[Arkham Horror] The Kingsport Variations

Since I cracked open Miskatonic Horror last week and spent some time ogling all the cards, one thought in particular has recurred to me: how could the Kingsport board be made more appealing? As it stands, visiting Kingsport is seen as a chore: investigators have encounters at locations in order to shut down rifts or prevent them from opening. It can get repetitive without a lot of tangible reward; “there’s no dimensional rift spewing creatures into the streets” fails to satisfy in the way racking up a pile of monster corpses can, or sealing a gate.

So I’ve been brainstorming some house rules to make Kingsport not only a little more appealing, but less of the time sink trap that it usually works out to be. This is an untested list of wild ideas at the moment, and I wouldn’t recommend using them all at once.

  • When adding a token to a rift track, place a clue token at the pictured location.
  • When a rift track fills, randomly select one of the four tokens used to fill the track. That location is now replaced by a gate to an Other World, which behaves like all other gates for the purposes of investigating and closing or sealing. The matching rift token is turned over and any duplicates replaced by new, non-duplicate tokens from the supply.
  • At the start of the game, randomly draw three markers from the rubble token pile from Dunwich Horror and three rift tokens. Place one of the rubble markers on each of the Kingsport locations. Thanks to the dimensional instabilities that plague Kingsport, those locations are now colocational with the Arkham locations pictured on the rubble tokens. When moving into either the Kingsport or Arkham space, investigators may choose which they stop in. Investigators in these spaces may trade items and use other abilities as if they were in the same space.

Another, more involved project I kind of want to attempt is to completely rework the Kingsport board. Ideally that would make visiting the Strange High House less of a trap, rework rifts or repurpose the materials for some other interesting challenge and otherwise spicing up the town. It would not mean making locations unstable, because that spins out into redoing or adding a stack of mythos cards to trigger gates opening in those locations — unless maybe unstable locations in Kingsport replace counterparts in Arkham. That’s kind of interesting. Hmm.


The Apotheosis of Arkham Horror Storage

Travis of Boardgamegeek brings us the pinnacle, the acme, the highest of achievements in figuring out how to store the sprawling excesses of Arkham Horror and its expansions.

The picture to the right is just the tip of the iceberg. Travis takes you into the case, its myriad compartments and the many pieces of accoutrement with which he gussied it. Check it out now — and bring a snack. It’s a long journey.

[Tuesday Night Board Games] Miskatonic Horror

I may have to rethink my decision not to pick up Miskatonic Horror. Last night at Quarterstaff, Dan took advantage of the store’s Facebook check-in discount to snag the latest expansion to Arkham Horror.

From online accounts and promotional material, I already knew it was a heap o’ new cards to mix into all the other existing expansions. But I didn’t know much in the way of the details. And that’s Miskatonic Horror got my attention.

Take the mythos cards, for example, the ones that determine where gates open, clues appear and other generally terrible things. One of the biggest drawbacks to mixing expansions is the mythos cards affecting the expansion towns — Dunwich, Kingsport and Innsmouth — are generally overwhelmed by all the cards affecting only the town of Arkham, which come from every other expansion.

In Miskatonic Horror, the designers came up with what seems like a neat way to resolve that. All the mythos cards have two gate locations listed. The rule is that on drawing, a gate opens at the top listed location if that location is in play, otherwise the gate appears at the second location. The same seems to hold true for clue tokens appearing, so this could be a very slick solution to making the outlying towns more active as well as appealing to visit. Who wouldn’t want to stroll around sleepy, gateless Kingsport, hoovering up precious clue tokens?

I will endeavor to be a smart consumer and give this a couple plays before picking it up myself — Dan’s already talking about holding an “all-in” game at his house — but Miskatonic Horror‘s off to a strong start in drawing me in.

Fantasy Flight Games’ Print on Demand Expansions

Elliot over at The Gaming Gang reminded me that Fantasy Flight Games has been experimenting with print on demand expansion packs for some of their games. Their first foray was a small pack for their Space Hulk: Death Angels card game. Now Mansions of Madness has a single scenario expansion called Season of the Witch.

Given that, the model appears to be effective. I’m hoping that it leads to smaller expansions for more of Fantasy Flight’s game lines, especially Arkham Horror. One product long wished for by true believers, but probably not commercially feasible, is a patch kit expansion, which evens out the experience of mixing multiple expansions, so that Dunwich stays hopping while the continuing acts of The King in Yellow have an impact on game play.

