The Pandorica Finally Opens! – The Miskatonic Horror Review

Well we are finally here gamers! For the entirety of Arkham Horror Month I’ve been foreshadowing the effects that Miskatonic has had on the expansions like another Doctor Who series and now I can at last tell you about them in more detail.


"Pretty cool artwork this time round - only just noticed the flying dragon thing at the back!"

Designer: Richard Launius (2011)
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
# of Players: 1-8
Ages: 12+
Play Time: 240 minutes
BGG Rank/Rating: #85/6.85
Dice Tower People’s Choice Rank: 11
Category: Expansion to Arkham Horror Base Game

Woot, Woot, Backing Up With the Cards!

The concept of this expansion is so unique, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it done to such a degree in any other board game, but tell me if you know of one. Aside from some “minor” additions, the sole purpose of Miskatonic is to act as an expansion to the expansions! There are nearly 450 cards in this set, that’s more than any other expansion in this series and when you open the box, it is like a gallery of quality artwork that you know is going to take a while to sort out! Arkham is one of the few games I don’t currently sleeve due to the sheer amount of them, but if you do, then be prepared for a LONG night!

For once however they don’t update the basic decks with the exception of a few skill cards, let’s face it, we have enough of those as it is. Instead they focus more on the Ancient One cards (Mythos/gates, etc.), Locations and the special cards that featured in each expansion. There’s too many to note in order so I’ll briefly go over how they affect each expansion later.

To aid players with juggling the various expansions, some reference sheets have been provided which dictate the various gate and monster limits depending on the number of players and game boards used. They’re very handy and make life easier.

"One for 2 players all the way to 8 players - saves flicking the rulebook!"

How You Wished That Your School Was Like

Firstly I’ll cover what’s new in the expansion as there isn’t a great deal of that. Following the same rules as the Guardians from the Kingsport expansion you have a choice out of three organisations, all of which are human, that can assist investigators during a game including the nefarious Miskatonic University, formerly just simply another district on the board. The key difference is that they generally ask for resources in return such as trophies or money.

"Only flaw with these - too much text to read, it's a novel per card!"

I enjoy using them a lot more than the old Guardians because thematically they just make more sense. When I played Kingsport, the Guardians seemed out of place (yeah I know that’s hard to claim in a game about evil gods and monsters, but stick with me), but as stated before, lore wise, it’s difficult to see how they’re involved if you don’t know the backstories. With the Institutions however, even if you haven’t read the lore, you can understand who they are regardless. You’ve got a Bureau of Investigations (think Torchwood mixed with FBI), a Crime Syndicate and the Miskatonic University teachers themselves. You can relate to them and it makes sense why they would be involved, plus it keeps the game very much in a style of “Humans vs. Monsters” which is more in line with the sense of theme and difficulty.

Not to mention the abilities they confer are unique as well. One allows for fast transport as well as access to Tomes, another allows you to hire a “sawbones” to patch you up and buy items off the black market and the third lends a helping hand in despatching monsters. All very unique, but also quite useful in game and I use these on a regular basis now as they are designed to be used primarily with other expansion game boards.

"Tokens for use with the Institutions - love the quality of the giant Expedition marker, but I feel that they should use Doc Brown as the professor!"

Arkham Horror 2.0

The new addition is all well and good, but that’s not what Miskatonic is really about. You’ve got a ton of cards to be added to all of the other expansions and even the base game alone, but what’s included and does it actually make a difference? I’ll go through each expansion in turn giving a brief overview.

The Dunwich Horror

This got the biggest “significant” boost out of the lot, which is no surprise considering it was the first expansion to ever be released for the game when it was still only just getting started. New Madness and Injury cards supplement the old decks allowing for a large variety in afflictions for investigators. 60 new location cards expand the encounters that players can have in Dunwich, keeping it on par with the base game districts and a few extra Dunwich Horror cards help to keep the combat phase more interesting.

