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Elder Sign is a fast-paced, cooperative dice game of supernatural intrigue for one to eight players by Richard Launius and Kevin Wilson, the designers of Arkham Horror.
Players take the roles of investigators racing against time to stave off the imminent return of the Ancient One. Armed with tools, allies, and occult knowledge, investigators must put their sanity and stamina to the test as they adventure to locate Elder Signs, the eldritch symbols used to seal away the Ancient Ones and win the game.
Elder Sign is firmly based on Arkham Horror, the famously lengthy and methodical boardgame/role playing game inspired by the works of author HP Lovecraft. In the way that many card games on the market today are scaled down simplifications of their table-game counterparts (Catan the card game, San Juan, Ticket to Ride card game, etc.), Elder Sign is basically the scaled down version of Arkham Horror, replacing the slow, tactical build of the board game with a heavier luck element (all of the game mechanics revolve around dice rolling) and a much faster pace, getting rid of a lot of the more micromanaging aspect of AH.
Elder Sign is not *better* than AH, but is rather a different experience. More about "beer and pretzels" kind of gaming really, yet still keeping that grim, fearful atmosphere that AH has. While the minimum cited game time on the box says 2 hours, that's overstating the amount of effort it takes to play this game by a LOT. I would estimate 2-4 player games would probably come in at about an hour once everyone knows the rules. I can't even imagine a game of this running for two hours unless players are seriously over-thinking their turns.
The game is fairly straightforward: players are investigators trying to stop some sort of Lovecraftian horror from emerging from a museum where ancient relics are being kept. To stop the thing from awakening, players must collect Elder Signs. Doing so is not so easy. Like the Arkham Horror boardgame, Elder Sign is brutally difficult at times, punishing players sometimes before the game even starts (literally). Players either win the game collectively, or lose horribly when the ancient thing awakens and lays waste to them.
The gameplay is based around rolling lots of dice to get the right symbols needed to complete adventure cards that will win you items, bonuses, and elder signs. There is a lot of luck involved, obviously, but there is an element of "push your luck" in the game, as it is possible to save certain dice or combinations of dice while rolling, which can be effectively betting on future rolls in the same turn. There's very little turn angst because all a player can do is either try an adventure, or wait things out and heal up a bit (or buy items with the points they've won so far). As players do their thing the clock ticks down, however, and every time the clock strikes midnight, bad things are very likely to happen....and as a new day dawns, more bad things are likely to happen. Occasionally players get a breather from the bad things, but make no mistake, you will die...a lot. The trick to Elder Sign is to budget out your resources...it's fun to blow all of your cards and bonuses on winning a single adventure, but then you're sort of left without much to defend yourself in later turns.
There's real tension here, because although players can help each other to an extent, the mistakes one player makes can sometimes effect everyone else..sometimes in horrible ways. All in all, it's good fun, and although some might bemoan the constant dice rolling, it keeps things exciting and just light enough to be fun, but not enough so that the game is totally brainless. And for those curious: yes the game is playable solo and it works wonderfully, though you might want to tweak a few rules to lower the difficulty a bit if you decide to go it alone.