9th July 2019.
Tuesday is here and so is gaming night at 'The Sovereign' in Woking.
Elder Sign is a co-operative game where the players take on the role of intrepid investigators, driven to uncover the conspiracies that will bring about the end of the world without descending into mind-shattering insanity.
What's in a game?
Elder Sign is a push your luck game with some dice and a lot of cards.
Investigator's have 2 stats, health and sanity. You don't need me to tell you what happens if either reaches 0.
Investigator's also have a unique special ability each and some starting equipment.
The ancient one card contains some pertinent information.
There's a timing track that shows how close the ancient is to appearing.
There's also information on what happens if the ancient one appears and how to fight it.
There's a 'elder sign' track. If the players accumulate enough elder signs, they can prevent the ancient one even appearing.
Location cards contain multiple tasks. These take the form of rows of symbols (That match the symbols on the dice).
Each location card lists 'rewards & penalties'.
One of the location cards is the 'museum entrance'. Characters can be placed on this location card to rest & recuperate.
How's it play?
Before playing, a little setting up needs to be done.
The basic premise of the game is that the investigators complete the tasks on the location cards and to earn resources and elder signs. These can be used to win the game. But in the meanwhile, the clock is ticking...
When a player has their turn; they move their marker to a location card and try to complete one of the tasks on the card.
Each task will contain a number of symbols. The active player rolls the dice, any of the dice results that match the symbols for the current task are placed on to that task on the card. If all of the symbols are matched by dice results, then that task is completed.
If the task is not completed, the player has the choice to fail the task or continue rolling.
If the player chooses to continue rolling, they take the remaining unmatched dice -and discards one- and rolls them again. Thus repeatedly reattempting a task will eventually deplete a player's dice. If a player is ever in a situation where they do not have enough dice to complete a task, then they fail that task.
When a task is failed, voluntarily or otherwise. Then the active player suffers the penalties listed on the location card.
If a task is failed and a 'terror' result has come up on the dice, then the active player suffers an additional penalty.
When a task is completed, all the dice are returned to the active player.
If another task is available on the location card, then the active player may attempt to complete it.
If all of the tasks on a location card have been completed, then that location has been completed! The active player takes the listed reward and returns to the entrance.
When a player completes their turn, the clock advances. When the time reaches a certain point, it will cause the ancient evil to be spawned.
There are more rules:
There are rules for suffering terror.
Rules for monster appearing.
Rules for using weapons, equipment and spells.
Rules for going into otherworldy locations.
Rules for clues.
Rules for environmental effects that affect the game and so on.
If the players accumulate enough elder signs, they win the game.
If the ancient one appears, then the players must battle it. This involves rolling dice much like completing tasks. If the players succeed, then the ancient one is vanquished. If they fail to defeat the ancient one, then the players all fail and it's curtains for the earth!
Elder Sign is a push your luck game.
I played for the first time a few years ago with 2 other players and found it a hugely frustrating experience.
However, when I played it recently with 5 other players, it was a lot less frustrating. I guess watching other players getting luck as bad as mine is cathartic!
As a co-operative game about struggle against cosmic horror, Elder Sign is an OK game. It handles its theme well enough as you investigate the museum looking for ways to impending doom against the clock.
But I have small issue with the push your luck mechanic of Elder Sign.
With a push your luck game, you need a reason to 'settle' and a reason to... well 'push your luck'. The priorities of these reasons may shift according to the situation, but they need to always be there.
But when playing Elder Sign, sometimes it feels like that it's pointless to settle. Player's will suffer the same penalty, regardless of whether you choose to fail or are forced to fail. You only risk suffering terror if you push your luck - and that's not guaranteed. So it feels like there's little reason to not push your luck.
It's a small criticism, I know.
So would I play Elder Sign again? Going by past experience, I feel the game gets better with more play (Although that's true of the majority of games IMHO.) and Elder sign goes up to 8 players!
So with 4+ players, I would try it again.
I play, I paint.