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Subject: A Brief Review of Elder Sign (Solo Play) rss

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J. Chris Miller
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I played Arkham Horror once. It was early in my board gaming career and I had a pretty bad experience. Up to this point I hadn't played any co-op game let alone an Arkham game. On my first turn I was sucked into the Void and it would be a few rounds before I could take a real turn again. Half an hour later I was still waiting to play the game and I ended up just quitting. It was an experience that left a bad taste in my mouth, and basically turned me off of the whole Arkham universe.

Lately, my game group has been playing a lot of co-ops and Arkham games such as Eldrich Horror and Mansions of Madness 2 and I've caught the Cthulu mythos fever. So I watched a playthrough of Elder Sign and really was impressed. Let me give you a brief overview of the gameplay and I'll give you my thoughts.

Gameplay

Elder Sign is a cooperative dice game set in the Arkham universe in which you make dice checks against adventures on the board which give you points and also help you collect Elder Signs which are used to seal off an ancient one and preventing them from destroying humanity.

Each player starts the game with an investigator complete with their own health and sanity stats and a special ability. These special abilities can range from gaining an extra die during a check to healing other investigators. You also start with a boss in play, an Ancient one that will have a special ability of it's own.

On a player's turn they can either go out to adventure, or spend their trophies acquiring items. We will discuss trophies in a bit.

Going on an Adventure


An player can move their investigator to one of 6 adventures and attempt to resolve it successfully. They roll 6 dice and attempt to successfully pass dice checks on that adventure.

The dice faces are all different and they are as follows:

1 value Investigate
2 value Investigate
3 value Investigate
Peril
Terror
Lore

Each adventure has anywhere from 2-4 tasks that you must fulfill to complete it successfully. An example of a task would be a check that requires you get 1 Peril and 3 Ivestigate. You roll the dice trying to get a result that matches. You can use two dice of a lower value to match a higher Investigate value, so you could roll a 1 and a 2 and a Peril, and that would fulfill a task. Those dice are now locked in that task, an you must try to use the remainder of your dice to complete any other tasks.

If you fail to complete a task, you lose one die from your pool and you roll again. If you complete all of the tasks on an adventure, you succeed and if you do not you fail. A player that succeeds at an adventure gets to keep the card as a trophy and use the points listed on it to buy items and spells at the in-game store.

There are penalties and rewards listed on the bottom of the adventure. They can be things like lose 1 Stamina (health) or for success, gain a special item and an Elder Sign. If you collect enough Elder Signs to seal away the ancient one, you win the game.

The game comes with a dial that looks like a clock, which is a really innovative mechanic. After each player's turn you advance the clock a quarter turn. Each time it hits the 12 o'clock hour, it is considered to be "midnight" and you will draw and resolve a Mythos card. The ancient one may have an ability that triggers at midnight as well. It may advance the doom track, or put out some monsters. So let's quickly go over those aspects.

Monsters

Sometimes a mythos card will have you place monsters on adventures. You get to choose which adventure to place it on, but it becomes an extra task that you must pass to succeed at that adventure. Monsters also have a trophy value so when you defeat one you immediately place it in your tableau to use as you wish to purchase items and such.

Doom Track

Each Ancient One has a doom track with around 10-15 spaces on it. Sometimes a mythos card will tell you to advance the doom track. Or a penalty for not completing an adventure will do so. When this happens you add a doom token to the track. Some spaces on the doom track will have a monster symbol and when those are covered more monsters appear. If you cover all the spaces on the doom track, the ancient one awakens and you must attempt a final battle. Much like other Arkham games you will have a slim chance of winning that battle, so the best course of action is trying to collect the requisite Elder Signs to seal the ancient one away.

There are MANY other things about this game that I will not go into great detail about, but I will give a quick list:

Common Items
Special Items
Allies
Skills
Special Dice
Spells
Clue Tokens - Allow you to re-roll any number of dice during an adventure.
Other worldly adventures

The list goes on. And the expansions for this game are amazing and add a lot to the game. On to my thoughts.

Final Thoughts

As I mentioned watching the run through of this game left me impressed. But playing it has been extremely satisfying. The adventures are interesting, and give a bit of story and you really get the feel of an Arkham game here. This is Eldrich Horror in a smaller, tighter package. You have lots of special items and the characters have interesting abiilties.

I will say that you need at least one expansion for this game to really shine, and that is either the Gates of Arkham expansion, or the Omens in Ice expansion. Both are really great and add a ton of depth to the game mechanically. Now instead of just going to a face-up adventure, adventures come in face-down so you can't analyze what you're up against beforehand. They also have abilities you can use when you go to them.

The Omens in Ice expansion is very good. It actually tells quite a narrative about your team of investigators heading up to Alaska to investigate strange occurrences. Everything in this expansion drips with theme and it brings a lot of mechanics to the board such as weather effects and the need for expending supplies to survive.

The game is VERY deep for a dice-chucking game, and there is quite a bit of strategy in choosing the right adventures and deciding when to use special abilities or items.

The components are standard Fantasy Flight fare meaning they are excellent, and the artwork is some of the best I've seen in any game. This game is exciting, and evocative and gives you the feel of an Arkham game in a smaller package.

All of this said, it is a long game. The box says 1-2 hours, and I'd say that's pretty accurate, and for a successful game you're gonna be landing closer to the 2 hour mark. Many people will consider this too long for a Yahtzee-style game.

I will say that I have only played this game solo, and I don't even play it in one sitting. I enjoy setting it up, playing a few rounds and then coming back later and playing a few more. It's not that I get sick of it, it's just that the game is pretty rich and I think it's one that's meant to be savored. It is an excellent solo game, and probably my favorite ever. The game time will turn off a lot of gamers.

If you're looking for a more dice-driven Arkham narrative, then this game is well worth looking into. If you are an Arkham fan, and a solo gamer, this is a must-buy.

If you're at all interested, I suggest checking out the youtube video of the playthrough.
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Dacula
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Thanks for the review. I own this game. Ironically, I have never played it solo, and I love solo games. How many characters did you play? I don't usually like playing multiple characters, because it becomes to much to keep up with, and sometimes spoils the enjoyment of the game. Can it be played with one character, and still balance well?
 
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Julia
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We have dragged Reason from her Throne and set in her place the Empress of Dreams [liber Endvra]
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Core set is even easier when played with just one invetigator
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J. Chris Miller
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GTRock wrote:
Thanks for the review. I own this game. Ironically, I have never played it solo, and I love solo games. How many characters did you play? I don't usually like playing multiple characters, because it becomes to much to keep up with, and sometimes spoils the enjoyment of the game. Can it be played with one character, and still balance well?


I play with 4 investigators, and no respawns. I understand that's a lot for some people to keep track of, but I enjoy it. The reason why more is sometimes better is because you get to use a variety of different investigator abilities to help you win.

That said, single investigator intrigues me and I think I will try that sometime.
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M M
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There's a great app version of this.
 
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ParisianDreams
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Mat628 wrote:
There's a great app version of this.


I'm not a fan of the app. The animation for the dice is a bit lame.

Edit: I am a tactile person though, so really enjoy rolling the dice in this game and flipping cards (for Gates).
 
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