Written by Dalia
When I first started playing the Arkham Horror LCG, I didn’t understand the point of skill cards over assets that boost your skill value. I also didn’t understand the point of committing non-skill cards to tests—why would I give up this event card when I could play it for a benefit? I just didn’t see the point of temporary boosts to your skills.
To begin with, let’s talk about the difference between skill cards and assets or events. Cards have multiple parts we care about: the resource cost in the upper left, the experience cost in the crescent below the resource cost, the icons along the left, the text on the bottom half…but what we care about right now is the icons and the text. Any of your cards can be committed to a test you are taking as long as they have an icon that matches the skill being tested, or a wild icon (the ?). After the skill test resolves, those committed cards go into your discard pile. For assets and events, this means you can choose between playing them for their text effect and committing them for their icons. So, you can commit the Flashlight toward an investigation test for a temporary +1 intellect, or you can spend an action and two resources playing the Flashlight, then another action investigating at -2 shroud. You can think of it as, assets and events must be played in order for their text to be active. What makes skill cards special is that they can only be committed to tests—they are never “played” per se—and their text is active as long as they are committed to a test. So you can commit a Vicious Blow to a fight test to gain +1 combat and the effect, “If this skill test is successful during an attack, that attack deals +1 damage,” which not only improves your odds of success in most cases, but also may prevent you from having to take a second test.
Skill cards do stack with asset activations and static buffs. For example, Daisy Walker has 5 intellect, a Fingerprint Kit and Dr. Milan Christopher out, and a Deduction in hand. She is at a 4-shroud location with 3 clues left on it. She uses the Fingerprint Kit to get +1 intellect, Milan gives her +1, and Deduction gives her another +1 intellect, for a total of 8 intellect for this test. She draws a -3, and her final test result is 5 intellect to 4 shroud, so she succeeds and gets 3 clues: 1 for a successful investigate action, +1 from the Fingerprint Kit, and +1 from Deduction. Success!
The other thing to remember is that anyone can commit exactly one card to someone else’s skill test if they are at the same location. So even if you don’t have the right icon at the right time, hopefully someone else does. Rogues notoriously lack Will icons, but maybe your Mystic friend has some to spare! But having a card solely in your deck to improve your chances of passing a single skill test is usually not ideal unless you know you are going to be taking tests of that skill type. That is what makes wild icons so powerful. They can (usually) be committed to anything.
At the most basic level, skill cards exist to help you pass tests, and in doing so, prevent wasted and failed actions. There are four basic “cantrip” skill cards in the core set—Guts, Perception, Overpower, and Manual Dexterity—that all draw you a card from your deck if you succeed at a skill test using each of the four base skills (willpower, intellect, combat, and agility, respectively). Unexpected Courage does not make the cut because it does not replace itself, but it is extremely powerful because it can be committed to any skill test. Considering it usually takes one action to draw a card, if you can draw cards off other successful actions while simultaneously improving your odds of success, you are gaining tempo. If you commit Perception to an investigate test you are already almost guaranteed to pass (assuming you’re playing on standard, and not The Forgotten Age, this means you should be 4 above the skill test difficulty), you can gain a card and a clue off a single action. But, if you commit Perception to a test where you are 0 above the test difficulty, your odds of success suddenly go up dramatically. If you start at 2 above the difficulty, suddenly you have increased your odds of success to cover any -3s and -4s AND you will most likely gain a card and a clue, keeping your options open while also pushing forward the win condition.
Most people recommend somewhere between 6-8 total skill cards in an average deck. If 2-4 of those are cantrips, you have about 4 cards left to fully realize the potential of skill cards, and you hopefully have enough icons on the rest of your cards or through static bonuses to carry you through the game. Investigators like Minh Thi Phan and Silas Marsh are going to want more than 8, since their abilities and/or signature cards center around committing cards, but in general many of your committed cards are going to be assets or events with icons, rather than just skill cards.
Savvy players know that cards are a resource as much as, well, resources are. Committing events and assets sounds counterproductive, since they don’t replace themselves, nor do they offer any other effects. And yes, pitching a card to commit it to a skill test does limit your future options, but if you don’t commit cards to fighting an enemy, you may not hit successfully, and may also limit your options. Committing a Segment of Onyx may prevent you from ever getting out the Pendant of the Queen to evade big enemies, but failing your evade test right now might lock you out of the current round and result in taking damage, which could compound with future enemies to lock you out of the game. Committing your gun to a fight test might prevent you from being able to fight consistently through the scenario, but not committing it might mean you can’t kill the enemy that’s currently on your seeker, and you risk hitting them instead. Balancing your ability to act in the current turn with the ability to carry your momentum forward is extremely important. And that is where the value of skill cards lies—you can commit them without worrying about losing value later.
Furthermore, sometimes you don’t have the resources to play a card, or you’re on a critical test (an enemy with retaliate, or alert, or the winning investigate check), or it might not help in the current situation. Knowing the scenario and knowing your deck can be very important in determining when to commit a card and when you need to hold it, even though a teammate might take 3 horror off a failed Rotting Remains. A careful consideration of your cost curve upon deck creation often helps mitigate the resource issue, but the mythos deck doesn’t care that you have enough resources to play your gun and just need the one action next turn: it wants to give you an enemy now, and you have to deal with it, or else your entire party will die.
Now, I spend about as much time considering my icon distribution as I do my cost curve. I have cut cards that lack skill icons, even if those cards are staples of the class. Taking Faustian Bargain over Emergency Cache is not only better resource-for-action economy, but it has icons that allow you to use it if the party doesn’t need resources anymore. Making sure you never have a dead card is so important in a game like Arkham Horror, especially for classes that struggle with card draw, because every card matters. At the end of the day, we can spend hours discussing exactly the best way to give ourselves the best odds of success, but we all know the tentacle/auto-fail is going to come out eventually. The failure is part of the fun.