Guest Article written by Chris Mooney
If there’s anything fans love more than playing the cards, it’s evaluating the cards. Endlessly debating pros and cons is what keeps the community alive and engaged. And I’ve noticed one of my favorite cards seems hotly contested: Rabbit’s Foot.
Much like the real-world trinket, Rabbit’s Foot has had believers and skeptics arguing its value since the very beginning. As a firm believer, I often see arguments against Rabbit’s Foot that I think miss the mark. So today, we’re going to dive deep into this simple effect and how it relates to the fundamentals of Arkham Horror.
Click Click Bang
The most common criticism I see of Rabbit’s Foot is that “it has to trigger 4 times before it does anything.” I disagree with this argument in several ways (not least of which being I fail a lot more than 4 times per scenario), but let’s start by breaking down where the math behind this phrase even comes from.
This line of logic is based on the “click economy” (or “action economy”), a concept we inherited from Netrunner that you can read more about in this excellent article. The basic idea is that since you can spend one action (a “click”) to draw a card or gain a resource, you can evaluate the value of effects based on this simple conversion rate. For example, Rabbit’s Foot costs 1 action, 1 resource, and 1 card to get onto the table (a total of 3 “actions’ worth” of resources), you must draw at least 4 cards (4 “actions’ worth”) before you’ve gotten a net positive effect.
This theory is a helpful way for new players to get their bearings on what makes a card good or bad, but just like in Netrunner it shouldn’t be used as a hard and fast rule. To quote unitled’s article (which goes far deeper into this specific topic), “not all actions are created equal.” I would take this even further and say that in Arkham, actions are far more valuable than resources or cards.
Think about it, how often do you spend an action to get a resource or draw a card? If your games are anything like mine, this usually only happens in one of two situations: when you’re desperate (I really need an extra resource to play my sweet card this turn), or when you’ve got actions to spare (well I got lucky on my investigation test, but I don’t want to move and I’m still looking for a weapon, so I guess I’ll draw a card). Even if your campaigns play out differently, there’s no denying that most actions are much more preciously spent doing things that are required to complete the scenario. You have to move, you have to investigate, and you have to fight (or evade) enemies. But cards? Resources? Sure they’re important to your game plan, but no scenario requires you to use them. In fact, if you were lucky enough, you could technically complete a scenario without playing a single card or spending a single resource. (And if you’ve pulled that off, I’d recommend the lottery).
In addition, the agenda deck often gives you an explicitly limited number of actions to complete a scenario. Resources and (to a slightly lesser extent) cards are bottomless, while actions are a limited commodity. Hell, you get a resource and a card for free every turn! I’m not seeing any free move or fight actions being handed out as charity. If you want evidence of this design intent, look no further than the core set basic weaknesses. Amnesia and Paranoia each have the potential to remove tons of cards or resources. But the weaknesses that take actions to remove only cost two, and they’re optional, and they’re usually still a pain because two actions are a lot to lose. Imagine there was a revelation weakness that just deleted the next 4 or 5 actions you would take. *Shudder*
For Netrunner, the action economy is a rudimentary tool at best, but for Arkham it’s even less applicable. But Rabbit’s Foot still costs an action to deploy, and the entire last section was about how card drawing is way less valuable than actions. So how does that make it good? Well to answer that, we need to talk about non-tangible value.
An important concept to understand when talking about cards like Rabbit’s Foot is opportunity cost. For those unaware, the opportunity cost of any choice you make is what you’d be giving up by making it. For example, the opportunity cost of playing Evidence! Is that you’ll lose the ability to discard it for its double intellect pips in the future. As I raved about above, the most important resource (and therefore largest opportunity cost you can have) in Arkham is an action. Other than perhaps your last point of health/sanity, losing an action is about as brutal a cost there is.
Enter the chaos bag. The reason actions are so precious (and why “no test” cards like Drawn to the Flame are so good) is the ever-looming threat of the chaos bag. Every scenario will require some tests, and the opportunity cost for those tests are actions. Every time you reach into that bag to fight or investigate you’re paying the cost of an action, and potentially for nothing at all (or sometimes worse).
Here’s where Rabbit’s Foot is key. Rabbit’s Foot pays you back in cards, but it also pays you back by lowering your opportunity cost.
