Arkham Horror is a game that has gained popularity, as well as several expansions, since Fantasy Flight published it in 2005. However the complexity, play time, and amount of down time between players means that it can be a difficult game to introduce to friends. Now Fantasy Flight is looking to streamline the Arkham Horror experience with dice in the game Elder Sign.
If you have already played Arkham Horror, many of the concepts will be familiar to you already. To set up the game the Ancient One, the “final boss” of the game, must be selected. Cthulhu is of course included, but there are others like Nyarlathotep, Ithaqua, Yig, and the ever popular Yog_Sothoth. Monster tokens are placed in a container to be drawn from later in the game. Six Adventure cards are laid out. They are the locations that investigators go to with tasks that need to be completed. Once the Adventures are set up, the item tokens are set aside, the item cards are shuffled, and the Investigators can be passed out. The first Mythos card is drawn and read, with the instructions on the cards are followed. Then the first turn starts.
The first step during each player’s turn is to move their marker to an Adventure card or to the Entrance reference sheet. Then they can either resolve an adventure if they are at an Adventure card or wait at the entrance. Finally the clock is advanced. There are four spots on the clock, and whenever the clock goes to midnight, another Mythos card is turned over and followed.
If the player waits at the entrance, they can get first aid by getting a sanity or stamina at no cost, turn in two monster trophies to regain all of their sanity or stamina, or turn in four monster trophies to regain all sanity and stamina. Investigators can also search the lost and found at the entrance to gain an item depending on what they roll on a green die. An Investigator at the entrance can also spend monster trophies to gain an item by buying a souvenir.
You do get some help along the way. Items and Spells that you can gain usually give you the ability to roll the red or yellow die. These dice have a couple of different sides than the green dice. The yellow die has a side worth four investigations, and the red die has a side worth four investigations and a wildcard. You can also store dice in certain spells, or you can focus a die that can be used by others later in your group.
At the bottom of each adventure there is a space for the rewards of successfully completing the adventure, as well as an area showing the penalty for not completing the adventure. Rewards can be things like common or unique items, spells, clue tokens, Elder Signs, and allies. Penalties can bring out monsters, cause you to lose sanity or stamina, or add tokens to the Doom Track.
Elder Sign is a lot of fun, and you have to work with your friends to defeat the game. It actually is kind of easy to win, which is something that is surprising since Arkham Horror is a difficult game to beat. The only other problem with a dice game like this is that it can feel a lot like a modified version of Yahtzee. There is definitely some strategy, but there is also a lot of luck involved because you are rolling dice.
Elder Sign isn’t going to replace Arkham Horror any time soon, but it’s not meant to. It takes the theme and makes a cooperative game that can handle up to eight players. While there can be some down time, everyone can give feedback for which task to try to complete. It would have been nice to get more adventure cards in the set, but I bet we might see some in an expansion, along with more Ancient Ones. Also, some people might be turned off by the theme, even though it doesn’t play too heavily into the mechanics. In the end Elder Sign is a nice filler that can scratch that Arkham Horror itch for those times when you don’t have four hours to play the game.