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|The Arkham Expert Guide: Solo Calvin, King in Red God Mode||0||0||0||1.0|
|Calvin Wright - Regreso a Dunwich||0||0||0||1.0|
Next_Level_Plays · 310
The Arkham Expert Series
Welcome everyone to my Arkham Expert Guide, where I build, test and explain highly competitive decks upon request. This is not intended to scare off more casual players (I myself definitely also love to play decks that are fun rather than fully try-hard), but I wanted to offer some ideas and choices for those among you who are looking to play Arkham in its most terrifying and challenging forms. If you do not feel comfortable with playing Expert and/or Ultimatum difficulty, please feel free to use these decks also for Hard-Difficulty or Standard, whatever you enjoy most.
Without further ado, let us dive into Calvin’s epic tale on how he managed to master Expert-level difficulty on Solo, a feat that was considered impossible for a long time! Follow his story as he discovers the Path to Carcosa, overcomes madness, terror and pain in a God’s diabolic play, and eventually rises to become the King in Red (a “bug” in Carcosa that can be exploited in the 8th scenario and which we will cover later in the article; the name is a reference to the “King in Yellow” title, combined with the colour of Survivors that is red). For those of you that are interested, I have also included a small lore section at the end of the article that links Calvin’s background story to Carcosa.
Now get ready, the play is about to begin!
General Strategy & Deckbuilding Philosophy
Awakening in the horrifying theatre play of the King in Yellow, Calvin starts off with a highly impressive stats setup of straight 0s (sarcasm off). There is a good explanation for that lore-wise which I explore further below, but for the in-game experience, this is of course quite underwhelming. The fundamental goal of Calvin decks is thus to reach what I’ll call “Berserk Mode”, which is when Calvin has maximum endurable damage & horror on him (usually 5 or 6 with Five of Pentacles) plus the necessary asset setup to soak any additional incoming horror & damage. Calvin definitely requires a switch in the mindset of how one plays Arkham, which is why I sincerely love to play him & his more late game-oriented play style. Calvin is thus a rather asset-heavy character, which can compromise his speed. To compensate for this lack in speed, the non-asset part of the deck is built from very flexible & "fast" Survivor cards that can be played well in any scenario & situation and help you pass tests to regain speed, such as Lucky!, Rise to the Occasion (an amazing card in any Calvin deck) & Trial by Fire. Especially Trial by Fire is noteworthy here, since it is basically a 3rd and 4th Will to Survive in Calvin, which is a key card for Expert difficulty (that you can loop with Resourceful and/or Scrounge for Supplies, by playing Scrounge on the Resourceful you just played and thus loop Will to Survive once more). Calvin thus has access to great cards that can truly leverage his impressive statline in Berserk mode, which makes him able to pass all 4 types of skill tests (from investigation to evade), depending on what the situation requires. This is rounded up with cards like Perseverance and Ward of Protection, which ensure that Calvin doesn’t die (unless you want him to for gathering trauma/a better starting statline). Please note as a small tipp that whenever you don’t have Perseverance or Until the End of Time available, I suggest keeping your health at 2 when possible, as you want to prevent dying to Voice of the Messenger.
Given the above thoughts, you will find cards in the starting deck and throughout the upgrading path that are either focused on helping out in the early game, where your stats are still weak (cards like Flashlight for example) and others that are more focused on the late game, where you have reached Berserk mode but need to make sure you can maintain it without dying. Especially Peter Sylvestre and Jessica Hyde are amazing cards for this, but before we can get the upgraded Peter for a total of 4xp, we play Cherished Keepsake as an additional backup to keep us from dying to horror early on. In general, I emphasize surviving horror over damage for two reasons: Firstly, Carcosa is a more horror-heavy than damage-heavy campaign overall, and secondly, you usually want to put a lot of horror on Calvin early on in the scenario, since a decent investigate value is key for progressing throughout scenarios, whereas evade and fight values will mostly only become important later on, and you can sometimes also just take attacks of opportunity quite openly to boost your statline, without the need for an immediate solution to it. On the fighting side, you use the (highly important) combo of Peter Sylvester/Keepsake & Meat Cleaver to consistently put out 2 damage throughout the campaign, aided by cards like Fight or Flight or your flexible buff cards. Given the asset-heavy play style, Emergency Cache provides the necessary resources to get your setup online. Fine Clothes are in the deck predominantly for succeeding in scenario 2, but they also come in handy in scenario 1 to beat the Poltergeist. Track Shoes is another great card that Calvin can consistently rock off in the mid-to-late game, especially in turns where he used Fight or Flight or occasionally Trial by Fire. Again, Perseverance is an amazing card to make sure you don’t die & Ward of Protection does the same, in addition to helping you reach Berserk state.
