The ChiLo Ultimatums

In any card game, a fair amount of discussion revolves around cards that are too strong, or cards that will never see play because a better card exists that serves a similar purpose. These is particularly prevalent in competitive card games, which Arkham Horror is not. However, Arkham still has its fair share of cards that push others out of decks or create negative experiences for players.

The ChiLo Ultimatums are a series of optional deckbuilding restrictions and errata which aim to:

  • Diversify deck construction by limiting ubiquitous cards
  • Create additional deckbuilding and gameplay challenges for those who don’t wish to simply increase scenario difficulty
  • Prevent negative experiences of feeling wholly unnecessary to a group because the investigator with all the strongest cards does everything

These points will be expanded upon later in the article.

I would like to state that these rules are not for everyone. Many play groups would much rather play on higher difficulties with strong cards, rather than limit strong cards for lower difficulties. Other players may already feel handicapped by a small card pool and see no need to impose extra restrictions on themselves. I have written these down to share because I enjoy the discussion these present. I personally become frustrated with a game that taunts me with cool cards, only to realize that I will never play them because another, more powerful effect exists. I’m also a big fan of house rules which seek to “fix” the rough edges of a game I love.

Enough of the caveats! I present…

The ChiLo Ultimatums

Ultimatum of Ys – Investigator decks may not include Key of Ys on Easy, Standard, and Hard difficulties.

Ultimatum of Entomology – Dr. Milan Christopher’s reaction ability requires him to exhaust on Easy, Standard, and Hard difficulties. Also, Dr. Milan Christopher may not be included in a deck that includes Higher Education on Easy, Standard, or Hard difficulties.

Ultimatum of Student Loans – Higher Education may not be included in a deck that includes Dr. Milan Christopher on Easy, Standard, or Hard difficulties.

Ultimatum of Journalism – Rex Murphy’s reaction ability gains “(Limit Once Per Phase)” on Easy and Standard difficulties.

Elixir Ultimatum – Strange Solution (Acidic Ichor) replaces “deals +2 damage” with “deals +1 damage” on Easy and Standard difficulties.

Ultimatum of the Deep – No more than one investigator in a group may contain copies of Delve Too Deep on Easy and Standard difficulties. No more than two investigators in a group may contain copies of Delve Too Deep on Hard difficulty.

Ubiquitous Blade Ultimatum – Investigator decks may not include Machete during the first scenario of a campaign on Easy and Standard difficulties.

General Thoughts

I expected two groups of people to push back pretty hard on these ideas: those who find the game challenging enough, and those who would prefer to play on higher difficulties over making house rules. For the former, I assumed they would simply not use the list. For the latter, though, I wanted to acknowledge that Hard and Expert are different games from Standard and Easy. I therefore made the ultimatums based on difficulty setting. Expert is still full-collection, no-holds-barred. Hard attempts to tweak only the most broken of cards and combos by banning Key of Ys and making Milan and Higher Ed mutually exclusive.

Once you get into Standard and Easy, you start to see the kinds of problems this list aims to fix: Rex becomes too good/consistent, Machete crowds out otherwise viable weapons, and seekers are too all-encompassing with Acidic Ichor. Standard and Easy are welcome homes to creative and alternative deck ideas, but those can beg the question – why try something interesting when you can just use Milan/Rex/Acidic Ichor/Machete?

More On Each Ultimatum

It’s pretty well-accepted that Key of Ys is a game-breaking card. As far as stats go, 2 is pretty miserable, 3 is okay, 4 is fantastic and 5 is incredible. So a card that gives you +3 to everything is unreal. “Need some help? Here is a Jenny to all your stats.” Because you can distribute horror onto other soaks, the annoying-at-worst downside almost disappears. It’s not well-designed and doesn’t inspire decks the same way that the Red-Gloved Man and Timeworn Brand do. In fact, the player at the table with Key of Ys will mostly likely make all other players feel almost useless. “You got this, Yorick! Just let us know if you need anything!” It doesn’t add anything except a feeling of dominance, and that’s not very Arkham-esque, is it?

Dr. Milan Christopher is touted as one of the best allies in the game, and rightfully so. Arguably you have him in your deck for the +1 Intellect, and that’s all well and good. It’s the money part that makes him problematic. Essentially, Seekers should be a specialized class like Guardians; very good at a key aspect of the game at the expense of most other things. One of these things they shouldn’t be good at is money (think of all the resource-generating yellow cards…). Milan breaks that balance by being insanely rewarding for any investigator that focuses on clues…which is exactly what Seekers are designed to do. Imagine if Roland had an asset that gave him a resource every time he successfully hit something. He could afford a ton of powerful weaponry, he could probably dynamite blast once or twice a scenario, and I’d wager he might become the best solo investigator in the game. That’s the effect Milan has on Seekers in a way. Even in Solo Milan makes a good chunk of change, and in multiplayer he makes more than 8xp worth of Hot Streaks does. A good Seeker deck will never include any other ally before Milan, so all other yellow allies have an additional 3xp price tag in the form of Charisma. Obviously, breaking up the Milan/Higher Ed combo was important, but I wanted to limit the money-making ability lest Hyperawareness[2] Rex become almost as powerful.  That really should be reigned in a bit, and limiting the income to 1/turn through exhaustion is a simple solution. 

