Monday, October 17, 2011

Elder Sign

ELDER SIGN by Fantasy Flight Games
Published in 2011

Elder Sign is a dice-driven card game with a theme from H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos. Similarities to its "big brother" - Arkham Horror - are numerous, but Elder Sign still have a lot to offer, even for an AH "veteran" like myself.
So it's the same old setting: An Ancient One of inconceivable power is about to enter our world, and only a handful of Mythos investigators are standing in its way. Along the way, the investigators have to solve mysterious events, combat monsters and visit strange places and other planes of existence.


So far it sounds exactly like Arkham Horror? The differences come from the scale of the game. Instead of taking place all over a moderately sized city, ES forces the investigators to investigate a huge, sinister and corrupted museum-complex (most likely in Arkham).
In game mechanics the differences are the biggest: AH comes with a large board, vast amount of components and an almost role-play-like character management, while ES is a relatively simple card game with Yahtzee-type mechanics.


The area needed to play the game comfortably is somewhat large for a card game, but still quite acceptable. The six large cards in the middle form the "game board", consisting of the six adventures currently available. These adventures are places and events inside - or near - the museum, that require the attention of the investigators. Completing these adventures grant the investigators with rewards, while failing usually damages their sanity or stamina.

My two investgators for this game are Michael McGlen, the Gangster, and Gloria Goldberg, the Author.

Michael starts off with a revolver and an old journal. His strong body allows him to fight terror with sheer strength.

Gloria has a lantern and a spell called "wither". Her psychic sensitivity will greatly help her should she find herself from an other world than ours.


Points of interest in the museum at this point are one mysterious tome, and some remains of a High Priest. Pool of blood has also been sighted on a floor, and it seems that something has broken free from under a heavy stone slab - the slab lies broken now.

The Ancient One is none other than Nyarlathotep - the Crawling Chaos, the soul and messenger of the Outer Gods.

Now that he is waking up, some of his avatars are likely to show up in the museum... These extremely dangerous monsters are not to be taken lightly.



If Nyarlathotep wakes up and devours the investigators, all is lost. On the other hand, if the investigators manage to find enough Elder Signs, they can ward Nyarlathotep off with the eldrich powers of these symbols... The race against time is on.

THE GAME BEGINS:

1st day:

Michael goes to find some help. He read his Old Journal and succeeds, alerting people about the impending doom in the museum. He also finds some food, and learns a "Cloud Memory" -spell.

Gloria inspects some very bizarre exhibits! The artifacts injure her both mentally and physically,  but she finds two Elder Signs among them. This is a good start. Gloria used her lantern to help her in this dark room, and she also casts the "Wither" -spell to make sure that everything goes as planned.




Michael explores the eerie Hall of the Dead. Apparently something in there wasn't quite dead, but the strong gangster survives the adventure with his great physical strength.


Michael finds some very useful items from the Hall of the Dead; his weapon of choice, the Tommy Gun, and a magical Sword of Glory.






Gloria searches the 'Lost & Found' at the museum entrance, only finding something horrible, that drains some of her sanity!

2nd day:

Michael investigates the pool of blood that was seen on the floor of a certain dark corridor. He takes his Tommy Gun with him and finds a strange monster for the scene. The monster is killed and Michael finds another Elder Sign.

Gloria investigates the Remains of the high Priest and notices that the mummy actually still breaths!
Not giving into the her fears, she puts the priest into a deeper state of death and learns a spell called "Voice of Ra".





Michael finds another Elder Sign, drawn on a floor. Claiming it, however, requires a sacrifice: Michael must sacrifice a small portion of his vitality and his mind. This action fills Michael's head with new clues, but Doom also grows; Nyarlathotep's powers grow and a Witch is seen inside the museum.


Gloria finds the Key to Beyond. Examining it for some time, she opens up a gate to the blasphemous, sunken city of R'lyeh!
She also gains clues from this act.

Gloria should probably think about going to the sunken city, since there is lots of Elder Signs to be found... And Gloria's natural talents make her the ideal explorer of Other Worlds.



