40 games with Elder Sign

Hey everybody,
It’s time for another game day blog, and in celebration of 40 plays with the game, I’m once again talking about Elder Sign, and the second expansion for the game, Gates of Arkham! Released back in 2015, this was the expansion that blew the game right open, taking us out of the museum and into the wider town. As such, the gameplay, while broadly similar, does have some significant changes along the way. We have a massive stack of adventure cards, but they’re double-sided now, and colour-coded with red for hard and green for easy (relatively speaking), as well as a passive effect that could be something that is beneficial, or could be an ‘At Midnight’ or similar effect. When set up, there are three cards face up, and three face down, although the adventure card stack is kept face down as you’d expect. I quite liked this idea of having some inkling of what is coming up next, whether it’s a green or yellow (or red) adventure, and it can allow you to plan for where you might want the card to go (more shortly).

Elder Sign

This ‘Streets of Arkham’ mode brings us the classic locations that we know and love from the Arkham Horror board game, so it definitely gets me right in the feels for that. The game mode uses its own mythos deck, because there is a greater emphasis on opening gates to Other Worlds in this one, as perhaps the name would suggest. These Other Worlds now enter play through gates, which can be brought into play via the mythos deck, or by the Ancient One’s doom track or monster defeats. When the Other World is drawn, a gate token is placed on it, and a corresponding token placed on one of the adventure cards. If you ever try to move to that adventure, instead you have to encounter the Other World, and if you succeed at the tests there, you close the gate and place a seal marker on the adventure card. It’s a bit convoluted, if I’m honest, but it does bring the gates mechanic from Arkham Horror into this game, which is nice to have I guess.

Elder Sign

Also new are Events, another deck like the mythos deck which can be drawn if an adventure has the event icon. These cards are an almost equal mix of good and bad effects, and you never really know if you’re going to get the red dice for free, or if you cannot use unique items and spells for this adventure. In this expansion, we have the option to join the Silver Twilight Lodge, or the Sheldon Gang, which will grant bonuses when trying to complete some adventures (as well as allowing us to auto-complete some tasks without rolling the dice), but the mythos deck can penalise us for being members. This is where the face-down adventure stack comes into play – if you know you want to join the Sheldon Gang, and Hibbs’ Roadhouse is up next, you might go for a face-down adventure in the hope of completing it, so that it will be replaced by a face-down Hibbs’ Roadhouse that you can then use to join the gang. Finally, we have a new Skills deck, much like the common and unique items decks. These skills are quite useful, allowing you to draw two events and discard one, for example, or allow another investigator to recover sanity or stamina on your turn, etc. They are good to have, for sure, but I feel a tiny bit sad that they’re not backwards-compatible with the museum setting, too. 

The adventures in Streets of Arkham mode are a definite step-up from the base game, I would say. There aren’t quite so many Terror or At Midnight effects going off, but in general the adventures will have flat restrictions on them, like “skip your movement phase” so you’re stuck there until you complete it. There is also a wider range of rewards and setbacks for completing or failing adventures – there is a lot of ‘don’t advance the clock’ effects, as well as recovering sanity and stamina for completing the adventure. They can also be quite difficult, because you can potentially be forced to discard assets for failing. Also, cursed/blessed is back, though in a somewhat subtle way. I do love the mechanic, but it does mean you need to have Unseen Forces for the dice, unless you particularly want to be re-rolling your green dice to stand in for them.

Elder Sign

All in all, it is a solid expansion, and takes the game in a very different direction from the base game. Subsequent expansions have followed this model, from what I can tell, and provide a completely new adventure deck for the game. I’ve only played Omens of Ice up to this point, but it looks like all the other expansions also have a solid brick of adventure cards to work through.

So I’ve worked out that I’ve played Elder Sign 40 times now, since first picking it up in 2012. That isn’t really a lot of games for 11 years, I’ll grant you, but I suppose there was a lull in games generally from 2015. I often find that I have lots of peaks and troughs with this game, though. In many ways, I think it could actually be one of my absolute favourite games – it’s pretty self-contained, even accounting for the expansions, and I think I have had so much enjoyment from the base game alone, that I don’t always feel the need for any expansions to make it good. Of course, the expansions are always welcome, but it surprises me at times how I don’t automatically think to play with any of them.

Elder Sign

Last week, I played with Gates of Arkham three times in a single day, mainly because I had the time and inclination to get an expansion out for the game, but it surprised me just how much I was enjoying the Streets of Arkham mode. I’ve now played with the expansion more in the last week than I have in the eight years since it was released! I think more than anything, I enjoyed getting back to the Arkham locations, and my first game (Finn Edwards and Norman Withers vs Atlach-Nacha) was such a washout that I had to shuffle up and re-set. I next went with my most recent duo in Arkham Horror LCG, Mandy Thompson and Tony Morgan (which was fun to dig into the next expansion, Omens of Ice, for his card), and that was a great game, very wide-ranging, with Mandy joining the Silver Twilight Lodge and Tony racking up quite the body count during the course of the game. Indeed, it was Tony’s soujourn into Ry’leh that gained three elder signs at a critical moment to ensure Mandy was able to pull out a win.

