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Subject: Meet The Neighbours: Choosing an Investigator in Arkham Horror rss

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Howard Burdett
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The following review of Arkham Horror Investigators was originally posted at http://lorddicely.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/arkham-horror-allow.... The version below is slightly abridged to be more forum-friendly.

Arkham is a game with an overwhelming array of components. This article considers a single domain - the Investigators which act as the players' avatars. We shall split them into four broad types: monster sweepers, explorers, spellcasters, and all-rounders. (We will restrict ourselves to the investigators in the base game for the moment, or this already-long article would be impossibly drawn-out.)

Monster sweepers
Monsters sweepers spend most of their time on the streets of Arkham, slaying monsters to keep the town navigable and hold down the terror track. High Will and Fight are crucial. Speed is generally less important (as monster sweepers will mostly be moving between street areas), and luck/lore do not much come into play (Luck is most useful during card encounters, while Lore is primarily used by spellcasters). Let's look at each of the monster sweepers in turn:

The Bad: Michael McGlen
On the face of things, Michael seems like an excellent slayer - he starts with one of the best weapons in the game by default, his special power soaks up combat damage, and his Stamina is a massive 7. However, with a Sanity of 3, he will go immediately insane on failing a Horror check against the game's tougher monsters, thus undermining the entire point to his existence. This problem isn't helped by the fact that Michael has only an average Will. This weakness to Horror makes Michael my least-favoured monster sweeper.

The Fair:
Bob Jenkins

Bob's low Stealth, but high Fight/Will, make him well-suited to street fighting rather than movement and exploration. On the other hand, Bob's power to draw additional Common items is mostly activated by encounters, the usual department of explorer-types. On top of this, Common items are generally less powerful than Unique items, ranking his power below that of Monterey Jack. Ultimately, Bob's drawback is that his skills favour a monster sweeper role, while his special ability favours exploration - a split purpose which makes him sub-optimal in either role, but does give him some flexibility.

Ashcan Pete
Pete is a slightly better choice. His Fight and Will are both strong. With Sanity/Stamina of 4/6, he can take big hits and stay in the fight. On top of this, his Scrounge ability (despite, as with Bob, being more suited to an explorer) maximises his odds of obtaining useful items, and Duke acts as a powerful bulwark in support of Horror rolls. Pete is just an all-round solid choice.

The Good: Joe Diamond

Joe Diamond has probably the best special ability for combat of all investigators. Rolling two dice for each Clue token expended greatly increases his odds of passing any given check, including Horror and Combat. Since Clues can be expended after the initial roll, Joe can manage risk far more effectively than other characters. Normally, spending Clues for rerolls is a sub-optimal strategy, as they should be used for sealing gates - if you're on monster duty, however, this consideration does not apply.
Like Michael, Joe suffers from poor Will. On the other hand, at least he has 4 Sanity so can afford to lose a Horror check, even against a tough monsters. In short, Joe is a decent fighter, with the best special ability for combat, and also has the flexibility to be a fair explorer.

Explorers
These are the characters best suited to exploring otherworld areas and closing gates. They benefit from high Speed to help them acquire vital Clues for sealing, and good Stealth to move past monsters to reach Clue-bearing areas rather than having to stop and fight. High Luck is handy, as it is commonly used in otherworld encounters, and special abilities which complement Arkham and otherworld encounters are a must.

The Poor: Sister Mary
Sister Mary is widely regarded as the weakest investigator in the base game, and with good reason. Other than Luck, her skills are all average-to-weak. Her starting items are nothing to write home about, and she has no cash to improve that situation. Starting with a Blessing isn't too great either - in the first few rounds, Blessings are generally less important, so by the time the Blessing would become seriously useful it may well have already expired.
But most of all, her special power is next to useless. If we value special abilities by frequency of use times impact when used, it's just terrible. Investigators frequently navigate the entire game without once becoming LITAS. Even if she were to be otherwise LITAS, saving a single round of play is of minimal impact. Multiply those two factors together and this power is comically pointless, making Sister Mary significantly weaker than any other character in the game.
That being said, there is one circumstance where Sister Mary can pay off; that is, when Yog-Sothoth is the Ancient One. Probably the most frequent circumstance leading to becoming LITAS is become incapacitated while in an other world; with Yog-Sothoth devouring those who do so, otherworld exploration becomes extremely fraught. Sister Mary can avoid this risk entirely, suddenly making her a very attractive option as an explorer. That said, Kate Winthrop's power is a good alternative anyway, as unexpected incapacitation is most frequently a consequence of monsters appearing.
In all other circumstances, avoid.

