Mansions of Madness

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

Mansions of Madness

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

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

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

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

Mansions of Madness

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

Mansions of Madness

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

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

Mansions of Madness

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

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

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

Mansions of Madness

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

Mansions of Madness

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

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

Mansions of Madness

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

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

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

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

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

Cthulhu on the horizon!

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

Masks of Nyarlathotep

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

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

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

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

We’ll see in Q1, 2018!

Omens of the Pharaoh

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let the campaign commence!

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

Arkham Horror LCG

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arkham Horror LCG

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

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

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

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

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

World Cracking!

Eldritch Horror Cities in Ruin

Shudde M’ell is coming to Eldritch Horror!

I am very excited for this, as it’s one of the classic Old Ones that we have yet to see in the game, so upon reading the preview article that has gone up on FFG’s site today, I had to come here and ramble excitedly about it!

The new small-box expansion features the mother of the Cthonians, Shudde M’ell, and the game looks like it is really going to be shaken up as a result. Like previous small boxes have tweaked the game a little, Cities in Ruin sets about destroying cities through the Disaster Deck, a card from which is drawn whenever doom advances to specific points on the track, and which will cause some godawful thing to happen before destroying another city on the board. That’s right, another city – because the game begins with Rome wiped off the face of the earth!

Oh, the horror!

Also, how good is that subtitle, The Cataclysm from Below?

Shudde M’ell was created by Brian Lumley in his short story Cement Surroundings, my mini-review of which you can check out here. The big tentacle-snake-thing has also featured in Arkham Horror and Elder Sign, so it’s nice to have it come over into Eldritch Horror as well. Always love to see how the existing things are re-imagined whenever they come into the new game! That’s not to say new stuff like Strange Remnants isn’t very welcome indeed, but it’s just a nice bit of nostalgia for the fans of these older games to see them re-implemented.

Cities in Ruin is scheduled for the second quarter, so we should hopefully be getting this in the summer. I still haven’t yet managed to get a hold of The Dreamlands, shockingly, but I’m already much more excited for this than I perhaps should be!

Mythos delvings

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

The bulk of this year’s reading has been taken up with The King in Yellow, RW Chambers’ collection of short stories that revolve around the mysterious, diabolical play that has the power to drive people to insanity just by reading it. The book is a collection of ten stories that reference to a varying extent the play, and was published in 1895, when Lovecraft was just 5 years old. The stories vary considerably, but I have to say that my stand-out favourite is the first, The Repairer of Reputations. It’s a story that has all of the hallmarks of the classic weird tale, with a narrator that slides into insanity over his perceived rank of the King of Carcosa. The story has got an element of early science fiction to it, set in 1920s New York and contains startling reference to America’s victory over Germany in a world war, as well as describing America as having produced a nobility following some kind of cleansing of foreign elements. A particularly morbid aspect is the legalisation of suicide, and the story involves the opening of a “lethal chamber” where folks can go to kill themselves with ease. We follow the narrator, Hildred Castaigne, as he seeks to secure his succession as king in the Imperial Dynasty of America, with the help of the eponymous Repairer of Reputations, Dr Wilde. Hildred seeks to remove his cousin Louis from the “succession”, but is thwarted and cast into an asylum, where he dies. The story is an excellent study in weird fiction, and the horror comes out as we see Hildred slowly spiral into madness. There’s an excellent description of a mechanical safe that he uses to store his diadem, but which Louis dismisses as a biscuit box, and I’ve subsequently read that the lethal chamber could actually be a subway station, as seen through the deluded eyes of Hildred. It’s certainly one of the best short stories I’ve read in a long while!

While I did like the stories in this book, it was more because I’m a longtime Lovecraftian gamer, and so got to see who these people are who turn up in the games, such as the aforementioned Hildred Castaigne, Jeanne d’Ys, et al. However, it has very little in common with the Mythos overall, except for the odd exclamation about the lake of Hali and whatnot. Hastur is just another of these exclamations, and it doesn’t feel like Chambers really had any sort of idea for the concepts other than throwing them out as weird-sounding stuff. Of course, Lovecraft used the word as well, without much expansion, and it was August Derleth who eventually turned him into the elder god that we gamers are familiar with today. The concept of The King in Yellow as a play that causes insanity is interesting, but again, isn’t really fleshed out other than mentioning it offhandedly. It’s something very similar to Lovecraft’s own Necronomicon, which also causes madness in its readers, though I do feel that Lovecraft provides more meat for those bones. Perhaps it’s just my over-familiarity with Lovecraft as opposed to having just last week read Chambers.

