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Behind the Curtain – Investigators (part II)

Hello again Arkham LCG fans! Last time I wrote about Arkham, I talked about the value in "identity" cards, and what goes into the design for the game's various investigators. I offhandedly wrote that entry as "part I" and promised to write a sequel walking through the steps we took in creating a single investigator. That was, um... (checks notes) yes, a while ago. Well, wait no further! Today I'll be going through a couple of the investigators in the upcoming Edge of the Earth expansion and show how we incorporated the various design principles I talked about.

First, let's talk about everyone's favorite salesman: Bob Jenkins.

Buy! Sell!

In my last journal I wrote about the pillars of a "good" Arkham investigator:

  • An investigator should be able to fill at least one role.

  • An investigator should fill a space other investigators don't.

  • An investigator's ability should "inform" their deckbuilding.

  • An investigator's card should line up with their backstory.

  • An investigator should be cool.

Of course, not every investigator lines up with this perfectly—the code is more what you'd call guidelines than actual rules—but these are still aspirational objectives we'd like to achieve with every investigator, when possible.

I also wrote about how many investigators emerge from what is called a "power fantasy," that is to say, the kind of fantasy you'd like to fulfill when playing that character. Obviously, playing a salesman is not quite as fantastical as playing a Wizard or a Shieldmaiden of Rohan, but there is still a power fantasy to be had. In this case, it is—

It's the merchant from Resident Evil 4.
I apologize for nothing.

Yes, that's the merchant from Resident Evil 4, and why no, I have no shame, why do you ask? Okay, listen. This dude conspicuously carries everything you could possibly need on him at all times, shows up mysteriously from out of nowhere whenever you need him, and charges for everything despite the fact that you are literally trying to save the world. If that's not the quintessential salesman, I don't know who is.

So, when designing Bob, we wanted him, and therefore you, to truly feel like a merchant: carrying around a storehouse of items to give (or sell) to other players, buying things from (or for) other players, that kind of thing. And of course, using all of those items, too! So, let's go through the list.

  • An investigator should be able to fill at least one role. In this case, Bob could fill one of two different roles. In most groups, he'll fill a support role, using his bonus action and resources to help purchase whatever items the rest of the group needs. Don't underestimate the impact of having somebody else spend an action and a couple resources making your turn go even smoother! It's very common to hear Bob players say "anybody have an item they need to play?" at the start of almost every round. In solo play, or in some groups, Bob could instead fill a flex role, using his wealth of items to fill whatever role is needed at any moment.

  • An investigator should fill a space other investigators don't. Bob is the undisputed master of playing item assets. Bob's full kit includes a bonus action for playing items, the ability to play other investigators' items, the ability to pool resources toward a purchase, cost reduction on items, and the ability to play items under the control of other investigators. This fits a very teamwork-oriented support niche that no other character can currently come close to emulating.

  • An investigator's ability should "inform" their deckbuilding. This one is easy; Bob likes items. Therefore, stocking his deck with a variety of items will allow you to get the most of his ability. You'll also want ample resource generation in order to help you pay for everyone's stuff. His ability directly informs what you want to include in your deck.

  • An investigator's card should line up with their backstory. Bob is not just a salesman, he's a collector. It makes sense that he'd not only be able to purchase things easier (as in an urban/shop environment), but would also be resourceful enough to find things out and about, or just have whatever he needs on him at all times.

  • An investigator should be cool. It's pretty cool to have everyone in the party looking to you to help them get their tableau set up, and very rewarding!

Of course, just looking at Bob himself isn't the entire picture! Whenever we create a new investigator, we want to also provide some new tools for that investigator to use that help that power fantasy come to life. For Bob, that includes (1) a suite of new items to use, buy, or sell, and (2) new cards to help sell that "merchant" flavor. Here are a couple of my favorites:

Schoffner's Catalogue helps you pay for lots of items, and Untimely Transaction allows you to actually sell an item to another investigator, which is much fun to do in the middle of a horrible situation. Fun fact: that flavor text was actually uttered by a playtester during gameplay.

The tricky part when designing new cards is that we don't want them to be 100% only for the new investigators; we want each card to fill its own role in the cardpool and be useful for older investigators, as well. Take Schoffner's Catalogue, for example: it's a survivor card that uses secrets, which means Minh could use it to help fuel some fun Ariadne's Twine shenanigans. It's also a cheap tome card that doesn't take up any slots, meaning Parallel Daisy will love to take it for a whirl, especially since it will help her pay for her other tomes. It's also a decent option for any item-heavy investigator with survivor access, like Yorick!

Right. Let's take a look at another new investigator, shall we?

Have Whip, Will Travel

Monterey Jack is a longstanding veteran of the Arkham Files crew, so we knew he had to be special when he arrived. We held off on him for a long time because we knew that we wanted him to be a Rogue/Seeker of some kind, and the Rogue-who-becomes-a-Seeker spot in Edge of the Earth was just too perfect for him to pass up.

