Arkham Horror: The card game - The Path to Carcosa Full Cycle
Teaching Time: 2 mins
Playing Time: 6-8 hours
Setup Time: 20 mins pre game
Value For Money: Mid
Price: £25 for deluxe expansion, £15 per Mythos pack
Solo Play Review
Path to Carcosa takes players through a cycle of the wider Lovecraft circle, the stories of Robert W. Chambers, particularly the King in Yellow. The King in Yellow is a well-loved collection of stories for fans of the broader mythos and I for one am a big fan. Generally, I’ll start by saying that I really like the Path to Carcosa cycle. That said, it did bring up for me one of the most significant problems that the Arkham Horror card game sometimes has, in that it does a good job of being all things to all people, but sometimes in doing that really annoys a few people. I’ll explain.
I played through the cycle and enjoyed it. I tend to play a seeker/rogue set, two handed solo. Which means that I often spend my time evading, running and hiding, which I feel is entirely appropriate. Path to Carcosa has an interesting mechanic called Doubt and Conviction, essentially, you’ll take a slightly different path through the game if you take more definite and sometimes more kicking ass and taking names choices, and another if you’re more uncertain and play in a less definite fashion. I ended up with a very Doubt heavy situation, the result of which is that the final scenario of the cycle is about searching out clues in far Carcosa with which to defeat Hastur, which I thought was handled really neatly. Conversely, if you go with a more violent path your final confrontation is more about battering Hastur into a slimy yellow pulp, which will hopefully please the sort of players who like pulp Cthuhu. To be able to do both things for such diverse audiences is honestly very neat and clever. I expressed my approval of the cycle to a friend who is also working through Arham Horror solo. Their approach to playing games tends to be using the most violent and straightforward approach possible but they love the subtlety and strangeness of Chambers’ stories. Suffice to say, they absolutely hated this cycle.
Anyway, that aside, the cycle brings the now standard set of new investigators. This time there are some really interesting themed Investigators, led by a neutral investigator Lola Hayes who switches between the various classes during play as she is an actress in the stage show The King in Yellow and plays many roles. The rogue is Sefina Rousseau, I put investigators through cycles until they’re killed, go insane or build up so much trauma as to be unusable, and Sefina is turning out to be an absolute beast for me, she’s into her third full cycle with a few stand alone scenarios as well and is not showing signs of slowing down. William Yorick is the survivor and pushes their discard pile cycling to an extreme. The guardian Mark Harrigan is a true tank, getting stronger the more punishment he takes. For the scholar Minh rewards players who rely more on skill test symbols than permanent assets and the esoteric investigator Akachi gets extra charges for spells. They’re generally a strong and interesting set of options.
The cycle starts slightly meh with “Curtain Call” as investigators search around the theatre where the King in Yellow was being put on. Its not a bad scenario as such, but its more an introduction to one of the major features of the campaign, “The Man in the Pallid Mask” and the plot of the scenario itself is a little weak other than that. The Man is a weakness that manifests as a creature that can be investigated away and features as a narrative element throughout the cycle. As weak as “Curtain Call” is in atmosphere, “The Last King” is a real winner. Much like “Midnight Masks” from the core set it centers on a set of interesting characters with specific parley conditions, but it adds a greater twist to them that really makes the idea of underlying madness of the overall story work. “Echoes of the Past” is the first Mythos pack of the cycle, its not a world shifting scenario, although it has a slightly interesting way of playing with clues. “The Unspeakable Oath” follows it and it is an absolute sod of a scenario, its win or die (or go insane rather) and its been a total meat grinder for me, I’ve not played it without losing at least one investigator yet. “A Phantom of Truth” comes next, its an interesting scenario since it comes with an unbeatable enemy and simply demands that players survive rather than win which I really enjoyed. “The Pallid Mask” brings the story with the “Man of the Pallid Mask” to a conclusion, it also uses a very neat mechanic for exploring a series of catacombs. “Black Stars Rise” comes with another interesting trick with a hidden but pre-set ending and the option to guess a path and go with it. Lastly, “Dim Carcosa” features a scenario where insanity cannot defeat investigators and Hastur makes an appearance with investigators either battling by exploring far Carcosa or assaulting Hastur directly.
The cycle generally uses a wide range of really interesting mechanics to create relevant and atmospheric effects. It really feels like it’s the designers getting to grips with the design space they’ve created. It’s the first cycle that I’d totally recommend and I’d actually suggest skipping straight to it if players come to the game later on. I will say, as I mentioned in the introduction, players who love a certain sort of less pulpy version of Lovecraft should probably lean towards ‘Doubt’ choices through the cycle. It’s rare in being a cycle that essentially allows players to choose the shape of the story as separate from their play style. Be then aware that depending on your tastes how you guide that story might lead you to joy or disappointment, but on the upside, you’ll only have yourself to blame.