Fine-Tuning Carcosa with a Return Box, pt. I

Light Spoilers for The Path to Carcosa in this article!

Now that FFG has announced the forthcoming Return to the Path to Carcosa upgrade expansion, it’s time to speculate on what additions the design team have included for us. Unlike its predecessors, the original Carcosa campaign is really an exquisite gaming product, and so the goals set out for Return to Carcosa may be more nuanced or subtle. It will be interesting to see what changes occur.

Season 2 of my blog has begun! Get a sneak peak at the titles of upcoming articles.

Like my previous discussions on Return to the Dunwich Legacy, I’ll split this topic up into three articles:

  1. Predictions/Wishlist of what Return to Carcosa will include. You’re reading this right now.
  2. Review of Return to Carcosa upon release. This one will be spoiler-free.
  3. Circling back to the first article, which predictions held true and which ones fell flat?

So, what changes do I expect to see? What improvements can be made on such a well-written and tightly-designed campaign? Let’s dig in.

Apply Scaling to Unspeakable Oath

While the design of Carcosa scenarios is by-and-large very strong, there is a bit of a hiccup in scenario 4. When playing with fewer players, the massive map combined with the objectives to be completed in the act deck strain your action economy. Regardless of group size, you need to visit the same locations and complete the same number of these objectives (most of which require an action and a test). The time frame is so incredibly tight here for true solo, leaving almost no room for error.

The community-suggested solution to this is simply to change the number of objectives needed based on player count. This doesn’t scale perfectly, but any slack that solo players can get is very much warranted here. I’d like to see an official change to the Act that accounts for this to inject some fairness into a scenario that has such a harsh punishment for failure.

Provide Treachery Counterplay

An interesting observation of Carcosa encounter sets is the lack of skill tests. Corrosion, Spirit’s Torment, Spires of Carcosa… there’s a boatload of nasty treacheries with no way to avoid the effect. Statistically, the average encounter deck in Carcosa is about 43% “take it and deal with it” treacheries (over half of the encounter decks from Last King and Echoes are testless treacheries). I’m hoping we’ll see a higher percentage of treacheries that force tests in Return to Carcosa, even if those tests prove difficult. The decision trees of conserving resources and cards during the mythos phase is a highlight of the game’s design, and it would be nice to showcase that more.

The encounter set I’d most like to see changed is Decay and Filth, which contains the notorious Corrosion. I like the set’s overall focus on shroud, so hopefully a replacement set would keep that design. However, Corrosion leaves almost no room for counterplay for decks that have few items. Your only choice is to preemptively end your turn on low-shroud locations, which is horribly action inefficient and not really feasible most of the time. I’ve had gators easily lose 3-4 assets in a single sweep, with no test to potentially pump into and no alternative choice to avoid the board wipe.

Deal More Damage

Obviously, the increased horror output of the campaign is a hallmark of its identity, so we wouldn’t want to lose that. That said, I don’t think I’ve ever been threatened by damage in Carcosa. I think once I got stuck on a Byakhee in Paris. But yeah, the lack of pressure on damage makes someone like Roland or Rita a joke. Why have 9 health if you’ll only take 2 damage the entire scenario?

It’s not too hard to think of ways to increase the scenarios’ damage output. Treacheries is the most obvious place for it, but new enemies or even variant locations could include damaging effects. The trick is not adding damage at the cost of something else challenging. I wouldn’t want to see horror-dealing cultists replaced with damage-dealers necessarily. But perhaps more Hidden Delusions that deal damage when they are removed from your hand, or crypt locations that deal damage upon entrance. I’d enjoy a new Corrosion that let you take 2 damage to avoid the board wipe, cuz, like, YOU got corroded instead.

Increase Agility’s Relevance

Agility is made relevant in two ways: tests on scenario cards and enemies who are dealt with effectively by evasion. Currently, Carcosa has less than 6% of its encounter cards cause agility tests. Also, the number of enemies best handled with evasion is pretty negligible: For bosses, the Emissary, the Spectre of Death maybe, and sometimes the Organist can be decent evasion targets; Cultists often acrue doom or clues and must be killed to get those resources back; Byakhees almost always hunt; the Maniac damages on engage and the Spawn of Hali horrifies on evade. The majority of encounter deck enemies actively counter evasion as a tactic.

