Welcome to Arkham Academy! This is going to be a series of posts breaking down strategic concepts in a highly detailed, yet beginner-friendly way. Numerous topics will be covered, including card, class, and investigator breakdowns, as well as simple strategies and synergies that can help a new player succeed.

While this is a beginner-friendly series, this series also assumes you have already read the rule book and know how to play the game. This series is not intended to teach you how to play the game, but rather, how to play the game well.

Art Student, Illustrated by Katherine Dinger. With Arkham Academy, you too can discover clues!

For Lesson One, we’re going to start with unpacking the most basic question of all: What is my deck supposed to do? This question is basic enough that it goes beyond difficulty level or player count, and hits at the core mechanics of how to succeed (or, since this is Arkham, how to minimize failure) at any given scenario.

To begin answering what your deck individually is supposed to do, we must first consider what your  team is supposed to do. Side note – if you are playing solo, when I say team, I mean just you. This article is written assuming you are NOT playing solo, but the principles are exactly the same and can be easily tweaked to fit a solo situation.

At the most fundamental level, your team is supposed to accomplish two things:

  1. Advance the Act deck (a function I call Advancing)*.
  2. Not die in the process (a function I call Defending).

It really is just about that simple. If you are Advancing the act deck to the end, while Defending enough that you are still healthy and sane at game’s end, then you have likely just achieved the best possible outcome for whatever scenario you are playing.

Speaking generally, Advancing the Act deck requires quickly accumulating a certain number of clues, while Defending involves being able to fight off monsters and deal with other encounter deck threats. So, again speaking simply and generally, what your team is supposed to accomplish is:

  1. Gather clues.
  2. Fight monsters.

(Side note: There are acts which advance through fighting monsters. However, they are fewer in number, and even these acts will often still require clues to be gathered in some capacity, so we will leave the summary as is.)

Now, I must absolutely stress that you must be able to do both of these functions within your team. Rex and Daisy may be able to collect dozens of clues with minimal effort, but the moment monsters start clawing at their faces, those clues are not going to do them a ton of good. On the other hand, Zoey and Mark may be sturdy enough to stay alive until the final doom token is placed on most any scenario, but they may not even have gotten past Act 1 in the process. Neither of those outcomes is exactly a success – you need both Advancing and Defending to succeed.

If that’s all you have to be able to do, then why is good deckbuilding so hard? The answer is because of the natural limitations of each character. Seekers like Rex just do not have access to tons of Defending, while Guardians like Zoey do not have access to tons of Advancing. Also due to the chaotic nature of the game, even the staunchest Guardian may be called upon to pick up a clue at times; you will need some flexibility no matter what function you are trying to fulfill.

You may be tempted to say a character who can do a mix of both, that is, a Generalist, may be the dream investigator. However, even they must tread with caution. While an Advancer deck will guarantee you get Advancing tools, and a Defender deck guarantees you get Defending tools, a Generalist is never particularly guaranteed to have whatever she needs out at the time she needs them. In short, while a Generalist could shine on two fronts and naturally excels at flexibility, she may also find herself missing key tools and doing two things poorly or repeating a role that doesn’t need to be repeated because she is limited by whatever cards she ended up drawing during over the course of the game.

Below, I have created a chart of where each of the 5 factions generally fall when considering Advancing and Defending as a continuum, with Advancing on one end and Defending on the other.

advancing defending
The positions of the classes on the continuum may change as the Level 0 card pool expands. Currently, Rogue has minimal Advancing, if any at all. Mystic and Survivor are both fairly Generalist in nature and can successfully fulfill any function. However, Mystic has slightly more powerful Advancing than Survivor due to Rite of Seeking and Drawn to the Flame both being more powerful than any of the Survivor class’s current Advancing tools.


Again, when you are building your deck, consider what functions your team is fulfilling.  Consider Yorick on a team with Daisy. Daisy has access to Seeker and Mystic, both of which are naturally full of Advancing with less access to Defending (especially as Daisy has a mediocre will of 3 and can’t use the Defending Mystic cards the way a full-fledged Mystic can). Therefore, Yorick will want to make sure his Guardian cards are bolstering the teams Defending capabilities. His Survivor cards should amplify his Defending role, but he should also take a few cards that provide some flexibility towards Advancing.

To summarize, when it comes to beginning your deckbuilding process, consider the following questions:

  1. What functions does each investigator on my team have access to?
  2. How do I want my investigator to contribute to this team on a functional level?
  3. What cards can I include in my deck that support the functions I need to perform?
  4. How can I ensure I am both drawing those cards and affording to put them into play?

Question 4 is in bold, because it’s going to be where we pick up on our next foray into deckbuilding. Hopefully, though, you have enough of an understanding of deck functions to begin exploring some simple deckbuilding on your own. Have fun and please leave any questions in the comments!


*I realize that moving the Agenda deck is also called advancing and that sort of advancing causes you to lose. Unfortunately for us, the same verb is used for both the Agenda and Act deck, so I am relying on the assumption that when I say you want Advancing to be a function of your deck, it is understood implicitly that I am not talking about Advancing the Agenda deck. I feel this should be a fairly safe assumption to make.