Thursday, 14 November 2013

Elder Sign

Elder Sign is a co-operative "dice game" set in the Cthulhu Mythos. Players will take turns exploring the Miskatonic University Museum. Your goal, similar to other Mythos games is to stop an Ancient One from waking up and escaping the Museum because if it escapes it will surely destroy the entire world. To do this you must collect enough Elder Signs to seal away the Ancient One. Depending on which baddy you are facing you will require a different number of Elder Signs. In order to stop the Ancient One from awakening you must collect enough Elder Signs before the Doom Track fills up. Collecting clues will make your life easier etc, if you have played Arkham Horror this should all be sounding very familiar. In the following review I will cover how to play and then my thoughts on Elder Sign, if you are already familiar feel free to skip to the bottom.

During their turn each player will go through the following three phases with the majority of the gameplay taking place in phase 2 where players will roll dice in attempt to complete the tasks listed on the Adventure Card they are located at.

1. Movement Phase - The active player moves their Investigator to the Museum Entrance, Adventure Card, or Other World Card of their choice. Alternatively, players can leave their Investigator at their current location.

2. Investigation Phase - The active player may attempt to solve all the Tasks on the Adventure or Other World Card they occupy by matching symbols on their dice with the tasks corresponding on the Adventure or Other World Card. Players may instead perform one of the actions listed on the Museum Entrance Card.

3. Doomsday Phase - Players advances the Doomsday Clock forward by three hours. After advancing the Doomsday Clock, your turn is over and the next player begins their turn.

Adventure and Other World Cards:

Each Adventure and Other World Card has one or more horizontal rows of symbols. Each row is called a Task, player must complete these Tasks, one at a time, by matching all of the symbols listed with die rolls. Players are normally able to complete each card's Tasks in any order, however if the card shows an Order Arrow (see picture above) to the left of its Tasks then they must be completed from top to bottom.

Players cannot attempt to solve an investigation if succeeding would bring an Investigator’s Sanity or Stamina to zero or less.

Other Worlds Cards are a special type of Adventure Card that represent gates to other dimensions. These Cards enter play only after a Player earns a Gate reward. When an Other World Card enters play, place it below the six Adventure Cards. There is no limit to the number of Other World Cards that may be in play at once.

Other World Cards remain in play even after they have been solved.
The Dreamlands somehow the one Other World I always end up in doesn't matter which game.

Rewards and Penalties:

An Adventure or Other World Card is considered a Success once all the Tasks on the card have been solved. 

The successful player returns all Investigators on the card to the Museum Entrance. 

The Reward and Penalty symbols explained.
The successful Player claims the solved card as a Trophy, and then replaces the solved Adventure Card with a new card. 

Other World Cards are never replaced and can be revisited repeatedly.

Trophies - Every Adventure Card, Other World Card, and Monster Marker has a Trophy value. When a Player successfully solves a Card or Monster Marker, they take them into their Play Area as  Trophies.

Trophies may only be spent at the Museum Entrance. However failing an investigation can occasionally cause you to lose your trophies.

Ally Cards stay in play until they say otherwise. Only the Player who drew the Card may use its ability.

Clue Tokens:
Players can spend Clue Tokens to re-roll dice. After failing a Task, you may spend one of your Clue Tokens to re-roll one, some, or all of the dice. The dice may be re-rolled once for each Clue Token spent with no limit on the number of tokens you spend.

Item Cards:
Common and Unique Item Cards allow players to perform a number of different actions. Most of these actions range from gaining lost Sanity or Hitpoints back to gaining additional dice or rerolls. After using a card it is always returned to the bottom of the deck. Gained dice are kept until they are either used to complete a task, or discarded when failing a task.


The Incantation Deck contains powerful spells that will help investigators, most are fairly straightforward however some allow players to Secure dice.

Securing a die is a huge advantage, after rolling the dice, the Incantation Card is cast, you then chooses one die from your roll and place it on the securing icon without changing its result. Any die secured by an Incantation Card remains there until any player chooses to use it to solve a Task. When using the secured die a player may opt to use the face or reroll the die.

*New dice cannot be added to an Incantation Card to replace those that were removed from it.

The Museum Entrance:

Investigators located at the Museum Entrance may select any one of the listed actions:

1. Regain either one of their Sanity or Stamina Tokens for free.
2. Spend two Trophies to regain either all of their Sanity or all of their Stamina Tokens.
3. Spend four Trophies to regain all of their Sanity and Stamina Tokens.
4. Search the Lost and Found - Roll one green die and consult the chart on the entrance sheet. Players cannot use Items or Investigator abilities to affect this roll.
5. Buy a Souvenir - Spends some Trophies to buy one of the listed objects. Players can buy only one souvenir per turn, even if they have enough Trophies to afford more than one souvenir.

