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Friday, July 19, 2024

Arkham Horror LCG: The Circle Undone

by | published Tuesday, February 12, 2019

From the dense misty jungles and labyrinthine caves of South America, to the alien black star speckled skies of Carcossa.  The fourth Mythos Cycle of Arkham Horror: the Card Game has been arrived and is ushering us back to mouldering witch-cursed, legend-haunted Arkham proper.   It’s nice to come home after such exotic journeys, the focus on the classic Silver Twilight Lodge is most welcome.  How long we stay in the city remains to be seen.  We begin with a quote from the “The Dreams in the Witch House”.  Surely this implies we are going to be seeing some covens of witches alongside the underpinnings of the cult and most likely some extra dimensional shenanigans. I will do my best to avoid spoilers while talking about my impressions. 

The Circle Undone is a great expansion to get into Arkham Horror LCG, it’s not as jarring as Night of the Zealot or as disjointed as the others in tone. If you are new to the game, this deluxe expansion offers a lot.  It’s engaging the whole way through and really embraces the resolution and campaign story building that is to be expected.  LCG’s can often feel like it’s hard to dive into the pool late on, but I have to say if you’re willing to make the leap this is a pretty solid diving board.  Starting with an intro about having to wrap your head around how best to utilize a hand of cards to accomplish stuff in a limited amount of time works fantastically for new players to engage with the mechanics.  All that gushing aside, lets focus on the new mechanics and characters.

Circle Undone introduces a new asset slot in the form of Tarot.  Almost all of the new cards are class specific and offer a buff of 1 to a primary stat for that class.  They all seem to hinge on a much needed boost out of the game if you are lucky enough to draw it in your starting hand.  If including one of these cards in a deck a hard mulligan seems almost necessary as they have a 3 resource cost and 1 XP cost, incurring no other benefits.  This is interesting if you wish to push your luck.  There’s also the neutral Ace of Rods which provides an additional action with +2 boost across the board which is rad, but a one shot.

On the opposite end we have “The Tower” a 4 cost Basic Weakness.  Showing up in your tarot slot and hindering you from committing cards to skill tests if it remains unplayed.   Given that Basic Weaknesses are random, in the unlikely case you included a Tarot card; it potentially nullifies it if drawn later.   Drawn early this could cripple you financially out of the gate.  I’m interested as the cycle progresses if we will see more Tarot cards.  Later upgrades of the existing ones could really make them worth the risk and there’s honestly fertile ground for growth mechanically with that new slot. 

Incase you thought they would make it easy on you we are granted a nasty new mechanic called Haunted.  It’s largely applied to locations, exacerbated by the Mythos Deck and thrives off failure.   Essentially frightening new locations will apply an additional penalty on top of the already steep cost of failing a test. 

We see the return of Alert as well, which familiar to most long time players, will engage new players coming into this with how the introduction of such mechanics works. 

Our new roster of 6 daring but unwitting investigators is pretty interesting.  Here are my impressions of them:

We begin with the Millionaire Preston Fairmont.  The very first thing you notice is he is a rogue with a disastrous stat line of 1s across the board.  Clearly this inner member of the Silver Twilight’s money must save him from is total uselessness, and it does.  Family Inheritance is Preston’s signature card. It’s an asset traited with permanent, putting it into play right away.  Every turn it gets loaded up with 4 resources.  They can be spent as if they were your resource pool and for an action moved into your actual resource pool, this is key because they reset back to 4 each round.  All of these resources let him play big expensive cards out of the gate.  Or for 1 action, you can move all those resources off this so money isn’t wasted.  A delightful way to replicate his millionaire socialite status as his allies show up right away to help.  One downside however is he as a reputation to uphold and is a rogue who’s deck cant contain any Illicit cards.  I’m quite interested to see how he plays out, he has the money to be as strong as a lion but if you have inopportune draws you could be left as weak as a kitten, you can’t take money with you to the grave.  His critical success however lets him spend 2 resources to automatically succeed, literally buying the win.  However hanging over his head is his weakness the finance halting Lodge Debts.  Costing a whopping 10 resources it almost makes you want to hoard all that moolah because if not dealt with you’re gaining a mental Trauma knowing he has slighted the Silver Twilight.  We all know how quickly that can stack up hurting you in future sessions.  If only there was someone who could help him deal with his guilt.

