The Conqueror Worm

For whatever reason, back when my blog was 5 and I featured Hellboy during Birthday Week, I neglected to get to the fifth trade paperback in the series, The Conqueror Worm. Which is weird, because my goodreads profile tells me that I did read it back then! When I had first got into Hellboy, this was as far as the series went, and I had wanted to relive the early 2000s with my birthday feature, but never mind – let’s correct this oversight now, in fact let’s do so twice!

Firstly, let’s talk about the comic. Back at the start of 1939, the Nazis had attempted to commune with the elder beings floating around in space, sending up a dead body for one of these monstrosities to inhabit, but the plan failed before they could recall the rocket. Well, the rocket has been spotted in 2000 and the BPRD are dispatched to investigate! Hellboy and Roger are led to Hunte Castle in Austria by a local police officer, who later turns out to be Inger von Klempt, granddaughter of Hermann von Klempt, the Nazi scientist who led the experiment in 1939. Lobster Johnson, something of a Captain America figure from the WW2-era, and believed dead when the original Nazi plot was disrupted, reappears and teams up with Roger to destroy the castle’s power generators, while Hellboy is initially tortured by von Klempt and his cybernetic Kriegaffe (war ape).

The rocket lands and a gas comes out, transforming everybody present into frog creatures. Inger has been protected against it to some extent, but when the Conqueror Worm itself emerges from the capsule and begins to devour the transformed mutants, she asks her grandfather how he could possibly hope to control the beast. Hermann tells her, after the failure of so many projects to bring about Nazi domination, he just wants to watch the death of the world as the Conqueror Worm will awaken the Ogdru Jahad. Roger is able to kill Hermann, and Lobster Johnson then uses a lightning rod to attract a massive jolt of electricity to kill the Worm. After his experiences with the BPRD, Hellboy decides to quit, and travel to Africa.

In an epilogue, Rasputin’s ghost is taunted by Hecate, who herself is inhabiting the body of Ilsa Haupstein still contained within the iron maiden. Rasputin’s plans to release the Ogdru Jahad will forever come to nothing, as the only force capable of releasing them is Hellboy’s stone right hand. Rasputin screams in defiance, to the point where his spirit shatters; Baba Yaga collects a fragment to wear in an acorn around her neck.

The book is quite glorious, I have to say. Some of the panels have such a gothic imagery that it really speaks to the search through the lower depths of Hunte Castle, and the sense of foreboding and dread as if the gargoyles are watching Hellboy’s progress. There’s something of a 90s feel to some of the panels, as the Conqueror Worm goes about his business – a lot of the colours and shading brings to mind the Dark Empire series, for me. The story is just exactly what I think of when I think of Hellboy – crazy Nazi scientists with their doomsday plots, it’s all delightfully over the top. The epilogue though, is really quite eerie – there’s a sense of the evil puppet masters, behind the scenes going over their plots, and so on. I especially liked the addition of Baba Yaga at the end, as well.

All in all, very creepy, and exactly what I like in a Hellboy story!

Secondly, I played with the Conqueror Worm expansion for the first time not too long ago, and I was really quite impressed! For years, despite having the graphic novels, Hellboy to me was Big Red going up against the Nazis and their Project Ragna Rok, thanks to the movie portrayal. While the frog monsters make sense within the board game universe, it’s still really quite special when you get more into this side of the Hellboy universe. The expansion features five types of Nazis, plus the eponymous Worm himself, as well as new scenery and rooms, and the associated card decks, along with two new playable agents: Lobster Johnson and Roger.

I’ve played The Cold Shoulder scenario, and I found it to be really thematic for this particular storyline. I’ve talked about it before, but there are very few “big” stories within the Hellboy comics – for the most part, two parters are as long as things get. So it’s nice to see a big story like Conqueror Worm get the big expansion treatment here. The game starts out with the agents exploring the hallways of the castle until they come across a point of interest, which (spoiler alert) reveals the laboratory where the Nazis are containing the Worm itself. With this tile placed, the Confrontation begins, and in order to win you’ll need to place charges in specific rooms and blow the castle up. While the Worm only has a move characteristic of 1, that miniature is huge, and it’s really quite frightening to see it coming across the board at you! As it happens, I somehow managed to block it in a chokepoint with a piece of terrain, not sure if that was played correctly, but it did slow it down enough that I was then able to move through and place the remaining charges to rig the castle, and get out before it all went boom. Poor Lobster Johnson did actually almost give his life for the cause, though I was able to heal him enough before the final showdown so that we all made it through!

