"If you wish to know more, visit me near the sea at midnight in two days.
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn."
The line does not seemingly translate from any known language, but this may be a chance to discover the truth. It may be the only chance left to me to discover the truth behind this cult, and the image left known as the "Elder Sign".
GAME DESCRIPTION: Elder Sign is a 1-8 player game designed around the C'thulhu mythos published by Fantasy Flight Games. Each player takes the role of an Investigator. The object of the game is to seal away the current Ancient One away by travelling to various locations and gather Elder Signs. Be warned, the longer you play, the more chance there is that the Ancient One will awaken and devour everyone.
INVESTIGATOR: Each player will take a Investigator card and token. Each Investigator has a sanity and health meter off to the side of their portraits on their respective cards. They can never go over their maximum number (barring specific circumstances), and if a player loses all their health or sanity, they are devoured. The player returns all their items and trophies to the bottom of their respective decks, then take a new Investigator with the appropriate starting items, and add one Doom counter on the Doom Track.
ANCIENT ONE AND TIME: At the start of the game, a random Ancient One card is drawn. In the center is a number that determines the number of Elder Signs used to seal him away. At the end of each Investigators turn, the clock advances three hours. At Midnight, the player draws a Mythos card and resolves it. Sometimes, the Mythos card will put Doom counters on the Ancient One's Doom Track. Get enough Doom counters, and the Ancient One awakes.
ADVENTURE: The majority of play takes place at one of these adventure cards. Each card has a list of tasks you must complete, in any order or down the list. In order to complete these tasks, you roll all available green dice, and try to match the symbols on 1 row at a time. If you manage to match the symbols, you complete the task by placing all appropriate symbols in the row, and roll for the next task.
- If you fail to roll appropriate symbols, you lose 1 die, and try again. In this case, you may take a die, and 'focus' it by placing it on your character token. If you lose too many dice to not longer be able to succeed, then you suffer the penalties, located in red at the bottom, and trigger any Terror effects.
- If you finish all tasks, you take the card as a trophy, as well as all rewards, located in white at the bottom.
MONSTERS: Every so often, a Monster will add or replace a current task with their own. If you complete a Monster's task as well as the Adventure card, you gain it in addition as a trophy.
ENTRANCE: If you don't feel like you can complete an adventure safely, you can instead choose to stay at the entrance to heal for free, or spend your collected trophies to buy health, spells, items, and even Elder Signs.
SPECIAL ITEMS: There are three different types of item cards: Common, Unique, and Spells. These have various effects from re-rolling, to adding the red and/or yellow die to your next adventures rolls, to locking a die until it needs to be used by any Investigator you share a room with. Allies can also be gained with their own effects. The Footprint, or Clue Token, can be spent to re-roll the dice if an Investigator failed to complete a task with no penalty. An Investigator can keep spending Clue Tokens to re-roll.
BATTLE THE ANCIENT ONE: If the Ancient One's Doom Track becomes full before their sealed away, then every current Investigator battles the now awake Ancient One. At Midnight, the Ancient One attacks rather than a Mythos Card being drawn, and neither player assistance nor focusing may be used, but any items may. Every time you meet the Ancient One's combat task, remove 1 Doom Counter. If you no longer can, then your turn ends, and the clock advances.
THE END: If any Investigator manages to gain Elder Signs equal to or greater the number needed to seal away the Ancient One, or all Doom counters are removed once the Ancient One is awake, then all Investigators, including the devoured ones, are victorious, and all human players win. If all Investigators are devoured, then the Ancient One wins.
CONCLUSION: I've played both this and the similar Arkham Horror, which was also reprinted by Fantasy Flight Games. I liked the idea of Arhkam Horror, but the rules were shaky and hard to understand, the gameplay monotonous, and it felt unfair to a large group (which shows how confusing the rules were). Elder Sign, I'm glad to admit, solved a lot of those problems. It's rules are clear, and the turns are quick for a large box game. The travelling is limited to going where you need to, as opposed to wandering. It is a great introduction for players not used to "Big Box games", or games with a lot of rules and moving parts. If you're looking for a rich story-telling experience, and deep lore, there are other games. But for a well-built Lovecraft themed adventure that plays well, even alone, then you might want to check this one out.
AFTERTHOUGHTS: Elder Sign can also be found on PC and Android under Elder Sign: Omens. The game plays well there, and the hotseat function allows players to easily access their Investigator. Certain rules have updated to take advantage of the digital layout, such as new locations and added difficulties. Even so, it's almost a different experience, and I prefer the tactile feel and flow of conversation the physical copy has to offer. On the flip side, it's cheaper to get it digitally, and plays smoother with less hassle. Really, you can't go wrong getting both if you can afford it, or picking the one you'll most likely use otherwise.