Getting back into Arkham Horror: The Card Game...with a little help from my friends

One of the obstacles to playing a game with deck-building like Arkham Horror, which has been around long enough to have scads of add-ons, is that it has scads of add-ons. So many cards! So when you get back to it after a long absence, building a deck for your character is a daunting prospect. Do-able, certainly. But daunting.

But I have no desire to play Arkham Horror with a single character, because like many party-based games, a lot of the richness comes from the interaction among the characters. So I’ll need two characters. Doubly daunting!

A lot of folks get around this by going online and downloading some stranger’s optimized winning deck which has been tested and refined and tested further and is sure to beat any scenario. Which I simply don’t understand. For me, that defeats the whole purpose of playing a game with deck-building, which is partly the testing and refining and testing further. You know, the actual process of building a deck. I might as well play a shooter and have someone else do the shooting for me.

So me and @mikecathcart had the brilliant idea to split the workload. We’re both equally rusty on Arkham Horror. We both need to learn the latest cards as we go, and we’re both fumbling our way through this as we get back into playing. We can trust these aren’t optimized winning decks that can beat any scenario. In fact, we can probably guarantee the contrary. So we decided one of us will build a “brains” character deck, the other will build a “brawn” character deck, and then we’ll use each other’s deck as a second character as we separately play Dunwich Legacy.

For some reason, it was decided I should build the brawn deck. Make of that what you will. The classic brawn would be Mark Harrigan, the soldier, who’s a Guardian class. But I’ve never played a Rogue class before, so I went with Tony Morgan, the bounty hunter. He seems like a sure-fire way to get monsters off the board. Plus, I’ve been missing out on some fun Rogue gimmicks. So here’s my Tony Morgan deck:

TONY MORGAN
Chosen secondary class: Guardian

NEUTRAL SKILLS (to offset Tony’s lowest stats)
Guts x1
Manual Dexterity x1

NEUTRAL EVENTS
Emergency Cache x2

NEUTRAL ASSETS (Tony can only take skills and events from his secondary class, so he doesn’t have access to those sweet sweet Guardian guns. Hence the expensive Thompson submachine gun.)
.45 Thompson x2
Flashlight x2

GUARDIAN SKILLS
Daring x2

GUARDIAN EVENTS
Prepared for the Worst x2
On the Hunt x2

ROGUE SKILLS
“Watch This!” x2
Quick Thinking x2
Double or Nothing x2

ROGUE EVENTS
Small Favor x2
Followed x2
Daring Maneuver x2

ROGUE ASSETS (I’m not particularly attached to any of these so I spread out singles rather than doubling up on any of them.)
Gregory Gry x1
Henry Wan x1
.41 Derringer x1
Colt Vest Pocket x1

I’ll let @mikecathcart tell you about his deck. I should note we’re both current on all the add-ons, so don’t try this at home unless you’re like us and you’re shameless enough to support Fantasy Flight’s abusive business model.

-Tom

I would argue that in a game like the Arkham Horror LCG, deck building isn’t the gameplay, the way it would be in something like Ascension or Legendary, it’s the labor you do to make it possible to play the game. And if you enjoy that, fair enough, but I don’t. To me, it’s less like having someone else do the shooting, and more like having someone else assemble the minis. If I were going to play a game that didn’t come with minis assembled, which frankly I have no intention of doing. Playing with netdecks in Arkham Horror LCG to me is no different than playing Sentinels of the Multiverse or Street Masters or Warhammer Quest Adventure Card Game, except that Fantasy Flight didn’t have the courtesy to put together fun decks ahead of time.

Go team Cathcart, or is that not how this works?

You can do it that way if you like. He’ll be posting his deck here shortly, I hope. And I hope he’ll also let us know how his playthroughs are going, so you can cheer for and heckle whomever you like!

Unfortunately, I’ve suffered a severe setback before I’ve even started. I can’t find the Tony Morgan character portrait minicard I’m supposed to use to mark his location. I’m guessing I stupidly threw it away when I threw away the box? Which means there are probably other character minicards missing, which means my Arkham Horror cards are incomplete. I’ll be using a substitute character who wears a hat like Tony Morgan’s hat, but it won’t be the same thing…

-Tom

Right, brains deck! I’ve got everything except for 2 currently unavilable mythos packs and the Forgotten Age deluxe box. Luckily I found someone with an extra copy of TFA which will be arriving tomorrow.

