Dreams and reality become one in Fantasy Flights sixth expansion to Eldritch Horror; The Dreamlands is a big box expansion adding new ancient ones to fight, investigators to play along with assets, artefacts, spells and various encounter cards as well as additional and new tokens. The Dreamlands delves deeper into H.P Lovecraft's mythos bringing the investigators to the brink of death and madness.
The Dreamlands Awaken
As this is an expansion to Eldritch Horror, most of the cards are just added into the decks and used with any game of Eldritch Horror, the cards themselves are of the same stock and ink and don't suffer from some problems that other expansions might have in using different card stocks and inks, plus the cards look different and are identifiable just through looking, which is great to see.
This is a big box expansion and comes with a smaller side board set in the fabled Dreamlands. The set-up of the board is fairly straight forward, though we had to re-read the set-up of the dream portals a few times to comprehend what we needed to do. The dream portals are an interesting way of managing the routes to the side board. Other side boards are simply added with a route set in their relative locations; for example, the route to the Egypt side board is through the pyramids on the main board, the route to the Antarctica side board is Antarctica on the main board. Here, the three paths to the Dreamlands are random and different in each game and will move around the board creating a more dynamic side board from the others.
Aside from the dream portals there is no difference in the set-up of any Dreamlands from other expansions and this is an expansion that adds a lot of what we already had and not too much in regards to new rules, which is desirable in a game that has the size and scope of Eldritch Horror which could easily become bloated with more and more rules being piled onto it.
The artwork on the board is up to the high standards that is expected of Fantasy Flight Games, and the board itself is sturdy and solid and will be able to stand up to lots of play and use.
New Investigators, New Challenges
The Dreamlands, like all Eldritch Horror expansions, comes with new investigators with unique skills and abilities. The Dreamlands adds eight to fight against the mythos and the end of the world. William Yorick, the Gravedigger, is a bit of an all-rounder with skills ranging from two and three and is somewhat asset focused, being able to discard two of them or when he defeats tougher monsters, he can gain non-service assets. William is nicely thematic, seems like while he is around cadavers and digging graves, he is finding stuff to use and having a fairly high stamina he can hold his own in fights, as long as he watches his sanity. A fun character to play for people who like getting and manipulating assets.
Amanda Sharpe, the Student. Amanda has a strong focus on talent conditions, being able to discard them to improve skills, as well as gaining new talent conditions when she improves skills. Having balanced health and sanity of six each she is fairly tough. Her skills are lacking in strength and more focused on observation. The ability to discard talent conditions seems impressive and can be useful in tight spots, but at times it feels better to keep the talents.
Dr Vincent Lee. Not surprisingly, Vincent's focus is on health; letting people discard injuries and illness conditions and healing more health than usual when they rest. He has a good balance of health and sanity, and is very strong willed, but lacks in strength and lore. Vincent is the healer of any group of investigators, it can be difficult to utilise his abilities as he and another investigator need to be on the same space, and this can be a challenge in itself whilst managing the board of mysteries, monsters, gates rumours and anything else that might appear.
Luke Robinson, the dreamer, and perhaps one of the most thematic new investigators for the Dreamlands; deeply embedded in lore and sanity but not very tough physically. Luke can move to gates (which match the current omen) making him potentially very mobile around the board and he can encounter gates even if there are monsters on the space, making him useful when a gate needs closing, but a few surges have piled the monsters on it. This helps take the worry about his lack of health when you play him. Luke has always been an interesting character to play in all iterations of Lovecraftian games and he is no different here.
Carolyn Fern, the psychologist, like Vincent Lee is very useful to have in any group. She is able to have other players discard madness conditions and to heal more sanity than usual when resting. Again, this is limited, like Vincent, to players on the same space making it a challenge to achieve this whilst managing the board. Carolyn is fairly well balanced with her skills but can take slightly more sanity damage than physical damage.
