New Madness is upon us, as we race against time to save the innocents in Blood on the Altar, the latest release for Arkham Horror the card game. Is it any good? And will our sanity be enough to see us through? Let’s find out.
A Little Background
Blood on the Altar is the 3rd Mythos Pack in the Dunwich Legacy Cycle for Arkham Horror the Card Game, so you’ll need both the Core Box and the Dunwich Deluxe Expansion to be able to play it. Arkham Horror is a Living Card Game from Fantasy Flight Games, and if you’re not familiar with the LCG model, I’d definitely recommend taking a look at the introduction we provided into this world last year.
Blood on the Altar sits in the first full-length campaign for Arkham Horror, The Dunwich Legacy. Dunwich Legacy is an 8-part adventure, which began with 2 scenarios in the Deluxe expansion of the same name, and since then has been taking players through a further 6 adventures, each released in a monthly Mythos Pack, of which Blood on the Altar is the third.
The Dunwich Legacy began with the players being summoned by Professor Armitage, the Hero of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror, and sent to investigate the disappearance of Professors Rice and Morgan, also taken from Lovecraft’s tale. Depending on how the earlier scenarios played out, the players may have rescued one of the professors, whilst the other one was captured, before breaking into a museum to find a copy of the Necronomicon, and narrowly surviving a train-ride which almost saw them pulled through a rift in time and space. Now, the investigators have arrived in Dunwich, and the story picks up in Blood on the Altar.
Blood on the Altar contains all the new cards unique to this scenario, along with 2 new player cards for each class. As ever, the component quality is high, but what about the actual gameplay?
Spilt Blood – but where?
The premise of Blood on the Altar is a frantic hunt around Dunwich, in search of some missing folk – all those who were captured earlier in the campaign, plus a few new characters introduced for just this purpose.
The location cards in the pack all represent different places within the village of Dunwich itself and with one being removed each time you play, and the remaining 5 having 2 versions apiece, of which you choose one at random, there’s a fair bit of variety to how the game unfolds.
Each location in Blood on the Altar will have a facedown encounter card hidden beneath it, and it’s those cards you need to expose in order to find which of them is hiding the Hidden Chamber. Once you have removed all the clues from a location, it gains a fast (i.e. free) action which allows you to reveal the hidden card.
Hiding cards at random beneath randomised locations is a good way to offer very high levels of replayability, and I really liked the fact that I was always a bit uncertain what would happen the next time I entered or cleared a location. The fact that the Hidden Chamber is hidden amongst a collection of encounter cards also leads to interesting timing decisions in when you reveal the card, as you don’t want to run into an enemy right at the end of a turn, but leaving it until the next round could have consequences of its own.
Following a Trail of Blood
Warning: This section contains spoilers for the Blood on the Altar scenario!
Blood on the Altar largely turns Investigation on its head, and I thought it was a really interesting twist. Like most Arkham Horror players, I’d gotten used to the idea that “the more clues the better” and having to whittle locations down to zero clues – and having cards that punish you for failed checks by adding clues felt like a very clever way to challenge some of these assumptions.
The fact that this is a double-layered twist was particularly interesting – we definitely found ourselves clearing locations of clues, revealing the hidden card, then allowing clues to stack back up as it seemed of no consequence: suddenly having to move all of the clues in play to the Hidden Chamber when it was revealed was definitely not something we were prepared for, and to date, we’ve only ever beaten this one by taking down Silas Bishop, rather than by investigating. (I think you’d have to build especially to win via the clue route, probably leaning heavily on Rex Murphy and the upgraded Deduction).
Aside from the big twist, I thought that this was an interesting scenario, although I wasn’t a great fan of how swingy the locations can be – not only is there significant variation in shroud and number of clues available between the two different versions of locations, but the fact that some like the General Store are actively beneficial in one version, and actively harder in another, which can make a major difference to the overall scenario difficulty.
End of Spoilers!
