Gaming Unplugged – Elder Sign

In the spirit of Halloween, I’ve decided to write up some reviews on spooky games to get you, our dear readers, in the mood for some October scares. Enjoy, and DON’T LOOK IN THE FREEZER!!! 

(You’ll find out why in the next review…)

It is 1926, and the museum’s extensive collection of exotic curios and occult artifacts poses a threat to the barriers between our world and the elder evils lurking between dimensions. Gates to the beyond begin to leak open, and terrifying creatures of increasing strength steal through them. Animals, the mad, and those of more susceptible minds are driven to desperation by the supernatural forces the portals unleash. Only a handful of investigators race against time to find the eldritch symbols necessary to seal the portals forever. Only they can stop the Ancient One beyond from finding its way to Earth and reducing humanity to cinders.

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.

To locate Elder Signs, investigators must successfully endure Adventures within the museum and its environs. A countdown mechanism makes an Ancient One appear if the investigators are not quick enough. The investigators must then battle the Ancient One. A clever and thematic dice mechanism pits their exploration against monsters and the sheer difficulty of staying sane and healthy, all within the standard game duration of 60-90 minutes.

Game play is super easy:  Travel to different locations within the museum, fight a monster, win weapons, items and elder signs.  All the battles are performed using dice, and you can have up to 8 by using items you collect throughout the course of the game.  But be careful!  You lose 1 die every consecutive roll, so that monster you thought was easy could possibly beat you down.  By matching your dice roll to what is printed on the monster’s card, you will defeat it…AND gain the spoils of war!  Sometimes you get an item that will help your rolls.  Other times you will get clue tokens, allowing for re-rolls.  The most important thing you want is the Elder Sign tokens, which will be used in defeating the Ancient One.

At the beginning of the game, you can choose (randomly if you want) which Ancient One is trying to rip through time and space to devour your sanity.  All the baddies are here:  Cthulhu, Azathoth, Yog-Sothoth, and other hard-to-pronounce names.  But they will not just sit around and wait for you.  After every player has finished a turn, the clock moves forward and certain doom creeps closer.  You need to collect those elder signs and pray you have enough when Hastur comes knocking.

“Hastur” by Capprotti on deviantart

Elder Sign can be great fun, but it can also be very frustrating.  This is mainly due to the luck factor associated with rolling dice.  Along with being dependent on dice, each investigator has special abilities.  These can range from getting a free re-roll, to getting an extra movement, and even getting extra items.  If you choose a bad team, death will not only be eminent, but swift.

If you’re a fan of HP Lovecraft, or just looking for a light to medium game with some occult themes, I would definitely recommend Elder Sign.  Its fun, easy to learn, and quick.  While there are quite a number of small parts, it’s not overwhelming like certain games with a Lovecraftian theme (I’m looking at YOU, Arkham Horror).

Elder Sign is also available for the iPhone and iPad, and while it is a more streamlined version (limited Ancient Ones, no ally cards…which really DO help in the game), the game is still fun, and keeps true as possible to the physical game.

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