This article will look at an individual scenario of Arkham Horror: The Card Game. These will be my impressions after playing through the scenario and will be focusing on the mechanics and how those reinforce the story elements of a given scenario. These articles will contain extensive spoilers and assume a familiarity with the terms and mechanics of the game. Please do not read on if you have not played the scenario in the title yet.
It’s been a strange time so far on the Path to Carcosa; mysterious plays, monstrous parties, and mansions full of cultists and secrets. Your investigation now points you towards somewhere you may end up if you can’t get this all straight in your head: Arkham Asylum and a patient there by the name of Daniel.
Right from the off this scenario sets the scene well, tying the intro text into events during Echoes of the Past. A strange dream or the clues gathered from your investigation of the mansion may lead you towards the Asylum. By now you will no doubt have realised the importance of the guests you interviewed at the party and they crop up here once more: if you interviewed Constance Dumaine she told you of a strange ritual that the cast had gone through and you suspect Daniel may have also been through it. She gives each of you a Courage asset with 2 sanity, represented by the facedown top card of your deck. That is bound to come in handy!
The setup gives us some interesting tidbits to mull over. All the monster and lunatic enemies are set aside from the gathered sets, we raise the difficulty of the game a bit by adding a new negative token to the chaos bag and Act 2 will be different depending on whether you have a particular clasp with you or not.
Last but not least it is worth taking a quick look at the scenario card for this chapter. From last time you may have only cultist or tablet tokens alongside your skulls meaning that the elder sign may not be a part of your playthrough. The skulls stack monsters under the Act deck for reasons that will no doubt become apparent and the Elder Thing doubles down on this, meaning if you failed to reach a resolution this particular mechanic is going to rack up faster.
The Conviction path from echoes means you are going to have only cultist tokens meaning taking sanity damage is a more risky proposition. The Doubt path means the shroud of locations are the threat.
This is a really nice piece of flavour meaning that if you absolutely trust what your eyes are telling you, anything that throws that out of whack is disturbing. If you doubt what you know, then investigating the Asylum becomes something your investigator approaches with trepidation. Subtle but excellent.
Taking over the Asylum
Setting off from one of the halls, you start to seek out evidence of Daniel, in the hope you might be able to finally figure out what is going on. You have a choice of where to go as evidenced by the Act and Agenda setup:
It should be immedately evident that the Agenda is going to flip inside 3 turns and it is going to be tight for you to be able to get the Act to do the same inside that time. Many of the locations also provide an interesting look at what may be coming:
Both the Garden and Kitchen are locked when you first arrive, so you cannot enter them. Each of the first 3 has a thing to note down about your activities and you simply can’t get into the Basement yet. That must be where Daniel is being held, if he is still alive at all! Sounds like you need to find some keys.
As the Agenda ticks over, the Lunatics really do enter the asylum as all the set aside ones enter a newly refreshed encounter deck. Proceeding with haste through the Act deck you bump into one of the nurses, whom you can intimidate, steal or persuade the keys from to the Basement hall. If you fail you ‘take the keys by force’ noting this down in your campaign guide. The designers have shown us before that not everything written here matters in the long run. This casts some doubt over the instruction, perfect for the Path to Carcosa.
The keys allow you run about the asylum unhindered by locks; opening up the Kitchen, Garden, and most importantly the basement cells. It is worth noting here that there was an errata to make each of the cells not have the Arkham Asylum trait, meaning you still need a clue to enter them after Act 2 is revealed. Descending into the newly revealed dungeon you frantically search for Daniel Chesterfield, tearing up cells, interacting with the patients, and adding yet more notes to what you have done during your visit to the Asylum. When you eventually meet Daniel, all hell breaks loose.
Depending on whether you have the clasp or not, did you follow the path of Conviction or Doubt, Daniel will become an asset for you that you have to get out of the Asylum intact, or a hideous abomination that you must dispatch.
This doesn’t matter in the moment of the game, but let’s take a look at the redherring on the monster version of Daniel. It has an action on it that you can never perform as you didn’t take the clasp if you are using this version of him. At the time this passes you by, but on reflection it is a lovely moment of doubt. You know the Onyx clasp is not in the scenario, you set it up, but this card implies it also is. What is truth?
