Guest Article Written By James Phillips
Every investigator in Arkham Horror: The Card Game (except Lola) belongs to one of five classes: Guardian, Seeker, Mystic, Rogue or Survivor. For some investigators, it’s very clear what class they are, or what class they should belong to – when Leo Anderson turns up, is he going to be anything other than a Guardian? [Nailed it, James! – MB] It seems unlikely. Others are trickier. Spend half an hour on Facebook or Board Game Geek, and you’ll find custom suggestions that put some investigators into any number of different classes.
I started thinking about what it is exactly that makes an investigator their given class. As it had been a long time since I wrote Mythos Busters an article, I thought I might set some of those thoughts down on paper, and here are the results.
The first thing you might think of, is that an investigator’s class is all about the cards that they can have in their decks – this was the big hint from the Core Set and probably helps shape our perceptions going forward. Most of the investigators we’ve seen thus far can take most, if not all of the cards belonging to their main class – all 5 from the Core Set, all 5 from Dunwich Legacy, and all 5 of the non-neutrals from Path to Carcosa.
That said, most characters can also have other cards in their decks. All 5 core set investigators can take cards of up to level 2 in what we generally call their “off-class,” as can William, Minh and Sefina from Carcosa. The Dunwich investigators can all shop around a bit for the tools they need, but with a hard cap of 5 cards, it’s clear where their loyalties lie. Likewise, Mark and Akachi are more-or-less mono-class, simply because there aren’t that many cards which use charges, or that many tactics outside of Guardian and Mystic respectively.
That said, you can push the idea that an investigator’s class is tied inescapably to their deck too far. Agnes Baker is a mystic, but she can take Survivor Cards up to level 2. Upgraded Lucky! Upgraded Peter Sylvestre, Dark Horse, Cherished Keepsake, Fire Axe – the vast majority of the key Survivor cards are available to Agnes. In fact, right now, that leaves exactly 5 cards in the whole of the Survivor pool that she doesn’t have access to: is she really that different from a Survivor who can also take Mystic cards?
Admittedly, those 5 level 3 Survivor cards include some pretty powerful and arguably class-defining cards. Scrapper is perhaps the blandest of the permanent talents, but it is permanent, meaning it can be relied on in a way that most other cards just can’t. Aquinnah level 3 can stop enemies from being able to damage you, and Will to Survive completely removes the random element from an investigator phase. It would definitely be going too far to say that someone with Level 0-2 Survivor cards was in exactly the same position as someone with access to any Survivor cards.
All-in-all then, I think that you have to agree that deck-requirements are a big part of what defines a class, but I don’t think that they’re anywhere near to being the only thing.
Another obvious argument would be that investigator class is linked with skills: Seekers are high Intellect characters, Mystics are high Willpower, Guardians are high Fight, and Rogues are high Agility. It begs the question of “what are survivors good at?”, but it looks like a decent working model.
Of course, there’s an element of chicken-and-the-egg here. A lot of Mystic cards are all about using Willpower instead of other stats – so do Mystics have high Willpower because that’s what their cards funnel them towards? Or do Mystic cards use Willpower because that’s what Mystics are good at?
It’s been less than 18 months since Arkham Horror: The Card Game first came out, and we’re still relatively early in the life of this game – we haven’t even (quite) finished our second full cycle. Some of our upcoming characters, spoiled through promos and other channels, blow this “Class = Stats” theory completely out of the water.
Exhibit A: Carolyn Fern, a Guardian with 2 Fight. Now, Carolyn’s abilities and the description of her in the announcement article for To Fight the Black Wind suggest very strongly that she favours the healing/protection side of Guardian, and I’m looking forward to playing a different style of Guardian, but it does make me wonder what your party is supposed to do when the Guardian can’t fight monsters?
(I guess the best news from Carolyn’s announcement, is that there’s still hope for Sean that the woman who appears in Eldritch with only 1 Willpower will one day make an appearance as a Mystic…)
The funny thing about an investigator’s class is that ultimately –for now – it doesn’t matter. I’ve got to be slightly careful when I say this, knowing how wrong I was about investigator class last time I wrote an article for Mythos Busters, but right now, it literally makes zero difference what class you are.
As an example, let’s take another character who is currently only available in promo form, Norman Withers. Norman is a bit of a strange beast. He’s a Seeker, and his deck starts out as a fairly ‘normal’ looking Seeker deck: any number of level zero Seeker cards, any number of level zero neutral cards, and up to five level zero Mystic cards.
Where it gets weird is when he starts to upgrade. You see, Norman can’t have any Seeker cards above level 1 (go on, give him strange solution anyway, I dare you!) but he can have as many level 1-5 Mystic cards as he likes. In terms of character arc, this makes perfect sense: when an academic’s eyes are suddenly opened to things that his science cannot explain, things start to get pretty Mystic. As a gameplay feature though, it’s very unusual. Unless you run a weirdly neutral deck, it’s pretty much guaranteed that he starts off with a Seeker-heavy deck, but by the time you finish the campaign, it’s equally likely that you’ll be more Mystic than anything else.
Just consider for a moment: aside from placing beardy Timothy Dalton on a purple background instead of a yellow one, what difference would it make to say that Norman was a Mystic with those same restrictions? The answer is (mechanically) it would make no difference at all right now. It might change how you think or feel about him, perhaps if you role-play the story decisions it might alter some things, but there is no gameplay interaction that would be any different.
I continue to harbour a faint suspicion that Matt Newman’s primary goal in life is to troll the fans of this game and that the awesome scenarios he designs are just a means to that end. There’s a good chance that 5 minutes after I email this article off to the Mythos Busters, a new preview will land which invalidates everything I’ve just written.
But working in the confines we have, what possibilities are there?
For one thing, how about a player card that says “Guardian [or any other] class only” – a card which isn’t necessarily high-level but is somehow so fundamental to the DNA of a class that it’s only available to those investigators? I couldn’t come up with an example when drafting this article, but it’s definitely a possibility.
Another idea – which I nicked from someone on Facebook when I previously started a discussion on this topic – is the idea of an enemy which interacts with investigator class.
How about a Mobster with “Prey: Rogue” or a Cultist that deals +1 damage and +1 horror when attacking a Mystic character?
I don’t know if we’ll ever see any cards like this – and I’m confident enough in Matt’s abilities that if we don’t, then I’m sure that what we do get will be something better. Still, it’s an interesting design space, and I’d like to see it explored a bit more one day.
I hope people have enjoyed this meander through investigator class. As I’ve already said, chances are that FFG will soon throw out an article with a new investigator spoiled who completely turns things upside down. I believe it was Sean who said in the last Mythos Busters episode that investigator class is about mentality more than anything else, but it’s interesting to think about ways in which the design could be explored.