Board game review: Elder Sign

December 3, 2012 at 10:55 am (Board games, Games) (, , , , , , , , )


This is a review of the board game (more accurately a card game) Elder Sign. This is a suspense-horror game set in the Arkham Horror world which is ultimately based on H.P.Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos. The game pits 1-8 investigators against the horrors of the unknown with the end goal of sealing away the Great Ancient Ones and preventing them from devouring the world. One of the big highlights of this game for me is that it is a Co-op game! This means that all players are working together to beat the game itself. Furthermore it’s a game that can be played solo, which in my opinion makes the game much easier to win.

Presentation

This is a game that is very well put together. The card stock is very high quality and the tokens are plentiful. The art and descriptions on all of the cards were created with detail in mind and they help to add to the general horror-feel of the game. My initial complaint was that the item cards were too small, but it turns out they’re meant to be placed in front of you instead of kept as a “hand”. The dice are all custom which means that you had better not lose any of them since you won’t easily replace them. The box that the game is packaged in was one of my lingering complaints however. A lot of card games use a gigantic box, but then block 2/3’s of it so you can only use a narrow channel for storage. This box is much better designed than say the Lord of the Rings card game box is though. The Elder Sign box has little flaps that pop up to help separate the decks of cards and all the components. I suppose I just rather would have had a small, thin box like that of Space Hulk: Death Angel so that it would travel easier. Overall, this is a game that regardless of if you like it or not, feels like it’s worth whatever money you spent on it.

Gameplay

Elder Sign is a fairly straight-forward game to play, but it is immensely satisfying. The general idea is that you visit quest locations which require the player to complete one or more tasks. These tasks are completed by rolling the set of custom dice to get specific results from them, sometimes in a specific order. On each failed roll the player loses a die, but can choose to keep one die from the previous roll. They continue to try and hit their goal until they run out of dice. If they ultimately fail their quest on their turn then bad things happen to them or all players. However if they succeed, then they claim new items to help them in future quests, and sometimes Elder Signs. Collecting elder signs are how the players win the game; if they collect enough of them then they seal away the Ancient One and save the world. Failing quests, or taking too long to collect enough elder signs will add doom tokens, which eventually cause the Ancient One to awaken. When this happens, they must battle it or be devoured (generally the players won’t stand a chance).

This game has a ton of customization options and ways to keep the game fresh. There are numerous Ancient Ones to choose from, and a big set of characters, each with their own specialties and abilities. The items in the game do things like allow additional dice to be added to the rolls or allow dice to be saved for future rolls for other players. Personally, I hate games that rely entirely on dice rolls, but this game has managed to do things right. There are many ways to skillfully enhance your chances of getting the right outcome so you’re not always left wondering why 1/6 odds are so difficult to pull off. They never quite remove that sense of suspense from the game though and you’re generally left saying “I can totally make that roll with this many dice… right?”

Summary

I’d highly suggest this game; it works great when you have too many people to play most 4-player games or not enough to make the 4-player games interesting. The quality of the whole set makes it worthwhile, and the gameplay elements give you a sense of satisfaction when you manage to pull off some difficult tasks of a quest using items and/or help from other players. As I noted earlier, the game tends to be somewhat easier when you play with less people, but it still offers a good challenge.

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