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.
If you’ve played Arkham Horror, the Investigators in Elder Sign will be familiar to you. The same art assets were used, and they have some similarities to their Arkham Horror. Each Investigator has a maximum number of sanity and stamina. Their special ability is listed at the bottom of the card and their starting items.
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.
The heart of Elder Sign is resolving adventures. Each adventure card has tasks that need to be completed. Tasks generally represent sides of the dice you roll. You roll six green dice and take a look at the tasks on the card. If you have the proper faces rolled, or have a total number of Investigation symbols greater than or equal to the number for the task, then you can complete that task. Even if you can complete more than one task on the card, you can only complete one task per roll. If you can’t complete a task you have to discard one of the die and try again until you know that you can’t complete the tasks on the adventure card. Some of the card require you to do the tasks in order, and some require you to lose sanity or stamina to complete.
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.
The Doom Track is on the Ancient One’s card. When a counter goes onto a spot on the Doom Track with a monster symbol, a new monster comes out and goes onto one of the adventure cards. When the Doom Track is full the Ancient one is awakened. Then combat against the Ancient one starts and you follow the conditions on its card for combat. To win the game, you must either have the required amount of Elder Signs before the Ancient One awakes, or you must defeat the Ancient One.
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.