The Fair:
Monterey Jack

High Luck, useful starting items, and a handy special ability which improves Jack's ability to acquire Unique items - the most useful type of item, and one which often arises in encounters. Jack's main drawbacks are his low Will and Sanity, flaws which would be fatal in a monster sweeper but is forgivable in an explorer.

Kate Winthrop
Kate's special power can be a bit of a head-scratcher for new players. Given the number of potential locations for gates, the ability to stop gate opening at just one seems marginal at best. However, by the mid-game, the board will look very different - once a couple of seals are down, and a few gates are open, the number of potential gate sites is much more constrained. Placing Kate on a high-frequency location that doesn't have a seal or portal makes a big difference to the probabilities of gate opening. There is another side to her power as well - preventing monster appearances is very useful during encounters (particularly otherworld encounters, where a surprise Dhole can be catastrophic). Thus Kate's usefulness in managing risk is actually quite powerful.
Her Lore and Sneak are pretty strong too. Poor combat abilities aren't much of an issue when monsters can't spawn on her, and she should be avoiding rather than fighting monsters in the streets. Her only drawbacks are her merely average Speed and Luck.

Darrell Simmons
And then we move onto the true exploration specialists. Darrell is one such, as a consequence of his special ability - the ability to draw two Arkham encounter cards and choose one is very powerful, given that, as explorers rush around picking up clues, they tend to spend about half the game taking Arkham encounters. His Speed isn't bad either. The things that hold him back are his poor Sneak (though his combat abilities are good, explorers shouldn't waste their time having fights) and merely average Luck. Thus he is pipped to the post of "best explorer" by the estimable...

The Good: Gloria Goldberg

Gloria takes the tiara for finest explorer due to one factor: her phenomenal ability. Though otherworld encounters are probably drawn slightly less often that Arkham encounters, they have much more risk/reward attached to them. Being able to draw two and pick is a colossal advantage. On top of that, you can add Glora's good Luck and Will. Her biggest weakness is when facing monsters - not only are her combat abilities weak, she doesn't have the Sneak to get past either. She works best as a member of a team, with others clearing the streets while she uses her power to avoid monsters in other worlds by not picking that card.

Spellcasters
Spellcasters are those whose initial setup doesn't particularly push them into either a combat or exploration role. Instead, their starting spells are likely to define the role they take. Spellcasters require high Lore for their spell checks, and preferably have spell-related special abilities as well.
Regrettably, the base game contains a mostly weak selection of spellcasters - with one shining exception.

The Poor: Dexter Drake
When discussions about the worst investigator in the game have exhausted the shortcomings of Sister Mary, they invariably move on to Dexter Drake. Given that Spells are generally drawn less often than Common or Unique items, his power is pretty weak. His Lore, the key to spellcasting, is above average, but still not the best. He starts with a guaranteed combat spell - but his weak Will makes him a liability in combat. Above all, his Sanity is only 5 - he's going to run out of the ability to power those spells far too soon.
You may get some great spells on the draw, but otherwise, it's hard to find a use for Dexter.

The Fair:
Vincent Lee

Vincent is, on the face of it, nearly identical to Dexter. Same 5/5 Sanity/Stamina split, same lore, and so forth. He's a bit slower, and a bit luckier, and has a better Sneak to help avoid combat situations. While his special ability might, on the face of it, be less useful to a spellcaster than Dexter's, it will come into play more frequently and generally make itself more useful. Overall, Vincent isn't much better than Dexter, but comes in a nose ahead.

