The Lurker at the Threshold
By Eric Herman
So the seventh Arkham Horror expansion was released recently; the fourth of the “small box” expansions. Having played with it a few times now, I believe it is the best of the small boxes, but I have to admit that’s not necessarily saying much… Much as I love Arkham Horror and the system as a whole, I’ve never been a huge fan of the small box expansions. Sure, if you’re a completist or AH addict you’re gonna get ’em, anyway, and it’s always nice to have some new items and Mythos cards and location cards to add to the pile, but I’ve usually been a little disappointed with the specific original content added with each small box expansion. And it’s not a matter of being disappointed with the content itself… some of it is very clever and interesting… but more about the lack of involvement most of that new stuff will end up having in your typical games. I mean, when was the last time you had a Cult Encounter, or drew an Exhibit item, or were Barred from a neighborhood, or received a Blight? Sure, one of those things will pop up every once in a while, but unless you specifically feature a particular small box expansion in a game, you’re not likely to come across those things very often. Heck, even when you do feature a small box expansion you may not happen to encounter any of those things. When you throw down $25 for an expansion, you kind of expect to see it come into play with at least some measure of importance. In that sense, Lurker at the Threshold seems to be more worthwhile than the others in that it includes a few things that are guaranteed to show up in your games. The value those things will add to your games may not necessarily be that high, but at least you’ll get to experience them.
Here’s what’s new in the Lurker expansion…
THE NEW GATES
Lurker includes all new gate markers which are meant to replace your old gate markers. Each gate has something unique about it; some have penalties of lost Sanity or monsters appearing if you fail to close the gate, some will devour investigators at the locations where they open or cause a doom token to be added if an investigator is at the location where they open, some are moving gates which are a pain because they can only be sealed on unstable locations (which they will no longer be on once they move), and some are split gates from which you can choose one of two Other Worlds to enter.
Now, I’m not sure there is any real benefit to choosing one Other World over another unless there’s a preponderance of monsters on the board from one of the locations, and it’s pretty rare that you’ll fail to close a gate (hopefully), and it’s a matter of random bad luck for a devouring gate to open on a location where you are, so those things don’t really come into play all that often. In that sense I guess it’s the small box syndrome yet again. But at least the danger is there… Whether the gates will have any active effect in a game is questionable, but at least you will see them and be wary of the effects they might cause, and you will always at least wonder if one of the nasty ones will open up and devour you while you’re leisurely catching up with the Grand Poobah at the Silver Twilight Lodge.
This is my favourite new element for the game, though again, the actual impact is fairly minimal. Relationship cards are dealt out to each player during setup, and take effect for each player and the player to their left. So each player will end up with two “partnerships”, through which the Relationship cards may be used. And there are some nice benefits to these and they add a little more interaction into the game, as the two players often have to decide which of them can make best use of that extra movement point on their turn, or whatever the bonus is. Continuing with the Personal Stories from Innsmouth Horror, the Relationships add a little more of an RPG feel to the game, though I would have liked to see things that are a little more positive/negative in nature… ya know, like actual relationships. (An example of a variant card I created in that vein is below.)
A nice rule that goes along with these cards is that when a player is devoured, both of their partnerships are dissolved, and new Relationship cards are not drawn with their replacement character. That gives more of a real penalty to a player being devoured, other than just the pain in the butt of having to discard everything and redraw all of your new character’s items. A drawback of the Relationship cards is that they add yet another thing that you have to keep track of and remember that you have… In my games, more than one turn has gone by with players realizing long afterwards that they forgot to make use of their Relationship ability when they might have. When that happens, you can sometimes mulligan it if you catch it soon enough, but be warned that unless you have a stellar memory, these may be lost among the myriad of cards on the table.
A variant Relationship card idea that includes a positive/negative aspect:
THE LURKER GUARDIAN, ER, HERALD
The main feature of the Lurker expansion is the herald of the same name, which adds a very interesting mechanic known as the Dark Pacts. There are three different Dark Pacts, and one or more of them (though not more than one of the same type) may be acquired by each investigator either during the Upkeep phase, or any time they are casting a spell. Taking a Dark Pact to cast a spell eliminates any Sanity loss for casting and automatically casts the spell, so that’s quite nice. Two of the Dark Pacts also provide an instant fill-up to Sanity or Stamina when you take them, and the other provides an Ally. In addition to all of that, the Blood Pact and Soul Pact also provide a new commodity called “Power Tokens”. Power Tokens can be spent at any time as if they are Clue Tokens, and they can also be spent in place of losing either Sanity or Stamina, depending on the Pact. With Dark Pacts, Power Tokens can be gained every Upkeep by reducing your Sanity or Stamina by any amount and taking the corresponding number of Power Tokens. As you might imagine, this is a quick way for someone with 7 Sanity or Stamina to grab a few extra Power Tokens to help seal that pesky gate.