The best inclusion by far however is the Dunwich Horror Herald sheet; yes finally they’ve made a Herald for the Dunwich Horror, the only expansion not to have taken advantage of this mechanic. For starters it adds one token to the Dunwich track at the very start, meaning you only have 2 strikes before it rises and on top of that, if the terror track raises too high, additional tokens are placed! This combined with the threat of the vortexes finally makes the Dunwich Horror a legitimate threat in the game as before-hand it rarely appeared or had an impact. If you want to get the most out of Dunwich, you must use this Herald.

"Much better! It was long overdue for a unique Herald!"

The Innsmouth Horror

Innsmouth in my opinion didn’t need much improving to begin with. However as with Dunwich we have 60 new location cards to further expand the encounters, which are always a welcome choice and avoids the risk of encountering the same ones too often.

However a welcome improvement has been made to the Innsmouth Look deck. Previously this was 10 cards in which 9 were exactly the same and 1 devoured the investigator. Now we have 5 new cards each with different effects that can confer benefits but at the cost of drawing further Innsmouth Look cards. So even though you now have 15 cards which diminishes the chances of been devoured, you could still mess up your odds if you abuse the new effects too much. In a sense it’s a bit like the Reckoning cards from Lurker – a push your luck aspect to the Innsmouth Look. I approve of these additions and with it, Innsmouth is a near perfect expansion.

"Different flavour text and effects is very welcome!"

The Kingsport Horror

Alongside Dunwich this expansion got a very large boost, however not all of it was really necessary. For starters we have additional cards for some of the Guardian decks. I was not a huge fan of the Guardian mechanics in the first place and to be honest I don’t think they get used enough in general to have the requirement of needing more cards, but I can take it or leave it.

We do get 80 new location cards though which was essential to improving the life of Kingsport. Because the rifts require so much effort to keep in check, you are drawing encounters all the time and quickly going through the deck. Another 80 thrown into the mix and this problem is resolved.

Finally there are 8 new cards for the Epic Battle deck. They add Events and on-going Conditions to spice up the final battle with the Ancient One. It adds variety, but they certainly aren’t a necessity considering how hard it is to survive the Ancient One battle anyway.

"Meh, nothing special and lots of text, but they don't necessarily make the battle easier!"

The Lurker in the Threshold

Lurker didn’t need much of an improvement but Miskatonic has a new selection of Reckoning cards to improve the variety of effects in the deck and 6 new Relationship cards. I don’t get why some of these upgrades consist of merely 5-6 cards, it seems hardly worth the effect unless in the case of the Innsmouth Look, the deck only has 10 cards in it to begin with. It’s a welcome boost, but it’s more of the same and nowhere near a purchasing consideration.

"All the Reckoning cards look awesome, but now the effects are more interesting"

The King in Yellow

This expansion was a case in point for the saying “a little goes a long way”. The Miskatonic expansion keeps to the same principle. A few extra Blight cards are brought in, but these are pretty minor, the big improvement is the revised Act cards, which are designed to replace the old ones. I personally kept all of them as chucking components other than foreign language rulebooks is hard for me to do funny enough! (Please feel free to buy me a copy of Risk: Legacy to detox me from this condition though!)

"Utilising the various types of Environment Mythos cards to avoid dilution!"

The new Act cards include an Overture card which serves no purpose other than dictating when you begin flipping the Act cards, but you’ll notice that each flip is based on drawing different types of Environment cards from the Mythos deck rather than The Next Act Begins cards. Obviously there’s more chance for this to happen so the penalties to prevent this are halved. I highly welcome this change and as I said, a mere 4 cards goes a long way to improve the dilution problem from using King in Yellow with other expansions. I can now include this with other expansions as a “Permanent Performance” and still make good use of it.

The Black Goat of the Woods

The sole inclusion for Black Goat is 24 new Cult Encounter cards . . . . . whoooo. Yeah I don’t sound blown away by this addition and if you’ve read my review, you’ll know why. Yes it adds variation to the encounters, but as stated before, it’s rarely worth ever signing up to the Cult and there aren’t many opportunities to do so. So why would I want to add to the deck? Adding more opportunities to join the Cult in the first place would have been more useful. This can be glossed over unless you really love this expansion.

