Those who dream travel down, down to the Dreamlands.
Dreamlands is the 3rd big-box expansion for Eldritch Horror, Fantasy Flight’s globe-trotting game of Lovecraftian madness.
Eldritch Horror is a fully cooperative game, stretching over several hours. In each game, investigators face off against an Ancient One, a being beyond imagination which is about to rise from an eons-long slumber and destroy the world (or at least the humans who inhabit it). Investigators must solve a series of mysteries in order to seal up the Ancient One and keep the world safe for a fleeting while. If they cannot do this before the Doom track advances to zero, before the allotted number of rounds expires, or before they are all killed or driven mad, then they lose, and the rest of humanity with them. Sadly, investigators are rarely free to concentrate their undivided attention on the mystery, with a constant stream of lesser but more pressing threats competing for their attention: Gates to other worlds must be sealed, Monsters must be defeated and the Investigators need to retain enough Health and Sanity to keep themselves going.
Dreamlands doesn’t change any of these fundamentals of Eldritch Horror. What it does do though, is offer new investigators to face the perils of the world, new Ancient Ones to threaten them, and a range of new assets and challenges as they go about it.
Above all, Dreamlands blurs the line between the world of dream and physical reality for the duration of your game.
How do these changes impact the gameplay? Are they any good? Let’s find out.
Dreamlands: What’s in the box?
Dreamlands certainly comes with plenty of content, there is an extra side-board to go alongside the world map, 8 new investigators, 2 new Ancient Ones, additions to most of the card-decks which already exist in the game, and a completely new deck for location encounters in the Dreamlands themselves.
The component quality is as good as you would expect from Fantasy Flight, and there’s nothing here which is going to clash with content from the base game or from earlier expansions.
In the past, various people have been disappointed with these big-box expansions, and say that you get more bang for your buck from the smaller boxes, which do more to flesh out the core decks used in every game. I’d certainly support the common advice that your first purchase after the original box should be the Foresaken Lore expansion (it’s more of a ‘fix’ for the base game than an expansion in the truest sense), but personally, I was pretty happy with what I got in Dreamlands – this box offers new ways to play the game and some nice little augmentations to playing it the old way.
Sounds Good: How does it play?
Certainly by physical bulk, the majority of the Dreamlands expansion focuses directly on the Dreamlands itself. A new board contains 3 named cities (with their own new encounter deck), and a handful of more remote locations which can offer you a generic wilderness encounter, or a new Dreamlands exploration, similar to the expedition deck from the main game.
Travel in the Dreamlands can be somewhat frustrating: there are no railways, no zebras, and you generally have to use a mixture of boats and uncharted paths to get around, which can make things quite slow. On the other hand, getting to the Dreamlands is fairly convenient: you can travel for ‘free’ along a local path from 3 of the 9 named cities on the main board (you determine which ones at random during set-up, by revealing Gates), or you can simply spend a Clue or pass a Willpower test, whilst performing a rest action. Compared with travelling to the Antarctica or Egypt side-boards (having to actually get to Antarctica or Africa first), this offers a lot more flexibility, and your investigators will be able to move with relative ease between the physical world and the Dreamlands.
The Dreamlands side-board is only used with one of the new Ancient Ones (Hypnos) and/or one of the new Prelude cards which come with the expansion. However, I don’t think that’s a big problem – the prelude is easy enough to include if you want to combine the Dreamlands board with an existing Ancient One and even if you don’t use the board, this expansion still offers you plenty for your games.
The Investigators: Familiar Faces and New Recruits
There’s quite a nice spread of investigators in the Dreamlands box. At one extreme, Luke Robinson – “the Dreamer” is making his first appearance for a while in a current Arkham Files game, (with Arkham Horror being more-or-less out-of-print, Luke had only been visible in the tie-in fiction for the last little while). At the other extreme, you have figures who have been staples of our Elder Sign or Mansions of Madness play for a while, and it’s nice to see them given a chance to shine on a global scale.
Overall, I liked the new investigators. Carolyn and Vincent, the Psychologist and the Doctor respectively, are great for dealing with Madness or Illness/Injury conditions, and can make your life a lot easier against specific Ancient Ones who deal out lots of these. Other investigators, like Kate Winthrop who is able to prevent Gates from spawning on her location, will be useful in any game. (Kate combos particularly well with Akachi from the base game, or the new Find Gate spell, which new Dreamlands investigator Gloria has in her starting inventory).