Now, for Monterey, there might be a specific character we drew inspiration from. But he's pretty obscure. You've probably never heard of him.

Indiana Jones meme. Classic relic swapping scene. Swaps "Rogue" with "Seeker."

For Monterey, we wanted him to fill a similar power fantasy as Ursula. We wanted him to be bouncing around the map, moving from location to location every turn, and be rewarded for doing so. Now, it's worth noting that, like Ursula, there's nothing in Monterey's kit that actually helps him move; just things that reward him for moving. The reason for this is the third bullet point, above; an ability that simply helps you move around doesn't necessarily inform your deckbuilding; you would just build a Normal Good Deck (TM) and use that ability to help you move. Monterey's design, by contrast, necessitates that you actually include movement cards in your deck in order to make the most of his ability.

We also wanted to ensure that Monterey wasn't just moving back and forth between two locations in the same round in order to trigger his ability; after all, if you end up in the same spot you started, you're not really trailblazing, are you? So we worded it in such a way that you have to actually forge ahead every turn. This gives him a palpable disadvantage—a way for the encounter deck to "counter" his ability in its own way. (Note that with Ursula, the fact that she only benefitted from her ability if there were clues to find naturally required her to forge ahead, so such a measure was not necessary.)

Finally, Monterey needed a whip, to whip things with. This was, apparently, of the utmost importance. All right, now let's go through that list again:

  • An investigator should be able to fill at least one role. Monterey fills a few roles: exploration, clue-gathering, and enemy management. While not as good at the latter as other Rogues, his ability gives him an ample economic engine that rewards him for exploration, which helps him be pretty well-rounded and capable at many tasks.

  • An investigator should fill a space other investigators don't. Monterey's kit is rewarding enough that he could spend almost the entire turn moving and it would not be a wasted turn. Even more so than Ursula, Monterey is the master of revealing locations and exploring the map. When built with his ability in mind, Monterey players can be wherever they need to be at any moment, just in the nick of time, and get free cards and resources every time they show up from out of nowhere.

  • An investigator's ability should "inform" their deckbuilding. Again, this one is easy. Monterey players want to move, far and fast. Events that move you across the map are good. Assets that let you move repeatedly are even better. The farther, the better. And hey, since you're getting free money every turn, why not include some cards that benefit from wealth?

  • An investigator's card should line up with their backstory. Monterey is always seeing new archaeological finds, and is always on the move. His ability ensures that he is always ahead of the pack, looking for the next big discovery.

  • An investigator should be cool. Bouncing from one end of the map to another to bail out another investigator who is in trouble, then getting free cards and resources for doing so, is very cool. Running through the map to reveal all of its locations in order to give the party a better understanding of its layout is exciting and useful. But to be honest, Monterey's appeal is more in efficiency and economy than in wow factor. Still, if that kind of thing excites you? Very cool.

And of course, once again, we included some new cards, just for Monterey:

We heard you all really enjoyed Skids O'Drool's ability, so we put it on an event!

Scout Ahead is like a rogue version of Shortcut, with a few subtle but key differences: (1) it actually costs a resource, (2) it's not fast, and (3) can only be used on yourself. It may seem very similar—it compresses actions and helps you move around—but the truth is that it it used quite differently in practice! Shortcut is great for emergencies, since it is fast, free, and works on anybody. It helps you get where you need to be if you miscalculate your actions or fail a crucial test and need that action back. Scout Ahead, by contrast, fills a different role. It helps you quickly get from one end of a large map to the other, and it also lets you skip enemies that might be in your way. This is handy for if something shows up at "the farthest location" and you need to deal with it fast, and it's also perfect for the ol' Super Metroid escape sequence (one of my favorites, as you know).

Like the new cards showcased for Bob, this card is particularly great for Monterey, since it lets him trigger his ability in just one action. However, it's also great for a host of other investigators! Tony and Zoey can use it to hunt down faraway enemies, Jenny can use it to quickly get to where she thinks her sister might be, and any off-class rogue can splash it in as a way of getting some quick movement in their deck!


That's all!

I hope you've enjoyed this quick dive into a couple of the investigators in Edge of the Earth and how we've applied the theories I mentioned in my last article to their design! I'm really looking forward to players getting to see more of the many, many new cards included along with them. It'll be really fun to see what decks you make!

Much love! ♥

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Kevin Thomer
Kevin Thomer
Aug 11, 2021

Love this insight into Investigators! The new ones can't get here soon enough!


Awesome! It's really interesting to read your insights on the design of new investigators. I would LOVE to see the same kind of analysis for Lily and Daniela. Also, I want to ask, of course one of the first cards that come to mind with Monterey would be Pathfinder, and the question would be: When you design an ability like Monterey's, that clearly will benefit a lot from spending XP in Pathfinder, do you do it with original Pathfinder in mind? Or Do you do it only taking the tabooed version into account? From a balance standpoint I'd say it would be kind of relevant.

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