Mansions of Madness

Hey everybody!
Happy Halloween! While I don’t really go in for all the spooky stuff personally, I always try to feature a thematic game here on my game day blog, and today’s offering is something I’ve been wanting to get round to for a long time – let’s enter the Mansions of Madness!

Mansions of Madness

(This blog is about 1st Edition, which is currently the only edition that I have played).

Mansions of Madness is an utterly fantastic game. I need to tell you this right at the top, because this entire post will be coloured quite significantly by my love of this game. It was released back in 2011, I picked it up a year later, and had my first game with it around Christmastime. As usual, I played with my regular gaming buddy Tony, and we played through the first scenario, The Fall of House Lynch. While we were certainly enjoying playing the game, despite taking time to actually learn the ropes as we went, once the game was over we had a sort of joint moment of awe at what we’d just experienced. Despite the fact that this game took place almost five years ago now, I can still remember, quite vividly, both of us sort of leaning back from the table when it was over, and letting out a simultaneous “whoa” at how good this game is. Immersive just doesn’t seem to cover it. The game was spectacular – it was incredible, in the very truest sense of the word!

Okay, so enough with the rhapsodizing, let’s take a look at the game.

Mansions of Madness is a one-vs-many game that has its closest parallel (for me) in Descent, where one player takes on the role of the Keeper, while the rest of the group play as the standard stock of Arkham Investigators. The Keeper is an interesting role because, unlike the Overlord of Descent, he is part antagonist but also part DM, and I feel sometimes that people might miss the subtlety of this. Sure, as the Keeper you’re trying to defeat the Investigators, but there is a responsibility to ensure that the story that the game is trying to tell is told. If you play as the Keeper and sit there brooding evilly all game, then it’s not going to be a great experience. I’ve always played this game as the Keeper, so I guess I have more to say about this part than that of the Investigators.

Mansions of Madness

Let’s start with the board. Mansions of Madness is a scenario-based game, and you get five of them in the core set. The board is modular depending on each scenario, with room tiles placed as shown in the set-up guide. It is then the Keeper’s responsibility to “seed” cards in the rooms according to his own set-up guide. Each scenario has up to six distinct parts where the Keeper can make a choice – does he pick choice A, B or C for part one? These story choices determine which Clue cards are seeded into the rooms. The rooms also include items that the Investigators can claim, but many also have traps or locks to overcome before they can be discovered. The set-up guide is crucial for ensuring the cards are placed so that they are encountered in the correct order – locks are no good on the bottom of the pile, after all!

Mansions of Madness

Once the cards are placed, the Investigators set about exploring the Mansion. They’re trying to solve a mystery that is read out by the Keeper at the start of the game, and Mansions of Madness is one of the relatively few board games where flavour text simply must be read during the course of the game! It certainly helps with the theme, and relates to what I was talking about earlier, where the Keeper is part-DM in his role. The Investigators don’t actually get to know ahead of time what they need to do to win, so it’s critical to pay attention to the story, and not just charge about trying to gather up stuff. Though, like any good RPG, it’s always good to get stuff! It’s really cool how the Investigators get to actually make real-time choices about what to do, based on the story being told, and not just some random whim.

Something that really blew me away when I first played this game was the fact that the Investigators will often come across some locked item, either a door or a suitcase, and in order to overcome this obstacle, they need to solve a real, actual puzzle. Normally in these sorts of games, a player would just roll some dice and add a modifier to determine this, but no! There are a variety of different puzzles that you have to physically solve, such as the wiring puzzle shown above. Harvey Walters can have an Intellect of 7 (more on this shortly), meaning that he has up to 7 moves in this puzzle. Moves include rotating a piece 90º, swapping adjacent pieces, or removing a piece entirely and drawing a new one. In the above example, I actually managed it in 5 moves, which is fine for Harvey, but other characters might not fare so well!

Mansions of Madness

When you set up your Investigator character at the start of the game, you take the character’s card, then choose one of two Strength cards, and one of two Intellect cards, which give you the total stats for that character in the game. It’s an interesting way of mixing things up and, while you can’t alter your stats over the course of the game like Arkham Horror, it’s still a nice way of ensuring Investigators don’t always feel the same right out of the box.

The Keeper can interact with the Investigators in a variety of ways, using a currency of threat points. Over the course of each round, the Keeper gets a number of threat counters equal to the number of players, and he can use these to pay the costs on a number of different cards, such as the Mythos cards or Action cards. These can be played to either slowly increase the madness, or to suddenly go all-out and really spring the traps of the mansion!

