Sailors Are The Least Of Your Worries! – The Kingsport Horror Review

3 more expansions to go! Wow, remind me not to do another cliché month again! On this review we’re heading to the fictional town of Kingsport made famous in “The Terrible Old Man” by H.P. Lovecraft. A seaport with dense fog, a lighthouse, a strange house on the cliff edge, it all sounds like a quality setting for Arkham Horror. But it’s up against Dunwich and Innsmouth though, which are quality expansions so does Kingsport rank up there with them or should you float the box out to sea?


"Not the best artwork out of the expansions for the box cover"

Designer: Richard Launius (2008)
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
# of Players: 1-8
Ages: 12+
Play Time: 240 minutes
BGG Rank/Rating: #85/7.52
Dice Tower People’s Choice Rank: 11
Category: Expansion to Arkham Horror Base Game

The Usual!!

As per every other big box expansion, you get a lot of cards to supplement the old decks. Items, spells, skills, allies, locations, mythos, gates, investigators, Ancient Ones you name it, it’s got it! It’s pretty comprehensive in that regard and as such gets a tick for adding variety to the base game mechanics. But you’re more interested in what’s changed I suspect!

I Wouldn’t Be Surprised If Torchwood Was Involved

This expansion gets a mixed feeling among gamers. And usually the key aspect of the “hate” party is down to the new Rift mechanic, the focus of the new board. As Mythos cards are drawn, rift mini-tokens are placed on the corresponding rift picture as dictated on the game board. To remove these you have to explore the location that the token depicts. Failure to do so before the track for that particular rift (there’s 3 in operation) is filled up results in a giant rift marker spawning on the game board which moves around and spawns a new monster every time it shifts. In addition, depending on the Mythos card drawn, further doom tokens are added to the Ancient One to hasten its arrival.

"Not the most striking board, but not bad either - but note the "all green" location motive for later"

Yeah, basically you need to stop these things arriving! Even one of these rifts has the potential of making life difficult with doom tokens, but two or three and the board is getting littered with monster tokens as they just spill out all over the place. The idea of the rifts is pretty cool I feel, it appeals to the gamers who like the idea of battling as many monsters as possible and it’s a legitimate threat out of the box without any assistance from Miskatonic – something which I feel wasn’t necessarily the case with Dunwich.

Gamers complain that the mechanic is quite clunky and fiddly to keep in check. Aside from having to mess around with lots of tokens and pay attention to the Mythos cards drawn, I didn’t find it too fiddly and I did have one rift floating around before Atlach-Nacha rose up. My issue with it is the effort you have to go through to stop it opening or even close it. Each rift requires 4 tokens to open and each token has a separate location in Kingsport that you have to have an encounter at in order to remove the token. If the rift is open then you have to remove all four before it closes.

Now you can see here that that’s a big devotion you have to make in-game. It’s recommended to have one player in Kingsport literally doing nothing but removing rift tokens and if one is open, you’re going to need multiple investigators lending a hand as 3-4 turns of attempting to close it solo means risking a lot of havoc from the Mythos cards. But it doesn’t seem very thematic in the way you close the rift – just simply visiting a location and doing an encounter that’s completely unrelated to the rift itself.

Also Kingsport is unique in that there are no unstable locations for Gates to appear (all the locations are green instead of red) so without outside intervention, the poor soul on that board is just spending their turn moving to a location and drawing a card – no combat, no sealing gates etc. Even the great new “Changed” special benefit you can get requires you to spend three turns moving to the relevant location before you can trade in trophies for it (it’s on the causeway so you have to stop your movement on each new space before you reach it). The encounters themselves are thematic, but Kingsport is essentially a board that you wish you could just hop to and from as and when needed, but instead are forced to remain there to keep the world safe.

Battling the Ancient One – If Michael Bay Was Directing

The final battle with the Ancient One I admit was a poor aspect in the base game. You had a specific set of abilities to follow and generally if the Ancient One rose as a result of doom tokens, you were pretty much screwed as they are almost impossible to kill with their common array of “insta-gib” devour powers. It wasn’t particularly immersive or thematic compared to everything else and essentially you might as well just go for the Azathoth approach of “nuke the world, everyone dies”!

Kingsport has addressed this issue with the introduction of Epic Battle cards and supporting Ancient One Plot cards. The Innsmouth expansion included these as well for its own Ancient Ones but I didn’t think that was the time to cover these in detail. Their purpose is to make the final battle more entertaining and challenging, though I don’t think they need to be any more challenging!

"On the non-Miskatonic cards - this is typical of the norm just with slightly altered effects"

Eight green and eight red Epic Battle cards are shuffled into a deck with green stacked on top of red (difficulty spikes effectively). For each Ancient One there are three specific Plot cards that are similar to Epic Battle cards, but have specific flavour text and attacks to that particular Ancient One. The Epic Battle cards are pretty standard across the board bar some differentiating flavour text, but the Plot cards are just COOL, pure and simple. Not only is the artwork great, but it’s so good to have attacks and flavour text relevant to the god you’re fighting.

