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Confronting the Horror: Part 1

The experience of any collectible card game is going to revolve around the deck you bring to the table, and this game is no different. Nobody wants to show up to a campaign with a deck that can’t get them anywhere! But Arkham Horror is particularly unique because it goes beyond “play all the good cards.” The function of the cards you choose, in many cases, revolves entirely around which character you’re playing, meaning there can be cards that are critical for one investigator but worthless for another. This provides interesting flexibility for the card pool, but it also means that which investigator you choose determines how your deck is going to play in dramatically different ways. There aren’t many hard-and-fast guidelines for deckbuilding in Arkham for that reason, and it’s worth talking about what makes each investigator unique and how best to maximize their individual potential.

Before I start talking about the investigators themselves, however, I do want to discuss the one major strategy that I’ve noticed applies to every investigator: Prioritize your skills. The game can be broken down (somewhat cynically) into nothing more than a sequence of Skill Tests, in which failure could potentially be very bad for your investigation. As you increase the difficulty of your campaign, the tests become harder and the penalty for failing more extreme. All that means is that you need to pick your tests carefully, as you’re not going to be able to fill your deck with enough skill icons of all four types to have any reliable success, and you wouldn’t be able to draw them all at the right time in any case.

What I’ve observed is that successful investigators will choose two of their skills to be really good at, one at which they can be passable, and then use the rest of their deck to mitigate the fourth skill statistic, which they hope to never need. Pulling anything from the chaos bag is a risky affair, which means a powerful and consistent investigator is going to want to either have plenty of icons to overcommit the tests they want to pass or to prevent the need for making tests if there’s a chance they’ll fail.

That said, some skill tests are more important than others. You’re not going to win without finding clues, and you will at some point draw an enemy from the deck, so you need a means by which to kill them. Evasion can work as a strategy, but many scenarios require you to kill a boss, or have enemies that would tax your action economy too much if you kited* them forever, so lethality is required in some capacity. Willpower seems like a decent dump-stat, considering it’s not used for anything directly, but I think it’s actually among the most important due to how often the encounter deck forces you to test against it. So while each investigator’s base statistics might blatantly tell you which type of skill test you should be avoiding, it’s not always so simple.

*Kited: An MMORPG term referring to the act of dodging an enemy while running away such that it follows you (like a kite) in the direction you want it to go. In this case, the act of constantly running away from pursuing enemies so that you aren’t killed.

roland-flavor

As early as deckbuilding, you need to have a strategy regarding which skill tests you’re going to make: two you should be very strong at, one you should be passable at, and one you should avoid testing entirely, often by replacing it with a skill you’re good at. I tend to define the “passable” skill as one I expect to test no more than 3 times in a scenario, so the skill icons in my deck should be able to support that support that (but nothing more). It’s worth mentioning too that weaknesses can, and will, throw a wrench in any strategy, but you can’t know what they are during deckbuilding so you should only concern yourself with them during play. I tend to draw cards aggressively in this game despite the presence of weaknesses, though Amnesia specifically is a compelling reason not to.

It’s also worth considering that having played a number of solo campaigns myself, I find that the most limited resource is not cards or resources but rather experience. Each player’s version of an investigator will look very similar to other player’s versions of that character at the beginning of a campaign, but which cards are upgraded and in which order will dramatically alter them as early as the second scenario.

Even out of the Core Set, there’s a lot of different directions you can take each investigator through the initial campaign, because there simply isn’t enough experience going around to become good at everything. You’re going to have to figure out which cards you need the most and at what point, so your deck will simply never have “all the good cards.” This will only get more difficult as the card pool grows. To that end, I believe the optimal upgrade path is going to depend 100% on how you play the character, and which campaign you’re attempting, so while certain upgrade paths need to be discussed, none is strictly better than any other.

Also in discussing each investigator, I’m going to use an example decklist that I believe is an appropriate starting point for each of them and discuss which cards are most valuable. Each of these decklists is specifically built for flexibility rather than specialization, as I expect most players to be playing this game in true-solo where you need to be able to find clues, defeat enemies, and survive treacheries to succeed. Even in 2-player, I believe these decks are mostly appropriate, as you’re not always going to be able to be in the same location as your partner, and unless players are in the same location their game experience is still quite similar to the solo experience.

