Hi and welcome to another, maybe surprising, article in the deck building option series. It’s been a while since this series has been updated, but since then, we’ve gotten a huge update to the investigator pool with the release of the Edge of the Earth investigator expansion. Not only did this release bring along a new model, it also brought along a new cycle of deck building options that you might already be familiar with. It also hopefully has replaced the word cycle for upcoming campaigns with the word expansion. That will probably make some of my articles less confusing.
Today we’re going to focus on this new-ish set of options and the investigators who possess them. You may already be familiar with Norman Withers, who I covered in part 6 of this series but as a reminder, the progression style is level 0 of class A, level 1 to 5 of class B and up to 5 other level 0 cards of class B. As such, the investigator progresses from a deck consisting mostly of class A at level 0 to one containing more and more of class B. In this article, we’ll cover Norman and the four new investigators, including how the progression deck building works for them, mechanically and thematically.
What does progression even mean anyways?
Before diving into specific combinations and investigators, it’s important to talk about what this style of deck building means. I borrowed the term from the awesome folks over at Drawn to the Flame specifically to avoid tying this style to a specific campaign. I think it’s the best one that represents the progression that these investigators make from their base class at the start of a campaign into a new one at higher levels. The thematic element is front and center with this deck building style. Each character has reasons why they would start off as the class depicted on their investigator card and also ones for why they develop into the classes they upgrade into. It’s an amazing way to tell a story purely with mechanics.
One mechanical aspect we’ve confirmed with the Edge of the Earth investigators is how giving them a more restricted set of options allows for some very powerful abilities and stats. Norman already had a very optimized set of stats with 4 and 5 in his two main stats and two of his companions also share that stat spread. Norman’s ability is also very powerful, but with even just a little support from the Edge of the Earth player cards, it can amount to a lot of value. The investigators accompanying Mr. Withers also feature some uniquely powerful abilities and similarly to the starter deck investigators, I think this is due to that limited deck building.
Another factor of this style of deck building is how it plays with the investigators themselves. There’s a very interesting dynamic between how the characters work mechanically and how they build their decks. There’s a very specific set of cards that each investigator can and can’t take, more so than other similarly defined options. This balance works alongside the higher power level of abilities to make sure these characters exist separately from their 5-2 split counterparts.
Lastly, there’s the complicated nature of planning upgrades and limited slot use when playing with the progression deck building. For some players, myself included, this puzzle is part of an enjoyable gameplay experience but it can be difficult to navigate. There’s been plenty of talk in the community about how it’s easy to just reach for higher level cards that your investigator can’t take (e.g. Jack and Lockpicks). Some investigators have specific tools to deal with this, but if you find yourself thinking you’re not making the most out of your level 0 slots after upgrading, you can always rely on one of my favorite cards, Versatile!
The expedition team
The first investigator in the Edge of the Earth box is actually the newest one to the Arkham Files universe, Daniela Reyes. The story blurb on her investigator card tells us that she had a good life, a business and cares very much about her family. Her desire to protect her loved ones and willingness to face problems head on showcase her Guardian style, but as she gets deeper into the mythos, Daniela might realize that she’s in over her head. Despite that, she stays steadfast and resilient in the face of terror, as most Survivors do. Daniela, as a character, contains a lot more than just these factors, but I think they are highlighted well in her Arkham Horror LCG incarnation.
Mechanically, Daniela uniquely harnesses an archetype that’s only ever been a consequence of other mechanics in Guardian/Survivors: the tank. Tommy Muldoon has been one of the most effective tanks until now, being rewarded with resources for taking hits. Daniela, while only activating on non-opportunity attacks, gets even more action compression in the form of damage or an automatic evade, both of which have no limit. As such, Daniela can also make use of those teddy bears and leather coats to keep herself alive as well as the other myriad of Survivor soak options. The fearless mechanic has also brought back attention to cards like Aquinnah that allow her to double up on parrying enemy attacks as well as entirely new cards like Toe to Toe. This makes Daniela an amazing incarnation of the progression style with her abilities, even if the theme is not clear at first.
Moving on from the newest investigator to a well known one, we have Norman Withers. Being the first embodiment of the progression deck building, Norman’s journey has been well documented. As a professor of Miskatonic University, Norman values knowledge and science. He begins his journey into the Mythos after witnessing stars disappear from the sky and soon after finding a book of mysterious incantations. Harnessing the power of spells, Norman wades through the darkness of monsters, ancient ones and evil forces armed with both traditional knowledge and arcane power.
Professor Withers’ abilities don’t necessarily fit into a strong existing Seeker/Mystic archetype. The aspect that Norman best embodies is one that I touched on in my first analysis of multi-class cards: manipulating the top of your deck. This ties into looking at the stars or other supernatural means for guidance, which is also expressed in new cards like Written in the Stars and Astronomical Atlas. Overall, I’m excited to see where this archetype can go, especially since each class has unique spins on it. Mystic’s ability to manipulate the encounter deck is especially strong with Gloria Goldberg, maybe we’ll see more focus on the top of the investigator deck in upcoming Seekers.
