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signoftheserpent

Frustrating (looooooooooooong!)

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This is a bit of a rant, but it isn't intended to be negative for the sake of it. I think these are valid points and represent my experience trying to play this game. In many respects it is a great game, but unfortunately, for me, my experience is repeatedly just an exercise in frustration. I don't profess to be a genius deckbuilder and I play more for the experience of picking investigators I like the sound of rather than trying to 'game' the system. Unfortunately it appears that's not really how you're meant to play.

First I'd like to mention a personal complaint: I wear glasses and my sight ain't what it used to be. I'm begging you FFG (i doubt you're listening, but hey) PLEASE PLEASE use better and bigger text. Learn to employ brevity in your descriptions and rules texts on cards. I can barely read the act/agenda numbers. I know some of the cards can have quite involved effects, but I would ask you to employ better technical writers. Everything should be as clear (it isn't, but that's another issue) and concise and brief as possible. Tiny text is getting to be unreadable for me and I don't see why it need be this way. Same goes for the location markers. Some of the icons are just too similar in shape and/or colour.

Ok, moving on.

First off I think the game is fundamentally too difficult. This isn't even a function of the chaos bag. It's because the doom token system as a timer is just too short in so many cases. I'm sure it's not an easy thing to design, but nonetheless it is real. It is not helped by 'tricking' the player: for example, Unspeakable Oath requires you find the Containment Cells. To do this you have to get to the right location in time, but unless you've played it before and can remember, you don't know. This is not info you can learn without visiting the right location. All the while the timer is running down. What's worse is that if you fail this scenario the campaign ends. This is terible design IMO (most people will simply restart the mission, why not design with that in mind?)

My feeling is that they have the wrong people playtesting this. Not everyone is a professional gamer. Some people can see good card combos and understand how the game works intuitively and can 'game' the system. What I mean by that is, they understand how to solve the puzzle. The problem with a game like this is that it doesn't work if you 'game' the system, then it becomes too easy. That's a problem of all solo/coop style games; you vs the ai. Instead the conceit is that for the game to shine you need to fail every so often, either through a bad draw, bad token pull, or bad encounter draw, etc. That's why the random elements exist. It's just, unlike LotR, AH has too many of them: deck, encounter, location, AND chaos tokens.

They need to incorporate more casual players into their playtest sessions, not just the professional 'gamebreakers' because I feel that's what's happening and so when I come to play I get hosed almost every time - and not in an enjoyable way. I don't want to beat the scenario instantly, but, crucially, I want to enjoy the experience. Here I find it just isn't enjoyable. You get screwed. Monsters that are just too hard can come out at absolutely the wrong time. Or you can find a whole ton of stuff gets dumped when an agenda turns that you simply cannot deal with. That's the crux: I reach a point where I simply feel no point continuing with the mission because I nknow I can't win. It isn't that I tried my best valiantly and lost in a fun way. It's the nature of it. Unfun. 

The previous mission, Echoes of the Past, is a bit like this: if you aren't built to fight the cultists acquiring doom tokens just end the scenario. This means you have to have built an investigator/team that can fight, only you won't know this ahead of time. So if youre relying on evasion, that won't cut it. Frustrating. 

Which brings up another issue: the game scales for single investigators very very badly. Unfortunately for me that is the experience I wanted. Playing multiple investigators is diminishing returns for me. While the interactions are more sophisticated, it's fiddly as ****. I want a true solo experience. This game doesn't give that - unless of course you're the master deckbuilder, I guess. 

I don't like the chaos bag. I just don't think this works. Is the game about resource management (like LOTR?) or is it a random dice roll ameritrash style? I think you should have picked one and not both. Resource management doesn't work alongside a dice roll, which is, fundamentally, what the chaos bag is. Sure it's customisable, and sure the iconic tokens allow for custom elements (which is cool, even if they are largely the same: big penalty/take horror/damage/doom/card loss). The problem here is that if you commit resources in a timed game and fail, which is out of your control, then...? You lose those resources and you get nowhere and that can decide the game leading to the 'the game's already lost before it's over' experience I just mentioned. That, for me, isn't fun. 

The autofail token is the worst example of this. Take it out. Just be done with it. If you want to have a tough experience, include higher penalties or tougher effects from the icon tokens. A simple 'fail' is just awful. It doesn't make the experience a tense wager of resources becuase autofail is a bad outcome in terms of gameplay.

