That Which Doesn't Kill Us…
Using Experience to Gain Strength in Arkham Horror: The Card Game
"I ought to be hardened by this stage; but there are some experiences and intimations which scar too deeply to permit of healing, and leave only such an added sensitiveness that memory reinspires all the original horror."
–H.P. Lovecraft, At the Mountains of Madness
In Arkham Horror: The Card Game, it is the Roaring Twenties, and there is an electricity in the air. Hidden speakeasies play hot jazz in the cool of the night and young men and women walk through the moonlit streets, adorned in suits and dresses to fit the newest fashions. It is an age of automobiles, telephones, radio, and motion pictures.
But in the sleepy New England town of Arkham, there's yet another energy in the air—and it leaves you uneasy. You can't quite put your finger on it, but something about the town is… wrong.
You can't explain your beliefs in any manner that others would consider sane, but there are tremors—or shivers—in the world that most people ignore. Things you can feel, but only slightly, and that you cannot explain. Still, you have begun to recognize patterns among these sensations, and they lead you to believe that Arkham's gambrel roofs and stoic veneer conceal unspeakable and unfathomable horrors.
This is a town in which people suffer strange disappearances. And when their mutilated bodies emerge in the dark woods, the local police attribute their deaths to wild animals. But you suspect other forces—cultists, dark rituals, foul sorcery, and otherworldly monsters.
Layers Upon Layers of Mystery
In Arkham Horror: The Card Game, the deeper you look, the more convinced you become that things are never so simple as they may first appear. As you explore more of Arkham's many mysteries, each new clue hints at a deeper layer of truths, and when you pull back that layer, you find only another mystery underneath.
It is this spiraling descent into the game's mysteries that makes the Arkham LCG® such a fantastic take on the Lovecraft mythos, and it's this focus on the extended campaign that pushes the LCG far into the nebulous realm between the traditional card gaming and roleplaying experiences.
It's true that you can play your Arkham LCG adventures as standalones—perhaps using those games as chances to experiment with your decks or to probe their treacheries with investigators that you're prepared to sacrifice before you commit to the whole scope of the larger investigation. But, that fact aside, the core Arkham LCG experience focuses so heavily on the campaign that its scenarios are less like the self-contained games you expect from most customizable card games and more like the gaming sessions you'd enjoy within the framework of a larger roleplayign campaign.
You don't expect to know after a single session if you have "won" or "lost." You can only learn whether you've moved closer toward your goal or if it appears that you've lost a step.
And one of the ways that the Arkham LCG best mirrors this roleplaying experience is in its use of experience points.
Learning from Experience
The ability to gain and spend experience runs central to nearly every roleplaying system, providing you the means to grow and improve your character between adventures. While this growth isn't typically a part of card games, it's a key part of the Arkham LCG campaign experience—one that creates yet another series of bonds between you, your investigator, and your deck, which represents your investigator's unique personality, talents, weaknesses, and assets.
While the Core Set comes with a campaign of three scenarios, players are just now able to appreciate the full Arkham LCG experience as they play through The Dunwich Legacy campaign. With six of its eight adventures now in circulation—plus the ability to follow detours through the Carnevale of Horrors and Curse of the Rougarou side missions—The Dunwich Legacy allows us to better experience the richness of the game's mechanics for character creation—and evolution.
To summarize briefly, you create your investigator's deck at the beginning of the campaign, and then it remains unaltered throughout your adventures—except where you choose to spend the experience you've gained to make adjustments. Each card in Arkham Horror: The Card Game has a level, indicated by the number of pips by its resource cost in the upper left, and you can spend experience equal to a card's level to add it to your deck, replacing an existing card when necessary.
Have you had trouble dealing with the thugs and monsters you've encountered? You can spend four experience to arm yourself with a Shotgun (Core Set, 29), or you can spend three experience to draw upon the dark powers with which you've forged a Blood Pact (Blood on the Altar, 191).
You can also spend one experience to replace a zero-level card like Barricade (Core Set, 38) with a different zero-level card like "I've got a plan!" (The Miskatonic Museum, 107). And this ability ensures you have all the flexibility you need to adapt to the challenges before you, as does the fact that you can upgrade a lower level card like the level-one Aquinnah (Core Set, 82) for a higher level version by paying only the difference between the two.