Elder Sign

For the big 40, I had a bit of a composite game with investigators from Unseen Forces and an Ancient One from the base game, playing in Streets of Arkham mode, and it was really glorious. It helped, somewhat, that there weren’t a great deal of elder signs coming up as rewards, so as Hastur needed 13 to seal him away, the game went on quite long. But that just helped to really immerse myself in the proceedings. I was playing as Mark Harrigan and Diana Stanley, a classic combination that I enjoy ever since I had read the brief intro text in the Eldritch Horror rulebook. Having such a long game allowed me to experience more of what the game has to offer, although I was bizarrely rolling exceptionally well, to the point where it almost became boring – Diana was blessed early on, and re-joined the Order of the Silver Twilight. Mark was able to get so many items, and keep getting them, as well as a huge amount of clues, that it was never really a problem for him, either. I do like his passive ability to complete tasks in any order, regardless of an arrow – I think him and Amanda Sharpe from the base game (who can complete any number of tasks simultaneously) would be quite a potent combo.

There’s no doubt about it, the Streets of Arkham game mode is a lot more involved than the regular museum game. There is so much going on, it is a definite improvement on the base game in that sense. I suppose you could say that the base game will draw people in, but this expansion is the one that makes Elder Sign a real board game. Well, it’s all cards and dice, but you know what I mean. A lot of people online have said that it’s the only way they would now play the game, and I can see why they would say that. It definitely feels like the Arkham experience, and I think I want to try and mix-and-match more stuff from across the base game, Unseen Forces, and this one for some hefty games going forward!

Elder Sign: Unseen Forces

Last week, I decided to right some wrongs 🤓

Remember about twelve months ago, I talked about wanting to play more board games, and even had the buy-in from my wife for joining this endeavour with a semi-regular games night suggested? I was very much fired up to get round to exploring the whole Elder Sign collection, and then promptly did next to nothing to make that happen!

Well, that’s not quite true. We played Elder Sign twice, then promptly moved on.


Slightly longer than twelve months on, I’m finally getting round to making this happen. I had a game with the first expansion, Unseen Forces, which was actually pretty good, I must say! I’ve already written up a proper game-day review of the expansion, which you can read here, but suffice it to say, this expansion has got a lot to offer for anyone who enjoys the base game.

Pretty much every expansion in the game line following this one changes the mechanics wildly, moving us out of the Museum and adding additional layers of complexity. Unseen Forces, then, is almost a “pure” expansion in that it gives us more of what we enjoyed the first time around. Of course, there are new mechanics, such as the Blessed/Cursed thing that is a part of so many Arkham Files games, as well as tweaks to the mythos deck, and so on. But there’s a big part of me that really appreciates these sorts of expansions, so I always feel the need to fly that flag!

At any rate, I’ve now chalked up a game with Unseen Forces, so up next will be Gates of Arkham, the first of the expansions to break the mould. I have only played that twice, and Omens of Ice has only seen a single game, with none of the others having had a look in. I’m excited to see what everything has to offer, at any rate, as I am to see what I’ve been missing all these years!!

Dunwich, once more

Tuesday is always game day here at spalanz.com, even if I don’t always get to post each and every time. Today, I’m heading back to Dunwich, for the third playthrough of the Dunwich Legacy campaign. This has been a bit of a dicey one for me so far – I set up some decks while riding high after the Dream-Eaters campaign at Christmas, but it took me almost a month to decide what to play, before I settled on Dunwich again. But after playing the first two scenarios at the end of January, I haven’t actually touched the game until the end of last week, when I went in for The Miskatonic Museum.

Dunwich Legacy

Despite having played this campaign the most, it never fails to surprise me how little I remember of the details, which of course means the replay value of this game is, for me, outstanding. As a story-driven game, it’s crucial that you can ‘forge your own path’ and so on, as if there is nothing really to be gained from playing the same story over and over. Having these kinds of branching paths is great, as you can make different choices to lead to different outcomes. For example, in the Museum scenario, you need to find a copy of the Necronomicon – when you do, you have a choice, whether to destroy it or to keep it safe. I’m fairly sure that in previous games, I’ve chosen to destroy the book, but this time, I’m going to keep it safe. Well, we shall see how that turns out!!

Dunwich Legacy

The investigators that I’m playing are quite interesting, both from the Dream-Eaters (coincidentally!) with some interesting abilities. Tony Morgan, the bounty hunter, has the ‘bounty contracts’ effect that allows him to put bounties on enemies as they are revealed and, when that enemy is defeated, claim said bounty as a resource. Playing a scenario with only one enemy in the whole deck is a bit of a waste, however, though when that enemy did show up, he was in his element! Mandy Thompson, the researcher, is a clue-gathering powerhouse, and has the ability to dig deeper when searching her deck, meaning I built her with a lot of ‘search your deck’ cards, but so far I don’t really think that has come up in games. Still, she’s able to just hoover up the clues, and I like that!

