I was happy to receive a copy of Fantasy Flight’s game, Elder Sign as a Christmas gift from one of my longtime friends. The game is often touted as a fast and easy-to-learn version of Arkham Horror, and I think that it lives up to this claim.As a cooperative game, and one that can be played solitaire, it is right up my alley.
Upon opening the box, you are greeted with a colorful and thick rulebook that does a fair job of explaining game play. One of the folks at Boardgamegeek.com created a seven page version of the book which does the same work in fewer pages. Aside from the book, you will find several cards that can be sorted and shuffled, as well as a couple cardboard sheets with various cardboard chits to poke out and a set of dice.
The dice are central to the game’s mechanics; you spend the game hopping from adventure to adventure, and each adventure has a set of tasks. You roll the dice, and must get certain results in order to complete the tasks. You may, upon completing adventures, gain items which allow you to roll more dice or save specific die results. Each time you have an adventure, the game’s clock ticks ahead three hours. Each time it hits midnight, an event occurs which often makes life harder for your investigator.
The investigators are the usual suspects for a Fantasy flight game set in the Arkham Horror world – Joe Diamond, “Ash Can” Pete, Sister Mary, and all the rest return with different game changing abilities. While some abilities come close to breaking the game, others are quite reasonable.
The object of the game is to collect Elder Signs – sigils that will keep one of the Great Old Ones from awakening and destroying the world. Each Great Old One has a special way they affect the game, such as forcing you to take damage whenever you use an item or awakening if all of the cards that lead you into other worlds are depleted. Basically, if the Great Old One awakens, the game is most likely over. Combat against these cosmic atrocities is supposed to be extremely deadly, so it is best avoided.
As the game ticks on, you will collect Elder Signs, fight monsters, and tokens will be added to the Great Old One’s Doom Track – it is basically a race to see if you will collect enough Elder Signs before the Great Old One’s Doom Track is filled and the cosmic nasty awakens.
The game works against you by imposing penalties. Failing adventures often cost your investigator health and sanity – running out of either causes the investigator to be, as the game puts it, devoured, and the addition of a token to the Doom Track is the result of your investigator becoming a snack. The game ups the ante by locking your dice – certain adventures, monsters, and events will limit the number of dice you can use. You cannot get the dice back, except for upon the completion of the occurrence that locked it.
All said, the rules are quite simple, and so is the game play. There are a few strategies that you might employ while playing, but the most important one is to race, race, race for the Elder Signs and keep as many dice unlocked as possible. The game will win if you allow it to keep spawning monsters and locking dice – you need to resolve adventures quickly, and keep an eye on your health as you go.
That said, I have played two games and haven’t lost either. I’ve managed to keep the Old Ones asleep with ease, losing only one investigator per game (you draw a new one if yours is devoured). I’m considering using some of the house-rules I have seen on the internet in order to ramp up the game’s difficulty a little bit. While it is fun to beat the cultists that are trying to awaken slumbering titans, I’d like a bit more pressure.
I certainly would recommend the game to folks that don’t want to spend all afternoon playing Arkham Horror – there is much joy to be found in what boils down to a Cthulhu themed version of Yahtzee.