At midnight, stars are seen to align closer to the will of Nyarlathotep - the Doom increases!

3rd day:

Last night, people claimed to hear strange noises coming from the museum's Hedge Maze. Michael goes to investigate and fight furiously against an unknown monster.This monsters reveals to be no less than an avatar of Nyarlathotep himself - The Bloated Woman!.

This reeking, horrible image of a human woman enters the museum and fills the whole complex with its foul stench. All the investigators are having serious problems in concentrating.


Michael also find an Elder Sign from the Hedge Maze - this is the fifth Sign found so far.

Gloria goes after the Bloated Woman and disposes of her. No trophies are collected from this Mask of Nyarlathotep, but at least the smell dissipates and the investigators get their strength back.

Michael has collected a good selection of items. He is carrying food and whiskey to keep him alive and sane, and packing the Sword of Glory and Dynamite for tough situations.

He also reads some of the insanse play known as "The King in Yellow", and heads to examine the museum's Koi Pond. Another Elder Sign is found from the pond. Now the investigators have more than half of the required amount.



Gloria gathers her courage and heads through the gate, right into the feared R'lyeh!
Her gift, the Psychic Sensitivity, helps her greatly as she moments later appears back in the museum, sporting three additional Elder Signs and a new ally - Ruby Standish.
This quick thief had lost her way in R'lyeh, and now joins Gloria in her quest. Ruby had found magical gems from the sunken city; Ruby of R'lyeh and a Healing Stone.



Stars align some more, and a Shoggoth appears in The Graveyard! This formless entity of elder Mythos will be difficult to destroy.

4th day:

Michael uses his numerous trophies, and manages to buy an Elder Sign from the Souvenir Shop. Only one more Sign is needed, then Nyarlathotep will not be able to come through!

Gloria reads the Mysterious Tome.
She learns a spell of "Shrivelling" from the tome, but more importantly a new gate is opened - this time to the Abyss. The last Elder Sign could be found from there...





Michael arms himself with the Sword of Glory, and rushes through the gate. But no matter how hard he tries, he can't cope with the oddities of the dark Abyss - not his strength, nor the magical sword, can help him. The gangster almost loses his mind... only Whiskey saves him from insanity.

Gloria, with her psychic insight follows Michael to the Abyss. There she casts the spell of "Shrivelling", and uses all her powers of mind to find the missing Elder Sign... and she succeeds!


The 11th Elder Sign is collected, and the Crawling Chaos Nyarlathotep is fended off!


For now...










CONCLUSION:

Well this was an easy game. Nyarlathotep didn't have a chance, as my investigators succeeded nearly in every adventure they tried. A quick game with some amazing luck with my dice rolls.
Many players have been talking about Elder Sign being too easy, and judging by this game alone it would seem that way. But usually it's not this easy for me. My winning percentage is less than 50%, and many of the games that I have won, have been delightfully challenging.

Elder Sign is built on very simple principles, but the strategic level is high enough to form a complex game. At first it may appear that ES is just rolling the dice over and over again, but there is a lot more depth than that. Strategy comes from deciding, in which adventure you roll your dice, and when should you use your clues, items and spells. And after a while, you might even start counting the possibilities of different outcomes for your rolls, trying to tweak the odds to your favour.

Most of the different types of items and spells work exactly the same way (add a special die or store a roll for later use), which may sometimes be a bit boring... But fortunately the adventures come with a nice diversity.

The game rules are more than a little sketchy, and some of the investigators are far off-balance when playing a one- or two-investigator-game... But some simple house rules will fix this nicely.

Artwork, much of which is exactly the same as in Arkham horror, is of very high quality and builds the theme up nicely.

RATING: 8 /10

SOLO RATING: 9 /10

All and all Elder Sign is a very enjoyable "Arkham Horror -lite". Especially while playing solo, ES is an excellent choice when AH feels too massive for you, or when you want to approach the excellent Mythos -theme with a different type of a game.