Generally speaking, investigating is the act of investigating a location. Thematically, Deciphered Reality makes it seem like you are investigating all of the revealed locations at once, and that is surely the flavor of the card. But examining the text of the card line by line, we see that it only really does 2 things: 1) Instead of the test’s difficulty being equal to the shroud value of your location, the test’s difficulty is equal to the highest shroud value among revealed locations in play. 2) If you succeed, you discover 1 clue from each revealed location in play (and this is not a replacement effect). You’re still technically investigating your location. For example, if you played Deciphered Reality while in the Orne Library, you would still need to spend an additional action to investigate. Likewise, you couldn’t play Deciphered Reality at a location with a Locked Door.
- Deciphered Reality is not a replacement effect; its effect doesn’t use any form of ‘instead’ or ‘but,’ so its effect is in addition to the standard rewards for successfully investigating. (Otherwise it would say something like “instead of discovering a clue at your location…”) (Compare with Burglary). In other words, if you successfully use Deciphered Reality, you would discover 1 clue at your location, and 1 clue at each revealed location. If you commit Deduction to this test, you would still discover 1 additional clue at your location.
I've built a fair number of high-XP Seeker decks and I've never been that tempted to include Deciphered Reality. Oh, sure, the peak performance of this card is bonkers. In some scenarios you could arrange events so that you pick up nine clues in a single action. The rewards for a successful investigation are so high that combining it with Double or Nothing is actually worth actively pursuing (whereas most reviews' mentions of Double or Nothing are more like a fun thought experiment than a practical deck-building consideration).
But I'm not sold on it, and I think there's an important philosophical point we ought to unpack, there.
Arkham Horror CG decks should be built defensively. The consequences of succeeding a scenario are huge compared with failure - it could mean getting powerful allies, avoiding trauma and extra weaknesses, or even tipping the balance of success or failure for the entire campaign. By comparison, the difference between succeeding at a scenario and succeeding at it very well is typically an XP or two.
Therefore, cards that help you not fail are more important than cards that help you win harder. Deciphered Reality is a card of the latter type. You can only really bring out its full potential when you're in total control of your situation, where you can afford to have you and your other investigators spread out and exposing as many locations as possible to maximize the yield. If that's the position you're in, then you were probably going to win anyway.
Sure, in theory picking up a lot of clues at once can tip the balance between a win and a loss, but honestly? This is more clues than you need. Bear in mind that averaging one clue per investigator per round is extremely fast, and most scenarios will let you get away with half that pace, e.g. six rounds to pick up three clues per investigator. Massive clue-vacuuming plays are less important for a Seeker than just making sure that they, or someone else nearby, can keep enemies at bay so they can zip around the map and investigate at a steady pace.
If you don't specifically plan to use Deciphered Reality to make a huge play, then it may not even be worth using. It's not cheap at four resources, and there are relatively affordable cards to help you rapidly collect clues, like Archaic Glyphs: Guiding Stones and both variants of Deduction. Moreover, Pathfinder or a well placed upgraded Shortcut are great ways to cut down on the number of actions in a scenario, which is similar in practice to the payoff from Deciphered Reality, but they're cheaper and they're easy to use well.
On top of that, this card is just begging to be autofailed. If that happens, then you're practically guaranteed not to have time to pick up clues at all the VP locations that you deliberately didn't finish up, and could be at risk of failing the scenario itself. This game is meant to randomly generate huge setbacks. For the love of Yig, do not put all your eggs in one basket, like Deciphered Reality is baiting you to do!
This card has excellent synergy with Ursula Downs. Given that she’ll be moving around quite a bit to maximize use of her ability and investing in mobility upgrades like Pathfinder and Shortcut to further capitalise on that, it’s very plausible she’ll be scampering across the map at lightspeed, handily opening up locations left and right.
Getting this card is a further extension of that play style; finding one of these copies at or near the start of the game means that you can afford to keep moving off from high shroud or otherwise troublesome locations like Circuitous Trail or Serpent's Haven instead of staying to empty them normally and paying through the nose as a result. You can then play this card to grab the breadcrumb trail of clues you’ve left behind, sweeping off the last remaining clue or two off a whole bunch of locations at once, and minimizing the number of tests you need to make as well.
Deciphered Reality is a staple card for my 4x Standard playgroup. It performs very well in about 70% of scenarios, and on Standard difficulty it's easy to ensure success for anything but autofail.
In most scenarios, it's not hard to have at least five revealed locations with clues on them, which makes this card worth 5 additional clues for 4 resources; great deal. But it also helps that the extra clues get pulled off other locations, which helps the team finish clearing a troublesome spot while letting the Seeker continue to gather a bunch from their current location.
In the scenarios where it works, it helps either save time and Move actions; or works like Seeking Answers to pickup clues without investigating dangerous locations; or helps advance the Act quickly by getting a burst of clues. In scenarios where it doesn't work... Well, yeah, it's a bad Perception.
This card feels like it's level 5 just to limit which investigators can take it; it's not a game-breaking must-have, but for my group, it's a powerful and pretty reliable event.
SPOILER ALERT: Very minor spoilers for The Path to Carcosa.
I've played Deciphered Reality now in what is often considered the optimal deck for it, a Rex Murphy deck in a Carcosa campaign. I purchased the card early, and two copies of it, specifically to see if it would see any use prior to the last scenario. Unfortunately, it didn't get played even a single time. It didn't even get committed for the skill icons, as I was often better off keeping it in my hand instead, and using resources to fuel Higher Education.
The unfortunate thing for this card is it relies on several things:
- Four resources (which I'm often spending on Higher Education, playing Dr. Milan Christopher, and other events to advance the group's progress).
- Many locations revealed (which, other than the 8th scenario, we tended to explore conservatively, and stick close together).
- At least one clue on all revealed locations (between Rex Murphy's ability to scoop up clues, and Archaic Glyphs's ability to combine with Higher Education to scoop up all the clues, there weren't often spare clues left behind).
- The card in hand when the above three stars are in alignment (this was the least difficult to pull off, as I'd purchased the upgraded No Stone Unturned).
All of the above being said, in the final scenario of Carcosa, I did use one of the copies to scoop up eight clues. But, because of the nature of that scenario, it's better to focus on collecting all the clues from a single location.
Verdict? I feel I wouldn't buy this card again.