I chose to build a deck for Akachi Onyele, who seems to be a pretty solid spellcaster. I’m going to tell you right now that this deck is probably terrible. I didn’t read any guides and instead just went through the Mystic cards pulling out anything that looked interesting.

Akachi’s special ability is that any card with charges on it comes into play with an extra charge for free. She also has lots of brains, but since brains don’t directly help you with fighting or investigation I’ve thrown in several cards that will convert brains to either firepower or investigativeness. Don’t check, that’s a real word.

Akachi Onyele deck viewer

Asset (15)

Hand
2x Sign Magick

Arcane
2x Alchemical Transmutation
2x Rite of Seeking
2x Shrivelling
2x Sixth Sense

Accessory
2x Holy Rosary

Ally
2x Arcane Initiate

Other
1x Spirit-Speaker

Event (12)

2x Deny Existence
2x Eldritch Inspiration
2x Read the Signs
2x Spectral Razor
2x Storm of Spirits
2x Uncage the Soul

Skill (4)

2x Torrent of Power
2x Unexpected Courage

Treachery (2)

1x Angered Spirits
1x Random Basic Weakness

Spells with charges take up an arcane slot, which you only get two of. But since there are four such spells in this deck I’ve thrown in two Sign Magick, which lets you convert hand slots to spell slots. Tom is worried that my deck is too expensive. I’m hoping that a combination of Alchemical Transmutation (create money using brain power), Uncage the Soul (cast a spell at 3 less than its normal cost) and Akachi’s special card, Spirit-Speaker (convert spell charges into money) will help. If not, we’ll take another pass at the deck.

Oh, I’ve got Tom’s back on the portrait minicard. To make up for his fake Tony Morgan, I’ve got…old minis from 2nd edition Arkham Horror. Arkhams, assemble!

I love that the Tony Morgan mini has his guns akimbo. He really does have two unique gun cards in his deck, and he gets a nice discount on the price if he manages to get them both out on the same turn.

Also, I can’t really complain about your deck being too expensive when I’m saddling us with a $6 Thompson submachine gun.

-Tom

Does the original without whatever add-ons still hold up? I’ve got a 1987 copy of the game that I have fond memories of, but haven’t played in at least 25 years. Back before the happening I had some friends from out of town who stay over a few times a year that love Catan and other more recent board games. I was planning on breaking it out the next time they stayed over.

Heh… completely different game from what they’re talking about here. Really zero similarities except the Cthulhu theme. I haven’t played that 1987 oldie, give it a go and let US know if it holds up!

Okay, that makes sense since while the box is filled with cards the deck building thing mentioned didn’t jive with my recollections.

That’s kinda interesting though … you’d be hard-pressed to find two games that structurally resemble each other LESS than Arkham Horror '87 and Arkham Horror: The Card Game. And yet they share not only most of a title, but are directly related. I was going to say I couldn’t think of anything else that did that, then I remembered Star Wars (and every other popular property that has licensed dozens of wildly different games over multiple decades). That’s basically what these games are like – two completely different Star Wars games.

As 30-plus year old boardgames go I would call it better than most. That is not saying much. There is basically no reason but historical curiosity to play it over Fantasy Flight’s second edition, or the better games (like the LCG) in that line they’ve done since.

This post contains unmarked spoilers for Dunwich Legacy scenario "The House Always Wins"

This scenario is called “The House Always Wins”, which is a play on a famous quote from 2015 classic Furious 7, spoken by Sir Vin Diesel. The full quote is “The thing about street fights…the street always wins,” which kinda sounds like it makes absolutely no sense at all, but Dom is really smart about the streets so I’m sure he’s right. This is the only scenario in the Dunwich campaign that I’ve played previously and in that attempt back in March the House definitely won. Let’s see what happens in the rematch.

Detour! So I’ve got a lot of these Arkham cards now. Tom made me buy them. This, however, is probably not viable as a long term storage solution:

Before jumping into the scenario I switched to arts and crafts mode. See, the box the game comes in is way too small to actually hold many cards. Once you add a few booster packs you’re out of space, and I’ve added a lot of booster packs. So, I’ve decided to embiggen the box by putting a wall of foamcore around the edges and adding dividers to keep the cards in place.