Several of these cards do direct damage to the Investigators, and in true Arkham Horror-style, the Investigators can be both physically and mentally crippled over the course of the game. However, it’s not all shadowy-Keeper versus the Investigators, as there are a variety of monsters lurking in the dark places of the mansion, and the Keeper can use these to attack the Investigators head-on. Unlike in other Arkham-universe games, the monsters in Mansions of Madness are actual miniatures, though they also come with cardboard chits that slide into their bases for that classic Arkham Horror feel.

Mansions of Madness

The combat system in the game is card-based, which I seem to remember was somewhat in vogue around this time, with a few big games featuring cards rather than dice to resolve attacks. Dungeonquest has a similar kind of system, off the top of my head…

Mansions of Madness

So, rather than simply rolling dice and adding modifiers for strength, you determine what class of monster you’re attacking – humanoid (blue), beast (brown) or eldritch (green) and determine what weapon, if any, you’re using to go at it. You then draw cards from the appropriate deck until you find a card you can resolve – that is, a card that describes an attack with the type of weapon you’re using. There is still a dice element involved, as the cards will often ask you to test your Strength or something, but it’s overall a very different implementation of playing a board game.

You’ll no doubt notice that the cards above are split in two – this is because the same cards are used if an Investigator attacks a monster, or a monster attacks an Investigator. In my experience, it can be quite common for these decks to cycle through at least a couple of times over the course of a game, though subsequent expansions brought out more of them to add some variety!

Mansions of Madness

In addition to all of this, there is also an Event deck going on irrespective of what both Keeper and Investigators are up to in the mansion. This Event deck consists of five cards, one of which is drawn after a set number of turns has elapsed, and its effects are resolved by the Keeper based on the story choices he made during the set-up. In the Fall of House Lynch scenario, the Objective card is revealed when the fourth event card is drawn, and this Objective then determines what happens. It’s an interesting way to keep something of a timer on the game, ensuring that you don’t end up just endlessly wandering about durdling, but in all of the games that I’ve played, I have never felt like these cards got in the way of the flow of the game.

Indeed, the whole game in general just flows very smoothly. For sure, it flows much better if you have experienced players – particularly an experienced Keeper – but despite the weight of stuff in the core set box, it does actually feel quite streamlined and, dare I say, intuitive when you start playing. Don’t get me wrong, there are a bajillion moving parts in this game, and it can be something of a nightmare to deal with, but if you just sit back and immerse yourselves in the story, you will be rewarded beyond your imagination!

I hear that Second Edition has streamlined the game somewhat, not least by relegating the role of Keeper to an app. I thought it surprising the new edition finally added actual new Investigators to the pool of Arkham Horror denizens – Agatha Crane, Carson Sinclair and Father Mateo join the ranks of Harvey Walters, Jenny Barnes and “Ashcan” Pete! I was initially dismayed to learn that the Keeper had been removed, and it strikes me that the app feels more like playing a video game than a tabletop board game. I haven’t actually purchased the new edition, but I’m nevertheless intrigued as to whether the new Investigators will make the shift into those Arkham games that I do follow!

Interestingly, there was an article published on the FFG website earlier this year that talked about Mansions of Madness – and more broadly about Arkham games in general – and their family-friendly theme. It’s not something I’d thought about before, but these games can actually feel like a horror movie when done right. Is that the sort of thing you want to play through with your kids? Mansions of Madness has a rating of “ages 14+”, while Arkham Horror is 12+, which I’m really surprised by. Though I suppose the threat in the older game is somewhat more magical, whereas games of Mansions often involve blood-crazed maniacs trying to hack off your leg with an axe, and the like. There’s something more visceral, I suppose, and it can be quite terrifying to younger children if you have a good Keeper…

At any rate, I cannot recommend this game enough, certainly at this time of year!!

Let the campaign commence!

Hey everybody!
It’s time for another game day blog here at spalanz.com, and today I wanted to talk a bit about the Arkham Horror LCG, which I’ve started to play again as part of a campaign rather than just the one-off games I had back at Christmas while I was learning the ropes. I know I’m a bit late to the party on this one, as the game has been incredibly popular for months already, but I thought I’d just ramble a bit about it all, and then talk about the first game in the Night of the Zealot campaign that I had a couple of weeks ago!

Arkham Horror LCG

Deck-building
Before I go any further, I think it’s probably useful to have read my earlier blog where I talk a lot about my reactions to the game after playing through each of the core set scenarios. Back then, I was playing as Roland Banks with the starter deck suggested in the rulebook, and I didn’t feel any need to deck-build throughout the attempts. I was gaining experience, as I was trying out the campaign back then also, but the deck-building options just didn’t really do anything for me.

This time around, I’m playing different decks, headed up by Skids O’Toole and Daisy Walker. The Ex-Con and the Librarian; it’s got rom-com written all over it! Again, I’ve just mashed the ten level-0 cards from each of their possible character classes, along with ten level-0 neutral cards, to form the decks to start with. However, right from the off, I’m seeing how it can be exceptionally useful to actually deck-build here, and I’m now considering buying a second core set in order to widen my options.