Higher Education is another example of a card that sort of missed the mark on design, coupled with a game-breaking synergy. Compared to the other Permanents, Higher Ed’s math is wildly good. Twice as good as Scrapper, in fact. In an effort to make all the Permanent Talents stand apart from one another, Higher Ed was given the best money-to-boost ratio in exchange for a downside: you must have at least 5 cards in hand. This is really easy to do – not only are you spending the majority of your actions as a Seeker moving and investigating (and therefore hoarding cards you draw in upkeep), but Seekers are also the draw faction. Preposterous Sketches, Old Book of Lore, Cryptic Research, Feed the Mind… the list goes on. As a result, the downside is negligible and the upside is crazy. Of course, this upside becomes essentially free in the presence of Milan, and so I’ve separated the two entirely to make Higher Ed at least an interesting choice as to when to spend resources. I still fear Higher Ed is too efficient, and I considered imposing a restriction of (Limit Once Per Test) to mimic Blood Pact. This is kind of an inelegant solution, unfortunately, and doesn’t really counteract the issues with the card: it’s permanent and it boosts over-efficiently. I’m content with the Ultimatum as written, and it can always be modified should the need persist.

Rex is the poster child for the Milan/Higher Ed combination because they all but guarantee his ability triggers each and every investigation. The trouble with Rex is that he’s not very interesting; in theory he’s supposed to be good at power turns and recovering from clue-dropping effects, but in practice he’s just all-powerful. Even with the restrictions to Higher Ed and Milan he remains a powerhouse. Seeing as several other investigators give you the equivalent to an extra action each turn, limiting Rex to once per turn makes sense. He’s not particularly inspiring with this change, but I think players who enjoy action compression and efficiency will still like him.

Similar to the built-in class restriction of money that Dr. Milan breaks, Strange Solution (Acidic Ichor) breaks the tenant that Seekers are supposed to be bad at handling monsters. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have any ways of dealing with enemies – “I’ve Got a Plan” is a well-placed tool – but Acidic Ichor is much too powerful for them. It has comparable numbers to the Lightning Gun – one of the crown jewels of weapons in the weapon faction of Guardian – but costs 5 less to play, takes up no slots, and can be refilled with Emergency Cache [3]. If you’re going to give Seekers a cheap, slotless gun, it’s got to be less good than the best weapons in the game simply because it makes yellow too self-reliant for a specialized class. Now, SSAI is far from broken; I’m pretty sure basically no Seekers take Beat Cop and Overpower, so they’re not likely to be able to abuse these all scenario against a lot of high-combat enemies. But I think the class-breaking implications still warrant action. If this 2-damage version of SSAI at least makes you think twice about taking the other versions of Strange Solution, I think this is a good change.

When you first read Delve Too Deep, it seems really incredible. You imagine groans around the table as the mystic of the group plays it in the middle of a round and introduces a wave of new threats to the table in exchange for a juicy Victory Point. In practice, however, you can play Delve at times when drawing encounter cards virtually doesn’t matter – basically when victory is at hand. That’s not too game-warping…until everyone does it. Your party of Akachi, Daisy, Zoey, and Ashcan starts to steamroll the campaign once they’ve each played a Delve or two in the first few scenarios. “Let’s see…we can 3xp from locations, 1xp from the monster…and 7xp from Delves!” Restricting it to one or two investigators at the table ensures that you don’t go overboard on XP too fast, outpacing the campaign and making a trivial experience out of it.

Ahh, the Machete. Some say staple, some say overpowered. It is above the curve for 0xp weapons, but it is in the class that needs access to consistent ways to defeat enemies. So is it detrimental to the game? It’s really not that bad, but it is boring to see Machete in every investigator who intends to fight ever. Isn’t it weird that Jim can hit for 2 damage at a 4 with Shriveling… or for 2 damage at a 4 with Machete?? Corner cases aside, Machete should probably be a 1 or 2xp card. Forcing gators to wait a scenario and spend an xp on Machete will encourage some fun problem-solving in 0xp decks. Power gamers who enjoy playing at higher difficulties won’t have to worry about it.

Implementing the Ultimatums

The ChiLo Ultimatums are as much a thought exercise as anything else. I don’t expect most readers of this blog to follow these in practice. When I play solo (true or two-handed), I play with the first 6. It’s pretty easy to convince your play group to use them if you’re the only group member.

If you are all on-board with the Ultimatums and you want your regular gaming group to play with them, I would introduce this article as a discussion topic. Feel out what the group wants. No one likes being told how to enjoy a game. If your group would like to try some of them out, I recommend them in order from first to last. Key of Ys warps the game at the table for everyone. Delve and Machete just make the game a bit easier.

I’m not sure if this list is good for any kind of organized play in a local game store. You want your community to be as welcoming as possible, particularly to new players. Any kind of restriction that wasn’t known ahead of time feels very bad, and saying to someone, “Oh, we play by these rules, you can’t have XYZ card in your deck” is a great way to make sure they don’t come back. Also, I think this kind of house rule appeals to a specific kind of player, and forcing others to follow these rules may frustrate them if they don’t care for these.

At the end of the day, those who enjoy this kind of thought exercise may already be subscribing to self-imposed restrictions. Those who wouldn’t won’t want anything to do this article. Where do you fall, and what constructive feedback do you have for these suggestions?

One thought on “The ChiLo Ultimatums

  1. How’s this for another (cheeky) one…

    Prima Donna: Lola Hayes is exempt from all Ultimatums, yet still receives credit for adhering to them.


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