Written by Dalia
I’ve talked about Stella Clark, the Letter Carrier’s backstory before, and how she is a very welcome addition to the Arkham Horror Files roster, so let’s jump right in and talk about her deck.
Survivors overall are supposed to be the resilient class, but Stella has everyone beat with a whopping 8 health and 8 sanity. Considering most investigators average to 7, and max out at 9 health or 9 sanity (and usually 5 or 6 in the other), having an 8 in both is a big deal when it comes to raw tankiness. Her stats don’t immediately lean in any particular direction—3 willpower, 2 intellect, 3 combat, and 4 agility is a pretty defensive and evasion-oriented build, but when compared to the core set’s Wendy Adams, who has a more min-maxed statline of 4/3/1/4, Stella is clearly going to be using her extra health and sanity as a defense against the mythos. Where Wendy is clearly not a fighter, and lives by avoiding the mythos, Stella might be able to do a bit of everything, given the right tools, and simply survives the mythos.
Stella’s ability reflects her mentality of surviving through failure, and Wendy’s reflects her mentality of avoiding failure in the first place. Wendy’s ability to cancel and redraw a chaos token once per test by ditching cards is incredibly powerful, and is one of the only ways in the game to potentially avoid an auto-fail. There is always the potential to fail into another failure, but getting two chances to succeed can increase your odds dramatically. Stella, on the other hand, embraces failure. Once per round, as a reaction, when Stella fails a skill test, she may take an additional action during her turn. She has no way to avoid the auto-fail, but if she does draw it, she gains an action back, and can just try the test again without losing too much tempo. It hurts if she committed many cards to the skill test, as she doesn’t get those cards back, but some cards, like Live and Learn, let her try again without even needing to spend her extra action.
However, Stella’s ability goes beyond simply failing an investigate action only to take it again. If that were it, she would be a weaker Wendy, still having to deal with the consequences of failure and only redrawing once a round, instead of once per test. For one thing, if Stella fails a test during the mythos phase, she still gets her extra action during the investigation phase, and that could potentially mean four successful actions, which is better than Wendy’s three. Stella still has to deal with the effects of failing during the mythos, but testing against treacheries and failing can actually help her get things done. Furthermore, if she fails, Stella can still trigger fail-to-win Survivor cards like “Look What I Found!” or Oops!, or their upgrades, and/or Take Heart, play Live and Learn to try the test again, succeed, and come out with potentially 2 clues, 2 cards, 2 resources, and 3 actions still. If this failure was off of a .18 Derringer or an Old Keyring, Stella doesn’t even lose ammo or keys because the initial failure replaces the ammo or fails to remove the key. Interestingly enough, if Stella were to fail an .18 Derringer or Chainsaw shot, play Live and Learn, and fail again, she would actually get an extra ammo on the weapon because the failure condition would have been met twice.
Incredibly, this turns the normal mentality of taking as few skill tests as possible on its head. Stella wants to take as many skill tests as possible to have as much chance of failure before the end of her turn as possible. Cards like A Test of Will (0) or (2) are important because they give her an extra potential test during the mythos phase, which she might fail. Once she has failed, however, she wants to succeed for the rest of the round, which means Stella likes to be able to control, or at least stagger, her failures. One point to note is that Stella’s ability does not trigger if she only fails a skill test at the end of her turn (such as testing Frozen in Fear), or in the enemy phase. Because her ability lets her take an additional turn “this round,” when the round ends, her bonus action would get wasted if generated after her turn ends.
Stella’s embrace of failure and resilience is reflected in her elder sign, which is normally a +1 but may instead automatically fail to heal 1 damage and 1 horror. Against something like Rotting Remains, the automatic failure would hurt more than she heals, but again, she can combo off of failure, so if she gets an elder sign early in a round, she might want to fail and play Grit Your Teeth to both gain the extra action and improve her chances of succeeding at further attempts. The only real problem here is that the elder sign is completely unreliable.
The deck comes with 3 copies of Neither Rain Nor Snow, Stella’s signature card. 3 wild icons is incredibly valuable, and not only makes Stella incredibly likely to succeed most tests, it also prevents any consequences of failure. It can also be committed to other investigators’ tests, meaning if the Rogue is about to go up against a horror-dealing will treachery, Stella can help them out. It also is the source of lengthy debates about what counts as “an effect of a failed test.” The short version is, if you were to commit both Take Heart and Neither Rain Nor Snow to a test, and then fail, you would have to choose the order in which to resolve the failure effects. If you choose to resolve Neither Rain nor Snow first, it would cancel the effects of Take Heart, but if you resolve Take Heart First, subsequently resolving Neither Rain nor Snow would not retroactively cancel anything. Its’ a bit complicated, but since they have the same trigger of “if this skill test fails,” the player can choose the order in which to resolve the effects.
Stella’s weakness is Called by the Mists, which deals her 1 damage whenever she initiates a skill test of difficulty 4 or higher. It takes a double action to discard it from play. There are some mythos cards with high skill difficulties, but more likely, this is going to shut down Stella for a round. She will need to take some time to deal with her weakness, but unless she is pinned down by an enemy, this is not a terrible weakness to have. Stella can still fail something during the Mythos phase and gain an action, giving her 2 actions to spend after dealing with her Mists. Sure, she’ll have taken some damage and horror during that time, but like I said earlier, she is very tanky.
Since many of the fail-to-win cards offer static rewards, instead of scaling the rewards, this makes Stella slightly more powerful in lower player counts. She can certainly hold her own at 4 players, but 2 clues off a “Look What I Found!” means more in 2-player than in 4-player. Cards like .18 Derringer and Old Keyring, even without combo-ing big turns, guarantee that eventually Stella will do 4 damage, or get 2 clues, which can provide valuable certainty for a newer player. Failed a test? Try again! Overall, Stella provides a more forgiving experience for newer players in a game where failing a skill test is inevitable, while still providing experienced players with some cool combo opportunities. Her deck opens up a lot of opportunities for fail-to-win combos, and she is actually very proactive in getting things done because she can use failure to push forward.