Finally, the Forgotten Age. This is the worst distillation of all of these experiences. I am desperately disappointed by this. It is simply very badly designed. It is far too difficult. The supply system doesn't work at all. It is transparently a 'screw you' mechanic because you are effectively choosing which negative outcomes (all of which are severe in AH) do you want to experience? That feels horribly contrived to me. Right from the first mission youare handed a ton of trauma - and for what? To shut down the game experience. Trauma is a terrible mechanic because it promotes a death spiral. Why do you want to put me off playing the game that way? If I fail the mission surely that is enough? I've failed. Maybe I start the next adventure with 1 less card and 1 less resource for example? This cycle has some great ideas but I gave up on my last attempt after Heart of the Elders. Boundary Beyond is just terrible.

For that matter Path to Carcosa could do with some errata. There are too many instances where the text isn't clear as to what you're meant to do (the Hidden Passageway in Echoes; could there not have been a simple sentence in the rulesheet anticipating the obvious questions about how this works?). The campaign wants to revolve around psychological horror and the madness of the King in Yellow. That's cool, and again the ideas are great, but it feels like it's too clever for its own good. Unspeakable Oath should have been a great mission, but instead it screws the player around: did you solve all the tests in each of the containment cells? Uh oh you didn't know you HAD to? Oh well, you lose! Did you go to the wrong locatoin to find the entrance to the cells? Yes? Oh dear you've run out of time. Now the campaign ends. Come on that is just awful game design.

Hire better playtesters.

Hire better writers (the flavour text is just overwrought and over long for a card game).

Sort out the difficulty

Address the obvious flaws of the Chaos Bag

TLDR: I want to like this game, but each time I sit down to play it I feel like the game just sucker punches me. That and enjoyable experience does not make

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It definitely sounds like the game isn't for you. The doom issue is rarely a problem for me, and I usually play single player or two-handed, so it sounds like you're either spending time badly, or your decks are just terrible so you're getting screwed over(ArkhamDB will help with this). Also, a lot of the issues you've had, are only real issues on the first playthrough. The Unspeakable Oath for example, yes, is unexpected the first time, but it's not hard to guess that they'll mean something.

What decks are you actually using, and what are you spending most of your time doing? If you attempt a hard test repeatedly until you pass, then it's a massive waste of time, so you need to be able to pass on the first try most of the time. Maybe be more careful with what tests you attempt? Enemies and treacheries can be difficult, but you should approach the game with Solutions in mind. for Roland for example, go in with the idea that Enemies will be easier than Treacheries, so maybe include things like Logical Reasoning to help deal with this issue, as well as his low horror. Deckbuilding is a big thing in this game, so you need to put thought into it, or use decks from ArkhamDB that you like.

Also which Investigators are you even using? You can't solo Dunwich as Daisy and expect it to go well, for example, so what're you actually doing? 

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This game is very very much more difficult playing solo.

And Lola is notoriously difficult to play. 

In general, it is a commonly accepted point of the game that you will need to be prepared for anything, which often means you will need a way to manage both monsters AND find clues. This is harder to do in solo than with other players and investigators alongside yourself.

If you are soloing with just Lola, you will absolutely need some way to either evade all of the enemies or kill them (killing them is better because you don't have to continue to use additional evade actions later).

The game is not easy and I can understand how this could be frustrating for a more casual gamer, but if the game at its baseline was a game you can walk into and win without much challenge (even on easy), there would be little incentive to try to master it or replay scenarios. To me, it just makes more sense to provide a challenge that a player will need to work to overcome (particularly in a coop game), rather than an easy mode that is completely there to roll through for story alone.

Now if you WANT to have that option, a good recommendation is to adjust the chaos bag to a setting that will allow you to enjoy the game at your own difficulty. You can remove special tokens, add additional +1's or even completely remove the auto-fail token if you really wanted to. It sounds like this will solve a lot of your problems.

But ideal deck-builder, 'gaming the system,' or not, you will need to figure out how to allow your investigators to manage a variety of threats to succeed. As I said, this is MUCH harder in solo mode, and particularly with Lola due to the requirement to be in a specific role (even to commit cards!).

There's no shame in altering the chaos bag to what you will enjoy most, but I don't think a straight-forward 'easy' story-mode only difficulty is the best way or even most desired way for FFG to balance playtesting. In short, I don't foresee this happening (scenarios becoming easier), so you will need to embrace the challenge of learning how to 'game the system' by mastering your card pool and available options, or you will need to tone down the chaos bag to fit your preferred playstyle.

 

(Just a note: 'gaming the system' as you relate in your post is what I would consider the point of a coop game. If you do not work to overcome the difficulties being thrown at you by the game, it's not really a game, or I guess, what is the point of the game? You can read a book and get a narrative experience; a game presents a challenge. The fun for many players is learning how to solve the puzzle, and finding multiple different ways to do so, but this takes multiple plays and attempts, and one of the primary ways of doing so is by learning how to deck-build.)

