Beyond the Veil – Black Stars Rise

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.

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Paris has been a harrowing affair: chasing the Organist around the city and then winding up racing through the catacombs of that fair city. Now your journey takes you to the northwestern coast of France to the island retreat of Mont Saint-Michel. At low tide you can reach the island by foot but circumstances are not kind to you and a stormy boat ride awaits.

You know the Path to Carcosa lies on this small Island, but which way should you go. The path may lead up to the heavens or down to the waves and in this scenario, more than any other, you will doubt the choices you make.

As above, so below

This is probably the most complex scenario setup we have yet encountered and the best expression yet of the themes of doubt and conviction that have been weaving their way through the narrative. First things first we get two agenda decks and no act decks! What that means is that we are only dealing in how fast doom ticks down, there are no clues to be put on an Act to give us a respite from the ticking clock.

On top of this we have a bit of an intricate piece of setup to do. 4 cards, 2 Agenda and 2 Location cards, have duplicate copies. Splitting apart these 8 cards into two 4 card piles, separated by a symbol on the back of each card, we then randomly choose one of the piles to use for the rest of the setup. One of the agenda decks will allow us to find the route to Dim Carcosa and one will allow Hastur to escape (be careful reading that one) and lead to the end of all we know. Whenever Doom is gained on an Agenda we decide which one to put it on: choosing a story to follow.

This scenario has a massive amount of potential replayability as we have two, in some cases three, versions of many locations on top of the odd instructions above. The difficulty of the this scenario, and the next, also takes a ramp up as we add a new negative modifier to the bag and each investigator adds a weakness to their deck from the pool.

Black Stars Rise once more harks back to the fateful party, allowing you an extra ability to remove doom from an Agenda once per game if you interviewed Ashley Clarke. If I haven’t already I strongly recommend this app for keeping track of all these things in a campaign. The Island awaits!

Step onto the Island

Stepping off the boat onto the docks you read over the Agenda decks and location cards to determine a route through this most of unusual of scenarios. Both Agendas have a Fast ability on them allowing the spending of clues to put Doom on the agenda and then gain resources or draw a card. Since we don’t know which route is best maybe we should spread the doom around, or maybe we should power through one particular deck.

Our task is becoming clearer: move around the island gathering clues and use them to advance the agenda decks to hopefully find the Path to Carcosa. It seems that whichever agenda deck we choose to advance through, the answers lie within the Abbey itself.

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What lies within this holy ground?

Once unlocked the corridors and vestibules of the Abbey are ours to explore, and some of those places will have been affected by our initial setup. Both the way to the Chapel and the way to the Tower are blocked until we have investigated the Abbey itself and always time is ticking down. As doom creeps up we slowly start to reveal the truth about which path leads the way to Carcosa. However it is not until Agenda 2 on either deck is flipped that we know the truth: 11 doom into the scenario if not more. If you get the card below you have the correct route, otherwise you need to turnaround and head in the opposite direction, a terrible beast now blocking your path!

Let’s back up a little here and take a look at the back of both Agenda 1a(1b) and 1c(1d). There is a lovely bit of flavour here. When we flip one of these agendas we look to the other pile. If we have 2 or fewer doom on the other Agenda, then we obviously know what we are doing and mark a Conviction. If 3 or more then we mark Doubt as we don’t seem to be able to make our minds up!

Each Agenda 2 also gives Ancient Evils surge, which can be particularly nasty when you have yet to draw any from the deck. I definitely have had two hit in a row on this scenario.

The final location that you need to clear will be determined by the setup at the start of the game. Both locations demand sacrifice from the players to explore: the chapel you need to have 3 or fewer sanity remaining and the tower requires no cards in hand in order to discover clues. Thankfully both of these locations have an action on them that allows you to move towards these requirements. It really feels like these last locations force the player characters to come together in one location: the investigator grabbing clues is vulnerable due to the requirements and they can be helped out by the others. If we work together we can open the path and head to Dim Carcosa.

Scenario Card

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The scenario card is worth taking a look at, as it is affected once more by the scenario that went before. Depending on the outcome of A Phantom of Truth you will only have cultist, elder sign or tablets in the bag along with all the other tokens. The skull token is probably the most interesting one here as it really persuades us to rush through the agenda deck as fast as we can, the longer we leave a high amount of doom on a given agenda, the more likely we are to fail tests. This also has the effect of directing us through one of the Agenda sets first.

If we failed to resolve the scenario or the time ticked away and robbed us of victory we find elder signs in the bag that summon Byakhee to harass us. No real tie in there. If we have followed the path of Conviction then we find that cultists are a problem in this scenario, they being the primary enemies that will have doom on them. We are sure that a cult is behind all this, and it turns out they are. If we have followed the path of Doubt, that none of what we are seeing could possibly be real, then we have not embraced the threat before us. Now doom will advance quicker and maybe it is time we lifted the veil from our eyes.

Strange Encounters

The encounter set for this deck is pretty extensive featuring 7 different sets. Let’s look at the one attached to the scenario first. The Tidal Terror and Rift seeker are both set aside during setup, only coming into play once Agenda 1a or 1c are flipped. I like the theme through these creatures, 1 coming from the ocean as you pursue the Tide Rises, the other from the sky as you go towards The Ritual begins. The Rift seeker definitely feels like the more threatening of the two as although it can do more damage and affect the flow of Doom.

The only other cards in this set are two new treacheries themed around the core mechanic of the dual Agendas. Effectively Crashing Floods punishes us for moving through the Tide Rise Agenda deck and Worlds Merge for Ritual Begins one. These get more and more threatening as the time ticks away and can be shuffled back into the deck by the back of Agenda 1a and 1c. Interestingly Worlds Merge can actually help us at the final location which feels nicely thematic: allowing us to discard cards or take horror in order to be able to find clues. Crashing Floods just hurts us more and more, with no real upside!

The rest of the deck is very focused on getting doom into locations in play. Although we remove Doom from locations when we advance an Agenda, we do not remove Doom from the Agenda that does not advance. It is also possible for 2 agendas to advance one after the other so we have to be really careful about how we manage Doom flow. Appropriately enough Black Stars Rise can be particularly nasty in this scenario and Twisted to his Will can become basically impossible to pass.

Monster wise we have Byakhee, Spawn and the Cultists none of which are particularly threatening at this late stage in the campaign with your fighters all tooled up. However the cultists can actually be a benefit. You will need to deal with them to stop the path you don’t want to take advancing, other times you might just want to leave them hanging around in order to get the next ‘totally the right path’ agenda turned over. I love that they can be manipulated like this.

As discussed earlier Ancient Evils is particularly nasty in this scenario, gaining surge from some of the Agendas. Now we are reaching the end of our quest, The Stranger set comes back to allow the Man in the Pallid Mask to join in the fun. That thing will just not give up!

Full Moon Rising

I have really enjoyed Black Stars Rise whenever I have played it, and I feel it really is the best expression yet of the Doubt and Conviction mechanic running through Path to Carcosa. The double Agenda deck is a wonderful piece of design lending a sense of inevitability to the scenario, that neither path is really going to end well for your investigators, even if the world survives.

Your campaign can end at this scenario, you can fail and let Hastur (careful) out into the world. I think this is totally fine, as it feels like an epic enough conclusion to your story. If you step through the Rift to gaze on Dim Carcosa, then you only have a few more steps to take.

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