Darrell Simmons, the photographer; is a man to control the asset deck, looking at the top five cards and putting them back in any order before discarding any number from the reserve is a powerful ability that can cycle through the asset deck finding the items that augment the players best, but, of course, at the cost of having Darrell not doing other things required on the board. As with all Eldritch Horror games, there is never enough actions to do everything you need to do. Darrell also has bonuses to rolls when researching and encountering city spaces generally pushing the play to stay in populated areas. Darrell is a fun guy to play, getting through the asset deck and finding some of the best items can take time but with luck you get what you need quickly and avoid the dead asset row that can crop up.
Kate Winthrop is a monster and gate discarding machine, when she is on a space, if a gate would spawn it is discarded and she gains a clue. But if she is on a space with a gate and a monster, she can discard any monster with toughness less than her observation which starts at a massive four! Kate is a great character to play, not only does she have a good set of skills but has a good range of starting stats making her a good all-rounder to have handy, her health and sanity start at seven and five making her fairly tough in both. A fun and useful character to have around in a gate heavy game.
Gloria Goldberg, the author, can always find books in cities, when she is in a city space she can gain a tome asset from the discard pile or reserve. She can provide an extra die when completing other world encounters for herself and others on her space. Gloria also starts with a fantastic range of skills, all three's except strength, which is one. She also has high sanity but lacking in physical health.
Each character is unique and playing them, they each feel different and can each bring something very different to the game depending on the specific situations presented in the game. The character cards look great, with the new artwork on them up to the standard that is expected of Fantasy Flight.
New Routes to Victory
The Dreamlands, like all Eldritch Horror expansions, comes with an array of new assets, spells, unique assets, artefacts and conditions. The new assets include some thematic items including the Dream Diary (spawning clues and giving Lore bonuses to other world encounters) and the Dream Box.
There are three new allies which have a nice flavour to them, the Arcanist, Hitman and the Willful Aristocrat who provide powerful bonuses. Some fantastic new items add more depth and variety to the game, including the enchanted bow and Otherworld Codex, both adding to the Dreamlands feel of the game. New services and tasks keep the players on their toes and providing opportunities to create their own stories within the game.
For players who enjoy spell casting, The Dreamlands adds three new spells with the usual variable side effects. Find gate is a glamour spell (so it has an ongoing effect.) revealing the top of the gate stack, so you can always foresee where the next gate will spawn, if you are playing the game with someone like Kate Winthrop this can be a massive advantage. Summoning moves monsters to your space, or the amazing Dread Curse which adds +8 to combat but could cost you massively. The new spells are few, but they are powerful, and few things are more exciting in Eldritch Horror when someone draws Dread Curse and blasts an epic monster with it. The spells add to the game without bloating the spell deck too much.
The unique assets in The Dreamlands are a mix of new and a couple of additional ones. Randolph Carter is the only new Ally and is deeply thematic and powerful giving the player +2 lore and +2 will, and can see the top of the gate stack. Dimensional study task lets players gain something (like removing monsters, discarding gates or retreating doom) when gates are closed or discarded, linked very much to a variety of Dreamlands effects.
The Mythos Codex cards lets players test will to gain forbidden knowledge, perhaps clues, reveal gates or gain talents. Unspeakable research lets you rest and test observation spawning clues, gaining clues or even artefacts. The bury them deep tasks allows players to gain boons, discard conditions and alike when they kill monsters. Walking the lay lines task is added focusing on monster and gate removal. All the new tasks are very thematic and link closely with the Dreamlands, and the gate heavy games that might develop and closely linked to some of the new investigators, William for example can do well with the Bury them Deep tasks.
Tarot unique trinkets are added giving special abilities to the player who owns them, usually improving a skill but one lets players retreat doom and another lets the player improve any skill with focus.
New condition cards are added, including Quick study, Lost in Time and Space, Composed, debt and dark pact to name a few. The conditions are all focused on The Dreamlands and its theme of dreams merging with reality or the abyss between realities.