The thoughts and suggestions for each investigator change slightly when considering specialization for multiplayer, but I think it’s important to start from a holistic understanding of what each investigator can do before you building investigator decks that are extra strong in one aspect of the game but otherwise very vulnerable. I may write a multiplayer follow-up at some point in the future if it seems appropriate.

01001 Roland Banks

Working a Hunch

We’ll begin our discussion with the most basic of investigators: Roland Banks. This federal detective is armed by the government and insightful enough to know how to find clues in innovative ways, which positions him as being the investigator good at the two most basic functions within the game: killing enemies and finding clues.

roland-decklist

The idea behind Roland Banks is that you want to be equipped to handle any enemy that comes off the deck without too much difficulty, and then focus the rest of your efforts on finding clues to push to victory. As it happens, his special ability really reinforces that idea, and in many ways it can completely replace the need for Seeker cards in your deck. When I build Roland, I build for Strength first, Intelligence second, and Willpower third. There may be an occasional Agility test here or there, but out of the Core Set they can mostly be ignored; G——- H—- is the only thing that forces Agility on you, and you have Unexpected Courage or a huge pool of hit points to soak the damage it might potentially deal. If you find yourself playing a campaign that requires a lot of Agility, I recommend you drop the prioritization of Intelligence and focus on shoring up your weakness to Agility instead.

The inclusion of cards like Magnifying Glass and Perception, which only matter when using Intelligence, is almost a red herring with Roland. Even in solo play, it doesn’t take long for an enemy to emerge, and there are often few enough clues needed with only 1 or 2 players that he can discover most of the necessary clues just by killing things. Do not underestimate the value of his ability: not only does Roland gain a free action when he kills an enemy, that free action is an automatic success. Remember that drawing from the chaos bag is bad, so anything that can generate automatic successes is very critical. That’s why you’ll see Working a Hunch in most or all Roland decks, as it allows you to claim a clue without even testing for it.

In terms of killing enemies, I’ve found that Machete is the most reliable weapon, mostly because it has an unlimited number of uses. You’ll find that in multiplayer its stock goes way down as both more enemies appear and they end up engaging other players, but if you expect to be the primary enemy-killer then I would recommend that asset over any other. The extra damage is the most important part of the card, but the +1 Strength has been critical to many of my successful fights over the course of playing Roland.

The ally slot is more decisive. Guard Dog is incredible as a source of damage that doesn’t require an action and which soaks up some damage in the process. It doesn’t generally do much to protect your normally-dangerously-low sanity, but it’s also cheaper than the Beat Cop and prevents more damage. On the other hand, Beat Cop gives you a static +1 Combat which is incredible, and also provides a source of free proactive damage. While the level-0 Beat Cop probably isn’t ever worth its cost, the level-2 Beat Cop absolutely is, and if you’re not in need of damage mitigation then it’s probably a complete improvement over your dog. However, I find I run through allies pretty quickly, so both are included in my suggested decklist. If you’re more interested in exchanging your Guard Dog with a Beat Cop (2) and leaving Beat Cop (0) out entirely, you can replace him with a .45 Automatic without too much difficulty.

roland-upgrades

Upgrade Options:

The Lone Agent

Police Badge (2) – I highly value any card that grants me a static skill boost, and the accessory slot is something that Roland currently doesn’t otherwise use. This boosts your Willpower (very valuable) and can be cashed in for a very critical half-turn when you need to finish something before the agenda advances. I strongly recommend this for anyone playing solo or someone who wants to be enough of a generalist that they can handle their portion of the investigation on their own.

Beat Cop (2) – I was pretty lackluster on the level-0 Beat Cop, because having to trade one card and four resources for one free damage is a pretty insane price. Even if you don’t run that ally, however, you should definitely consider upgrading into this one. Paying four resources for +1 Strength and +1 Sanity isn’t great, but this guy also gives you 2-3 free damage without costing any actions. That means that with this guy on the table, you’re suddenly capable of vanquishing potentially two enemies at once. I think it’s comparable to the Guard Dog, which also deals 2-3 direct damage and prevents 1 horror, but the extra resource cost to gain a static +1 Strength makes this guy dramatically more appealing.