So that’s all really good stuff, but there must be some danger, right? After all, this is supposed to be a herald with a dark corruption theme. Well, there is also a Reckoning deck, and each time a new gate opens or an investigator takes a Dark Pact to cast a spell, a Reckoning card is drawn and resolved. These include some really nasty things like, for example, that each investigator with any Power Tokens gains an extra Power Token, or each investigator with at least 1 Spell gains 1 Power Token, or each investigator with a Dark Pact draws a Spell, or… but wait, those are all good things. Okay okay, there is some bad stuff in the Reckoning deck, for real… Investigators with Dark Pacts or Power Tokens may lose Sanity or be devoured or the terror level may rise or a doom token may be added. But a lot of those things are conditional, such as the card that adds a doom token for each investigator that has all three Dark Pacts. Granted, if you’re playing a six player game and everyone has all three Dark Pacts, well, you’re in trouble. But if none of the investigators have all three Dark Pacts, then you’re completely safe. You may also find that Reckoning cards aren’t drawn that often as the game progresses… if a new gate doesn’t open due to a seal or a monster surge, which is more likely later in the game, then a Reckoning card isn’t drawn.
I like the Dark Pacts for the decisions you have to make as far as when to take them and how to use them, and they can really be a huge benefit if you exploit them well. But I have to think of the Lurker more as a guardian with some danger than a herald with some benefit. I think it’s great to have something that is both positive and negative like that, but just so you know going in, it really seems to be more of a help than a hindrance. The statistic reports at this link seem to back me up on that, showing Lurker as being by far the easiest of the heralds to beat, with a 76% win rate. With the average win rate at only 65% when playing without a herald at all, then, well… if it walks like a guardian and quacks like a guardian… But considering that the Dark Pacts are essentially their own thing, and that the only other thing that the Lurker herald adds is a -1 to all attempts to close gates, I think it should be easy enough to use the Dark Pacts along with another herald entirely, which should ramp up the difficulty. At the very least, though, the Lurker seems to require another big-box expansion like Innsmouth to add enough difficulty to make it challenging.
Like the other small-box expansions, Lurker includes an obligatory assortment of new items, Mythos cards, Arkham encounter cards and Other World cards. New items are always nice to have, as well as Arkham encounter cards, and more Mythos cards are always welcome (the new type included in Lurker opens two new gates at once, but does not add any doom tokens), but I’m wondering if a moratorium can be declared on Other World cards at this point. There is now a ridiculously high stack of them and you don’t usually go through more than 20 or so in a game as it is (and that’s including discards that didn’t match the color of the world you were in). I suppose the thinking is that if someone only owns the base game and Lurker is the only small-box expansion they buy, then they should have some extra Other World cards. But rather than 24 new Other World cards, I’d rather have had 12-14 and the other space in the box used for some other type of thing (like more Relationship cards). Let’s face it, some aspects of this game have long since hit the “bloat” stage, and Other World cards are the worst offender for me.
All told, there’s some good stuff in Lurker, and moreso than other small box expansions some of this stuff will probably see more active use from game to game. But to be honest, there’s nothing that really blows me away, either. The Dark Pacts are quite cool, but may be too much of a benefit without the right offsetting difficulty, the Relationship cards are clever but may not be used (or remembered to be used) too often, and the new gates are a nice touch but won’t have too much of an effect in most games. So I’d say that Lurker is a must-buy if you’re an Arkham Horror fanatic, in which case it’s pointless to say that because you’re going to buy it, anyway… but like the other small box expansions it’s not really absolutely necessary to own for the casual player. In this case, though, compared to the other small boxes, it would be a good first choice to buy among the small box expansions, because at least the stuff in the box will seem to be more of a part of the game.
When Eric Herman is not playing or reviewing board games, he is a full-time children’s music artist. Check out Eric’s music and videos here: http://www.EricHermanMusic.com