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Subject: Elder Sign, updating my opinion rss

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David Boeren
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The first time I played the game was at Gencon this year when the game was launched and I tried one of the demo sessions. Naturally, since this is a booth demo it's not a full game, just a quick taste.

At the time, I thought it was too random. With just one or two turns and no experience there wasn't any planning - you just went to an encounter picked somewhat arbitrarily (since you didn't have any experience to guide your selection) and you either rolled well enough or not. I had no opinion on whether it was too easy, as we didn't play a full game.

When the iOS version came out back on Halloween, I bought the game for my iPhone. I have never played the boardgame version again, but I've racked up quite a few plays on the iPhone version where it's possible to get in a LOT of plays in a short time.

Turns out that experience or at least knowing what you're doing counts for quite a bit and the game is a lot less random than it may appear at first. So where does the skill come in?

Each turn, the first thing I do is check what equipment the current character has. Combined with their special ability and any die restrictions in play, this will give me a sense of what they can likely accomplish.

Next, I review the currently available adventures, taking note of which ones seem like good fits. That is, ones that I can realistically achieve and which hopefully mesh well with the character's abilities. Note that even if the current character is good at one adventure, that doesn't mean I should send him there. If the NEXT character is extra good at adventures needing scrolls, then I might want to save the scroll adventure for him even though my current guy could do it too. Ideally you want to plan ahead a couple of turns like this.

Then too, you have to consider which adventures are important. A lot of them are not and can be ignored. The important ones are usually ones with midnight effects, ones that have dice locked, and ones that yield Elder Signs as prizes. You usually want to clear obstacles as soon as possible and grab Elder Signs when you can.

Sometimes a character isn't well suited for anything important because he hasn't got many items. Maybe it's time to send him to some "training"? Give him an easy adventure that yields good items, or maybe send him to the gift shop to buy something.

So generally, you're trying to manage risk/reward in a gradually changing ecosystem of adventures. Each time you complete one, a new one appears, sometimes monsters show up to complicate existing adventures, and your suitability to tackle adventures shifts as your equipment and health/sanity change. Once you understand all the parts of the machine and become adept and manipulating/predicting them, it really doesn't feel that random anymore. You've got a lot of ways to manage the odds and you pick and choose your challenges and what order you do them in with whom. Yeah sure, sometimes you fail. But you feel like you roughly knew the odds going in and if things have been going mostly OK they're not bad. Failures are setbacks, but if you never failed there wouldn't be any pressure which would be bad for the game and the theme.

If you feel like you're randomly getting hosed, here are my suggestions:
1. Did you do a good job matching abilities and equipment to the adventure's needs? If not, work on that.

2. Were you an item-miser? The worst position to be in in this game is to have characters with no items. That's when luck rises its ugly head, because you don't have your usual ways to mitigate it. The fastest way to get into this predicament is to fail adventures, and the most common way to fail adventures in my experience is to be stingy. Try using your items, ALL of them if you have to. Success usually pays off with enough items to replace what you spent. Or, the adventures that don't yield decent items typically give Elder Signs. If an adventure gives particularly crummy rewards, just never go there. There are some like that.

3. Are you taking long shots? There are times when you have to, but usually you should go into most adventures feeling you've got a good chance of success. Long shots lead to failure which (if you spent any items) leads to greater chances of more failure. Maybe pump your guys up a bit at the gift shop first, or go on some easy item-building jobs.


Now, having mainly played the iPhone version I'm mostly familiar with that version. It's harder than the boardgame version for various reasons, one major one is that monsters show up at random locations so you cannot stick them all on an adventure you never plan to visit. There are other threads about this you can read, but if you find the boardgame version too easy maybe incorporate some of these changes. The other main difference is that the iPhone version only has one enemy - Azathoth. I'm hoping an update will be coming that adds more but for now that's all I've played against. I cannot comment on the relative difficulty of other GOO's or how their special rules change the game - Azathoth takes a lot of Elder Signs but is otherwise the basic vanilla GOO.

I don't win every time, but I win the vast majority of games, probably close to the 85-90% mark. When I lose, it's typically due to failing several early missions or bad luck in the adventure draw where some really hard stuff comes out (especially with midnight effects) and I can't get rid of them. Bad draw doesn't guarantee trouble, it just improves the odds, but some games will definitely be harder than others. If you're winning too much, you can try avoiding the best characters, that helps some. But it's still a fairly easy game. However, despite that you do still get to feel some tight spots in most games where something bad happens, or is narrowly avoided, or a dangerous combination shows up and you feel like you barely defeated it.

