Mythos delvings

It’s been good to get back to the mythos! It’s been a couple of years since my last blog post that chronicled my Lovecraft reading by the light of the Christmas tree, and with this season’s glorious return, I’ve got quite a few good ones lined up!

To start with, I re-read The Shadow Over Innsmouth. This is the one that kinda started it all for me, reading weird fiction over the festive season. It also somewhat coincides with my recently discovered surge in interest for the Arkham Horror LCG, which of course is currently in an Innsmouth cycle. The story concerns an unnamed narrator as he is doing a spot of sightseeing and genealogical research along the New England coastline, and decides to visit the coastal town of Innsmouth, almost against the advice he is given. The atmosphere of the story is really wonderful, and I’d forgotten a lot of what makes this a great story. Sure, some of the foreshadowing is a little heavy-handed at times – the big reveal that the townsfolk are basically communing with the fishes can be guessed from very early on – but the attention to detail in the descriptions of the dilapidated town is very striking. Innsmouth certainly looms large in the mythos, and I feel as though this tale is one of the cornerstones of Lovecraft’s writing, much like The Dunwich Horror and The Call of Cthulhu, and needs to be read by everybody with any sort of interest in this genre.

2020 has been a weird time, of course, so what better time to read some truly weird stuff? This year, I finally made it to another of the juggernauts of weird fiction: The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath! Man, this story is weird. I’ve read that it was never published or revised by HP in his lifetime, so who knows whether he would have made any changes or alterations had he decided to do so. At times, it is quite difficult to follow, as well – something I think he himself was quite concerned about. The premise is fairly simple, if a bit fantastical: Randolph Carter (a recurring character in HP’s writings, although I’m not sure he is fully intended to be) wishes to find the location of a beautiful sunset city that he has visited in his dreams, and so he decides to petition the Great Ones who live in Kadath to allow him to enter the city in his dreams. The whole story is told as Carter is dreaming it, and we go on quite the ride through the Dreamlands! Carter visits the forest of the Zoogs, who direct him to the city of Ulthar, the cats who live there being old friends of his. Finding the clue of a carving on a mountainside, Carter is abducted while trying to travel there, and is taken to the moon by the moon-beasts, servants of Nyarlathotep. The cats rescue him, and he travels to the mountain carving where he recognises the features as similar to the merchants of Celephaïs. However, he is abducted again by the night-gaunts, who take him to the Underworld where he is rescued by the ghouls, including one who was formerly Richard Pickman. The ghouls lead Carter through the city of the Gugs and back to the forest of the Zoogs, who are plotting an attack on Ulthar. Carter warns the cats, who in gratitude help him find Celephaïs, where the trail leads north to Inganok. There, Carter is again abducted and taken to a monastery in the Plateau of Leng, and barely manages to escape from the dreaded High Priest Not To Be Described. In his escape, he rescues the three ghouls who helped him through the city of the Gugs, and after a lengthy battle between the ghouls and the moon-beasts, Carter enlists the support of the ghouls and the night-gaunts in flying to Kadath, where he finds a pharaoh-like being who identifies Carter’s dream-vision as his own native Boston. The being reveals himself as Nyarlathotep, who tricks him into flying not to the sunset city but instead to the court of Azathoth at the centre of the universe – and then Carter remembers this is all a dream and wakes up.

Quite the ride! I don’t normally go into full synopsis mode for these mythos blogs, but I felt that it was almost a requirement here, for the depth of story involved! The Dream-Quest is told in one long narrative of around 100 pages, and like I said at the start, it is weird. I read it in sections over a couple of evenings, which is entirely possible as, while there are no chapter subdivisions, there are plenty of paragraphs which begin “The next day…” and so forth. There are so many allusions to other parts of the wider mythos, and names and locations that loom large for me as a fan of the board and card games based on Lovecraft’s work, that I found it quite exciting to be reading something that has been such an integral part of this world for so long.

It also helped that I found myself playing the Dreamlands expansion for Eldritch Horror around the same time, which is something else that has been put off for far too long now!

The story is quite interesting, to me, as it represents the sort of fantasy stories that were prevalent pre-Tolkien, with a lot of influence from The Arabian Nights. Rather than having fantasy equals orcs and goblins, and that sort of medieval feel to it, instead we have exotic locations and truly fantastical creatures. It’s a recurring theme of many of the stories in the Dream Cycle, and I suppose it interests me because it represents what is actually possible within the wider genre of fantasy. I feel as though I’ve been conditioned, almost, into thinking of fantasy in those realms of medieval Europe, so it is really nice to see beyond that, I must say!

Keeping with the Dream Cycle, I also read Celephaïs, a short tale of a man who pursues his dream of the imagined city of Celephaïs, to the point where his own life wastes away and his body washes up on the shores of Innsmouth. The man’s name is not given, though in dreams he calls himself Kuranes, and is a figure who also features in the Dream-Quest. With being fairly short, it wasn’t as weird as the novella!

