An intermediate level deck-building guide for solo play
GUEST ARTICLE BY CROAKER
Part 1 – Overview
So, you got into Arkham Horror: The Card Game (AHC) a while ago. You played the core set campaign a few times using the suggested decks (even almost surviving once) and got hooked on the game. You then bought your first deluxe expansion along with a few mythos packs and began playing through that campaign using a deck you constructed yourself. You finally bought that second core set, because you realized that having two copies of Dr. Milan Christopher in your deck is really, really good.
You have a firm grasp of the rules, are aware of arkhamdb.com and follow some of the excellent podcasts and YouTube channels surrounding the game.
You are, in fact, no longer a newb.
Good on you – welcome to the club. Now it’s time to take your skills to the next level, and we’ll begin with deck-building
This guide is focused on playing “true solo” (i.e. playing with a single investigator). Some of this advice also applies to multiplayer, but not all of it, so take care before using it there. I’ll keep things fairly general to keep length within reasonable bounds, so don’t expect much advice along the lines of, “if you are playing this investigator, you should use such and such cards”.
Part 1 will be an overview of important concepts while part 2 will contain most of the actual deck-building advice.
Getting things done
The +2 rule
You’ve probably already heard about this, but it’s such a fundamental concept that it’s worth repeating.
It goes something like this:
- Do not attempt a skill check if you cannot get your modified skill value to at least two above your target number! (three above on hard and four-five above on expert). Add one to that number during the last third of the campaign.
- If you have to test anyway (probably because you’ve just drawn a treachery), you don’t spend cards or resources on it unless you can get to +2.
The reason you want to do this is that “getting two above the target” will usually give you about a 70-80% chance of succeeding, which is where you want to be most of the time.
There are obviously times when you want to disregard this rule (such as when you are at three sanity and have just drawn Rotting Remains), but sticking to this basic principle is key. In fact, one of the major reasons why new players can sometimes struggle with this game is that they waste time and energy attempting tests they have a good chance of failing. This drains their resources (cards, ammo and so on), which in turn makes it more difficult for them to get good odds on later tests. And so a downward spiral begins.
Why is this relevant to a deck-building article? Because you need to:
Build to pass skill tests
The “average” enemy fight value is three. The same goes for evade and shroud values – and likely tests on treacheries (though I haven’t checked all of them). However, values of four are also very common in all those categories and values of five+ will occasionally appear.
If you keep the +2 rule in mind, this tells you that you’ll need a reliable and affordable way to get your investigator’s skills to at least five if you want to succeed at things in this game. This is your “minimum desired modified skill value”. You must also be able to get to six fairly often, and you might even have to go above that a couple of times per scenario.
An example: This is easy for Mark Harrigan, as long as you are only looking at combat. Give him a Machete and he’s set at six combat. In the event that he encounters an enemy with five fight, he can simply use Sophie to boost to eight. However, things get a little more dicey when you try to get his intellect to five+ in order to investigate.
Does this mean that you need to boost all four skills to five+? Not at all – you have two other options: You can ignore some of them, either hoping that they won’t be needed or by counting on using certain cards to have other skills to cover the deficiency (this is often what mystics do), or you can:
Build to avoid skill tests
There is a whole range of cards that will let you do things without taking any tests at all. Art Student will get you clues, Dynamite Blast will damage enemies and Ward of Protection will deal with nasty treacheries.
These are usually one-off effects, and many include with negative side effects or restrictions, but even so, they can often be a cheaper and/or more viable alternative to trying to boost a low skill value to a usable level. Here’s a good primer on the investigation side of this: https://riteofseeking.com/2018/11/04/enigma-investigation/
There is an inbuilt trap here. Since most of the “cheating” cards in a class will work for things that investigators of that class are already good at, it can be tempting to over-commit to certain areas (dealing damage or getting clues or whatever) while overlooking your weaknesses. So before including Dynamite Blast in your Mark Harrigan deck, ask yourself if you aren’t already able to deal all the damage you need to. Maybe something else would be more useful.
Now that you have an idea about how to do stuff, you need to know what it is that you actually want to do.
You want to D.I.S.S. (Disable enemies, Investigate, Survive and Support)
Because you have to cover all areas of the game alone, it’s important to build a fairly well-rounded investigator. These are the four areas you should cover – either with your investigator’s natural abilities or through cards in your deck.
Note that a single card can effect more than one area (this is usually the case with allies for example).
There’s technically no reason why there has to be enemies in every scenario, but so far that’s been the case, and you need to deal with them.
The most common way to do that is through combat. However, evading an enemy is often a better and less costly alternative to killing them, so this is something you should consider. See this excellent series of articles to get a deeper insight: https://strangesolution.wordpress.com/2018/03/05/flight-over-fight-part-one-misfire-the-problems-with-combat-in-solo/
Because it’s entirely possible to draw an enemy at the beginning of the second round, you should have a plan for handling them right from the start of the game. On the other hand, it’s also worth noting that you might not actually see very many enemies per scenario in solo play, so you don’t need to bring every gun you have in your collection. About 2-5 enemies is to be expected (it can go higher, obviously).