So, how do we make the Rita and Finn players happy? Well, to start, we should see a dramatic increase in agility-testing treacheries. Return to Dunwich rose the percentage of agility treacheries from 6% to 12%, and that seems to be a fair increase to me. Ideally you have half as many agility treacheries as willpower (10-13% and 20-25% respectively), but not all campaigns need to be created equal in that regard.

After that, I’d like some enemies that can be evaded and then forgotten. Or maybe a monster that takes a damage on evade. If there’s a new VIP, they might have evasion as an Achilles.

Predictions for Player Cards

I’m of the unpopular opinion that the Carcosa player cards by and large are a bust. I see folks recommend the cycle to new players “because of all the staples”, but when I’m looking through the card list I’m not seeing much that strikes me as commonly played.

First, we can see what the release article has spoiled for us. The article mentions Logical Reasoning [4] and .32 Colt [2] for Seekers and Guardians respectively. The expansion spread image also tells us a few other player cards to be retooled: Alchemical Transmutation, Suggestion, and Eat Lead.

Alchemical Transmutation [0] is an example of bad math behind an econ card because of a fear of it being too powerful in a focused build. However, because Alchem is intrinsically connected to the chaos bag, the chance factor far outweighs the possibility of its abuse in a theoretical 9 Willpower Akachi deck. Even Kach can draw a tentacle and waste a charge and an action. A simple upgrade to Alchem would be for it to be a free action (a la Scrying), but it might be more interesting to reduce its overhead cost to 0 and possibly give it Fast. By maintaining its action to activate, Marie would remain a potential customer. Hell, you could remove the Exhaust requirement from the ability, allowing you to burn through the spell at a faster pace and thus get your arcane slot back – the hidden cost of the card.

Suggestion [4] is already pretty darn strong, so another version of Suggestion will almost certainly be a downgrade. Suggestion competes against Mists of R’lyeh as an arcane slot evasion tool that uses charges, so ideally a lower level Suggestion finds a way to differentiate itself from Mists. Mists’ notable design choice is that it gives you a free move, with the chance of taking a damage if you draw a special token. Suggestion has 3 “dodge” charges, which can be lost if you don’t succeed by two. The simplest downgrade to Suggestion would probably be to make it a level 1 or 2 card that mimics Lockpicks and lose the dodge mechanic; 3 charges, which are lost if you don’t succeed by two, and that Suggestion discards itself if you run out of charges. My only fear with this concept is that it isn’t really good for any rogue to take, given how easy it is for them to evade. Often the biggest winner of downgrades are off-class investigators, and both Wendy and Leo could make good use of a low-level Suggestion.

Eat Lead [2] is, mathematically, garbage. The only time I think it’s worth using is with the Colt or the BAR on a test you’ve dedicated a Vicious Blow to against an enemy with Retaliate. In that scenario, it’s so bad if you fail, so you commit everything you can to guarantee the bag and throw in EL[2] to avoid the autofail. Otherwise, the loss of ammo on most weapons is really expensive for what is otherwise not an amazing effect. Potentially, a higher level EL would make the level 2 version a stepping stone. I’d personally be a fan of an asset version akin to Grotesque Statue – perhaps simply exhausting instead of having charges, given the ammo cost. We haven’t seen the same card change types before, though, so more than likely we’re going to see an event that reveals two tokens for each ammo spent or something similar. I think the changes would have to be pretty drastic to be worth the include, unfortunately.

In Return to Zealot, we saw a full set of the pay-to-win talents from the core set get a revisit. This has lead some folks to suggest the composures might get a uniform revamp: possibly a 3xp version with an extra sanity that costs 0 to play. I don’t think that would be particularly interesting, however. If we were to get a full set revamp, I’d like to see the 3-icon skills from the cycle get some love: Eureka, Inspiring Presence, Watch This, and either Resourceful or Not Without a Fight. The problem with this theory is (1) Torrent of Power is the closest equivalent for Mystic, and (2) we’ve seen the two guardian cards spoiled in this article. So more than likely we’re just going to get a collection of underutilized cards from Carcosa, much like we saw in Return to Dunwich. I won’t go over each possible card, but my top choices for revisited player cards are:

  • Arcane Insight
  • Guidance
  • Lantern
  • Infighting
  • Daring Maneuver
  • Cheap Shot
  • Astral Travel
  • Storm of Spirits

So there you have it! All kinds of thoughts, ideas, and dreams for the Return to the Path to Carcosa upgrade expansion. What do you hope to see?

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