Harvey Walters
Old Harv has got a lot of pluck for an older gentleman. With the highest Lore in the game, and a huge 7 Sanity, he is much better at actually casting Spells than Dexter or Vincent. His combat abilities are the weakest in the game, but he should be using spells to close the gap, and he has a strong Sneak if he can't. His special ability to reduce Sanity costs doesn't apply to Spells, but at least it reduces other losses, helping ringfence his Sanity for powering Spells. As a pure caster, Harvey is the best, and would be the best spellcasting character if it weren't for:

The Good: Carolyn Fern
Oh Carolyn, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Your Lore is strong, and your Luck its equal. Should it come to a fight, your combat abilities are superior to any other spellcaster. True, as a lady, you do not sneak, neither do you hurry; however, you should be able to acquire the Spells to overcome at least one of those shortcomings. Above all, you have by far the finest special ability for a spellcaster - you may heal the very Sanity you use to cast Spells. You may just cast, and cast again, a never-ending font of thaumaturgic splendour.

All-rounders
Finally, we have the elusive class of all-rounders, whose skills and special abilities do not strongly favour any of the roles above. All have 5/5 Sanity/Stamina, and approximately average skills. They generally have flexibility, but by that token lack strength in any particular job.

The Bad: Amanda Sharpe
I'm sorry, Amanda, but you're just terrible. Your high Focus should give you flexibility, but since you lack any extremes in your skills in the first place this Focus largely goes to waste. Furthermore, you have probably the weakest special ability of any investigator bar Sister Mary - Skill cards are rarely drawn, and in any case, your flat skill distribution means you don't really care that much which Skill card you get anyway.
Amanda isn't just weak; she's also boring. Avoid.

The Fair: Jenny Barnes
From one of my least-favourite investigators to one of my most cherished. Already, compared to Amanda, she's better in a fight and luckier - thus she can take a few more chances in locations than Amanda can. Sure, she's a bit sluggish, but her starting cash and constant income means that faster movement is often only a few visits to a shop away - visits that Jenny can keep on making. Her access to items can often overcome her lack of other special ability, and her acquisitions can make her a strong player in either slayer or explorer roles. Plus, she's a great team player, as she can pass off excess items to other players. Jenny's both strong and fun to play - easily my preferred all-rounder.

The Good/Worst: Mandy Thompson
Mandy is an absolute beast. Good Sneak and Will make her resilient, and she doesn't have any glaring weaknesses. She starts with 4 Clues, putting her into a great position for an early gate seal. But the thing putting her over the top is her incredible special ability. Arkham Horror is a game about risk management; being able to reroll any skill check is massive, and made positively overwhelming as only failures are rerolled. It's hard to fail anything with Mandy.
And that's a large part of my problem. Mandy just makes it too easy to win. She adds far too much power to the strategic side of the game. At the same time, she isn't a particularly interesting character in herself; in a game which is about theme and story rather than hard strategy, lack of character is unforgivable. Unless you're playing a single-investigator game (and hence need the power boost), I beg you, don't pick Mandy Thompson. She undermines the game itself. Just say no.
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Tiago Perretto
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Dexter Drake is the Great Drake!

He needs nothing more to be great.

Regards,
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Michael Carter
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I always thought you were supposed to randomly draw the investigators.
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M.C.Crispy
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mlcarter815 wrote:
I always thought you were supposed to randomly draw the investigators.
Yes, but surely, you can do whatever gives you most pleasure when playing with your toy? Nevertheless, this categorisation seems more about how best to use your Investigator than picking a "dream team". Personally, I don't use Investigators in fixed roles, they do whatever is needed at the time - even if it's not their strongest suit: "sorry, I can't fight that Monster to prevent it falling into the vortex and bringing on the End of the World, I'm the designated Gate Closer". Riiiiight.
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Teeka
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mccrispy wrote:
mlcarter815 wrote:
I always thought you were supposed to randomly draw the investigators.
Yes, but surely, you can do whatever gives you most pleasure when playing with your toy?