This was my first game with three agents, and I think it definitely helped, as I was able to do a lot on my turns, and the game overall felt like it went much faster for having those increased options. Of course, I’m not sure if I’d always want to do that because the game does scale up for more agents being on the board, but still, it was a lot of fun, and I thought this was perhaps the first time when I felt like the game was a real co-op experience.

The Hellboy board game is truly shaping up to be one of my favourites here, and in recent weeks I think I’ve now doubled the number of plays with it. I think it helps that we’re in that season when it’s good to hunker down with a game, and despite all of my rantings and ravings about Kickstarter games here on the blog, there is something quite exciting about opening up a massive box that is choc-full of trays and trays of miniatures. The Hellboy theme is just the icing on the cake, really!

I do have Hellboy volume 6, and I think I may have investigated one of the stories in there, but I’m soon going to be in uncharted territories with the comic book series. I’m hoping to increase the library there soon, branching out into the BPRD series as well, to see what that’s all about. As for the board game, I definitely want to see more of the BPRD Archives expansion, and start putting together my own case files, as well as trying out more from the core set. The only thing that kinda gives me pause on that is just the sheer amount of frogs… Having all of the Kickstarter goodness does make me feel like mixing things up with some of those other miniatures for some variety, you know? There are suggested rules for that, as well, so I’ll have to take a look into the wider game and see just how I can bring that about. I have clearly been spoiled…!

Arkham Horror LCG musings

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

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

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

Arkham Horror investigators

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

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

Arkham Horror investigators

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

Arkham Horror investigators

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

Arkham Horror investigators

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

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

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

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

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

Hellboy Musings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arkham Horror: Third Edition

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

Arkham Horror 3rd edition

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

Arkham Horror 3rd edition

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

Arkham Horror 3rd edition

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

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

Arkham Horror 3rd edition

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

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

Arkham Horror 3rd edition

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

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

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

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

Star Wars Galaxy Guides (part two)

Hey everybody,
Almost a year to the day after taking a look at the first six Galaxy Guides for the original Star Wars RPG from West End Games, I’m back to take a look at books 7 to 12, as I get all warm and nostalgic for Star Wars in the olden days!

Galaxy Guide 7 is all about Mos Eisley, and brings together a variety of bits and pieces from the guide covering episode IV, plus Tatooine Manhunt, then builds upon it. We have profiles for all the personnel we could ever hope to encounter, from the Imperial Governor right on down to a lowly Squib droid dealer named Mace Windu. Yep, back before the prequels this was just another name running around in the background of the lore. Funny, huh?

The eighth book is all about Scouts, and is somewhat renowned for being the first of the WEG books to take things firmly into the New Republic era. It has a lot that deals with expanding the frontier, with stuff like planet generators that allow GMs to go crazy with creating their own area of SW lore. Book 9, Fragments from the Rim, is such a curious beast, I don’t know where to begin! It’s almost like a compilation of odds and ends that we’re trimmed out from other books – chapters cover everything from Rebel SpecOps to leisure activities and music in the GFFA, and take in both the Empire and swoop gangs, big business and the criminal underworld along the way. It’s so bizarre, I just love it! I feel like this one, more than anything, is truly indicative of how much of a sandbox the WEG system could be for the RPG. Truly amazing.

Guide 10 is all about Bounty Hunters, and would have been the essential book for players who want to use a bounty hunter character in the game. We get some background on what hunting is all about, specifically how it is regulated in the Empire, and run through character creation and profiles of notable hunters, including of course all six hunters who answered Vader’s call in Empire. The book is a fascinating exploration of bounty hunting, giving loads of in-depth information on everything from weapons and other tools, to the various Guilds and such. It concludes with an adventure specifically designed for three bounty hunter characters. All in all, it does exactly as you’d expect, and I imagine you’d find this book indispensable if that was the career path for your character.

The eleventh book is devoted to Criminal Organisations, and we have a good look into the black market, the galactic fringe, and the Hutts. Again, it’s a great source book, though mainly I guess this one is for the GM, as it involves a lot of the sort of background material that I would appreciate having to hand, to make my campaigns more interesting. The twelfth and final Galaxy Guide is another compendium of alien races, with stats for all manner of stuff, mainly the Jabba’s Palace chaps that we’ve not seen before, but also several created for the RPG.