The Investigator

Magnifying Glass (1) – If you expect to be investigating a lot, either because you’re playing 2-player with another combat-heavy investigator or because you’re playing solo against a clue-heavy campaign, the Magnifying Glass is something I’d highly recommend upgrading. The level-0 version of the card is okay, but this is much better for Roland and comes at a very cheap experience cost.

The Gunman

Extra Ammunition (1) – Even if you have a .45 Automatic and Roland’s .38 Special, this card might be a tough sell, since it does nothing until you draw those cards. That said, once you find Roland’s special pistol, then this suddenly acts as your second or third copy of that card… and that’s pretty incredible. I would be far more inclined to run Extra Ammunition if I had something that packed a bigger punch…

Shotgun (4) – The shotgun is the big ultimate Guardian tool: it costs four experience, five resources, and two hands, and it only has two shots… but those two shots should instantly kill most enemies. I think adding 1-2 shotguns to your deck is something you should only do if you know you’re going up against a combat-heavy scenario (such as the Devourer Below) and are willing to go all-in on the shotgun plan. What do I mean by all-in? I mean you’re willing to spend 6-10 experience on 1-2 shotguns and 2 Extra Ammunition. Because if you can ever combo the Ammo with an equipped Shotgun, then that ammo has more than earned its weight. Without the ammo, though… the shotgun is really too expensive and restrictive to spend four experience and a deck slot on. You only get two shots, and if either of those fail to kill your target then you’ve really come up short in value.

The Frightened Fed

Elder Sign Amulet (3) – Some investigators are going to see the five sanity on Roland and be terrified. It’s very understandable, as that sanity burns up pretty fast. I wouldn’t fault you for wanting to spend your experience on a card to shore up that weakness, but I’m hesitant to do it myself. Three experience and three resources are a lot for one card that you might see too late, and you simply don’t have enough experience in a single campaign to mess around with acquiring two of these things. If this is something you find you need, then absolutely don’t hesitate to acquire it. But make sure the rest of your deck is more than capable of finishing the investigation in time, because while this might keep you sane, it won’t prevent you from losing to doom on the Agenda.

01002

The Keeper of the Necronomicon

Unlike Roland, who’s all about turning encounter cards to his advantage, Daisy is at her best when she doesn’t have the horrors of the Mythos descending upon her. To make Daisy work effectively, we’re going to need to do a bit more work.

daisy-decklist

Daisy has incredible Intelligence but very lackluster Strength and Agility. Ignoring two skill statistics isn’t really an option, though Mind Over Matter sure lets you pretend to do so for a turn. That said, of all the skills Daisy could have focused in on, she chose wisely with Intelligence. You’re not going to need to dedicate many card slots to increasing your Intelligence, allowing you to improve your less-stellar skills while you continue to successfully discover clues.

As with Roland, Daisy’s signature ability also gives us a clue as to what she wants to be doing. Tomes can be taxing to read, given how few actions you get in a game, but she gets to read one of them for free every turn. Daisy needs to really consider which Tomes are worth taking. As it happens, there aren’t many choices from the outset, but two of the choices are excellent. Old Book of Lore, while expensive, allows you to draw a second card each turn… but the card you draw will never be a weakness, and you can use it to piece together important combos or dig for the critical card you need at any moment. Meanwhile Encyclopedia allows you to increase any of your skills by 2 (or that of another investigator) for the whole round, which can often be better than your most effective skill card. Unfortunately you’re stuck relying on a card like Research Librarian to go find those cards for you, which is not only expensive but runs into the problem of requiring an open Ally slot.

Even though I don’t like spending 5 resources for a book (even a book as strong as Old Book of Lore), I would gladly run two Research Librarians if it didn’t require an Ally slot. The problem with him ultimately comes down to the fact that one of the best Seeker cards is Dr. Milan Christopher, and once he’s in play you don’t want to sacrifice him. The +1 Intelligence is very good, but he’s really effective because of his constant source of resources, which allows Daisy to unlock a whole second tier of power since she no longer needs to be concerned with paying for cards. He ends up providing you a huge windfall because the only way Daisy is going to succeed is if she investigates very aggressively and tries to win before too many encounter cards have been drawn.

Unfortunately, Daisy can’t ignore encounter cards entirely, which means she needs a backup plan. That backup plan effectively comes from her second class: the powerful Mystic spells she learned from the Dread Necronomicon. Scrying allows her to know what’s coming, either to bury a dangerous encounter card or to plan for a known eventuality. Ward of Protection protects her from the treacheries she can’t deal with on her own. And Shriveling is Daisy’s answer to enemies.