Shorter still, What the Moon Brings is based off a dream Lovecraft had, and describes something of a surreal landscape, which looks different and “hideous” compared with the light of day. This theme of the transformation of the familiar into the horrible continues, as the landscape becomes more and more twisted. The ending is quite abrupt, making you wonder if the narrator has died.

The Crawling Chaos was a little disappointing, at first, but I think I’d misled myself with this one! The story is one of HP Lovecraft’s many collaborations, although this one appears to be mostly the work of Lovecraft, based on an outline described to him by Winifred V Jackson. The story is only a short one, and describes something of an out-of-body experience following an accidental overdose of opium on the part of the narrator. It reminded me a little of the scenes in Beetlejuice, where they step out of the house and the sand-snake-creatures are running amok. Considering the title of the story is most often associated with Nyarlathotep, I think I was expecting an appearance, but never mind! For completion’s sake, I also read The Green Meadow, the second collaboration between the two. Based on a dream related by Jackson, the story is said to have been recovered from a curious notebook of some otherworldly material, discovered in a meteorite but written in classical Greek. The narrator floats on a slowly disintegrating island towards a green meadow, discovering the dream city of Stethelos before the text disintegrates into illegibility. Not what I would call my favourite of Lovecraft’s stories, though it does have that dream-like quality that shares something with What the Moon Brings.

To finish, this year I also re-read The Whisperer in Darkness. One of the towering greats of Lovecraft’s work, it leans more towards science fiction than the classic horror, although of course there are a number of elements of suspense as the story grows. It is also significant within the wider mythos for containing a great deal of references to ancient gods and creatures, and the like. It concerns the narrator, Albert Wilmarth, and his investigations into some strange sightings following the Vermont floods of 1927. He begins to correspond with a native of the area, Henry Akeley, who has witnessed the curious and horrible creatures that inhabit the wild hills of Vermont, and chronicles his ongoing battle with them as the creatures become aware of him. About halfway through, the tone of Akeley’s correspondence changes, and he invites Wilmarth to visit him. Naively, Wilmarth agrees and is quite shocked to find Akeley in poor health, though his host is able to whisper of the things he has learnt since he has called a truce with the aliens. Wilmarth is horrified to discover that the aliens plan to take Akeley back with them to their planet of Yuggoth (identified with the newly-discovered Pluto) and invite him to join them, also. In classic Lovecraft style, Wilmarth escapes in terror before the aliens get him, barely managing to keep hold of his sanity. Of course, we never really get definite descriptions of these things, but the story features a catalogue of names such as Hastur, Shub-Niggurath, Yuggoth, the Mi-Go, Hali, Carcosa, etc. There are suggestions that the Mi-Go are the alien, fungoid worshippers of Nyarlathotep, although everything is quite vague and it’s almost impossible to pin anything down for definite. It’s all for texture, with Lovecraft, and it works so well to promote that weirdness that we love him for. There is also a wealth of local colour thanks to Lovecraft’s visit to the state in the late 1920s. It really suffuses the latter part of the story, as Wilmarth travels to Vermont. This tale is rightly one of Lovecraft’s finest, even if Wilmarth is a bit of a gullible one!

Dipping into Madness…

Hey everybody,
Today is once again game day here at spalanz.com, as I was lucky enough to get some time to myself yesterday where I could actually play some games! I know, it was quite spooky really! My daughter is now thirteen months old, and is certainly in more of a routine where I can plan stuff like this, so it was definitely time to grab that while I could!

I managed two games, along a similar theme, and it was just glorious.

First up, we have Eldritch Horror. This is one of my all-time favourite games of globetrotting mystery and supernatural dread, although it suffers somewhat for being such a juggernaut to set up! This time around, it took some time for me to get back into the swing of things, although I think it was literally just one round for each of the investigators – Mark Harrigan and Diana Stanley – before it all came flooding back, and I was off! I chose these investigators because I had finally actually read that little introductory blurb at the start of the rulebook, where it seems to be the pair of them looking into the weird occult mysteries of the world…

I followed this up with Arkham Horror LCG, a game that I have been trying to get back into for a couple of weeks now. I have built two new decks since I last played back in the summer of 2019 (when I actually ran through the entire Dunwich Legacy campaign). Roland Banks is the first investigator that I ever used, and even though I’ve not exactly played this game a lot, I have something of a soft spot for him all the same. Akachi Onyele is usually a very powerful investigator in the other Arkham games, though I’ve played two games with this duo now and it’s clear already that she really needs the right spells out to be any good. That’s probably a bit harsh, but in the game yesterday, I noticed particularly how she just couldn’t really do anything before I had Wither out, whereupon she became more of a tank than the Guardian investigator!

