The earth shakes, the ground gives way, and the city is destroyed in a terrible cataclysm! Can your investigator complete their race to defeat the Ancient One before the world is reduced to rubble in Cities in Ruin?
Cities in Ruin is the latest expansion for Fantasy Flight’s Eldritch Horror, a fully cooperative, world-spanning quest to save humanity from Ancient Ones which defy the imagination. This box adds a new Ancient One, 4 new Investigators, and a whole new mechanic for “Devastation.” Is it any good? Let’s find out.
Cities in Ruin – What’s in the box?
Cities in Ruin is a small-box expansion for Eldritch Horror, but it packs a lot in. There are additions for all of the standard game-decks: extra Mythos cards, Preludes, and Encounters, as well as the smaller player-equipment decks: new assets (standard and unique), spells, and conditions. There are also 2 brand new decks, containing the new mechanics for Cities in Ruin – Disasters, and Devastation Encounters (more on these later)
Aside from the many cards, there are new monsters and tokens, as well as 4 new investigators, and a new ancient one, Shudde M’ell
The card-quality is much the same as the rest of the Eldritch Horror line- everything is solid, and the only real concerns you need to have about the components are fitting them into the box, or shuffling the massive decks (assuming you have the other expansions as well).
So what’s new? Disasters and Devastation!
As you might guess, Cities in Ruin contains various effects that will see specific City spaces reduced to Ruins. This effect will generally happen when you play with Shudde M’ell, the new ancient one, or when you use one of the new Preludes that come in this box. These effects will trigger when you reach certain points on the Omen or on the Doom track and, when you do, you will be told to draw a disaster card from the relevant deck. Disaster cards have about a 50/50 chance of wiping out a named city space, with the other half being events that cause more widespread, if slightly less severe damage. Once devastated, the Cities in Ruin no longer count either as a city, or as their named location. This means no more acquiring assets or preparing for travel, and you no longer draw city-specific encounters, being directed instead to the new Devastation encounter deck.
Devastation encounters will generally see you exploring rubble, aiding survivors, or generally facing some kind of post-apocalyptic situation. The flavour of these encounters is good, and there are a range of benefits and penalties on offer.
For the sessions where you use the disasters, Cities in Ruin has the potential to completely transform your game of Eldritch Horror – imagine an early-game destruction of Tokyo, which leaves Charlie Kane unable to use his influence to remotely eliminate monsters, or the loss of a city which would have allowed you to improve a needed stat. Compared with expansions that add side-boards which characters then struggle to reach, this felt much more immediate and impactful, making for much greater tension. The fact that the events are random can wipe out much of your party in a single step, so it adds an extra element of planning to your movement, as well as increasing the difficulty. The devastation mechanic can also impact the game in more unexpected ways, via a Mythos Card or a Dark Pact, meaning that once you have shuffled Cities in Ruin into your collection, nowhere is ever entirely safe again.
Tools for the Task: Welcome Additions
Whilst every Eldritch Horror expansion comes with some big new game-changer, like the disaster deck of Cities in Ruin, the expansions are also valuable for the way that they add to the various existing decks and options available.
Cities in Ruin expands the Mythos decks, the city decks, and the various asset, spell and condition decks. The impact of city-specific encounters or Mythos cards obviously diminishes depending on how much Eldritch Horror content you already own, but the assets and particularly the condition deck benefit from having some alternative options to pad things out.
There are some brand-new conditions as well as extra reverse sides for existing ones, typically 3 or 4 different variants available. If you’ve got a lot of Eldritch Horror expansions then you may not run into many of these, but sometimes even 2 cards can make a big difference. For example, Cities in Ruin gives you 2 new “Quick Study” conditions. Amanda Sharpe, introduced earlier this year in the Dreamlands expansion, always starts a copy of Quick Study, and doubling the possibilities from 2 to 4 makes things a lot less predictable in the early rounds before you get to flip the card.