I said that you couldn’t ignore two skills, though Daisy is going to attempt to. Mind Over Matter allows her to ignore them for a single round, and once you find that coveted Shriveling then she can start ignoring Strength by using Willpower instead. Unfortunately three Willpower just isn’t enough for the kinds of cards she’s likely to see, so Daisy needs both Holy Rosary and Arcane Studies to give her the boosts she needs to be competitive.

Hopefully Daisy doesn’t have to do much evading, since she can kill enemies with Shriveling, but sometimes Daisy has no other options. That’s where Unexpected Courage and Manual Dexterity come in. I tend to hold onto them, especially Dexterity, for the one or two major agility tests needed in a specific scenario: either to evade an enemy Daisy can’t otherwise deal with or to beat the G——- H—- that otherwise would likely kill Daisy outright. Five health isn’t nearly enough.

So far I haven’t seen a legitimate reason to even attempt to build a Daisy that’s even remotely competent at Combat, so I believe that should always be her dump-stat.

daisy-upgrades

Upgrade Options:

You Will Draw Enemies

Disc of Itzamna (2) – I believe this is one of the first cards Daisy should always buy, and due to the required accessory slot, it should replace Holy Rosary. While it might be expensive for a card that “doesn’t do anything,” you will inevitably draw an enemy during the mythos phase, and because Daisy really needs to mitigate every encounter card she draws as much as possible, nothing can mitigate it more effectively than completely canceling it and putting it in the discard pile. This puts Bulletproof Vest to shame.

Blinding Light (2) – While this technically says it performs an evade action, you could think of this as being more akin to Backstab because it also deals 2 damage to the enemy and could be used to kill them. You’ll notice this is another spell that allows you to replace your Agility with Willpower, which is yet another reason that Daisy wants to boost her willpower as much as possible.

The Bookworm

Encyclopedia (2) – I believe this is the strongest Tome available to Daisy, but it’s hardly infallible. You can’t start spending experience on Encyclopedias until you’re sure you can handle what comes off the encounter deck, whether that means expecting your teammates to take the heat or it means you’ve got plenty of combat-oriented spells and accessories. Also, if you do find yourself engaged with an enemy, you can’t use it without provoking an attack of opportunity despite the fact that the action is free. So you can’t use it to boost your Strength or Agility to escape the enemy, which takes away a lot of its effectiveness. Yet despite all that, I’d strongly recommend you get this once you get the chance as it allows an unmolested Daisy to turn into a powerful support character in addition to being a fantastic clue-finder.

Cryptic Research (4) – This card seemed insane to me when I first read it, as it draws any player three cards for zero resources and actions, but it’s actually quite fairly-priced. This is a card that you shouldn’t consider for your deck until all the other 28 cards are exactly what you want, which means it can almost never be the first card you purchase. Considering that, this costs far more than 4 experience and even when you get the deck you want… 4 experience is still a lot. I’m not sure I’ve reached a point where I’ve had enough XP for this card but I look forward to running it. That will likely be in a more specialized build meant for a 3-4 player campaign.

All-In Investigator

Magnifying Glass (1) – If you have some extra experience, I can’t fault you for upgrading your magnifying glasses. That said, they only improve what you’re already great at, and there is an argument that Daisy should always just take Flashlight over Magnifying Glass anyway, making even level-1 Magnifying Glass not very important. Still, reducing the cost and allowing it to return to your hand in case you draw the Necronomicon certainly is valuable. Consider it if you can handle the encounter cards you’re likely to draw, but don’t think it’s necessary.

Power In Many Forms

If I were to cover all five investigators in one article, it would be prohibitively long, so I’m going to save Agnes, Skids, and Wendy for next week. However, hopefully this has given you some idea of the different ways in which the Arkham Horror investigators can maximize their skills against the Mythos, so when it comes time to build a deck for your favorite investigator you can find some valuable success. I strongly believe that everyone needs a strategy when handling the many skill tests that are forced on you by the game, and while each investigator might point you in a particular direction, it’s up to you to determine how you want to defeat the dreaded Chaos Bag.

~Dav Flamerock

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