I go into more details in the scenario guide below, but overall, you will work towards a deck that consists of 2x Will to Survive, 2x Jessica Hyde, 2x Peter Sylvestre, 1x Five of Pentacles, 2x A Test of Will and 2x Drawing Thin, by replacing cards like Emergency Cache, Fine Clothes, Peter Sylvestre 1.0, Cherished Keepsake, and Scrounge for Supplies as time goes on.
Zooming in on the first scenario, I am suggesting that you finish the scenario via the “Suicide Cheat” – that means, you do not want to advance act 2, as it will add bad tokens to your token bag, and instead your goal is to kill the Royal Emissary, get as many victory points as possible, and to then die in the theatre willingly to horror, thereby not only gaining a mental trauma (which is great for Calvin), but also ensuring that your token bag in scenario 2 is quite easy, which helps that you can finish scenario 2 successfully and thus kill all the VIPs via the Conviction resolution, which is crucial for succeeding in the Expert-campaign.
Inside the theatre, you should generally tackle the locations on the Backdoor-side of the map first, as the shroud values are easier to beat with your (initially weak) statline, and then later in the late-game (when you reached Berserk mode) you can go to the Lobby-side and clear those locations as well to maximize your VP outcome. However, despite the Backdoor half of the map being easier than the Lobby half, you first want to walk to the Lobby-side in order to spawn the set-aside locations (at the Lobby), so you have a higher chance of getting additional VPs after advancing act1. Please remember to advance act 1 as soon as you have put 4 locations in play via Lobby and Backdoor, but NOT to advance act 2 at all, as this will put additional chaos tokens in your bag that you would rather avoid. You also generally want to hardmulligan for your assets to make sure you can get your setup running early on and then profit from Calvin's ever-increasing statline right away.
What you thus want to do is to first walk from the Theatre into the Lobby to get the 2 extra locations out, and then move up in the Balcony to jump down from there, thereby taking 2 damage & bettering your fight and evade stats. After that, walk to the left towards Backdoor and clear as many VP locations as you can. At one point you will also draw encounters like Black Stars Rise that give you 3 horror if you fail them (on purpose), thereby bringing your stats into a decent range for investigating. Later on, the Royal Emissary will appear, which is when you’ll use (& loop) Fight or Flight and Trial by Fire to beat the Emissary with the Meat Cleaver & Keepsake/Peter Sylvestre combo.
After you defeat the Emissary (you are likely somewhere on the Backdoor-side or in the middle of the map by then), just rush back to the Lobby half of the map & get as many VPs in as you can, and you will likely have to kill the Emissary a second time after it respawns, so keep that in mind while committing your cards. After you have ran around clearing VPs and have the Emissary (worth 2 VPs) laying dead in the victory display, your time has then come to give in to madness and take a horror in any way that you prefer to conclude this scenario with a mental trauma (or even better two, if you kill yourself by voluntarily drawing into Voice of the Messenger or drew it at some earlier point of time).