The decks that are possible with the core set cards just feel very narrow, I think because we only get one copy of each class card and, to build a 30-card deck for the investigator, we need therefore to include all of those class cards. With two core sets, you could use two copies (the maximum allowed) of five cards, and refine your deck accordingly. I’m sure you don’t need me to lecture you on the art of deck-building, of course, but I think it’s worth pointing out anyway. While I’m writing this blog, I still haven’t pulled the trigger on a second core set, mainly because I’m in the middle of buying a house, but I do foresee getting it before the end of the summer, for sure.

Campaign Play
Something that I talked about at some length in my earlier blog was the idea that I didn’t want to play the core set scenarios again after the first run-through, due to the fact I knew what was happening in the story there. While this is true, and is probably the biggest factor in my not picking the game up again for the last six months, I found the game to still hold a lot of my attention despite this factor this time around.

One thing that was immediately apparent was the added benefits and disadvantages of playing with more than one investigator. For a start, the number of clues spawned at locations was doubled, meaning the game was potentially sped up that much more. However, the number of encounter cards drawn was also doubled, but as these cards were – either by accident or design – predominantly affecting the investigator who drew them, it didn’t really impact on the game overall. For example, Skids drew a card that forced him to make a skill test, then Daisy drew a card that affected the location only she was at.

Comparisons with Lord of the Rings LCG have been made all over the place, naturally, and I don’t think they’re particularly wrong, but the way the encounter deck is built with predominantly treachery effects rather than enemies means that adding more investigators usually isn’t as much a hindrance to the game as it is for the older LCG. Of course, oftentimes you do need to spend clues equal to the number of investigators to advance the act deck, leading to a nice sense of balance in the game overall.

I’m surprised at how little overall impact knowing how the story ends actually had on my enjoyment of the game this time around, however. I still managed to defeat the Ghoul Priest (mainly thanks to some very lucky cards from Skids, I have to say!) and I still opted to burn my house down – but knowing this would be coming didn’t stop me from having a good time! So that was very pleasing!

Arkham Horror LCG

The Gathering
So I’ve completed the first scenario, and both investigators managed to score six Victory points by the end of the game. Skids O’Toole has gained the company of the lovely zealot Lita Chandler, and I’ve used two of his experience points to upgrade the deck. One point went on upgrading the Leo De Luca ally, and with the second I swapped out Pickpocketing for some Extra Ammunition. With only two target cards for this in the deck, I think that’ll be one of the first things I do when I upgrade to a second core set!

Daisy didn’t seem to have as many interesting options, however. I’ve upgraded her Magnifying Glass, but that’s it. I was hoping I could get a few more Tome assets, but again, with only one core set, the pickings are slim. Of course, once I truly get underway, I should have more options from the Dunwich cards as well!

Something that I found really interesting, however, was just how much this process actually felt like a real RPG. The ability to level-up your character has, at its core, a sense of where you want that character to go. Do you choose to level-up their combat ability, or their mental attributes instead? In doing so, I feel like I made a conscious decision to refine the Skids deck into something less self-serving than the Rogue cards he starts out with make it feel. His character story tells of how he stole in order to pay for his mother’s operation, yet she died while he was in prison. There’s a noble streak to the character, and so I want to try and make something more of that, if I can, through the deck-building options. In something of a similar vein, Daisy is all about reading books, but the addition of the Mystic class to her deck allows her to actually gain knowledge from all that reading – in the form of spells. I’m considering making her something of a cleric-style character, therefore, though I need a wider card pool to choose from to do this. At any rate, I thought this was a really interesting aspect of the game, and one that I hadn’t quite expected to come across so well!

So the house has burnt down, and Skids has got four experience points and one point of mental trauma for his trouble. Daisy still has five experience points left to use, so hopefully she’ll be able to get more for them after the next scenario!

I’m hoping to write these campaign updates on a semi-regular basis, so stay tuned to see how well my daring duo get on!

Arkham Horror LCG!

Hey everybody!
It’s time for another game day here at spalanz.com, and today I’m taking a look at the new Arkham Horror LCG from Fantasy Flight Games, having finally gotten around to playing through the campaign last week!

As a warning, this is a story-driven game, and I will be discussing some mild spoilers, so if you want a totally fresh experience, you might want to skip to the end!

Arkham Horror LCG

I was off work last week for the annual pre-Christmas break, so finally spent some time learning the game. I think one of the reasons why I haven’t really gone in for a lot of new games recently is a bit of laziness on my part, as I can’t really find the time to settle down properly with a game and investigate how it all works. However, I gave myself an afternoon to work out Arkham Horror LCG and, I have to say, it all went off like a dream!

