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Elder Sign» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Elder Sign - AKA Yahtzee for Masochists rss

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Josef S
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Most people play board games to have fun. Most games are designed to provide said fun.

It's a good thing "fun" has no strict definition.

Elder Sign is a cooperative game set in H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos, and is in a sense a companion to soul-devouring Arkham Horror and the merely soul-tastetesting Eldritch Horror. In Elder Sign, each player takes control of a character in the fight against an ancient evil bent on destroying the world. While exploring a museum filled with oddities, monsters, traps, and other charming exhibits players will gather resources to strengthen their character in hopes of banishing whatever monster is currently threatening reality and butchering the English language with names made out of all those H's and Q's and apostrophes.

Mechanically, the game is very simple. Certain cards represents a location or confrontation in the museum, and has a variety of requirement symbols that must be acquired by rolling dice. Match the symbols on one requirement, move on to the next, and complete the mission. Various bonuses can be attained which allow you to use extra dice or bank dice for later use, and restore damage you may have sustained in the conflict. As confrontations are passed or failed a time mechanic advances the story by the use of Mythos Cards which provide a game altering effect every so often. Beat missions and collect Elder Sign tokens. Fail them (or let too much time pass) and collect Doom Tokens. Elder Signs = Good. Doom = Bad.

Small caveat to this, probably should mention - the game wants you to fail...and die, or maybe become a raving lunatic. Either or.

The dice mechanic has the feel of other dice driven games. Roll, reroll, and keep trying until you get what you need. Kind of sounds like Yahtzee, maybe King of Tokyo? In those games, a failed roll simply required another go. Not in Elder Sign, oh, no, my friend. In Elder Sign the dice pool shrinks with each roll, whether or not you succeeded. If you succeed in fulfilling a goal, those dice are set aside. If you failed a goal - mind you, a goal must be completed in a SINGLE roll, bar a few exceptions - a dice is lost to you. Failed a roll and a Terror symbol was rolled? If the location you're on has a "Terror Effect", Painsville Manufacturing just cranked on the assembly line, and they have a delivery for you.

Despite being much smaller and much shorter than Arkham Horror or Eldritch Horror, this game keeps a strong level of tension. Each roll of the dice is a risk, and failure (and even sometimes success) can be brutal. Keeping your characters strong and sane to survive a failed mission, or sacrificing themselves to achieve a hard fought goal, is a constant war. This game is very unforgiving, and even a few missteps can carry a heavy cost.

All that being said, this game is phenomenal. Get it.

The mechanics are superb. Yes, each roll can be deadly, but proper play - especially in deciding your character at the start of the game - can mitigate the damage. A critical choice is team structure, in picking characters that work well together to make sure difficult missions can be achieved and damage can be healed quickly.

The atmosphere is heavy, and the theme is like a blanket of fog over the whole experience. The time mechanic, the artwork, and the little bits of flavor text work together to build a feeling of danger but not outright despair. Playing other, multiple hour cooperative games can become a chore, and a few bad turns can sour the game to the point of simply packing it in. Because of the solid theme but more luck-dependent outcomes, there is always a feeling of "It's a longshot, but at least it's a shot".

Victory is sweet. Getting that last Elder Sign while staring down a Doom Track just a step or two away from catastrophe is so satisfying. There are a couple paths to getting Elder Signs, so a few different strategies can be employed, even in the same game. Some characters may be committed to winning them from missions, while others can gather "trophies" (i.e. currency) to purchase them from the shop, though they are so expensive it's a task to do so. It's a tough slog, but pulling it out makes the frustration worth it.

This is, hands down, a great game, a great cooperative game, and an excellent experience each time it's played.

Side note: If I recall, the game is rated for ages 12+, but obviously this is a suggestion and I've often found these suggestions to be higher than necessary. As a parent, I would say that if you plan on playing with younger players, look over the game first. Most of the artwork is more spooky than scary, but some of it could be nightmare fuel. Just an FYI.