Excitingly, I have 11xp to spend, as I haven’t yet upgraded the decks this campaign. I think I might do that at the weekend, then maybe play some more.

Also excitingly, I was playing with some of the ‘new’ cards from the Return To box. In case you don’t know, each of the Return To boxes had additional player cards, and additional encounters for each of the scenarios of the cycle it revisits, though they also included alternate encounter sets for some of the commonly used sets from the core, like Ancient Evils and Creeping Cold. In theory, I could play this scenario with just this campaign, and not have to resort to core set standards. So that was nice! I think I’m going to try, as much as possible, to use these variant encounter sets during this campaign, anyway.

I’m sort of disappointed in myself, really, that I have been taking so long to get round to the game. It is, after all, a really good game! I suppose there’s a possibility that I’ve played this scenario too often to be that invested in the overall game, as I do know where we’re going ultimately, but hopefully I can still enjoy the ride during each game! And, hopefully, it will be a lot sooner than once every three or four months that I’ll be playing!

Mythos delvings

This year has mainly been taken over by The Mound, one of Lovecraft’s “revisions”, for Zealia Bishop. Lovecraft and Bishop collaborated on three stories in total, this being the middle one, and from Lovecraft’s letters, it seems to be the case that he wrote it on the back of a single line of story idea.

The novella takes place in Oklahoma, the same area as their first collaboration, The Curse of Yig. I haven’t read that one for years, though I think this story has far more of the typical Lovecraft elements that we know and expect, which perhaps lends credence to the idea that it is almost entirely his own work. The story weighs in at almost 30,000 words, and I’ve read that would have been worth roughly $145 at the time if published, though Lovecraft only charged his usual fee of $20, perhaps because Zealia was still in his debt from last time. At any rate, we follow an unnamed anthropologist from Virginia who is investigating stories about paranormal goings-on at a mysterious mound. We learn of some of these goings-on before the narrator heads out there, armed with a talisman from a local Native chieftain, and promptly discovers a metallic case containing a parchment in Spanish. The majority of the story deals with the narrator’s translation report, as we learn of a Zanacoma, a member of Coronado’s party, who learnt of fabulous gold cities under the surface of the world, so goes in search of them and ends up finding a race of beings who live in a city they call K’n-yan. Zanacoma is treated as a valuable resource to learn about the surface world, as the natives here sealed themselves off from the surface after the fall of Atlantis. Their society has become decadent, and we learn all sorts about the subterranean realm, including its relationship to Yoth and N’kai. Zanacoma attempts to flee after many years, and his manuscript ends on a troubling note. The narrator therefore decides to head out to see whether he can prove the manuscript right or a hoax, and indeed it does seem to have been correct, as he delves into the mound and discovers Cyclopean carvings and ghost sentinels…

I quite liked this one, in the end! It’s very long, of course, with the bulk of the story taken up with the reported narrative of Zanacoma. That was interesting, though it is really the frame narrative of the anthropologist that provides most of the horror, I would say. True, encountering underground dwellers who worship Yig and Cthulhu (sorry, Tulu here) is very disturbing, but that was more of a mystery/thriller, to me. Of course, the story is quite rich for its length, and we get a lot to enjoy from the wider mythos. The natives apparently used to worship Tsathoggua, and that deity’s creator Clark Ashton Smith later used this story to further his creation’s lore. K’n-yan is used fairly extensively throughout the mythos stuff I’ve come into contact with, most recently with The Forgotten Age campaign for Arkham Horror LCG, which blends this with other tales for its story. While some of Lovecraft’s collaborations tend to be a bit hit and miss, I think this has definitely got a lot to make it worth a read. I’d put it off for years simply due to its length, but it is quite good!!

Much shorter is The Festival, which is a tale of someone who travels to Kingsport for the Yule festival of his ancestors. Very fishy, especially when the group of folks he meets with takes him down into the earth to a subterranean cavern, where odd flying beasts (possibly byakhees, for gamers out there) take the others off into the sky – no wonder he ends up in the hospital. We’ve been to Kingsport before, of course, but the description of the town here is said to reflect Lovecraft’s first visit to Marblehead, which created quite the impression. We also get a lengthy quote from the fabled Necronomicon itself, which is always worthwhile reading. It’s an oddly nice story to read specifically at Christmas time, given its setting and all – something otherwise not prevalent in Lovecraft.