Some of the investigators look a little more focused, like they will only really shine in specific circumstances. Amanda Sharpe, the student, really needs Talent conditions in order to work well – something which can be gained fairly reliably in the Dreamlands (from encounters at Ulthar), but are much less easy to come by in the terrestrial world. Amanda is a character I really like in the tie-in fiction, so I’ll definitely be experimenting more with how to make her viable in non-Dreamlands play, but I think it’s safe to say that she requires a bit more thought to play well than some others do.
Overall, the Investigators of Dreamlands are a fairly squishy bunch: 2 of them have only 4 health, and 2 have only 1 strength. William Yorrick (7 health, 3 Strength) is the toughest of the bunch, and you’re unlikely to do much monster-bashing with just the people in this box. That said, the Dreamlands investigators do offer a lot in terms of Willpower, Observation, and unique abilities, so you can access some really interesting new options when you mix them up with the pre-existing investigators. Kate, Carolyn and William are probably the most rounded characters, with no stat dropping as low as 1, but they all have their place.
Something new? A Unique option
Unique Assets weren’t found in the original Eldritch Horror, nor in the first expansion, but they have been included in every expansion since. Some are just a step between a common Asset and an Artifact, but there are also Task Assets, 4 of which are included in Dreamlands. Tasks are one of the more confusing elements of the game to explain to new players, and one of the things that most-often fall flat for me.
It’s a tricky issue knowing how best to handle these – a major part of Eldritch Horror is the fact that you don’t get to look at the back of a double-sided card when you first receive it, so simply checking what your reward is going to be clearly isn’t an option. After a few games where these cards were played and caused frustration or a general lack of enjoyment (as people didn’t know what to do with them), I ended up reading through them all, and working out an average number of Monsters/Clues/Gates etc that need to be used in order to make the effort worthwhile, and that’s definitely something I’d suggest you consider if you’re going to throw a new player straight into a Dreamlands game. (I won’t post my conclusions here, because spoilers, but I think it’s easy enough to work out a rule of thumb).
The Ancient Ones
A lot of a game of Eldritch Horror, of course, is shaped by the Ancient Ones, and Dreamlands offers you 2 new options in this department. Both come with 6 Mysteries to choose from, which has been the standard since Forsaken Lore. Hypnos brings the strongest sense of theme, as he always comes in conjunction with the Dreamlands side-board, and is a brutal foe to face, as he prevents investigators from recovering Health and Sanity in a single rest action.
The other Ancient One, the suitably unpronounceable Atlach-Nacha, is a giant spider, who spins a great web between the waking world and the Dreamlands. There are plenty of spider-y mysteries and encounters that come along with it, some of which are very tough, so be prepared for some frustration (the first mystery we drew required us to deal damage to an ambushing Leng Spider: He only ambushes you after you close a gate and, as you have to pass the willpower check to even roll the strength check against the Spider, this took us a very long time). The Dreamlands Ancient Ones are definitely amongst the harder Ancient Ones the game has thrown at us, but very thematic and full of flavour.
Advancing the Mystery
Another mechanic revived for Dreamlands, was Advancing Mysteries. These effects can make a real difference to the shape of the game, as they push you nearer to your ultimate end goal through means other than the requirement stated on the card. Again, this is not the easiest thing to explain to a new player, but it does offer great scope for varying the difficulty of the game, either by allowing progress against otherwise insurmountable obstacles, or even by removing the cards which offer these benefits and simply facing off against Mysteries that were designed with this mechanic in mind. A good inclusion to offer players the chance to tailor the game to their needs
The Stuff of Dreams? Or a Waking Nightmare
Overall, I think that Dreamlands is a really solid expansion for Eldritch Horror. There are some great new characters, and it generally offers a good range of directions to take the game in. Personally I’ve often found that some of Lovecraft’s Dreamland works don’t quite feel like they fit with the broader Mythos (too much hope!) but this does a great job of picking the bits of the Mythos that really work, and the end product ties in thematically to all the Eldritch Horror content already out there, whilst not feeling out of line with the source material.
As I mentioned before, if you only own the base game, I’d still recommend getting Forsaken Lore as your first extra purchase, as it adds so much variety to the core decks of the game, but if the Dreamlands theme appeals to you and you feel ready for a bit of complexity, there’s nothing to stop you jumping straight to this one after. The Dreamlands board feels really well executed, without skewing investigator movement, and much of what’s included can be used without it if you prefer.
A Dream of an expansion, I’d rate this 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.