The forthcoming Miskatonic Horror seemed like it might address that problem, but until I riffle through the cards, I’m taking the marketing copy to mean “more of the same” in terms of how all the expansions interact.

So here’s hoping for small packs of cards printed on demand to spice up Arkham Horror. I’d like to see the King in Yellow’s blight spread to outlying towns, the unstable locations of Dunwich more frequently rent asunder and the influences of the cult of the Black Goat of the Woods spread out to Kingsport and Innsmouth.

It could happen.

[Tuesday Night Board Games] Dominion: Cornucopia

I had my first taste of the new Dominion expansion Cornucopia the other night at Quarterstaff Games. It was mostly an exercise in frustration, as Jester was in play and most of the other players at the table decided to make use of it.

Jester’s a 5 coin attack card that gives the user +2 cards, then forces everyone else to reveal the top card of their deck. If it’s a victory card, they gain a curse. If it’s anything else, the player of Jester has the option to gain a copy of that card for their own deck, or put a second copy in the other player’s deck. So everyone was gaining lots of copper and curses. Because once you get a single curse in your deck, Jester’s eventually going to turn it up. Then they really start breeding.

The smart decision would have been to pick up some Masquerades, as they were the only trashing card available, but I wasn’t smart about and opted to blunder along in my solitaire way. Another player did pick up some and I was lucky enough to trade away a couple curses to my left hand neighbor, for which I was grateful.

So that really colored my perception of Cornucopia. Sure, it was a first play and I need to give it a few more tries with other cards from the set. But that doesn’t stop me from still getting annoyed by attack cards; annoyed to the point I generally write the game off completely if there are any in play.

I can’t believe I’m typing this, but I dislike attack cards because they’re so sub-optimal. With the array of options typically available in a Dominion spread, there’s almost always something more productive for a player to do than use an attack card, as they tend to be terminal actions, in that they don’t allow the player to do more unless they’ve previously used other cards to rack up some actions and money.

I don’t want to use attack cards because they do so little for me. Or they seem to at least. Militia is useful because it scrounges up some money and I can see the use in Witch and Jester because they give more cards, but generally I feel as though I’m wasting time attacking others when I could be doing more improving my own deck.

Not that I’m terribly good at deck-improvement, mind. If it’s not a Mine, I still have not developed that killer instinct for weeding crap from a deck to get at the good stuff.

Arkham Horror’s Deepening Shadows Hide More Expansions

After Innsmouth Horror appeared, received wisdom among the Arkham Horror set was there were no more expansions to be had. Fantasy Flight had hit the major centers of mythos action — Dunwich, Kingsport and Innsmouth — and while there might be one or two more small boxes emphasizing a particular Ancient One, as The King in Yellow did for Hastur, the game line was essentially done.

Not so, the last couple weeks have revealed. Fantasy Flight had a one-two punch for intrepid investigators: first they announced Miskatonic Horror, a big box expansion, and then a week or two later came the revelation of a revised edition of Curse of the Dark Pharaoh. The latter was Arkham Horror‘s first expansion and as such, it’s become somewhat notorious for being plagued with badly written encounters and wonky mechanics.

I’m having a mixed reaction to this news so far. I more than kinda burned out on the seemingly limitless yet repetitive realms of Arkham Horror after playing with Lurker at the Threshold a bit and being disappointed by the same sorts of problems cropping up again, like new mechanics that hardly make an impact on the game.

Miskatonic Horror caught my interest at first, because it seemed like it could be the patch kit expansion for which completionists yearn; something that prevents the dampening of activity in expansion towns as their limited stack of mythos cards are slowly overwhelmed by cards from the more numerous Arkham-only expansions. What it seems to be, however, is mostly more. More encounters for locations, more madnesses and injuries and all the other fiddly little cards. And that’s pretty cool. But in a way it exacerbates the problem. If you throw all those new Arkham-only mythos cards in the stack, interesting things happen in Dunwich or Kingsport or Innsmouth even less frequently.

Now, Curse of the Dark Pharaoh almost interests me more, for some reason. The original expansion is probably my least favorite, mainly because the supposedly super special exhibit items are crap, sometimes you get barred from a neighborhood, which makes no in-world sense and the encounters that require you dig a specific creature out of the monster cup are irritating. But if the revision fixes those things and includes the Dark Pharaoh herald, which we already know it does, plus throws in some new stuff — or at least not encountering Cthulhu in an Other World, say — then I could become interested.

