Mechanical Meanings: Multi-class cards

Hi and welcome to the second article in the Mechanical Meanings series. Today, I’ll be continuing to honor The Circle Undone campaign by analyzing another mechanic that debuted in that cycle: it’s the multi-class cards. Based on the recent announcement article for this return to the campaign, we won’t be getting any new cards of this type in that box. Nevertheless, I think it’s a mechanic with some interesting design decisions and a lot of unexplored space. Let’s get started!

Much ado about class identity

Guidance by Bryce Cook

If you’re a long-time reader here at Obscure Studies, you’ll have picked up on a concept I value pretty highly in card games: class, faction, or color identity. I mentioned in my article on Versatile how that card blurs the line between classes and why that was a point against it. I’ve also referred back to it throughout my deck building article series. A lot of those times, I refer back to the Magic: The Gathering color pie as an example of a structured division between what each color or class represents, and what it can and cannot do. Arkham Horror also uses this division for each of its classes, which revolves not only around mechanics, but also philosophies as to what each class intends to do. This is a topic that we’ll revisit in future articles, but for this one what matters is how the multi-class cards walk the line between two colors and embodies aspects that are present in both. This concept is important for analyzing what each multi-class card does in its initial version as well as in each of the upgrades ones.

An interesting class of cards to compare multi-class cards to are the neutrals. The grey cards in Arkham present options that are available to any class, a concept that was extended by the multi-class, but applied only to a set number of classes. Despite both types of card being available to multiple factions, multi-class cards still exclude more cards that they include and at their core they channel traits that are strong in both the classes it represents. This might seem abstract, but let’s look at an example in Timeworn Brand. If you’ve played enough Arkham, it’s clear that weapons are mostly present in the Guardian class and that’s where the most generic ones, like the .45 Automatic, are found. Rogues, Survivors, and even Mystics also get their own weapons, with the caveat of being tied to class mechanics, such as Meat Cleaver or .41 Derringer. Timeworn Brand is a weapon that’s accessible to any class, including Seekers, who have no other option, but at 5 XP, it’s overshadowed by lower XP options. This isn’t to say that Fire Axe will always be better than Brand, but that the unrestricted power level of the neutral relic comes at a cost. That flexibility and access summarize the neutral cards pretty well and part of that is translated to the multi-class cards. The flexibility of being available to both classes makes for great additions to the card pool of certain investigators, without needing to alter their deck building options.

Lastly, since I mentioned MTG in my analysis of this category of cards, I think comparisons can, and have already been made with other games. In Magic, the colors of cards define what they do but players can include cards of any color in their deck. The caveat comes at being able to play these cards by paying the specific colored mana costs. In this case, the parallels fall short both because the playability of the card varies a lot by your mana producing capabilities as well as by how many specific colors a card requires (e.g two different version of the same character, Niv Mizzet: Parun and Firemind). A game with a more similar parallel would be Hearthstone, where your hero’s class strictly determines what non-neutral cards you can play. In that game, decks are built only from the class and neutral cards, not allowing for any sort of mixing pools. In 2016, Hearthstone released tri-class cards, showcasing mechanics that were present specifically in the three chosen classes. In 2020, they expanded on the concept and released dual-class cards, similarly implemented as the ones in Arkham Horror.

Breaking down the cards

So far, I’ve presented some very generic ideas about multi-class cards, but to really analyze what they can represent in Arkham Horror: The Card Game, we need to look at what each combination is capable of. First, let’s highlight the common characteristics of these cards. To start, they are all dual-class level 0 cards that branch into different versions for each of the represented classes. These two versions are always presented at level 3, where class identity begins to solidify, as I’ve mentioned in past articles. This makes the class-specific versions inaccessible to the 5-2 split investigators. Notably, this also means you cannot have two copies of both the hybrid level 0 cards and the higher level versions because they have the same title. For someone like Lola Hayes, this means you’ll need to pick a class for each copy. Lastly, an interesting characteristic that may have escaped your eyes: each card has art that exhibits slight changes in each of its upgraded versions. Without any further ado, let’s dive in and analyze each card.

The first multi-class card we received in this game was the .45 Thompson, a Guardian/Rogue hybrid. I’ve already gone over a little bit in the introduction about how Guardians are the main class for weapons. If we dive a little further into the firearm category, we see it’s clearly dominated by both Guardians and Rogues. Thematically this fits into Guardian’s identity as the combat class as well as Rogue’s combat sub-theme, combining with the Illicit traits of many illegal weapons.

Looking at the upgrades, we see the Guardian version gain the ability to recoup most of the resources spent on the gun, a reverse Becky of sorts. This mechanic hasn’t presented itself strongly in Guardian so far, but we see hints of it in cards like Relentless and even “I’ve had worse…”. The idea of transforming damage into resources could be a theme we see more of in future Guardian cards. We see the additional icon added is for combat, also lining up well with the class. The art of the blue card also showcases a lot more ammo being used to load the gun.

