Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Elder Sign

Get the Great Old One before it gets you!

Type: Cards + Dice, Strategy
Players: 1 to about 5
Time to explain to others: Oddly, possibly not that much. 20-30 min
Time to play: About an hour, hour and a half
Difficulty: To play 4/10, Game difficulty 9/10
Portability: Dozens of cards, hundreds of tokens. Low.
Overall: 10/10

This, for me, is Genesis. The first few times I walked into my BG shop, I was totally overwhelmed with the offers at hand. Then, on a shelf I saw this. Elder Sign. I had already read some H. P. Lovecraft, and I vaguely recognised the name, so by sheer impulse, I took it.

I opened the box and my heart sank. Dozens, upon untold dozens of tokens. It was like there was no end to them. And of more than a dozen different varieties! I felt crushed. Felt like there was no way I was ever going to wrap my head around this game.

And then, I started to read the manual. Fairly straightforward (starting a good relationship I have still with Fantasy Flight Games, one of the biggest publishers), and accessible. And the Lovecraftian horror started to shine (slither?) through: we are investigators in the Arkham Museum, where strange things are happening. Cultists are using the evenings to collect secret, mystic, cursed artefacts to call forth one of the Great Old Ones, beings of immense majesty and unspeakable horror.

To close the gates and prevent the end of the world as we know it, one or more investigators need to go on adventures, to try and collect mystic runes to seal the monstrosities away. In an adventure, a number of dice needs to be rolled, and a specific sequence of faces needs to be collected. Certain abilites allow you to roll more dice, and to save some rollings etc. Ultimately, you are at the mercy of probabilities: you can roll a die 6 times, but it still doesn't mean you'll roll the 1 in 6 face you want.

As you can imagine, there is much much more subtext to this game. If you lose an adventure, there is a penalty, be it your investigator being damaged and/or smaller monsters appearing, making your adventures even more difficult.

Oh and did I mention that you're on a timer? Certain penalties increase the Doom Track, which as you can imagine, counts the time to pink fluffy unicorns.... Kidding, it counts how close to destruction everything is.

Elder Sign is increadibly entertaining, but frustrating. THE GAME IS TRYING TO KILL YOU. I don't think I ever ever lost by reaching the end of the Doom Track, but I've lost about 80-90% of the games I played by loosing my investigators to either death or madness.

To me, this is what I like about the Fantasy Flight Lovecraftian games. The odds are stacked against you. You are fighting beings from beyond, older than Man, older than Earth, Beings of which the mere glimpse turns humans into gibbering idiots. And what do you do? You put your hat on, pick up some ancient statuette for protection, a gun, and you hit the back alleys of Arkham.

Rui's Conclusion: Deep, random, exciting and entertaining. Elder Sign is one of my top games ever. Complex, with a sharp learning curve, but totally doable, once you play a few times. Also you will die. Loads.

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