Fixing Dunwich with a “Return” Patch, pt. II

In part one of this article on the Return to the Dunwich Legacy upgrade expansion, I laid out my grievances with the original Dunwich campaign. Those were followed by predictive suggestions as to how to solve those issues in Return to Dunwich.

Now, in part two, I have, ahem, returned to give my overall review of the product. After that review, I address my predictions and see which ones made the cut for the expansion…and which issues remained.

This Time, There’s More Blobs

This review is spoiler-free!

My overall impression of the first upgrade expansion for Arkham, Return to the Night of the Zealot, was a bit lackluster. I wasn’t in love with the product, and I didn’t feel that the changes were significant enough in the 2nd and 3rd scenarios. So I came into Return to Dunwich with skeptical eyes.

Let’s cut to the chase: should you buy it? If you’ve bought into the game as much as I have, you’ll probably buy any AHLCG product anyway, so this review won’t dissuade you from doing so. But what if you’ve not resigned to buy everything FFG prints?

As far as I can tell, there’s really three reasons you would buy the product: The box, the player cards, and the scenario cards.

The Box

Something that AHLCG lacks natively is an effective organization system. If you’re plugged into the online community for the game, you’ve likely seen folks post images of their storage solutions or questions as to the best way to stow their collections. The upgrade expansions are FFG’s long-awaited organization system for this game – in the form of a reasonably durable box and a fistful of dividers.

Visions of Futures Past?

The box itself stores the cards horizontally, with easy-to-read dividers for each encounter set in the box, as well as each scenario and encounter set from the Dunwich cycle. Plus, there’s dividers for the encounter sets from the core set that the original Dunwich scenarios use. I like the idea of using the extra encounter cards from your second core set, and this lets you conveniently store everything you need for Dunwich in a single place.

My main criticism is the box durability. I travel with my Arkham collection about once a week, and after doing that with the Return to Zealot box for 6 months, the edges are sufficiently warn and the box is smashed in a few places. The box should hold up quite well, though, if you’re the host for Arkham evenings and it simply sits on your shelf.

My 6-month-old Return to Zealot box after weekly travel in a duffle bag

If you already have a storage solution for the game, you would probably not buy this for the box. If maybe you’re new to the game, I can see buying this when you pick up the last of the Dunwich mythos packs. You’ll be able to sort and store everything really nicely, and it is easy to keep the regular and Return cards separate so you can still get the original Dunwich experience before trying out the newer versions of the scenarios.

The Player Cards

Return to Dunwich has 10 investigator cards (2 copies each), a new Basic Weakness (also 2 copies), and a single story asset that you can get when playing the Return version of Dunwich (although I would consider this a scenario card, much like I would consider Lita Chantler a scenario card).

These are XP version of cards from the original Dunwich cycle. They are a different level than seen previously. This is a cool concept – they took the idea of the original card and adjusted the power level of the card to make it more playable. Many of the original versions are neat ideas but too weak to be worth putting in a serious deck.

So how did they do? Pretty well. Almost all 10 of the player cards are more effective than their originals, and I would consider slotting any of them in the right deck. I don’t think any of them are particularly powerful – certainly none of them are auto-includes – but I am impressed and excited at the prospect of adding these to some of my decks. I’m much more positive on these cards that the ones from Return to Zealot.

I don’t consider player cards spoilers, but I’ll refrain from specifically citing any cards in case readers feel differently. Guardians and Survivors are the biggest winners here. I’m not huge on the Rogue and Seeker options but I would be fine trying them out in suboptimal decks (a.k.a. fun decks) on Standard difficulty.

The Scenario Cards

The big claim for upgrade expansions is that they provide replayability by adjusting the mechanics and encounter decks of the original scenarios. I didn’t feel that Return to Zealot changed too much of the core set campaign, so I wasn’t sure what to expect with Return to Dunwich.

Each scenario gets some attention, but some scenarios get more than others. There’s usually a central location that gets replaced and a few interesting encounter cards added. I like mixing it up, but it doesn’t change the identity or the gameplay of the scenarios for the most part.