I’ve really gotten back into the whole Cthulhu mythos and Arkham Files games lately, and part of me is now really annoyed with myself for having sold off my Arkham Horror 2nd edition collection last year. I got a good price for it, don’t get me wrong, but it was such a good game, and I never got round to featuring each one of the expansions on the blog before it went.

However, I’ve found myself looking into getting the 3rd edition for Christmas, so that will be quite nice when the festive season is finally here! Definitely need stuff to look forward to as we’re on the cusp of a new lockdown, as well!

Eldritch Horror was just lovely to get back on the table, I must say. I’ve still got a couple of expansions for that game to feature up here, so I’m thinking that I’ll get back into the tradition of looking at those roundabout Christmas time! Indeed, playing yesterday’s game was mostly about getting back into the game so that I could look at playing the expansions – seems like I’ve only played some of them once or twice, but The Dreamlands box is still in the shrinkwrap! I’m really behind with the times here.

I kinda fell away from the Arkham Horror LCG last year, thinking that I was barely playing it anyway, so didn’t buy any of the Dream-Eaters cycle as I had three full campaigns still to play through. However, I’m now thinking that I need to catch up with it all! I’d spent a few days recently looking into it all as if from scratch, and have sleeved all of my cards and bought the ‘Return to’ boxes to make sure everything is stored up properly, so I’m really finding myself quite hungry for more now!

Having taken that time to get to know the game again, though, I can definitely see myself playing this one for a long time yet. It seems as though the Dunwich Legacy campaign is fairly tame in comparison to some of the later ones, and a lot of people seem to favour the Path to Carcosa set, so I’m thinking that my next proper foray will be there – everything is ready for me, anyway!

Interestingly, now that Lord of the Rings has finished, I’m finding myself almost moving away from that game in favour of this one. For sure, I’m not going to be sacking off my collection of the older game, as I’ve had far too much fun with it over the years to want to be without it, but I think that game did seem to suffer a little for the designers’ efforts in making it more challenging. Mirkwood and Dwarrowdelf are still the high watermark for me, although I’ve not played so many cycles from the game I could be selling it short. However, with Arkham, it seems to have been designed as fairly tough from the outset, but the variable difficulty of the Chaos Bag allows for it to still be enjoyable. In fact, as I think I’ve talked about before, the game really benefits from not being a simple kill-the-monsters sort of thing that Lord of the Rings can sometimes become – the encounter deck for Arkham is very often full of treachery cards, with just a couple of enemies to keep things interesting. There are so many different moving parts in the game that keep things moving, so that the formula allows for much greater variety on the whole.

Like I say, I’m not getting rid of Lord of the Rings, but I do feel that Arkham Horror has overtaken it in my affections lately!

Catching Up

Hey everybody!
It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Seems like life has been passing me by recently, as I have been focused a bit on work – I’ve got an interview this coming Tuesday for a promotion, so we’ll see what comes from that. More money for plastic crack, maybe?! We shall see!

Speaking of plastic, let’s start with the main topic of the day…

I’m not a big fan of the new Necrons, having now seen them in the flesh, as I wasn’t keen on the sculpted battle damage. For my Necrons, I’ve tried to paint them more like a pristine sort of warrior race, with the advanced tech that means they don’t retain battle damage like that. While I’m not entirely fussed yet on the Necrons, I have been admiring those Space Marines…

However, Chaos has become a major thing for me, considering I’d planned for Genestealer Cults to be my 9th Edition army! I’ve long wanted a force of Heretic Astartes, and having started with the idea of a Cultist rabble, I’ve now moved more into the realms of actual marines in the list. Today has been quite exciting though, as I’ve finished painting the Master of Possession from the Shadowspear box set! Finally!

I’m really pleased with this chap, and have followed the tutorial for the fire in particular from The Brush & Boltgun, which was a godsend! I’ve not had a chance yet to look at the other stuff on the channel, but it looks like a lot of the stuff that I have on the list, anyway, so it might be worth mining that stuff!

Speaking of which, I’ve finally picked up a Chaos Rhino for the nascent force, which I’ve wanted to get a hold of since seeing this wonderful piece of art from another of my favourite instagram’ers, Martin Sivertsen:

I mean, look at it! It’s absolutely beautiful, and I hope mine will come out a mere tenth as good! I’ve actually made an order for a second Rhino, as well as a Forgefiend (which I’ve wanted for a long time, as well) and a Dialogus for the nascent Sisters army!

Have I posted a picture of the Sisters here yet? Can’t remember, so here you go:

Looking forward to getting these painted up, however long they might take!

Moving on to a different game now, though…

My wife and I have been enjoying a few games of Elder Sign in recent weeks, as we’ve re-established Friday nights as gaming nights, and it’s been an absolute blast to be playing once more!

