Tuesday is of course game day here at spalanz.com, and a Yuletide Tuesday can only mean one thing – let’s play Eldritch Horror! It’s been a wild ride over the last few years, but we’ve reached the final expansion for that tremendous game: welcome to my Christmastime review of Masks of Nyarlathotep! This big box expansion was released three years ago now, and has been languishing untouched for far too long – so I am very pleased to have finally gotten round to playing a game with it! Up to now, though, I have only played one game, so this is very much a first impressions sort of blog, rather than an exhaustive review!
The expansion comes in a big box, but it’s worth noting right off the bat that there is no side board in this one. Curious, for many, especially because the content is only slightly more expansive than that of a small box expansion, but I suppose the amount of work that has gone into this box needs to be taken into account. So let’s start looking at what we get for our money!
Comparisons are bound to be made with Arkham Horror, of course, being the former big-box boardgame set in this universe, and it’s interesting to me that there is the inclusion in here of a mechanic that is lifted straight from the older game – personal stories. These are small cards that you take control of at the start of the game for your investigator – only two cards per investigator, though the entire game line is represented here, going right back to the core set, so don’t worry if you think someone might be missed! The front of the first card has a copy of that investigator’s picture, then the back tells you what they’re trying to do. When that condition has been met, you get to move to the front of the second card, which will give you a permanent boost effect for the remainder of the game. The story also has a second condition to watch for, however, which is usually determined by the game itself; if that is met, then you flip the second card and gain a permanent burden instead. For example, if Daisy Walker takes a rest action and spends 5 clues, she gains her permanent boost, which is to gain a free Tome asset, and in addition she reduces the sanity loss from Tome assets by 1. However, if she’s reduced to 1 health or 1 sanity, she gains the amnesia condition (or discards 1 clue or 1 spell if she already has the amnesia condition). All of the cards include their respective expansion symbol, too, so you know where they came from (and can sort them into those expansions, if you so wish).
It’s a very nice side-quest effect to have as part of the game, though I always feel like these things take something of a back seat to the actual game itself, especially in the game I was playing, which was against the new Ancient One, Nyarlathotep himself! There are two Ancient Ones in the box, which I guess bumps this up from a small box expansion. Nyarlathotep comes with just four mysteries, two special encounters and a wad of research encounters as we’d expect, and also a deck of four Adventures. We first saw this mechanic back in Mountains of Madness, of course, though here the Adventure is much more central to the story, as each of Nyarlathotep’s mysteries is tied to one of the Adventures, and completing that Adventure will solve the mystery. As a bit of mitigation, then, you only need to solve 2 mysteries to win, but it was a nice way to implement his Masks mechanic that is so integral to the character in other Arkham Files games. Each Adventure is linked with one of the Masks, such as the Bloated Woman or the Dark Pharaoh. The investigators are tasked with essentially stopping these cults to solve the mysteries, which I thought was a very interesting way of implementing this. I was also on the right hand side of the board for the longest time that I think I have ever played in this game! Each cult is linked to a part of the world, mainly Africa, Shanghai and Australia. Having Sefina Rousseau as one of my investigators helped in that sense, then, as she starts in Sydney after all! Nyarlathotep’s Cultists give out Corruption conditions, which allows for you to gain benefits at the expense of gathering Eldritch Tokens – if an investigator ever has tokens equal to their max sanity, they are devoured. It’s definitely an interesting mechanic, and I think this is perhaps the craziest incarnation of the Crawling Chaos that we’ve seen – he’s come a long way from being one of the simplest Ancient Ones to defeat in Arkham Horror!