"Notice the unique flavour text that relates to the Ancient One in question"

On my recent play of Kingsport I fought Atlach-Nacha, the spider god who is my arch nemesis because I hate spiders. Even his Ancient One sheet makes me shiver – I mean seriously look at that face coupled with the rest of him, it’s just……freaky! But anyways during the battle unfortunately I only got one Plot card drawn but it was instantly better than the Epic cards. It described the creature, it described the attack and it described the effects, but you know it’s unique to Atlach and that got a serious thumbs up from me for immersion especially as I was playing some Naruto Shippuden battle music in the background while I was conducting the fight (yeah alright, I have a geeky imagination so sue me!) Shame you can’t draw them more often, but then this is merely a variant and not a focus of the expansion.

"Seriously this is the thing of my nightmares!"

Its main problem however is that it doesn’t come into play often. Most players will beat the game by getting 6 seal tokens on the board – they’d rather not face the Ancient One at all and only usually do so because things have gone to pot in the game already. The focus of this expansion is the new board and the rifts, that much is clear.

Miskatonic lends a helping hand (what a surprise) and I’ll be covering that expansion next week, but all in all I like this variant. Sure the Epic cards could be better, but it’s worth it just to try all the Plot cards as the attacks are very diverse. One word of warning though, even though Innsmouth includes Plot cards for its own Ancient Ones, there are no Epic Battle cards in the box so you need Kingsport to use the variant.

They’re The Bad Gods, We’re The Good Gods

There aren’t as many Ancient Ones in this set, but they’re pretty cool (and in Atlach’s case, just plain scary) and pose unique challenges from increased gate bursts to restricted clue token hoarding to infected brood spawns from Eihort – seriously read up on this guy and his “bargain”, that’s a bad situation for any captive to be in!

"Very unique and interesting Ancient Ones this time round - Eihort is just plain evil!"

For Heralds, it’s hit and miss. I quite like Groth with his added doom tokens and the random “omens” chart for when certain Mythos cards are drawn. It’s a good challenge that you can’t always “prepare” for. The Green Flame on the other hand I found to be quite lacklustre. His effect is good and quite nasty, but it relies entirely on cultists who, once you’ve got a giant monster cup full of tokens, aren’t as common as you think. You can go an entire game easily without finding one cultist and this is a problem I have with Ancient Ones favouring certain creatures over others. You’ll likely have come up with some variant or house rule for designing your monster cup and I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts so share them in the comments, I’m willing to learn here.

"A Moon and a Flame as a Herald - yeah there's some weird ideas in this universe!"

A new introduction to the game (strangely only via Kingsport) is the Guardians, that act as the “good guy” versions of the Heralds. Instead of hindering the investigators, they confer benefits or make life easier. I wasn’t a fan of these, their abilities are fairly minor and I find it actually detracts from the theme if you don’t know much about them. I’m not an Arkham Horror Wiki source by any means and so I don’t know much about the lore of the three included in the box and during play, they just felt “tacked” on as an afterthought.

At least the Heralds have the advantage of being linked to the expansion setting in a more clear and defined way, for example it doesn’t take a clue token to see how Mother & Father Dagon link to Innsmouth. But a cat goddess in Kingsport; how does that work? Some extra flavour text or explanation would have benefited their introduction, but on top of that, their abilities don’t affect the game very much and just make it clunkier, so I can take it or leave it.

"Examples of the special cards relating to the Guardians - with the exception of "Changed" - big whoop!"

Verdict

Kingsport is a mixed bag, one that I could compare to a bag of Pick ‘n’ Mix that a friend picked out for you at random. You enjoy some of the sweets, but occasionally grab a cherry one that makes you wince. Some of Kingsport’s content is good or worth checking out, such as the Rifts and the new Epic Battle/Plot cards. But the Guardians and Heralds I found to be mostly lacking.

The setting isn’t as immersive as Innsmouth or Dunwich either. I found that I had to concentrate so much on keeping the Rifts under control; I didn’t have a chance to indulge myself in what Kingsport was all about. That devotion to the rifts will also likely keep a player constantly shipping from location to location simply flipping cards rather than encountering some monsters or Other Worlds which isn’t going to appeal to many people.

It does however add a good amount of content to the old decks and sheets as with the other big box expansions so you’re not being scuppered on components and the new investigators/Ancient Ones are fun ones to play with.

As I stated at the start, Kingsport gets a bit of flak from Arkham gamers. Even though I don’t think this expansion is essential by any means, it’s not a bad one. But it can’t match the quality of Innsmouth and Dunwich so I would still suggest grabbing it after you’ve acquired the other two. It will get occasional plays, the additional old content is always welcome for variety and the Ancient One battles get a big boost theme wise. 

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