From the rulebook:

"The first player shuffles the 16 investigator sheets. Then,
without looking, he randomly deals out one investigator
sheet in front of each player, including himself.

Alternately, the players may agree to choose their investigators,
starting with the first player and continuing
clockwise until every player has selected an investigator."


I sometimes play random, sometimes choosing. But when choosing, the reasons to choose is more "haven't played that one yet" or "I like dogs so I want to start with Duke", than picking a dream team.
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Howard Burdett
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Teeka wrote:
But when choosing, the reasons to choose is more "haven't played that one yet" or "I like dogs so I want to start with Duke", than picking a dream team.


I couldn't agree more - hence my dislike of Mandy for being overpowered. There are occasions when I will actively choose to play Dexter - specifically, when I want more of a challenge. The original article was intended for a mainstream audience who are fairly new to the game, some of whom will be overwhelmed and have difficulty understanding what they are really supposed to be doing. I hope these explanations of primary roles and the strength and weaknesses of each character would be helpful for newcomers. I certainly remember when I first played the game, I had very little idea what I was really supposed to be doing and what constituted smart choices - I didn't even know BGG existed back then. Of course, Investigators may have to play any role according to the demands of the game state, but a little strategic help with regards to Investigator's best usages would have been helpful to me then.
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M.C.Crispy
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the_spiral wrote:
Teeka wrote:
But when choosing, the reasons to choose is more "haven't played that one yet" or "I like dogs so I want to start with Duke", than picking a dream team.


I couldn't agree more - hence my dislike of Mandy for being overpowered. There are occasions when I will actively choose to play Dexter - specifically, when I want more of a challenge. The original article was intended for a mainstream audience who are fairly new to the game, some of whom will be overwhelmed and have difficulty understanding what they are really supposed to be doing. I hope these explanations of primary roles and the strength and weaknesses of each character would be helpful for newcomers. I certainly remember when I first played the game, I had very little idea what I was really supposed to be doing and what constituted smart choices - I didn't even know BGG existed back then. Of course, Investigators may have to play any role according to the demands of the game state, but a little strategic help with regards to Investigator's best usages would have been helpful to me then.
Agreed on pretty much all counts - that was the intended thrust of my posting. It's definitely helpful to know the strengths that you can play to when the game permits It's also worth knowing weakness - such as some Investigators really shouldn't visit certain Other Worlds. On the other hand, sometimes it's fun to find this stuff out for yourself - but a primer in the rulebook would have been nice for new players that are investing a lot of time and money in learning a game that cuts them no slack, sometimes leading them to abandon the game after half a dozen plays because they just can't get to grips with it.
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mccrispy wrote:
a primer in the rulebook would have been nice for new players that are investing a lot of time and money in learning a game that cuts them no slack, sometimes leading them to abandon the game after half a dozen plays because they just can't get to grips with it.

Very true.
When I first looked through the investigators, I thought I'd play doctor Lee and sister Mary first. Cause I like to play 'clerics' and the idea of a nun shooting monsters sounded awesome.
Those games probably would've sucked. Luckily, I started with a very different 'try out team' because I read all the newbie tip-threads here on BGG.
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the_spiral wrote:
The original article was intended for a mainstream audience who are fairly new to the game, some of whom will be overwhelmed and have difficulty understanding what they are really supposed to be doing. I hope these explanations of primary roles and the strength and weaknesses of each character would be helpful for newcomers.