In addition, I’ve purchased the Return to Dunwich Horror box. The Return To boxes are essentially ways to revisit a campaign with even greater challenges. We’re not even close to needing the remixed content but the real draw was the nice storage box and card dividers it comes with. Now I’ve got everything we need to play the next several scenarios in one convenient box and the rest of the cards put away in my expanded core box that’ll go back in the basement.

Right, so we’re at an Italian restaurant to find an old guy’s missing friend! This scenario is an interesting change of pace from those in the core box. We enter a restaurant and there are some mob thug enemies on the map, but they’ve temporarily got the Aloof keyword applied to them, which means they’ll leave us alone unless we attack them. For the first few turns there’s no combat, instead we’re just poking around looking for clues. So cool!

Tony grabs a drink at the bar, scoring a quick 2 clues. The game tells me to mark down that I’ve “had a drink,” probably because the designers just want me to remember the good times we had here and not because it will come back to haunt me later. Meanwhile, Akachi grabs 2 clues in the restaurant lobby before heading to the gambling room. There she rolls…whatever is a really good thing to roll in gambling because she not only makes her money back but also picks up 2 clues in doing so. Mark–distraught that he can only drink once per game–decides to join her and does almost as well, grabbing the last 2 clues we needed but losing 2 Arkham bucks in the process.

Anyway, this is about the point where the mob thugs started to get a little suspicious of us and dropped the Aloof tag, meaning they’d pursue us as normal. We head into the back hallway and split up to try and find Dr. Whatshisname. Tony spends a few turns stuck in the VIP lounge fighting mob guys and rats and also being broke. Later on I’d realize that I did a poor job of reading the deck Tom gave me because the Bounty Contracts card (you know, the thing that actually defines Tony as a bounty hunter) has been shuffled into his deck this entire time instead of permanently on the table with his character card. All this time he’s been taking enemies out for free!

Akachi finds two clues and another exit in the Back Alley and returns to help Tony finish off the club’s pit boss. Woo! We use our clues to find Dr. Whatshis, drunk and gambling with a couple of corpses. Akachi slaps him around and picks his card up as a new ally. This is it! All we have to do is run out to the alley and escpae. Akachi has one action left but instead of running into the hallway she decides to wait and run out with Tony in the next turn. I decide to just draw a card to burn her action…and I draw Akachi’s weakness, Angered Spirits.

Angered Spirits is the worst. Akachi needs to transfer 4 charges from her spells to Angered Spirits before the game ends or she’ll take 1 physical trauma (her max hit points will be one lower for the rest of the campaign). The thing is, she only has one spell with charges on it and you can only transfer from a single spell once per turn. We need to decide now if we’re going hang around for another 4 turns or if we should just cut and run and take the damage. This is when the Conglomeration of Spheres smashes through the front door.

I know what you’re thinking, but the Conglomeration of Spheres is not the thing from the Witcher books. Nope, this is a big ugly mess of slime and, kind of like, balls, I guess. It’s blocking the entrance, but that’s fine because we were headed out the back way. It’ll take the spheres a few turns to reach us, so we run for the door to turtle up. Well, not so much run. It takes us longer than I’d like because “someone” keeps losing actions because he’s “had a drink”, but a few dead mob guys later we’re at the door, ready to go. Akachi needs 2 more turns to dispell the curse. The spheres have arrived. This thing is pretty easy to hit and it doesn’t really do that much damage, but it does have a lot of health and there are still rats and other monsters who can join in.

Long story longer, Akachi gets in one good hit with Spectral Razor. Tony has finally started making some cash on the run from the VIP room to the back exit, but he used up his pistol in the hallway. He draws a card in desperation and gets…the legendary $6 Thompson submachine gun. Tony drops all of his resources and goes to town on the spheres like Captain Picard in First Contact (a movie that’s almost as good as Furious 7, Tom). With the spheres out of the way, Akachi transfers one last spell charge to the Angered Spirits and we make our way out the back door with Dr. What.

I really liked this one! When I played it back in March we found the Doctor but then got overwhelmed before we could get to the exit. I’m not sure it was a great test of the decks because the first few turns were very quiet but by the end it really felt we had a solid team that was ready to take on some tougher enemies.

