10 Year Anniversary Review: Arkham Horror’s Curse of the Dark Pharaoh

. 27.06.2016 . 0 Comments
Flash Fiction

I braced myself against my knees trying to catch my breath and listened exasperated to the rapidly diminishing sound of retreating footfalls against the old stone blocks of the deserted street.  Somewhere off in the distance I heard a single chime from the old South Church bell tower prompting me to wonder if that was the “ringing voice of Isis” the professor had been talking about in those last hours before the fever had taken him.  No church after all rang its bells at two in the morning.  I had made a promise to that poor old man on his deathbed, to recover the perpetually veiled artifact that he simply referred to as “the stepping stone to Nyarlathotep” whatever that was.  But it was proving to be harder than I thought, and the swarthy dockworker that I had nearly apprehended for breaking into Miskatonic’s shipment from Cairo had once again evaded me.  Either he possessed some sort of preternatural speed or I wasn’t as fast as I used to be.  Frustration either way.  The chronically overlooked and woefully overgrown little neighborhood I now found myself in from my failed pursuit was not entirely foreign to me, having once explored it on a dare when I was a boy.  The dark faces of the homes leering out from the overgrowth had put a creeping fear into me then, and as I slowly made my way down the lane they did so again.  Reluctant to continue, it was at the moment when I had just about turned to go back to the main channel of the French Hill streets when I saw a light come into a window.  It was in the great gnarled house at the end of the street that I and my old classmates had shudderingly called the Witch House.  The bleary upper windows unmistakably had a dim flickering glow that had not been there before.  An arid and uncharacteristic wind hushed through the leaves from the direction of the rotten home, and my curiosity somehow stronger than the terrified child within me made the decision to investigate and fulfill my promise.

I can honestly say that I owe a lot to Arkham Horror by Fantasy Flight Games.  In addition to the countless hours of fun it has provided to me over the years it was the game that really bridged the gap for me between table top role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons and board games.  Specifically why Arkham Horror is so well suited to this task I will save for a different post because right now we are going to take a look at one of my favorite and first expansions to the game ten years after its original release, The Curse of the Dark Pharaoh.

We are specifically going to be taking a look at the most recent version of CotDP, how it has changed between its two editions, and looking back over what it added and changed about the base game.

  • Release Date: 2006, 2011
  • Type: Small box, card only expansion
  • Board Game Geek Rating: 7.3, 7.8
  • Designer: Tim Uren, Robert Vaughn
  • Artist (2e): WiL Springer
  • Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games

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  • 76 Investigator Cards
    • 22 Exhibit Items
    • 18 Exhibit Encounter Cards
    • 21 Spells
    • 7 Allies
    • 8 Condition Cards
  • 90 Ancient One Cards
    • 27 Gate Cards
    • 18 Mythos Cards
  • 1 Dark Pharaoh Herald Sheet
  • 1 Ancient Whispers Marker
  • 9 Patrol Markers


The Evolution

The big changes between the two additions of the game I think were much needed and help to make it more thematic and balanced without making it seem like fans of the original were losing something with the newer version.  Generally between the two you saw a shift from completely barred locations to the addition of the softer patrol markers, allowing the game to reward stealthy characters and side step issues that can come up with the total inaccessibility of certain locations.  You saw a lot of softening and rewording of a lot of the encounter cards, and in particular the ally cards.  Originally the allies gave a full +2 to two stats, and then were brought back down to be on par with other similar cards.  The herald sheet of the Dark Pharaoh was added, and like other herald sheets really bumps up the difficulty of the game.  He is designed to have a lot of synergy with Nyarlathotep giving boosts to masked monsters and doles out curses and saps sanity all over the place.  If the revised edition seemed to make the game easier in other ways, adding the Dark Pharaoh herald cranks the difficulty way up.  Lastly and perhaps the best change that was made was the addition of the Ancient Whispers Marker, which made encountering a thematic encounter something you could do practically every turn if you so desired.

In my opinion the revised edition streamlined the rules, fixed some wording, added a way to ratchet up the difficulty, and provided a way to have a guaranteed thematic game while keeping the fantastically thematic elements of the original.  A solid step up.

The Breakdown

Like the other small box expansions for this game CotDP is primarily a card expansion adding more variety and thematic elements to the base game.  In this case an evil Egyptian exhibition has come to Arkahm spreading cursed relics and long forgotten evils throughout the city which may or may not spell doom for all humanity (such a lighthearted game isn’t it 🙂

Their are four main elements that effect the game beyond adding thematic components to mechanics that are already in place from the base game.  The first and the one that was not part of the original release is the roving dark whispers marker.  Often representing the repercussions of exhibit items going missing, the Dark Whispers marker moves on a moon symbol like a monster throughout the streets of Arkham, or jumping to a new street location when called to by its encounter cards.  It acts as a mobile event location for purposes of the Arkahm event phase and is 100% guaranteed to give you a thematic encounter and is probably the thing you remember most about the revised edition.

The second new mechanic the expansion adds is the patrol markers.  These little chits appear usually as an opt in from location encounter cards and represent the vigilantes and neighborhood watch groups trying to take back the streets from the psychos running around with shotguns and odd looking relics.  Passing through street locations that are guarded by these groups will require investigators to make an sneak check, failure resulting is a quick trip to the local jail.

Third is the condition cards.  Some beneficial and some detrimental these effects are usually doled out through encounter cards and contain spicific ongoing effects and specific resolution conditions.

Lastly is the big kahuna himself, the Dark Pharaoh Herald sheet, bringing a slew of nasty effects both to punish the investigators and speed up the arrival of the Great Old one.


The Curse of the Dark Pharaoh is probably one of the expansions that I have run the most for AH over the years and one that I’m happy to have seen get a second edition to compete with AH’s later expansions.  The constantly migrating Ancient Whispers marker has proven to be one of the most interacted with expansion pieces and has never proven to hand out as many exhibit artifacts as I think it will (for the best).  Because of this marker it allows CotDP to be paired with other expansions without the theme being lost in the decks.  Friends and family have learned to hate and fear the Dark Pharaoh herald (especially if you’re a fan of Mr. Jack), and is not an element I would recommend using with people who are new to the game.  Plague of Locusts has proven to be a game changing card on multiple occasions, being able to wipe away a monster from anywhere on the board as well as the Psychic condition which pulls back to their feet delayed investigators.  Just as I remembered the condition cards don’t come up as often as you think that they would, and really don’t have much of an effect except for the aforementioned Psychic card.  Likewise the patrol markers never seem to see much action, and I would strongly consider some house rules if you like the elements that they can add to the game.

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At the end of the day it was a pleasure to dust off the worn box of Arkham Horror and shuffle in this new version of an old favorite 10 years later.  The strategic elements that it adds to the game are still fun, and don’t really add too much on top of the already complex base game.  I think you’ll find like I did that the magic is still there and this expansion is one of the better ones in the line up.  Happy rolling!

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About the Author ()

Tanz is an enthusiastic GM, Blogger, and avid table top gamer with over 15 years of experience. His first brush with tabletop gaming was with Dungeons and Dragons 3rd Ed. Over the years he has transitioned from player to GM, and has run many types of game systems favoring games that bend toward horror and with a supernatural twist in contemporary settings. His DM style is one that leans heavily towards adventure path style play, preferring to give players options rather than unrestricted 'sandbox' style play or narration on rails. He regularly engages with the tabletop gaming community on twitter @Tanz444, his articles can be seen on various digital venues, and loves to GM at conventions whenever possible.

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