All in all, these Guides are tremendous for the amount of content that they pack in. The quality of this stuff is really top-notch, as well, going to the nth degree with what may be required for the game. Getting the storied history of so many criminal organisations and such is really great, even if I think you’d be really hard-pressed to use it all, even in multiple campaigns!

I think the type of stuff we get in these books speaks volumes as to what Star Wars was back in the 1990s. So much of this, and the other WEG books, covered material out on the galactic rim, without really venturing much into the conflict in the Core worlds. We have criminals out on the fringe, and rebels really acting on the sidelines. Which is really what the original trilogy was about, when you think about it. Cloud City was about as sophisticated as those movies got. Subsequent game systems blew the galaxy wide open, and with the help of the prequels, Star Wars became something a bit more refined. But it’s always so much fun to go back to these game books, and relive what Star Wars used to be.

Hope you’ve all enjoyed this jaunt down memory lane with me! There will be more WEG blogs in the future, because I have them all, so don’t think I’m done with these sorts of reminiscences!

Return to Night of the Zealot

Hey everybody,
Today is game day, and it’s time to return to the one that started it all – it’s time to Return to Night of the Zealot. Published back in 2018, the box is a bit like the principle of the Nightmare decks for Lord of the Rings LCG, adding more depth and complexity to the game rather than simply making things more difficult. As well as the new cards to swap into the existing encounters, we get new player cards – upgrades to several of the staples from the core set, which is very nice.

Return to Night of the Zealot

The main story though is all about the changes to the scenarios that this box brings. The core set scenarios are, almost by definition, fairly basic, as they are designed to take us through the learning process for the game. We don’t get anything like as complicated as some of those in Path to Carcosa or The Circle Undone, because the Night of the Zealot campaign is designed to teach us how the game works. Return to Night of the Zealot therefore has the great opportunity to actually make something out of the box.

Return to Night of the Zealot

Return to The Gathering is probably the most-changed in this regard. This is the tutorial scenario, of course, and it is probably the most-played scenario out there, seeing as how it’s the starting point for us all! Things are subtly different, however, as we start off on a different path out of the study and find ourselves in a whole different house, it seems! There’s a definite change to the way the game plays, this time around – it feels different enough that I have to say it really stands out for me as a cracking way to implement this type of expansion.

Return to Night of the Zealot

The familiar story beats are all there, of course – the Ghoul Priest, the rats, all the rest of it. The only changes here for me are that I didn’t seem to end up getting the assistance of Lita Chandler, and for what I think was the first time in the many games with this scenario, I decided not to burn the house down!

Return to Night of the Zealot

Return to The Midnight Masks has much more subtle differences, with some alternate locations as well as alternative cultists for us to interrogate. There is also a whole different cultist deck to shuffle into the encounter deck. These new cultists are part of the Devourer’s Cult, which not only have doom added to them when they enter play, but can also steal clues to slow us down. Again, it’s not so much about making things difficult, but rather adding a new depth to the scenario.

Return to Night of the Zealot

Something that I particularly like about the expansion is the addition of achievements to tick off, as we attempt to play the scenarios and accomplish set goals. It’s a very simplistic way to add replayability to the game, for sure, but even so, it’s interesting as we attempt to explore the entire city of Arkham in this one, or interrogate all six cultists. Not entirely sure how that last could possibly happen, without some serious attempts to remove doom and stop the implacable advance, but anyway!

Return to Night of the Zealot

The Devourer Below is probably the closest to a “regular” scenario of the three from the core set, and the Return to The Devourer Below is perhaps the least-changed of the trio. We have a card that increases the health of Umôrdhoth (just what it needed!) and we have some different Ghouls, but that’s really where the additions end. It still plays quite difficult, and I am still left gobsmacked by how many close calls I end up with during it! Having just managed to collect enough clues to advance the final Act, doom picks up and the Agenda advances to 3b, where the Great Old One wakes up and we need to kill it. With no Lita Chandler to throw into the gaping maw of the beast, I was left to actually fight the thing, which was hardly easy! Agnes ended up dying, and with the last shreds of her sanity fraying, Trish used a Backstab to do the final points of damage.

Return to Night of the Zealot

What a victory!