Lovecraft apparently wrote The Transition of Juan Romero as proof of how someone could churn out a weird tale in an afternoon, and while he showed it to his friends, he never tried to publish it. He apparently hated it, and it only exists because later in life one of those friends asked for a copy. The story is actually not that bad, I thought – it’s a classic sort of tale where miners delve too deeply and open up a chasm too deep, which prompts the titular Juan Romero to “answer the call” of those drums in the deep. There’s a lot of overblown suspense, a lot of “it’s too horrible to tell you” and such, but I always think that’s kinda what these pulp stories are about, you know? It’s always interesting to read a Lovecraft story where the narrator isn’t basically Lovecraft, after all.

The Other Gods is another short one, and forms part of the ‘dream cycle’ that I read way back when I started these mythos delving blogs. A priest thinks he knows all about the old gods of earth, and wants to visit them when they come out to play. Scaling a mountain when the mist thins, it isn’t the old gods that he sees, but instead the other gods. It’s very fantastical, and drops lots of Dream-Quest names like Kadath and Ngranek, and we also have mention of the Pnakotic Manuscripts.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from The Temple, but it was quite an atmospheric tale that was oddly reminiscent of a disaster movie, for the most part. The Captain of a German U-boat narrates a tale of discovering what they think is a dead body with an ivory statuette on it, but as the sailors throw the body overboard, it seems to look at them, then to swim away. Catastrophes then result as the boat’s engines explode, and most of the crew go mad. The Captain shoots pretty much everybody, but then the boat’s drift takes them to the submerged city of Atlantis. The isolation seems to get the better of him, and his will is eroded as he feels compelled to visit the temple near the boat, with a frieze identical to the ivory statuette. Wonderful stuff! It was almost immediately reminiscent of Dagon, but I thought it was very interesting how the story developed. The captain is a bit of a caricature of Prussian superiority, and at times I wanted to laugh aloud at how far into that type Lovecraft leans. I think I was expecting a dreamlands-type of story, but instead we have something very different!

I’ll finish this year’s mythos blog with From Beyond, a piece firmly in the weird science mould similar to Herbert West and others. The narrator goes to visit his friend, who he hasn’t seen for ten weeks, and is shown a machine that seems able to enhance a person’s perception of the world beyond the five senses. His friend turns out to be a tiny bit bonkers, though, especially when he seems to want to kill the narrator. A gunshot rings out, and the machine is destroyed. I quite enjoyed this one – it’s very Lovecraft, but the narrator’s friend is so vicious and, well, mad, that it’s still a bit out of the ordinary! I do like these Lovecraft stories about weird science and laboratories in the attic, it’s all extremely suggestive. Interestingly, a lot of the substance of this one seems to have been derived from an actual scientific treatise published in 1919, and the notes in the Penguin version quote at some length to give an idea of how Lovecraft got his material. It shows how widely read the man was, really!!

Veil of Twilight

I tried to save the world from Yog-Sothoth, but I don’t think it went as planned…

Arkham Horror

I’ve been enjoying the Arkham universe once again lately, getting halfway through the Dream-Eaters campaign for the Arkham Horror LCG in fairly short order. I’ve not played the board game for a while, though, so decided to take the opportunity to try my hand at the third scenario from the core set, Veil of Twilight. This was a very interesting game, because I’m definitely starting to see how this game is less about picking an Ancient One to fight, and more about the unfolding narrative of the scenario, which may or may not culminate with a boss battle.

Very much as the rulebook says, we don’t really know what we’re trying to do at the start of the game. There are some bits and pieces, but we’re really trying to figure things out as we go. In this scenario, there are “scars” in the fabric of reality that, it seems, need to be mended. But you need to keep doom in check, of course, and there are lots of monsters in this one that interact with doom which, during the course of my game, meant I had something of a nexus of evil up at the top of the board!

Arkham Horror

I decided to use Agnes Baker and Minh Thi Phan as my investigators, as I am currently playing with them in the card game, so that was quite good. However, I hadn’t reckoned on their stats, so was left with two fairly fragile investigators going up against the denizens of hell. However, Minh constantly surprised me and was able to actually clear out that nexus of evil, while Agnes pretty much kept the rest of the board in check.

Arkham Horror

Partway through the scenario, more of these scars turn up on the board, and you need to spend clues from the scenario sheet to seal them up. Agnes became a powerhouse here, getting the clues and whacking them onto the sheet – I think Minh sealed two scars up, but it was mostly Agnes laying all of the groundwork. How surprising, then, when the time came, that I discovered that actually, I have paved the way for “the real work of the Silver Twilight Lodge” to begin! Minh had actually joined the secret fraternity, so I suppose technically she won, but jeez, I wasn’t expecting that!

Arkham Horror

It was a great game though, as I struggled to recall all of the rules. I was a bit distracted by my wife watching the new Cormoran Strike series in the next room, so probably took longer than normal to get going with it all, but impressively, the whole game only took about 2 hours – including set up and clean up. That’s a definite improvement on the 40 minutes of set up when I cracked open the box recently, I have to say!