*Players may spend any combination of Cards and Markers, however you do not receive change and lose the extra Trophy points.

After being spent, Cards are returned face-down to the bottom of their decks while Monster Markers are returned to the Monster Cup.

Players begin an Investigation Phase by gathering up all the Green Dice and then deciding if they can and want to add more dice. Players then roll all the dice and determine success or failure of the Tasks.

Solving Tasks: If enough die results match all the symbols of one Task (horizontal line) in one throw, then you must place each matching die onto the corresponding symbol on the card. These dice are no longer available for the remainder of the Investigation Phase.

Some Tasks require an Investigator to lose Sanity/Stamina Tokens or requires the Player to advance the Doomsday Clock by three hours. These actions are only performed after the symbols in the rest of the Task have been matched with die rolls (you do not perform these actions if you fail the task).

A Player can only match one Task per dice roll, even if the dice rolled could match more than one Task.

Once all Tasks are completed you have completed the task and claim the rewards as well as the card as a Trophy.
The wildcard result on the red die may be used as a Lore, Peril, Terror, or 4 Investigation result.
Failing Tasks: A Task is considered failed if there are not enough matching results to solve any of the listed Tasks (or the next task listed in order). To continue you must discard any one of the remaining dice and then reroll the remaining dice in another attempt to solve a Task. Discarded dice are no longer available for the rest of the Investigation Phase.  If failing a task means you must discard your last die without completing the last Task, then you have failed the Card and must suffer the Penalties.

Terror Effects: If you fail a Task (not the entire card), and at least one of the dice showed a Terror result, then any Terror Effect listed on the Adventure/Other World Card and the current Mythos Card take effect. Terror Effects take place before discarding a die or suffering Penalties, due to failing the Task.

Focusing Dice
After a Failed Roll, you may Focus any die, you may only do this once per Player Turn (not roll). To Focus a die, you first discard any one die as normal, due to the Failed Roll. Then you select one of your remaining dice and place it on your Investigation Marker without changing the die-result. Focused die are no longer available for rolling but are still available to solve a Task during a later dice-roll during the current investigation. When needed, the die is simply removed from the Investigation Marker and placed with the other required dice on the solved Task. Unused Focused dice are returned to normal play at the end of each Investigation Phase.

Requesting Assistance 
During an Investigation you may request Assistance from another Player after a Failed Roll, in order to do this you must both occupy the same card. To receive Assistance, the current Player first discards one die due to the Failed Roll.

You then request Assistance from any other player at your location. If they agree, you selects any one of the rolled dice and place it on the Assisting Player's Investigator Marker. 

You may use the die held by the Assisting Player just like any other Focused die. However, if you fail the card, the Assisting Player loses either one Sanity or Stamina Token. 

*After each Failed Roll, you may either Focus a die or request Assistance, not both.
*Players may only be assisted by one Investigator per die roll.
*Each Investigator may only provide Assistance once per player turn. 

This particular card locks a green die and will
not return it until all the tasks on the
Adventure Card are completed.
Locked Dice:
Some Cards and Monster Markers feature a Locked die icon. When an icon enters play, place the corresponding die on the icon, even if the die is currently on an Incantation Card or Investigator Marker.

Locked dice cannot be used until they have been unlocked in the following ways:

1. If a die is Locked by an Adventure or Other World Card, it must be solved to free the die.

2. If a die is Locked by a Monster Marker, it must be defeat to free the die.

3. If a die is Locked by a Mythos Card, the die is Locked until a new Mythos Card is drawn at Midnight.

Multiple Locks - It is possible for a die to be Locked by more than one card or Monster. After the die is freed from the first card or monster, it is then placed on the second Lock icon. Only after the last Lock is solved may the die be used in play once more.

*Multiple Green Dice can be locked at the same time.

Character Abilities - Several Investigators have special abilities that allow them to use extra dice during investigations. Obviously these do not allow you to roll locked dice. 

When instructed by the game,you must randomly draw one Monster Marker from the Monster Cup and places it on a Monster Area. Monster Areas are a Task on an Adventure or Other World Card surrounded wholly or partially by a white border.

Monster Markers function as an extra Task that the Players must investigate in order to solve the Card. Players choose which white bordered Monster Area they wish to use as somewhere to place a Monster.

If there are no white bordered areas available, the Player chooses one Adventure or Other World Card and places the Marker below the last Task of the Card. Players must distribute Markers as evenly as possible. Cards may not be given a second Marker until all the other Cards already have at least one Marker.

If a Marker is placed on a Card with an Order Arrow, the Marker becomes that Card’s last Task.