This is a great design for an expansion, and one that I really enjoyed finally getting to play with after having had it all these years! For almost three years, I’ve had this thing principally for the fact that it’s a storage box, with some nice player cards that are useful across the board of course.

The biggest thing is naturally the new scenario cards that change things up. A couple of encounter sets are completely swapped out, otherwise each scenario has just a few tweaks with maybe two encounter cards added into the deck. And yet, these scenarios play out much more interestingly, for the most part.

I think a lot of people are down on this expansion in particular because the price point is the same as each subsequent Return To box, and yet the content is much lighter because there are only three scenarios involved, and not a full eight. If nothing else, the additional space in this box is useful for storing the tokens and some standalone scenarios. I definitely am a fan, at any rate!

The Circle Undone – looking for doom!

Hey everybody,
I’ve faced the doom of the world, and to some extent, I’ve survived! Let’s take a look into the final scenarios of The Circle Undone campaign.

Now, last time I sided with the Lodge, and I “won” when Carl Sandford managed to bind the spirit of Keziah Mason into his little black book. Oh dear! The campaign was over for me, and the Silver Twilight would begin their true work. Oh dear, oh dear! So I shuffled up and replayed the scenario and decided to side with the witches, whereupon the revenant spirit of Keziah Mason possessed Anette Mason, and turned her evil. Oh dear! At any rate, Valentino is alive, but the remaining three characters from the prologue are now dead – this campaign is going really well, wouldn’t you say?!

 

So I am now In the Clutches of Chaos. Scenario seven brings us back full circle (there’s a pun there, somewhere) to the fortune-teller Anna Kaslow, and the streets of Arkham. The clouds above are not natural. Phantasmal shapes shift and churn within the mist above. The scenario is really pregnant with foreboding, and then it begins. The set-up here is so familiar to me as a fan of Arkham Horror the board game, as we have many of the locations from the original board – but it gets better! The unique thing with this scenario is the breaches and incursions special rule – breaches (represented by resource tokens) are opening across the city, and if a fourth token would ever be placed on a location, instead an incursion takes place, and a doom token is placed on it instead.

Doom isn’t added to the agenda as normal, but instead we have (investigators) +1 breach tokens placed in random locations. In addition, almost all locations have no clue tokens added to them when they’re revealed – instead, by clearing breaches we have the opportunity to add clues to a random location. It’s all very random, and it feels incredibly like the board game, where we’re trying to close gates before we reach the gate limit. It was really nice!

 

The scenario concludes when the possessed Anette Mason is defeated – which I managed to do quite cinematically, with Joe Diamond softening her up before Diana Stanley finished her off with the Twilight dagger. Wonderful! In the fourth Interlude of the cycle, we come to realise that everything we’ve been doing has almost been a distraction from the massive breach that has been in the sky this entire time, engulfing the stars. Oh dear, oh dear!

At this point, we’re pretty much resigned to our fate, and when a group of nightgaunts come down from the sky, we mount up and fly into the void, in a desperate gambit to try and push back the chaos!

 

Before the Black Throne is almost a spoiler in itself, isn’t it – clearly we’re going to go up against Azathoth in some description. In every other Lovecraft game we’ve got, Azathoth is always the end – it wakes up and destroys the world. How would that be implemented in the card game?

As is now the pattern for this game, the cycle ends with a trip into an Other World – this time, we’re into the Cosmos, the Void. The implementation is quite nice, though, using the top cards from the investigator decks to provide “empty space” that we have to cross, replacing them with Cosmos cards where possible. It’s not a straightforward trip from A to B, however, and we don’t have a map – we need to try to find the way, which isn’t as straightforward as all that. These Cosmos cards can only be placed in specific locations relative to where we currently are – it sounds very regimented, but it’s actually a really great way to implement that flailing in the unknown.

 

Of course, there are anchor points in the void, and we’re trying to get from one to another at each turn of the Act deck. It’s also really nice how all of the investigators need to make it to the same point before the Act can advance, or else they will be killed.

Azathoth is present right from the beginning, and cannot be influenced by player cards in any way. We cannot fight him, but we can be attacked, by it, and many treachery cards can cause that. It looms over the whole scenario, and it feels almost insurmountable right from the start as a result.