The biggest changes revolve around modified encounter decks. About half of the scenario cards in Return to Dunwich are replacement encounter sets that override or intermix with the original encounter sets. These are generally really nice changes and makes you stay on your toes. I would even consider using the replacement cards for core box encounter sets (Ancient Evils, Chilling Cold, etc.) in other campaigns!

There seems to be a focus on rebalancing certain scenarios. I’ll get into this more in a minute, but this was definitely the biggest thing I was looking forward to. Now, they didn’t get all my concerns. But they did make consequences of campaign choices more significant in a few places and tweaked a couple of problem spots.

All in all, the scenario changes are neat but rarely change the feel of the scenario. I certainly wouldn’t consider this box a must-purchase to get the most out of Dunwich. The variety of encounter cards does help keep your interest piqued on repeated playthroughs.

So, Who Should Buy This Thing?

If you like the idea of buying the FFG organizational system, I think you should totally pick this up. Particularly if you haven’t sunk much time or money into your own storage solutions. The caveat here is that you shouldn’t get it for the storage if you travel a lot with your collection.

If you want more player cards, your money is probably better spent on another Deluxe, as they contain investigators as well as low-level player cards. However, if you need more things in your collection to spend xp on (or you’ve seen the Return to Dunwich player cards and you know you want them), I think it’s a reasonable purchase.

If you want to spice up your future Dunwich runs and want varied encounter sets for the campaign (and possibly other campaigns #houserulez), the added replayability is nice. If you’re expecting totally revamped scenarios with exciting new mechanics central to how the scenario operates, you’ll be sorely disappointed.

After all that you’ve read, if you’re still skeptical of how much value you’re getting for your money, do not get Return to Dunwich. You’re buying about $20 worth of content and a $10 box.

Revisiting Part One

Spoilers for Return to Dunwich from here on out!

Which ones of my predictions were fulfilled? Which of my hopes were dashed upon the Miskatonic University Quad?

Overuse of Striking Fear

I was a bit sick of the Striking Fear encounter set from the core box. Dunwich uses this willpower-focused set in 4 out of 8 scenarios, which is entirely too much. Thankfully, Erratic Fear comes in to reprieve us from the excessive use of Rotting Remains (which is still in the Blood on the Alterset, by the way).

Erratic Fear is sufficently different from its core set counterpart. Need for Knowledge tests Intellect instead of Willpower, which is nice in a scenario like Undimensioned and Unseen that taxes your Willpower so heavily. The other two treacheries hang out in your threat area. Violent Commands feels similar to Frozen in Fear, while Idle Hands feels similar to…Violent Commands? I’m not thrilled with how two of the three treacheries are so alike. They both deal horror to you at the end of your turn unless you damage someone at your location, but they do those things in different ways. On solo they are extremely similar because you can only do said damage to yourself.

So, I highly recommend you use Striking Fear and Erratic Fear as a single choose-7-of-14 fear encounter set. The additions are notably different from the originals, but a bit same-y within themselves.

Difficulty in Miskatonic Museum

There was a certain lack of urgency in the original Museum surrounding the Hunting Horror and its lack of challenge if you didn’t kill it whenever it showed its ugly head. Return to Miskatonic Museum fixes this.

Primarily, a fistful of new treacheries now power up the Hunting Horror, even if it hasn’t shown up yet. I found the scenario to be a significant step up in difficulty – definitely a welcome change. One of these treacheries is worded a bit strangely and suggests that you might do something weird like attach it to the encounter deck, so that needs an FAQ.

There’s also a pair of new Museum Halls to add some variety to replays, but one of them is so similar to the other halls that I didn’t realize it was new at first.

Oh, also: apparently the text on the front of an act isn’t in play when reading the back of it. There’s a new rule that applies the “Forced – attach Shadow-Spawned to Hunting Horror when it shows up” effect from the agendas when the agenda deck bring it into play. I’ve always played that way – Whoops! Turns out original Museum was even easier than I thought it was.

Swinginess in Essex County Express

I complained about two things in original Essex: the beginning of the scenario was too swingy on multiplayer, and it’s so investigation-focused that there’s not much for Fighters to do to contribute. They addressed both…sort of.

