Mystery, Murder, and Madness
How the Forces of Evil Advance Their Sinister Agendas in the Arkham LCG®
"So far as concrete noises went, the rats in the ancient partitions were the worst. Sometimes their scratching seemed not only furtive but deliberate."
–H.P. Lovecraft, The Dreams in the Witch House
In our announcement of Arkham Horror: The Card Game, we claimed the game explored new dimensions of time and space that traversed the barriers between the traditional card game and roleplay experiences. But what does that mean? How does it work?
First of all, as we covered in an earlier preview, it means that you become a character, complete with strengths and weaknesses and agency over your actions. Specifically, you assume the role of an investigator, and you build a deck of cards to represent all your most vital talents, items, resources, and allies. You dig into each adventure's mystery by gathering clues, but it's up to you to decide how you go about the matter. You can leap in head-first. Or you can try to gather your resources and arm yourself for whatever horrors may await you.
However, there's more to a card game than just your deck, and there's more to a roleplaying game than just your character. There's always someone or something to oppose you. There are challenges created by other cards that you must overcome. There are malign forces that you must confront. In a roleplaying game, though, someone typically plays the role of Game Master to champion these forces and their ambitions, wrapping their efforts into a larger narrative framework with which you and and the other heroes can interact—often violently.
So if the Arkham LCG® is truly able to provide a more roleplay-like experience in the card game format, who or what champions the forces of evil? How are your efforts framed within the narrative arc of a larger story?
A Gateway to Other Worlds
Perhaps this morning it was sunny when you woke. Your window was open a crack, and a gentle breeze fluttered your drapes. You heard bird song. You got out of bed and walked to the ice box for eggs. But then something caught your attention. It was your cat. She was seated atop the writing table and staring out the window—hissing. Her back was arched. Her fur was raised. When you walked over, she leapt down, raced to the corner, curled up, and mewled. You looked out the window, but there was nothing new to see. There were only your neighbors' quiet houses, the sun slanting over their gambrel roofs, and the milk man walking through the shadows, making his rounds…
In Arkham LCG, as in the Lovecraft mythos, the things that you know and the reality that you experience are only part of a much larger universe—one in which the greatest threats to your existence lie hidden just beyond your ability to perceive or comprehend them. Over the course of time, however, you may discover methods of gaining insight into these threats, but the effort is bound to take a great deal of investigation. And the investigation is likely to prove harrowing. You will risk your health and your sanity. After all, everything about these threats is shrouded in mystery, and the mysteries are both created and guarded by forces you can scarcely begin to imagine.
As we addressed in last week's preview, you and your fellow investigators are trying to find enough clues to progress through the act deck before the forces arrayed against you gather enough doom tokens to complete their progress through the agenda deck. Together, the act and agenda decks provide the narrative structure for your adventures, and with each step forward—whether it's you or your rivals who take that step—you'll find new information brought to light.
Sometimes, you may regret your discoveries, especially if the agenda deck is advancing more quickly that the act deck, but no matter which deck advances, you have the potential for new twists, and enemies or locations that were set aside at the beginning of the game may be brought back into play. And in this way, the game is responsive to your decisions and the progress that you make.
Cultists, Monsters, and Mayhem
As you're conducting your investigations and doing your best to advance the act deck, you can bet the cultists, monsters, and other forces at work won't make things easy. Arkham LCG represents these forces, along with the Ancient Ones' influence upon our world, through the use of an encounter deck.
Each scenario uses a different encounter deck, customized through the blending of different themed clusters of encounter cards called encounter sets. Typically, one of these encounter sets will include the act and agenda decks, along with the scenario's distinguishing locations and any cards that are critical to the adventure's pacing.
The rest of the encounter deck is built from the different enemy cards, treachery cards, and scenario assets associated with the other encounter sets indicated by the scenario.
Because each of these encounter sets evoke their own themes, the scenario's specific combination of encounter sets leads directly to the development of its larger themes and atmosphere.
For example, the Striking Fear and Rats encounter sets used in the Core Set's first scenario, The Gathering, each present a number of the different challenges you might face while you try to find your way out of your Study (Core Set, 111). You'll encounter these challenges each round during the Mythos phase, when you place one doom token on the agenda—advancing it if its threshold is satisfied—and then draw one encounter card per investigator. Of course, since each encounter set helps to evoke the scenario's themes, you're not just discovering challenges, you're also learning more about the scenario's horrible nature.
Consisting only of treachery cards, the Striking Fear set reinforces the supernatural terror that pervades The Gathering and tests your sanity with its three copies of Rotting Remains (Core Set, 163), two Frozen in Fear (Core Set, 164), and two Dissonant Voices (Core Set, 165).
Each of these cards comes with a Revelation ability, which means that it must be resolved as soon as it is drawn from the encounter deck, and it must be resolved by the investigator who drew it. And as you can quickly deduce from a comparison of Rotting Remains and Frozen in Fear, there's almost no limit to the sorts of effects these treachery cards may introduce. You may simply need to succeed at a single test of your Willpower to prevent your mind from shattering. Or the treachery may create a lingering effect, and you may find your reactions slowed round after round until you can pull yourself together in the face of madness.
On the other hand, the Rats set uses no treachery cards at all. It simply complicates your investigations with three copies of the Swarm of Rats enemy (Core Set, 159). Compelled by unknowable forces to skitter up into your home from the sewers beneath, these Swarms of Rats immediately engage the investigator who drew them. And once engaged, that investigator must suffer the damage that the Swarm of Rats deals each round in the Enemy phase and every time he or she takes an action to do anything other than fight or evade them.
Whether it's a Swarm of Rats or a Ghoul Priest (Core Set, 116), each enemy has a fight value, a health value, and an evade value.
Whenever you choose to fight an enemy, you test your Combat against its fight value. If you succeed, you deal it a wound, and if the number of wounds the enemy has received equals or exceeds its health value, it is defeated and discarded.
Similarly, if you don't like your odds in combat, you can try to evade it by making an agility test against its evade value. If you succeed, you evade the enemy, exhausting it, and breaking the engagement. The enemy is removed from your play area and placed at your location. But if you fail, the enemy remains engaged with you and will even follow you if you try to flee.
Beware That Which You Summon
Between the game's use of its act and agenda decks and the way in which the encounter deck challenges you with thematic enemies and treachery cards, Arkham Horror: The Card Game gives your adventures a life and color all of their own—the way a Game Master might add life and color to roleplaying game.
Of course, it does all this of its own accord, without the need for a Game Master, so we warn you to be careful what powers you might summon out of your Arkham adventures… for you should beware that which you call up, lest you might not be able to put it down.
In the meantime, you should try to move swiftly ahead of the dangers before you; head to your local retailer to pre-order your copy of Arkham Horror: The Card Game today. Or make your plans to attend Arkham Nights 2016, pick up an early copy, and play through the special event scenario Curse of the Rougarou!