The involvement of the Silver Twilight Lodge is very reminiscent of The Circle Undone, of course, and I seem to recall that I had the same result when I initially played that cycle, “winning” and allowing the Lodge to begin their “true work”. When will I learn that making a deal with the devil is not the best course of action?!

Arkham Horror

Still, it was a good game. There’s only one more scenario left from the core set now, and then I have the small expansion, Dead of Night, so I think it might be fun to crack open that box soon, and see what else is in store for me! I’m pretty sure it’s a “more of the same” situation, I think there are new investigators and two new scenarios? So that should keep me going for a while, though I am increasingly tempted by the other expansions, especially as (a) there are only two of them, and (b) the sky-is-falling attitude of the game potentially being dead meaning that supply might not always be there. It’s a great game, after all, and I think this year has shown that it is one that I keep coming back to, so don’t be surprised if I end up with more news on that before long!

The Dream-Eaters: stage two

Well folks, I am just breezing through the campaign right now! After making a start on Monday with both parts, I’m back again today with the next stage!

Dream-Eaters stage 2

The Search for Kadath

Things are progressing well with the Dream-Eaters cycle, as I basically re-live HP Lovecraft’s Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. It’s remarkable, really, how this scenario sticks so true to the source material while also able to weave through additional threads from some of Lovecraft’s shorter dream pieces. We start where we left off, really, in the cat city of Ulthar, and the dreamers begin their quest to find answers by consulting a high priest. The act deck is hefty in this scenario, but this is because the game is pretty much staged in five different locations. Once the first act card has been advanced, we have a choice about where we need to go next, one of four locations. These are all classic mythos locations such as Ib, Celephaïs, etc. The object of our travels is to find ten signs of the gods, which will light our way to the next stage of our journey.

Dream-Eaters stage 2

Now, I must say that I really enjoyed this scenario, but it did get a bit repetitive towards the end. See, we have to search through all four of these Dreamlands locations to find these signs, and we only get a couple from each one, so you know that you need to get through each one. Each location also only has three cards to investigate, plus a unique enemy, and it all becomes a bit samey in the end.

Dream-Eaters stage 2

I think, if the locations has been a bit more different somehow, either through giving more signs or having more or less location cards, it might have mixed it up a bit. Of course, on the flipside you could say that it’s quite formulaic in the way that these dream sequences are following a rhythm or something. At any rate, my investigators made it through and ended up with a hefty chunk of victory points thanks to a lot of the locations giving out points! I had already taken some time beforehand to upgrade everybody’s decks, but this was quite amazing to end up with 13 more victory points!

There is a peculiar tally going on in the campaign log now as well – “evidence of Kadath”. I have eleven tally marks here, but I don’t yet know to what end I’m recording it all. It’ll be interesting, I think, to see where this whole thing ends up!

Dream-Eaters stage 2

A Thousand Shapes of Horror

In the waking world, however, things are a lot more Arkham-esque. Realising their dreaming friends are in trouble, the investigators attempt to find an entrance to the Dreamlands in the physical world, rather than through going to sleep, and with the help of Randolph Carter, they pursue a lead he once had via The Unnamable, a shunned house in the Merchant District for those fans of the original board game. The location was always a bit unstable, like you never really knew what you were going to find there, and that holds true here, now. We have to complete an objective on another scenario card to advance the act deck, so we’re exploring the house and spending clues to put other locations into play, etc. When the first card in the agenda deck advances, however, we end up with the Unnamable monster following us around on this journey around the house – it’s both Aloof and a Hunter, and cannot be defeated, so I was a bit perplexed at first as to how to handle it, but it seems the monster just follows us around and, unless we opt to engage us, it’ll just be there?

Dream-Eaters stage 2

Spending clues as we go allows us to take actions on the location cards, stuff like “the investigators found a cracked mirror” or “the investigators studied a desecrated portrait”. There’s a balance here, because we don’t really know what benefit these actions are going to be as we take them, but the whole thing begins to feel like a mystery that we need to solve, and I genuinely felt like this is one of the few scenarios in the game when you actually feel like an investigator! As it turns out, some of these actions will lower the fight value or evade value of the Unnamable monster, which comes in handy later in the scenario.

That scenario objective I mentioned turns up on another location card that gets put into play once we’ve investigated the upstairs of the house. When we investigate this new location, everything changes and we go down and down into the bowels of the earth, where the objective is to get to the bottom of the stairway. However, there are peculiarities involved that will hinder our progress, such as not being able to move from a location unless we discard a card, or unless the Unnamable (which has followed us) has a minimum amount of damage on him, etc. There are treachery cards within the encounter deck which will change the order of the locations as well, to make it feel like we’re really on the brink of madness, but it all adds up to not being a straightforward race for the exit.