Altogether, each expenditure of your experience points goes a long way toward shaping your investigator and the course of your investigations. And we have started to see a number of emerging trends.
Which Type of Investigator Are You?
The developers of Arkham Horror: The Card Game recently posted a survey through which they gathered a great deal of information about your experiences with The Dunwich Legacy. Among the many topics the survey addressed, one question asked, "What has been your favorite experience point expenditure?"
We saw a good variety of responses, but there were clearly a handful of cards that had sparked more passion. And, more importantly, these cards represented a few possible archetypes for how players—you—might choose to spend your hard-won experience.
The first of our archetypes, the Opportunist, is marked by a tendency toward reactive card purchases and deckbuilding. The Opportunist is no hoarder, but most frequently views each experience gain as a chance to spend experience. The plan isn't to build toward a grand, sweeping strategy, but simply to take advantage of the new tools the next Mythos Pack offers in order to survive the challenges that lie before her in her next adventure.
Furthermore, the Opportunist's desire to find new tools with which she can combat the game's cultists, monsters, and mysteries may also spur her to travel on side missions to see what they may have to offer. After all, if she can book her ticket to Louisiana or Venice, the Opportunist might even find some new curios she can put to good use.
The most popular archetype at this time, the Strategist is more intentional with her experience point expenditures, using them to effectively reshape her investigator's approach to her adventures.
This archetype is best defined, at this point, by Permanent purchases like Charisma (The Essex County Express, 158) and Streetwise (Blood on the Altar, 189), both of which begin the game in play and lead to larger-scale deckbuilding considerations. By allowing you to recruit an additional ally, Charisma permits new card interactions, and Streetwise largely replaces any need for skill cards or assets that offer intellect or agility boosts but, instead, places greater weight on cards that grant you additional resources.
Instead of looking for brand new tools or strategies, the Ritualist focuses on upgrading the cards already in his deck. At this point, this third archetype is marked primarily by upgrades to cards like Peter Sylvestre (The Dunwich Legacy, 33), Deduction (Core Set, 39), and Shrivelling (Core Set, 60).
Where others may react a bit more strongly toward the threat of failure, the Ritualist focuses, instead, on constantly improving his strengths—constantly building upon what's already working. Just as he might perfect his rituals with practice, he uses his experience to refine his deck, making it stronger and smarter card by card. His overall strategy won't change much, but his cards will be more efficient, more resilient, and will leave him better prepared for the challenges ahead of him.
It takes a bit of restraint to become a Collector. With all of the game's monsters and treacheries pressing in upon you from all sides—and all of the low-level tools you can find in the Core Set, The Dunwich Legacy, and the various Mythos Packs—it takes a good deal of patience, or a discerning eye, to save your experience for the larger expenditures.
Marked by his interest in powerful and high-level artifacts like the Grotesque Statue (Core Set, 71), the Collector is willing to pass on smaller expenditures in order to save for these big, thematic purchases. Yet there's no shortage of flashy purchases available to these Collectors, and as we draw nearer the end of The Dunwich Legacy, we're only going to find even more of them.
We've already seen previews of the Lightning Gun (Lost in Time and Space, 301) and The Gold Pocket Watch (Lost in Time and Space, 305) that appear in the cycle's final Mythos Pack, but even if you can't quite hold out on your purchases until the bitter end, you can still find powerful tokens like the Jewel of Aureolus (Where Doom Awaits, 269) in the cycle's penultimate expansion, Where Doom Awaits.
Events May Challenge Us, But We Define Ourselves
No matter which archetype—or combination thereof—best suits you, the growth and evolution you enjoy over the course of an Arkham Horror: The Card Game campaign is a massive part of the game's appeal. And it's one of the hardest things to appreciate through your earliest adventures.
As we draw nearer to the end of the The Dunwich Legacy, we're finally starting to see the game's larger scope. It's part card game, part roleplaying. It's breaking down the barriers between dimensions. And even as it leads us toward the first campaign's thrilling finale, we cannot help but feel there are greater mysteries lying still deeper beneath everything we've seen.
Maybe some new card will help us resolve our ongoing investigation…
Are you intrigued by the principles of Arkham Horror: The Card Game? Then talk to your local retailer today. Your descent into madness begins with the Arkham Horror: The Card Game Core Set (AHC01) and The Dunwich Legacy (AHC02)!