A note on weapons: Most enemies have more than one health, so you are generally looking for reliable ways to deal two, or more, damage per hit. However, you still need to keep the +2 rule in mind. If you don’t hit, it doesn’t really matter how much damage you could have dealt.
This is the reason why the level-zero guardian weapons aren’t always ideally suited to non-guardians. Many of those only have a combat value of three and the weapons mainly give you a +1 boost, meaning that the investigator has to look for additional help hitting, which raises the overall cost of the cards you are playing and increases the risk that you won’t have drawn them by the time you need them. See part 2 of this guide for a longer discussion of draw probability.
This is often the only thing you have to do in order to complete a scenario (maybe aside from moving around a bit). Most scenarios actually only require you to find 5-7 clues, but a few can go much higher. This means that you should be able to gather at least seven clues with little difficulty and several more if pressed.
I feel like I should mention the humble Flashlight here. It’s cheap, available to everyone and will allow you to almost certainly investigate one- and two-shroud locations (since you never get below zero modified skill, you’ll only fail if you draw an auto-fail token).
You can usually get by for a couple of rounds without finding clues, but you still need to get this set up rather quickly.
In addition to throwing enemies and shroud values at you, the main way the game tries to stop you is by outright killing you with treacheries. This will often take the form of a willpower test not to take horror or an agility test not to take damage, but there are many variations.
You need to shore up your investigator’s weaknesses. If you have low health or sanity, you should get some soak (something you can assign damage/horror to instead of your investigator) – especially if you also have low willpower/agility.
Allies are great for this as they give you some soak along with whatever other boons they provide.
It’s difficult to make any hard and fast rules about this, but let me put it this way: If you have low-to-average willpower and less than seven sanity, you will go insane if you don’t do something about it. Just an example.
In contrast to disabling enemies and investigating, this area is usually not a priority at the beginning of a scenario, but becomes more and more important as the game goes on.
Everything else you want your deck to do, including economy cards, tutoring (i.e. searching your deck for specific cards), movement shenanigans, manipulating the chaos bag and so on. These are the things that make the rest of the deck function and give you the edge you need to “beat” the game.
The support category has one additional important function: allowing you to pass “straight” skill tests.
Most of the time, you are taking skill tests when you are performing a specific action (like investigating or fighting), but occasionally a scenario will require a “straight” skill test. For these you can’t use your weapons or investigation tools, so you have to rely on the rarer universal skill boosters along with pitching cards for their skill icons.
With a couple of notable exceptions, you won’t have to pass too many of these tests per scenario, but they can test any of the four skills, and there can be more than one of them. Finally, in some cases you might actually lose the campaign if you can’t pass these.
Difficulty is mostly in the 2-3 range, but some fours do exist.
The solution may be as simple as including enough cards with the relevant skill icons in your deck (and then not using them for other things), but you may have to get a little more creative if your investigator has one or more notable weak areas (Finn Edwards or Wendy Adams for example).
That just about covers the basics. Now it’s time for the actual deck-building part…
Feed the Mind
An intermediate level deck-building guide for solo play. Part 2 – Putting things together.
Welcome back. Last time we looked at the overlaying concepts behind building a good deck. In this part we’ll get into the nitty-gritty of actually assembling 30 cards (give or take) into something playable.
Where do you begin? Well, the first thing you should do is to:
Arkhamdb.com is an awesome resource. I understand the desire to “clear your own path”, but deck-building in AHC can be somewhat counter intuitive, and arkhamdb is a treasure-trove of insight into the game. Insight that could take a single person years to gather for themselves.
Here’s my advice: Find a couple of well-regarded decks and try them out. You can set “allowed packs” when you search for decks, so you don’t see ones that use cards you don’t own.
This will give you an idea about how a “good” deck can look and feel like to play. Many of the decks also feature detailed descriptions of the reasoning behind including each card as well as advice on how to play them.
Only try your hand at building a deck from the ground up once you’ve done that. This will save you a heap of frustration down the line.
When you are ready to build your very own deck, start by:
Counting to 12-10-8
You may have heard about the 12-10-8 guideline – i.e. that a good rule of thumb is to build your deck with 12 assets, 10 events and 8 skill cards. That remains good advice even though it obviously varies by investigator and deck-type. Yorick likely wants more assets, Silas and Minh want more skill cards, many rogues run more events and so on.
Assets are especially useful for achieving your minimum desired modified skill value of five+, as they have permanent or at least multi-use effects.
So, with the 12-10-8 distribution in mind, how do you actually pick you cards?
Remember to D.I.S.S.
First, you look at disabling enemies. Is it something your investigator is naturally set up to do? Depending on the answer, you want to include more or fewer cards to support this area. Same for investigating, surviving and finally support.
