Written by Gladwin J. Singh
Not gonna lie… playing Murder at the Excelsior Hotel, MATEH for short, for the first time gave me Stanley’s Kubrick’s ‘The Shining‘ vibes. We know it’s not just an ordinary murder case. The supernatural and psychological elements are present in this scenario as well, very much like ‘The Shining.’
Almost everyone likes a good murder story. There’s always that element of suspense, thrill, intrigue, curiosity and mysteriousness that draws us as viewers/readers to want to know more. We assume ourselves as the investigators, trying to connect every clue and it was always my wildest fantasy to be able to figure out the murderer before the book or show could reveal it. So when I was aware about the recent MATEH standalone expansion, designed by Matt Newman (FFG) and Nicholas Kory (Mythos Busters), I was psyched! While I love the Lovecraftian and horror theme of the Arkham Horror LCG, I’m a sucker for murder genre too, and I was so thrilled to have this game merge the Cthulhu mythos into the murder genre as well, into a single standalone expansion, that can be played on its own.
With the release of this standalone expansion, I for one was excited and hopeful. You see, after reading about many players opinions on most standalone scenarios for Arkham Horror, I was not convinced to ever buy any of it, mostly because these scenarios are meant for bigger groups (not that it can’t be played solo), but I do believe that the ‘Curse of the Rougarou‘ and ‘Carnevale of Horrors‘ are apt for solo play, just that it may be harder to buy those two products as they are quite old and not always reprinted by FFG. That was until I started reading reviews and players opinions on Facebook about MATEH. Keep in mind that I can only speak for MATEH since that’s the only standalone scenario I have, and being a fairly new player, I was a little late to look out for the older standalone adventures, which are usually out of stock due to very limited reprints. I’ve done my readings, watched many reviews for other stand alone expansions. I am fairly certain that MATEH is the best choice, especially for true solo play.
Why is this standalone adventure the best standalone for solo play?
Because this scenario is limited to a hotel building, the maximum number of locations in the game is only 10 locations. The storyline and narrative also highly suggests one main player involved in solving the murder too (with the aid of another player, who starts at another location), thus you can play it true solo and/or dual-handed solo. This excerpt alone from the FFG website should give you a taste of true solo feel too. It really centers on just one investigator making a horrifying discovery in the room.
“The Excelsior Hotel is busy when you arrive, despite the rumours that have hounded the hotel for over a month now. Everything seems normal, though you cannot help but wonder if the staff and guests are really preoccupied with their various activities, or if they are gathered to keep an eye on you and your investigation. Still, you have come too far to turn back. The blood‐red door to room 225 stands before you and all that is left for your to do is take a deep breath, and knock. When you come to, you are standing over the man’s body. You recoil immediately from the grisly sight—multiple stab wounds perforate his chest and blood spills freely onto the floor. What the hell happened? And why can’t you remember a thing? Your head is spinning as you try to make sense of the situation. Empty bottles are scattered about the room. Your hands tingle. The shadows seem to coil and writhe around you. Were you drugged? Or is this something else entirely?”
In general, the encounter decks are almost always punishing towards investigators, and this makes it very hard to play true solo, especially, as you need to build an all-rounded investigator to take on the treacheries and enemies. In MATEH however, while the encounter deck is punishing, rarely does it delay investigators in moving about the hotel. Yes, you do take horrors, damages, spawning enemies, and discarding your cards, but your ability to move is not completely hindered, and this is especially crucial when playing true-solo (to cover more grounds). Despite me saying all this, it is still a hard scenario to beat. I’ve only won like 2-3 times. While the encounter deck may not be extremely punishing, there are mechanics in the game that will make it hard regardless. I mean, that’s just Arkham Horror. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be fun right?
Almost every location in MATEH will help you in your investigation and keeping you alive. Some locations help you move for free, heal damages, avoid and defeat enemies, etc. Once again, I won’t spoil too much for you.
The majority of the enemies in the deck have a reasonable evade value, which makes it somewhat easier for you to evade and avoid fighting, thus saving you time again to focus on the investigation. This allows you to use any of the investigator class to play true solo. As I am saying this, I can’t wait to use Daisy Walker for true solo in this scenario, like for the first time ever. However, it is still advisable to build an all-rounded investigator for any scenario regardless.
why buy Murder at the Excelsior Hotel?
- Availability: As this is quite a recent product, it is easier to obtain than the previous standalone scenarios. If I can get it in Malaysia, I think its safe to assume that there are still copies in your local FLG’s.
- Replay-ability: I won’t spoil much but I can tell you that there are at least 10 possible outcomes for this scenario alone. TEN!!! I’ve played this scenario more than 10 times already in the span of 4 months and I have yet to fulfil all the outcomes. With 10 possible ways to end the game, you can obviously figure out that you have many diverging paths to solve the murder.
- The CSI of Arkham Horror: If you enjoy the murder/crime genre, you will love this no doubt. You get to work with the police or against them. It has all your classic elements of a murder/crime genre with a Lovecraftian twist in it: murder weapons, crime scenes, suspects, evidences and the occasional Lovecraftian horrors. I also believe that this is a gateway standalone introduction to new players into the mythos… Who doesn’t like murder stuff right??? If your friends weren’t pleased with playing Night of the Zealot, I think MATEH will convince them otherwise. I probably wouldn’t even mention MATEH to them…maybe something like ‘wanna play CSI: Arkham?’ Queue CSI: Miami music…
- Your travel- companion Arkham Horror scenario: Whenever I go for a short trip/getaway, I pack along the MATEH scenario in my bag pack along with two investigator decks, just so I get my daily dose of insanity. As mentioned earlier, this scenario only has 10 locations, therefore it will not take up much table space in terms of location setup. Not to mention that the setup for this scenario is quick and easy as well. The scenario pack and the two investigator decks (all-sleeved) fits perfectly in my deck-box. There’s enough rooms for tokens and I can nicely squeeze in my chaos bag in it too. Why bring two investigator decks? You never know if you’ll get that chance to introduce this game to someone else…
With all that said, I can confidently recommend this standalone for true solo play. If you’re like me and you don’t get to play this game with others as often, consider this standalone scenario for your true solo play throughs. You can also use this scenario for a quick deck testing too. Sure you can deck test with other scenarios from the cycles but you would need to sort and find the necessary cards for the scenario… a bit of a hassle really. With MATEH, everything is sorted and you can quickly set up and start playing. Not to forget, the storyline and narrative is sublime as well. Every play through tells a new story/different plot twist/ different outcome. Kudos to the game designers for making a more true solo friendly scenario that is still challenging, but fun and dripping with all the elements of the murder genre and Cthulhu mythos.
In general, I would definitely recommend this standalone scenario expansion for new players as well. It actually is a beginner friendly scenario. It’s not overly-intimidating. The murder genre makes the game relatable to someone who doesn’t know much about Lovecraftian horror/Cthulhu Mythos. There’s only one new rule mechanism but otherwise, pretty much straightforward and easy to get into. As I write this piece, the most recent standalone scenario ‘War of the Outer Gods’ (WOTOG) was released as well, worth checking out. Until then, happy new year all!