Dream-Eaters stage 2

I have to say, I loved this scenario. Any time that we get to spend in Arkham is really exciting, I think, but when we’re actually exploring a board location like this, it feels extra special. It gave me strong Circle Undone vibes, mainly the exploration of the Witch House scenario, but also I was reminded of the penultimate scenario in that campaign, when we’re on the Unvisited Isle – it’s interesting to see the breadth of what those old board game locations actually involved, if you know what I mean?

We’re also once again firmly in Lovecraft territory, as this is almost a re-telling of The Statement of Randolph Carter, where he’s digging up graves with his pal for a laugh. I loved the fact that we re-used so many of the core set encounter sets as well, like the Rats and the Ghouls. Not many of those cards came up, it has to be said, but after the last scenario which didn’t use any of the core set encounters (I think it might be the first mythos pack where you only needed it and the corresponding deluxe expansion to play it), it was nice for those nostalgia beats.

I definitely think I should re-play the core set soon.

Dream-Eaters stage 2

At any rate, I only had 6 experience points from this one, so it seems like being in the dream state is much more profitable! However, the scenario ends with the waking investigators entering The Underworld, so I’m very interested to see where stage three takes us!

The Dream-Eaters: stage one

The Waking World Is Only One Reality

Well folks, after setting up my decks for the Dream-Eaters campaign for Arkham Horror LCG, I’ve finally made it through stage one of the proceedings, with all four of my investigators having a trial in their respective realities.

I’ve decided to pair Agnes and Minh together, as they are perhaps the most “ethereal” of the quartet, with Jenny and Carolyn being a bit more grounded. It also made an element of narrative sense, to have someone like Carolyn (a psychiatrist) “on the outside” watching the others in the dream-land.

The Dream-Eaters (1)

The first quest, Beyond the Gates of Sleep, sees the dreamers descend into the dream forest described in the writings of Virgil Grey, and has the curious mechanic of not bothering with an encounter deck for the first few act cards. I was initially completely thrown by this scenario, because I hadn’t read the set-up instructions properly! In order to progress the act deck, you need to travel from one location to another, but I hadn’t realised that the other location starts in play, so was slightly panicked! This has happened before for me, so I shouldn’t blame sloppy game design when it’s actually my poor reading comprehension.

Anyway, it is a very interesting way of staging the scenario, with each act card adding slightly more to the play area, to allow us to progress at a set rate. Of course, we can’t dawdle, because the agenda card is adding 3 doom each round we linger, so we really need to be progressing quickly. Fortunately, the investigator duo seems to be okay with handling this sort of thing for the moment, so I’m not too concerned about the comparatively low fight and evade on both of them. Agnes has some powerful spells that should allow for some mitigation here as well, though.

The Dream-Eaters (1)

The main body of this scenario begins with the final act card, when the enchanted woods blossom out before us, and the encounter deck appears for a more regular game. There is an interesting mechanic here as well, as we are forced to decide either to stay on the enchanted path, meaning we need to spend an absolute age there trying to gather the 10 clues needed (the location allows you to give up your turn to place a clue there, but its shroud value is based on the number of unrevealed enchanted woods, so it’s going to be a tough one!) or else explore the woods, which we need to record ominously as “the dreamers strayed from the path”. Not sure what is now in store for me, but I strayed, and investigated five of the six locations – netting myself a total of 9 experience points! So it’s not all bad, I suppose!

Of course, it’s probably just as well that the scenario gives so much experience, because we’re only using the dreamer investigators for half the number of scenarios that we normally have in a campaign. I have read some criticism of this cycle in that we don’t get to play with the investigators for very long, but in all honesty I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing – I mean, I’m playing a campaign with twice the number of investigators I would normally use, so I think that’s giving me experience of the wider group.

The Dream-Eaters (1)

The second scenario, or the first scenario in the Web of Dreams half of the campaign, is really good. The investigators who stayed awake are concerned about the strange behaviour of their sleeping companions, so take them to St Mary’s Hospital, and things start to get a bit creepy. Going off to investigate, we find the hospital seems to be overrun with massive spiders, and we need to find Randolph Carter, who is held somewhere in the basement rooms, before we can seal the rift that is allowing these spiders to get in. 

There are distinct vibes of The Unspeakable Oath from the Carcosa campaign, as we’re trying to find a patient in a creepy medical institution. I really enjoyed it, especially the twists that were put on the scenario this time around. There is an Infestation mechanic which uses chaos tokens to potentially bring out more and more spider enemies, and you need to clear the infestation before you can complete the scenario. When we do, one of the investigators is able to claim the Randolph Carter ally card, and onwards we go! Jenny is joined by Randolph for the continuing adventure.

The Dream-Eaters (1)

For all that I liked it, I must admit that I did rush through this one so didn’t probably get to investigate a lot of the scenario. I think I played quite responsively, ignoring almost all the other stuff going on, including when Carolyn drew her Chronophobia weakness card. She just kept taking direct horror, so long as she could complete the scenario! That said, we completed it in just a handful of rounds, and were able to get 6 experience points from this one.