We’ve played a few times with the core set, as we get back into it all, and so last night we played with the first expansion, Unseen Forces, which I thought might be the best one to start with, as pretty much every other expansion has the Gates of Arkham rules and ramps up the difficulty! We had a couple of games with Unseen Forces, and while we managed to save the world from Shudde M’ell with just three locations left to explore per turn, we came under attack from Abhoth and it all went wrong.

It’s great to be back playing games from Fantasy Flight, I’m feeling really quite nostalgic for the whole thing! Of course, we’re slap bang in the middle of GenCon 2020 right now, but it all feels a bit weird with the global pandemic ongoing. FFG have shown off a few Star Wars bits, such as more Clone Wars era stuff for Armada, X-Wing and Legion, and that’s about all that I’ve managed to glean from the internets right now! Of course, it’s always an online event for me, but it feels particularly odd right now, regardless!

What else has been going on?

I’ve read quite a few books since I last came here to provide a review, so will doubtless have some thoughts on them to share with you all! I’ve also been reading the rest of The Flash’s run through the New 52, so will sometime soon get a round-up blog sorted for that! I’ve also been catching up with the DC movies that I’ve not seen, after watching Man of Steel a few weeks ago. So there will be plenty of blogs incoming once I have the time to properly sit down once again!

Okay, so it’s been pushed back, but there’s a Mandalorian novel due next year?! This news has excited me far more than I’d expected! Still very excited to see what season two has got in store for us, even though I’ve been really disappointed how it seems to be heavily leaning into the Clone Wars cartoons with the casting news that we’ve seen. Still, maybe live-action Ahsoka won’t be so damn annoying as to make me want to tear my own face off… time will tell! I think The Mandalorian is about the only thing Star Wars that I’m looking forward to right now, though, so I hope it won’t be disappointing!

Anyway, time to cease my ramblings, I think! Hope you’re all having an amazing Saturday, and stay tuned for more blogs coming as the summer progresses!

Mythos delvings

Hey everybody!
It’s time to continue the tradition of the Christmas Lovecraftian delvings, and look at some of the short stories that I’ve been reading by the light of the Christmas tree. This year, I’ve been re-reading some old favourites, as well as investigating some little things that are new to me!

Let’s start with the always-wonderful Thing on the Doorstep. I first read this about five years ago now, and it was one of the few Lovecraftian tales that genuinely chilled me. It tells the story of Edward Derby and his ill-fated marriage to Asenath Waite, one of the Innsmouth Waites who has some very peculiar ideas about transferring consciousness (among other stuff). Over the course of the tale, Edward Derby becomes increasingly insane, it seems, convinced that his wife has some kind of hold over him, only to be revealed that she has indeed – through some foul sorcerous deeds – been taking control of her weak-willed husband. Even a marital separation can’t prevent Asenath from possessing Edward, and she eventually seems to have taken permanent control of his body. It’s up to the narrator to sort things out, by shooting his best friend before it’s too late – but what on earth is that thing crawling on his doorstep..?

It’s one of my favourite of his tales, with a very definite tie in to the Arkham line of board games etc – I remember a game of Arkham Horror where I had both Asenath and Herbert West as allies, making for a particularly hilarious game as I thought of the mischief each would no doubt be plotting behind my hero’s back! I also remember playing a game of Eldritch Horror with Charlie Kane travelling the globe and using Asenath for spell-casting… Anyway!

A short tale, The Statement of Randolph Carter is a bit of a spooky tale that seems to be told as a kind of confession. It concerns the nocturnal adventures of the titular Randolph and his occultist friend Harley Warren, as they attempt to access the underworld following Warren’s researches in a peculiar Arabic tome. Harley goes deep into a tomb in a graveyard somewhere near a cypress swamp, and screams for Randolph to flee before never being seen again. Randolph, for his part, loses part of his memory of the event, and the story is effectively his testimony as to what happened to Harley in the swamp. It is the first time the character of Randolph Carter appears in a story by Lovecraft, though he would reappear in later writings – including the famous Dream Cycle.

Continuing the link with the Arkham games now, The Unnamable is a short little tale that is set in the graveyard of the New England town, and details a debate between two gents on the nature of the supernatural. It has the hallmarks of a sort of campfire ghost story to it, and references several locations within the town that will be familiar to fans of the boardgame as being locations to be investigated. Notably also, the narrator is again Randolph Carter.

Herbert West – Reanimator is another classic that I’ve read before, chronicling the black-hearted career of Herbert West and his attempts to return people from the dead. Notably, Herbert and the narrator attended Miskatonic University in Arkham, the first time this venerable institution was mentioned in a short story by Lovecraft. West and his assistant have a series of near-successes across six short installments, each ending with a particularly gruesome climax. The tale had been serialized, which leads to some slightly annoying recaps at the start of each section, but the story itself is just wonderful gothic horror. We see West, always keen to have the freshest corpse possible, actually kill someone in order to then bring him back from death, before finally being abducted off into the bowels of the earth by his failed experiments of the past. Wonderful stuff!