What can I say? It’s just a talent
The player cards of Blood on the Altar come with a heavy focus on Permanent Assets, mostly talents, which your investigators can take in order to gain constant access to skill-boosts.
In some respects, these mirror the mercenary talents of the Core Set – as a fast action, you can pay a resource to boost one of 2 skills. However, there are significant differences.
For one thing, the fact that these cards are permanent means that they will always be in play, allowing your investigator to rely on them a lot more. They also offer boosts to different skills – in each case duplicating one skill (the ‘key’ skill for the class) and adding a boost to a new one.
It would be a mistake to think that these cards are just re-hashes of the Core set talents. Aside from their permanence, and focus on different areas, they are also triggered in different ways and for different durations: Higher Education, the Seeker card, requires you to have 5 cards in hand to trigger it, but offers +2 instead of +1 for the skill test, with the ability to target Willpower, in addition to their previous ability to boost intelligence. The Guardians’ Keen Eye costs 2 to boost Intelligence or Combat by 1, but does so for the whole phase, rather than just a single test.
Rogue, probably the class most likely to have cash to spare, can spend 2 on Streetwise to get +3 to their Intelligence or Agility for a test – not as lasting as the Guardian effect, but likely to be enough for that 1-off. With agility already a reasonable skill for most Rogues, this seems like it will be useful primarily for the Intellect.
Survivor probably gets the least inspiring of the talents – aside from being permanent, Scrapper is no different from core-set Hard Knocks, offering +1 to Combat and Agility for a single resource – perhaps there is scope for a more combat-heavy build for Survivor, but for Wendy this looked like a pretty lousy option.
Mystics always like to do things differently, and their permanent card in Blood on the Altar is no exception: rather than paying money, you add a doom to the rather worryingly-named Blood Pact to get +3 Willpower or Combat for the current test. For many, the thought of adding Doom is worrying enough not to want to trigger but the power of the effect makes it worth a second look in my mind – there will generally be multiple points in the game where you know that Doom is going to advance the Act next round anyway, so this becomes essentially free. At other times, that +3 could mean the difference between killing off a monster and spending your entire turn flailing ineffectually at it, at which point 1 Doom seems a small price to play.
Aside from the permanent cards, there are plenty of other options to enhance player decks in Blood on the Altar. Emergency Cache is a core staple for general utility, and this pack offers the upgraded version, giving you 2 cards along with the 3 resources it generates.
There is also card draw on offer for Seekers, via Preposterous Sketches, a highly flexible skill card to get Survivors out of sticky situations in Rise to the Occasion, and some extra resource acceleration for any Rogues who weren’t feeling flush enough already. Mystics get to mitigate the effects of the Chaos Bag with Defiance, and Guardians can find the weapon they need to get stuck into some enemies with Prepared for the Worst.
I think that the talents will be the cards that have the biggest ongoing impact on the game, simply because of their permanence, but there are plenty of interesting cards on offer for investigators in Blood on the Altar, and it’s starting to feel like we really have some options in terms of how we build our decks.
Blood on the Altar: Final Thoughts
There’s always a danger in a long campaign like this of experiencing a lull around the mid-point, and Blood on the Altar can feel slightly ordinary as a scenario, especially coming as it does, sandwiched between a Train in danger of being sucked into outer space, and a battle against invisible monsters. Despite all that though, Blood on the Altar is still a solid pack: the quest offers a constant challenge that will remain through repeated play-throughs, and there are player cards on offer that can really provide the building blocks of whole new strategies. Another one well worth getting. 7/10
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I'm an avid board and card-gamer, still trying to figure out where Board Gaming fits into life as the dad of a very grabby toddler.
I enjoy thematic games (Fantasy, Cthulhu, etc) and play a lot of cooperative games, along with a bit of competitive gaming (currently Legend of the Five Rings) when I can make it out of the house.
When not playing games, I can be found doing a mundane office job, or working on my own Blog, Fistful of Meeples.