Something that I found really interesting about the finale here is that it isn’t over when the Agenda runs out. I was all for making a suicidal attempt, and both of my investigators were only 1 or 2 points of damage away from death anyway, but no! Things carry on, and any doom that would be placed on the Agenda is instead placed on Azathoth (who has been collecting doom throughout, I hasten to add!)

To finally advance to victory, we need to find the Black Throne, and remove all of the clue tokens on there. Its shroud value is potentially huge, as it is linked to how much doom Azathoth has collected, but in no small part thanks to the Seeker shenanigans of Joe Diamond, I was able to actually clear all of the clues and – with a lot of luck – win!

I mean, I call it victory – Joe is now insane, and has joined the immortal Pipers of Azathoth forever. But, for now, Azathoth slumbers…

 


What an absolutely fantastic cycle The Circle Undone is!

From the almost inauspicious beginnings when we’re at the Meiger Estate and we’re not sure what’s going on, through the strange investigations into both the witch coven of Anette Mason and the Silver Twilight Lodge themselves, this cycle has got so many twists and turns, it feels like an absolute labyrinth. The designers stated that they crafted a tale that pitted the all-male Lodge against the all-female coven, resulting along the way with the theme of good vs evil (though which side is which is, of course, a matter of perspective). Given the nature of this conflict, the choice of Azathoth being the Ancient One at the end was almost inevitable, as that particular god has no motive beyond wholesale destruction.

It all works together really quite well, but that is not to say that the cycle is without its flaws. I’ve said previously that the storyline feels very much like it is pulling us along, and regardless of what happens during each game, there is a sense, at times, that there is stuff in-between games that will place us on the right track, regardless. This wasn’t quite so obvious in either Dunwich or, particularly, Carcosa, and it did distract me at times, I can’t deny.

But that’s not to say that The Circle Undone is a bad campaign. Quite the opposite, in fact. The atmosphere of gothic horror is palpable, and the theme really drips off in great clots. I love that this cycle explores the witchcraft side of Lovecraft’s writings, albeit tying in with the cosmic horror represented by the blind idiot god at the end. There can sometimes be a weird feeling when you manage to shoot a Great Old One, but here we have no chance to actually fight Azathoth, and that’s something I really love! Instead, we’ve just got to try and survive so that the story can end a different way.

I also adored the way we get to explore Arkham as a town here. Sure, we’ve had glimpses in the earlier cycles, when we’ve been at the Historical Society or the Miskatonic Museum, but this cycle really strives to bring us back to the town as a place that, if we’ve played the board game, we’ll be intimately familiar with. We get to run around the different locations much like we do in the board game, and it feels absolutely delightful! I really haven’t had so much joy from the game as when I’m getting to play with stuff like this, so I heartily commend the designers for that.

Overall, it’s not without its flaws, but I think the final impression of The Circle Undone as a campaign is that it is one of the best out there. I am definitely playing this one again at some point, and I imagine the games will feel quite different in choosing different paths from the start.

The Circle Undone – looking for cultists

Hey everybody,

There’s no stopping me now, as I plunge ahead with my Circle Undone campaign! I’ve said this so often during my blogs so far, but I’ve really enjoyed myself with this cycle. The witch/cultist theme is utterly incredible, and I think being set firmly in Arkham has been a real boost, too. Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed my jaunts into Dunwich and across the Atlantic, but here we’ve got almost the sense of exploring the old board game, and I love it!!

As always with these blogs, spoilers for the scenario will follow!

For the Greater Good sees us rummaging around the Silver Twilight Lodge in search of answers to what is going on. As enemies of the Lodge, my investigators were creeping around trying to avoid alerting anyone to their presence, and it does somehow feel like that’s exactly what we’re doing when playing this one! I’m sure I was trying to breathe quietly, just in case!

As we’ve seen in a number of scenarios now, this one has something of an unfolding map as we investigate further into the Lodge, moving through rooms in our search for clues. It’s not just clues that we’re after though – this scenario uses chaos tokens to represent “keys”, which we’re trying to locate for an unspecified purpose. I assumed it would be something to open the door to the Inner Sanctum but, while some locations are indeed barred to you unless you have a specific key, their purpose is instead linked to a puzzle box that is in the possession of Nathan Wick, a senior member of the Lodge.

The objective here is to get the box and the keys, but the way that the scenario unfolds, all of this feels like it happens quite beautifully and natural. An interesting point to this, the box had no other function in this scenario other than being the McGuffin, which I thought was an interesting point!

