Whether you are a new or an experienced Arkham player, tempo is one of the most important things to understand in the game. Tempo is basically a concept in games that feature resources of any kind, i.e, cards, tokens, actions, etc., which describes how efficiently and effectively one player is using those resources versus another. For example, let’s say Bob and Alice are playing a card game where they need to collect as many apples as possible. They both start out exactly the same, but by turn 3, Alice has 10 apples and Bob has 5 apples. You could say Alice has had better tempo over this game so far than Bob, because Alice has gotten more out of her resources. This doesn’t mean Alice is guaranteed to win – we don’t even know all the rules of this imaginary game – but we can see she has an advantage at this point of the game. You can think of tempo as a term which loosely translates to “tabletop game speed”. Things that increase your tempo are generally good and things that cause you to lose tempo are generally bad.
Now, let’s apply this to Arkham Horror: The Card Game. What resources do we have to work with? Lots! Each investigator has cards in their deck, those charming resource boxes, health and sanity values, slots for assets, and most importantly, three actions to get things done. [Note: From here on out, when I say resources I mean resources in general, such as in the previous list. When I say resource tokens, I mean specifically the money substitute, i.e, the stuff that Jenny and Preston swim in.] In a competitive game, your tempo would be compared to players who are trying to beat you. Arkham Horror is a cooperative game, so that doesn’t really exist. Does that mean we don’t have a comparison to measure our own tempo against? No, because the scenario itself can be understood as our opponent.
Winning and losing a scenario aren’t real terms used in Arkham Horror (you only “win” or “lose” at a campaign level). Really, there are only resolutions, and you end up with one of them based on your performance. But colloquially, if we’ve played the scenarios, we all know exactly what it means if someone says they won The Gathering or they lost Essex County Express. So, we’re going to define the terms for the purpose of this conversation. Winning is generally “advancing the act deck to its conclusion”. Losing is generally “the agenda deck advancing to its end or all investigators being defeated”.
Every round, doom gets added to the agenda deck, which inevitably leads to it advancing. This means all scenarios have an inherent time limit to them. This is why tempo is so important. Your party of investigators has to work at advancing the act faster than the agenda advances. The whole party being defeated is another way our opponent, the scenario, overcomes us, so we have to be cautious about that condition as well. We have to respond to the threat of being defeated in a way that doesn’t slow us down too much. If we slow down our tempo too much to prevent being defeated, well, now we are losing progress against the clock and could lose from the agenda advancing!
So, we have an idea now of what tempo is, and we know that a certain tempo is required to win the game or else you just lose. Making good use of our resources increases our tempo. Our resources being wasted slows down our tempo. Among all the resources we have, actions are what we use the most to get things done. Therefore, as much as absolutely possible, we want to get more than one action’s worth of value out of each action we do, or from a larger perspective, more than three actions’ worth of value out of each turn. [Note: Some investigators can get over 3 actions’ worth of value out of each turn really easily, such as Daisy using her additional Tome action every turn!] Doing that means we are being efficient and playing with high tempo. Anything less than that is inefficient and low tempo. Now, remember, high tempo doesn’t guarantee a win, however, it is required that you play faster than doom accumulates or else you just lose.
What do we typically get out of one action? This is an easy question; it’s very simply the list of actions an investigator can take on their turn.
- Investigate your location. [Note: Requires an Intellect test and grants you 1 clue.]
- Move to a connecting location.
- Draw (draw 1 card).
- Resource (gain 1 resource).
- Play an asset or event card from your hand.
- Activate an ->-costed ability on an in-play card you control, an in-play encounter card at your location, a card in your threat area, the current act card, or the current agenda card.
- Fight an enemy at your location. [Note: Requires a Combat test and deals 1 damage.]
- Engage an enemy at your location.
- Attempt to evade an enemy engaged with you. [Note: Requires an Agility test and exhausts 1 enemy.]
So, achieving high tempo basically means getting better results than any of the above, as frequently as possible. Doing this requires card effects, either from your investigator card or your deck. Here are three examples:
- Emergency Cache is a card that can help your tempo by giving you 3 resource tokens in one action. That’s 3 times better than a typical resource action, with the additional requirement of one card used.
- A standard Fight action deals only 1 damage, but if you had played a weapon like .45 Automatic earlier, your Fight action might now deal 2 damage instead. You had to spend resources, use up a card, and take an action to put that weapon out, but in the long run, this weapon will increase your tempo considerably versus doing 1 damage per action.
- Finally, consider a regular Investigate action, versus one with the skill card Deduction committed to it. The test with Deduction generates much more tempo for the party if it is successful.
Now low tempo is caused by anything that causes you to get worse results than the above list. Here are some of the biggest causes of low tempo:
- Failed tests. For example, if you fail a regular investigation test, you get nothing out of your action whatsoever. You can think of it as though you got the same outcome as if you had just passed on taking the action.
- Encounter card and weakness effects. Let’s say you played a card, and then something like a failed test on Crypt Chill discards it from play. This is a significant tempo loss for you, because you lose the card, the action you used to play it is wasted, and the resource tokens you used to put that card into play are also wasted. Another classic example is Ancient Evils, which outright results in everyone losing 1 turn worth of actions.
- Being unable to deal with enemies. If you can’t evade or fight enemies engaged with you, the number of things you can do will be severely limited. You may find yourself taking attacks of opportunity, taking attacks during the enemy phase, or just simply not being able to do anything useful to push the party forward.
- Having to stop and deal with damage or horror on you. Unless you are getting bonuses for it like Carolyn does, spending actions on healing lowers your tempo significantly. Not only are using actions, you are also typically using your cards and resource tokens to play those cards just to heal. So long as you have 1 health and 1 sanity remaining, you can still win a scenario even if you are limping almost dead around the map. Now, the benefit of healing of course is you don’t die outright, so you may be forced into doing it to prevent a defeat. However, preventing your own defeat is not the same thing as advancing the act. Actions that push the party towards advancing the act are what contribute to your tempo.
As you can see, most things that cause you to lose tempo are encounter cards. Therefore, cards that prevent these effects, such as Ward of Protection or Deny Existence, are great because they preserve your tempo. As well, high Will investigators will have to deal with these effects far less frequently than a low Will investigator, who may find any tempo he has built up can be decimated by a simple encounter card he can’t deal with (prime example: Finn with Frozen in Fear.)
Now let’s go back to the question of failed tests and tempo. Let’s look at a card like Flashlight. Flashlight requires an action and resource tokens to be put into play, and it grants you only 1 clue per investigate action. So, thinking about it, does Flashlight actually improve your tempo? Well, it does if you would have failed those tests without Flashlight being there. Let’s say every one of your Flashlight tests ended up being a success, but each of those tests would have failed without Flashlight. That’s not just a swing of 3 clues in your favour; it’s also 3 wasted actions prevented! The same holds true for committing skill cards to tests. If the test would have failed otherwise, committing that skill card helped you maintain tempo! Now, of course, due to the random nature of the chaos bag, you can rarely say for sure if a test passed or failed due to a Flashlight or due to a skill card. That’s something you’ll have to judge in the moment, but now you should have a better idea of how these test modifiers apply to tempo, even if the outcome is not necessarily more than a standard action.
Hopefully, this article has given you some great insight into what tempo is, why it is important, and what causes good or bad tempo. This should allow you to play better during the game and construct better decks. Now, go out there and have a great time playing your high tempo decks, and don’t allow the nasty encounter cards get the better of you and wreck your tempo! Have fun!