I’ve already talked about a lot of the mechanics in this previous blog, so I don’t want to re-hash the rules again now. What I will say, though, is the similarities with the Lord of the Rings LCG are surprising – though both games were designed by Nate French, so I suppose in retrospect that shouldn’t be such a surprise. However, here’s a brief summary that should allow the rest of this blog to make sense…

You play an investigator looking into the mysterious goings-on in Arkham, and have three actions you can take on your turn, such as moving between locations, drawing cards and fighting monsters. When you’re done, any monsters engaged with you will fight you, then you get to draw a card and gain one resource (used to play these cards) before the Mythos Phase, where the evil agendas of the cultists are advanced and a card is drawn from the Encounter deck. These Encounter cards are either monsters or, more frequently, threat-style cards that can either have a one-time effect or a more persistent effect.

There is an Act deck that the investigators advance by spending clues, gained from investigating the locations on offer. Each scenario you play comes with specific Acts (usually three, from what I can see) and Agendas (varying numbers), as well as a scenario-specific Encounter set, then a bunch of other Encounter sets much like how Lord of the Rings scenarios are built. You need to advance the Acts before the Agendas have advanced, whereupon you determine the Resolution. There is a campaign included in the core set, Night of the Zealot, which is made out of three scenarios that build up a story of cultists trying to raise up an Ancient One out in the woods (what else?), and each scenario features rules and events that are based on what you did as investigators in the previous scenario.

Arkham Horror LCG

So, let’s talk about the game!

I just want to get this out there from the off: I absolutely love this game! I bought it a fair few weeks ago now, and can’t believe I’ve had it just lying around unplayed for so long! While saying “it blew me away” sounds a bit hyperbolic, but I can’t remember the last time I was this genuinely excited for a game. I took about an hour and a half to play through the first scenario, The Gathering, because I read through the Learn to Play booklet fully, and looked up everything to make sure I was doing it right, but quickly got into the swing of things – before immediately plunging into part two, The Midnight Masks, and following up with the final part, The Devourer Below, the day after.

I don’t know if it’s because of my long history with Lord of the Rings, but I found the game to play very intuitively after the first round or so, and from what I can tell, I wasn’t playing anything incorrectly. The cards are very straightforward in what they do, and while there are a number of keywords to keep a look out for, it’s not an insurmountable task to cope with them all. A big factor here was the fact I was playing solo, as there are a few mechanics that move monsters to the closest investigator, or the investigator with the lowest health – but that would always be me, so the choices were greatly reduced. I do credit the fact there are a lot of similarities with Lord of the Rings that allowed me to think of the mechanics in terms of the older game, which I suppose allowed me to get to grips with things quicker than otherwise possible.

The theme really comes out strong in this game. The Encounter decks are primarily event-type cards rather than monsters, which I feel better reflects the source material of HP Lovecraft’s stories, which are much more full of strange goings on than battles with hordes of gribblies. The investigator decks also feel quite thematic – I’ve played through with Roland Banks’ deck, using the starter deck suggested by the rulebook, and the mix of combat-orientated cards and investigative-orientated cards really felt right for a Federal Agent. The mechanics, as I’ve mentioned, are quite smooth and intuitive, and overall, I really love this game!

Arkham Horror LCG

But there’s got to be a down side, right?

Unfortunately, right. The fact that this is a story-orientated game is both a great asset and its greatest downfall. I mentioned earlier that I played through the core set campaign over the course of two nights; I no longer feel a need to play this game again. Sure, it might be different if I’d not won, and I can always go through it again with a different investigator and see if I get one of the different Resolutions this time around. But it’s very much a once-and-done feel to it. Even before the game was released, the standalone Curse of the Rougarou scenario had been announced, and earlier this month a second scenario, Carnevale of Horrors, has also been released. This seemed a bit odd – delightful, but odd – before I’d played the game, but now that I’ve run through the core set, I can see why such standalone games have been put out. I’m not planning to play the Arkham Horror LCG again until I get a new scenario to try, either one of these print on demand jobs, or else the upcoming Dunwich Legacy expansion.

I know I’m not alone in this, as there are plenty of folks on boardgamegeek and the like who have been talking in similar terms, and it does lead me to worry for the future of this game. Not in some kind of sky-is-falling “the game is over!” kind of way, but rather because I worry the designers are going to make subsequent scenarios super difficult to keep players attempting them while waiting for the next one to hit. After all, no game publisher wants their game to be played once and then forgotten about.

Of course, I think this will be a really great experience, and I look forward to getting the expansions as they come out. I really hope that they continue to make these expansions thematic and not monster-kill-fests, as I feel that would be the best way to stay true to the spirit of the source material.