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

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

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

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

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

Signs of Carcosa

Hey everybody!
It’s the first game day of 2017! I’m hoping to have lots of awesome games on the blog over the next 52 weeks, and I think I’m starting with an absolute cracker! As per my Christmastime tradition now, I’ve been playing Eldritch Horror with the new expansion, though in this case, “new” is kinda pushing it a little. With no new big box expansion for the game until later this month, I’d been saving the smaller box, Signs of Carcosa, until the festive period – no mean feat, considering the game was released in June!

Eldritch Horror Signs of Carcosa

So, Signs of Carcosa is a small-box expansion that follows in the manner of Strange Remnants in that it includes new investigators as well as a new Ancient One, and a glut of new cards to support that ancient enemy. Signs of Carcosa is particularly exciting for me, because we have four investigators from the Arkham Horror base game, which is always something of an event in these circumstances – they’re investigators who have been a part of this mythos for so long now, after all!

Eldritch Horror Signs of Carcosa

Hastur is the big bad guy from this expansion, and while his subtitle there might be “the unspeakable one”, this is very much a King In Yellow-themed expansion, similar to The Yellow Sign expansion for Arkham Horror. Naturally, there isn’t a lot of focus thrown specifically on the play from RW Chambers’ short story collection, but its presence does loom large in many of the game pieces. Encounters in the various board locations focus on artists and seeing the Yellow Sign, etc, while all of the Other World encounters are focused on Lost Carcosa.

Much like Strange Remnants brought back the focus mechanic from Mountains of Madness, Signs of Carcosa brings back the impairments mechanic from Under the Pyramids, which has a lot of focus placed on it through Hastur’s ability, along with a lot of the fail conditions on the encounter cards.

Hastur is one of the more difficult of the ancient ones to defeat in other games such as Arkham Horror and Elder Sign, but his incarnation here seems at first glance to be much more simple – you only need to solve two mysteries to win! However, these mysteries have a reliance on spending clues, and there are a lot of Mythos cards that will force you to discard your clues, which makes solving even two of Hastur’s mysteries a lot more difficult than it perhaps might seem! I actually managed to win the match against him, but it was a close-run thing, and the eventual win was actually highly luck-dependent, as I’d had an Other World encounter that gave me the clues I needed to go on to solve the mystery. One of my investigators had already gone insane, and I was keeping another pretty much permanently in London in an effort to spawn more clues before they kept getting discarded!

Eldritch Horror Signs of Carcosa

We also get the now-usual batch of new assets and artifacts (mostly King in Yellow-themed, of course!), new spells and unique assets, and Hastur gets three sets of special encounters. Considering you only need to solve two mysteries to win, he comes with a total of eight – a nice touch for replayability! The new Prelude cards offer some interesting set-up options, including doling out copies of the new Promise of Power condition card, one that allows the influence of The King in Yellow to be felt even if Hastur isn’t the ancient one, and another that brings the Order of the Silver Twilight to the game through a fifth reserve slot. I really like the Order, and for years had tried to make a Silver Twilight deck work in Call of Cthulhu, so it’s always fun when they show up. Part of me hopes we’ll get something of a full-on expansion with them in or something, but I also like the way they insinuate themselves into other expansions.

All in all, this was a fun box. Didn’t feel quite as exciting as Strange Remnants, which has a lot of stuff going on of course, but anything that adds so integral an ancient one as Hastur to the game has got to be close to the top of anybody’s wish list!

 

Arkham Horror LCG!

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

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

Arkham Horror LCG

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

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

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

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

Arkham Horror LCG

So, let’s talk about the game!

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

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

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

Arkham Horror LCG

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

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

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

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

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

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