You will have around 5-7 XP & 1-2 mental trauma at this point. I strongly suggest upgrading into 1 Will to Survive (that you can loop with the Scrounge for Supplies & Resourceful combo for more usages) and 1 Peter Sylvestre 2.0, as his permanent evade & willpower buff, his horror-soak capabilities and his combo potential with Meat Cleaver are purely amazing. You thus cut 1 Peter Sylvestre 1.0 and 1 Keepsake and upgrade into Will to Survive and Sylvestre 2.0.
In a nutshell, the two key goals of scenario 2 are 1) to at least clear Ishimaru Haruko & Constance Dumaine, as they provide the most useful bonuses later in the campaign (scenario 4 and 6), and 2) you absolutely must finish the scenario without dying, as you want to burn the 6 monstrosities using the Conviction resolution, because beating them on Expert-difficulty during intense scenarios with Calvin (who constantly walks on the verge of death while trying to reach his Berserk states anyways) is adding a lot of unneeded headache to the game, which in the case of the scenario 4 & scenario 7 gatekeeper scenarios can make you lose the campaign.
So just hardmulligan for Fine Clothes, your other assets & Will to Survive, then make sure to tackle Constance & Haruko first, and then once some of the VIPs start turning into monsters, you can walk around and gather laying-around clues to increase the XP outcome you receive at the end, but don’t be unnecessarily greedy. Everything from 3-5xp is acceptable, just make sure not to get defeated. Once you have resigned during agenda3, burn down the mansion (which will later give you another mental trauma in scenario 5, so this is a win-win for Calvin), take 2x Conviction, and get ready for scenario 3.
This is a pretty relaxed scenario, which is a well-deserved break after the intense first two scenarios of this campaign. Just add another Will to Survive to your deck and cut 1 Fine Clothes (which you don’t need anymore after scenario 2), and make sure to get all 5xp from this scenario (2 on the Hidden Library, 2 from slaying the Possessed Oathspeaker and 1 from Agent of the King, which can be more easily spawned compared to scenario 1, as you have cards like The Cult's Search and Mysterious Chanting in the encounter deck. Generally, you have a lot of time in this scenario, so just set up your combo with Keepsake/Pete and Cleaver, keep a copy of Will to Survive ready in your hand and easily win by One-Turn-Killing the Oathspeaker. When you reach the point where the battle against the Oathspeaker draws closer, make sure to aim for drawing your weakness once again before successfully finishing the scenario, so that you start the next scenario with a 3/3/x/x statline, as this is needed to ensure that you can quickly build up speed in the Asylum, where being slow means losing the campaign.
This is the creme de la creme scenario and truly the one major point where the campaign can fail. If you beat this scenario on Expert solo with Calvin, your likelihood of succeeding all of the rest is very decent. This scenario is pretty insane because you almost have no time on the clock, so speed is everything. This means, put Peter Sylvestre on the board (the second of which you definitely want to upgrade here, together with Five of Pentacles and/or Test of Will, by removing Sylvestre 1.0, Keepsake and Fine Clothes from the deck) but don’t play Meat Cleaver, as there is no need & time to fight anyways (luckily, we already burned the VIP Constance, who will not bother us in this scenario). Instead of your usual hardmulligan for assets, you now instead hardmulligan for different solutions that help you to start investigating early & quickly, such as Flashlight, Trial by Fire and Will to Survive, and you also want to get your hands on Track Shoes that will save you a lot of actions in this scenario. Nevertheless, also don’t feel incredibly stressed out and play calm and rationally, for even if you don’t draw Track Shoes super early, it should still be fine if you draw it towards the middle of the scenario. To sum, just keep rushing down the map as quickly as you can, and make sure to mulligan hard on tools that allow you to take the clues in the beginning so you can quickly get past the locations on which enemies spawn, such as the Asylum Halls.
