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iOS Review: Elder Sign: Omens

Brad Cummings
United States
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From gallery of thequietpunk
The Stats:
Compatibility: Separate Versions for iPad, iPhone, Mac OSX and Android.
Current Price: $3.99 (iPhone/Android), $6.99 (iPad),
Developer/Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Version: 1.0
Size: 156.0  MB
Multiplayer: Pass and play.
AI: Not Applicable
Itunes link:

The Good:
- Beautiful design and execution.
- Some changes were made to the game in order to make it feel natural on iOS.
The Bad:
- Changes made to the game may increase accessibility but disappoint board game fans.
- The game is fairly easy for a coop experience.
- Some Game Center functionality would be interesting to compare high scores.
From gallery of thequietpunk
Elder Sign: Omens is a based on Elder Sign, a dice game adaptation of the popular board game Arkham Horror. It is a cooperative game where players journey through a Lovecraftian world in order to stop a great evil from awaking. Elder Sign: Omens shrinks the action down to a single haunted museum where players are attempting to stop the awakening of a terrible beast that will consume the world.

Elder Sign: Omens is fairly unique in the fact that it does not stick to the exact terminology or rules from its board game inspiration, Elder Sign. What follows is a description of the app rules, rather than the board game.

In Elder Sign: Omens players find themselves called to a haunted museum in order to collect “Elder Signs” (powerful ancient symbols) in order to stop a great evil beast, Azatoth, from awaking. In order to succeed players must collect 14 Elder Signs before 12 doom counters have been revealed. Players select a team of four investigators from the 16 available and enter the museum. In the museum players will encounter different events that need their attention. On their turns, an investigator can go to one of these events and try to complete it. Each events will require certain runes or symbols to complete and some can be quite complex. When players attempt an event they conjure six runes (or roll dice in the original) which can show symbols of a skull, scroll, terror symbol, or any number of clue symbols. Players assign these runes to different actions within the event. If players can not complete an action with the runes rolled they lose a rune and try again. If they lose all runes and cannot complete the task, they fail that event for that turn. Completing events rewards players with things such as Elder Signs, items (can be used on future events to help conjure more runes or control the results) but will also sometimes have negative effects (monsters, doom tokens). If players fail an event negative effects will occur, usually including the player losing some amount of sanity and/or stamina. If an investigator ever loses all of their sanity or stamina, they are eliminated from the game. Each investigator has special abilities that can help in the game and items will also aid players in overcoming events. Some events have terror effects which will harm players when the do not complete an action, also others have midnight effects that occur each time the clock strikes midnight (each time all investigators take a turn). At midnight negative effects will also occur usually adding doom markers or monsters to the board. If players can overcome all of these obstacles and collect the needed Elder Signs, they win the game.

Elder Sign: Omens is a great example of a non-linear transition of a board game to iOS. It has taken a dice game, masked the dice, and created a unique single player experience on iOS. It has managed to create an accessible package that still captures the essence of its board game ancestors while leaving room for expansion in a way that makes sense to iOS gamers.

It should be no surprise that the graphic design in this app is amazing. Fantasy Flight Games proved what they could do with Hey That’s My Fish on iOS, and Elder Sign: Omens continues that tradition, taking it into a dark Lovecraftian direction. Each adventures starts with a thematic video on the mystery you are about to take part in. This video really draws a player in the first time around, and is skippable in future play-throughs. The main in game screen is a map of the museum, and though this does not affect gameplay, it is a nice backdrop. The board is littered with event symbols and there are several different symbols to denote the different types of events, and these become clear after one play. When you select an event, a well done image is shown, placing you in the moments of the individual event. Likewise, when you either win or fail you are presented with an epic video showing your destruction or triumph. Elder Sign: Omens is a thematic package from beginning to end.

Elder Sign: Omens does use a fair bit of symbology but excellent tutorial videos will soon familiarize you with the interface. There are several types of events in the game, each denoted with their own symbol, but players can also click on the event to learn more about it, such as the negative/positive effects and the runes needed to defeat it. This ability is key in planning strategies throughout the game, for example, which event with a midnight effect do I complete based on the repercussions, or do I complete an event for Elder Signs or for items? Using items and investigator powers in the game is fairly simple, the backpack icon or investigator icon will flash when their is an item you can use and only the usable items will be highlighted. You will quickly learn what many of the simple items do, and for the more complex items you can click on your investigator to see a description of their special power and each item the possess. I do wish there was a quicker way to see an items ability while in your backpack view. Fantasy Flight Games has tried to keep the interface streamlined by hiding information when not needed, but clicking on items in the side bar, players should be able to quickly access any more information they would like, such as what is coming up on the doom track. This is all explained in the tutorial and gives the game a more polished look.

From gallery of thequietpunk
Much of the negative discussion of Elder Sign: Omens in the forums, has been focused on its “limited” set of features and some have called it a half app. First, unlike several games that have been released recently, this app has been released with an accessible set of features. The game is playable and though does not have every scenario of its board game brother, it is a full game that can be played through to completion in the way it was intended. No one is mistaken in pointing out that limiting the game to one Great Old One does leave room for expansion, and the inevitable $0.99 in app purchases. However, this is a model that works in the iOS space and it is, in my opinion, a smart move on the part of FFG. The only limiting factor to this method is a current lack of variability, and we are stuck with the cliche FFG cry, “It’s a great game, but it needs expansions.” The single villain, though it has made many upset, is actually a great tool for accessibility. Rather than introduce players to a slew of evil gods and special abilities, and introduce players to an end game battle that may or may not apply, they have opted to limit the game to single, simple, villain. Azatoth is simple, either you win or lose. This is easy for players to grasp and gets them to focus on the middle of the game, not the end. This choice will make the game accessible to the wider crowd of iOS gamers that are looking for something a little more strategic and like the theme. Some of FFG’s choice may upset some of us, but I feel they have, correctly, set their target on a larger audience

The game, like its dice game counterpart, is not extremely challenging. Players will win the majority of the time, and it is not close to the brain burner of Ghost Stories where every move matters. The game is more of a thematic experience, than an overly complicated puzzle. One interesting fact is that at the end of each adventure players receive a score. These scores take different factors into account, for example how many round passed before the player won. Using these scores, players can give themselves new challenging ways to play, for example see how rounds you can go through and still win. This high score system should be supplemented by achievements and Game Center leader-boards, and I am shocked they are not included. These are features I would recommend be added quickly as they will bring great longevity to the game.

Overall app scores are given for many different reasons. Elder Sign: Omens is an app that is hard to pinpoint. In production value it is a 4. It is a beautiful game to look at and is easy to understand and access, really one of the best designed apps on the market. However, in longevity it feels strongly like a 2. Because it is primarily a solo and episodic game it gobbles up content. It needs expansions to increase variety and leader-boards to increase longevity. So, for now the rank below will have to stand, but it can easily become one of the best with just a few small tweaks.
Rating: 3/4 Good
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