Hi and welcome to another installment of Mechanical Meanings! In this series, I take a look at different mechanics in Arkham Horror: The Card Game. In today’s article, I’ll be taking a look at a mechanic from early in the game’s existence. It’s been slowly augmented along the game’s lifespan, but got a big boost with a few fairly recent products. Despite that, it’s still overcoming a negative reputation. This article will be all about Exile.
Where it came from
To start, a short explanation on the Exile mechanic, for those who might be unfamiliar. You can read the Rules Reference entry here, but to summarize, any time you are instructed to exile a card, you remove it from the game and your deck. If you want to add that card back, you must spend the requisite experience again. Another important point is that exiling makes your deck illegal, by putting it below the limit, so you must add cards back to your deck. If you don’t want to spend experience to salvage the exiled card, you can add any level 0 cards to your deck for free.
The first cards featuring this mechanic came to us in The Dunwich Legacy cycle, exclusive to Survivor. At that point in the game and for the following few years, the red class would not receive any cards above level 3. The intention was that any extra experience earned for Survivors would be spent to repurchase any exiled cards. The low XP cost of these cards made them easy to buy and re-buy, and their effects were more powerful and flexible than cards of a similar level. Flare allows you to efficiently fight or dig deep for an ally while Stroke of Luck provides you with an almost universal reactive auto-success.
In the next expansions, we saw more cards get added to the Exile pool. A Test of Will and Devil’s Luck arrived as efficient defensive options in Path to Carcosa. Soon after, we saw Council’s Coffer as one of the first Community designed cards and the first non-Survivor card to sport our featured mechanic. As recently as the Edge of the Earth expansion we saw more cards added, including the multi-class Unscrupulous Loan, where the exile clause acts more as a deterrent than the main . The steady flow of Exile cards has seen the mechanic grow and explore new spaces, including upgrades of cards that didn’t previously feature it, such as Leather Coat (1).
It wasn’t until the Stella Clarke starter deck that we saw our first Exile support card in Déjà Vu. In contrast to the low XP cost of the cards it supports, Déjà Vu is the only level 5 Survivor card in the game. It keeps the powerful exile cards back in your deck rotation, taking away from the risk of using them. It’s even flexible in that you can purchase it after having exiled at least three cards, and that’s already 3 XP that’s “discounted” from the permanent’s cost. Shortly after, we also saw Burn After Reading, a card that allows you to exile cards that you normally couldn’t, which works well with Déjà Vu. Fire Extinguisher, a powerful card in its own right, has an exile-based emergency button, which makes this card costly to salvage but powerful even without it.
Where it is now
With 14 different cards featuring the mechanic, and various implementations of the keyword, it’s safe to say we’ve reached a point of maturity. We’ve moved away from cards that force you to exile them, such as Flare towards good cards that you might never remove from your deck, like Fire Extinguisher. Reducing the risk and low moments of having to spend even more XP has gotten these cards into more players’ decks. This growth has helped showcase some of the strengths of the mechanic, which mostly stayed dormant for a good part of this game’s life.
Even in the early stages of the Exile card pool, there were plenty of reasons to play with the cards. The biggest one being that you were often front-loading powerful effects for a low experience cost. Instead of having to accumulate XP or put off purchasing other cards, you can easily add multiple Exile cards into your deck early into a campaign. The lower cost also makes these cards easily accessible for off-class Survivors like Tommy Muldoon or Preston Fairmont. Additionally, nothing prevents you from moving on from any Exiled cards, choosing to purchase other options. The Exile cards can make for some good scenario-specific tech or just ways to alter your deck a bit throughout the campaign.
The advantages of this card pool seem high when put on paper. Unfortunately, its biggest con is also its core theme of “burning” experience points. In an objective sense, repeatedly exiling certain cards can get quite costly in terms of XP. This is especially true for the early designs, where doing so is usually mandatory. Subjectively, the feeling of throwing away experience can be a hindrance for many players. You can be aware of what a good deal your Test of Will is when putting the card in your deck, but when the time comes to use it, you might hesitate. As deck consistency and draw power grows, you’ll also be presented with the option to exile your cards more often and having to pay 6 or more experience for a single card over the course of a campaign is not ideal. Thankfully, Déjà Vu has done a lot of good in mitigating this worry for anyone that can take it.
Given all the pros and cons and the importance of Déjà Vu, the big question becomes, who even wants to play with these cards? First of all, despite them being mostly accessible to off-class Survivors, I think they need to tread lightly. Spending too much XP on exile cards without having the option to recoup those points can subtract from main-class upgrades. They can still serve well as scenario tech or “nice to have” cards that don’t necessarily get played.
For investigators with access to Survivor level 5, it’s hard to pin down someone who does Exile “the best” since most of the pool is just generically good. That being said, there are a few standouts that seem to serve a specific deck style better. Flare and Fire Extinguisher allow for strong fighting and the newly released Burn After Reading circumvents testing for clues. With that, I think Daniela Reyes is a standout investigator for this mechanic. Having limited Survivor level 0 slots also means she can make good use of the deck alteration effect. Calvin Wright can also make good use of the cards, using Flare to search for Jessica Hyde or Leather Coat (1) to leave his ally slot open. Lastly, Patrice Hathaway can make use of a limited set of Exile tools, since she’s usually guaranteed to see them during the course of a scenario, making sure to get the most out of Déjà Vu.
Where we can go
Exile is in a good place and there are multiple investigators who are interested, but is there any more design space to be explored? I’ll propose some here, but I think it’s safe to say that the whole design team is incredibly creative and the steady flow of cards featuring Exile means we can probably expect more in the near future. Whether we see more explicit support for the mechanic remains to be seen, but I have hope!
New effects I think we could see are even more different ways to explore the mechanic rather than just forcing you to “lose” experience points. For example, a level 0 card that exiles itself has basically no downside since you can re-purchase it immediately. It leans more into the deck alteration aspect, working as a mini-Adaptable rather than the mechanic itself, so it’s both interesting but unlikely. Future cards might feature flexible exile options, as emergency buttons, like Unscrupulous Loan or A Test of Will (2) as the developers find the right balance between “always want to exile” to “never want to.”
Farther along in the future, I think we could see more support cards. For example, an asset or ability that can prevent you or otherwise reward you for exiling cards during play. If the slow release of exile cards continues, I could even see this on an investigator, either as their main theme, or as a sub-theme in a signature. After all, if William Yorick can interact with experience with his signature, why not a new character?
That’s all I have for today on Exile. I hope I covered all the big talking points and maybe even gave you a fresh perspective on Exile. If you have strong feelings on this mechanic or if there’s another one you’d like to read about, let me know! Otherwise, feel free to send any comments, thoughts or concerns my way through Facebook, Twitter, Discord, or Nightgaunt Mail. See you next time!