The encounter cards are quite an interesting mix, with a few that hate on the investigators for collecting keys (poor Joe was almost driven insane by being the one collecting all four), but otherwise it wasn’t what I’d call a particularly difficult scenario to handle. That said, I’d finally taken the time prior to playing to tune up my decks with some of the 15 experience points I’d earned so far, so maybe that helped!

Things are getting real in the fourth pack, Union and Disillusion, as we follow the Lodge to the Unvisited Isle in an attempt to either help or hinder the ritual. From the start, the atmosphere is laden with dread, as the set-up tells us to decide if we’re with or against the Order. Sheesh!

The Unvisited Isle is yet another classic location of course – and as with each time such a location turns up, we get to really run around and explore things, learning more about the place than we ever did from the board game!

So we’re running around the island, either lighting braziers (if we’re with the Order) or extinguishing them (if we’re with the witches), and there are several callbacks along the way to earlier scenarios, such as being forced to split up at one point. The scenario pack encounter set even includes several cards from the whippoorwill encounter set, calling back Dunwich! The brazier mechanic is quite interesting, involving a combined skill test, for instance you might need to test strength and agility (10) to complete it. Compound skill tests are fairly exciting, if I’m honest, and I’m surprised it has taken this long for the designers to implement them!

Everything kicks off when the Spectral Watcher shows up and starts to make his menacing way towards us. A new location, the Geist Trap, is put into play, and the objective is to defeat the Watcher while there – are you getting Ghostbusters vibes? Good. In a lucky twist, I’d managed to get myself fairly tooled-up so that everything was in place: a brazier must be lit, at a combined skill check of 20, so I’d drawn enough cards that I could comfortably over-commit and make sure the only thing I needed to do was to defeat the blighter!

The ending is a bit weird on this one, if I’m perfectly honest. Having decided to throw in my lot with the Order, I made some story choices along the way that have led to me seemingly dooming the world! The final resolution reads: The true work of the Silver Twilight Lodge has now begun. The Silver Twilight Lodge wins the campaign.

What?! There are still two packs left in the cycle! Well, it seems that I may have miscalculated…

I’m probably going to re-play this one and try siding with the witches to see how that works out for me.

The Circle Undone

Hey everybody,
It’s game day here at spalanz.com, and I’m back to the mythos today as I’m talking about the cycle that I’m currently playing for Arkham Horror LCG!

Arkham Horror LCG The Circle Undone

So I’ve skipped over an entire cycle here, forgetting about The Forgotten Age for now and going straight to The Circle Undone! I’ve wanted to try out Diana Stanley as an investigator for some time, so even though it doesn’t feel like all that long since I played a Mystic, I wanted to see what the whole thing was about with cancelling effects and so on. Other than that, I had no real clue as to what I was letting myself in for, but to date, this has by far been one of the most enjoyable gaming experiences out there!

The deluxe expansion is where we’re at today, and things are a bit crazy off the bat. There is a prologue before we get to the main two scenarios of the game, Disappearance at the Twilight Estate. We’re at a party, and strange things are going on. There are four “prologue investigators” included in the box, who each have a hand (not a deck) constructed from the available pool of investigator cards. The object of this prologue is simply to survive – indeed, the booklet does actually start off by telling us “there is no positive resolution for this scenario”, ending with “good luck – you’ll need it”!

The prologue, I believe, has a bearing on what happens further down the line in the cycle, though I’ve read a lot of people don’t like this prologue scenario, because it forces you into playing “investigators” and so on that you don’t necessarily want to. It’s fine with me though, as it adds another layer of the narrative to things – although I wasn’t best pleased when I discovered that I needed to use cards that had already been earmarked for my investigator decks!

I played as Jerome Davids and Valentino Rivas in the prologue, and it ended up with them both being pulled into the spectral realm. Creepy mist is hanging about – it’s all beautiful!

The Circle Undone

The first scenario proper is The Witching Hour, and begins with the investigators having their fortunes told on the breezy streets of Arkham. The tarot reading is a big part of this expansion, as Tarot cards are a new slot in the game that add a variety of effects, which can be quite interesting – though again, a few people I’ve seen discussing this expansion online seem to object to the addition! Anyway, the first scenario is all about witches, as a bolt of lightning streaks across the sky and we are transplanted into Arkham woods. This is an interesting scenario in that the investigators are at first separated, and can only investigate their own location – set-up instructs you to pass the locations around the table and place them in front of you, which does nothing for me playing solo, but I imagine for a 4-player game it would be quite atmospheric!

