*A quick programming note. I wrote this over a month ago and let it sit until I felt guilty about not publishing it so here it finally is. If you aren’t interested in Arkham Horror, feel free to skip this as the usual weekly update is coming soon.*
I’ve noticed that there seems to be a fair bit of confusion around what the Return to boxes in Arkham Horror: The Card Game are and are not. In addition, some people have a lukewarm reaction to them whereas the Return to the Night of the Zealot exceeded my expectations. Because of this, I thought I’d write up a review to hopefully help people decide if this is a good purchase for them or not.
A tiny bit of background about me at the time of writing is that I really enjoy Arkham Horror: The Card Game after becoming disillusioned with the LOTR LCG’s punishing, puzzle-like gameplay. I grew up playing CCGs/TCGs like Magic: The Gathering, Pokemon, and several others. I currently own the equivalent of the Revised Core Set, the entire Dunwich Legacy cycle, and Edge of the Earth (though I haven’t had a chance to play it yet). So, I don’t have an extensive collection and by no means have I played through a good portion of what this game has to offer.
So, let’s start with what this expansion contains as this is definitely an area of confusion. There is a box for storing your cards, dividers so you can organize the encounter cards from the campaign included in the Core Set, 46 encounter cards, 20 player cards, and a small double-sided insert that includes achievements.
With that out of the way, we can take a look at each element and discuss their value and whether you might enjoy owning Return to the Night of the Zealot. The most noticeable difference between this expansion and any other Arkham Horror: The Card Game release, is the box. It is an attractive looking card box featuring art from the Core set that helps you keep your cards in one, organized place. The box does have a cardboard insert to help you store your cards as well but I found that if you sleeve your cards, this doesn’t work very well. Instead, I flipped mine upside down which doesn’t look as nice but help keeps the cards from falling over all the time along with the help of an empty deck box to eliminate the gap.
I’m sure that Fantasy Flight can’t design something fits perfectly for everyone’s collection but what they’ve provided is helpful and nice-looking. You can obviously store extra cards like the player cards in this box, if you’d like too. There’s plenty of extra room in Return to the Night of the Zealot in particular since this isn’t a full cycle of releases like the rest of the Return to boxes. So, if you’re looking for some attractive card storage and have some money to spend, I think the Return to is a good option. If you already have boxes that work for you or you’re trying to save money, you may find that this is a somewhat expensive way to obtain storage.
To further aid you in organization, FFG has kindly created double-sided dividers which help you separate each type of encounter card. While the box obviously helps with organization, these are even more useful, in my opinion. They make grabbing the cards you need for a scenario much quicker which is much appreciated. I do wonder how durable these dividers will be since they’re basically of a similar texture to a regular card but other than this, I think the dividers are really handy and are quite possibly one of the best things about the Return to boxes. The less time you spend rifling through cards preparing for a game, the better I would say.
That brings us to the encounter cards which are the first part of this expansion that affects gameplay. There will be spoilers about how these new cards impact the game as well as images of a couple of cards so if you’re sensitive to that sort of thing, I’d recommend stopping here. One of the things that I didn’t expect is that the new encounter cards create an alternate version for each scenario. It isn’t that there are necessarily different Act or Agenda cards but you will use different card pools in your decks for each scenario and you may swap out an Act or Agenda card here and there too. This not only changes the locations you visit but you’ll see different enemies too. Personally, I like how you can choose to play either version of The Night of the Zealot campaign though I think most people will decide which version they like and stick with either the original version or the new version introduced in the Return To box.
The encounter cards do a couple of different things to the game’s original scenarios that you’re probably very familiar with at this point. The first is that they increase the variety. Instead of having the same locations every time you play the scenario, there is often two versions and then you randomly select one when setting up the game. This is nice as it makes scenarios less predictable and repetitive. A similar effect happens with enemies, especially the cultists in Midnight Masks where you won’t get the same six cultists every single game and it feels a bit harder to tailor a deck specifically for that scenario. Obviously, variety is always welcome and I think pretty much everyone will like that aspect of Return to the Night of the Zealot.
The other big changes are that the overall difficulty of the Night of the Zealot campaign is increased and the designers tried to fix some weaknesses of the scenarios. Arkham Horror: The Card Game is not an easy game and I know some people prefer to play it on Easy and will balk at the idea of the difficulty being increased. I play on Standard exclusively and while I like the difficulty at that level, I understand why some would prefer an easier difficulty. What I would say is that the difficulty increase is far from dramatic and is a worthy trade off for the increase in variety and general improvements in the scenarios (which I’ll discuss more in a bit). The Return to the Night of the Zealot campaign is still beatable on Standard and you don’t necessarily have to use the most powerful investigators to be successful either. With that said, whether you view the slightly higher difficulty as a good thing or not, is subjective and if increasing the difficulty of the campaign is a concern then that would be a valid reason not to get this expansion.
