The Scarlet Keys will play much more like a board game / RPG style campaign, when you play the scenario, and keep a track of what happened, with the possibility of going up against stuff in a far more random manner? Who knows! 

The snow tokens in the chaos bag were a big nightmare for me, and I think in part I made some bad choices which added far too many in early on. Even though I only ended up with five of them in the bag, they still seemed to come out to see me an awful lot! Snow tokens give -1 to a skill test and force another token reveal, but they are not removed from the bag when revealed (like bless/curse tokens are), and two tokens revealed together is an auto-fail. I seemed to draw a lot during the latter part of the campaign, and I found them increasingly annoying when Trish would have entire turns of doing nothing due to the fact she would draw two of them consecutively. An extremely irritating aspect of the campaign, I have to say!

However, I did find the storyline interesting. It did seem contrived at first – we’re going back, even knowing what Professor Dyer uncovered there. But it was really interesting to see the Lovecraft storyline expanded upon and furthered, in terms of what the Elder Things were up to, etc.

My Team
The two investigators I took with me to the frozen continent were actually a really interesting team. Patrice has been a bit of a discovery for me, as she has a very interesting and engaging playstyle – you discard her entire hand at the end of the round, and draw back up to 5 cards. Playing in this manner means you’ll probably see your entire deck at least once per game, so you don’t need to worry too much about not getting the clutch cards. But the downside is, unless you can afford to play everything you’re drawing, it might not be all that great for you! In addition to discarding useful items due to low funds, you also run the risk of drawing things at the wrong time, so that can be an issue as well, but overall I think it’s a really fascinating investigator, and I would say she is up there as one of my favourites!

Trish is an investigator that I have wanted to use for a while, and did make some effort last year to use her alongside Agnes Baker in a campaign, but left her deck assembled and have now been able to enjoy her for a full campaign here! Survivors are a class that I have trouble with, but Rogues are a class that I am woefully inexperienced with overall, so the pairing aimed to help with that. I have to say that Trish has been very interesting, although unfortunately a lot of her abilities around evading then damaging or investigating didn’t seem to come off for me. There are some really cool Rogue cards that I wish I had seen more of, or at the right time, so I think my next team might well feature another Rogue character!

More Thoughts
I was playing with “old” investigators, of course, but in addition to the campaign box, we do have the investigator expansion as well, with the new guys and gals there. Now, I have already played with Lily Chen from this expansion when I went through The Forgotten Age, and I think it’s a very interesting investigator design. See, each of the five starts out with level 0 cards of their professed class, Lily being a Mystic, but they then level up through a completely different class, in Lily’s case through Guardian. It was only recently pointed out to me that this symbolises the investigators thinking they’re something they’re not, and how their experiences with the mythos changes them: Lily thinks she is reliant on her spiritual side, but ends up resorting to her martial training to get through the ordeal. Daniela Reyes is a Guardian character who levels up through Survivor, symbolising how she thinks she can take on the world, but her experiences leave her struggling to make it through in one piece, etc. It’s a really cool concept, and I definitely feel like playing more of these in the future.

Final Thoughts
I’m struggling to not say that I disliked the campaign, because deep down, I didn’t. I think it’s just so far removed from what I think of as Arkham Horror that it felt just too different. It was really difficult at times, as well, almost to the point of being not-fun. While that has happened in the past, it tends to be few and far between. This time, it almost felt like I was getting the box down just so I could endure a couple of beatings, and then put it back again – which probably explained why I took so long to play the whole thing. Taking three months to play a campaign is definitely a long way from playing Dunwich or Carcosa in the space of a week or less.

I suppose this is something that becomes almost inevitable, as we see games expanded so far, though. Edge of the Earth is the seventh campaign expansion for the game (if we don’t count the core set), so we’ve gone through a lot of design space in that time. I’ve already talked about how one of the scenarios felt like one from the Carcosa campaign, but it does seem a bit like one way to expand the game is to simply ramp up the difficulty, which in a game like this is never good: this might be the first expansion someone buys, after all. We already have a way to make it more difficult, by adjusting the chaos bag. We don’t need to be brow-beaten during the campaign as well!

However, the difficulty could also be seen as on-point for symbolising the harsh conditions on Antarctica, especially when we see members of the party just die in front of us, etc. Now, I have to say, I didn’t really play the Partner allies as much as I would have expected. I found it interesting when reading the designer’s commentary in the back of the book, where MJ says she hopes we grew to care about these people – I certainly didn’t get that attached! It’s curious, actually, because I barely used any allies in the decks, as well – I think Trish has two, though I only ever played one of them (I just didn’t draw the other). Without being a sociopath, I suppose they just weren’t high on my priority list, and while the ally who gives you a base investigation skill of 5 was occasionally useful, otherwise I just wasn’t really taking account of them, and so their deaths were not much of an inconvenience to me!

I said recently that I think I want to try to have a break from these sorts of campaigns for a while, because I was finding that my game time was almost forced into playing this game (or Lord of the Rings) to keep the campaign going. While I do want to have more flexibility of course, and enjoy a lot more of the games from my collection, I am drawn back to this game so much that I think I will probably try to play another campaign soon! I’ve already said that I fancy trying out another Rogue, although I also thought about playing a Mystic/Seeker combo as well, so I think I might well be building some more decks in the near future! Whether I try again with Innsmouth, or attempt the Dream-Eaters, who knows! I do think I need to try and play these campaigns that I haven’t yet explored before I go back again over the older ones, though. But then, a big part of me is kinda wanting to try out Dunwich again!

At any rate, I’m hoping that I can play a lot more games in the foreseeable future, and don’t be surprised if one of them is Arkham Horror LCG!