The object of this scenario is a bit like ‘defeat the big baddie’, but once again we have that pervasive sense of how futile victory can be.

The Circle Undone

The second scenario, At Death’s Doorstep, sees us returning to the Meiger estate, investigating some disappearances that have been occurring in the French Hill area of Arkham. I played this one a little while after the prologue, which is just as well I think, because it does feel very similar at first. Depending on who got pulled into the mist in the prologue, clues are placed at certain locations and those locations can flip over onto their spectral side as before. It’s all very weird, with the mist coming into the house, but we learn that the Silver Twilight has attempted to recreate the events of the earlier scenario in order to investigate what exactly happened. Creepy stuff!

This scenario is slightly weird also, because it includes an Interlude in the middle of the game. Following the conclusion of the scenario, there is a further Interlude, which serves to put the story firmly on its trajectory for the subsequent cycle. More so than Dunwich or Carcosa, I felt very much like this one was trying too hard to straightjacket us into the right way, if that makes sense. It’s not getting in the way of things, I don’t think, but it is noticeably there, and as such does seem to impact a little on the flow of things. The second Interlude feels a little bit overly mechanical like this, in that it is a single story chopped up into 9 pieces, and we skip over any of those that didn’t have an impact, which feels ever so slightly odd. I don’t know, it sounds like I’m purposefully trying to be difficult about this box, and I’m really not! It’s probably one of my favourites for the theme so far, as I’ve said! New England witchcraft, what’s not to like?!

So I’m at the end of the box, now, and have managed to gather 7VPs for my investigators from the scenarios, along with becoming an enemy of the Lodge – something I’m not entirely sure how it happened, but there we go! I have accepted my fate, escaped the spectral realm, and I’m on Valentino’s trail. In addition, the booklet has been instructing me to note down “mementos discovered” – I have no idea why, but I feel it might be interesting later on. For now, then, I’ve recovered a mesmerizing flute, and some ritual components. Hm.

It really has been fun, despite my small grievances I’ve mentioned – I think it’s one of those that appeals to me because I enjoy the regular-cultist trope over fantastical monsters, and it is really intriguing to think how these two elements – witches, and the Silver Twilight – might come together. It’s making me want to get back into reading some of the more spooky Lovecraft stories – Dreams in the Witch House and so on! It’s a really nice pace for the game, and I think the fact I didn’t enjoy the second scenario as much is probably more to do with wanting to have more witchcraft-y scenarios like the first one!

So there we have it – I’m firmly on the path now, though have been finding it difficult to get games in since Christmas has been and gone. Definitely been in more of a hobby mood of late, as shown with the army update blogs, but hopefully I’ll be able to get some more card games in soon. I still have a lot of Lord of the Rings to catch up on, as well!

The Lost Realm

Hey everybody,

I’m not sure if I’m actually going to reinstate the whole Tuesday-game-day thing in 2021, but hopefully I can write more about my games here as the year goes on! We’re now in Lockdown #3 here in the UK, where staying home is pretty much the new way of life for us, so what’s better than playing loads of games, right?! Today, I thought I’d have a bit of a ramble about my latest endeavour, playing through more of the Lord of the Rings scenarios that I’ve never explored. Given that the game ended last year (well, went on hiatus), I’m probably a bit late to this party! But it’s among my all-time favourite games, and I want to devote more time to it.

Lord of the Rings LCG

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you might have noticed a slip here – I’ve long thought of Lord of the Rings LCG as “my favourite game”, even when it was curb-stomping me, and even when I wasn’t playing it regularly. Now, however, I’m much more into Arkham Horror LCG as being a better overall game experience, though I come back to Middle Earth for the nostalgia trip!

Anyway.

Over Christmas, I decided to make the effort to play at least one full cycle from one of the five or six later ones that I’d never taken the time to explore, and settled eventually on the Angmar Awakened cycle. This one begins with The Lost Realm deluxe expansion, which brings the game into the north of Middle Earth, and explores the area to the north of the Shire, in the Lost Realm of Arnor. Hence the name!