Thanks for reading!
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Julia
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The dice mechanic (that looked familiar) is the same developed by Knizia for Risk! Express. If you check the credits at the end of the rulebook, you'll find Knizia mentioned
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Chris Knapp
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This game is my next purchase! Can't wait!
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Matthew Soto
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Scarlet Witch wrote:
The dice mechanic (that looked familiar) is the same developed by Knizia for Risk! Express. If you check the credits at the end of the rulebook, you'll find Knizia mentioned


Even more funny is that Asmodee/FF now does both games, with Risk Express being published by FFG as Age of War
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J. Chris Miller
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Great review! Have you tried the expansions yet? If not, I highly suggest Gates of Arkham, and possibly Omens in Ice. I think Omens is the best expansion but it does have a lot more moving parts and can make the game a lot more fiddly. But either of those make the game so much more IMO.
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Josef S
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Julia - Thank you for pointing that out. Yes, the mechanic is the same, but Risk Express was never released in the USA. It was reskinned and released as a Feudal Japan game called "Age of War" (as previously mentioned), and is an excellent pocket game and a good way of determining if you like the mechanic. An oversight on my part - your input is appreciated.

J. Chris Miller - I have every expansion, including the small "Grave Consequences" card pack. I plan on doing reviews of them as well. My personal favorite is actually Unseen Forces, as it is the most...... expansiony. The others, though fantastic, almost feel like, for want of a better phrase, different levels. Same mechanics but wildly different feel. Streets of Arkham is a brutal slugfest, while Omens of Ice is a plodding, draining endurance test.
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Julia
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RoguesRefuge wrote:
Julia - Thank you for pointing that out. Yes, the mechanic is the same, but Risk Express was never released in the USA. It was reskinned and released as a Feudal Japan game called "Age of War" (as previously mentioned), and is an excellent pocket game and a good way of determining if you like the mechanic. An oversight on my part - your input is appreciated


Thanks Josef, didn't know Risk! Express was never released in the US until Age of War. Now I get a few more details I missed
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Matthew Soto
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Scarlet Witch wrote:
RoguesRefuge wrote:
Julia - Thank you for pointing that out. Yes, the mechanic is the same, but Risk Express was never released in the USA. It was reskinned and released as a Feudal Japan game called "Age of War" (as previously mentioned), and is an excellent pocket game and a good way of determining if you like the mechanic. An oversight on my part - your input is appreciated


Thanks Josef, didn't know Risk! Express was never released in the US until Age of War. Now I get a few more details I missed


It had a lot of rethemes done in the files section because the americans wanted to play it but they couldn't legally unless if they imported it, dunno why Hasbro made such a silly decision. I can understand why Hasbro/Parker Brothers decided to drop Clue: The Great Museum Caper (pretty expensive to publish, according to the designer). Though, because of this, Risk Express is the ONLY Express Line game that's being printed today
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Julia
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lomdr wrote:
It had a lot of rethemes done in the files section because the americans wanted to play it but they couldn't legally unless if they imported it, dunno why Hasbro made such a silly decision. I can understand why Hasbro/Parker Brothers decided to drop Clue: The Great Museum Caper (pretty expensive to publish, according to the designer). Though, because of this, Risk Express is the ONLY Express Line game that's being printed today


Fascinating. I'm even happier that I helped bringing Age of War to life then

And agreed, sometimes Hasbro is... difficult to understand
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Matthew Soto
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Scarlet Witch wrote:
lomdr wrote:
It had a lot of rethemes done in the files section because the americans wanted to play it but they couldn't legally unless if they imported it, dunno why Hasbro made such a silly decision. I can understand why Hasbro/Parker Brothers decided to drop Clue: The Great Museum Caper (pretty expensive to publish, according to the designer). Though, because of this, Risk Express is the ONLY Express Line game that's being printed today


Fascinating. I'm even happier that I helped bringing Age of War to life then

And agreed, sometimes Hasbro is... difficult to understand


They reached the era of doing 'brands' of stuff it seems, though it has had some...interesting consequences. In the Bop-it! line...there's 3 games that share the same title of Bop-It!, 1 R2D2 edition, and 1 XL edition. Also, anything with the Life wheel gets Life slapped onto it (Life Jr and Yo Kai Watch plays anything but the original Life) and anything remotely strategic gets Risk slapped onto it (Oh hai, Star Wars Risk 2015 and Risk: Europe). It seems that because of Hasbro stagnating on the board game front Target is now doing more Gateway games and with the price of Nerf Blasters going up a new company is doing cheap blasters that can perform on Nerf's level
 
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