Friday, October 1, 2021

Cardboard Corner: Review of Arkham Horror: The Card Game expansion "Guardians of the Abyss"

Note: As always, reviews of Arkham Horror expansions on this blog are spoiler-free and assume you are familiar with the base game.

To date, the Arkham Horror: The Card Game standalone expansions (“Curse of the Rougarou” and “Carnevale of Horrors”) have provided interesting side trips from the main campaigns. The former a werewolf story through the swamps of the American south and the latter a Venetian parade gone amuck, the third, “Guardians of the Abyss”, sees investigators traveling to the deserts of Egypt, and the mysteries of the Sphinx (and beyond) which remain to be uncovered.

At the outset of “Guardians of the Abyss”, investigators find themselves called to Cairo at the behest of a friend named Jessie. Her husband, along with an ever-growing number of city dwellers, have fallen into perpetual slumber. None have awoken, and she needs your help to get to the bottom of the mystery. While the dark streets of Cairo lead to a number of clues, getting into the wilds of the desert reveals the real threat—and it’s one that will require all of your talent—ahem, deck building skills—to eliminate.

Perhaps the meatiest stand-alone scenario released to date, “Guardians of the Abyss” is, in fact, two scenarios. A mini-campaign, the package contains two sets of agendas, acts, and all the treachery cards needed to have a two-part Egyptian adventure. Reviving/reusing the Explore mechanic from “The Forgotten Age” campaign, parts of the action see players venturing into the unknown. I personally found the Explore mechanic of “The Forgotten Age” part of its maddening charm, but for those players who didn’t, it’s likely they will find its implementation in this scenario to be more complementary to gameplay (i.e. less punishing in the manner which it is combined with other elements). The expansion also puts into action a new mechanic, “Strength of the Abyss”, which players have to keep in mind, and work with, in the course of attempting to achieve their other investigator-ly objectives. Delivering an overarching sense of doom, this mechanic fits nicely with the story and the evil encountered. It also means the mini-campaign can be quite difficult, especially the second half.

If I had any qualms about the expansion, they would be minor. The first is that the scenarios only partially evoke a sense of the setting. While set in Egypt and featuring familiar scenes in card art, a sentiment of Egypt does not come to life, in say, the same way Venice does in “The Carnevale of Horrors.” Secondly, the final boss is… how to comment without spoiling… is specific, so specific that it can be difficult to complete the scenario depending on the investigator. While some might argue that is true for every scenario, this one feels a little more jaded. That being said, the resolution options are superb in the true sense of mystery they imbue. And third would be the damn sword: why not make the sword part of the scenario?!?!? Adding it to Part II would have been flavorful, not to mention a wonderful new toy to play with immediately.

In the end, “The Guardians of the Abyss” is more, high-quality stand-alone material in the Arkham Horror: The Card Game universe. The designers keep getting hit after hit. Thus, if exploring the wonders of Egypt with a bit of Lovecraft horror sounds interesting, this stand-alone delivers in mini-campaign, satisfying fashion. No additional purchases necessary, it can be played with just one copy of the Arkham Horror base game, or with all other investigator content.

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