There follows an Interlude which does feel ever so slightly janky – it starts off in Ulthar in the Dreamlands, where the dreamers meet with Virgil and a black cat takes a message to their companions in the waking world. It then splits into the waking world portion for the cat to deliver that message, so it does have that kind of split to it, which jarred me a little. Nevertheless, I have somehow managed to end up with adding a lot more chaos tokens to the bag now, so we shall see how things progress with the second stage!

So far, then, I have enjoyed the start of this campaign. I think I’ve allowed a lot of the opinion online to put me off from getting round to this one – when will I ever learn? Seems like people don’t like the split nature of the campaign mainly, and the aforementioned lack of time with your investigator deck. Personally, I don’t think that has ever really bothered me, as I can’t say I have grown attached to any investigator over the years I’ve been playing this game! True, sometimes you end up with a really good deck as you level up, but I don’t think I will bemoan the lack of time spent with my quartet.

For me, though, I think that so far it has felt very much like Arkham once again. I don’t want to try and bash the Edge of the Earth campaign, but I do prefer to play this game when I am in New England! Recently, I’ve been considering re-playing some of the earlier stuff for that Arkham theme, but now that I seem to be there in this campaign, I think I’m happy! I do love the game though, and I’m hoping to play more of it as time goes on, and discover more of what the game has to offer!

I read HP Lovecraft’s Dream-Quest during my Christmas 2020 mythos delvings, and playing this campaign now is giving me all sorts of nostalgia for that time. I think I might try to read some more of those stories this year, to stay on-theme!

The Dream-Eaters: a preamble

It hasn’t been all that long since I finished the Edge of the Earth campaign for Arkham Horror LCG, and here I am, planning my next foray into cosmic horror! I think there’s definitely something about this time of year, and this game, that just makes me want to keep playing.

The Dream-Eaters is the fifth campaign for the game, and came out starting in the autumn of 2019. Initially, I had stopped buying the game after The Circle Undone, so didn’t pay a great deal of attention to this one at the time, but then hurried to pick it all up a year later. I think I struck lucky because I managed to get it all just before things went mental, as the pandemic saw people getting into this game and packs disappeared.

The campaign is unique for containing, essentially, two mini-campaigns instead of one eight-parter. The story is that a fantasy novelist has had a disturbing dream, which he has written and published, whereupon hundreds of other people realise they had the exact same dream. The intrepid investigators decide to check it out, and recreate the circumstances under which this author had his dreams, and split into teams – one to delve into the dream-land, the other to stay and observe in the waking world. Apparently you can play either of the four-part campaigns as stand-alone, but I have opted for the big one, which therefore requires four investigators – two on each team!

It proved to be quite a challenge, in the end, building four decks from my card collection. Initially it seemed quite straightforward, as there are five investigator classes, so one from each should do it, but due to the way that things work in terms of multi-classing, I was trying not to let for example, Carolyn Fern step on Agnes Baker’s toes, as they both have Mystic cards. I don’t have a Survivor hero, but both Minh Thi Phan and Agnes have a good amount of Survivor cards. After enjoying Patrice Hathaway I had wanted to try out another Survivor initially, but upon building three female investigators, I wanted to stick with that and so went for a Survivor-heavy Minh instead. She’s actually an investigator that I had never previously had any interest in playing, but I’m now really interested in playing her. In fact, building these decks has shown me there are still plenty of investigators that I am keen to try!

I’m not sure how I want to pair them off just yet. I’m thinking I might follow the photo there, and go with Minh and Jenny in the dream-land, with Carolyn and Agnes in the waking world. However, Agnes has a backstory that would lend itself nicely to the dream-land, plus Jenny is probably more suited to more real-world adventures. I’m not sure if the decks would work well in that configuration, though I’m never sure if my decks will work regardless, so it’s probably a matter of luck, anyway!!

I’m probably going to start the campaign this week, as I am currently off work for the week, and I would like to try to play the game in paired sessions, to get both sides of the storyline. I don’t know if it actually runs like that, though, so it’ll be interesting!

Edge of the Earth: The Heart of Madness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eldritch Horror: Cities in Ruin

Eldritch Horror

Well, after Friday’s post about playing more Eldritch Horror, here I am again! This time with another expansion that has only seen the light of day the once, Cities in Ruin! This one is quite the box, I have to say – there’s a lot going on with it, perhaps more so than we saw with the Hastur expansion last time. Shudde M’ell is of course the arch-Cthonian, so the box is themed around destroying parts of the world as these horrible monsters erupt from the earth. I remember playing the expansion almost four years ago now, and being impressed with how it changes up the game – you start at 15 doom, which feels like a walk in the park because it’s so far out, but there is so much that just advances doom, and when you add in the fact that the Mythos deck and other elements are working to destroy board spaces, things can get pretty wild!