At any rate, we’ve got two new scenarios coming in The Dunwich Legacy, which kick off the next campaign that stretches across the six packs of the subsequent cycle. Interestingly, we get five new investigators in that deluxe expansion, but the subsequent cycle doesn’t seem to offer any more – at least, it doesn’t sound like it from the previews we’ve seen. The Miskatonic Museum and The Essex County Express have both shown some really interesting player cards are coming our way, however, while the scenarios themselves would work well as standalone games as much as they’re meant to be integrated into the overall campaign.

I think it’s safe to say this card game is going in a really fascinating direction, and I’m really glad to be along for the ride!

Exciting times!

Hey everybody!
It feels like there is a lot of excitement in the air at the minute for anybody of a geeky disposition. We’re almost a month away from a new Star Wars movie, for starters, but the slide into December is always packed with so much awesome that I really should look to setting up a savings account specifically for the purpose…

I’ve been watching the second international trailer for Rogue One, which does subtly differ from the last official trailer released last month. It’s always cool to see new bits, and I’m certainly feeling pretty excited about this movie right now: I think, more than anything, it just looks fantastic. It has the Classic Trilogy sense of style but with today’s technology making more possible within that setting. Sure, I mentioned this in my musings on the first trailer, where I thought it would make the movie make the original films look shabby in comparison. However, I don’t think that will be the case any longer; maybe I’ve mellowed over the past few months!

While the story of the Death Star plans has been done to death in the old canon, I’m actually looking forward to this movie for giving us the definitive story around that. It’s a fascinating part of the Star Wars lore, and while some of the trailer seems to have some bits that look overly cheesy or cliche, I’m still looking forward to what promises to be an overall good film.

I’ve pre-ordered the lead-in novel, Catalyst, and I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on it as it’s by one of my favourite Star Wars authors, James Luceno. I’d been thinking I might keep the book to read closer to Christmas, but I might not be able to wait that long, so there may be a review coming in sooner than you think!

Speaking of trailers, I’m still super hyped for the upcoming Wonder Woman movie next year! I won’t deny, I was kinda speechless when it first dropped, as it looks like it should be everything we could ever want from such a movie. I still haven’t seen Batman vs Superman, so have nothing to really go on (though by all accounts, her role was somewhat limited in that movie). But these trailers look incredible, and I heartily cannot wait for it!

But let’s talk about some games for a minute.

Picked this bad boy up today! #ArkhamHorror #cardgames #Lovecraft #Cthulhu

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I picked up the new Arkham Horror LCG the other day, and it does look kinda fantastic, I have to say. To date, all I’ve done is take the cards out of the airtight bags and quickly ruffle through them, but I’m hoping that, once I’m caught up with my degree, I’ll be able to try it out and see what all the fuss is about. I’ve been subscribed to the page on boardgamegeek since it had one, and have been astonished at the amount of new posts created for it, talking about the minutiae before it even landed. It was akin to the Rise of the Runelords Pathfinder ACG, and I’ve considered unsubscribing because of it! I’m sure it’ll die down in time, however.

Speaking of the Pathfinder ACG, the fourth box, The Mummy’s Mask, has apparently been released, though I have yet to see it for sale in the UK. Of course, I haven’t really been trying all that hard to find it, but even so! I’ve only recently made it to the end of the first adventure pack in the Rise of the Runelords game, of course, so I’m hardly chomping at the bit for the next box, but it does look amazing!

Android Netrunner Terminal Directive

Last night, FFG announced the next expansion for Android: Netrunner, Terminal Directive. The article doesn’t have a great deal of information for how exactly this expansion works, but it looks to be extremely similar to the Pandemic Legacy stuff that involves game components opened and used at specific points of the game/when specific conditions have been met. I’m not surprised that another company has used this idea, because it seems to be doing well for Z-Man Games, though I am surprised that it was used for a living card game rather than a boardgame.

The implementation aside, I think the idea of having a game of Netrunner where your actions have consequences for a campaign is really interesting, and I hope I can get in on this when it starts…

Along with the Arkham LCG, I also picked up the final packs for the latest Lord of the Rings cycle, as well as the final pack for Warhammer Conquest! I do feel kinda sad that the game is over now, but talking about it down at the local store, it sounds like the game isn’t quite dead yet, so I can still try out my Slaanesh demons deck now that we finally have a warlord for the Dark Prince!

I still haven’t played with any of the new Lord of the Rings cards, unfortunately – it doesn’t seem so long ago that I would eagerly be playing through the latest pack no sooner had I gotten my grubby little mits on it! I’ve mentioned it on this blog fairly recently how I want to get back into playing this game with more regularity, so I hope that I can make that a thing soon! All of my free time at the moment seems to be taken up with either working on my degree or painting up little plastic guys… I do feel like I need to get back into gaming though, that’s definitely been sliding of late…

Come on down to Arkham! Now in card form!

