Some time ago I reviewed the Dunwich Legacy expansion to Arkham Horror The Card Game and positively loved it! It took everything from the core set and expanded it to show off all manner of clever tricks, and launched a story full of potential. Having had to wait some time for stock to become available, I have finally been able to play through the next few mythos packs! Let’s see how the cycle develops over the first 3, Miskatonic Museum, Essex County Express and Blood on the Altar!
This review contains minor spoilers for the opening of each scenario.
What do you do when your friends have been kidnapped by mysterious forces from a far off town? Rush to the museum of course! Even in the middle of the night. It’s an Emergency! Of course, the museum is locked up tight but I’m sure a resourceful investigator like yourself will find a way in.
This is a sprawling level and may take a surprising length of time to play. You need to search the museum for the restricted section, which if you’ve ever tried to find anything in a museum you’d know is a serious challenge! There’s always another hall full of creepy statues. You need to gather enough clues to find the entrance to each new hall, drawn at random from a deck of rooms, with the restricted hall hidden somewhere in the bottom half. Don’t let your nerves get the better of you now, you might start seeing things.
Like a massive monster. The eerie quiet of the museum rightly puts you on edge but you’ll soon discover that you face a relentless foe. This is a fantastic twist on previous scenarios. Where typically you have a mix of bad guys and weirdness, now you only have a single monster that becomes more powerful as you fight. Yet running is hardly effective either! It’s a wonderful challenge making for a unique scenario!
New Investigator Cards
Miskatonic Museum finally adds some Exile cards, this cycle’s official new mechanic, that wasn’t present at all in the Dunwich Legacy set. Flare and Fire Extinguisher both have a basic use, and an exile ability that, when triggered, sees that card being removed from your deck permanently! A flare gun only has one shot after all. To replace it, you must buy back the card using VPs between missions. This sets up a whole new kind of decision about when to use your cards.
Things are starting to get interesting on the deck building front, though it’s interesting how the cycle continues to release level 0 cards when you are mid-way through a campaign. Lots of options you probably won’t make use of, unless you are a sneaky green player in which case Adaptable might be your friend! This lets you swap out a couple of zero level cards between each game, super useful for players new to deck building (like me) or for clever players looking to focus their decks for the mission ahead. It is also “permanent” so it won’t even take up a space in your deck.
“I’ve got a plan!” and Pathfinder are both very useful cards for yellow focused players, indeed, Pathfinder is great for anyone in this campaign, as you’ll soon see. Brother Xavier and Emergency Aid are great cards for helping out allies and yourself. Contraband is a fascinating card. Technically not as good as it looks, I still love using it to massively boost the amount of bullets Jenny is carrying around in her trademark twin pistols! The smoking pipe and painkillers, as healing items, are a bit rubbish, as you just change the damage type. But the painkillers at least combo well with the Dunwich Legacy’s Peter Sylvestre.
Rating: This Belongs in a Museum!
Essex County Express
From the Journal of Matt & Robin, investigators at large.
After that harrowing night there was little chance to rest. We hurried to the train station to get on the first train to Dunwich. Fortunately South Western trains were not on strike this week. I fell into a restless sleep as the train left the station only to be rudely awoken when it came to a juddering halt. Oh no, I thought, not leaves on the line again?
The Essex County Express is a triumph of a scenario. A unique setup with the linear line of train cards coupled with a perfect driving force. If you aren’t suitably motivated at the start, you will be once the first agenda flips! Within the train itself are the usual challenges you might expect but so much more important are the other passengers. The odd terrified innocent will drop out of the encounter deck begging for help, but do you have time to rescue them? Your character will take horror for leaving them to die, but in perfect melding of mechanics and theme, so will you!
The variability in these scenarios continues to outperform the core set. You have a random train, with a random engine card up front, ensuring you never know what will be in the next carriage, even when you’ve played the scenario before. It keeps things pleasantly tense, since I doubt you’d go out of your way to memorise all 11 locations for the next game. Besides which, this scenario is such a thrilling action set-piece that I could happily replay it over and over again!
New Investigator Cards
A few very interesting cards and… some others. Charisma and Relic Hunter are both useful bonuses to anyone wanting lots of allies or jewellery, but they come at a stiff price in experience. Speaking of allies, your Art Student might pop by with a clue she discovered and that’s great! Then she does the only other thing art students are apparently useful for: being fed to some gibberish horror. Another bizarre but wonderfully thematic card is the perfectly roguish “I’m Outta Here!” which lets you resign (if there is the opportunity to) from anywhere. Run away! Not a card you’d often use, unless you really want to roleplay a rogue, or you’re playing Jenny or Zoey and dealing with their infuriating weaknesses!
