Beyond the Veil – City of Archives
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.
At the end of Heart of the Elders we found ourselves betrayed by Alejandro: knocked unconscious and told that this event is our last human memory. We awaken in a strange place and in a strange body! The creatures that we saw Alejandro talking to inhabit this City of Archives and they seem to have turned us into one of them! They interrogate us for days about what we know, but seem to have no intention to harm us. They ask all sorts of questions, telling us that if we comply we will be allowed to roam this place freely.
Every body needs some body
Before we even get to the setup we are making important choices in this scenario. Do we resist or cooperate with these entities. They have turned us into one of them after all! I mean look at us!
This may be the boldest move that the designers have made yet. They have literally replaced our investigator card with a completely different one, putting us into a Yithian body! On top of that all our unique item assets are removed from the deck as they do not exist in this time period, hopefully we can get them back. We start in one of two different interview rooms depending on whether we cooperated or not with the Yithians.
The Arrival room is where we start if we are cooperating along with a copy of Yithian Observer. That’s not a bad thing though as not only is it aloof, from the first Act, but it also gives everyone a clue (during the setup). Seems like we’ve been able to turn the tables on our interrogators and learn a thing or two.
The Restraining Chamber is where we start if we have shown resistance to our situation. Breaking out of our bonds we have killed a Yithian Observer, taking one out of the encounter deck to put straight into the victory display. That’s 1 xp right from the off!
However we get going, it’s time to figure out what to do. They’ve taken our bodies and that is just not on.
This place is weird and our first task is to find our way out of here. The restriction on the Agenda means that not only have they taken our bodies but they have also taken our stuff! The Yithian Observer’s that we come across are all Aloof (they won’t engage us), giving us time to move around and get some clues.
After we’ve poked around for some time we discover more of this great city, putting a whole host of new locations into play. However our investigation has not gone unnoticed and the Observers are no longer aloof.
The new act sees us fulfilling some criteria to advance, similar to our time in the asylum in Unspeakable Oath. One of those criteria may have already been fulfilled if we took the action in the Restraining Room at the start. The others are at our new locations or involve the Custodian, a Yithian who has just turned up. None of these are particularly difficult but you might need to pick and choose what you can do based on the makeup of your party.
Our task complete we find a way to get ourselves back into our bodies which are currently possessed somewhere, somewhen, by one of the Yithians. Although we have completed some of the tasks on Act 2, Act 3 warns us to complete as many as possible before completing the transfer process. We also need to coordinate our efforts using the action on the act that allows us to draw cards. When all the surviving investigators hit 10 cards in hands we are yanked back into our own bodies. There is no resign criteria here so we really have to time this well.
As we investigate the Agenda deck is of course marching on. It too tells us of our investigations, giving us some items back as we discover the Yithians have made copies of our equipment that we can finally put into play once we hit Agenda 2. We find ourselves losing our memories as the Agenda moves on, reducing our maximum hand size down to 6 (usually 8). Our memory fades further as we hit the last agenda further reducing our hide size down to 4 unless we have be prescient enough to bring a pendant (yeah I was wondering what that was for in the supplies as well). The hand size restrictions make fulfilling the final act harder and harder, our loss of memory making us not want to return to what we consider real.
If we fail to get ourselves back into our bodies we are straight up defeated and the resolution puts us back into the Asylum, driven insane and losing the campaign. Harsh, but seems fair enough considering you have been pulled back and forth through time, into the bodies of an alien….or have you? Dun, Dun, DAAAAAHH.
It is relatively easy to escape the City, but how well you do it will determine how things shake out. In the immediate aftermath of the scenario there is no penalty to not completing that many, just extra experience if you manage to get 4 or more.
However, this scenario has an interlude afterwards that really does hit us if things went wrong. If we only have 3 or 4 tasks completed then we draw 2 or 1 tokens from the chaos bag and resolve whichever token is lower down this list:
Elder Sign or +1: no effect
Skull or any number other than +1: you get a new weakness called Out of Body Experience.
Any of the other symbols: Body of Yithian is now where you live! That’s right your investigator is now a Yithian. You also get the weakness Out of Body Experience.