Next on the roster is a long anticipated investigator, the confusingly named Monterey Jack. Our cheesy hero has wandered the world as an archeologist and treasure hunter. (See what I did there?) His nose for ancient artifacts showcases his rogue-ish nature, not to mention the overall similarities to Indiana Jones. After he discovers that his father’s murder involved some sort of occult activity, Monterey dives into the world of the supernatural. He now seeks the knowledge that will shed light on his past, delving deeper and deeper into the Mythos.
Similarly to Daniela, Jack harnesses a concept present in both his classes, albeit in very different ways. Ever since the core set, Rogues have been mobile, mostly in service of avoiding enemies with Elusive and Cat Burglar. This trend continued with cards like Think on Your Feet and Nimble. These cards help round out a level 0 deck for Jack, easily triggering his ability. On the Seeker side, there’s plenty to love as we’ve seen in Ursula Downs. For yellow investigators the movement represents the exploration and pursuit of knowledge. Shortcut, Fieldwork, Pathfinder and many others complete Jack’s arsenal of tricks. Along with Jack we’ve also seen plenty of cards in both classes that expand on the idea of movement such as Hiking Boots, Scout Ahead and Gené Beauregard.
Lily Chen is the Mystic of the group, although at higher levels she becomes a Guardian. Her journey is perhaps the most epic of the characters from the Arkham Files. As a baby, Chen Li (her non-Westernized name) was sought out by monks who believed she was a child of prophecy. She was taught martial arts and ways to channel her mental powers. These mystical teachings are showcased in Lily’s signatures and also her Mystic colors. As Lily goes forth to seek the great evil she was destined to stop, the weight of her task and of the people she needs to protect strengthen her resolve and Guardian identity. It’s a hard concept to put into words, but I’ve found that Lily just feels right in these two classes.
In terms of abilities, Lily resembles Norman in that there’s no real mechanic that ties her two classes together. Rather, her signature cards and rather flat statline, emphasize that she can handle a lot of different tasks, with a lean towards enemy management. She has the ability to start with 4 willpower and focus on general mystic tools, but can quickly pivot to 5 combat and with the higher level guardian weapons, she can deal with enemies very efficiently. Notably, because of her deck building restriction, she fits well at level 0 with mystic melee weapons that transition well into Guardian ones. Lastly, she can play an event focused style, dishing them out with Balance of Body and refilling her hand with Quiescence of Thought.
Last, but not least, we have the totally regular, run of the mill, doesn’t-deal-with-arcane-relics salesman, Bob Jenkins. His status as a regular individual is shown by Bob’s red color. In addition, he is certainly the most likely of the group to deal in axes, compasses, shovels and lanterns. Bob’s ordinariness quickly vanishes as he comes into possession of some “cursed” coins. What is more Rogue than some cursed coins? In addition, Bob might also find himself in possession of some dice, a fan and a watch. Totally normal items, right?
Mechanically, my previous paragraph should make it obvious what ties these two classes together. In fact, I think Bob has the strongest ludonarrative connection between his backstory and his deck building progression. It’s even more fitting that at level 0, Bob is almost incentivized to play it “poorly” with Fire Axe, Mariner’s Compass and Dark Horse but at higher levels, he has lots of tools to take advantage of riches. Well Connected, Black Fan and The Red Clock all supply him with the tools to strike it rich and benefit. Lastly, Scavenging can help Bob recover any items that have been discarded, whether Rogue or Survivor.
I have some good news for any fans of the progression investigators! This cycle has as many combinations as the 5-2 split that we’ve covered. In other words, 40 possibilities for this type of investigator. The less good news is that I don’t think there will be anywhere near 40 of them, barring some extraordinary circumstances. The main reason for this is that the complexity on both the design side and the player side, in deck building, is very high. It’s a tough balance to strike, but I think we could see at least one more group of these investigators.
In terms of what we might see in the future, I think there’s still a lot of characters that could fit the progression deck building style. My initial guess for one that could fit into this style was the gangster, Michael McGlen. Story blurbs from previous games tell us that he used to be a known criminal, not much more than a gang enforcer. However, as Michael finds himself dealing with threats much more harrowing than rival gangs, he realizes that he must protect humanity from the despicable monsters seeking to destroy the world. With that, I’d be very excited to see a Rogue turned Guardian version of Michael.
Another possibility I’m excited for is, rather than trying to fit existing characters into a progression combination, a new character being introduced with this style of options. As I covered at the beginning, the thematic link is front and center on this deck building. As such, it’d be a great way to flesh out a new character’s story without needing too much flavor text. This also bypasses the awkwardness of trying to fit existing characters into a progression style and missing important aspects of the character. Whatever the future holds, I think the Edge of the Earth investigators have proved this concept as effective and I hope we see it continued!
That’s it for the progression style of deck building options. I may return to this in the future, if we get new members of the cycle. As of the writing of this article, we have a nice round group, so it may not happen. Do you think it will? What’s your general opinion of the progression investigators? Let me know! Otherwise, if you have any comments, questions or general thoughts, leave a comment below or find me on Facebook, Discord or Nightgaunt Mail. See you next time!