My main criticism is probably to do with adventure balance. Some are rather hard. Some are very easy. The rewards are not always proportional to the difficulty. Simply put, there are a couple of adventures you'll really never ever want to go to because they're a waste of time with lousy rewards. There are also a couple of adventures that seem a bit too hard considering you really have to tackle them due to detrimental Midnight effects (something bad happens every 4th turn until you complete the adventure). For instance, I would consider The Curator to be one of these. I don't know that this imbalance is 100% a bad thing, it certainly does add some "swings of fortune" into the game and maybe things would be too routine without it? There is definitely an "Oh, no" feeling when certain adventures (or monsters) get drawn.

Monsters are fairly unequal too, but for some reason this doesn't bother me much. There are super-easy guys that just need one icon, and there are hard ones that need three AND lock one of your dice. Not sure why, but this feels different than the unequal adventures to me. Maybe it's because if there's a really bad monster you can try to find an item to automatically defeat them? Or because there's a fair chance he'll be at an easy story or a story you can ignore? Don't know, it just doesn't bother me though.

Anyway, hope this helps some folks, especially on the randomness issue. If I'd never gotten the iPhone version I'd have still thought the game was way too random too, but that was based on a poor understanding of how good play on my part could reduce the randomness. It just takes some players to really get a good grip on that, I wouldn't expect anyone to "get it" on the first play.
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Robert Cannon
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Good review. I am enjoying the iPad version, except I wish there was a way to shorten/remove the clips between character turns.
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Dex Quest
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clips between character turns??!! A dice game without real dice???!!!

This is precisely why board games should stay away from those mind-numbing touch screens - there'll be adverts popping up between dice rolls next.

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Bob T
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Elder Sign reminds me of Ghost Stories thus far (G-S is a "10" if ever there was one) Talk about 'random' monsters- some of the ghosts in G-S are ridiculously powerful, others are easy, and you never know what's gonna pop up next.

There's a ton of strategy in Elder Sign, I'm really suprised. It looked silly at first- I thought "Wait, you roll these silly little green/yellow/red dice and somehow that equals an HP Lovecraft adventure? And they recycled all the art from Arkham Horror/COC, only they shrank it?"

But somehow it works, and many of the missions are actually scary/creepy... if you read between the lines a little. (For example- why exactly is The Curator such a menace? Look at his sick grin and let your imagination fill in the blanks...) I plan to post a glowing review once I've played it a few more times...
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Rauli Kettunen
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dboeren wrote:
There are also a couple of adventures that seem a bit too hard considering you really have to tackle them due to detrimental Midnight effects (something bad happens every 4th turn until you complete the adventure). For instance, I would consider The Curator to be one of these. I don't know that this imbalance is 100% a bad thing, it certainly does add some "swings of fortune" into the game and maybe things would be too routine without it? There is definitely an "Oh, no" feeling when certain adventures (or monsters) get drawn.


Oh yeah, Curator is bad news. Although Harvey Walters with his ability can handle him with decent odds. I clobbered the Curator today, had one Lore focused, one Lore on a Spell, one die left (second row completed), die come up Lore cool .

But even that paled in comparison to the game-ending Adventure. Situation: All Adventures had a monster on them, one in fact had two. This particular one had a Warlock, locking away the Red die. Adventure in question was Horrible Visions, which has a Midnight "add 2 doom tokens". Pretty bad, but with Azathoth already on 10 of 12 doomers, truly nasty. Luckily, we were on 13 out of 14 elder signs, but had to win that day or lose. Jenny Barnes, who normally rocks, had no items, no clues, no nothing, just full health and sanity. So she went in with six green dice, facing (from top):

Warlock: 2x Peril/Terror
Peril - Terror
Lore - Peril

First roll got rid of the Warlock with two Terror. Four dice left, need one pair of specific results. Second roll, Lore and Peril come up. Two dice left, need two specific results. Roll, Peril - Terror surprise !!!

Despite ES being a fairly easy game, that ending so goes on the highlight reel of victories. And just fortifies my stance on randomness being good for games. Total hail mary series of rolls to win the game, you don't forget those.
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Mir
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robcannonsoftware wrote:
Good review. I am enjoying the iPad version, except I wish there was a way to shorten/remove the clips between character turns.


Hope you got the latest update. You can skip the transitions.
 
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