by M. Pending Düüm
Note: Strange Remnants is an expansion for Fantasy Flight Games’ Eldritch Horror. The base game is required to play.
“Eldritch Horror is a cooperative game of terror and adventure in which one to eight players take the roles of globetrotting investigators working to solve mysteries, gather clues, and protect the world from an Ancient One – an elder being intent on destroying our world. Each Ancient One comes with its own unique decks of Mystery and Research cards, which draw you deeper into the lore surrounding each loathsome creature.”– Eldritch Horror Product Description
It was with no small degree of dread that I and my friends approached FFG’s newest expansion offering for Eldritch Horror. Having seen many a companion devoured by the Ancient Ones in the original game and after facing the the indescribable terrors of last year’s Forsaken Lore Expansion, I was gripped once more by those familiar stirrings of primal fear upon opening this new and devious addition.
My blood ran cold as I came to the shuddering realization that Strange Remnants did not focus on a specific Ancient One (as in the base game and in previous expansions), but instead set its sights on something far more insidious. This cursed box introduces a new force of antagonism to drive the characters to the mad house or to the grave. SR forgoes specific Mythos beings (like Cthulhu, Azathoth, Yog-Sothoth, etc.) and instead pits the players against a power known as Syzygy, aka The Cosmic Alignment.
After consulting a stack of dusty, crumbling tomes at the Miskatonic University Library (as well as the handy and attractive expansion rules sheet), I came to learn the awful truth that “Syzygy” refers to that damnable moment when the uncaring stars align to open a portal into our universe, thereby allowing entry to numerous unnameable and unknowable horrors which would usher in our complete destruction.
It becomes a race against time as the players must journey to previously unexplored parts of the EH map – Stonehenge, The Great Wall of China, Ancient Mayan Temples, and Easter Island. For it is at these places of arcane power that the players will find the tools to put a stop to the deadly Cosmic Alignment. That is, if they’re not too late…
Syzygy (Ancient One): This blasphemous adversary starts the game with a challenging 13 Doom. In an inspired thematic twist, the Cultists faced by the players become stronger each time the Omen track lands on the red space, revealing an increased power in the faithful as the Cosmic Alignment draws nearer. While it’s not necessary for players to solve early Mysteries in order to flip the Ancient One card and take on the Final Mystery, it definitely helps. Each previous Mystery solved gives the players a leg-up on Sealing the Portal (by encountering unique, specially marked cards) and winning the game. SR’s shift from battling a specific creature to taking on a more conceptual enemy could have been problematic, but FFG was able to turn a seemingly ambiguous idea into a terrifying threat.
Artifacts/Assets/Conditions/Spells: The expansion’s diminutive cards add depth to the game without sacrificing clarity or balance. The Artifacts offer a variety of ways to take on the Ancient Ones – The Khopesh of the Abyss adds +5 to Strength during Combat Encounters, while The Mask of the Watcher reduces the horror of an encountered Monster to 1. A number of new Assets, both unique and non-unique give the players additional fire-power. The Agent of Secrets Ally gives a character +1 Lore AND +1 Observation, and allows the player to reroll 1 die when resolving either a Lore or an Observation test. The Unique Asset cards offer a variety of opportunities in the form of Relics, Allies, and Tasks. Several new Condition cards add inspired elements to the game, such as Agreement, which can lead to any number of dark outcomes; or Righteous, a Boon that allows players to gain Sanity or Focus when resting. SR provides a new Spell type to Eldritch Horror in the form of Glamours. The Markings of Isis Glamour, for instance, allows players to add +1 to all skills (!) and allows the player to reroll 1 die once per round when resolving a test.
Characters: SR provides four new characters, each with useful and smartly conceived individual abilities. Ex-convict “Skids” O’Toole can use an Action to discard an Item or Trinket, then gain a new Item or Trinket from the Reserve at equal to or less than 1 plus the value of the discarded Asset. Additionally, he can reroll a die whenever he rolls a 1 during a test! This is a particularly useful ability that made the difference between success and death/madness/being devoured on more than one occasion during our game. Marie Lambeau, the Entertainer, is able to perform an Action that she has already performed this round, which makes travel and healing much easier, and she loses 1 fewer Sanity than she normally would if a Spell caused her to lose Sanity. Zoey Samaras, the Chef, can use an Action to gain 1 Task Unique Asset if she has fewer than 2 Task Assets. Zoey’s passive ability is very useful when battling the agents of the enemy – if she has not lost Sanity during a Combat Encounter, she gets to add 2 additional dice when resolving a Strength test during that encounter. Finally, Bounty Hunter Tony Morgan can use an Action to pass an Influence test. If he passes, he may spend up to 2 Focus to gain 1 Clue for each Focus spent. When he defeats a Monster during combat, Tony gains 1 Focus.
Encounter Cards: In the expansion’s 86 new Encounter Cards, we are given additional General, America, Europe, Asia/Australia, and Other World encounters, as well as twenty Mystic Ruins Cards, which operate similarly to Expedition Cards. The Mystic Ruins Cards are tied into SR’s theme and offer adventures in ancient locations that have not been explored in previous expansions or the base game. Successful encounters at these sites provide great rewards, while failures will edge the players closer to their doom.
Preludes Cards/Focus: Strange Remnants includes additional Prelude Cards, as did the Mountains of Madness Expansion. These cards can be pre-selected or drawn at random. Each Prelude Card alters the game set-up, either giving the players an edge or starting them out essentially with a slimy tentacle wrapped around their throats. Similarly, SR includes the aforementioned Focus mechanic, adding an Action option. As an Action, the players can gain a Focus token, which when spent allows that player to reroll 1 die per token when resolving a test. Players can never have more than 2 Focus tokens at a time, but this mechanic comes in very handy as the struggle against Syzygy intensifies.
The expansion components are, as always, chillingly illustrated and smartly conceived. The otherworldly artwork is up to Fantasy Flight’s usual high standards and the text on the cards fairly oozes with atmosphere. All SR elements can easily be shuffled into the base game and/or mixed with previously released expansions. In our test-run of the expansion, the group and I were able to stay just ahead of the Cosmic Alignment and put a stop to Syzygy, though the journey was peril-fraught and challenging. It was through a combination of luck, teamwork, and strategy that we were able to save the world from the unspeakable evil that threatened it. Simply put, there is a lot of horror in this small box that is sure to add more depth and tone to an already excellent game without sacrificing playability. So, dim the lights, don your robes, take up the mystic chant, and break the seal on the Strange Remnants Expansion for FFG’s Eldritch Horror.
For more information on this Edlritch Horror expansion visit the Fantasy Flight Games Strange Remnants page.