Sunday, February 23, 2014

Review: Elder Sign from Fantasy Flight Games


Elder Sign is a game based in the Lovecraftian Mythos. You and the other players take on the roles of the various characters from H.P. Lovecraft's writings. You are investigating the Miskatonic University Museum. The Museum has long been a hot-bed of unnatural occurrences.  Today an Ancient One will awaken. Your task is to locate the Elder Signs and seal the monster in the otherworld. There are unseen forces afoot. Keep your wits about you, or suffer the madness inducing twists and turns offered by Elder Sign from Fantasy Flight Games.


Elder Sign is a quick play version of Arkham Horror. With sped up mechanics it makes it more suitable for a game night where you only have an hour or two to play.

I've read other reviews of Elder Sign that compare it to Yahtzee.  I denounce that comparison. The game has a lot more going for it other than the dice roll mechanic. Yes you roll dice. A majority of games these days have dice. It's a key component to adding luck to a game. If an outcome is fixed then the game will lose its fun. Luck is a clever way to add replay value, and Elder Sign is full of it.

There are 16 different investigators to play, each with their own skills and special items. A Group of 4 players would have to play the game at least 4 times to see each character in the game. Character assignment is random so there are many more plays in store if you take that approach.

Here is a quick run down of game play:
  • Each player assumes a random role, each role empowers players with unique abilities.
  • Players take turns exploring a room. If the player's character dies, he loses all items, and the player returns to play in a different role.
  • Players select an Ancient one at random. They need a certain number of elder sign tokens to "seal" or imprison it. The Ancient One can be "awakened" or released by doom tokens.
  • Explore rooms until either the monster is "sealed" or "awakened". Players may not "respawn" while fighting an awakened monster. Players lose when all characters die, and players win if the monster defeated

Know when to fold them. I am drawn to games with the element of "Press Your Luck". Anytime you have to make a decision that will either win the game or kill all the players, I'm in. Elder Sign offers that experience. Although everyone is working together, there are advantages to taking a less optimal turn. Often players have the opportunity to receive extra items or regain sanity/health, but doing so will likely cause another player great harm. C'est la vie. If this turn I pick up some pistols, next turn I'll be better at investigating. Trust me.

Here is a look at some of the dice.


Know when to hold them. The thing about the dice is, you are trying to roll matched sets to close the portals or defeat the monster. You get the option to lock a die in place. If you don't get all the dice you need, your sanity/health will suffer. Like a lot of the top games coming out recently, this game has a good chance of beating you. In fact, if you play all the way through and didn't get sweaty palms, you're likely doing something wrong. The Ancient Ones are no joke. They are coming, much like Winter.

Lets have a look at those adventure cards. You should be able to see the three locks here. The first lock is a skull. You will need to roll at least one skull to lock this first level. The second lock is a Terror. You will need to roll at least on terror to lock that bad boy up. For the third lock, you'll need seven investigations. So roll your dice, place your locks in any order and roll the remaining dice until you get all your locks in place. If after three rolls you don't succeed in locking the room, you will suffer a loss of sanity.

In my opinion, the game has too many small bits. You use them to track Health, Sanity, Doom, Elder Signs and so on. Maybe I am just spoiled from King of Tokyo. which uses dials or wheels to track numbers. I love wheel trackers!

Even with the overabundance of small bits, I believe that Elder Sign is a great game and A fun way to spend an hour or two immersed in the Lovecraft's mythos. Elder Sign fits right in with Pandemic or Forbidden Island. It's for the gaming group that likes tough co-operative games. If you're in the mood to live/die by your teammates choices then Elder Sign is for you.

The pressure rises with each round and the most well-laid plans are cast aside in a race to close the gates. It's all fun and games until the Ancient One awakes, then its a nightmarish race to defeat him. It's all up to the dice rolls, and the clever use of abilities by each investigator. I have enjoyed every game of Elder Sign I have played - even losing is fun. I hope you get a game of Elder Sign in. The Mythos is deep. The game play will have you on the edge of your seat. It's just a real great time.

Watch Wil Wheaton play Elder Sign on TableTop!

Watch Tom Vasel review Elder Sign at the Dice Tower!

--

Matthew Ryan Robinson is an indie game designer and runs Broken Prism Games. He posts on three other blogs brokenprismgames.com, solvent cage.wordpress.com, and 360to180.com. You can meet him at Dallas Gaming Marathon on Thursdays or Open Stage on Mondays {Youtube Search: Open Stage Penguin}.