Back in 2016, before Arkham Horror: The Card Game had truly exploded into the tentacle-flailing, madness-inducing, abomination-slaying phenomenon that we know today, Fantasy Flight Games handed out copies of its first expansion, Curse of the Rougarou, to the lucky attendees of its wildly popular Arkham Nights event.
FFG had already been tinkering with standalone scenario packs in their Lord of the Rings: The Card Game series. These were a means to experiment with chaotic new mechanics and steep difficulty curves, while simultaneously freeing themselves to tell stories and explore the legends of Middle Earth that didn’t quite fit into their larger campaign arcs. Eventually, Curse of the Rougarou made its way into online stores and select retailers. It became many players’ first opportunity to step out of the limited three-act campaign included in Arkham Horror’s core set and into a different breed of nightmare.
“How does it hold up today?” You may ask. “How did it play back then? Rougarou? Isn’t that a European chocolatier? Oh god, we’re not going to kill Willy Wonka, are we?” Calm yourselves, investigators! You’ll need every measure of endurance and mental steel you can muster as we face down the Curse of the Rougarou!
Even a Man Who is Pure in Heart…
Despite Arkham Horror: The Card Game being probably my favourite game of all time, I was never really a fan of its introductory campaign. While it unarguably featured haunting locations, memorable adversaries and did a fine job of capturing the surreal cosmic horror roller-coaster rides that formed the basis of the Arkham Horror board games, the plot itself felt stale and hokey. It doesn’t matter how many Hunting Nightgaunts swoop down from the Arkham rooftops to drag you off screaming into the night; a limp story in a plot-driven game will always dampen the excitement.
Thankfully, Curse of the Rougarou is a huge step in the right direction, despite staying mostly within the boundaries of your traditional lycanthropian thriller. The bayous and marshes of New Orleans have been claiming one body after the next. Scattered eyewitnesses stammer about a creature that perfectly fits the description of a werewolf. It’s up to you to hunt this beast down in its own swamp and put an end to its reign of terror. However, as would become common in Arkham Horror: TCG, there’s more than one way to skin a wolf. There may just be a way to cure the monster of his curse… but I’ll leave that for you to discover.
And Says His Prayers By Night…
What surprised me initially about Curse of the Rougarou is how far-removed from orthodox Lovecraft it really is, especially considering how early an entry this was in Arkham Horror: TCG’s expansion library. For the most part, your biggest creature threats are decidedly non-ethereal Bog Gators and Swamp Leeches, with eerie swamp mists slowing your progress and eruptive ripples in the water testing your nerve.
Later in the scenario, a couple of token mythos horrors show up to terrorise you but they almost feel like they’ve just been included to keep up appearances. The story really doesn’t need them. I actually found the lower-key supernatural element here refreshing, after spending two months with the core set not even being able to walk into the study in my own damn home without having my face chewed off by a slobbering ghoul.
But enough of this trivial bayou flora and fauna! What of the wolfman himself? Well, I’ll tell you straight: if you manage to bury this slobbering pest, you’ll have no doubts that you’ve truly earned it. The Rougarou is a vicious combatant, dealing out broad amounts of damage and horror. The catch is that he does not want to be found or even really fight you. The moment you inflict a wound upon his hairy hide, he’ll turn tail and flee to the farthest reach of the bayou available to him, leaving - in a lovely touch of mechanical genius - a track of clue tokens in his wake to represent the blood trails from his injuries.
Stalking this cursed beast is exhausting work. As you chase him from one end of New Orleans to the other, both the punishing terrain and the vicious animals that lurk beneath it will begin to take their toll. Locations like Cursed Shore and Forgotten Marsh cripple you by forcing discards and resource losses, while Bog Gators gain ludicrous combat bonuses from being fought in their natural environment. Although the Rougarou himself is a relatively shy chap, his signature treachery card “Beast of the Bayou” allows him to lash out at you from adjoining locations and even accelerate the doom counter, should he miss.
May Become a Wolf When the Wolfbane Blooms…
If all of this sounds unfathomably difficult to you, then take a prize; you’ve clearly been paying attention. Curse of the Rougarou is a mean-spirited wake-up call to those of you coming straight in from the Arkham Horror: TCG core set, not least because your player decks will be comprised solely of that game’s intentionally underpowered cards. Even on Normal difficulty- which is the easiest setting here, as the Rougarou clearly doesn’t suffer rookies gladly- the token set-up for the chaos bag is savagely unforgiving. Hard mode is an almost unconquerable nightmare. For those sweet summer children who play Arkham Horror just to enjoy the story, be warned: you may have to do some serious house-ruling to survive this one.
That said, the challenge level isn’t really an issue for me. I enjoy every second that I’m being beaten senseless by this sadistic game. However, I do still have a couple of bones to pick with Curse of the Rougarou. As a print-on-demand expansion, not only is the print quality of the cards noticeably lower than those of the core set but their physical size is too. Not a huge deal if you’re not planning to use any of it outside of a single standalone session, but for those of you who enjoy creating custom scenarios or, more disappointingly, any player trying to carry their endgame rewards over into a campaign game, it’s not going to be ideal even if you sleeve all of your cards; it'll be downright ugly for those who don’t.
And the Autumn Moon is Bright
Speaking of which, my absolute biggest issue with this add-on (and this extends to all of Arkham Horror: TCG’s immediate standalone expansions) is FFG’s uncharacteristically clumsy campaign mode system. The rules included here state that you can play Curse of the Rougarou either in standalone mode or by inserting it into the middle of a longer campaign cycle, such as Night of the Zealot from the core set or the following Dunwich Legacy cycle. But here’s the catch. You can’t play it as a prelude. You have to pay experience points that you’ve already gained to be granted access to it.
Now, I don’t need to tell you what a complete train wreck that ruling makes of the narrative. Let’s say I’ve just torn around the streets of Arkham, unmasking villainous cult members in a race against time to uncover the secrets of their dark ritual that comes to fruition at midnight. Let’s then say that the next scenario has me belting like a greyhound to the ritual site to stop them summoning whatever ghastly dimension-devouring atrocity they’ve thrown their hats in with. Are you seriously telling me that I’m going to have time to hop on the train to New Orleans to smack a werewolf around before coming back to finish the job? If you think that’s bad, the next expansion, Carnevale of Horrors, is set in Venice! In the 1920s!
“Pardon me boys, you couldn’t put those dark machinations on hold for a while, could you? Just got to sail over to Italy. How long? Ooh, there and back, I don’t know. If I solve the case in a day, maybe SIX MONTHS.”
It’s ridiculous. You could conceivably attempt Curse of the Rougarou as an epilogue mission at the end of a larger campaign. But, come the end of one of those, nine times out of ten, your investigators are barely in the physical or mental state to even walk themselves down to the lunatic asylum, let alone flee from alligators in a cursed bayou while the goddamned wolfman jumps out of the trees at them.
Curse of the Rougarou: Final Thoughts
Branching background mechanics aside, I refuse to give Curse of the Rougarou anything but a glowing recommendation. It is the first truly fantastic Arkham Horror: TCG scenario - thankfully, the first of many as it would turn out. It is sure to hook any horror fan who has maybe thus far overlooked the Cthulhu mythos’ often seclusionary style of weird fiction. Almost unbelievably, it gets even better from here.