The Curse of the Dark Pharaoh

No major change here. You get a few extra exhibit items and encounters and that’s pretty much it. Not a purchasing factor and not even a big improvement. I would have preferred a more interesting Herald to bolster the previous one personally.

The Base Game

Huh? What? I hear you cry! Oh yes, Miskatonic didn’t just bolster the expansions, it also went the route of upgrading the base game as well with new Mythos and Gate cards. Some of them have two symbols on them requiring an additional expansion to play, however looking through most of them it’s hard to see why. Occasionally there is a thematic tie, but it’s so rare that the card comes up that you can get away with shuffling them into the base game cards and just leaving it at that. Try to do otherwise and you’ve just pulled your hair out in the setup phase.

The Mythos cards however have some nice effects and on some cases, don’t even open gates, but cause automatic monster surges and mass movement. The best part however is the “dual purpose” of the cards. To counteract the dilution problem with big expansions, the cards have two gate locations printed on them, the top one being the expansion location, which is checked first and then a basic Arkham location if that expansion isn’t in play. On top of that, the Gate Burst mechanic is used here as well increasing the tension even in the base game alone as previously you could sit tight in relative safety if you had sealed a gate.

"Dual Gates and Burst Gates improve these greatly and even the effects are more interesting"

Take a note though, even though these can simply be shuffled into the base game, don’t buy this expansion if you only own the base game! The majority of them are still designed to work with expansions.

Verdict

Miskatonic is a great expansion and one that I really like, however why is it only worthy of the bronze prize out of all of them? Innsmouth took the gold because I believe that is a must-have for anyone who is starting out in Arkham Horror. Miskatonic however isn’t designed for those just starting out and to be honest is not worth the investment unless you own at least 2 if not all of the other big box expansions. You can get away without owning some of the small box expansions, but even then its net worth diminishes with every expansion you don’t own so you will want to probably own at least two out of the four. If I was feeling like James May I’d draw you a neat little graph showing the correlation here, but I think Cthulhu will finally claim my sanity if I were to try!

When I got into Arkham Horror, all of the expansions had been released already and being a victim of the “Completionist” syndrome as per my podcast, I acquired every single expansion all at once. Boy was that a lengthy unpacking and sorting process! However I was able to play the expansions without Miskatonic’s assistance and then test out the new revisions and in conclusion I feel that if you are an Arkham fan and own most of the expansions already, this is a must-have as it fixes many of the flaws that I pointed out in the old expansions. Those it does not fix, it at least improves on making each expansion justify its price tag further, however that still depends on your initial impression of the game before. For example despite the new cards included for Black Goat of the Woods, it still doesn’t make me like the expansion!

The Institutions are a small bonus only, I like them, but you shouldn’t use them as a means of justifying the purchase.

And there we have it! All of the base game and expansions reviewed for Arkham Horror and all within the time-frame of October in time for Halloween. I have to say though it’s been a very time-consuming and difficult period to get through alongside my social activities and demanding day job so I suspect next time I feel like doing a themed review month, I’ll stick to a game that doesn’t have so many expansions! Going on holiday up North with friends for the last week didn’t help either!

However it’s still been enjoyable and I hope all of my listeners and readers have gained some valuable insight into the Arkham Horror board game as a result. My next venture into Arkham will be to playtest some fan variants from BGG and I’ve already come across some good examples so I urge all players to give them a look over.

I’ll leave you with my Top 8 List as promised and see you all in November when normal business will resume with a diverse mix of games to review and regular podcasts. So take care of yourselves and keep playing games, I’m going to get back to enjoying my holiday and I believe a friend has brought Forbidden Desert with him!

My Top 8 Arkham Horror Expansions (as promised!)

1.      The Innsmouth Horror
2.      The Lurker In The Threshold
3.      The Miskatonic Horror (IF you have at least 2 big box expansions already)
4.      The Dunwich Horror
5.      The King In Yellow
6.      The Kingsport Horror
7.      The Curse of the Dark Pharaoh (revised edition)
8.      The Black Goat of the Woods




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