A Designer Journal With Matt Newman of Arkham Horror: The Card Game
No matter where you run, you can never escape what you are.
In Arkham Horror: The Card Game, players step into the roles of Arkham's bravest investgators as they struggle to solve eldritch mysteries while being assailed by all manner of cultists, ghouls, and monsters. The players who embody these characters are just as varied as the investigators themselves. But beyond being a Seeker, Guardian, Mystic, Rogue, or Survivor, how do gamers fit into the game? To find out, today we meet with Matt Newman to discuss the various types of players you'll encounter in your journeys through Arkham, and how you can incorporate them into your games to bring your investigations to the next level!
Matt Newman on Arkham's Player Archetypes
Hello, fellow investigators!
In today’s designer journal, I’ll be exploring the concept of player archetypes: a type of gaming personality, consisting of that player’s desires, goals, and motivations. These archetypes are useful to designers, presenting us with questions like, “Which type of player is going to enjoy this card/scenario the most?” or, “Do we have enough in this cycle to satisfy each player type?” Archetypes can also be useful to you as a player, helping you identify the spark that excites you, and how to best take advantage of that feeling.
In the past, we’ve identified several player archetypes that fit our competitive Living Card Games® like A Game of Thrones: The Card Game or Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game. But Arkham Horror: The Card Game differs from these games in a number of ways, and as development for Arkham Horror: The Card Game continued, I noticed several new player archetypes that didn't quite fit the past definitions. In this entry, I’ll be discussing these new player archetypes, the steps I take to challenge each type of player, and how you can use these to enhance your gaming experience.
First and foremost, Arkham Horror: The Card Game is (obviously) a card game, and when the players who embrace this type of game gather for their nightly rituals, nothing is more sacred than the cards themselves. The Ritualist is the card gamer embodied. They love building decks, finding complex combos, and exploring synergies—enjoying deck building just as much as gameplay. The Ritualist also enjoys discussing spoiled cards on forums, theorizing new deck builds, and tinkering with existing decks.
For Ritualists, a large part of the experience of Arkham Horror: The Card Game occurs not during gameplay, but between games. Therefore, to serve these players, it is important that we ensure the card pool has enough depth to warrant ongoing discussion and experimentation. Opening expansions with new player cards is particularly exciting for the Ritualist, especially when their investigator has experience to burn!
We challenge Ritualists by including cards that create new synergies and shed new light on strategies from previous expansions. Some investigators, such as Carolyn Fern (To Fight the Black Wind, 10) are designed specifically for Ritualists, with complex deckbuilding options that challenge these players to find the right combination of cards to suit their playstyle. The more we can make a Ritualist think “How can I build around this card?” the better.
The Slayer has the most fun when they feel awesome. This player relishes cards with powerful, splashy effects, and generally enjoys playing with higher-level cards and lots of experience. For this reason, they often go out of their way to earn more victory points, and they may judge their success or failure in a scenario based on how much experience was earned.
Despite the name, Slayers don’t always play combat characters. A Slayer may be a Seeker who tries to discover as many clues as possible in a single action, or a Rogue who loads up with Exceptional cards. We tempt these Slayers with eye-catching cards that often require lots of experience or that are difficult to play.
Of course, this is Arkham, so the encounter deck must rise accordingly. It’s important that Slayers feel peaks and valleys of power—they can’t be powerful all the time, or there is no satisfaction. We challenge Slayers by creating terrors that are extremely difficult to defeat, giving them the chance to shine or—yes—to fail. We also provide Slayers with optional experience points that are difficult to earn, forcing them to work for their high-level cards. A good rule of thumb: if it fills the rest of the table with “ooohs” and “aaahs,” it’ll make the Slayer smile.
The Detective approaches each scenario like a new puzzle to solve. While winning the game is a somewhat abstract concept in Arkham Horror: The Card Game, this player wants to achieve the best outcome possible. As a result, they are equally concerned with both encounter and player cards. Encounter cards are the unique puzzles the Detective must ‘solve’ with the player cards at their disposal. This player enjoys making the most of Standalone Mode and also replaying scenarios, exploring a scenario’s intricacies to find the “best” route to victory.
When building a deck, Detectives prefer efficiency over flashiness. Cheaper, faster, leaner—Detectives want their decks to feel like well-oiled machines capable of adapting to any situation. As such, they love cards that save actions or perform basic functions like gaining resources or drawing cards. We add player cards to the pool which cater to these players’ desire to find the right “tool” to solve each puzzle. While they may not be perfect for every scenario, they are fantastic in the right situation.
