I’m a sucker for most anything related to Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. I’ve read all the stories, numerous other author’s tributes and ripoffs, seen the movies, played the games, etc. I eat this stuff up. So, when I found out that Fantasy Flight had released a new game, in what they are now calling the Arkham Horror Files, using the Mythos as the backdrop I leaped.Elder Signs is, according to its website:
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.
Sadly, after I got the game it sat around while I tried to find a suitable day to have some friends over and play. Last Thursday I succeeded in getting two friends over and we sat down to play.
The game takes heavy inspiration from Arkham Horror, the games share artwork, characters, items, and Ancient Ones, and just like in that game the players are tasked with collecting enough elder signs to insure the Ancient One does not manifest in this world. But, instead of moving across a board, collecting cards, etc. the players use dice. The six large cards you see in the center of that picture are locations/events going on in the museum you’re all trapped in (the greenish one below is similar card but is in “another world”) the cards have lists of icons on them that correlate to matching icons on dice (six normal, two special) players are tasked with completing all the lists on a card in order to complete it and gain whatever rewards the card gives, if they fail they instead reap the consequences. Characters have sanity and stamina, items which allow them to heal, defeat monsters, switch their dice, store, dice, and use the two special dice.
As players take their turns the game’s clock advances and the various effects on the various cards (adventure, Ancient One, etc) come into effect such as monsters appearing, the players taking damage or giving up items, or adding tokens to the doom track (when it feels the Ancient One manifests; you don’t want the Ancient One to manifest.) I know it sounds kinda weird and none of us really got the hang of things until we sat down, started playing, and rolling dice. Once we did though everything fell together and we started having a blast!
What we all found so enjoyable about Elder Sign is that the game retained the nerve wrecking tension of Arkham Horror but never bogs down. Our first game took two hours but we finished our second one in less than one hour! The other great thing is that with the dice you never know how you’re going to do. Early in the night we’d look at a card and say, “Oh, that one is so easy! I don’t even need to use any cards or special abilities.” Only to find ourselves after all the dice rolls looking up what happened when we failed. Four investigators were devoured that way. By the end of the night any time someone started saying a card was easy the other two would yell out, ” STOP saying that!” and then they’d knock on wood! I’m looking forward to getting seven people over here and seeing how the game is with that many people. I’m hopeful it will be one of my new go to party games, BANG! can’t pull all the weight.
If you’re looking for a fun, quick dice game with great mechanics and enough chance in there to make even the “easy” parts hard I don’t think you’d go wrong with Elder Sign.