Once you’ve identified which areas you need to prioritize, which you can relax a little more on and maybe even picked out some specific cards you’d like to use, you need to decide how many cards you need in each area. You do this by:
Playing the odds
Here’s a question: What are the chances that you’ll draw your single copy of Working a Hunch within the first three turns, assuming that you are willing to do nothing except drawing cards? I’m asking because you’re stuck at a four-shroud location and you need to find one clue before you can advance – and you are playing Zoey.
You could google “hypergeometric calculator” (which is what I did), or I can simply tell you. They aren’t good enough, and you didn’t build your deck properly if that is your only option right now.
As a rule of thumb, here’s how many cards with a specific effect (boosting a skill, finding clues, fighting or whatever) you need to include to have a good chance (70% or more) of drawing at least one at certain points in the game, assuming a scenario of about 15 rounds:
6: In your opening hand without using a mulligan
5-4: In your opening hand after a partial mulligan (1-3 cards)
3: In your opening hand if you do a “hard mulligan” (i.e. you are willing to toss every card that isn’t the one you want). Otherwise “early in the game”.
2: “Early in the game” if you do a hard mulligan for it. Otherwise “at some point”.
1: “At some point” if you do a hard mulligan, otherwise probably never.
This should show you that, if you need an effect (e.g. the ability to deal with enemies) right from the start of a scenario, you should include at least three cards that do that.
Even then, you likely won’t draw it in your opening hand in about two out of eight scenarios. Can you live with that? Otherwise, having six cards with a similar effect will give you about a 50/50 chance of getting it in every scenario (if using a hard mulligan).
These odds only get worse if you need multiple cards that do the same thing (e.g. if you are playing a spell-slinger Carolyn and need several willpower boosters). In that case, you should include even more of those effects.
This is why the permanent talents from Blood on the Altar are so extremely powerful. For the low price of three XP, you can completely remove all that uncertainty in some areas (depending on your class).
You can improve your odds by using tutoring effects. Stick to the Plan is probably the most powerful example of this right now as it begins in play, finds three cards and “searches” your entire deck. The only limiting factor is that it can’t find all types of card.
From the above, we can make two bold statements:
- If you absolutely need an effect right from the beginning of every scenario, you should include more than six cards that does that in your deck. Otherwise, expect to get by without for at least a couple of turns.
- You should never include a single copy of a card with an effect that’s unique to your deck, unless you have some way to improve your odds of actually drawing it.
Ok then. You’ve picked about 30 cards, remembering the 12-10-8 distribution, D.I.S.S. areas and the probability guidelines above. There’s one last thing you need to remember before you’re done, and that’s to:
Pay your way
You can include all the most powerful cards in the game in your deck, but if you don’t have the resources to play them they aren’t doing you any good. There are two points you should consider:
1: Which cards would you ideally want to play from your opening hand, and can you actually afford them?
It’s all well and good to draw a Lightning Gun and a Beat Cop in your opening hand, but you won’t be playing them any time soon, unless you also get an Emergency Cache or similar (which is where Stick to the Plan becomes relevant).
2: Over the course of a scenario, which cards would you expect to play, and can you actually afford them?
You don’t need to map out every action you’ll take over a 15 round scenario, but it’s useful to have a rough idea of how many resources you ideally want to be able to spend.
Over 15 rounds you’ll (normally) get 20 resources without lifting a finger. How far will that get you?
How many of your events can you afford to play? Can you actually afford all the different assets you’ve included? If not, is that because some of them are supporting the same D.I.S.S. area, and you’ve simply included them to increase the chance of getting at least some to the table (if so, well done)?
Remember that you probably won’t even draw every economy card you’ve included. If you have four economy cards in your deck, there’s a good chance that you’ll only draw two of them over a 15 round scenario, unless you include tutoring or extra card draw, so you need to take that into account.
At this point, you should have a sound deck, or at least the first version of one, and the only thing left to do is to take it for a spin. Before you do that, however, one final piece of advice:
Beware the “gimmick”
As I’ve already mentioned, being a solo investigator is very much about being a “jack of all trades”. Even though different investigators get there in different ways, they all need to be fairly well rounded by the end.
One way many people (myself included) initially fail to do this is by focusing too narrowly on a cool effect, either an investigator ability, a card effect or a combination of cards, and forgetting about “the basics”.
For example, even though Yorick can recur assets, you don’t have to base your entire plan around doing that. Machete remains one of the best level zero weapons that he can take, even though it doesn’t technically synergize with his ability, and you should seriously consider including it.
You have a little more leeway to specialize in multiplayer, and that’s where I’d suggest you try out your janky-ass rogue cluever (an investigator who’s main role is to find clues) deck that’s based entirely around Skeleton Key.
Or you can try it out in solo play if you want to – the odds be damned. It might even be a lot of fun, and at the end of the day, that’s the entire point, isn’t it?