Enter Carolyn Fern, a familiar face from the “To Fight the Black Wind” Novella.  Carolyn’s entire play style  the Psychologist.  It’s unusual seeing a 2 combat guardian that cannot use weapons.  Turning the fundamentals of that class on its head.  Although having access to both Seeker and Mystic cards could make for some fun combos, but lets face it she has a job to do and she does it well.  Her signature asset is “Hypnotic Therapy” which boosts horror healing cards from any class.  This leans hard into her ability of the team’s mental medic.  Any time a card heals horror, the investigator or owner of the ally get a free resource as an added kickback.  On Critical Success she gets a free horror heal from anyone at her location.  While a niche character it’s clearly really useful having her along in a team game and not needing to worry about all that horror building up.   However her weakness is “Rational Thought” it hamstrings her entire purpose by having to heal 4 horror off it before doing what she does best. 

Which brings us to another returning promotional character from a book, in this case the much sought after Marie Lambeau is finally available.  She was originally a promo card Investigators of Arkham book preorders which made her extremely hard to obtain, even more so since the game wasn’t out when she was released.  Marie’s a witchy singer with an ability that is pretty entertaining, it has the potential to give you an extra action to play spells, but at the cost of having more doom on the board thus progressing the dreaded Agenda deck.  If you’re willing to press your luck I can see her song luring in David Renfield or an Arcane Initiate, and then them hopefully dying off before it’s too late.  The counter point this risk taking is “Mystifying Song” Marie’s signature card.  A 3 cost event that lets you prolong your demise and gain another round if the Agenda were about to flip perhaps even losing you the entire scenario.  Not to mention the 2 wild symbols are always nice to have handy if the time is not neigh.  This makes her quite nice to have along in a team game helping everyone set up for what’s about to come.  She is however cursed with her Weakness the loa of the dead himself, Baron Samedi.  He just saunters into your Ally slot reeking of tobacco and rum watching you like a creepy pervert slowly building up Doom.   It will take three full turns to shake him which means atleast 2 doom on the board.  Even worse is if the Agenda advances he’s hanging around being a creep.  If that wasn’t bad enough he’s going to usher in the death of the investigators in your location as they take double damage, it’s pretty hard to run from death.

Which, running from death is the thing that Rita Young does best.   She has the most agility of any other investigator.  Which means she’s going to be evading enemies and getting the heck out of dodge.   Her track and field history really pays off with her ability.  Her nimble ways will throw a quick kick and deal a damage or give the tentacled horror the slip with a free move for an evade. Her Critical Success provides a +2 and makes her ability unlimited use possibly resulting in a big turn of events, getting to those tough spots quickly.  When she shows up where the action is, her signature “I’m done Runnin’!” basically lets her parkour kungfu those hideous things on your friends.  It allows you to take on everything at your location and give a huge 2 damage to all of them if she successful evades.  That is until the Hoods show up; she can’t run from her past.  Her Weakness could be serious trouble as they can’t be evaded… they have her cornered and she has to fight them.  Damned cultists always seem to show up at the most inopportune times.