Four new artefacts are added to the game; the Crystallizer of Dreams allows players to trade focus, improvement tokens and conditions. The Crux of Cykranosh, letting people improve lore and strength when in combat or casting spells respectively. Pentacle of Planes lets players defeat monsters at the cost of sanity on their space as an action and finally the Elder Key allows investigators to sacrifice health to move to a gate or dream portal.
The new cards are fine balance of generic and thematic, where some are significantly part of The Dreamlands, ancient ones and characters in it, but also can be used without any other Dreamlands component.
From the Abyss of The Dreamlands
The Dreamlands comes with two new Ancient ones, which is perhaps a little light and there could have been a few more to add more variety and options, but the two ancient ones that are added to the game are thematic to The Dreamlands and Lovecraft mythos. The Lord of Sleep, Hypnos, and The Weaver of worlds, Atlach-nacha. Each comes with their special encounter cards and mysteries.
Hypnos, the Lord of Sleep, is the key ancient one to the Dreamlands and the ancient one that uses the side board every game. Hypnos blends reality with dreams and many of his encounters are linked to this and set in the dreamlands themselves. Hypnos adds a slightly different challenge in that when a player rests they cannot recover health and sanity, creating more of an ongoing challenge that is noticeable from very early in the game and changes when and how people choose to rest.
The high instance reckoning yellow mythos cards in Hypnos' mythos deck give a sense to a fast-paced game that is very focused on the Dreamlands (on a reckoning player might have to move towards the Dreamlands).
Hypnos mysteries have the usual requirements of gaining clues from research encounters, spending clues to resist Hypnos' visions in the Dreamlands and close gates and discard talents. There is a mystery whereby the investigators must use the Elder Key artefact in Unknown Kaddath (in the Dreamlands) to free humanity from the grip of Hypnos, and two mysteries where the players must resolve special encounters, either the Dreamwalkers or the Dream within a Dream.
Atlach-nacha is the Dreamweaver and its games are very gate heavy, on a reckoning of which there could be up to eight in a game, gates are spawned. Atlach-Nacha games create a sense that time is running out and that the control and management of the board is a task that you never have enough actions to manage. Atlach-Nacha is not one for those who fear spiders as the infamous Leng Spider is a common encounter. Atlach-Nacha also has one of the lowest doom counts of all ancient ones, at only nine.
All told, Atlach-Nacha is a challenging ancient one in an already challenging game; the combination of low doom and high gate spawning is fun and creates an intensity that many other board games would love to have.
Atlach-nacha's mysteries are little more complex than Hypnos, but include defeating the epic monster, Sleeper of N'Kai, and with the Crux of Cykranosh artefact to defeat the Brood epic monster. They also include gaining clues from research encounters.
One mystery involves investigators attempting to seal the rifts at a gate space. The final two involve defeating Leng Spiders and casting spells to solve the mysteries. The variety of Atlach-nacha's mysteries are delightful especially given that Atlach-nacha doesn't have special encounter decks. Drawing on using spells and skill tests alongside gates adds new twists to the game without complicating it with new decks of cards, tokens or rules.
Final Thoughts on The Dreamlands
Eldritch Horror is a big game and, at its core, needs nothing new after the first few expansions. So, The Dreamlands was not needed to make the game better or improve broken rules. However, the vastness of the mythos makes The Dreamlands a most welcome addition. Do you need it to enjoy Eldritch Horror? No. Should you get it if you enjoy Eldritch Horror? Absolutely!
The Dreamlands adds a little variety, but after five other expansions there was not much more variety to add. Most importantly, The Dreamlands adds more of what we already had tied to a theme that is powerful and prevalent in any Lovecraftian game without bloating it to the point of breaking.
Playing Eldritch Horror with The Dreamlands is fun, and when you draw the Dread Curse you can't wait to use it, when you need to collect clues and spells to complete Atlach-Nacha mystery you all rush to America's to find them. Each game is different, and after each game there is often the feeling that if you had a different character or did something a little different then the game would have ended in victory and not defeat.
Eldritch Horror has the effect of 'next time I will...'' spurring the game play on next time. The Dreamlands adds to this effect with the extra options of investigators, assets, tasks and so on.