You did a good job on this, by the way. I can't really comment on everything being correct evaluations or not, but your article is very useful.
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John Griffin
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Fantastic job! I would also add that Jenny Barnes can use her special ability to take a bank loan with no need to repay it. The worst that happens is she doesn't get her bonus dollar during upkeep depending on her roll. This makes it easy to gear her up right in the initial game rounds or be a sugar mamma for other characters who need to heal up but run out of money for the hospital/asylum.
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Joe Pilkus
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I know there's been a lot of ink spilled on the issue of Mandy being over-powered, but in reality there's still a bit of risk-management at play. In any given turn with four Investigators, the players, collectively will have nearly a dozen skill checks. Allowing one of those the opportunity to succeed does not seem over-the-top to me. I've used her ability to great effect and other times, even the great Mandy can't save a truly helpless situation.
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At least Dexter is balanced with his personal story as its easy to achieve and a fairly good reward- read a tome, reduce the sanity cost of spells by one.

Sister Mary is fairly good too, she gets an unlimited bless.

Thank goo for personal stories! goo
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Garcian Smith
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This is a rather interesting way to categorize it. For the monster sweepers, while Michael overall isn't too reliable for fighting, his niche is that he's pretty good against monsters that are pretty basic and don't have a high horror rating. I wouldn't say common items are necessarily weaker than unique items, but more so that they are different. Common items usually do basic things such as give you more fight dice, help you move faster and so on. I think it suits Bob well because he is a decent monster killer in the first place.

Sister Mary... she's definitely an odd ball. She's pretty good against undead monsters, but yea, her ability will probably not be used in most games. Her blessing is really nice though and can help her close early gates with ease.

Drake isn't as bad as many people here are saying. He starts out with 3 spells, one of which is offensive, then he can on turn 1 use his ability to get a FOURTH spell and he gets to pick the best of the 3 he sees. This gives him great flexibility in terms of the variety of spells he has. He will be able to see a ton of spells, 3 from the 2 that he picks from in setting up and 3 more when he buys from the shop. He could go offensive with spells, become a great gate closer with find gate and so on. He has variety.

Carolyn Fern in theory would be the best spellcaster. Her problem is that she starts with NO spells at all. She has to get funds somehow and then head over to the shop and hopefully get a useful spell. Drake has a better start than Fern.
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Howard, do you have the expansions? I'd like to see your thoughts on those investigators in addition to these. Where would you place them?

And/or if you're up to it, if you would consider checking out the custom characters I have uploaded in the File Section, I'd be interested in your take on them as well (They're hopefully balanced though I intended quite a few of them to be high-risk/high-reward, so I'm not sure how you would "tier" them).

Also, nice assessment!

EDIT: If you DO take a look at my custom characters, note that they are meant to be played only with the Personal Story variant. Without using PS's some of them could probably become QUITE unbalanced.
 
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Howard Burdett
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soakman wrote:
Howard, do you have the expansions? I'd like to see your thoughts on those investigators in addition to these. Where would you place them?

And/or if you're up to it, if you would consider checking out the custom characters I have uploaded in the File Section, I'd be interested in your take on them as well (They're hopefully balanced though I intended quite a few of them to be high-risk/high-reward, so I'm not sure how you would "tier" them).

Also, nice assessment!


I have some expansions, but not all. Couldn't yet pass any judgements - I have thoughts as to how I expect them to play out, but you never know until you run the experiment.

I'll see if I can find time to look at yours though... I have yet to paddle in the waters of fan expansions, but I'm intrigued, and your invitation gives me a specific reason to get involved.
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Mr. P
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A very useful post for a noob like myself. Thank you!
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Pretty good review. One note on Sister Mary - if you're using Personal Stories, she can be a bit of a game breaker. Get two investigators Blessed ASAP (monster sweepers turn in toughness, explorers turn in a gate trophy, other players can farm the Church) and in short order, EVERYONE with a Blessing/Retainer will probably keep it for the entire game.
 
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I thought Sister Mary's PS could only be used to re-roll her upkeep dice. Maybe I just assumed this though.
 
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soakman wrote:
I thought Sister Mary's PS could only be used to re-roll her upkeep dice. Maybe I just assumed this though.
Nope, it's in the FAQ. She may exhaust "Fear No Evil" to re-roll any die during upkeep, not just her own. thumbsup
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mccrispy wrote:
[q="mlcarter815"]..they do whatever is needed at the time - even if it's not their strongest suit...


