At the risk of excess melodrama, the Arkham Horror card game has been a bit of a light at the end of the tunnel for me. Fall’s traditionally a busy time of year for me, with both Carnage in the offing and my professional commitments. Once it was pretty clear that the game would be available November 10th, I wanted to make a point to get the first game in as soon as possible. Usually, I get a game and it takes two or more months to get some people together to play it, especially in November as we’re all wiped from Carnage and the holidays are ramping up. So I was pretty happy that my friend Tom was free last night and interested enough to give the game a try. Three and a half hours from purchase to play is probably a new record for me.
The first session is always a learning experience. Fantasy Flight’s new model of a short rulebook and a longer, encyclopedia-style volume of rules concepts worked pretty well. The short Learn to Play rulebook basically walks you through setting up and playing the introductory scenario. I noticed what seemed to be some discrepancies in card names and numbers when assembling the encounter deck, so I think that may have affected this particular session, since not every ghoul made it into the encounter deck.
Like Netrunner, Arkham has an action economy. Each investigator can do three things on their turn, selected from a list of choices, including things like draw a card, gain a resource, investigate a location and so on. Figuring out the efficiencies of the game — when and how is it best to gain resources, for instance — is going to be one of the first steps to being a better player.
In this first session, Tom and I took the approach of pushing through the investigators’ act cards as quickly as we could, reasoning that the advancement of the agenda would only make ours lives more difficult. In retrospect and without divulging spoilers, that may not have been the best choice, as it meant we didn’t spend time exploring every location or drawing useful cards from our decks.
On first blush, I like the way the game plays. It has an elegance that comes from how both Netrunner and Eldritch Horror mapped mechanics to their respective themes. It’s very role-playing game-like, with unexpected developments built into a scenario and not necessarily loss conditions, but “worst result” situations.
I’m a little concerned that there’s not a lot of meaningful replay value in an individual scenario, unless one enjoys taking every possible character configuration — now Wendy armed for combat, and then Roland as a hyper-investigator, and how about Daisy with guns! — through the story line, which reminds me an awful lot of grinding characters through certain entries in the Final Fantasy console franchise, or playing against progressively higher difficulty settings. The flip side of that is Fantasy Flight has a steady stream of expansion products planned that I may never have time or inclination to go back to the core box scenarios, unless I’m teaching the game to newcomers.
Netrunner certainly taught me that one new product every month will challenge my ability to squeeze in both modifying decks to take advantage of new investigator cards and carving out times with friends to play through the new scenarios. Deckbuilding in Arkham is less onerous than Netrunner, happily, as it’s a single 30 card deck and players don’t develop a new list for league night every week.
And I’m curious to see how deckbuilding works out over the course of a campaign. If people play the scenarios as they’re released, rather than waiting until the full cycle’s worth of cards are available, how many of them are going to utilize the rules for paying to swap cards in and out?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, my major stumbling block in this one-shot against Progeny, “Turning of the Seasons,” was failing to take into account the scions that Progeny had in play. Once I finally trained myself to check whether Scion of Frost was in play — and thus would negate or worse the damage a hero was about to deal — we were in the second Steam game.
Playing more conservatively helped as well on the second outing. Putting Captain Cosmic’s Vitality Conduits early, and then flicking their ears with Guise’s Tough Choices helped keep hero HPs above 0. I still lost Cosmic himself in this round, but he’d helped Skyscraper and Guise keep back incapacitation long enough, and then Skyscraper’s Thorathian Monoliths, with some Rest and Recovery action in between, kept the damage at bay, and then Compulsion Canisters got most of the work done. As it was, it was the Freedom Fighters that took Progeny down completely, because it turns out that if Guise is immune to damage, he doesn’t have the opportunity to redirect it with Total Beefcake.
Citizen Dawn has a rightful reputation as a difficult villain if you aren’t specifically arming against her with techniques to take citizens out of her trash or mitigating her one-shot surprises. With the line-up offered in A Simple Plan, those tactics aren’t really options.
I’ve been practicing against one-shots on iOS and then taking what I’ve learned there to go for mint on Steam. In this game’s case, it took me five or six plays before I even beat Dawn at all. Some of the strategies I tried included:
- Using Wrathful Retribution on turn one to get Citizen Anvil’s blanket damage reduction off the board.
- Allowing multiple copies of Return with the Dawn to keep citizens out of the trash — worked okay, but wound up flooding the board with more villain damage than I could handle.
- Directing Citizen Hammer’s first damage instance to Absolute Zero, who reacts with Isothermic Transducer and saves everyone else from getting toasted.
- Banking on Citizens Summer and Hammer recurring and then using Flesh of the Sun Good to prevent their fire damage, thus allowing heroes to focus their damage where it was most pressing.
- Getting rid of Dawn’s ongoings as soon as Absolute Zero could play Fueled Freeze. Several games, I ignored them to capitalize on Drawn on the Flame, but her cranking out minions was more trouble than 4-5 points of damage to non-hero targets was worth.
And a lot of it was just luck. Return with the Dawn could be kind or cruel, depending on whether it resurrected someone like Anvil, who’s just doing damage, or Truth, who’s stopping you from dealing your team’s own damage where it really matters. Citizen Dawn may go nova and stay that way for turns on end while you have to suffer the slings and arrows of a trickle of citizens, or immediately flip back on the very same turn because there were enough citizens in play and in the trash to satisfy both conditions. I’d like to say I plan things like that out, but it really is just luck.
After a test run of this week’s Sentinels of the Multiverse one-shot on iOS, I thought my “for reals” playthrough on Steam was going to be relatively straightforward. I forgot, though, that my first play ended in a mint thanks to a great deal of luck, climaxing in an Inventory Barrage that did just enough damage to Gloomweaver to end the game.