There is a very strong Dúnedain theme developed across the player cards of the cycle, where the main focus is around engaging enemies. It was recently pointed out to me that this theme was telegraphed from way back in the core set with Son of Arnor, which I find pretty neat.

As the cycle moved on, and certainly as further cards came out in subsequent cycles, we’ve seen the Dúnedain theme become quite strong, rewarding players for engaging multiple enemies (although, I have to say, there are few defensive cards associated with the trait than I’d like!) It’s almost a high risk strategy, which sort of brings me to the next new thing in this cycle, Valour. A lot of cards have two effects, labelled Action and Valour Action. The Valour Action can only be triggered if your threat is above 40, but usually gives a much bigger effect – such cards have effects like ‘ready a character you control’ for the normal Action, and ‘ready all characters’ for the Valour Action.

But let’s talk about the quests in this box!

There are three, of course, and they’re all pretty middling difficulty, if I’m honest. I think this is due to the new Side Quest mechanic introduced in this cycle – cards that are shuffled into either your player deck, if it’s a player side quest, or into the encounter deck, and which act as an alternative to the main quest going on. Obviously, they depend upon being drawn to have an effect (although the second scenario, The Weather Hills, does instruct you to set one up in stage 2B), and having one (or more!) in play can make things extremely difficult!

Side quests are almost like extra active locations, in a sense – progress is placed there instead of the ‘main’ quest, and completing the quest does not advance the quest deck. Player quests can have some powerful effects, whereas encounter side quests can bolster enemies in play, so need to be removed!

The first scenario is Intruders in Chetwood, and serves to set the story up. The heroes are helping the Dúnedan Rangers in clearing out some Orcs that are marauding through Bree. In many ways, it’s similar to scenarios of the past – we have the objective-ally Iârion whom we need to keep alive, in a scenario full of enemies and nasty effects, some of which can trap him.

The Weather Hills is a bit more brutal, as we pursue the Orcs into, well, the Weather Hills. However, it seems that there is foul sorcery afoot! There is an objective card in play that collects tokens when enemies are defeated and, when flipped over, acts as something of a timer for the quest.

We pursue the Orcs into the old border fort of Amon Forn, where we discover the remnants of some depraved ritual having been carried out. Rescuing at least some of the prisoners from Bree, we take them to Fornost and have a chat with Aragorn, no less! But then – the sun goes down, and all hell breaks loose when Thaurdir, the spokesman for the prisoners, turns out to have been an undead wight!!

Deadman’s Dike tasks us with defeating the undead hordes roused by Thaurdir, though it is very much a ‘just survive’ type of quest. Thaurdir cannot be defeated, but if he doesn’t have damage on him equal to his hit points when the final progress token is placed on the quest, we haven’t yet won!

The story ends as Thaurdir escapes with Iârion captive, and we swear to his younger brother Amarthiúl that we will help to rescue him.

It was a bit odd for me to be playing a deck that included Amarthiúl from the start, although his hero card wasn’t released until the penultimate pack in the cycle! I’ve been playing two-handed solo, which is a completely new experience for me, and was actually a whole lot of fun – not least because I was finally able to experience both the Ranged and Sentinel keywords, so that was good! Whether it was helped by the fact I’ve been playing Arkham Horror in this manner for a while now, I found this way of playing really quite straightforward, and didn’t really get that confused by everything that was going on. The one concession I made, though, was to not pass the first player token.

The scenarios were really good, I have to say. I played the first one years ago, but don’t remember doing too well. However, aside from a miserable failure with the first Harad quest back in 2018, this box marks the first time in a long time that I have played “new” quests in this game! So that was pretty exciting to realise! There is a lot of theme in the scenarios, I think, and they don’t seem entirely impossible when playing with two decks, so that is nice! I was playing Standard mode, and still managed to make it through each one, at any rate – though I have read online that this was the first cycle that really tried to address the issue of scaling the game for 1-4 players, rather than assuming an optimum two.

At any rate, this was definitely an enjoyable experience for me, and I think it’s gone a long way to rekindling my love for the game, after the sound thrashing of the Ring-Maker cycle before it putting me off for years! As far as the Angmar Awakened cycle itself goes, I was a play-tester for that, so have played each one back in the day – albeit with cut-out bits of paper with text and no art! Not that I remember a great deal about it (it was 5 or 6 years ago, now), but I’m looking forward to going through the cycle in pursuit of Iârion, so stay tuned for more updates!