Playing with expansion investigators, I took Roland Banks and Bob Jenkins on an unlikely adventure against the outer evil. Roland hilariously kept getting Debt or Detained conditions, while Bob actually solved all three mysteries pretty much single-handedly. He even managed to defeat the Worldrender epic monster thanks to an artifact that buffed him amazingly. Definitely wasn’t expecting that from the salesman, I have to say!

Eldritch Horror

However, this game did feel pretty easy, somehow. The combination of mysteries drawn obviously works towards that, and I think having some where you just need to have encounters, and some where you have to spend the clues but we’re getting lots of those regardless, all contributed to a pretty quick game – just over an hour, from set-up to finish! It’s all well and good having a quick game, of course, but I do prefer to explore a bit more, and I suppose I could have avoided the Worldrender to draw it out a bit longer, but even so! This is the second game, easily, where I haven’t been to the eastern side of the board at all, which I think is something of a theme for me overall. I was thinking that I would try to interact with the Expedition more on this game, but that didn’t pan out, either!

Eldritch Horror

All that said, I have since found out that I have actually been playing the combat rules wrong – I have basically been playing it as a slugfest between the investigator and the monster, but the rulebook is clear in that you only resolve a single encounter each round. Eek! I think I need to play this game a lot more, and get to grips with this side of things!

The Devastation deck is a nice addition to this expansion, and there is a Prelude card that allows you to use the mechanic without Shudde M’ell as the Ancient One. I think Preludes have been something that I have, in general, been avoiding for a lot of my games, so I should probably look into these more now that I have played through every expansion at least once. They’re a great way to pick-and-choose which elements, like the Devastation deck here, to include in your games, and I think I need to try them out some more.

Eldritch Horror

And that’s exactly what I did, almost immediately afterwards! I went on an adventure using just the core set and the Devastation rules, sending Trish Scarborough and Akachi Onyele up against Yog Sothoth! I thought this was a very interesting game, because I tried to focus on getting my investigators to be the best they could through assets etc, but also keeping an eye on the mission, as Yog Sothoth isn’t the most forgiving of the core set Ancient Ones. It was interesting, though, because even while the doom track ticked down quite a lot, and I think three Disaster cards were drawn, it seemed to have such little impact on the game overall. I mean, I was too busy with the main mysteries to really bother to have encounters with the Devastation deck, and without Shudde M’ell’s specific mysteries requiring those encounters, it became very easy to just ignore that aspect of the game going on.

I would imagine that the prelude cards which bring out the sideboards and all of their associated stuff would lead to a more involved game overall, as there are additional incentives to explore those boards thanks to the gates spawning there and so on, but it was quite interesting to me to see just how little an impact these things can have on the game. That said, I suppose it is slightly hit and miss, because there are Prelude cards that alter the game in more subtle ways, such as that one which adds a fifth asset slot courtesy of the Silver Twilight Lodge. I want to try and use these some more, though, as I see them almost functioning like mini-expansions for the game, somehow. The Masks of Nyarlathotep has some very interesting Prelude cards, such as one that adds spells to the reserve for regular purchase, or the zombie apocalypse-style game, or one of my personal favourites, where if the investigators win, actually they don’t – you advance doom to 0 and awaken the Ancient One regardless! I think every expansion except Forsaken Lore, which came instead with additional cards for the base game, has a selection of Prelude cards to choose from, so it could be fun to explore those more as time goes on.

Eldritch Horror

However, that’s not to forget about the actual expansions themselves, of course. As I’ve been playing more of the Edge of the Earth campaign in Arkham Horror LCG to try and wrap that up, I am thinking I’d like to try out the Mountains of Madness expansion once again! I haven’t played with that box for almost 7 years, so it would be nice to get back to these things!

Eldritch Horror

I talked last time about how I want to try to play more and explore the expansions more, and this is definitely going to continue for me as we go into 2023. I do enjoy the game so much, I think it’s pretty much a no-brainer really. Elder Sign is another Lovecraft game that I hope to get to the table again soon. I have all of those small box Omens expansions, but I think I’ve only actually played Omens of Ice once, and the others are still new. Hopefully they can come to the table soon, and I can see what I’ve been missing all of these years!!

I also think I’m going to aim for more Arkham Horror as well, as that’s another game that I’ve enjoyed, but have barely scratched the surface with really. I have recently picked up the small box expansion for it, Dead of Night, which increases a lot of the content we already have in the base game, so hopefully I’ll be able to play more games there as well. Both of these games are what I like to think of as Saturday afternoon games, where you can sit back with the entire table covered, and just enjoy the experience in an unhurried manner. Nowadays with the kids, of course, that isn’t quite so easy, but I used to really enjoy having game days with a stack of games to play, and at least one “big box game” like this. It’s not about trying to rush through and just get it finished in the short time I have when the girls are napping, but rather I’m trying to enjoy an expansive adventure! So I’m hopeful for more of this in the coming year!