The other Ancient One is Antediluvium, a reference to the Biblical flood. In game terms, we seem to be attempting to put down cultist uprisings, this time represented by a new take on the Mystic Ruins encounter deck that we last saw in the Strange Remnants small box expansion. The Ruins deck this time features encounters in Atlantis, Hyperborea, Mu and Pnakotus, so once again they’re really spreading out across the board. It’s a wonderful idea, and one that I had hoped we would see more of when Eldritch Horror first came out – the bland, numbered spaces on the board are all in specific locations, after all! There are no special encounters for Antediluvium, instead just a bunch of research encounters and the standard 6 mysteries, three of which are needed for victory. Taken side by side with Nyarlathotep, I find Antediluvium to be a little bit boring, though they are united by having the theme of international cultist rings, and I do like the new Mystic Ruins deck.
Seven new investigators join the team, rounding out the cast with a couple of new faces that were first seen in the second edition of Mansions of Madness, such as Agatha Crane and Carson Sinclair. Many of these feel like old timers now though, through their inclusion in the Arkham Horror LCG! Masks of Nyarlathotep brings the total number of investigators available for the game up to 55, which beats out Arkham Horror by 7, as it happens! There are some new monsters, including a horrific Star Vampire, and some new Epic Monsters. We get a dozen new Prelude cards to help make games of Eldritch Horror more varied and interesting, and we get three new gate tokens for the generic numbered spaces – Hyperborea, R’yleh, and Atlantis. New assets, unique assets, conditions, spells and artifacts round out the box.
One of the selling points for this box was the new campaign system, which seemed to fall pretty flat when it was released. I think that’s not entirely unfounded – a single page that describes the process doesn’t really seem a lot, after all. In a nutshell, you play six games with the same investigators, and if you’re devoured then you’re permanently out. Surviving investigators don’t come across to the next game with all possessions, but conditions do survive. It’s quite thematic, and I suppose it’s really not a bad way of doing this, but given how we’ve seen campaigns develop for other games, it does feel a bit simplistic.
That said, I don’t think I play something like Eldritch Horror for the campaign idea. I’ve said something similar when talking about the Hellboy board game a few weeks ago, but I do like the idea of a game existing on its own, and being played for the sake of the game, not as another step on the ladder, or whatever. Games of Eldritch Horror have fluctuated fairly wildly for me, either taking 1-2 hours max, or an entire evening. And I would rather keep it as a game that takes a while but one that I don’t feel it necessary to make more regular time for. I mean, I haven’t played a game of this since last year’s Dreamlands game, and that’s fine. (I mean, it isn’t, because I really enjoy it and would love to play more of it! But you know what I mean!)
As a finale to Eldritch Horror, I think it does fall a tiny bit flat. I don’t know if it was designed to be a full stop for the game, or whether there had been plans for more expansions that ended up shelved, but I think there could have perhaps been more added if it was in fact designed to finish off the product line. More generic encounters, maybe? Or more cards that allowed for mixing of expansions, much like Miskatonic Horror for the older game? I don’t really know how that could be implemented, as the Prelude mechanic seems to be a decent way of treating the whole game line as a big sandbox, but I’m sure there could be more done there. As it is, that big box does feel a little empty in comparison with other entries in the line, and that kinda makes me a bit sad for it as a whole. But this is the trap that I’ve previously warned against, and we need to take it on what is in there: Nyarlathotep is a fairly complex Ancient One, and I imagine he would have cheapened any small box by requiring so much content. It’s great to have him as part of the game, and his companion deity does provide another good opportunity to revisit the Mystic Ruins idea. We then have more of the same, in the great tradition of Eldritch Horror expansions, with the Personal Stories forming a nice little addition and gives content to the entire game series. Overall, I’m very pleased to have this stuff available for me to play with for many years to come, I suppose I just wish the game had gone out with more of a bang!
Now that I’ve explored each of the expansions for the game, I’d like to continue with covering Eldritch Horror with more gameplay style blogs, maybe with some degree of storytelling as each game unfolds. The game I played with this expansion ended up with many such storytelling points, including Sefina gaining a Dark Pact and going well down the wrong road, while Daniela really levelled herself up as a monster-hunting beast! There will no doubt be fun times ahead for the blog as I carry forth this plan, so stay tuned for this, and more!