Edited by Soakman

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What I mean wrt gaming the system is to point out the obvious flaw of a coop game: that once you beat it, the experience is diminishing returns. YMMV has to how that exists here. The point I'm making is that in order for AH to present a good game experience it has to contrive with the player (ie the player has to tacitly at least accept this) must fail at times. Hence you have the autofail token. Otherwise if you're a master deckbuilder you won't ever fail. 

However the Chaos bag isn't really the crux of the problem. The game can create situations that are simply unfun. Unspeakable Oath is one of them. It forces you to waste time by not giving you the info. Hunting down the 4 requirements is made easier once you've played through the scenario. So why design it that way in the first place? 

The game has weird difficulty spikes and each scenario has assumptions about what sort of deck you need to bring (solo or otherwise) but the game wants you to play campaign mode and so you can't easily change cards between missions. You need xp for that.

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You bring up The Unspeakable Oath a lot, and that is kind of known as being a particularly punishing scenario. I know that whenever I play Carcosa, I still dread playing that one even though I've beaten it multiple times because even knowing all the tricks it still often comes down to the wire. 

Do you have the same issues with all the scenarios or is it just one or two that give you grief? 

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Without in any way denying your representation of your experience, signoftheserpent, I observe that you seem to be making a bunch of assertions about the objective value of the game: what it "wants" and "assumes," and how that ruins replayability or even initial enjoyment. I'm curious as to what you think is going on with the people who like this game and have played through all of the existing content--often with multiple passes. Are we just deluded about what is fun? 

FWIW, I want my solo games to be very tough. I found the base game of Elder Sign too easy for solo play (though still fun as a co-op), for example. I mostly play AH-TCG as a two-player game on easy, and I've been having a blast for over a year, with just under one play per week on average. 

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I don't care for solo games that are too tough; I like to play thematic decks that stay in character.

I feel like I have plenty of options to tweak Arkham without sacrificing gameplay.

(I enjoy harder difficulty in multiplayer.)

Edited by ColinEdwards

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On 12/24/2018 at 4:13 AM, signoftheserpent said:

I don't like the chaos bag. I just don't think this works. Is the game about resource management (like LOTR?) or is it a random dice roll ameritrash style? I think you should have picked one and not both. Resource management doesn't work alongside a dice roll, which is, fundamentally, what the chaos bag is.

I disagree with this.  A good example for me was the difference when Privateer Press first introduced Hordes.  Warmachine is a resource management game.  Hordes was described as "risk management", which is what Arkham is.  You have to balance the resources you're willing to commit vs. the odds of success, which can rarely (though no longer never) be guaranteed.  Is it worth burning another card or resource to cover one more token?  Is it worth committing your entire hand to a test, knowing that you could still fail on that one red tentacle?  Or is it better to conserve your resources knowing that you can try again with your next action, or next turn?  When you have guaranteed success, all those decisions go away.  You may not like those decisions, but that doesn't make them a bad game.

On 12/24/2018 at 4:13 AM, signoftheserpent said:

It is not helped by 'tricking' the player: for example, Unspeakable Oath requires you find the Containment Cells. To do this you have to get to the right location in time, but unless you've played it before and can remember, you don't know. This is not info you can learn without visiting the right location. All the while the timer is running down. What's worse is that if you fail this scenario the campaign ends. This is terible design IMO (most people will simply restart the mission, why not design with that in mind?)

I disagree with this pretty emphatically, at least for this specific example.  Spoiler tagging just in case.  (Note: Doesn't seem to like multiple spoiler tags, open to read more :) )

 

OK, you're in an asylum.  You're looking for a patient, and know you need to find the containment cells.  You have the patient wards, but you start there and he's obviously not there.  Where might the cells be?  Your options are the Kitchen, Infirmary, Yard, Garden, or Basement Halls.  It shouldn't take a hardcore gamer to narrow that down pretty quickly.  I have a hard time seeing "Yes, back here through the Kitchen is where we keep the most dangerous patients, I know it seems odd but it makes meal delivery a breeze!" being the way to go.  Honestly, the game almost goes out of its way to put a giant arrow on the Basement Halls.  The Infirmary is the only other location which might logically have the cells, and it's easy to check.

Finding the 4 things to do to escape can be trickier, but this is actually pretty forgiving.  Only one is in the cells, and two are on the actual exit path.  And with 17 turns to work with, even a solo investigator should be able to cover the entire asylum fairly easily.  I also find this is generally the case with scenarios - the more punishing scenario failure is, the more they give you to work with.

