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Retrospective—Arkham Horror: Song of the Black Goat

Arkham Horror: The Card Game is the latest Living Card Game from Fantasy Flight Games, and has been one of Pandemonium's bestselling game lines since it came out last fall. With much tighter rules and faster playtime than its namesake (the original Arkham Horror board game) the Arkham Horror LCG is easily my favorite game from 2016.
For those unfamiliar with it, Arkham is a cooperative game where each player takes the role of an investigator, searching for clues to unravel cosmic mysteries and fighting unspeakable monsters. Each investigator has a customizable deck of cards that represent their tools, allies, skills, and weaknesses. The most exciting thing about Arkham is that scenarios string together to create a campaign that tells an ongoing story. The resolution of each game brings permanent consequences for the games after it. As a campaign progresses, players' achievements earn them experience points that they can use to buy more powerful cards, but their actions can also result in trauma or other ongoing effects.

Our First Event

On March 4, we held Pandemonium's first official event for Arkham Horror: The Card Game. I wanted to do something special to bring together the community for this new game. I decided the most fun thing to do would be to have everyone come play through a custom scenario (or a couple of them) that no one had played before. I didn't have the time to design a bunch of locations, enemies, and treacheries from scratch, so I decided to "remix" the encounter cards from the Core Set and The Dunwich Legacy.
I ended up with two ideas that I thought would make interesting scenarios, and then I built a story to tie them together and to give myself guidance as I fleshed out the details. What I ended up with was Song of the Black Goat, a mini-campaign that you can now download and play yourself.

Shout-Outs

This event would not have been possible without the people who helped me put it together: Than Dean, whose continuous enthusiasm is always a great source of inspiration and motivation, and Hal Massey, Winston Wan, and Rob Jennings, who were invaluable in helping me playtest the campaign before the big event. I'd also like to thank everyone who came out to play on the day; I hope to see you again soon!
Warning: spoilers ahead. If you'd like to play the campaign without knowing what's coming, stop reading now and download it.

Designer's Notes

For the first scenario, "Summoner's Night," I had a couple of things I wanted to explore to evoke the feeling of tracking someone through a dark forest. The Woods locations from "The Devourer Below" in the Core Set have some interesting mechanics, but that scenario only uses four of the six of them. I noticed that if you use all 6 locations, they form a loop around Arkham Woods.

To build a feeling of stumbling around in the dark, I came up with the Agenda mechanics of needing to investigate to reveal locations and then cutting off the Main Path so that investigators are forced to work their way around the loop. The third agenda, where you need to provoke the Dark Young to chase you back toward the portal, took a few iterations to get right, but I like way it turned out. Each round you manage to push it back (and remove a doom) feels like a small victory, like you've bought yourself another chance to drive off the beast.

To contrast with the first scenario's fairly few enemies, I wanted the second scenario to feel like a desperate battle for survival, as the town is overrun with monsters. I wanted the Song aspect to make the monsters stronger over time, but the first few iterations gave buffs that made them much too powerful. I ended up giving all the Abomination enemies the healing ability printed on the Relentless Dark Young, but those enemies are still a big stronger than is probably fair.

I didn't have too many enemies to choose from at the time, but a couple of packs have come out since then, and I might have changed a few cards if I were putting this together now. But I decided to post the campaign with the original encounter deck, for authenticity, and to keep the card requirements limited to the Core Set and The Dunwich Legacy. If you'd like to ease off the difficulty a little bit, I recommend replacing the Hideous Abominations encounter set with the two Grappling Horrors from The Essex County Express.

The final piece of the design was figuring out how to end the scenario. I knew the players would have to encounter Reginald Arthur to resolve the story from the first half, but I didn't want to add another boss enemy on top of the enemy-heavy encounter deck and possibly the powered-up Relentless Dark Young. I realized that it made sense for Reginald to already have been defeated by horror of his own actions, so I could make him basically defenseless and give the investigators the choice to either kill him or try to work with him.
I'm really happy with how Reginald Arthur turned out, especially that I made him Aloof. In one game, we had a group decide to go for the harder ending and start running around gathering ritual ingredients (clues). But then they started to get overwhelmed by enemies. When investigators started to be eliminated and it became clear they weren't going to make it, they tried to go back and kill Reginald, but they couldn't engage him without taking too many opportunity attacks to survive.
Overall, I'm really proud of Song of the Black Goat. It's the biggest tabletop game design project I've done (for now!), and it turned out to be fun to play and fit the themes I was going for.

I'm really excited to keep playing Arkham Horror: The Card Game. I can't wait to see where the official scenarios take the game over time, and I'm looking forward to making some more scenarios of my own. I hope you give the game a try, and if you're already a player, I hope you enjoy Song of the Black Goat!