Since Dexter’s reveal, I’ve seen a lot of reactions to his signatures and abilities. While I know that whatever your opinion is is a personal thing and valid, I did want to write up a longer response to a specific complaint I’ve seen about Dexter multiple times now. Mainly, the complaint goes that Dexter is boring, because his ability is really simple, and that he doesn’t push the design space far enough. I’ve even seen comments going as far as saying Dexter’s appearance is a wasted opportunity to explore who he is. Examples of people who are not “boring” are Preston, Diana, Joe, Calvin, Patrice… people with mechanics that push the boundaries of the game. Dexter, as a stage magician, should have been flashier, with more tricks.
I don’t agree with this viewpoint on Dexter, and I’m going to explain why I think Dexter is amazing the way he is and why I think simple abilities are fantastic for this game and should be embraced.
1) An investigator’s individual power and identity come from many sources beyond their investigator ability.
A really good example of this is Calvin. Calvin has what some would call a flashy design. However, Calvin’s design only functions because of the cards he is allowed to take. If Calvin didn’t have cards that allowed him to get rewarded off of fails, carefully balance his health and sanity pool, get success without testing, and provide other benefits to his team irregardless of his stats, his overall power would be way less, regardless of his flashier ability. Imagine Calvin with the exact same ability, but now Seeker instead. Locked out of Survivor tools, he wouldn’t be successful the same way.
Also, consider the other statistics. You may think that Daisy is hugely dependent on her Tomes, due to her investigator ability. Yes, she definitely wants her Tomes, but even a Daisy with no Tomes in play for the entire scenario can still potentially carry her team to victory simply because her Intellect is a 5. Daisy can still make great use of the rest of her deck and can often investigate outright with no additional investment needed. Daisy’s 5 Intellect can make a big impact in a scenario even if she never uses her ability at all, so again, defining an investigator too much by their ability can be misleading.
We don’t know Dexter’s deckbuilding, so we’re not going to worry about that too much (although if it is what we speculate it is, it’s going to lead some amazing combinations.) However, look at his 5 Will. That’s a lot of power. As we know from Akachi and Agnes, that 5 Will will help be defensive against the Mythos. Of course, he’ll also do great on his tests on his arcane slot assets, which will help him work around the rest of his stat line. Just looking at that much, we already see power starting to show, so let’s continue with my next point.
2) Simple abilities can result in big changes. In particular, Dexter’s ability means he interacts with his card pool in a way that no other Mystic, and further, no other investigator in the game does.
Even considering just Mystic cards, Dexter’s simple ability allows him to use those cards in a way that other Mystics do not use them. Dexter is not concerned with conserving his charges the way someone else would be, because he can just replace them with a new arcane slot asset for no action at a reduced cost. He can burn through supplies or charges on his assets as fast as he feels like, with very little punishment for doing so. Furthermore, any asset that costs 1 resource can now potentially be played at 0 resources. Include Uncage the Soul and the list of assets Dexter could be playing for 0 resources during the scenario grows even more. Furthermore, many, many excellent Mystic events cost 0 resources as well. And Skill cards obviously don’t cost resources to play. The end result is Dexter can function with 0 resources in a way that a lot of other investigators would never be able to, by continuing to put out assets and use strong events.
Extrapolating further, this means that Dexter has the freedom to dump all his money at once in a way that others also wouldn’t do. Grounded or Arcane Studies come to mind right away. Protective Incantation can be easily paid for, since you could potentially spend the upkeep resource on that alone as you don’t need it for any other reason. His full deckbuilding will doubtlessly give him additional options. If you built your deck to have Dexter consistently have plays at 0 to 1 resource, this freedom could give you a lot of power.
Also, consider Dexter at 0 resources with an Alchemical Transmutation in his hand. He could switch it in with a different asset for free – no action, no resource. He could then potentially blow through all 3 tests over the course of the game and succeed by 3 each time. Even with no other commitments, he can still succeed by 3 with a draw of -1. He then goes from 0r to potentially 9r quickly. On the next turn, he can replace the spent Alchemical Transmutation for a different card, again for no action. This move gets even more pronounced with Alchemical Transmutation level 2, where Dexter could net 16 resources over 4 actions. [EDIT: I forgot that Alchemical Transmutation exhausts when you use it when I first wrote this. Slightly fixed up this paragraph, still think the card works on Dexter but not as fast as I imagined it did.]
No other Mystic investigator has this relationship with the resource pool, no other Mystic investigator can do these plays, and currently hardly any investigator is even running these cards frequently.
So even though his ability looks really simple, if you start looking at some of the outcomes of what his ability can do with the cards he can use, you can start seeing a lot of new possibilities emerge. Cards come out of the binder and new combos become notable. This is where the excitement of a simple ability comes from – taking an idea, building upon it, and following it onwards to new conclusion. While the ability itself may not be flashy, the long term possibilities arising from that ability can still be groundbreaking at the time. The ultimate deckbuilding implications of the ability are far, far more exciting to me than an investigator’s ability alone.
3) It’s healthy for the game for simple investigators to exist.
This is the point that I think is most important. A good flow of new investigators with simple abilities in addition to the complex ones is good for the game. These investigators will give new players more options to start learning the game. You wouldn’t teach a brand new player to play with Joe Diamond when you could teach them with Daisy Walker, for example. Dexter’s simplicity means he’ll be much easier for a new player to pick up and play successfully than a Diana or even someone like Marie. While his signature asset does demand quite a bit of knowledge of the game to use at the highest level, even if you don’t perfectly maximize Molly, you will still get great use out of the card.
Furthermore, consider that there are 55 investigators in the canon of Arkham Files currently. Not all 55 are going to be complex – nor should they be. The great number of investigators is an opportunity for the designers to appeal to a very broad playerbase. Some people will love the simple investigators, like Daisy. Some people will love the complex ones, like Diana. So far each release has included a great mix of complexity, which means more players will have something they like in each cycle. Keep in mind that Dexter is an early release through the novella system and shouldn’t be looked at simply on his own. Rather, he is to become part of a set. The other parts of that set, we won’t know for some time yet, so it’s entirely possible the complex investigators some people really like will be coming out in another class alongside him. Time will tell, but I fully expect something like that is the case here.
In conclusion, I don’t think that an investigator having a simple ability is a bad thing for that investigator or even more broadly for the game. Simple abilities have lots of great potential for new forms of power and discounting an investigator just because their ability is simplistic is a mistake. As far as abilities like these being boring to use, consider again the long term implications of how the abilities work. Sometimes these bigger implications are the real stars, moreso than the specific abilities. I think that once we see the full reveal of Dexter and get more opportunities to play with him, the community will be developing some really exciting decks with him that make him clearly stand out from other Mystics. I, for one, am already excited both for Dexter and that simple investigators are going to continue to be a part of the game in the future.