[/spoiler]

On 12/24/2018 at 4:13 AM, signoftheserpent said:

That's the crux: I reach a point where I simply feel no point continuing with the mission because I nknow I can't win. It isn't that I tried my best valiantly and lost in a fun way. It's the nature of it. Unfun. 

The previous mission, Echoes of the Past, is a bit like this: if you aren't built to fight the cultists acquiring doom tokens just end the scenario. This means you have to have built an investigator/team that can fight, only you won't know this ahead of time. So if youre relying on evasion, that won't cut it. Frustrating.

"Winning" is a very relative thing.  My group played Echoes a few weeks ago, and had it well in hand but got greedy and ended up timing out.  The impact is actually fairly minor.  Spoilers, again.

 

I actually like this.  Can you feel like an evasion-based investigator can't do anything?  Sure, but that makes perfect sense for the scenario.  You're hunting through the archives at the same time they are.  If you aren't doing anything to slow them down, then they're going to find what you're looking for first.  This is good storytelling.  Not every scenario should reward every approach.  If you want to build a one-dimensional investigator to solo with that's cool, but it's not a failing of the game that it doesn't let you succeed in every situation with every approach.  Honestly, it would be a worse game if it did.

There are some exceptions to this - Where Doom Awaits is probably the worst of the lot, but I'm pretty sure they've learned from that mistake.  I'm curious to see what we get in Return to Dunwich, as I fully expect we'll see replacements for Base of the Hill, etc.

It honestly just sounds like this isn't the game for you.  You want resource management, but it's risk management.  You don't seem to want or respect story, and it's a very story-driven game.  You seem to want easy(ish), when the entire Arkham mythos is about unstoppable gods.  You want to win everything, when the campaigns are designed to follow a progression which allows varying levels of success out of each one.

And that's cool - not every game will be for everyone.  What's less cool is you failing to recognize that, and deciding to go off on a rant about how awful the design and playtesting is.  With few exceptions (*cough* Key of Ys *cough*) the playtesting has been very solid, though I do agree that supplies in TFA are poorly handled.  There are games out there that I don't like, and aren't for me, but that isn't a failing of playtesting or even design.  The distinction between "objectively bad and people have done their jobs badly by creating it" and "not for me" is an important one, and you should probably look a little harder for that line.

Edited by Buhallin

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On 12/25/2018 at 12:54 PM, ColinEdwards said:

I don't care for solo games that are too tough; I like to play thematic decks that stay in character.

I feel like I have plenty of options to tweak Arkham without sacrificing gameplay.

I do like a stiff challenge, but I also like to build decks around theme as much as efficiency. Arkham lets me do that, using an easier chaos bag rather than min-maxing in ways that would sacrifice the flavor of my deck.

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17 hours ago, Carthoris said:

I do like a stiff challenge, but I also like to build decks around theme as much as efficiency. Arkham lets me do that, using an easier chaos bag rather than min-maxing in ways that would sacrifice the flavor of my deck.

We use different chaos bags for people: new players get the easy bag, a more optimized deck gets a harder bag. It's a nice way to balance for different decks.

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A few thinks I'd like to point out also here

- Coop games are loosing interest rather fast if they are easy because beating the system over and over without struggle will result in loss of interest. The story and scenario can keep you interested, but honestly if you only play for that, it's better to stick with the original books, the original narrative will be far superior. A coop game needs to be difficult in order to remain relevant. And in order to achieve that, some deigns can look as unfair and sucking up the fun out of the game itself. This is where game design is important. If you feel constantly cheated by a coop game, it could be an indicator that this said game could have been designed better.

But there is a second point that needs to be mentioned when it comes to Arkham specifically:

- It's is embedded with the Cthulhu Mythos. Did you had a shot at Call of Cthulhu pen and paper RPG? This is the only RPG I know of, where in preparation of a session you don't create one character, but at least 3 to have replacements for the ones you will lose during the campaign. The game is brutal and very punishing because this is how the Cthulhu universe works: You mere human are barely an insect near this near-eternal all mighty entities, and only starting to comprehend them will lead you to madness. The stakes are highly against you from the beginning. I think the Arkham LCG convey that feeling pretty well and the sometimes openly unfair difficulty is an integral part of the theme. If my guardian was able to maw his way through 3-4 ghouls gun-blazing and be fully successful without any long term repercussion, it would be an issue. I would feel being in Supernatural or Buffy rather then in Arkham.

 

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