I’m not going to rush out and buy either of these. I would like to do so with Miskatonic Horror, because I would love to have more encounters for the expansion towns, and I want to show Fantasy Flight there is a market for expansions that expect a higher buy-in than the core set, which is their usual expansion philosophy. But I’m just not getting the plays out of Arkham Horror right now that would justify snapping it right now. And the same goes for the revised Curse of the Dark Pharaoh, which is more of a completionist’s purchase for me.

Honestly, what interests me more about Arkham Horror right now is Fantasy Flight’s recent foray into using print on demand for small product runs. They debuted a Death Angels expansion at PAX East that was a small pack of cards in a transparent wrapper, not unlike what Looney Labs did for their small Chrononauts expansions. If that same production model were applied to Arkham Horror, I think those “patch kit” expansions, designed to even out the frequency of gate and mythos activity in towns other than Arkham itself, would become feasible. And that would get me more excited about playing Arkham Horror again, if I knew there’d be a real hot time in Dunwich or Innsmouth.

Houseruling Black Goat of the Woods

Arkham Horror,Herald,Shub Niggurath,Cultists,Corruption,Dark YoungIn The Arkham Horror Expansion Guide, I recommended Black Goat of the Woods as a solid choice for a new owner’s first expansion to Arkham Horror. With a few more plays under my belt since then, I’ve recognized there are some major flaws to how the cult encounters work; namely, the places where investigators get those encounters, which are supposed to be “fun” in the Arkham Horror sense of the term, aren’t available most of the time, because the locations in which they occur are frequently replaced by gates to Other Worlds.

Having been thinking about that lately — and my dereliction in still having not gotten around to trying The Lurker at the Threshold — I ran across the alternate Black Goat of the Woods herald, created by a fan of the game. It was designed to promote the use of the expansion’s new elements, as well as make the herald’s effects somewhat more manageable. I never got around to playing with the original Black Goat herald — I think I’ve played with a herald only once or twice; we have enough difficulty winning without throwing a herald in the mix most of the time — but I like the looks of what this variation adds.

For example, as the expansion is written, an investigator may only chance into a cult membership, depending on the encounter card they draw at the Unvisited Isle, the Woods or the Black Cave. With this new version of the herald, someone visiting one of those locations must buy a membership, either with stamina or monster trophies. Now those cult encounters will start flowing a bit more freely.

I wonder if perhaps cult encounters should replace normal encounters at any unstable location? Investigators still need to visit those places to collect clue tokens as they appear, and they won’t all be replaced by gates. The cult encounters themselves would probably need to be revised somewhat to be a little more forgiving, if that were the case. They’re almost entirely deleterious to the poor investigator suffering through them, from what I recall.

[Tuesday Night Board Games] The Lurker at the Threshold

I’ve gotten two plays of the new Arkham Horror expansion now, both at Quarterstaff Games during board game night. And honestly, I find this one overwhelming in how much stuff there is to track.

Not only are the gates different, but they all have effects that trigger if the gate isn’t closed on the first attempt, or in one case, when a particular symbol comes up during the monster movement phase. So that’s two new questions to ask: “what is the symbol on this gate that an investigator just failed to close?” and then during every monster movement, “Is there a moving gate on the board whose dimensional symbol matches any of those on the card?”

Then there’s the herald, the titular Lurker. Like all the other published heralds to date, the Lurker at the Threshold adds some fairly fiddly new rules to up the difficulty of the game. In this case, it offers to make pacts with investigators in exchange for some quick help, that will probably bite them later. For spellcasters, the Lurker will cover the sanity cost of a spell in exchange for making a pact, which can be a handy deal, admittedly.

The pacts themselves, I can see the appeal of, but I’m not sure if it’s really worth the hassle — which, while in keeping with the theme of striking bargains with sinister entities, doesn’t make for a terrific adventure game, even one concerned with creating feeble struggles against titanic forces like Arkham Horror. In short, there are three pacts: soul, blood and bound ally. Soul and blood pacts work with sanity and stamina, respectively. Making the pact restores an investigator to full on their sanity or stamina, depending on which pact they take. It also allows the investigator to convert stamina or sanity, respectively, into power, which can be used in lieu of clue tokens or stamina or sanity costs, again depending on the pact made.

