Review – Arkham Horror: the Card Game – Carnevale of Horrors

Arkham Horror: The Card Game – Carnevale of Horrors. Fantasy Flight Games, 2016. Nate French & Matt Newman, designers. Borja Pindado Arribas et al., artists.

Recently, Em and I have been running through the stand-alone scenarios for Arkham Horror: The Card Game, which means we are revisiting some adventures that we wouldn’t otherwise see in our campaigns.

If you are unfamiliar with the stand-alone scenarios, they are one-shot stories that can be included, at an experience cost, in a campaign. The main reason we rarely play these scenarios is that they always seem to disrupt the story your building in the campaign, and it seems like a lot of work to build a character just to play a one-off game. Em and I built decks to play The Blob that Ate Everything with some friends, and kept them for our stand-alone run. Which brings us to The Carnevale of Horrors.

What’s going on here?

A strange, masked man is arrested in Arkham, and some of the nonsense he spouts at you during interrogation seems to reference the Carnevale in Venice, Italy. You hope a plane, or maybe a steam ship, and head to Italy for vacation to investigate, only to find that cultists are attempting to summon Cnidathqua, the beast that sleeps under Venice.

There are tentacles. Lots of tentacles.

What’s so good about this?

What is great about these stand-alone scenarios, and this is also true of each campaign, is that you get the sense that the designers are trying to test the limits of what they can do with the rules. Each stand-alone adds a new mechanic to the game, and Carnevale introduces one-way movement. In most scenarios, players can (usually) travel back and forth between connected locations.

The canals of Venice before the killing started.

In Carnevale, the locations are set up in a circle, and you can only move clockwise unless a card effect tells you otherwise. This means that if an enemy or an objective is revealed behind you, you have to move all the way around the circle to get to it. Thematically, this is because the Carnevale is moving through the streets, and you can’t push against the throng of people. This leads to some suspenseful moments as you are trying to uncover masked revelers to save the innocents and stop the cultists from murdering them.

Another thing this scenario does right is that it packs a lot into a single adventure. There is an end-game twist that completely changes the map and leads to a boss fight. It’s like a one-session campaign, and it manages to create these twists and turns without a ton of set-up. The transition between scenes is seamless, and as the one who always sets these games up in our household, I appreciate that.

What’s not so good?

As with most Arkham Horror scenarios, I have very few, superficial complaints. I mean, there’s a reason this is our favorite game (probably).

First of all, from a narrative point-of-view, it doesn’t make much sense for the investigators to drop everything and travel all the way to Italy. As a stand-alone, it would be weird for, say, Ashcan Pete or Tommy Muldoon to have the means to make this trip, and in most campaigns, the sense of urgency is completely disrupted by this jaunt (the exception being The Path to Carcosa, as at first, the masked madman resembles the Stranger from this campaign and, hey, you’re already in Europe).

Cassilda: “Indeed it’s time. We have all laid aside disguise but you.”
Stranger: “I wear no mask.”
Camilla: (Terrified, aside to Cassilda.) “No mask? No mask!”

-Robert W. Chambers – “The Mask”

Also, that movement thing that I liked about this scenario is also a source of frustration. Having to move maybe seven spaces, through enemies, to get to where you need to go sucks. That said, that’s the puzzle you’re trying to work out, and there are locations to mitigate this by allowing you to move across the ring of locations. So this is more of a whine than a legit complaint. It’s still frustrating, though.

Finally, and this is the worst thing about this scenario, the cards are a different stock than the base game cards. This is fine if you’re playing Carnevale of Horrors as a stand-alone, but there are cards that can enter your deck for the campaign-mode. If you play with sleeved cards this is fine, but if you don’t, the difference is pretty obvious. I believe this is something Fantasy Flight has corrected in later stand-alone scenarios (or they just don’t have cards that carry over), but in the first few, it’s an issue.

So what do I think?

Overall, The Carnevale of Horrors is a bold, though not-entirely-successful experiment in how the rules of Arkham Horror: The Card Game can be used to create stories that feel completely different from each other. It’s this drive to make each campaign unique that puts Arkham Horror at the top of my favorite games list (Tied with Battlestar Galactica). I’ll give Carnevale 7/10 victory points, though if I were not comparing it to the rest of Arkham Horror: The Card Game, it would probably score even higher.

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