New Madness is upon us, as we face the reality-tearing terrors of The Essex County Express, 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
The Essex County Express is the 2nd Mythos Pack in the Dunwich Legacy Cycle for Arkham Horror the Card Game, so you’ll need both the Core Box and the Dunwich Legacy 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.
The Essex County Express 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 Essex County Express is the second.
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 the University and a Speakeasy 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. They then had to break in to a Museum in the dead of night to search for a copy of the Necronomicon, and are now making their way to the eerie town of Dunwich.
Smile and the World Smiles with You
Every Mythos pack comes with a mixture of encounter cards for a new scenario and player cards for you to add to your decks, and we’ll tell you a little bit about each of them today. In Essex County Express though, there is one card which stands out above all the others.
Each investigator in Arkham Horror the Card Game can have one Ally under their control at any point in time. Between Core set staples like Professor Milan Christopher and Leo de Luca, through Dunwich additions like Peter Sylvester, and character-specific must-haves like Duke, the ally slot has always been a hotly contested one.
By the time players reach Essex County Express, they will probably have added to their ranks, with 1 or 2 professors of the Miskatonic University, and might even have another ally on board if they took a detour to New Orleans and picked up Lady Esprit.
For the entirely affordable sum of 2XP, Essex County Express offers a permanent, neutral upgrade, Charisma. Permanent means that once you take it, it starts every game in play, and can’t be discarded by effects, and neutral means that it’s available to any investigator. Once you have Charisma, you have not one ally slot, but two!
If you’re relatively new to the world of Arkham Horror, and deck-building, then the benefits of Charisma might not leap out at you, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this is the single-most important player-card released in Arkham Horror to date. We’ll look at the others later, but the range of options opened up by this card is simply phenomenal.
All Aboard for Dunwich
The Essex County Express scenario sees your investigators on the train to Dunwich, where they hope to uncover the murky events which led to the kidnapping of the missing professor(s). Before you can get there though, your plans have been somewhat disrupted by the train breaking down, and by a massive rip in the fabric of reality opening up – you need to get to the front of the train and re-start the engine before you and your fellow passengers are sucked into the void.
Essex County Express has a strictly linear layout: you start in the rear-most carriage, and must clear it completely of clues before you can move to the next one. Each game you will select 6 random carriages from a total of 8, and 1 engine car from 3 – as each has a different entry effect, and a different passive effect whilst active, these are designed to make the game play differently every time.
Peering beyond the void
Warning: This section contains spoilers for the Essex County Express scenario!
Essex Count Express is very much a race against the clock – each time the Agenda advances, the rear-most carriage of the train is removed from the game, leading to defeat for any investigator who was in it at the time. The scenario also does its best to catch you out – removing a single carriage twice, to let you think you understand how things work, then suddenly jumping to 2 carriages at once!
Getting stuck in a carriage where you can’t get over the high shroud to investigate, or where you are stuck with an enemy you can’t handle can be fatal in Essex County Express, and your Investigators are equally at risk from Mythos cards which add extra Doom and/or advance the Agenda unexpectedly.
As novel as the overall concept of Essex County Express is, the specifics of the different carriages aren’t actually all that interesting, as there are 4 which are functionally identical, just targeting a different skill and once you’ve seen 1 or 2, the rest are fairly easy to figure out.
The Engine cars pose a real challenge, and they are very different, which makes it hard to prepare well for them, no matter how much time you take to get there.
When we played this the first few times, it was a very tense experience, as we were terrified that our investigators would be dragged into the void, and defeated, bringing the campaign to a premature end. Having now read the ‘unsuccessful’ resolution, it turned out to be rather underwhelming – you wake up in the woods outside Dunwich an hour or so later, with a new weakness which isn’t that bad (and contains my favourite piece of art in the game so far) and the only real disadvantage being the possible loss of the Necronomicon (if an investigator with the eldritch tome in their deck gets sucked into the void, the book is considered stolen).
All-in-all, Essex County Express was an interesting idea, and a real positive to see that the designers are still exploring new possibilities, but the execution felt a little off.
Anything new for me? Yes!
Although it may well be the most significant, Charisma is not the only player card included in Essex County Express, and there are new options here for all the classes as well as another neutral card.
Relic Hunter does the same as Charisma, but gives you an additional Accessory slot, rather than an ally – in time this might prove significant, but right now I’m struggling to see a real use for it.
Bandolier is a new card for Guardians, giving them an extra hand-slot for weapons. Given how good Machete is most of the time, this could potentially be a way to do the majority of your fighting with a Machete, whilst still allowing you to get a two-handed weapon like a Shotgun ready for boss-fights.
A lot of the cards in Essex County Express are upgraded versions of Core Set cards, which is good news for Rogues who can now trade in their near-useless Switchblades for a more powerful version that actually improves their fight skill. If this doesn’t work, they can fall back on a new zero-cost event which allows them to trigger a resign ability anywhere in play, and “get the hell out of here.”
Mystics get an upgraded version of Shrivelling, their bread-and-butter attack spell – it still uses willpower and deals extra damage, but now comes with a Willpower boost to make it easier to get the attack through. In Hypnotic Gaze they now have access to some attack cancellation, although at 3-cost this is quite pricey unless they manage to trigger the bonus effect to deal the enemy’s damage to itself.
Essex County Express gives a fairly uninspiring ally to Seekers, although the upgraded version of Deduction, the skill-card that allows them to hoover up multiple clues with a single investigation, looks a lot more worthwhile, as it gives the chance of 3 clues from a single investigation. Lastly, after a few expansions of really strong cards for Survivors, they have to make do with some fairly uninspiring offerings in the form of some very limited help with investigation, and a way to manipulate enemy movement.
The Essex County Express: Final Thoughts
After a strong start to the Dunwich Legacy Cycle, Essex County Express feels like a bit of a drop-off: the scenario is interesting, but overall a little pedestrian, and not quite as high-stakes as it might seem.
The Living Card Game model means that this is still a must-buy for long-term fans of the game, and I don’t want to overstate my disappointment: Essex County Express is still a good scenario to play, and it forces you to make some difficult decisions, in particular whether or not to steal another passenger’s luggage! From the player-card perspective, Essex County Express is a really solid pack, with some really useful cards, and one absolute must-have – for the rest of the life of the game, I can’t really imagine building a deck for an investigator that doesn’t have Charisma in it somewhere.
7/10 – not the most exciting pack, but still solid, and well-worth getting.
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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.