Elder Sign

Having just played my first solo game of Elder Sign (after my first couple plays through Elder Sign: Omens on my iPad) I can say I thoroughly enjoy the game.

The gist of the game is similar to other Cthulhu mythos games: an ancient evil is rising in Miskatonic University Museum, aided by minions and sinister monsters. You take on the roles of “investigators” (I’m still not quite sure why an investigator would brandish a Tommy gun) who have taken on the duty of sealing the bastard away for good. This particular game is played out with an array of oversize (“tarot-sized”) cards representing the locations and situations within the museum and in strange lands beyond. Smaller (irritatingly small, standard tiny FFG cards, one of their few faults) cards represent items, spells, allies, and random events that happen during these adventures. Monsters are represented with little tiles which are overlaid onto adventure cards.

As you take adventures, you must complete various tasks. (including monsters!) These tasks are handled mechanically in the game via special six-sided dice with icons on them. These icons must match those on the adventure tasks, and all tasks must be completed in one go. I’ve seen it described derogatorily in iOS reviews as “playing a slot machine” – but this player either didn’t take the time to read all the rules, or undervalues his skills!

I was skeptical of the fun in “a random dice game”, but that’s before I learned of the various mechanics that even the odds a bit: yellow and red dice (gotta love wildcards), and more importantly focus, help, and spells which let you trap particular rolled icons for later use. With these and the diminishing dice pool, there’s a great sense of pacing.

How did my first few games go? Well, I lost both my first Omens game and my first Elder Sign game proper. I had fun nonetheless, learned a thing or two about strategies and where I was playing wrong (for one thing, I kept forgetting to focus, which might have seriously impacted the game).

After playing both the real cardboard version and the iOS adaptation, I can say they’re not quite the same game, either. First, the iOS game gives you a score in points at the end. It also doesn’t allow you to do battle with the Ancient One after it awakens, it’s just game over. There are also no allies in the iOS implementation, though none came up in my cardboard game either. Playing solo (don’t think there is multiplayer!) you play with four investigators on iOS, instead of the conventional one.

The only other major difference I spotted was that the cards are broken out quite a bit for IAP. Come on, FFG, how can you not include Cthulhu in the base set?

As far as the gameplay goes, I’d say the iOS app is great for quick games, but the cardboard is a must for multiplayer, and it’s really quite quick anyway! I was expecting my solo game to run a couple hours accounting – for learning curve – but it must have only been one.

Can FFG ever make a mistake? The only games of theirs I own that I haven’t played at all are Twilight Imperium and Ugg-tect but I’m sure they’re great too. Track record so far is amazing by me!

So again: excellent, fast-paced game with some decent theme (artwork amazing as always from this publisher) with a heavy dose of luck but with mitigating strategies lurking beneath the surface. Can’t wait to play a multiplayer game! Also, for $20 on Amazon this one’s a steal.

I’m kind of more psyched now about Dungeon Roll, another dice game I backed on Kickstarter recently, after playing and enjoying this one so much. Also interesting: Reiner Knizia was involved in this game, if only to come up with the core dice mechanics.

Of special note to folks like me who love to game but don’t have a current group: this game is great solitaire. I’ll be focusing a lot on solo games in the coming months’ posts, as I’ve got a few of them now.

4 out of 5

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