Tearing down such institutions from within is the redeemed Diana Stanley.  A mystic with 1 Will Power due to we assume all that spooky Silver Twilight brain washing.  Since spells often hinge on Will, popular cards such as shriving look less appealing.  Having not yet played a Mystic, this is the character I chose to do my solo play through of so I spent the most time thinking of the deck.  Having a weapon on hand seems like a good choice to counteract her low Will at the start.   The low Will won’t last forever, every time she performs a cancel effect it is placed under her, each one boosting her Will to a total of 5.  In a sense the more she keeps the darkness at bay the more she can keep it together.  This also is benefited by her Signature asset the Twilight Blade.  This not only let her use all that amassed will to obtain victory in a fight but it also lets her replay those stock piled cards a second time for cancel effects.  Theres two delightful key things to surviving this game, one is testless challenges and the other bad stuff being prevented from happening in the first place.  As an added bonus she also has a 2 cost event Dark Insight.  This starts game in her hand, when played it cancels an encounter or a weakness from an investigator at your location when drawn, not bad not bad at all for team play or even solo play given her ability.  That is until her Weakness “Terrible Secret” makes an appearance.  All that will you have been building up to function makes you take a huge horror hit for each of the cards under her and it shuts her down because it can’t be cancelled.    

The hardboiled gun toting PI Joe Diamond is a Seeker with some fight.  This Private Dick not only has a massive deck but he has even more cards in the form of a unique Hunch Deck composed of 11 events.   One of these cards shows up each turn and can be played -2 cost, if unplayed they shuffle back into the deck.  On a Critical Success, you get +1 and can bulk up your Hunches with Insight events out of your hand.  This is particularly nice since the deck is regularly reshuffled if events are unplayed and lurking somewhere in there is Joe’s Unsolved Case.  This Weakness costs 4 and if left unresolved it cripples his progression between games.  XP is often scarce as it is and potentially losing 2 of them hurts for any sort of growth.  The added penalty for dealing with it is you need a clue to be placed  at the location with the highest shroud, pretty rough, especially in situations where there’s few additional clues.  Given the size of the deck and the shuffling, this means hoarding your resources for when it inevitably shows up. He’s going to have to fight his way there with his Detective’s Colt 1911s.  Filling up both his hands, these work like most guns with the added benefit of taking an Insight event your discard pile into your hunch deck.  However, this Gumshoe can also still equip tool assets while holding his guns, amazing for seeker assets.

Our shining new investigators step out, ready to toss themselves into the sea of mysteries in Circle Undone. Having built my Diana Stanly deck I opened up the book to find we begin with a special prologue Scenario.  One of the things of love about this game is it takes your expectations and plays with them like a cat would play with a mouse.  Not giving anything away, we are given four utterly doomed Investigators, each a part of the preludes mystery.  Having only played one of them I was presented with a fascinating challenging puzzle to figure out how best to utilize a hand of cards to gain as many clues as possible before of course… you meet your doom.

This Deluxe Expansion really shines out of the gate for me, both nostalgically as a fan of the source material and an embittered old man about how things are often treated.  Arkham Horror LCG‘s growing offerings continue to impress me as their brilliant use of the mechanics give rise to ever more impressive displays of storytelling and adaption in its turbulent thorn ridden canopy.  As the game progresses here in the moon lit afterglow silvered blossoms bud.  To me, this is possibly my favourite starting point of any of the previous Cycles.


  • Daniel L.

    Daniel has always been fascinated by boardgames and despite being an only child who rarely played. He had a small collection and played a lot of solo player Hero Quest. Over his early development he cultivated an interest in a number of titles. He hung around in comic shops spending far too much money on magic cards and Warhammer miniatures despite never really getting to play. In his teen years, friend circles got larger and a little game called Settlers of Catan made it's way to North America. He was exposed to it while waiting for people to show up for a game of Vampire the Masquerade. It's play time was perfect, the strategy ideal, the inner calling was heard. Shortly there after he began working at a now defunct board game store called Game Trek. Years later he moved to Toronto and took a place at Snakes and Lattes helping establish their retail business where he is currently a Game Guru and a designer of far too many unplaytested prototype games. When not tabletop gaming; Daniel enjoys cooking, reading comics, playing video games and exploring the city's wide array of pubs and izakayas.

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