New allies for the cause
Cities in Ruin also comes with 4 new Investigators. There aren’t many of the usual suspects from FFG’s Arkham Horror Files games who we haven’t seen in Eldritch Horror by this point, and this box helps to fill in a few remaining gaps with “Ashcan” Pete – the drifter, Bob Jenkins – the Salesman, Rita Young – the Athlete, and Roland Banks – the Fed.
Every time “Ashcan” Pete appears in an Arkham game, fans wait to see how his faithful hound Duke will represented – will it be a repeat of the incredibly powerful asset in the Arkham Horror card game? (which gives Pete a massive boost to 2 of his 4 key skills), or something closer to the rather underwhelming “unique item” in Mansions of Madness 2nd edition (which allows you to give an item to someone in the next space). The Cities in Ruin version of Duke is somewhere in the middle of the two, offering you a re-roll once per round – certainly very useful, but not especially exciting.
Rita Young’s bonus when fighting off nasty injury and illness conditions is really powerful. She stands a good chance of surviving some of the Devastation cards that come in Cities in Ruin, as well as being a solid choice against previously-released ancient ones who like to plague you with injuries and illnesses.
It’s important in Eldritch Horror to get clues out onto the map, as they are often needed for completing Mysteries and Rumours. This can be tricky in a Cities in Ruin game where London (the location that spawns clues), could be destroyed at any moment. Enter Roland Banks, who offers remarkable flexibility in cycling the reserve of assets and/or spawning clues, so whatever the occasion it’s likely that you’ll find a use for him.
Lastly, Bob Jenkins, the Salesman. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but I’ve always found Bob to be the least exciting Investigator you could wish for, a man made of beige corduroy who fades inexplicably into the background. Cities in Ruin certainly doesn’t do much to change my mind, and Bob doesn’t feel nearly as powerful here as his Elder Sign counterpart. His ability to buy assets at knock-down prices is nice, along with the power to trade items remotely, but ultimately he just feels like a poor man’s Charlie Kane.
As a final aside, I really liked the fact that all of the Investigators in Cities in Ruin have fairly balanced Health/Sanity stat-lines: all of them have a 7/5 split, which tends to be a lot more durable than the fragile min/max-ers with a fragile 8/4 ratio.
Did the Earth move for you?
(Cthonian Miniature not included)
Shudde M’ell, seemingly the big brother of the already humongous Cthonian is essentially the world’s biggest earthworm – assuming earthworms could tunnel across continents, level cities, and drive people mad in the process. A lot of his lore seems to be tied into the Heart of Africa, but only a limited number of his Mysteries will directly tie you in to specific locations. Like every Ancient One since the core set, Shudde M’ell comes with 6 mysteries from which to select the random 3 for your game. We had some frustrations with some of his research encounters (too many where success doesn’t grant a clue, which led to a lot of time wasted), but generally he’s an interesting new foe,whose disasters really make life awkward.
Cities in Ruin: Final Thoughts
I thought that Cities in Ruin was a really solid expansion for Eldritch Horror. Aside from the sheer number of investigators (4 rather than 8), the small-box expansions often seem to offer more bang for your buck, and Cities in Ruin was no exception.
The Disasters and Devastation encounters have the potentially to really alter the shape of the game, without requiring the awkward shifts in movement of a side-board, and they offer an extra level of challenge for anyone who wasn’t finding the Eldritch Horror experience quite crushing enough.
By the time you mix in your 6th (or 7th, or 8th) expansion to Eldritch Horror, you won’t notice the impact on common decks nearly as much as for the first 1 or 2, but when you do encounter a Cities in Ruin card, they all feel pretty solid.
I still wouldn’t stray from the standard advice that Forsaken Lore should be your first expansion for Eldritch Horror, as it essentially ‘fixes’ the base game, rather than simply adding to it. After that though, I think Cities in Ruin could be as good a place to go as any, particularly if the disaster theme or any of the investigators appeal to you. A really solid buy that adds plenty to the game. 8/10.
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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.