As for the Rogue version, it’s very clearly playing into the over-success archetype of Rogue, present in cards like Lucky Cigarette Case and Sawed-Off Shotgun. The resource discount is also in line with Rogue’s generally cheaper weapons as well as their ability to generate more resources. An agility icon is added to this version, as per the class’s propensity for dodging enemies. The gun pictured on the green version is now a little stylized with a sticker on the handle depicting some playing cards. Very Rogue.

The next card in pack order is the Seeker/Mystic Hybrid: Scroll of Secrets. A notable characteristic of this card is that it was the recipient of the rare taboo buff by making the ability a free trigger instead of an action. That change doesn’t do much to change this card’s core mechanics, so we’re free to analyze it independently of that.

For the level 0 version of Scroll, we see a very subtle combination of each classes’ abilities to interact with the different deck types. Seekers get to look at and draw cards from player decks as evidenced by cards like Old Book of Lore and Eureka!. Mystics get the ability to interact with the encounter deck with cards such as Scrying and Parallel Fates. Scroll of Secrets presents us with a lower-powered version of both effects by combining the concept of a deck, be it player or encounter, and only allowing us to look at the bottom card. Another interesting aspect of this card to note is that dealing with the encounter deck is secondary1 in Seeker, as seen in Otherworld Codex. Similarly, drawing cards from player decks is also present in Mystic, with cards such as Scroll of Prophecies. All this leaves this card as one of my favorite multi-class designs we’ve seen so far.

The upgrades for Scroll of Secrets also showcase an interesting progression of the base effect to tailor to each class. Seeker’s upgraded version allows you to look at the bottom 3 cards instead of just one, giving you both more card selection and the ability to shape upcoming draws. Those upgrades lead to the Seeker version being more efficient to use on player decks, especially if you’re digging for a specific card. This doesn’t mean you can’t use it on the encounter deck, but drawing a specific card from there isn’t usually your objective and stacking the cards can sometimes be ruined by an encounter card draw or search effect.

Meanwhile, the Mystic Scroll of Secrets allows you to look at the top card of each deck while also giving you more uses. This means you lose the selection of the Seeker version, but getting to look at the top card of either deck can help you avoid upcoming terrible draws in a way that looking at the bottom doesn’t. Of course, you can still use it to draw from your deck and remove potential weaknesses from the top, but it’s generally better used to look at and hide cards from the encounter deck, where there are usually much worse cards to draw.

Lastly, we can see that the Seeker version features an additional intellect icon and is more proper with a fancy wax seal on the front. The Mystic one features a willpower instead and has been empowered, presumably by some sort of magic.

The third card we received in this group is the often underrated Tennessee Sour Mash. Out of the entire group of multi-class cards currently released, I think this one is the most thematic. First of all, it fits the flavor of both Rogue and Survivor to take a swish of some liquid courage to brave the horrors of the Mythos, tying in very nicely with the first ability. Even though this isn’t something we’ve seen in many existing cards, I think it works well with both classes, especially by giving Rogues a boost against nasty willpower tests. The fact that the glass bottle can be used as a makeshift weapon with the second ability is also very flavorful and ties in nicely with Survivor’s improvisation skills. All-in-all this fits very well into both colors’ theme and abilities.

Looking at the upgraded versions, starting with Rogue, we can already see from the art and the added shot glass that there’s a little more emphasis on the actual drinking part of the card. This is highlighted by the higher willpower boost on the first ability. Additionally, the card is now fast, tying into Rogue’s action efficiency and gives you a little more power when using this as a weapon as well as a combat icon, complementing the class’s fighting abilities.

In the Survivor version, we can see a little more restraint as the art shows a fuller bottle and features more uses. The card is also cheaper, which makes sense given Survivor’s low resource archetype. It also allows you to evade the attacked enemy, which along with the additional agility icon, plays well into the class’s propensity for evading enemies before taking them head-on.

Enchanted Blade is an all-star card for many investigators who can take it and has the hidden upside of being a relic weapon, which can be relevant in certain campaigns. The basic premise of being a weapon is very present in Guardian and secondary in Mystic with Spirit Athame and Sword Cane. The idea of empowering the ability of the card with charges is something that’s more on the Mystic side, as well as the arcane slot. Unlike the spells in Mystic, the blade is still a weapon at heart, and you don’t need to use the charges to gain the combat boost. The charges are what allow this card to be on par with the guns in the blue class and allow it to be more than just a plain old Knife.

Similarly to the previous analyzed cards, the upgrades for Enchanted Blade focus on the mechanics of each class, albeit in a more straightforward way than we’ve seen so far. The Guardian version gives you the two combat bonus up front as well as tying the spending of charges to a successful attack, thus making the card less reliant on the charges as a whole. It also allows you to draw a card and heal a horror after defeating an enemy, both which have been present in Guardian cards such as Kerosene and Glory. It also features a blue aura around the blade’s wielder, further emphasizing that the upgrade was more to the ability of the wielder than it was to the power of the relic.

Alternatively, the Mystic version has a very simple upgrade of one more charge as well as the ability to spend more charges to further boost your combat and deal more damage. This, along with the on-point purple aura around the blade in that card’s art, shows us that this upgrade is more so to the blade than the user’s ability to wield it.