First, they added a spooky monstrosity, which is pretty cool. I thought it upped the adrenaline of an already action-packed scenario. Big fan of this include.

They also “split” the first agenda into two; the original 4-doom Agenda 1a is now a 2-doom Agenda 0a and a 2-doom Agenda 1a. This means it’s harder to lose on round 2 or 3 at higher player counts, as you have to draw Ancient Evils more than once to be totally screwed. Which is certainly possible, and you can still lose in these initial rounds – you’re just less likely to do so.

Importantly, they’ve added Resurgent Evils as a replacement encounter set to Ancient Evils. This lets you dodge the doom by drawing two encounter cards instead of one, which I think is pretty fair. If you’re doing the use-3-of-6 mix-and-match plan, you still might get stuck with regular Ancient Evils, and you still might lose to bad encounter draws.

That’s my real gripe with it. Honestly, you should just use only Resurgent Evils for Essex; this ought to give you a pretty good time nearly every playthrough. That’s probably the best solution.

Adding Locations in Where Doom Awaits

Here’s the notorious one. When I opened the box, I dug straight to this scenario to see if they had updated Base of the Hill to not be stupid. Long story short: they did!

Right, so, WDA is my least favorite scenario in all of Arkham. I was optimistic they might add another layer of interest to the scenario. Unfortunately, that was too much to ask for. It’s still a boring climb up a boring hill. They’ve added additional locations, so each stage of the climb has 5 locations to choose from instead of 4. The new locations are just like the old ones, however, so it doesn’t add any new decision-making.

Ehhh… they fixed the dumb location thing, so I can’t complain too much.

XP Gain across the Campaign

This may be a topic for a totally separate article, but I don’t think the low-xp-but-you-can-continue-with-your-deck-in-another-campaign is really a good system. I think the trauma becomes debilitating quickly, and it seems like you’ll need all the xp you can get just to beat the campaign in the first place. So now you have a lot of xp in your deck at the beginning of the next campaign, but you don’t have much you want to upgrade, so…why even keep playing the deck?

Nebulous rant aside, I wanted to see Return to Dunwich introduce heightened difficulty complemented with a few more opportunities for XP. This would help decks get to the point they need to be in order to operate at high levels. Plus you don’t need to rely on stuff like Delve Too Deep so much. And XP is pretty fun, am I right?

Alas, no additional opportunites arose. No new Victory locations, no additional Victory enemies. Something that keeps me from replaying Dunwich often is how frustrating it is to not afford the upgrades you need to succeed. Or at least the ones you’re excited about.

Other Great Includes in Return to Dunwich

There’s a few things I’d like to give shout-outs to in Return to Dunwich that I thought were especially nice includes.

Changing the consequence of saving Peter Clover is really important. Before, it gave you lower chance of drawing enemies in Blood on the Alter (although the mobsters were easier than the Nightgaunts, so maybe it wasn’t helpful?) as well as an extra clue in Where Doom Awaits. In RtBotA, you start with a tougher mobster on the table, so saving Peter Clover actually feels like a benefit. And getting Naomi’s help in the last two scenarios can be absolutely incredible. She’s a real beast, and I think it’s worth planning out how you’ll save Clover if you do The House Always Wins as the second scenario.

I really liked the varied Broods in Return to Undimensioned and Unseen. I don’t love U&U, so this was really nice to see. This scenario is also improved if you replace out the willpower treacheries of Striking Fear, as you don’t need 12 copies of Guts in your deck anymore.

The map of Lost in Time and Space is really mind-blowing; definitely a highlight of the campaign for me. So when I found that they made the Return to LiTaS map even more complex, I was ecstatic. On top of this, they’ve made Yog-Sothoth omni-present in an impending demise sort of way, elevating the tension nicely. There’s also a chance to run into an old friend if you botched Return to Blood on the Alter. Way to end on a high note.

At the end of the day, I’ve no qualms with Return to Dunwich as a product. I think it breathes life into a campaign I didn’t care for that much, and it’s been a lot of fun to revisit the campaign with all the new changes. What are your thoughts on it?

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