There’s even a third edition now, which is probably the one you want if you’re looking for the board game. But for me the Arkham LCG completely replaces the Arkham board games, and even Eldritch Horror. This is a card game that plays like a board game, and it does narrative way better than any of those board games ever did. Really glad Tom suggested this because I should not have let it sit on the shelf for so long.

A great scenario, and a great AAR. Thanks for sharing!

When I drew my opening hand for Tony, I drew his random weakness, which will be with him for the whole campaign. Amnesia. Which has you discard all your cards but one. That has the potential to be painful. You don’t keep a weakness you draw in your opening hand, but I’ve spoilered what Tony’s hang-up is going to be.

As in Cathcart’s game, Tony heads to the bar and Akachi heads to the casino. Because the criminal goes to drink – it’s Prohibition, you see – and the sorceress goes to gamble! And the cool thing is that now I get to use the little dry-erase tokens I bought from a dude on the internet:

I forgot how I found these, but I remember reading that the guy said he filled orders by crafting them while he watched Supernatural. You can get them here:

And right after drinking, guess who gets amnesia? A full hand of cards and he draws his Amnesia weakness. Drunk and with amnesia. Hell of a combo.

I do not, however, opt to cheat at gambling, which is an option for Akachi. I didn’t remember specifically what the repercussions are – I’ve played this a long time ago – but once I finish the scenario and read the resolution, whew, am I glad I didn’t cheat.

When the agenda flips, I draw the Servant of the Lurker, a monster that actually gives a victory point, unlike the Conglomerate of the Spheres. As it’s chasing us down while we try to extract Dr. Morgan, guess who also draws a Conglomerate of the Spheres while he’s engaged with the Servant of the Lurker? Tony Morgan. Drunk, forgetful, saddled with a Frozen in Fear card that he can’t shake, and now toe-to-toe with two tough monsters.

Luckily, he’s got his Thompson SMG equipped, and I’ll end up using all its ammo. But it takes Akachi’s Shrivelling spell to knock back the two monsters. She pretty much saved the day while Tony Morgan stumbled around, froze up, and forgot stuff.

The better part of the Bounty Contracts is that Tony gets a free action to attack something with a bounty token. Since he kept losing all his cards and actions, I ended up with a ridiculous number of resources on Tony by the time the scenario was over. What really helped was the free actions!

Ouch. I drew it early on, when we were still poking around combat-free, and Akachi was getting her spells primed. It was pretty easy to deal with at that point. Drawing this at the end of the scenario would suck!

I also drew Akachi’s random weakness, which is called Drawing the Sign. It reduces her hand size to three. Which has the potential to be inconsequential. Here it actually compelled me to play cards to skill checks that I probably would have kept!

So what difficulty did you play? I set my token mix for Easy, but I think I’m going to go back and set it up for Standard to play through this scenario again, mainly just to get back into the flow of the game.

The two things I kept screwing up were the connections between locations – that just comes with the boardless territory – and forgetting that a character can’t do actions when they’re engaged. Well, they can, but they get attacks of opportunity. I would take a turn, realize that – oops, she was engaged with rats – and have to back up.

So I’m going back in. Probably for fewer victory points, since I lucked out with the Servant of the Lurker. :(

-Tom

Okay, so I reset everything, loaded up the cup with standard difficulty tokens, and ran through again. I’ve got a system now for laying out the cards to remind myself of engaged enemies and such. Just lay the enemy card or encounter card diagonally across my character card! I can’t miss that.

This time I played as a teetotaler. No drinking for easy clues. Which can make it expensive to get enough clues to get through the first act. When you gamble, you only have a 1 in 3 chance of getting clue tokens, and it costs $2 each time. I could have bought a whole Thompson SMG with what Tony Morgan spent in the casino! But at least he wasn’t drunk.

This time around, lots of combat, lots of Shrivelling and gunfire, killed a ton of rats and mobsters. But handily made it out the back alley with Dr. Morgan in tow and plenty of time to spare on the Doom clock. I drew the Servant of the Lurker again, so that’s another victory point. No Conglomerates of the Sphere showed up.