Also serialized was the short story The Lurking Fear, which is a sort of classic haunted-house-on-the-hill type of tale. The house had been shunned by those living in its shadow, who were convinced some fell beast stalked within. The intrepid narrator attempts to get to the bottom of the matter with predictably morbid and horrific results. Again, it has that sort of sensationalized ending to each of its four parts, and while I wouldn’t say it was quite as classic as Herbert West – Reanimator, it was nevertheless a decent enough read!

He is a weird little tale, which is similar in parts to Cool Air that I read a couple of years back. The narrator follows a mysterious gentleman who appears to have preserved his life for more than a few centuries, and proceeds to show him some eldritch magic or other, including visions of the past and future New York, with dire warnings about the rise of the Chinese that, unfortunately, shows some of Lovecraft’s darker side.

Weird, but then, I suppose that’s the point of these stories!

Cthulhu on the horizon!

Hey everybody!
It’s game day here at spalanz.com, and today I want to talk about some of the news from FFG about new Cthulhu-themed games coming on the horizon that I’ve only recently had the time to digest (the new Star Wars trailer dropping has primarily been responsible for my tardiness here!) So let’s kick off the Halloween season with a look at the next big box expansion for Eldritch Horror: Masks of Nyarlathotep!

Masks of Nyarlathotep

This was an expansion that was both entirely expected, and yet completely blew me away with the announcement last week. I mean, for sure we would be getting Nyarlathotep in the game soon enough – it’s a Cthulhu mythos game, what would it be without the wearer of a thousand masks? But I had entirely been expecting to see him in a small-box expansion, with some specific Mask monsters, and nothing more than that. Oh, how wrong I was!

Masks of Nyarlathotep introduces a campaign mode of play to Eldritch Horror, and currently we only have a few lines towards the end of the announcement that tell us what is involved here:

When taking on a Campaign, players will need to win multiple games, with consequences and benefits carrying over to the next game after each threat is sealed away from the world. If stopping any single Ancient One seems an impossible task, can the investigators possibly hope to succeed as these otherworldly beings attack one after another?

However, earlier in the article we learn that there are several cults springing up across the world, each seeming to worship a different entity, and it’s up to the investigators to stop them. While my first thoughts about campaign play were that we could play games using different expansions, and they would all somehow feature into this mode, I think rather it will be implemented as more self-contained within this box. I’m going to guess, then, that this expansion won’t have a new sideboard, but instead will just be choc-full of cards that allow for several different gameplay experiences, maybe even mini-Ancient Ones like the Heralds from Arkham Horror, all of which will add up to some climactic endgame against Nyarlathotep himself. Nyarlathotep will still appear as a more regular AO if you want to just play a straight game with him involved, but for the campaign mode he’s probably going to have some kind of mechanic that makes him stronger the more Mask villains we don’t defeat, or something.

We’ll see in Q1, 2018!

Omens of the Pharaoh

The next bit of news I was really happy to see was the new Elder Sign expansion, Omens of the Pharaoh!

Have you played Elder Sign: Omens? It’s a pretty good re-interpretation of the card game for Android/iOS, and features an expansion based on the sinister goings-on in Egypt. The Dark Pharaoh, Nephren-ka, has already made it into Eldritch Horror of course, and now he’s making his malevolent presence felt here, too!

I really like how the new mode for Elder Sign has allowed games to move out of the museum. Don’t get me wrong, I still love the classic game where you’re wandering the deserted exhibits at night, but Omens of Ice was an incredibly flavourful (and difficult!) game, and while I still haven’t managed to get round to Omens of the Deep, I’m sure that will also be a delight.

Whoever made the connection between having locations to explore inside a museum, and locations in a more general sense, should definitely feel a deep sense of pride at that achievement!

Adding the Egyptian horror feel to this game is definitely something to be pleased about, as it’s a classic setting for the mythos, though if we’ve already had the frozen Alaskan wilderness, the deep sea and now Egypt, I wonder whether this line of ‘Omens of’ expansions can continue for much longer? I’m guessing there will be an Amazonian jungle (or some kind of tropical theme) expansion at some point, but then what?

FFG’s Lovecraftian games are always a true delight, and I cannot wait to add both of these games to my collection when they arrive early next 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!

Mythos delvings

Hey everybody!
Continuing my tradition of reading more Lovecraftian weird tales over the festive break, I thought I’d provide another run-down of the stories I’ve been enjoying in the third annual ‘Mythos delvings’ blog entry!

The bulk of this year’s reading has been taken up with The King in Yellow, RW Chambers’ collection of short stories that revolve around the mysterious, diabolical play that has the power to drive people to insanity just by reading it. The book is a collection of ten stories that reference to a varying extent the play, and was published in 1895, when Lovecraft was just 5 years old. However, I’ve only read the first four stories, as I believe the others have much less to do with the mythos.