Now you know Daniel’s Fate it is time to leave as quickly as possible:
You may have done some of the things mentioned on the Objective already and you only need to do 4 of them to Advance this particular Act. As you proceed to Act 4 everything seems to be setup for your escape, but wait there’s more! The monsters you have been placing below the Act deck now make an appearance, and if there are too many of them the investigator with the lowest Will is going to get up close and personal with a Monster from the deck right now!
Once the garden is free of gribblies you can resign, escaping through the gates of the Asylum….or do you! The scenario has one final middle finger to throw at you. Oh ‘You took the keys by force’ maybe you shouldn’t have done that. You are arrested if you did, taking some physical trauma for your troubles, but incarceration at the hands of the law is a small price to pay for getting out of that place with your lives. Isn’t it?
If you proceed too slowly the Agenda will of course catch up with you eventually defeating the remaining investigators if they outstay their welcome. It is here we come to the greatest reveal of this scenario: if you are defeated, your investigator is driven insane! Do not pass Go, do not collect your mind on the way out. You are now a resident of the asylum and no on will believe your wild stories of monsters, plays and the King in Yellow.
This is not the end for the players however, as you can happily pick up another investigator to continue on the mission. This happened to me the first time through and although I was surprised to lose an investigator so early, I was still really happy with the story this created. The investigation continues no matter the outcome, unlike Where Doom Awaits that brings about the end of all things. You get the usual xp and some notes on what you have done, but once again the chaos bag warps depending on the resolution. We will revisit that in the Phantom of Truth article.
A brief Interlude
Once again the designers have taken liberties with the downtime between scenarios, giving those who successfully, one way or another, escaped the Asylum some new information to ponder and choices to make.
This particular interlude deals with whether or not Daniel survived the encounter but each outcome does end up with the same choice: do you heed the warning given to you not to speak the name of The King in Yellow or do you Ignore it. Ignorance walks you further along the path of doubt whereas believing the information you have been given not only gives you Conviction that what you are doing is correct, it gives you an additional XP as well. Unfortunately Conviction also means that from now on if anyone says ‘Hastur’ aloud during a scenario they immediately take 1 horror. Yes you read that correctly, this scenario breaks the fourth wall and actually affects what the players say. Fantastic stuff.
The encounter deck for this scenario is full of monsters, lunatics and cards to give you grief. The set for the scenario is particularly flavourful. The Mad Patient is easy to dispatch, but should you? The Gorger will be added to the monsters that may turn up as the game comes to its conclusion, and it’s slow inevitable Pepe le Pew style hunting is a lovely bit of design. Walls Closing In hits you with horror or the choice of adding a monster to the ones you will eventually face whilst Gift of Madness (Pity/Mystery) stops you attacking lunatics or triggering actions on locations, and the only way to get rid of it is add yet another monster to the final Act. Finally the Straitjacket is a beautifully flavourful piece of design that can be absolutely devastating in the wrong circumstances.
This scenario marks the first time we see the Inhabitants of Carcosa including the absolutely monstrous Beast Of Aldebaran.
Of course you may not see this guy at all nor the Spawn of Hali he comes with depending on how things work out for you. As is appropriate for a scenario set inside an Asylum a lot of the rest of the deck is focused on causing sanity damage. Harking back to the core we see the Agents of Hastur set who bring with them Byakheeand The Yellow Sign, focused on attacking those with low sanity and causing sanity damage. Our hidden madness continues to haunt the deck and the Decay and Filth hits our assets, shroud and bugs us with roaches. This place is unsanitary! Finally the Hastur’s Gift set throws more lunatics into the mix with a boost card on top just to make our lives more difficult.
We have reached the half way point now in the campaign and The Unspeakable Oath is a fantastic scenario to be the pivot point of the story. Many of the choices made up to this point will soon ripple through the rest of the story, especially in the intro to the next scenario, Phantom of Truth.
My first playthrough of this campaign left me impressed by how much work the team had put into to really making your choices feel like they mattered. The story in between the scenarios is now almost as significant as what happens during play and I really enjoyed immersing myself in those interludes. The Doubt and Conviction paths both have weight to them, affecting how the characters perceive both story and mechanics and as we proceed through the campaign the decisions made will come back to haunt the characters time and time again. As we will discover, there are no wrong decisions, just significant ones.