Written by Dalia
Most people who think of card games, think of competitive card games like Magic The Gathering. While Arkham Horror is a cooperative game, there is still an element of a common opponent brought in through the encounter deck. Given that, we can use terms and archetypes from competitive games to help us better understand how to “win” at Arkham Horror. The most common archetypes are aggression, control, combo, and tempo. This month, we’re going to talk about aggression (“aggro”) decks, and how to win before the encounter deck gets a chance to screw you over.
Aggro decks are all about pushing the win condition as fast as possible. In competitive games, this means depleting the opponent’s life total before they get a chance to get set up. Since aggression is so commonly tied to health totals and fighting, one might think that aggro decks in Arkham would be the combat-oriented decks. However, the important thing to remember is that aggression in the context of a card game is about pushing the win condition, not always fighting.
The win condition in Arkham Horror means advancing the act deck. It occasionally involves defeating the Big Bad, especially in the final scenario, but usually that only is true if you failed to stop the Big Bad awakening in the first place. More commonly, advancing the act requires clues, and that means that the person who can get the most clues the fastest is the most capable of being aggressive. This means that most aggro decks are going to be Seeker decks, as they both have the intellect needed to pass investigate checks and the clue compression needed to stay ahead of the curve.
Rex Murphy is the epitome of an aggressive Seeker, being able to get an extra clue a turn (or, without taboo, up to three extra clues in a turn, especially in high multiplayer counts). The tradeoff is that he has to succeed by 2, so instead of committing to two different tests, he encourages an all-in play style of committing big to one test. He trades longevity and sustainability for speed. He also struggles to defend himself against enemies, so in lower player counts, he is often simply hoping that he doesn’t draw an enemy.
Many non-Seeker investigators with access to Seeker cards, such as Trish Scarborough, can also make efficient aggro decks. Trish’s ability is a little like Rex’s, with the potential to gain an extra clue if she discovers a clue at a location with an enemy. Her choice between enemy management (via evasion) and clue compression/aggression is even more explicitly clear than Rex’s choice is.
Cards like Deduction, Fingerprint Kit, and Working a Hunch provide clues without actions or extra clues with a regular investigate action. Another card worth mentioning is Pilfer, which is a Rogue card, but provides exceptional clue compression if you can afford it. The problem with all these cards is they are either one-time use events, have a high resource cost for their effect, or both. Managing resource economy with clue compression is crucial, though, because it’s very rare, especially in multiplayer, that one clue per action is sufficient to push the act fast enough.
Every class has some kind of clue compression. Guardians have Scene of the Crime and Lesson Learned; Mystics have various spell assets, Drawn to the Flame, and Read the Signs; Rogues have the aforementioned Pilfer; Survivors have Look What I Found!, Sharp Vision, Winging It, and Fortuitous Discovery. Every class except Survivor have someone with 4 intellect, and if you wanted to, you could build a team of 4 aggro decks designed to burn down the clue demands before the encounter deck has a chance to bite at you. However, watch out for scenarios that force you to wait until the end of the round to advance the act. Those can slow you down by a full turn if you are only one or two clues shy of the threshold at the end of the round.
You have to balance action efficiency with expected success rate. Cards like Flashlight, Lockpicks, and Old Keyring don’t provide extra clues or other action compression, but they do provide the ability to improve your success rate. Cards like Seeking Answers (2) provide some amount of clue and action compression, but they do not guarantee a bonus to your test. Many of the best clue compression cards are assets, so they actually take an action and some number of resources to bring them into play, so they aren’t as efficient if you only use them once or twice. If you fail one of the tests, you are not only losing your clue compression, you are setting yourself back more than an action and resources. The net swing of failing a Fingerprint Kit test is approximately 4-5 actions, which translates to about 4 clues—4 resources, the action to play Fingerprint Kit, and the lost two clues from the failed test. Fail again, and you have spent 3 actions and 4 resources to do nothing instead of getting 4 clues. Assuming you succeed twice, but fail once, you spend 4 actions and 4 resources to get 4 clues, which just isn’t a good tradeoff. Fingerprint Kit is only worth it if you are spending 4 actions (1 for playing it) and 4 resources to guarantee 6 clues. Including more skill cards to ensure you pass those crucial tests is very important.
The bane of all aggro decks is not an encounter deck that outpaces them, but rather a long encounter deck that waits them out or an encounter deck that forces them to slow down. The threats and tactics of an aggro deck are usually relatively weak, and intended to be overwhelming in large numbers, trading long-term sustainability for short-term victory. A good example of a scenario where clue aggression is key is Essex County Express, particularly if you get a train car with a lot of clues on it to start. It’s a short scenario, with a lot of clues required to keep pushing the “move forward” win condition. But aggressive decks really struggle against big hunter enemies, or tempo hits to their resource economy that prevent them from playing out their next threat. The Innsmouth Conspiracy has a number of long scenarios that overwhelm the player with enemies; purely aggressive decks will struggle a lot with not getting bogged down by inefficient enemy management.
Aggressive decks tend not to run well in true solo, simply because the game goes too long. You are almost guaranteed to see some kind of big enemy, and if you don’t deal with it outright, it will slow you down enough that you are no longer investigating multiple times a turn. If an aggressive deck runs out of steam, they almost always lose, either because the enemies catch up, or because they simply can’t get the last few clues they need in time. They are best in multiplayer, grabbing clues quickly and efficiently while the other person sets up, then letting the other person carry toward the end while still picking up a clue here or there. In 4-player, pure clue decks may find it hard to be the only clue-getter on the team, simply because most clue compression effects are static (+1 clue, for example), but clue thresholds and the number of clues on the board scale with the number of players.
If you find yourself simply not getting clues fast enough during the downtime of the first few rounds, perhaps try a more aggressive investigator, or include more clue compression and aggressive elements in your deck. A few extra clues early can help immensely, but don’t forget about the tradeoff between action/clue compression and resource management. If you have to spend an extra action to gain a resource, suddenly your single action for two clues becomes two actions for two clues! Not as efficient.
Next issue, we will be talking about control decks. Happy gaming!