As I mentioned earlier, I don’t think spending an action to draw a card is a valuable trade. But I would much rather trade an action for a card than for nothing at all. The delta between you spending an action to succeed and spending an action to fail is way larger than the delta between succeeding and drawing a card. This makes the inherent risk of the bag a lot less, well, risky. Worst case, I get a card, but best case I still succeed the test. To put it another way, Rabbit’s Foot means I never need to forego taking a better action to draw a card. I never have to pick between a “good/bad” option and a “always ok” option, I just get a guaranteed “good/ok”.
Naturally Rabbit’s Foot isn’t on all the time: its once per turn limit does cap how effective it can be. Still, I find all the extra cards I’ve drawn from Rabbit’s Foot let me be more liberal with committing them to second tests after I’ve failed the first. And if you’re not flush with cards, that means you’ve just been succeeding everything.
Opportunity cost is a difficult advantage to grasp because it doesn’t manifest in an obvious way. And importantly, it’s an easy advantage to squander if you’re not maximizing your plays. This brings me to my final point…
Playing to Fail
Another common criticism of Rabbit’s Foot is that it only works when you fail, and “I don’t plan to fail”. This is a fair line of thinking, and there are certainly characters and cards that can cut down on your skill tests in various ways. And on harsher difficulties, the temptation to stay as far away from the chaos bag as possible makes a lot of sense.
…at the same time, Lucky! is great, right?
If you need an easy way to see the value of opportunity cost, just compare Lucky! to Unexpected Courage. They’re both good cards in my opinion. Both add 2 to any test, but Lucky! is a lot better (even though it costs an entire extra resource!). Why? They both give you the exact same bonus (Lucky! won’t give you a success where Unexpected Courage wouldn’t have), but Lucky! lets you negate the opportunity cost.
Don’t get me wrong, Lucky! is a much better card than Rabbit’s Foot. But at their core they’re valuable for the same reason: taking a would-be lost action and converting it into value. But I feel like Lucky!’s higher profile, “get out of jail free” nature is what makes it immune to the same “planning to fail” argument that gets stuck to Rabbit’s Foot. Yes, Rabbit’s Foot “requires” you to fail more, and it doesn’t let you cheat out a success the way Lucky! does, but that doesn’t mean it should go overlooked.
Mitigating variance is important, but instead of avoiding variance, cards like Lucky! and Rabbit’s Foot let you exploit it. When the opportunity cost is lower, you want to be taking tests more often and at riskier odds. When I’ve got Lucky! in hand, I’m more willing to take tests at a disadvantage if succeeding means we make huge progress or win. Similarly, Rabbit’s Foot means I won’t commit cards to a first test just to stock up for a second or third go. If you “roll well”, you’ve put yourself way ahead of the curve. If you don’t, you’ve lost less than you would have. As we say in the Magic community: luck favors the prepared. Rabbit’s Foot lets you put yourself in the position to benefit off a stroke of luck without the usual risk involved.
I know that for some players, a card that’s main boon is letting you “play riskier” sounds awful. And I can’t blame them. If you’re trying to avoid tests as much as possible then I can’t convince you a test-based card is going to be good. All I can say is that Arkham is not a game that lets you off the hook. Every turn the encounter deck coughs up something nasty. All enemies and most treachery cards require tests to deal with. You’re not going to be able to avoid or succeed all of them. Rabbit’s Foot lets you take advantage of the game’s main mechanic rather than trying to hide from it.
Results May Vary
I wanted to stick to the fundamentals of what makes Rabbit’s Foot great, but as with everything in Arkham your situation matters a lot. A Rabbit’s Foot you play on turn 1 is a lot more likely to pay off than the one you play on turn 6. Scavenging makes Rabbit’s Foot a lot better, while specific Dunwich Legacy encounter cards can make it a liability. Duke’s free move and investigate can give you a lot of extra triggers, while Agnes and Wendy both want to use their accessory slot for other things. These kinds of modifying factors are what make deckbuilding in Arkham such an interesting challenge.
At the end of the day, Rabbit’s Foot is not a card that’s going to be the powerhouse of a deck or blow a scenario wide open, but laying one down early can be the difference between coasting to victory with a full hand and scrambling till the last second. More importantly, I think we need to remember that there’s so much more to evaluating Arkham cards than just a basic conversion rate. Arkham is full of complex tradeoffs, which is one of the many reasons it’s so much fun!
Thanks for reading! Hopefully you were able to take something away from this. And if not, then at least I’ll get to draw a card!