We challenge Detectives by creating scenarios with unique objectives, like defeating the invisible Broods in Undimensioned and Unseen, or escaping the madman’s death traps in The Labyrinths of Lunacy. We also create scenarios where success is not binary, like The Midnight Masks, inviting Detectives to try again and again to get the best possible outcome. Finally, Ultimatums and Achievements create additional opportunities for Detectives to put their skills to the test.
The Storyteller loves reading, listening to, and telling stories. For this player, Arkham Horror: The Card Game is more than just a card game—it’s an interactive storytelling experience. As a result, they most enjoy playing through a scenario for the very first time, becoming engrossed in the story and experiencing the unknown. A scenario’s narrative is more important to the Storyteller than its mechanics, and they enjoy discussing it with the community after a pack is released, recalling their favorite moments and predicting what might happen next. The Storyteller might also be more familiar with mythos literature, and they enjoy when the game aligns with the source material.
While gameplay can take a backseat to narrative for Storytellers, the stories that emerge from their individual games are often memorable for such players. Using a Barricade (Core Set, 38) to thwart a deadly enemy while discovering the last clue you need or saying, "I'll see you in hell!" (A Phantom of Truth, 189) and going out in a blaze of glory—these are the moments that Storytellers love to experience.
For these players, we aim to create fun and surprising narratives that leave a lingering impression long after the game ends. This may include a difficult moral choice, a stinging betrayal, or a gruesome fate. We also do our best to ensure the story and flavor text are engrossing. Finally, we challenge the Storyteller with cards that inspire players to use their own imagination to enhance the narrative. Roleplaying is an exercise in joint storytelling, so cards that leave things open to interpretation force players to question the scenario and their own sanity—did someone just put the straitjacket on them, or did they just not notice it until now? Storytellers are invited to fill the gaps and determine for themselves what is the truth, and what is madness.
The Nihilist has the most fun when laughing death in the face. This player loves difficult games, either because they love a challenge, or because they enjoy the implications of everyday people facing impossible horrors with little chance of success. Generally, the higher the odds are stacked against the investigators, the more the Nihilist enjoys the experience, even if they are defeated in the end. That said, the Nihilist isn’t necessarily a masochist. Feeling the excitement and tension of a difficult scenario is one thing—feeling completely hopeless is another. It is therefore important that the Nihilist feels they have a shot at victory, even if that shot is long.
For Nihilists, we craft situations with an overwhelming sense of pressure and tension, without making them impossible. Spawning the Ghoul Priest (Core Set, 116) in The Gathering is one such make-or-break moment. If at this moment you grinned or laughed, you might be a Nihilist. After all, for Nihilists, being admitted to Arkham Asylum is just part of the fun. We also challenge Nihilists by creating cards or situations that seem difficult on their face, such as cards that outright kill investigators, or scenarios that feature cruel depictions of investigators’ fates and objectives with seemingly impossible requirements. When they can meet the towering odds with a smirk and a wink, this is the Nihilist’s time to shine.
Playing with Archetypes
You may find that you fall into more than one of these archetypes, or even all of them. You might have originally become interested in Arkham Horror: The Card Game as a fan of the setting (20% Storyteller) and found that you most enjoyed overcoming these horrors by splattering them to bits with a shotgun (80% Slayer). Or, you might be a veteran LCG player who loves deckbuilding above all else (70% Ritualist), but also enjoys the puzzle-solving aspect of each scenario (30% Detective). It’s also common for investigators to play the game for different reasons at different times, depending on their mood or group dynamics.
Archetypes can also be useful in determining which investigators to use. For a Slayer, an ostentatious investigator with a high value in one stat like Mark Harrigan (The Path to Carcosa, 1) is a compelling option, whereas a Storyteller might prefer an investigator whose backstory ties into the narrative, like Ursula Downs (The Forgotten Age, 2). Investigators are intentionally diverse in order to appeal to a broad range of player types. While not everybody may enjoy playing as Calvin Wright (The Forgotten Age, 5), the Nihilist sure will!
Thanks for reading this designer journal. Don’t agree with the archetypes I’ve identified? That’s great! Post your ideas on our forums—I’m interested in hearing which archetypes you identify as and what experiences you’ve had with Arkham Horror: The Card Game. Enjoy the game, and as always, be careful out there. Arkham is a dangerous place for humans.
Embrace Your Fate
Do you fall into these archetypes, or are you something new entirely? To find out, join the ivestigation in Arkham Horror: The Card Game and step into the action of unspeakable Lovecraftian horror!
Pick up your copy of Arkham Horror: The Card Game (AHC01) at your local retailer today or on the Fantasy Flight Games website here!