In the second of my over-excited post-GenCon game posts, I’m taking a look at the Arkham Horror LCG coming out imminently from Fantasy Flight. In the wake of the company’s break with Games Workshop, and the demise of Conquest, it’s good to see there will be a game that looks like it can slip into the void, and it looks like it will be a game for the ages. I’ve already talked about this briefly, but today, I’m going to take a look at all of the excitement from the recent news and previews, and hopefully be able to make sense of it all!

Arkham Horror LCG

The game can be played solo, which is one of the biggest draw for me in this day and age. Trying to get people together for games days has become entirely too much of an industry for me these days! Because of this, I might be drawing a lot of comparisons with Lord of the Rings LCG, so head here if you don’t know about that game!

First of all, though, let’s look at the deckbuilding. You play an investigator, who seems to be like your Hero card in LotR, and a bit like your Warlord in Conquest, in that they have a set number of cards you must include in the deck. Something I really like about this, however, is the fact that your deck includes weakness cards, which add so much more to the story of the game. Indeed, this is what I love about games like this overall – when you aren’t focused on making a game that has an associated competitive level to it, you can make the game so deep and much more interesting than constantly providing cards that attack your opponent or whatever. If it wasn’t already Lovecraft-inspired, this game would now be an instabuy when it comes out for the deckbuilding alone! And check out those card backs – nice!

But that’s not all, because this is a role-playing-card-game-game! Your deck is built with these “signature” cards, and then you choose a class to follow! There are also limitations to how much stuff your investigator can have out on the table – much like Arkham Horror’s hand mechanic for using items, the game uses these limits for hands, body, allies, awareness and accessories. It’s something I really like about the board game, as it adds an element of realism to an otherwise abstract idea.

The game appears to be played similarly to the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, in that you play an adventure that is part of a linked campaign, and your success in each adventure determines how you customise your deck. That sounds really great, though something I dislike about the Pathfinder deck customisation rules is how you need to break down your deck between adventures to the basic cards again, and it seems like an age between having extra slots to increase your deck size. Of course, in that game it makes sense for balance reasons, but a part of me hopes that Arkham Horror LCG allows for a bit more flexibility with your upgrades!

The game play actually reminds me of Call of Cthulhu LCG, where you have skills that you make checks against – in CoC, you’re trying to put successes on stories, and here you’re investigating locations to find clues. At any rate, it’s nice to have that returning feel to the new game! There’s a really nice addition to this investigation mechanic, however, where you pull a chaos token from a bag, which can have an adverse impact on how you go on with the game. Sounds like a lot of thematic play is inbound, indeed!

Arkham Horror LCG

But what about the actual point of the game?

It looks like the game is all about finding the clues to stop the diabolical schemes that are going off in Arkham. The game has agenda cards that are split between the investigators and the game itself, and you need to put enough clues on the investigator side before the game can get enough doom on its own side. This is something that I really like! LotR has had similar things in the past with one or two scenarios, where you’re trying to advance the quest before some tokens are removed from objective cards or whatever, but in the main, I think the failing of that game can sometimes be that you’re pretty much only opposed by the enemy cards, so they make the game more difficult by having increasingly boss-level enemies, which really only leads to frustration. Recent expansions have remedied this somewhat with timed effects, but still! I think the idea of basically fighting the game rather than a progression of enemies could lead to some excellent scenarios here that aren’t combat-heavy, but more focused on exploration and investigation.

There also seems to be a lot going on between-games. After each game, you have the deck-customisation bit whereby you can upgrade and whatnot, but your actions taken in the game can greatly affect how you then upgrade. That sounds like it might be a lot of work for me, as I’m generally quite hopeless about thinking that far ahead. Looks like I might be levelling-up in life, not just my investigator!

The previews emphasize how the main ‘unit’ of the game is the campaign, and you play each scenario as a linked thing. While I like this idea a lot, and think there’s a lot to be said for it, sometimes I think I might just want to have a crazy adventure, risk my sanity, and shoot some cultists with my .38 special, you know what I mean? I like the idea of having just a one-off game, and I think that might be where print-on-demand could come in. For this year’s Arkham Nights, they’re giving out a standalone scenario, Curse of the Rougarou, which will be available later on via PoD. That would be cool if the scenarios are all linked, we could get some one-off things. Or maybe a shorter thing, like two linked scenarios, rather than a huge ongoing campaign?

That actually brings me on to the next bit… expansions!

The Dunwich Legacy

Last week, FFG announced the first deluxe expansion for the game, The Dunwich Legacy, and while some folks have been a bit incredulous that they’d do this, I’m just really excited for it! Aside from the fact that The Dunwich Horror is one of my all-time favourite Lovecraft tales, I love the fact we’re seeing how the game will progress right off the bat! It’s also quite similar to the way LotR worked, with having a story set after the events of the source material – we’re on the trail of the missing professors who climbed that hill to banish the Horror!