Along with an increase in variety, there are also some improvements to the scenarios. For example, the first scenario, The Gathering, has quite a few locations and some tougher enemies added so that it doesn’t just feel like a simple tutorial. There is a bit more exploration and there is a better chance to accrue victory points as well. Considering how short the campaign is, this is a really welcome addition that allows you to build up your decks a bit more for the final scenario. Midnight Masks is still a great and challenging scenario. The added variety just makes this scenario even more replayable. The final scenario of the bunch is still the most challenging and it tries to solve a weakness in its design. In both versions of this scenario, you can either try to stop the ritual from occurring which is not easy or you can simply wait it out and try to prepare your investigators for the final showdown. Obviously, not even trying to stop the ritual is not very Lovecraftian and so the designers wisely added cards like Umordhoth’s Hunter to try and change your strategy.
There are several new cards that will cause you to discard cards and none are as harsh as this one which can cause an investigator to die, but you can see what the designers are going for. They don’t want you to build up a hand full of your best cards so you can mop up Umordhoth. Do these cards work? Well, kind of. They don’t eliminate that strategy but you can get punished for trying it depending on your luck. I mention all this because I think its worth noting that this expansion isn’t trying to make the game more punishing or just increase the difficulty on your investigator(s). It seems more intent on refreshing the scenarios and keeping you on your toes and I think it definitely succeeds in this area. Personally, I don’t mind the increased difficulty as I think these scenarios are much more interesting and varied to play. I don’t see myself going back to play the original versions of these scenarios because the Return to the Night of the Zealot versions are better and more satisfying to play.
That brings us to the player cards which I think are probably the most disappointing part of Return of the Night of the Zealot. You get 20 new level 1-5 cards in the box that you can use in your decks. Unfortunately, the cards you get are not especially good and I don’t think I’ve used any thus far. The problem with the cards is that they’re experienced versions of cards that either weren’t very good before and the designers are trying to encourage people to actually use them or the level 0 cards that the new cards are meant to upgrade are actually better and so there isn’t enough incentive to use the new versions. This means that you’re not terribly likely to want to use these new player cards. This is obviously not what most of us would want but that is why I think this part of the expansion is the most likely to cause disappointment.
The player cards are also a paradox in that, the cards would be most useful for people with a very limited collection. However, if you only have the Core Set, you’ll struggle with this campaign as it is and I wouldn’t recommend increasing the difficulty further with this expansion until you’ve acquired another cycle or two of cards or alternatively, some of the Investigator Starter decks. Buying those cards won’t make the player cards any more useful, but it will give you a better chance of enjoying the encounter cards which you get more of anyway. So for these reasons, I do not recommend buying this expansion if you have a limited card pool or you’re just looking to get player cards to improve your decks.
Lastly, there is something new that I don’t see many people talk about with these products: the achievements. Return to the Night of the Zealot comes with a small insert with 10ish achievements that you can accomplish while playing the modified version of this campaign. If you’ve played video games before, then these will be pretty familiar. As you can see below, they vary from optional challenges, some of which take a bit of luck to accomplish, to difficult tasks that take some skill and practice to accomplish. While you’re free to ignore these, if you like setting challenges for yourself or you’re like me and get satisfaction from completing goals in the game, these are really fun and they will help you maximize the playtime that you get from this expansion. While not everybody will enjoy the achievements or want to put in the time to complete them all, I think they’re a thoughtful and great addition to the game. I know that future Return To boxes also have achievements and I hope it is something that Fantasy Flight keeps going for the rest of this game’s lifespan.
Overall, The Return to the Night of the Zealot offers a lot of different things for a modest price. If you are looking for better storage and organization, then you’ll probably like this. Additionally, if you’d like more variety in your Night of the Zealot campaign and don’t mind a slightly higher difficulty then you’ll also probably like this. While the player cards might be most helpful if you only have the Core or Revised Set, I would not recommend buying this specifically to improve your player card pool. The increase in difficulty is not offset by the fairly mundane player cards provided here. For similar reasons, I don’t think this expansion is a great purchase for someone with only the Core Set. Go get Dunwich Legacy which has some fun scenarios and the player cards included there will really expand your deck’s power and your deckbuilding options. Return to the Night of the Zealot is meant for people who really enjoy Arkham Horror, have at least a modest collection of cards, and want to play the original campaign repeatedly without become bored or running into a lot of repetition. If that sounds like you, then I’d definitely recommend picking up a copy.