Guest Article written by James Phillips
“They said you was high class, but that was just a lie.”
Our investigators in Arkham Horror LCG may not have caught any rabbits, and they certainly ain’t no friends of mine, but they do have classes: specifically, the five from the Core Set have a primary class (from which they can take any card with level 0-5) and a secondary class (from which they can take any card with level 0-2).
The implication here seems clear: a character’s primary class is the core of their identity, the defining aspect of how they play – a secondary class is just that: secondary, only an auxiliary element.
Well not really, at least not at the moment.
If you build your character a deck out of a single Core set, you’ll need probably need to follow the suggested deck from the back of the Learn to Play book, at least as a starting point. All of these, you will quickly notice, say something along the lines of “All the level zero cards from [Primary Class]” AND “all the level zero cards from [Secondary Class].” The fact is that the card pool just isn’t big enough for you to lean more heavily on your primary class, unless you buy extra boxes.
Once the campaign starts, things will change: after each scenario you will have earned XP, and you can use that XP to upgrade your deck, to start buying more powerful or more efficient cards. For your main class the sky (or, more probably, the amount of XP you picked up) is the limit – for the secondary class you’re capped at level 2.
This isn’t as big of a restriction as you might think – that’s because across the 5 classes represented, there are only 7 cards in the core box that are level 3 or higher. If you don’t take the shotgun (whilst good, it has limited ammo and requires both hand slots, so it’s not an auto-include) then Roland, your Guardian/Seeker, is no different from a Seeker/Guardian.
Compared with various other LCGs we’ve seen, Arkham is slightly unusual in not requiring a resource match to play cards: if you can get the card into your deck/hand, then any of your resources are good enough to pay for it. Once you’ve got the cards in your collection, there’s nothing to stop Roland from taking 25 Seeker cards and only the lightest sprinkling of Guardian cards. That’s a very different feel from a LotR deck where, if you have 2 Leadership Heroes and 1 tactics, you probably don’t want much more than a third of your cards being tactics as you won’t be able to pay for them (obviously, that’s a huge simplification, but I didn’t want to go into too much detail as this isn’t an article about LotR, honest!)
We’ve already been told that the Investigators in the Dunwich Legacy will follow a different pattern for deck construction: rather than having primary and secondary classes, they will have a primary class (presumably there will be one investigator for each of the 5 classes), along with the ability to take level zero cards from any class. Obviously this rules out the level 1 and 2 cards as well as the higher ones, but the breadth of options it opens up still feels huge: how far will these characters feel like they truly belong to their class, rather than just being a jack-of-all-trades?
Obviously, the Core Set is just that – a Core, a starting point. With only three scenarios in the initial campaign, you’re only going to have two opportunities to upgrade your deck and then actually play with the cards you’ve brought in. In that context, and with a very limited number of cards available, it would have been counter-productive for the designers to have flooded the box with cards you couldn’t use in a starter deck. Still, it will be interesting to see how the spread of cards across the levels looks by the time we get to the end of the cycle.
When talking about Lord of the Rings LCG, the designers have said that a certain amount of power creep is inevitable over time, simply due to the ever-expanding number of combinations and possibilities. What they strive to avoid, they say, is one card that is just straight-up “better” than another.
In Arkham of course, things are different – some cards act as direct upgrades of others. On that basis, it is inevitable (and necessary) that they should be “better” than the cards they replace.
There are five cards in the Core Set where we have multiple versions, a level zero and a higher level version. In each case, it’s fairly obvious that the high-level version is better.
The Beat Cop (Guardian) is still a 4-cost Ally in the Guardian Class with 2 sanity, who gives a static +1 boost to your combat stat. However, the Level 2 version has an extra point of health (3 instead of 2), and rather than discarding him to deal a damage to an enemy at your location, you can exhaust him and deal him 1 damage instead, allowing extra uses of the ability instead of it just being a one-off.
Blinding Light (Mystic) is still an evasion spell that allows you to use your willpower instead of your agility to make your getaway. However, the level 2 version has had its cost halved from 2 to 1, and does 2 rather than 1 damage to the enemy following a successful evasion.
Leo de Luca (Rogue) is perhaps the simplest of the upgraded cards. The Louisiana Lion is identical in both level zero and level 1 versions, aside from the fact that the upgraded card costs 5 instead of 6.
Lucky! (Survivor) is an event you play after failing a skill check, to add 2 to your result. The power and the cost remain the same after upgrading, but the level 2 version allows you to draw a card as well.
Magnifying Glass (Seeker) is an asset that boosts your intellect whilst investigating. Sadly the upgraded version is still only “while investigating” but it has gone from 1 cost to free, and also has the option to return to hand as a fast action if there are no clues on your location, allowing you to free up that vital hand slot.
Assuming that you have the XP to spend, there’s really no reason why you wouldn’t want the higher-level versions of these cards in your deck over their basic iterations. True, some of the costs are slightly surprising – class-match aside, you could get the improved Magnifying Glass and Leo de Luca for the same cost as the very situational card-draw of Lucky. Regardless of that though, you’d probably take all of them if you could.
The remaining upgraded cards are harder to judge. Whenever you add a higher-level card to your deck you need to take something else out to make space (I can’t repeat my usual LotR deck-building trick of just adding more and more cards until the deck is too fat to shuffle). You therefore need to work out not only whether a card is good, but what you can live without in order to make the space.
A lot of the level 1-5 cards tend to have fairly high costs: three 5-costers, four 4-costers, and three 3-costers: that’s over half of the 20 cards costing more than 2, and only two of them (Magnifying Glass and Cryptic Research) costing zero.
In our first campaign, I would regularly find myself putting in 3 or 4 cost cards because they were “better” but taking out something comparatively low cost to make space. In a 3-scenario campaign this didn’t get too far out-of-control, but it would be very easy to reach a point where everything in your deck was too expensive to play.
Take the Cat Burglar. A 4-cost, level 2 Rogue ally. In our first campaign Wendy took this to replace her Stray Cat: besides the shared name element, the cat burglar has more health, has sanity, and only needs to exhaust to let you slip away from the engaged enemy, rather than being discarded. However, for all he offers, he’s not only costing you the initial 2 XP to add to your deck, but also requires 3 more resources every time you play him.
Extra Ammunition is almost vital for a character who relies on firearms to get the job done. However, it still poses a difficult question – do you remove other combat cards, leaving you reliant upon bare fists alone if you can’t draw a gun? Or do you reduce the number of non-combat cards, leaving your character more one-dimensional than ever?
Overall, particularly given the amount of commentary/complaint that always goes on about the content of an LCG Core Set, I think the card pool we have is in a fairly sensible starting place. That sad, if the designers are serious about Classes really being a thing in Arkham Horror, then they need to put their money where their mouth is sometime soon: I really hope that we see some powerful cards at levels 3 and above in the forthcoming packs, something to really reward players for building their Guardian’s deck like a Guardian or their Mystic’s deck like a Mystic.