As I mentioned in the Core Worlds write up, my wife and I were fortunate to have $100 gift card to spend at Myriad games, and we each picked out a game. Core Worlds was my pick, and Elder Sign was my wife's pick. I should point out here that my wife has no real interest in the Cthulhu mythos. However the combinations of "co-op" and "dice game" were enough to make her very interested in it. So was her pick a good one?
As mentioned this is a co-op game. The goal is to collect enough elder signs to seal a a portal and prevent a great old one from coming back. At the beginning of the game, each a great-old one is selected. Each great old one has an ability that complicates life for the investigators. Each player then takes an adventurer. Six adventure cards are selected, and these adventure cards are where a lot of the game takes place. On a player's turn they have a few options available to them. At the Museum entrance then can heal or buy resources. They can also take on adventure cards. Each adventure card has lines that have to be defeated. For example one adventure may have three lines. One line has a Skull icon. Line 2 has a skull icon and 3 investigation. Line 3 has two skulls. The player rolls six dice. If they roll the required symbols to complete any of the lines, they place the dice on the adventure, and then roll the remaining dice. If a player fails, they can try again. Sometimes there is a terror penalty they suffer, but to try again they discard one of the dice and roll the remainder. A player can also save a die in between rolls to help them out. Players can keep doing this, discarding a die and roll again, until it becomes impossible to complete the task. If the adventure is completed their is a reward. Often these rewards are item cards, spell cards, or re-roll tokens. For the harder tasks, these rewards can net Elder Signs. Each Great Old One has a required amount of elder signs needed to seal the portal. If a player fails an adventure completely there is a penalty. Often these penalties are losing stamina or sanity. Sometimes these penalties add doom to the doom track. When the doom track is full the Great Old One has arrived, and the players can make a last ditch effort to defeat it. There is some other stuff, like how items can add extra dice, and monsters can show up to make life harder, but most of the game is rolling dice to complete adventures and get elder signs. The game ends when the portal is sealed, or the Elder god makes it through the portal, the players fail to defeat it, and the world descends into darkness.
The Game We Played
For this game I was Dexter Drake, the Magician and my wife was Darrell Simmons, the reporter. Our goal was to prevent the coming of Shub-Niggurath. Things got off to a good start, because it seemed that I could not fail at dice rolling. After an initial quick adventure card to get some item cards, I started taking on some of the cards that gave Elder Signs and I defeated them without failing each time. I was even able to get enough trophies (points for completing adventures and defeating monsters) to buy an Elder Sign. After I got particularly well stocked, I even took on the R'lyeh outworld adventure. This card took a lot of dice defeat, but paid off with three elder signs. I also rolled perfectly for this one. It is really good that I did well with the dice, because my wife had the exact opposite problem. The dice really hated her tonight. She struggled terribly with just about everything that she attempted. What really did her in though was the "Riot in the Streets" adventure. This card has two lines. The first required three investigation and the second required 9 investigation. However, her character ability, allowed once per roll for her to change an investigation roll to one roll higher. She felt like she should be be able to do this card, and tried multiple times. She kept failing, and each failure had a penalty of adding one to the doom track. We got to the point where we had 11 of the 12 Elder Signs, and only one spot left open on the doom track. We decided to work together to take out what looked to be the easiest adventure that provided an Elder Sign. I used a tommy-gun card which allowed me to roll the bouns yellow and red dice. Those dice gave me enough that I was able to beat the adventure, get the last, elder sign and win the game.
My Rating: 2 (Do not like)
My Thoughts: My problem with Elder Sign is that I feel like it lacks objective and narrative. I never feel like I am doing anything than rolling dice because I have to. The game does not convey the feeling of actively working to an objective very well. The game also had zero narrative structure. The adventure cards are thematic, but there is nothing linking them together and in the end it is just rolling dice to match symbols with no real connection to the theme.
Her Thoughts: 1.5 (Do not want to play again)
Her Thoughts: This game manages to make rolling dice boring. I was bored most of the time playing it. I do not feel like I am doing anything but rolling dice because I am suppose to, not because I am actually accomplishing anything in the game.
Combined Rating: 3.5
The first time we played Elder Sign we did not like it, but we decided to try to withhold judgement to make sure that we played everything right. After reading the FAQ and browsing the forums, I think we played this game correctly. Elder Sign is a huge disappointment as we both strongly dislike the game. The only silver lining is that it appears there are several people who want tie game so hopefully we can trade it quickly.