In terms of optimal walking path, run first in the Mess Hall and get the 2 clues there, then run into the Yard, get the clue, but I would not suggest doing the escape action on the location already now, as you really want to get beyond the Asylum Halls as quickly as possible to save time. On the way to the Basement Hall, get your 3rd clue and leave the Asylum Halls. I also wouldn’t suggest getting greedy for the VP in the Infirmary, as it costs you too many actions. Afterwards, get the clue on the Basement Hall if you can, and run into the cells. Since you now have 1 more clue than you de facto need, you can also do a nice trick with Track Shoes, where you go inside a location, and if it is not useful for now what you find there, tap Track Shoes and run out again, since you now have a spare clue to enter another location. Down in the cells, make sure to get your escape tasks done, find Chesterfield and just evade/track shoes him, and then run up through the chaos in full Berserk mode towards the Gardens, use Track Shoes whenever possible and rush for the exit, using your Trial by Fire, Fight or Flight and Will to Survive advantages. You usually succeed with 1-3 doom left on the clock, and then can take a relaxed breath. Make sure to heed Daniel Chesterfield's warning during the resolution of the scenario, because this Hastur-Curse sets up the stage for your God-Mode in scenario 8.
This is one of the very best scenarios in all of Arkham in my opinion, and a truly nice play experience. At this point, you will have accumulated more Conviction than Doubt, so you are being hunted through the city. You also suffer a mental trauma for burning the VIPs during the setup, which is perfect, as 4 mental trauma is the maximum/exact number of mental trauma you want, so try not to gain any more mental trauma after this, and instead stick to physical trauma from here on (be it when you would be defeated in a scenario or when you draw Voice of the Messenger). Since you start the game with a 4/4/x/x statline, your character is slowly becoming very strong, but also at constant risk of dying. Since this scenario is all about surviving, this plays nicely together with Calvin’s overall gameplan, so cards like Perseverance (& looping it), Peter Sylvestre 2.0, Five of Pentacles & Track Shoes (especially in combination with Drawing Thin, which I would suggest you include 2x starting from this scenario, as it is a truly amazing card, but too slow for scenario 4) will be great friends for you.
This scenario is all about surviving, which is already part of Calvin’s plan, so looping Perserverance and getting Pete + Cleaver and Track Shoes out is definitely going to be the way how to play this scenario. You should win it most likely, but if you are unlucky and die, don't worry too much, just make sure you take a physical trauma and not a mental one. I like the path where you go from the start location to the East through the Southern locations first (counter-clock wise), because 1) you should clear the locations where you can get stuck early on, and 2) because the high-shroud locations are more towards the West side of the map. You’ll quite quickly have all the clues and VPs you need, after which it becomes a stall game that Calvin is very well prepared to play. For act 1, just remember to only advance the act on the last turn before it advances from doom so you can enjoy the maximum amount of threat-less time before The Organist spawns.
Yet another super cool but quite scary scenario (did anyone realize yet how much I love Carcosa?) where you may well die if you're unlucky, and if you do, just remember to provoke taking a physical trauma instead of a mental one. Here, the dealing of damage and horror are both equally distributed, so we finally upgrade into Jessica Hyde and add Charisma to the deck. I would also suggest stocking up again on Test of Will to have more control over the game and protect your Berserk mode setup (7/6/7/8 statline with Five of Pentacles plus Meat Cleaver, Peter Sylvestre, Jessica Hyde and Track Shoes). You will also get an extra location because you successfully interviewed Hiroko in scenario 2, which will help to gain some additional speed. Since even your starting statline is getting very strong at this point (it was 4/4/2/2 for me), you can straight away proceed with investigating and progressing the game, while waiting to organically draw your assets (you still hardmulligan for them of course as always). Be aware that some locations deal damage & horror to you, so you want to be ready for that. Given the speed you have built up, you should be quite a few locations away when the Spectre of Death spawns, but just ignore it and run into the Tomb of Shadows, advancing further by spending clues, as it is the more parsimonious solution. Now you can choose if you want to finish the scenario alive by rushing to the Blocked Passage or stay behind to collect more VPs, knowing that you will likely die and take a physical trauma if you do so, which are both fine options and which is the great freedom that playing Calvin provides. It really depends on how your setup looks like at this point.