The expansion includes two new scenarios that link with the subsequent six Mythos Packs to create an eight part campaign. However, the announcement does state that the scenarios can be played independently, which sounds super-exciting!

It looks like the core set will be available around mid-October, and the first expansion will hopefully be with us in time for Christmas. Overall, I’m really excited for this one, and I just hope it lives up to these expectations once I get my paws on it!

Come on down to Innsmouth!

It’s game day! I feel like I’ve been looking at a lot of card games lately, so it’s time to take a look at something more board-game-y today, as we head back to Lovecraftian horror at the coast with the Innsmouth Horror expansion to the popular Arkham Horror line!

Innsmouth Horror

Innsmouth Horror was the penultimate big-box expansion to the game, and the last to feature a new board that expands the world of the game. In keeping with the previous “town” expansions that added some new universal mechanics that could be taken in any game of Arkham Horror, Innsmouth Horror introduces Personal Stories for the Investigators, which add something of a roleplaying element to the game. Each Investigator has a pair of cards (and cards are included for each other Investigator in the game line), one of which features some kind of task for the player to accomplish, the other is a double-faced card featuring a permanent effect that takes place depending on whether that task was met or missed.

Innsmouth Horror

They are a fun element, though you’re often focused on the actual game and some of them just don’t really factor into the overall strategy you’re going for. At least, that’s been my experience with the cards. I mean, some of them, like Trish Scarborough’s card above, have an effect that will likely happen over the course of the game anyway, but there are others that require the Investigator to do something, usually discarding clues, to gain an ability which can be highly circumstantial. They’re certainly fun additions, and I always like to try some out if I’m using an Investigator I’ve not played for a while, but I wouldn’t always think to use them.

Innsmouth Horror

The new Ancient Ones are pretty tough to beat, if I’m honest, with a lot of rules to keep track of as shown on the sheets above. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve forgotten to do something for the entire game, just because there’s so much going on with their abilities there! In addition to the eight new Ancient Ones (and two Heralds), we get a total of sixteen new Investigators! That’s the same number as Dunwich Horror and Kingsport Horror combined, and the same number as in the core game! Things like this make Innsmouth Horror feel like the last expansion to the game – though that honour would go to Miskatonic Horror, an awesome box that I hope to get round to reviewing soon!

Innsmouth Horror

The new board is an interesting addition, having three new districts as per the established pattern, though there are tons of new rules to go through for the new board, which really makes it feel like a different location!

First of all, we have Martial Law. If the Ancient One’s doom track is over halfway filled, then Martial Law is declared and Investigators need to pass an evade check whenever they end their movement in an Innsmouth location, the check being modified by the numbers below the board space names. If they fail, they are sent to the jail in Innsmouth. This always causes the Investigator to become delayed.

Being a coastal town, movement between the various game boards is somewhat easier with Aquatic spaces – for the monsters, that is! Both the River Docks and Unvisited Isle are considered connected to the aquatic spaces on Innsmouth, and monsters can move to the closest Investigator across boards in this way.

The track along the right-hand side of the board tracks the Deep Ones Rising. Each time a gate is prevented from opening, the track moves up one space. If the Deep One track is ever full, then the Ancient One awakens! To make matters worse, there are vortex spaces on the board that can have monsters move into them as part of their normal movement. Each time a monster enters a vortex, both the terror level and Deep One track rises! However, Investigators can spend clues while in the various neighbourhoods of Innsmouth to fill the opposing Federal Raids track, and if this track is ever full, both it and the Deep Ones track are emptied. In the late game, as more Elder Signs (and monsters) are on the board, these tracks become a constant battle for the players to control, reflecting the growing influence of the Ancient Ones over Innsmouth!

Those are really all of the rules changes/additions, the game is otherwise very similar to any other Arkham experience, though obviously with much more going on! Of all the expansions, Innsmouth Horror holds a special place for many players because of the Innsmouth Look cards. A small deck of cards that are drawn through a variety of game effects, most of them do nothing, but one card tells you that, in fact, you have begun to take on the scaled appearance of the Deep Ones, and are thus devoured! It’s a wonderfully tense moment when you draw the card, and for something so straightforward, is probably my favourite of all the new additions in this box.

Innsmouth Horror is definitely worthwhile adding to any collection of Arkham Horror. While probably not as important as Dunwich Horror, it still adds a whole lot of replayability with the new Investigators and such, and the new board adds a whole other level of strategy as you try to split your party to control the goings-on down by the sea.

Innsmouth Horror

Phobias!