The thematically opposite, and more mechanically useful, Stand Together gives a substantial resource boost for you and that special investigator in your life. It’s a great card. So long as you’re not playing solo. The more curious item in this set is Lure. Leaving some fine smelling item at your location to bring all the hunting nasties towards you. It’s such an interesting idea for moving those monsters where you want… but I have not figured out how best to use it! I’ll let you deduce the best use for Deduction.
Rating: One Way Ticket To Hell
Blood on the Altar
From the Journal of Matt & Robin, investigators at large.
Arriving at last to Dunwich we were met by two associates of Henry Armitage. Men not tainted by whatever foulness runs deep in local society. The situation was urgent. Rumours of blood sacrifices made us fear for our kidnapped friends. So we did whatever any sane investigator would do in this situation. We slept on it.
Oh bother. Everyone’s gone. Armitage, our hosts. Everyone was kidnapped during the night. Feeling a bit silly in hindsight but they must be around here somewhere right? …right??
Blood on the Altar brings the opening story to a dramatic and bloody close. You’re no longer in the comfortable surroundings of Arkham, this is the belly of the beast, the heart of Dunwich itself. You can feel the eyes of the locals on the back of your neck as you desperately search through the town for a secret room where, maybe, the sinister forces have gathered your friends.
It is a terribly challenging scenario, or at least I suck at it! Just getting into the secret room has proven too difficult for one of my investigators, let alone dealing with what you find inside. While searching for clues and uncovering what lies within a location is not the most exciting mechanical twist we’ve seen so far (and let’s be honest, the selection so far has been superb) this is a scenario that keeps the mechanics low key to focus on tone and the overarching story. Essex County Express was your show-stopping action scene, Blood on the Altar is where the character development really happens! How far will you go to save yourself? As the body count rises and time runs out… it’s heady stuff and truly made me feel hopeless. It’s great stuff tonally.
New Investigator Cards
Blood on the Altar isn’t just about permanence in the story, it extends into your new card selection two! Each of the decks have a new permanent card, each of which offer big boosts in one of two skill types when used, but at a higher cost. Either more resources, or you need lots of cards to make Higher Education work, or even paying with doom if you throw down Blood Pact and that’s a fascinating proposition! Not necessarily a proposition you want to take up… for now, but more on that next time.
Other new options include a shed, which might look a bit heavy to carry around but, hey, at least you’ll be prepared. The Lone Wolf (only 1 allowed, naturally) earns a lonely investigator some extra resources, which will certainly come in handy for those more expensive cards we were discussing earlier. Hopefully, you’ll Rise to the Occasion with a big horde of wild skill symbols… but only if you face a uniquely challenging test. And lastly there’s a very handy upgrade to Emergency Cache, an almost guaranteed include in any deck. Now you’ll get a card too!
Rating: A Worthy Sacrifice
The Dunwich Legacy cycle continues to amaze and delight me! Each of the scenarios I’ve looked at here are unique, entertaining, experiences. I can’t quite believe how tightly balanced they are too. So many times we’ve felt like we face an impossible challenge only to win through by the absolute skin of our teeth. But of course, these are Lovecraftian games, and it wouldn’t be right for things to go smoothly and it certainly hasn’t done so for me. Failure is a real threat but failure doesn’t end the campaign like it might in lesser games, your objectives thus far are rarely so simple as saving yourself. That actually raises the stakes and the hopeless horror at your failure. But you must press on with the campaign, carrying the wounds and memories of your failure forwards. It is just magnificent.
It is also finally starting to feel like we have a healthy choice of deck building options. By the time your first campaign is over you’ll have a pile of new level 0 cards to go back to when building a new deck, enough that I’m genuinely excited to go back and build a whole new character. The higher level cards are offering cool toys to play with this play through, but in future campaigns I can really see myself planning out how I want my deck to grow. I can feel the design intention behind this game’s developing deck structure come to fruition now and that’s great! It’s maybe less good for newer players to have to face collecting two core sets and a full expansion cycle to truly get the deck building going but I still believe the story is the primary appeal anyway. Going back to do better is for the second and future play-throughs! So far, what I’ve seen is only making it more likely I recommend The Arkham Horror Card Game to people! And I was already doing that anyway…
Previous article in this series: The Dunwich Legacy Review