McCrispy has a great point that all the investigators will have to do actions they are not initially suited to handle. It all comes down to what you can do at the time. It seems skills, depending on where they end up, determine who is best suited to each role on the team. A marksman skill on Dexter Drake suddenly makes him a potential tank.

Great article by Howard. Well thought out, articulated, easy to read and concise thoughts. I love how you rank Gloria and Carolyn as top picks in their respective categories. I've seen some other forums where people don't place them high enough.

I would give higher love to Ashcan Pete. His starting will statistic is a doozy. His high sneak can get you around a fight you may not want (a tough monster or you need to clear a street for your gate diver at another location). His ability to scrounge for a King in Yellow or Old Journal makes clue generation a breeze for your gate diver.

A few thoughts on starting items as some other folks have brought up. What investigators start with determines the initial few moves but trading should be early and often. Carolyn, who starts with no spells, should get a Shrivelling or Voice of Ra from another investigator. Gloria should get the team sneak items/Mists of Releh.

And finally Sister Mary, who gets picked on so often, starts with one of the top Common Items in the deck, the Cross. Remember the Cross adds +1 to horror checks and according to the errata,
Quote:
The Cross does not need to be equipped to receive the bonus to Horror checks. It is always active.
Use it or pass it to your tank. Additionally, Howard points out that your blessing will evaporate after a while. While true, it does present a huge early advantage to gain skills/items/other buffs from encounters during her early turns. Combined with high luck, the most common encounter check, and you have some serious possibilities for early growth.

I'd love to know your thoughts

 
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Nate Shadday
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Teeka wrote:
mccrispy wrote:
mlcarter815 wrote:
I always thought you were supposed to randomly draw the investigators.
Yes, but surely, you can do whatever gives you most pleasure when playing with your toy?


From the rulebook:

"The first player shuffles the 16 investigator sheets. Then,
without looking, he randomly deals out one investigator
sheet in front of each player, including himself.

Alternately, the players may agree to choose their investigators,
starting with the first player and continuing
clockwise until every player has selected an investigator."


I sometimes play random, sometimes choosing. But when choosing, the reasons to choose is more "haven't played that one yet" or "I like dogs so I want to start with Duke", than picking a dream team.


Personally, I like choosing investigators using the rule suggested in Richard Launius' House Rules from the FFG website:

"Rule 2 – Choosing Investigators: At the start of play, randomly deal 2 or 3 Investigator
Cards to each player. Players must choose their Investigator from those dealt to them.

Reason for House Rule: Prohibits always using the same Investigators, but still allows
for some choice. This assignment process forces the players to use different Characters
from game to game, and therefore different strategies. It also increases game
replayability and overall fun."

I think that pretty much sums it up.
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LordXenon wrote:


Personally, I like choosing investigators using the rule suggested in Richard Launius' House Rules from the FFG website:

"Rule 2 – Choosing Investigators: At the start of play, randomly deal 2 or 3 Investigator
Cards to each player. Players must choose their Investigator from those dealt to them.

Reason for House Rule: Prohibits always using the same Investigators, but still allows
for some choice. This assignment process forces the players to use different Characters
from game to game, and therefore different strategies. It also increases game
replayability and overall fun."

I think that pretty much sums it up.


We use this version with pick 3. We also add "If you played them recently, discard and draw again."
 
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Nowadays, we randomize both the GOO and the investigators but afterwards we put all used cards aside so they can't be used again. Repeat until exhausted, then just start again.

We also mix in most investigators from expansions even when we are not using that expansion.
 
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Mandy is the absolute behemoth of the base game. If you add the expansions, she, the psychic and the violinist (from Dunwich the second and Innsmouth the third if memory serves), break the game. In my playing group, we've decided never to use them again and the game is much more enjoyable this way. Like the OP suggested, use Mandy only if you play solo with a single investigator to balance the odds. Though, to be fair, the odds are not just balanced, but the player becomes the favorite and the AO the underdog. Yes, Mandy is that strong.
 
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