Additionally, bound ally pacts compel a randomly drawn ally to aid your investigator, where before allies were gained through encounters or recruiting at Ma’s Boarding House. Unlike the soul and blood pacts, bound ally pacts don’t include a way to generate power tokens, just the ability to spend them as clue tokens or money.

These are fairly neat abilities. They haven’t seen a lot of use in the two games I’ve played, but I think that was much the experienced players getting used to having the option as making a tactical decision to take advantage of them. I can particularly see the temptation of generating power tokens to cover the clue token scarcity that occurs mid-game.

On the other hand, there’s the stick the Lurker wields: reckoning cards. Whenever a gate opens, a reckoning card is drawn. Each card has an effect, usually deleterious that targets a player or group of players based on certain criteria. Sometimes it’s the player with the most or fewest power tokens, sometimes someone with a certain number of pacts, criteria like that. I appreciate that one never knows just who’s going to be targeted, but in the two games I played, it seemed less than half the reckoning cards actually affected an investigator at the table.

I want to like The Lurker at the Threshold. I also want to play it more to get a better feel for the pacts and herald. But something’s gotta be done to pare things down, because there are just way too many moving parts for me to track and play shepherd, since I’m the one who understands the turn order best. I’m not sure what to pare down, though. These last two games used bits from different expansions, mostly to change up the encounters had at Arkham locations and make the item decks more varied. I think personal stories can be ditched, at least. They’re typically an onus that’s completely unnecessary in making the game more difficult, particularly considering what Lurker at the Threshold brings to the table.

In short, more play time is necessary for me to form a strong opinion about this new expansion to Arkham Horror, but my initial impression isn’t favorable. I’d like to get that play in before November, too, as that’s when I’m running Arkham with the Lurker expansion on Saturday night at Carnage.

[Fletcher Free Library Gaming] Prisoners in the Tower of Carcassonne

I made my way to the Fletcher Free Library for some Saturday board games for the first time in quite a while. As the weather in Vermont becomes more clement, I and many other sensible people want to spend less time indoors, particularly on sunny afternoons. However, we’ve been going through a bout of heat and humidity lately, so I thought the air-conditioned library would be a good place to hide out for an afternoon. As it turns out, the room reserved that day for board games has a skylight, which is not conducive to staying cool on warm days. Still, we did get some games in before the heat and stuffiness drove us out.

When I got there, Andrew and his friend were checking out the library’s graphic novel collection. I think I witnessed someone’s first time reading Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, which was a funny thing to realize. Once Sarah and Alex came along, we played a couple rounds of Dominion; the first round, we randomly mixed cards from Intrigue with Seaside, which was fun, albeit unmemorable. I can’t remember coming up with or observing any really dynamite combinations.

The second game sticks out in my memory much more clearly. It was straight-up Intrigue — still maximizing my purchase, y’see — and we played the Victory Dance setup, which includes the Saboteur. Now, I’d dealt with the Saboteur before last week at Quarterstaff, but it didn’t do a whole lot. This time, however, it got my damn Province, which was heart-breaking and irritating all at once. If I play that setup again, I’ll try spreading out my victory points more by going for Duchies and Dukes. I opted to stay out of the struggle, thinking that everyone else would descend upon them and I could snaffle up Provinces like usual. And by the way, Upgrading Estates into Great Halls is a wonderful thing.

After that, we brought Chuck into the action with Carcassonne. For this, we used Sarah’s Carcassonne set, which is over-stuffed with a plethora of expansions: Inns & Cathedrals, Builders & Traders, Abbey & Mayor, The River II and, for the first time ever, The Tower and Cult, Siege & Creativity. The latter one was easy, being a pair of magazine promotions and some blank “design your own” tiles. The Tower, however, I was much more leery about.

I have a habit of adopting received wisdom as my own opinion when lacking personal experience. In this case, I accepted that The Tower‘s central mechanic of capturing other people’s meeples is mean and counter to the traditional Carcassonne style of passive-aggressive parasitism. And frankly, they’re right. One player took advantage of the towers as they were intended. The rest of us typically used them just to get our meeples back. And none of us bothered to cap a tower. I think we just became more cagey about placing new meeples relative to existing towers.

This particular session gave me a valuable experience in expansion bloat, when there are just too many rules elements flying around for the game to feel fun anymore. My ideal Carcassonne uses all the tiles, the mega-meeple, the builder, and the abbey tile because it’s useful in completing seemingly impossible to finish features. Well, I found it useful on Saturday.