You are likely starting this scenario with a 4/4/3/3 statline or similar, which means you are slowly taking on a worthy shape for a madman who is about to conquer Carcosa. Remember that at this point, you are only 1 scenario away from becoming a God in scenario 8 via the "King in Red" bug, so make sure to stay focused and beat this gatekeeping scenario!
Blacks Stars Rise is a weird scenario insofar as it is not super hard per se, but you can draw very unfortunate sequences that make you lose the game. I would definitely not suggest going for any fancy extra VP points, since you seriously only need 1-2xp for scenario 8 to stock up on your Tests of Will to cancel the instant-kill Possession (Murderous) encounter cards, everything else will be a joke to you.
Keep in mind that decently quick completion matters (because the less time you spend in the scenario, the less likely it is that an unfortunate chain of events will kill you). Nevertheless, you still want to setup your game properly at the start location and get all your powerful assets out, since your strong starting statline comes at the risk of dying quickly, so make sure to hardmulligan for all your life-saving assets like Peter, Jessica & Five of Pentacles.
I would suggest taking the path where you walk across Grand Rue over Outer Wall to North Tower, while only taking as many clues as you need with you. In the end, it will be a 50/50 whether you invested in the right agenda to advance, which is why I like a 2:1 approach (having for example 4 doom on one agenda and 2 on the other as a backup in case you wrongly invested, and because certain encounter cards get stronger through the completion of an early agenda). It is definitely doable, and once you pass this scenario, you should smile with excitement for what is to come!
EPIC Final Battle: Scenario 8
Now, it is time - time for Calvin to unleash his true powers, which are infinite in nature. By speaking the name of HASTUR for a million times (thereby putting 999 horror on our favorite madman), Calvin’s willpower & knowledge about the world become infinite, as his decaying sanity gives way to true enlightenment about the Mythos. With 999 stats for both willpower and intelligence, and fight/evade stats which can reach the same levels using Fight or Flight, Calvin ascends from being a mere pawn in Hastur’s play to a God greater than Hastur. Whereas Hastur stole the title of the Yellow King, Calvin, driven by love for Joao & the Will to Survive, takes up the mantle of the King in Red, disrespecting any and all Expert-difficulty. Only the autofail and the skull tokens (bringing your value down to 0) can make you fail any willpower & book tests in this scenario, and there are many ways to work around the skull tokens, with cards like Lucky or committing some of the many (now redundant) buff cards & pips in your deck to still reach the shroud threshold. That is also the reason why I kicked out Take Heart for the upgrades (going up to 2x Test of Will and putting the remaining xp into Devil's luck) rather than Peter Sylvester, Rise to the Occassion, Trial by Fire or Flashlight (which are all also not really needed anymore), as they can still somehow help with pips (especially for evading) or, in the case of Flashlight, nullify the risk from skull tokens when investigating. The very only way that you can die in this scenario is if you get killed by the rampant monsters (don't forget that your Meat Cleaver is now a permanent 2dmg without downsides) or if you get hit by Possession (Murderous), which is why you play 2x Ward of Protection and 2x Test of Will to keep that risk away from you (you will draw all of them very quickly, as you can just infinitely loop your deck with the 2x Drawing Thin, and since you are already at a million horror on you, reshuffling your deck or getting further trauma from your weakness doesn't matter anymore to you). Just keep the monsters under control and stock up your hand with encounter cancel cards, and Hastur will crumble under the pressure of the God of Rage that he himself created through his own diabolic games.
Congratulations! You just beat an Expert Taboo Solo campaign with a Tier2 investigator after an epic final that included reaching Godhood!
See you next week again when we continue with the next chapter of the Arkham Expert Guide!
