Arkham Horror: The card game - The Forgotten Age Full Cycle
Teaching Time: 2 mins
Playing Time: 5-8 hours
Setup Time: 20 mins per game
Value For Money: Low
Price: £25 for deluxe expansion, £15 per Mythos pack
The Forgotten Age takes players through arguably a more non-canon version of the Lovecraft universe than any previous cycle has done so. It takes players off to explore jungles, ruins, other worlds and eventually time itself. As a whole the cycle has a flavour of the Indiana Jones to it, all be it an Indiana Jones where Indy is run a little closer to the edge. The horror of the cycle is also a little harder to pin down, certainly there is a pressure created by venomous snakes and the prospect of dying unknown in an unexplored corner of the world, but its not really horror as such. This is a good solid cycle though, and it has possibly the best ending of any of the cycles so far. If you like your Arkham Horror with the emphasis on the horror end of things then it might not be for you, but if you like some real investigating, exploration and interestingly layered plot and aren’t too bothered about absolute and cosmic horror, then this is probably right up your alley.
The cycle brings a set of investigators more suited to the wilder places of the world. Leo Anderson is a guardian who comes with good will and the ability to get a slight discount on allies, to get the best out of him you’ll be needing to treat those allies in a pretty callous manner. The Seeker of the set is Ursula Downs who gets free investigates based on performing movements, encouraging the image of an exploring archeologist. Calvin Wright is probably the strangest of the investigators in this set, a survivor with a set of stats all at zero and the ability to raise them the more damage on him, playing him requires an interesting deck-building puzzle and a little bit of nerve. The bootlegger Finn Edwards fills the rogue roll as an evasion-based character and Father Mateo the handsome priest is the mystic, bringing some interesting token manipulation to the table.
As with many cycles The Forgotten Age comes with a set of new rules and concepts. Since the cycle is set around exploring jungles it includes rules for building exploration decks, a set of single sided location cards that must be put into play by taking scenario specific explore actions. It’s a very effective and simple mechanic since rather than arriving at a clear laid out map of a location it means that players must uncover as they go. Also, since many scenarios require discovered locations be investigated it means that players are not free to grab a total of x clues from across the map or avoid engaging with locations they don’t like, each location can have a real character that needs to be actively engaged with in turn, giving a real feel of careful and continual investigation. Another fun new mechanic is that players have to purchase a range of supplies, narrative elements that will help throughout their expedition, which is flavourful and gives a real sense of agency in between game breaks. The less successful of the cycle specific rules is Vengeance.
The theoretical big bad of the cycle is the minor Lovecraft deity Yig, the father of serpents. Yig gets annoyed when you off serpents being as he is, after all, their titular daddy. As such, enemies in the cycle that are serpents get a quality similar to victory called vengeance which you tally through the cycle. If it gets too high then Yig and his servants get buffs and arrive more quickly and more regularly. On my first run through of the cycle I hit a grand total of two vengeance, pretty much Yig and I were good chums, he seems pretty reasonable. In the Return To set of Forgotten Age there is a story achievement for getting to 25 vengeance and I decided to shoot for it, annoying Yig every chance I got without actively crippling myself to do so, and got the heady heights of nine vengeance. For a famous vengeful and short tempered mythos god Yig really ends up coming over shockingly Zen in the game.
The first two scenarios, The Untamed Wilds and The Doom of Eztli variously see investigators stomping through the jungles to an ancient temple, and then delving into it and nicking the precious and ancient powerful artifact that lies within. So that’s bound to end well. They very effectively introduce players to the explore deck and the unwelcoming environment they’re delving into as well as the serpent like beings trying to stop them. Without wanting to spoil anything, its also clear that the writers of the series are aware that pulling ancient relics out of equally ancient temples has well established and best regarded consequences and they use that awareness to create a really strong ending for these two scenarios. Having unrighteously yoinked their ill-gotten treasure all the way back home the investigators then engage in Threads Of Fate, a really strong scenario where they must investigate the meaning of the half-inched relic. What’s really nice about this scenario is that rather than a linear investigation the players are given multiple leads in the form of several act decks that they can follow or not at their discretion, the more they run down the easier their life gets in future scenarios, but what to do and how is up to them. The result is a real sense of both agency and investigation, which is fantastic.
It seems harsh to say that Boundary Beyond is a poor scenario, because it’s not, but it is an expositional one, and it comes after two barn stormer scenarios so, at least comparatively, its pretty poor. Stand alone its not too bad, but the point that its making is that the relic you thoughtlessly purloined is monkeying with the streams of time themselves, which they could have just told us. Still, show is better than tell and the players get to replace locations with time-hopping versions and Marty McFly it around reality, which is no bad thing. Shocked and upset to learn that the thrumming device of ancient power probably shouldn’t be stuffed into your pocket and swagged about in Arkham the investigators decide to return to the jungle, because that’s how you stay safe, and delve back into the deadly temple that clearly wants to kill them. Choices. They set about doing this in Heart of the Elders which does something incredibly cool and weird in that if investigators did well enough in Boundary Beyond they totally skip a scenario. If not, they have a scenario to get into the temple then either way one to dig down into it. If there was any doubt that this cycle takes its influences more from the works of Spielberg rather than Lovecraft, just as you finish with the temple, a former friend and fellow archeologist steps up and ruins your day. I like to imagine that the alien beings who assist possibly have German accents. Either way the investigators are swung off into a Shadow out of Time inspired scenario in The City of Archives, another really left field move as investigators are forced to pilot about a body not their own until they can get home again, go down down deeper and down into the temples in the following scenario The Depths Of Yoth and then use the device they should never have touched in the first place to save something from something, hopefully including the planet earth and total destruction respectively. Of the possible endings this includes easily my favourite in the Arkham Horror: The Card Game and one that again seems inspired by the works of Dr. Jones where one wonders if it wouldn’t all have ended up much better for everyone if Indy had just stayed at home in bed.
Overall, The Forgotten Age does, to put it technically, loads of weird stuff. Its way more Temple of the Lost Ark of the Grail than anything in the works of Lovecraft himself and it takes a few moments to just go full left field. That said, if you don’t want something too dead straight Lovecraft (and to be fair, you’ll be getting that in dark ol’ spades in the next cycle) it’s a rip-roarer of a cycle, full of innovation and interest and well worth running through. Yig’s a big softie, and if you’re expecting him to be a real threat then you’re probably expecting Ithaqua to be the lead in the next full release. That aside, check out the cycle and lean into its weird moments and general boys-own adventure serial and you’ll have a fine time of it.