The stories vary considerably, but I have to say that my stand-out favourite is the first, The Repairer of Reputations. It’s a story that has all of the hallmarks of the classic weird tale, with a narrator that slides into insanity over his perceived rank of the King of Carcosa. The story has got an element of early science fiction to it, set in 1920s New York and contains startling reference to America’s victory over Germany in a world war, as well as describing America as having produced a nobility following some kind of cleansing of foreign elements. A particularly morbid aspect is the legalisation of suicide, and the story involves the opening of a “lethal chamber” where folks can go to kill themselves with ease. We follow the narrator, Hildred Castaigne, as he seeks to secure his succession as king in the Imperial Dynasty of America, with the help of the eponymous Repairer of Reputations, Dr Wilde. Hildred seeks to remove his cousin Louis from the “succession”, but is thwarted and cast into an asylum, where he dies. The story is an excellent study in weird fiction, and the horror comes out as we see Hildred slowly spiral into madness. There’s an excellent description of a mechanical safe that he uses to store his diadem, but which Louis dismisses as a biscuit box, and I’ve subsequently read that the lethal chamber could actually be a subway station, as seen through the deluded eyes of Hildred. It’s certainly one of the best short stories I’ve read in a long while!

The second tale, The Mask, concerns a sculptor who had discovered a formula that will turn any living thing into marble. When the sculptor’s love interest throws herself into the solution (through unrequited love for the narrator, it seems), he shoots himself. However, two years later, the marbles start to return to life. While there are some elements of the classic weird fiction, I thought that the happy ending felt a bit much, somehow. This is followed by In the Court of the Dragon, where the narrator falls asleep during a sermon at church, and imagines that the organist is pursuing him across Paris in grim-reaper style. This one definitely has more of the weird tale about it, albeit on the tame side of things – no catastrophic loss of sanity results, but still! Both of these stories really only fall into the type through their mentions of The King in Yellow – in The Mask, the narrator reads part of the play while trying to distract himself from his friend’s experiments with the solution, and In the Court of the Dragon sees the narrator attend the church service as a balm for the soul after having read the play.

The Yellow Sign is a curious tale. It concerns a painter, who we’ve already met in The Mask (although no further reference to that story is made) who finds himself becoming romantically involved with his model when they share the fact they’ve had very similar dreams – she about him being driven in a hearse, he about being driven past her in a hearse. Aside from the addition of a repugnant fellow with a face that makes everyone shudder, the tale isn’t all that weird for the first two-thirds. Then the artist sprains both his wrists, so to pass the time he looks through his library. His model finds The King in Yellow, and is driven catatonic; while he watches over her, our artist-narrator also reads it from cover to cover, and madness ensues – the guy with the face comes for them, though when the doctor arrives he finds the model and artist dying, though face-guy must have been dead for weeks… It was almost disappointing for a while, as I’d expected more from the title, but the third part is just so wonderfully macabre that it definitely makes up for things. In fact, it almost mirrors the diabolical play itself, which starts off boring and mundane, but the second act is the one that drives people insane.

While I did like the stories in this book, it was more because I’m a longtime Lovecraftian gamer, and so got to see who these people are who turn up in the games, such as the aforementioned Hildred Castaigne, Jeanne d’Ys, et al. However, it has very little in common with the Mythos overall, except for the odd exclamation about the lake of Hali and whatnot. Hastur is just another of these exclamations, and it doesn’t feel like Chambers really had any sort of idea for the concepts other than throwing them out as weird-sounding stuff. Of course, Lovecraft used the word as well, without much expansion, and it was August Derleth who eventually turned him into the elder god that we gamers are familiar with today.

I find it really interesting to read “the source material” and see the huge differences between stuff like the Yellow Sign and Hastur here, and how they appear in the Cthulhu mythos games such as Eldritch Horror and Call of Cthulhu LCG. Things just seem so fleshed-out in the games, and yet in the books they are so elusive, with next to no real detail at all. So much of this development was done for the Call of Cthulhu role playing game, though, bringing together all of the threads of Hastur, the Yellow Sign, the King in Yellow and the Pallid Man, linking everything with artists in Paris and that fin de siècle Bohemianism that forms such strong associations when we get to play the games. Of course, Chambers lived as an artist in Paris himself, so these aspects of his writing come through very well, and lend themselves perfectly to the mythos. Artists and the eldritch is a theme that comes up again in the work of Lovecraft and others, for example in The Call of Cthulhu when it is reported that artists across the globe had a shared dream and began to create the same bas-relief images.

The concept of The King in Yellow as a play that causes insanity is interesting, but again, isn’t really fleshed out other than mentioning it offhandedly. It’s something very similar to Lovecraft’s own Necronomicon, which also causes madness in its readers, though I do feel that Lovecraft provides more meat for those bones. Perhaps it’s just my over-familiarity with Lovecraft as opposed to having just last week read Chambers.