Lastly, we can see each card gained an icon. Mystics gain the willpower icon, which lines up with the class identity. Guardians get an intellect icon, presumably to avoid double combat icons and avoid overlap with Mystic.

The last card we have in this group is the Survivor/Seeker hybrid, Grisly Totem. This card is unique in that its core mechanic has never really been present outside of one card: Minh Thi Phan. In a way, it fits with the Totem because it is the same two classes as Minh so presumably it’s part of both identities. Grisly Totem heralds a new mechanic that we might see more of in both Survivor and Seeker, which is different from all the previous cards we’ve seen, where there was a coming together of existing mechanics . In Survivor we’ve seen some semblance of interaction with icons in the form of Rise to the Occasion, “Not without a fight!” and Sharp Vision. In Seeker we see a little less of this, but it’s still present in the upgraded Dream Diaries and the recently released Plan of Action. It’s also important to note that this mechanic hasn’t been restricted to these two classes so far, since we’ve seen the Steadfast cycle and also cards like Prophesy. Despite that, I still think that Grisly totem fits nicely into Seeker/Survivor as both of them have a good focus on generally useful skills. Survivor has the examples I listed above along with others like Last Chance and Resourceful. Similarly Seeker also has Eureka!, True Understanding, Inquiring Mind and others. All this combines to make Grisly Totem a very interesting and useful card that makes me hopeful for more skill icon focused play.

In contrast to the analysis of the level 0 card, the upgrades for Grisly Totem are the most straightforward of any we’ve seen. The Seeker version gets card draw if the skill test is successful, which is already a big theme in that class. The Survivor version gets a clause to return the skill upon failure, which makes sense in a class that is all about failure mitigation. It’s also a line of text that’s present in Unexpected Courage (2) almost verbatim. The card is also cheaper, similar to the Sour Mash, playing towards Survivor’s low resource archetype. One interesting aspect of the two upgrades is that the red version gains the Blessed trait and the colored feathers turn to pure white ones. Meanwhile, the yellow version gets the Cursed trait and pitch black feathers and a darker tone. As we’ve seen from Innsmouth, this is closely related to which trait each class identifies more with, but not much beyond a simple flavor win.

Looking Forward

As I said in the intro, there’s no clear indication that we’re getting more multi-class cards right now but there’s definitely a lot of cool stuff we could see within this mechanic. The first and most obvious set of cards we could see are the unexplored combinations. There’s 10 possible dual-class cards that can follow the pattern of the ones we’ve seen, so we’re still missing another five cards, which I’ll list below along with some of my best guesses on the mechanics we might see on those cards. Notably since the ones we’ve seen so far were all assets, I’ll stick to that for my theories. My biggest inspiration here will probably be the 5-2 split investigators as well as what each class does not do, e.g. Seekers have yet to see a weapon.

Guardian-Seeker: Insight events, reducing enemy stats (e.g. Expose Weakness)

Guardian-Survivor: A melee or firearm weapon, Horror/damage healing, Blessings

Seeker-Rogue: Buying clues, Movement compression (e.g. Nimble and Shortcut), Curses

Rogue-Mystic: Spells/Rituals, Bless & Curse

Mystic-Survivor: Horror healing, Token manipulation (e.g. Defiance and Eucatastrophe)

That’s definitely a lot of stuff to think about only within the confines of this particular template. Is it possible we’ll see something else entirely? In the beginning of this article I mentioned tri-class cards in Hearthstone and that’s not outside the realm of possibility for Arkham. Even so, having a card span three colors would be very hard to design and since there are only five classes (as opposed to Hearthstone’s nine), it would be dangerously close to neutral card territory. Another concept I’ve seen thrown around are reversed dual-class cards where they start off as level 0 in two separate classes and converge into one multi-class level 3 card. As I’ve mentioned in this and other articles, level 3 is where class identity starts taking shape, so having two separate cards turn into one that embodies both classes seems very difficult to design. Lastly, I think revisiting the existing structure but branching into different card types, such as skills or events, could yield some very interesting combinations. Overall, I’m really satisfied with the current implementation and while I’d welcome some new takes on it, I understand it’s a mechanic that should be used sparingly.

That’s all I have today on multi-class cards in Arkham Horror: The Card Game. I hope they come back sometime soon and I’m also interested to hear any of your thoughts on it! If you have any questions, comments or concerns, feel free to comment down below or reach out to me on Facebook, Discord, or Nightgaunt Mail. See you next time!

Once again, thanks to Ryan for reviewing this article and to Antimarkovnikov for providing links to some of the images printed here.

1 – As usual, my time with Magic: The Gathering shows in some of the jargon I use. Here, a primary mechanic/type is one that shows up the most in that class with secondary/tertiary being the next two most common. Arkham has this concept as part of its character identity, e.g. Firearms being primary in Guardian and Secondary in Rogue and Survivor. This is a topic we might cover in future articles, but for more info on the MTG concept, see here.

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