If a card’s reward causes a Monster to appear, you may place the new Marker on the replacement Adventure Card.
The left hand Adventure Card is an example of a 'Completely Covered Monster Area'
The right hand Adventure Card is an example of an 'Empty Monster Area'
1. Monster Area is completely covered: Players must complete the Task on the Monster Marker instead of the Task it covered.

2. Empty Monster Area: Players must complete the Task on the Monster Marker in addition to the Card's other Task.

3. Partial Monster Area: Only the single white bordered Monster Area is completely covered, adding to the difficulty of the already existing Task.

Solving Monster Tasks A Player completes a Monster Task in exactly the same way as any other Task. If a Player solves a Monster Task, they collect the Monster Marker at the end of their Investigation Phase as a Trophy.

*Penalties are suffered after the Monster Marker is collected.

Doomsday Clock:

At the end of each player's turn you must advance the Doomsday Clock’s hand clockwise by three hours.

When the Clock strikes Midnight:
1. The “At Midnight” boxes on all Cards currently in play take effect.
2. Any “The next time the clock strikes midnight” text on the current Mythos Card takes effect.
3. Replace the current Mythos Card with a new one. Return the used Mythos Card face-down to the bottom of its deck.
4. All “once per day” Investigator Abilities are once again available.

Midnight occurs immediately after any player’s turn in which the Doomsday Clock's hand moved to or past XII.

Mythos Cards:
Each time Midnight strikes players draw a Mythos Card, returning the previous Mythos Card to the bottom of its deck. Each Mythos Card has one immediate effect on the Card’s upper half and one lingering effect on the Card’s lower half. The immediate effect occurs right after drawing the card while the lingering effect applies as long as the Mythos Card remains in play.

Doom Track:
The more tokens there are on the Doom Track, the closer the Ancient One is to awakening in the Miskatonic University Museum. If a Doom Token is placed on a space with a Monster Icon, then a new
Monster is drawn from the Monster Cup and placed on a Monster Area.

After placing a Doom Token on the final space of the Doom Track, the Ancient One awakens and the Investigators must confront it in battle. (I will leave this part of the rules for you to discover once it happens).

*In the odd event that someone places the final Doom Token and collects the final Elder Sign at the same time, the Ancient One is sealed away and the Investigators win.
The game ends immediately as soon as any of the following conditions arises:

1. The Players win the game if the Investigators seal away the Ancient One by collecting more than or equal to the number of Elder Sign listed on the Ancient One’s Card.
2. The Players win the game if they defeat the Ancient One in battle by removing the last Doom Token from its Doom Track.
3. The Players lose the game if all the Investigators are devoured by the Ancient One.

My Thoughts:

I have enjoyed Elder Sign every game I have played, that being said I have 2 main issues. 

First off I think the game is a tad too long for what it is and near the end it tends to drag, this makes it hard to get people really hooked on it even though this problem vanishes once your group knows how to play. So I guess my problem would be that it is a little rules heavy for a "dice game". 

Secondly even though Elder Sign has the weakest theme out of the Cthulhu games there is a special disconnect between the Monsters and the general Theme of the other games. The Monster Markers are pretty boring although mechanically work great, I do feel like there should be more monsters or each Adventure Card should come with a monster as one of the tasks, I guess I could put it this way, in other Arkham games there are more monsters than gates so it feels weird that Elder SIgn features more gates than monsters.

So the verdict, who would enjoy Elder Sign?

Casual Gamers: Although yes Elder Sign is accessible enough to be played by a group of casual gamers, I am torn. Mechanically and as a game it makes sense, however I hate how unsatisfying the theme is. Don`t get me wrong as an experienced Arkham Horror and Cthulhu LCG player I found there enough theme to hold my interest, but mostly because I was able to see past the cards. So, if you are looking to sell someone on the Cthulhu/Lovecraft universe and maybe convince them to play one of the lengthier games with you, I don't think this is your game. However if you are already a fan of Cthulhu Mythos then this is definitely worth picking up, also if you are looking for a slightly longer, cooperative game with a lot of interesting decisions and dice it is worth giving a shot.

Gamer Gamers: Elder Sign gives you a lot of decision making, it is not brain busting and it is pretty luck based, however so are all the other Cthulhu Mythos games and I do not feel Elder Sign is like "Yahtzee" despite some people claiming that on BGG. I think Elder Sign fits here because as a cooperative game it stands out in a few ways: Lots of randomness combined with multiple choices for an Ancient One to fight against makes it a lot more re-playable than other Co-Ops. Simplifying movement / no board takes one big step out when compared to similar co-op games, this lets you get down to the real planning and strategizing not worrying about boring old movement points / speed. 

1 comment :

  1. Good explanation of the rules. Much better than the ones included with the game. Thanks.