To hype myself up a bit, I have also attempted to fuse together Calvin's background lore with Carcosa's lore to make the overall story & playing atmosphere more epic. Here is my take:
What we know about Calvin is that when he was about to die from a knife assault in Mexico, bleeding out somewhere next to a road and his consciousness slowly fading, there on the verge of death, he glimpsed into the Mythos and witnessed the apocalyptic future that Earth is heading towards, with the love of his life burning to ashes within the mayhem. In an act of strongest will, Calvin defied not only Earth’s, but also his own fate, reaching out into the Mythos, grabbing and consuming the darkness he saw and the spiritual forces around him, thereby nurturing his dying body and bringing himself back to life, now linked to a mysterious creature that lurks beyond the veils of reality and provides him with power. He then rose to his feet as a reborn being, still feeling death’s embrace, having forgotten his past life, but still remembering his mission to save the world, and to save a person by the name of Joao.
What we learn from the Carcosa lore in scenario 8 (at least in one of the versions) is that at some point in time, Hastur had overthrown Carcosa and conquered it by killing the previous King in Yellow who lived there. We also find out (as is evident by different pieces of lore from the asylum, the dinner party and other scenarios) that Hastur needs people to believe in him and his curse in order to gain strength and control over them. Those who do not believe that he is the King in Yellow & that he is all-powerful will weaken Hastur's reign over Carcosa, and his grip on Earth. That is why the theme of Carcosa is focused so much on Doubt vs. Conviction, and it also explains well the presence of the Man in the Pallid Mask throughout the campaign, both as an observer & agent of Hastur, and being Hastur himself at the same time.
To bridge Calvin's background story to the events surrounding Carcosa, here is my version of his tale (Conviction-Version, as this was the one I played in my Expert run):
Since I would associate Calvin with a bright Phoenix who rises from the ashes, I thought it was fitting to assume that it was the spirit of the long-dead Yellow King in the shape of a Phoenix that resurrected Calvin as he was dying, and thus chose him as a warrior & host in the quest to bring down Hastur. The vision that Calvin saw of the apocalyptic end of the world and Joao dying thus refers to a glimpse into the future and the merging of realities that Hastur is seeking in scenario 7, which Calvin now must stop. However, as Hastur is a master puppet player, he won't just accept that Calvin/the Phoenix do as they please, and thus takes hold of Calvin's mind, poisoning it with illusions and doubt. Calvin then has a dream of going into a theatre, and suddenly de facto wakes up within it, freshly resurrected and unable to fully control his body and mind, which explains his 0/0/0/0 stats, and why they first need to improve over time (later, through the trauma-mechanic, Calvin gets stronger and stronger starting statlines, as he becomes more accustomed to his new life). Confused, lost and suffering from amnesia of his old life, his instincts & still-present but not consciously accessible love for Joao drive him to survive and so he wildly fights his way through the theatre, not knowing whether to believe what he sees or not, growing stronger with every battle he fights.
Aided by an aggressive fighting style and the ability to cast defensive magic (it is evident that Calvin's binding to the mystical creature/the Phoenix granted him some sort of lower-level magic, as is hinted at by Ward of Protection and the shield surrounding him on Until the End of Time), he sets out to avoid the world’s dark future, and to reclaim the Throne of Carcosa, while the Phoenix in him grows stronger through the pain and terror that Calvin feels. Calvin thus marches through burning monstrosities at dinner parties, Hastur's cultists, an asylum, wild dreams, and a dark Paris, as his mind decays further and further and becomes fully involved in the Tale of the (new) Yellow King, not sure anymore what to believe and what not, not remembering his old life, not knowing who Joao actually is... but Calvin still knows one thing: that he will bring an end to this diabolic play.
He eventually faces Hastur on the Spires of Carcosa for their last battle, fully unleashing the power of the Phoenix as his mind shatters completely, becoming mad enough to challenge a God in a frontal confrontation. Filled by rage, confusion, love and madness, Calvin then becomes the King in Red and kills Hastur, thereby separating himself from the Phoenix and returning Carcosa to its rightful owner, while himself falling back onto Earth, freed from his connection to the King in Yellow & Carcosa. He then opens his eyes on the island where the Black Stars Rose, once again reborn (this time as a normal human), once again without memories, but also once again with a purpose: to find Joao in this new, saved reality.