Beyond the Veil – Before the Black Throne
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.
The town of Arkham fades away behind us. The portal closes and we find ourselves beyond space and time, making our final journey towards the Black Throne of Azathoth. Reality twists and turns around us. We must find our way to the centre of this cursed place where the great elder god lies sleeping. They must be kept that way, for if they awaken the Universe will be devoured.
The final scenario in the Circle Undone campaign takes place over 3 maps. Each map is an area of the void beyond the portal. Each one is bigger than the last. As we set up the first one we get a look at what is to come as we fill the empty spaces in between the 3 revealed locations with cards from the lead investigators deck. Not only do we have to fight an elder god, we have to do so with some of our cards temporarily sucked up by the scenario. If we are lucky maybe they will be weaknesses and not key cards.
We set up a Cosmos deck full of unknown locations that will form the path between our start point and end point. As we reveal locations, the investigator cards taking up the empty spaces inbetween get shuffled back into our deck. Initially it is just the lead investigators cards that get used, but over the course of the acts any of the players can find their cards being used as astral stepping stones. The empty spaces cannot be moved into by investigators, so we must find a way through. We will come back to that shortly.
The Agenda deck starts fast with only 4 doom until the first advancement. It also lets us know that the normal rules of connection are replaced by adjacency. In addition Doom is not removed from enemies as normal when the Agenda advances. Bad news for the good guys.
Alongside the Agenda deck sits Azathoth. Ever present, immutable, but also nowhere. They cannot be affected by anything the investigators do. They have a huge damage output, meaning they are likely to attack at some point. We must prepare for that. In addition if they ever have 10 doom on them they awaken and they wake up hungry for devouring reality. There is no way to remove Doom off Azathoth once it is on there as they cannot be targeted by investigator actions.
As Agenda 1 flips, any cultists in play kill themselves. These particular enemies are the Dark Cult set from the core and they can have doom on them. Where does all that doom go? Straight onto the great snoring one Azathoth. We search the deck for a copy of Daemonic Piping and put it into play. The music draws closer.
The mementos we have gathered over the course of the campaign come back to the fore here. Having the correct one will make our task easier and see us suffering less. The first one we need is Gilman’s Journal that you may have obtained in Scenario 3: The Secret Name.
Agenda 2 has the same mechanism text as 1. The advancement kills cultists again, and we seek a second memento. This time it is the Worn Crucifix also from The Secret Name.
The last Agenda is The Final Countdown. Yes you’ll hear the music. The same instructions are on it as the previous agendas alongside one additional. The game won’t end when this Agenda advances! When it does advance we once again kill all cultists, move doom, get the pipes going. The memento we seek to make things less bad is the Corn Husk Doll from Wages of Sin.
Once the final Agenda advances any doom goes straight on Azathoth as we come close to the end of all things. Time to look to the Act to see how we avoid that fate.
The first thing the Act deck gives us is a way to navigate this weird place. We can take an action to draw a number of cards from the cosmos deck, choose one and put it into play. In order to advance the Act we need clues but we must be at the Hideous Palace to spend them. Once we advance the Hideous Palace becomes our new starting point in the second Act!
The next two Acts follow the same pattern. Get to the desired location, spend clues, move to the next mini-map. Once we arrive at the Black Throne in the third act, we need to empty it of clues. It only has shroud 1, but it gets boosted by the amount of Doom that is on Azathoth with a potential +4 modifier! In addition the Black Throne brings in the Haunted keyword, meaning that failing our investigation checks comes with a heavy price: being attacked by Azathoth or putting more Doom on them!
There are a few possible outcomes to this scenario. If Azathoth awakens then it is all over. If we accepted our Fate and have the Flute or Ritual Components on hand, then the lead investigator joins the pipers of Azathoth. They play that mournful music and keep the great god asleep. Everyone wins, apart from the poor piper.
If we rejected our Fate and have a Scrap of Torn Shadow or a Wisp of Spectral Mist, then we cast a spell around Azathoth to keep them asleep. For now at least.
Finally we might do a deal with Azathoth’s followers to keep them quiet, but who knows for how long?
Walk the Path
Location placement gets weird in this scenario. Some of the Cosmos cards need put in particular places or they will cause damage, and we are always trying to find one of the core 3 locations each act. This means we likely want to split up a bit, then come back together before moving on.
