Written by Dalia
I know I was not the only person absolutely pumped when the starter decks got announced. A new way to easily introduce new players to my favorite game? Sign me up! But I’ve been seeing some comments claiming the starter decks don’t work straight out of the box, or that they need tuning. From the perspective of a veteran player, this is absolutely true, but for newer players, this gives them the chance to skip the overwhelming parts of deckbuilding while still engaging with the mechanic.
When I started playing, it was four people working out of two core sets, and that was a much easier introduction to deckbuilding than sifting through the hundreds of cards we have now (even if our decks were worse). Newer players often get advised to try to find older cycles to pad out their card pools because the new cycles engage with more niche and more complicated mechanics. But it’s getting increasingly difficult to find those older cycles, and some people would rather just jump in and see if they can make it work. Recently, we got an influx of new player cards with the Starter Decks. With that in mind, I’m going to evaluate the starter decks relative to just the Core Set, starting with everyone’s favorite boxer, Nathaniel Cho.
Nathaniel is one of the most straightforward Guardians to ever guardian. He hits, he hits well, and he hits hard. Only once a phase, but with some of his new cards, like Counterpunch, that can be multiple times a round. He is ideal for new players because fighting big enemies feels so cool in this game, and also provides a good teaching moment when they realize that fighting is actually a defensive tactic, and the aggressive tactic is to gather clues. Getting clues is what pushes the win condition in almost every scenario, whereas fighting just holds off enemies and damage that could prevent you from getting clues. Coupled with the fact that cards like Stand Together are included in Nathaniel’s deck, it is very clear these products were intended for multiplayer play, where you can afford to have an investigator who only cares about enemies.
With 9 health, 6 sanity, 3 willpower, 2 intellect, 5 combat, and 2 agility, Nathaniel is very much a one-trick pony. His solution to problems is to punch his way out. Most investigators have 14 combined health and sanity, and 12 combined willpower, intellect, combat, and agility. Nathaniel comes in at 15 health/sanity, and 12 stats, making him slightly tankier than average. Additionally, his 5 combat is better than Roland Banks’ 4, making him a better choice for new players. He can hit more reliably without setup, though his setup in his Starter Deck requires specific cards, most notably his Boxing Gloves.
Nathaniel’s ability to deal 1 extra damage off fighting events is interesting. Since it is a reaction to dealing damage, rather than a reaction to initiating a test, the player knows if they have passed the test before choosing to trigger the extra damage. This makes Nathaniel extremely reliable at dealing one more damage than most other guardians with the same cards. It also means he requires fewer assets in play, but more cards in hand, to be as effective as a standard Guardian.
However, the interesting thing about Nathaniel’s deck is that his only weapon is his Boxing Gloves. Guardians are a class known for their weapon access, and many of their weapons are guns that deal +1 damage, for a total of 2 damage per hit. That means, over three actions, a regular Guardian can deal 6 damage in one round. Not forever, because ammo runs out, but in a pinch. Nathaniel, on the other hand, needs damaging events in order to trigger his ability, and can only trigger his extra damage once. Most fight events at level 0 do not deal extra damage. That means, over three actions, Nathaniel is dealing out 4 damage in one round. However, with One-Two Punch, he can deal that 4 damage in one action, making it and his other events that deal extra damage very valuable. Additionally, Counterpunch is extremely important because it gives him an extra opportunity to use his ability, bringing his total potential damage in a round up to 6. While Nate could certainly use the .45 Automatic or the Machete instead of the Boxing Gloves, it would not make full use of his ability, nor would it provide card draw. However, Boxing Gloves are only 2 cards in 30+, and a player can easily go an entire scenario without drawing through their entire deck. Having a backup weapon would be useful to ensure that Nathaniel can keep up with the enemies.
Card draw and resources are both extremely important for Nathaniel, as we want to keep his event train going. Most Guardians like to boost themselves to at least a 7 or 8 to reliably fight bosses (sometimes even a 9), and without his Boxing Gloves and Grete Wagner, Nate is usually fighting at a 5 or 6 because, unlike weapons, events usually do not give combat bonuses when fighting. Boxing Gloves, Grete, and some kind of resource economy are the most important things for Nate to set up in the early game. A cheaper option than Grete is the Beat Cop, but that is only cheaper by 1 and doesn’t have the option to grab clues. That said, Beat Cop (2) is considered one of the most reliable Guardian allies in the game for pure fighting/damage output.
At level 0, I would argue that his least useful cards are Relentless and Flesh Ward. They both exhaust, meaning they only trigger once per round. Ideally, you do not need to take enemy attacks because you have killed all the enemies, and you would much rather spend your reaction dealing exactly enough damage and moving on to the next enemy, rather than dealing excess damage for Relentless. You could replace them with Overpower and/or an Emergency Cache, to solve both your fighting and your resource needs. In solo, Evidence! is going to be a godsend, and Grete will almost always be preferable to the Beat Cop, but Nathaniel may have a hard time in enemy-light or clue-heavy scenarios. Boxing Gloves, One-Two Punch, and Counterpunch can all be upgraded, but it might be more worthwhile to first get more Spirit-traited combat events into his deck, as he only starts with 10 combat events. Or, if you are worried about being at a 5 or 6 combat against a 4-fight enemy, Physical Training (4) is also handy.
Overall, Nate is a much more straightforward investigator than Roland, and that makes him ideal for newer players. While it is true his deck could be better with some tuning and the inclusion of some neutral cards, new players with limited deckbuilding and play experience will find him fairly well-built for a pick-up-and-play pack. There are many ways to tune his deck with a full collection, but everyone starts in a slightly different place. The addition of Nathaniel as an investigator and the cards that come with him are welcome, and provide a more gentle learning curve than one normally has to undergo for this game.
To the newer players of this wonderful game, I say: Welcome, and don’t forget that dying is part of the fun!
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