Lovecraft hasn’t been neglected, of course, as I’ve been reading quite a few of his shorter stories. To start with, The Tree is perhaps one of the most un-Lovecraftian stories I’ve ever read, dealing with a pair of sculptors in ancient Greece. As a classicist, I liked it, but as a fan of weird fiction, it didn’t really feel all that, well, weird. It’s a short story, though. The Cats of Ulthar is perhaps one of Lovecraft’s more famous stories, showcasing his love of felines in a creepy little tale about the community of Ulthar, where an elderly couple kill any cats that turn up near their hovel. When a traveler’s kitten disappears, this couple is suspected, and the guy calls down a curse on the two; all of the cats in Ulthar disappear for a day, then return much fatter than they were previously. Turns out this mysterious traveler caused the cats to eat the couple…

We’re off to Kingsport for the next couple of stories, starting with The Terrible Old Man, which tells of an attempted robbery on one of the denizens of the town, only for the robbers to disappear, turning up as mutilated corpses in the sea. The story is nice and short, and has just the right amount of suspense and creepiness to it that makes it delightful. The Strange High House in the Mist is almost a sequel, dealing with the philosopher Thomas Olsen’s intrepid exploration of the strange house of the title. Olsen is hosted by the weird occupant for several hours, as he talks of the past and whatnot, before having a fantastical encounter with the god Nodens. Olsen returns to Kingsport, but even the Terrible Old Man notices the difference in him. It’s an odd story, again fairly replete with lore for an enthusiastic Arkham Horror player!

The Horror at Red Hook is a tale I’ve read before, and features our good friend Thomas Malone from the Arkham Horror base game. The story details some black magic goings-on in the Red Hook area of Brooklyn, and revolves around the strange case of Robert Suydam, who is revealed to be an occult practitioner using magic and human sacrifice to retain his youth. As one does. The story is interesting to me, as it features a police inspector as the main protagonist rather than the usual idle intellectual; I’ve mentioned before how many of Lovecraft’s stories usually derive their horror from the fact that these intellectual types are at risk of losing their mind, a much more valuable commodity than physical harm. The story is an interesting one, though does suffer from some of Lovecraft’s strident racism. As with most of these things, though, I read them for the enjoyment of seeing stuff from the board/card game universe.

The Rats in the Walls is another that I’ve read before, and reminds me of a somewhat disastrous date I was on back in 2011 or 2012. The story, anyway, is set in England, in the wonderfully gothic “Exham Priory”. The tale basically deals with rats in the walls, which prompt the unnamed narrator to dream of his family’s ancient and morbid history. Basically, the De La Poer family kept human cattle in an underground city to serve as a stock of flesh to satisfy their cannibalistic urges. The narrator, following an expedition into the lower levels of the house, goes insane at the revelations of his family’s history, and is committed to an asylum, shortly after which the Priory collapses. It’s got perhaps more of the gothic horror to it than the more usual cosmic horror, though we do get a gasp of Nyarlathotep towards the end. The expedition under the Priory has all the suspense of classic Lovecraft, however, and the physical descent beneath the foundations nicely mirrors the figurative descent into the family history – and into madness.

I’ll finish with The Shunned House, which is another of these classic horror story types that Lovecraft does so well. The unnamed protagonist becomes fascinated by the history of a house on Benefit Street in Providence, RI. Along with his uncle, he looks into the history of the Harris family, and discovers all kinds of peculiar goings-on with the members of that family. Turns out the house is built on top of the burial site of a French daemon-worshiper, who has been leeching the souls of the house’s inhabitants since the eighteenth century. The protagonist and his uncle spend the night in the cellar, and his uncle is claimed by this diabolist, leading the protagonist to pour a load of sulfuric acid into the hell-pit, cleansing the house. The story is just great, with the sort of increasing build-up of suspense that Lovecraft does so well. It’s a straight-up ghost story, without any of the cosmic horror attributes of the Cthulhu mythos around it, but even so, it’s definitely worth having a read!

Omens of Ice

Hey everybody!
It’s time for another game day here at spalanz.com, and this week I’m taking a look at the latest expansion for Elder Sign: Omens of Ice! (This blog was originally slated to come out in Halloween week, where it would have made more thematic sense…)

Elder Sign: Omens of Ice

Elder Sign is one of my favourite games to break out for an evening of cosmic horror and dice rolling. The Gates of Arkham expansion from early 2015 introduced a new mode of play for the game, where we left the museum behind and ventured into the various neighbourhoods of the town. Omens of Ice is an expansion in the very same mould, as we venture into the Alaskan wilderness, following the mysterious goings-on in the wake of the discovery of a statue of Ithaqua…

Elder Sign: Omens of Ice

I love the snow theme in pretty much any game (The Frozen Wastes for Runebound being a prime example of this!) and was truly enraptured by the Mountains of Madness expansion for Eldritch Horror for the amount of theme that comes through in the gameplay there. Omens of Ice feels very similar to these games, as you need to ration your supplies as you face the biting cold.