Hey everybody!
It’s time for another game day here at spalanz.com and, because I’ve been so tied-up with writing an essay lately, I’ve not managed to get in as many games as I’d like. Consequently, this will only be a little blog for today as I take a look at some of the smaller stuff available to expand your games of Elder Sign. Let’s begin!

Elder Sign Grave Consequences

Fantasy Flight recently released Grave Consequences, a small expansion of print-on-demand cards to enhance the play experience. This is really a collection of three mini-expansions, modular by nature, that echo a lot of the content put out for Arkham Horror back in the day.

Elder Sign Grave Consequences

Most obvious of the Arkham tie-ins is the deck of Epic Battle cards. If you’re not careful and the Ancient One’s doom track fills up, it’s usually a case of battling back and forth as you try to remove doom tokens before being devoured, but now we have this little deck that adds a bit more theme to the final confrontation. It’s very similar to the deck introduced in Kingsport Horror, with each card usually split in two, describing effects when the investigators attack, and when the Ancient One attacks back. Some cards are ‘battle events’ that tell you to do different stuff before drawing a new card. Either way, it’s a nice addition.

Elder Sign Grave Consequences

The real meat of this mini expansion, for me, is the Phobias deck. Whenever an investigator goes insane, rather than being devoured, they replenish their sanity but draw one of these cards, which has some kind of lasting effect for the rest of the game. Very similar to the Injury and Madness cards introduced in Dunwich Horror, this is really what I got the expansion for.

The third and final deck is the Epitaph deck, which acts as something of a parting shot for a devoured investigator. When your chap is devoured, you draw one of these cards and resolve its effects, before then placing your character chit on the card back. Personally I would have preferred to see an Injury deck to parallel the Phobias deck, but maybe that will be for another expansion. At any rate, it does add a nice bit of theme to the game!

The rest of the stuff I’m going to talk about today is promotional material that is largely freely available online, thanks to the terrific folks over at boardgamegeek.com.

Elder Sign promo ancient one cards

In October/November every year, FFG run an event called Arkham Nights, which allows folks to come together to play one of the many Lovecraftian-themed games the company produces. Each year, a bag of swag is given out that has ties to some of these games, the most recent event having domain cards for Call of Cthulhu LCG, for instance. However, since 2011, all of these events have also featured a promotional Ancient One card for Elder Sign, which I think is both really cool and bums me out, because I can’t make it to these things to enjoy the goodness!

2011: Daoloth Render of the Veils
2012: Shub Niggurath A Thousand Young
2013: Yog-Sothoth The Beyond One
2014: The Dark God Primordial Evil
2015: Ubbo-Sathla Unbegotten Source

While it bums me out that I don’t get to enjoy the properly-printed cards, Ancient Ones are normally a card where it doesn’t matter if the cardstock is different. I know some folks like to shuffle it up and pick their AO at random, but I prefer to know who I’m facing (largely I choose the AO because I don’t want to be playing the same ones over and over).

All of these new Ancient Ones has something interesting to offer. I particularly enjoy Daoloth, whose gameplay effect really makes you consider if you want to visit that Other World for its Elder Signs, or else leave it in play in case a Mythos card forces you to place a monster. I recently played against The Dark God for the first time, whose effect quite sinister in that he forces you to lose one stamina and one sanity or lock a green die on the AO card for the remainder of the round. It sounds pretty bad, though there are plenty of ways around this kind of loss that it isn’t always that bad.

Their effects can be quite alarming, however, and they often feel like they’re more complicated than the regular release Ancient Ones. Ubbo-Sathla, from last year’s Arkham Nights, has a lot of interaction with monsters on the table, and while he’s one that I find myself looking forward to going up against, I foresee some complicated game-states to come!

Lastly, we have the two promo adventure cards, The Hand of Solace and Log of the Persephone, which can be seen on the right of my tweet above. Unlike the promo AO cards, these ones really need to be the proper printing, of course, as they’ll get mixed into the deck. FFG made these available via coupons printed in the back of some of the books they published that tie into the Arkham universe such the Dark Waters trilogy. For the cost of shipping, and tearing a page out of the book, you could get the cards sent to you. Personally, I’m not a fan of tearing up books, but additional material for my favourite games is perhaps worth it!

A lot of people on the internet will tell you that these books are crap, but I actually liked those that I’ve read so far, and have even written a blog on the Dark Waters trilogy!

As for the cards themselves, well they’re nothing particularly great, just more of the same really. I think I more enjoyed the Oliver Grayson ally card for Arkham Horror, actually. Of course, it’s nice to have these things, but I honestly think I get more of a kick out of having the thematic connection to a book that I enjoyed, which makes me wonder if the people who say they tore the coupon out for the cards then tossed the book unread actually enjoy having this stuff as much as me…

So there you have it, a bit of a whirlwind tour through the extra bits available for Elder Sign, a game that I haven’t played recently as often as I would like!