Next up we go routing about in the chaos bag and check our campaign log and see if a bunch of statements are true or not. If we have sided with Alejandro along the way: attacking Ichtaca in Untamed Wilds, giving the artifact to him in Doom of Eztli, rescued him during Threads of Fate then we have only one final thing to check. If we have The Custodian under our control at the end of the scenario then our bond with Aljeandro grows stronger revealing him to have been under the Yithian’s thrall. We get another tablet token in the chaos bag, taking us to 3 in total. If these things aren’t true than Alejandro has become our enemy and is removed from our decks for the rest of the campaign.
Now we are back in our bodies we can move deeper into the cave system and towards the Depths of Yoth.
Here we see our choices reflected once more. If we have been following Ichtaca’s lead up to this point then we find our clues harder to hold onto, perhaps reflecting the sudden change of location and the surprise betrayal of Alejandro.
If we have been on the erstwhile expedition leader’s side, then our faith in him makes it harder for us to make our final escape as we come to terms with his treachery!
The encounter set for this scenario feels very different to the others we have come across in the story so far. Rather than mostly being made up of cards from The Forgotten Age it is about half and half this scenario and core set. Let’s look at the set particular to City of Archives.
We’ve covered the Custodian already so let’s look at the rest of his Yithian pals. The Scholar from Yith hunts you if you have the most cards meaning it is relatively easy to manipulate who they go after in a larger group. Although they aren’t that tough if they do get the opportunity to attack then 2 cards are flung out of our hand. In a lovely piece of flavour, instead of fighting or evading him we can instead try and nonchalantly whistle our way past as we are totally a Yithian. Honest.
The Keeper of the Great Library and Scientist of Yith have quite different stat lines, but effectively do the same thing. It should be possible to avoid one of these and take on the other as they only lose Aloof when you have completed the tasks in certain locations: Orrery and Library for the Keeper, Deconstruction Room and Laboratory for the Scientist. You can pick your enemies here depending on your party make up.
Treachery wise we have some tricky customers in this set. Captive Mind I almost played wrong the first time I encountered it, reading it as I want to do as badly as possible. What you actually want is to do as well as possible to retain as many cards as you can. This is an absolutely horrible treachery to get in the final act as you want to hit that 10 card hand size alongside everyone else.
Lost Humanity has a huge will test requirement, poor Finn, and slowly chips away at your mind eventually driving you insane! I’ve not seen anyone lose the game this way but with the encounter discard pile getting shuffled back into the deck twice, I guess it is possible.
Yithian Presence makes us cautious around our captors so even if the Keeper or Scientist are aloof we can’t investigate or trigger the precious action abilities that will see us getting home a bit more mentally intact. It’s action allowing us to get rid of it also slows down our being able to leave this mysterious place.
Finally we come to my favourite treachery in the set. If we have “interviewed a subject” Cruel Interrogations is us flashing back to what we did to that potentially innocent being, smacking us for a horror, forcing us to draw another encounter card and on top of that we can’t draw cards with a draw action (worth noting that actions on cards that allow you to draw cards would get around this). It’s relatively simple to get round, but it does need dealt with and will suck up an action in doing so.
The rest of the encounter set is all made up of firm favourites. Agents of Yog-Sothoth, that you won’t have seen very often, gives us the Yithian Observers we need early in the scenario as well as Offer of Power, a nasty little peril that gives us a tough choice between more cards and doom, or taking horror. It can actually be beneficial under the right circumstances. Locked Doors is appropriate given we are interlopers in this place and Chilling Cold and Striking Fear sets can really upset our plans if they turn up at the wrong time.
I need you, you, you
I really am in two minds about City of Archives. On the one hand I really like it and I think the flavour is excellent. It really feels like you are wandering around this mysterious place and the locations and encounter set all support that really well.
However, what is this scenario doing here? It feels really out of place with the rest of the plot, more akin to a standalone episode like Rougarou or Carnevale. I think this feeling is heightened by the use of so many encounter sets from the core. Whereas the other scenarios have mainly used cards from the Forgotten Age with a smattering from the core, this episode is about half and half.
In my Heart of the Elders breakdown I said that it felt like it was a story that could have used a good editor and with this scenario I am really starting to think that the whole campaign could have done with the editorial whip being cracked. There is no reason to have a fixed set of core and 6 scenarios to make up a campaign, Fantasy Flight Games could look at different campaign models (as they are doing in the recent Dream-Eaters release). They could have made this campaign shorter to accommodate a punchier, pulpier story. As it stands this scenario feels like padding, despite it’s excellent implementation.
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