Omens of Ice features a staged encounter deck, where the cards you encounter in stage one vary between the green (easy) and yellow (normal) difficulty, while stage two are only the yellow and red (hard) cards. I really like this because it allows the designers to make the game feel like you’re trudging into the wilderness, and passing into stage two actually means something. It really echoes the source material such as Algernon Blackwood’s The Wendigo, where the earlier part of the story feels ‘safe’ while the later parts in the wilderness are most assuredly not!

Elder Sign: Omens of Ice

The Expedition Camp card replaces the Museum Entry card, and acts like that card in every way. The Track card tracks both your supplies (based on the time of year) and the length of your adventure. Supplies are a new commodity that have an impact on the game that can, for instance, affect the stamina of your investigators if you don’t have any. The day track is linked to the clock, unsurprisingly, and advances whenever the clock strikes midnight. If the track reaches the end during Summer, you just add two doom tokens to the Ancient One track and move back to the Day 7 space; in Winter, however, if you take too long on your investigation, you’ll lose the game!

The day track also governs the Storm mechanic. Storm tokens act like penalties on encounter cards, and are placed on encounters through various effects, such as on the Ancient One track or through failing to complete an encounter, as well as through the day track. Some of them are blank, but some of them will cause you to lose health or supplies, etc. Some of them are blank, however, merely clouds threatening on the horizon rather than an actual threat for you to deal with!

Elder Sign: Omens of Ice

There is also a new deck of Alaskan Mythos Cards that features some horrible new effects to reflect the biting winter conditions.

Elder Sign: Omens of Ice

The new investigators are a mixed bag already in the Arkham Horror universe, while the Ancient Ones feature the iconic Ithaqua himself, naturally! The item and spell cards are the usual mix of giving your investigators bonus dice – including two items that each allow you to take the red or yellow die even if it is locked. Not sure how game-breaking that could be, as while it is a pain when you have a bunch of stuff you can’t use because the die is locked, it’s still a fundamental aspect of the struggle in this game. I haven’t yet had the specific situation come up to see how game-changing it could be, but the thought is there…

Elder Sign: Omens of Ice

Overall, I really like this expansion a lot. It’s difficult, don’t get me wrong – I haven’t actually managed to win a game yet, with the timed mechanic from the day tracker causing me a lot of problems – but it’s also super-thematic, which is something that I really enjoy about FFG’s Lovecraftian games. While I wouldn’t call the Call of Cthulhu LCG a misstep, I do feel that the co-operative struggle against the Ancient Ones is a much better way to implement mythos games, and was really pleased to see that avenue for the upcoming Arkham Horror LCG.

EDIT: Since writing this blog, FFG have announced a fourth expansion to Elder Sign, Omens of the Deep, again using the Gates of Arkham mode for gameplay. Looks like this is now the set manner for the game, and I can’t wait for both it and further ‘Omens of’ expansions to come out. Maybe Omens of the Sands for an Under the Pyramids-style expansion? We’ll have to wait and see!

The Dreamlands!!

Well stop the panic about no new big-box expansion for Eldritch Horror on the horizon, because FFG have now previewed the upcoming Dreamlands expansion and it looks like it should be amazing!! I’m trying not to do too many game day blogs that merely look forward to upcoming stuff, but I’ve had this one on my mind all weekend, so need to talk about it!

Eldritch Horror The Dreamlands

This expansion brings us an Other World on the sideboard for the first time ever in an Arkham Files board game. At the start of the game, you place portals through which you can access the Dreamlands board, which is a fantastic way of mixing up the way in which you move between the boards. I really like this idea, not least it’s because it’s really quite thematic. All of the Arkham Horror boards, and both of those for Eldritch Horror thus far, have had the same mechanic: go somewhere, and access a new board. This idea of moving around like this just really appeals to me, and is the main focus for me wanting to write this short, excited blog now!

It is, of course, early days, but I’m wondering what kind of secondary mechanics we’ll be seeing in this box. Mountains of Madness introduced us to the Focus mechanic, and Under the Pyramids allowed us to decrease our skills as well as increase them. So I’m assuming we’ll see something more, but I guess it’ll remain to be seen…

At any rate, I’m really looking forward to getting this box. I find it really interesting that we’re now seeing Other Worlds on expansion boards, which really opens the door for all kinds of different expansion experiences, and the way we get there sounds super cool. I still hope we get to see something like a more expanded Europe, and an enlarged New England showing the traditional Arkham/Dunwich/Innsmouth/Kingsport locations, however!

Can’t wait!

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!