Cosmic Gate and Pathway into Void are the best pulls from the Cosmos deck, as they can be placed anywhere. The slight downside to them is they damage us as we pass through them. Hopefully by this point in the campaign you are tooled up enough to take a little suffering. Each of these locations also has an intriguing ability. We can spend ‘path’ resources to move them about.
You’ll recall at the end of In the Clutches of Chaos we marked a number of paths depending on how well we had done over the course of the campaign. These will now allow us to manipulate the maps in this scenario in our favour.
The other 3 locations all require being placed in precise locations. If we can’t then they extract a toll. There is a challenge to be addressed here. You can use the Act deck to get 1 location at a time, quickly trying to get through the map but likely taking constant damage and cost as you go. Alternatively you can spend more clues to have more choice, choosing the right location for the right moment and getting to your destination a bit more intact. Will it be quick enough though?
Cosmic Ingress, Hideous Palace, and Court of the Great Old Ones each have the same mechanic that gives all Void locations a reset button. This means if we get stuck we can pop back to the starting location. The other trick we can pull is to use it to pop all investigators to the final location of a map before moving on. A nice piece of anti-frustration technology backed into the mechanisms.
As has been the trend for skull tokens in this campaign they make things harder as time marches on, triggering off the Doom that is on Azathoth.
Cultists once more are the revenge of the Silver Twilight Lodge, the remnants of Sanford’s faction out to stop you. They want to awaken Azathoth.
Tablets are from embracing our fate, all the way back at the start of the campaign. Small modifier but Azathoth attacks on a fail. That is a big hit to take. Not sure how they ‘attack’ you while asleep, but the mere presence of an elder god is enough to cause some trauma.
Elder things are from rejecting our fate. A big -4 modifier and the potential acceleration of Doom as we fight against the inevitable.
The encounter set for this scenario is unsurprisingly focused on Azathoth. The only enemy in the set is Mindless Dancer, a creature capable of moving across the empty spaces. Despite its name it has a low evade but a high fight. Its force ability causes it to move fast across the empty spaces.
A World in Darkness we want to see as early as possible, or be able to tank the resource, card loss or damage from it.
The End is Nigh also gets harder as time moves on and is definitely not one to fail. Doing so results in a major acceleration of Doom on Azathoth. This is a really good target for cancellation if you have the cards for it.
Whispered Bargain is a horrible choice to have to make when you can’t discuss it. It can be a simple one though depending on how well you are setup.
Ultimate Chaos is a harder test with some relatively nasty consequences. It feels more manageable than the rest and you can get round its uncancellable part by cancelling at least one of them at the revelation stage. None of the Agendas shuffle the encounter deck so you are unlikely to see this effect more than once.
The rest of encounter deck is split between thematic inclusions and some mechanism focused choices.
Thematically we have the piper returning and the Inexorable Fate set. This gives us Fate of all Fools to contend with as well as Terror in the Night. Both treacheries that get worse the more of them there are.
The mechanism enforcing sets are Ancient Evils and Dark Cult. Ancient Evils just accelerates our problems as usual. The Dark Cult gives us 4 cultist enemies as targets, and they have to be suppressed if we don’t want Doom on Azathoth to accelerate.
Beyond the Black Throne
I really enjoyed The Circle Undone. I don’t think there is a truly bad scenario amongst them. Sneaking around the lodge, making rats dangerous again, playing pandemic across the streets of Arkham. Lots of great scenarios and cool mechanisms. What’s not to like?
The prologue. That’s what. As much as I like the idea of the prologue scenario it doesn’t feel like the impact of it resonates enough across the campaign for it to have much meaning. I would have preferred it to have been a little more involved and for its results to ripple out more through the scenarios. I know groups have skipped it in replays because the impact is so little. I do feel like the prologue format would have a better chance in the new release format.
Circle Undone is a great campaign that actually looks at what happens when the investigators side with the bad guys. It allows you to embrace the Lodge or take it over. The theme of accepting or rejecting fate runs throughout the campaign and ends up with some tough choices for the investigators, potentially dooming one of them to play for Azathoth forever. It has a good story, great scenarios, and some really fun investigators to play. A great addition to the Arkham LCG line.