So, all told, a VP for the Pit Boss, a VP for the Servant of the Lurker, and then 3VPs for clearing out the back rooms behind the Darkened Hallway. Time to go shopping for new cards – oooOOOoooOOOOoohhh! – and then we’re headed over to Miskatonic U. to find Professor Rice.

By the way, I think I’m going to play the scenarios on easy to suss out their structures, and then play for realz on standard. I’m not into Arkham Horror for story surprises or narrative reveals. I’m more interested in the cardplay and mission structure. So a test run on easy, then a real run on standard. Is that weird? Am I cheating?

For instance, I knew going into this scenario that I could turn in an ally at the Clover Club Lounge for clues. So when Akachi drew an Arcane Initiate in her opening hand, I normally would have mulliganed that card. But since I knew about the Clover Club Lounge, I kept the Arcane Initiate. Cheating?

-Tom

That’s funny, I drew the same random weakness for Tony. I don’t actually know which one I drew for Akachi since it never showed up in my first game.

Those are amazing and I must have them. Thanks for that link!

Same here. I really like this scenario and I don’t mind running it over again. I may try that before moving on to the next scenario.

This game is extremely popular with the boardgame bling crowd on Etsy. There are a few different sets of connecting arrows to help you keep this stuff straight, with one-way and two-way connecting variants as well. Just don’t blame me if you also end up with a cart full of acrylic tokens and a custom case for your investigator.

Assuming that means you aren’t going to keep xp, trauma, or notes in the journal from the easy runs and only record the result of the standard run I think that’s fine. I do like how this game makes failure a part of the story, and by practicing you may improve your chances to see the happy ending but really you’re just decreasing your chances to see the true Lovecraftian ending :)

I…I am so sad. Arcane Initiate is an amazing card! You know that most of Akachi’s deck has the spell modifier on it, right? It’s like a free card draw every turn! For one resource! And two bonus horror doesn’t hurt. Sure it means the first agenda card flips over a turn early, but then that doom is removed from the Initiate. Also if you upgrade it you don’t have to apply the doom anymore. And because the upgrade was in a mythos pack you can actually have 2 copies of the card then :)

Oh, of course! Hence the “for realz” qualifier!

As for the true Lovecraftian ending, I think the added -3 and -4 token lurking in the cup will take up the slack.

I actually did not realize that! I wasn’t think of spell as a keyword. I was picturing just the assets as spell, but it didn’t occur to me that those events are of course spells as well. Good to know going forward.

But I was mainly scared of her Doom token and its effect on the clock. I wanted to hang out in the La Luna Restaurant for a turn to a) gear up, and b) lure the Pit Boss out so we could spend more time in the casino without aggro’ing him.

But you’ve brought me around on the Arcane Initiate. She’s my new favorite.

-Tom

I took my lunch break today at La Bella Luna, Standard Edition. We had a second helping of Confluence of Spheres, which I actually recommend. A bit slimy but it goes down real easy if you’re packing a Tommy Gun. Tony grabbed a drink again and never drew the mythos card that takes a turn away, so that worked out great. Gambling was a different story this time around. We spent a solid 3 turns in that stupid casino before we were able to move on. But our card draw was a lot better so both characters were murder machines by that point and a few rats and thugs were only a minor annoyance.

So yeah, came away with the same result as the other night. Only one xp but I think there are one or two decent upgrades for Akachi that I can get with that, so I’ll look into that tonight.

Okay, I have finished shopping for new cards. 5 victory points don’t go very far these days.

Cathcart, you brought me around on the the Arcane Initiate. So I bought the upgraded one for 3 points, and then didn’t have enough left over to upgrade any of Akachi’s spells. And I couldn’t find anything else I wanted to buy, or even any cards I felt like swapping out of the deck you made. So I’m taking the remaining two points on a gift certificate, to spend after the next mission.

Tony Morgan, on the other hand, has plenty to buy. First of all, he’s taking Dr. Morgan, who we rescued from the Clover Club. Then he’s spending three points on an upgraded Thompson SMG, which is an advanced Rogue card. It’s $1 cheaper than the default Thompson and it can be boosted to shoot at multiple targets. Then the remaining two points are going to an upgraded Emergency Cache, which is boring but practical. So no meaningful changes to Tony’s deck.

Now ee’re stocked up on back-to-school supplies and ready to head out to the Miskatonic.

-Tom