For the Steam playthrough, I lost the first attempt and squeaked by on the second, resulting in a near mint issue. From my recollection, the main differences in the Steam games were not spamming Stun Bolts as heavily against Gloomweaver, never making use of Thorathian Monolith and shifting from using Super Scientific Tachyon’s Experiment to the more safe Research Grant.
For a villain that never destroys hero ongoings or equipment, this felt weirdly like an instance of having a hard time gaining traction. Once Skinwalker Gloomweaver flips, he’s gaining HP back every time a target is destroyed and playing a card when cultists are destroyed. There was plenty of damage options among the heroes in play — except when fricking Profane Zealot pops out yet again — but it’s hard to feel like one’s making progress when Gloomweaver’s playing yet more cards and healing up past where he was when the attack began.
In that regard, the Skinwalker variant is a nice upgrade from the original Gloomweaver, who’s kind of a cakewalk. This one keeps churning out minions, and some of his cultists are true pains in the ass, like the aforementioned Profane Zealot, as well as Cursed Acolyte.
And interestingly, last week’s Harbinger of Melancholy pairs with this week’s one-shot to mimic a challenge mode, in which the group plays against Spite, Agent of Gloom and, on victory, immediately plays against Skinwalker Gloomweaver with their present card set-ups and HP values. Fun, right? Personally, I’m a little nervous of when Handelabra implements challenge mode. Is that the future of weekly one-shots?
This week’s one-shot against the variant Spite villain, Agent of Gloom, felt like a slog in the making. I took advice from the forums and used Wraith’s Infrared Eyepiece and Dark Visionary’s Turmoil to put victims on the bottom of Spite’s deck, and then used Super Scientific Tachyon’s Experiment power to put those victims into play. Within two turns, Spite had flipped to his Broken Vessel side, with a single drug up, which reduced the first instance of damage done to him on a turn by -2.
After the first few turns of Spite dealing damage, it became excitement by repetition. Spite’s damage was reduced by Stun Bolts and Twist the Ether, or blocked entirely with Hypersonic Assault and Throat Jab. Sky-Scraper dealt irreducible damage with Catch a Ride or Compulsion Canister — and then recycled Compulsion Canister. And the environment of Omnitron IV was a non-issue thanks to Visionary spamming Mass Levitation, along with Wraith’s Mega-Computer.
If you want to see this one played out, see LewdDolphin21’s playthrough on YouTube.
Vermont Public Radio’s live noontime show, Vermont Edition, discussed the board game renaissance of the 21st century with some locals in the Vermont tabletop community: Benjamin Higgins, manager of the venerable Quarterstaff Games in Burlington, and Andrew Liptak, co-founder of Geek Mountain State. Also popping in to comment were Matt Golec and Robert Dijkman-Dulkes, designers of Penny Press and the prototypical Westmonster Kennel Club games.
My favorite part of the conversation is how everyone in the mix reaffirmed that board games — and all tabletop games — are about building relationships and community. People get together to play board games. Tabletop games need someone else to be in the room. Game stores become hubs of community- and relation-building. Robert puts in a nice pitch for Green Mountain Gamers providing venues all around the state for people to meet their neighbors and find new people with whom to enjoy excellent games. Carnage also gets a tip of the hat as Vermont’s premiere board and tabletop game event.
When tabletop games make it to something as mainstream a media outlet as public radio, I feel like we’ve reached a new peak in terms of making the hobby more visible. Web shows like Tabletop are great, but over the air terrestrial media is a new tier of reach altogether.
Going into this one-shot, the accounts were it was a long slog due to no high damage dealers on the team, so I opted against recording it. As it happened, the game went on for so long that I paused it overnight and came back to finish during lunch the next day.
Too much of the early game was spent playing defensively. I had the Adept using Counterpoint Bulwark repeatedly to make everyone resistant to zombies, or having Legacy double-tap Next Evolution to ward off the most common forms of villain damage, cycling among melee, toxic and infernal.
Guise was doing most of the damage, largely the plinky sort. Somewhere I got off track from defending effectively and things spiraled downward for Guise after that. Once the team was down to the Adept and Legacy, I spent a lot of time turtling by letting the Adept take the hits and heal back up with Inspiring Supertonic, or getting Backfist Strikes back from the trash.
My big takeaway from this game is having experimented with bouncing power uses between America’s Greatest Legacy and the Adept effectively. Send a power use over to Legacy with the Supertonic and have him send it right back with Gung Ho for a free hit point. Also, have Legacy use Gung Ho on himself when he’s low on health, too!
This was probably the first game I used Cedistic Dissonant repeatedly. With Instrumental Conjurations to burn, it hurt a lot less to give up an instrument, especially when the reward is removing any destructible card from play, such as Anubis or any number of environmental annoyances pouring out from the god’s tomb.
Mad Bomber Blade is on the loose in this week’s Sentinels of the Multiverse weekly one-shot. Two-thirds of the Freedom Six happen to be on hand in Insula Primalis to thwart Blade’s scheme to trigger a super volcano eruption. Hit play and find out what happens!
As an aside, this might be the first or second time I’ve had both occasion and opportunity to use Bunker: Engine of War’s Locomotion power.
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After the Gotta Catch Em All one-shot ended so abruptly, I decided to go back for a playthrough where Haka got every available target in the match-up under Savage Mana. It took a couple playthroughs to get it right. First, Unforgiving Wasteland took a minion out of the game before Haka could. On the second playthrough, I forgot that Haka needed to deal non-melee damage to eat Voss’ two starships. Thanks to Captain Cosmic passing out energy weapons, the third play was the charm. Naturally, the coup de grace was delivered with Haka using Savage Mana. Could it end any other way?
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