Elder sign, Review… and - The “Nick Storm” Variant
What’s great about Elder Sign: It’s a small size game that can be quickly played (under an hour), doesn’t take up much table space and is easily transported around. It’s not so large and rule-cumbersome like its older brother Arkham Horror, that it can easily give a Lovercraftian neophyte a great and easy introduction into the Lovecraft Mythos and gaming.
It can be enjoyed in solitaire play (this is huge in my opinion) and even with a couple other players – very versatile. It’s also an excellent 2 player game where one person can assume the role of ‘Keeper” or game master and conduct all the card turning, monster placement, ect and the game is just as fun and can roll quicker and at a nicer pace with that type of help.
The cards and counters are nice smallish sizes, attractive and the entire game lends itself well to expansion, customization, variants and even role-playing, again, very versatile. Playing with readily available 25mm size ‘3-D” figures of players and monsters is tremendous and dovetails (Nightgaunt-tails) nicely into the overall construction and game play.
What kinda sucks about Elder Sign: Since it is such a small-ish game that actually has a lot of things going in ‘in the background’ (active as well as passive game effects) of the game play / turns ect, it does not lend itself to more than 2 or 3 players max. 3 players would be hard pressed to even sit in front of the game layout and when 3 turns have gone by, some players have the feeling that they are not as invested in the game play and as a result, attention spans are short and overall fun suffers. This isn’t Scooby Do with four kids and a dog, or some Dungeon and Dragons adventure party of 5 players. One or two player characters trying to prevent a Great Old One (GOO) from being gated into our world seems the best number and most appropriate to game play and for lovecraftian realism. It’s WAY too easy. I nerfed the Adventure card reward numbers, cutting many ‘2 Reward’ cards in half – to ‘1’. That was a start.
There should be a few more cards of each type – players, monsters, items, allies, ect. The game is decent with the amount provided, but it begs for expansion sets.
The stock game objective is fine, but the way to go about it just sucks pretty hard. Elder Signs – the namesake of the game should be rare and powerful and not some goofy token to be collected and placed en mass below the GOO. Give them the respect they deserve and make them rare and powerful again – that they mean something, which leads me to my next major problem with the game progression – multiple new adventure cards being produced and machine-gunned into the game making for a goofy “Easter egg gathering” type game. Make them rare and intriguing as well. Limit the game to just the first six adventure cards picked and only if a ‘solve’ or card specifically calls for another or an outer worlde adventure will another card come into play. This allows for a very cool and strategic game nuance. The players must treasure the elder signs that are to be had, because there are no more waiting in the wings. The Adventure cards can now be rearranged from ‘most dangerous to least dangerous’ and arrayed thusly, which is pretty damn cool.
We use well painted 25mm Monster, Player and game aid figures and pieces whenever available. They provide a 3-d effect, are cool looking, provide heaps of ‘atmosphere’ and serve to draw attention and remind one of the various ‘active’ effects on cards with their height off the flat game board area. No game mechanic advantage.
Elder signs are now rare and Dangerous again, as they should be. A single elder sign, by itself, should durn well be fully capable of sealing off the Museum gate and preventing the GOO from accessing our world (one-third of a possible game win conditions) all by its lonesome. An Elder Sign can also be used to ‘seal off’ an adventure card that is a possible gate for future monster – i.e. it has the whitish border. Monsters can only ‘materialize’ on a card with a white border allowing them to be placed in that spot. Now the game has much more strategy and is a bit more realistic and fun. Occasionally a game will draw 6 Adventure cards without a single Elder Sign! It that case, the player(s) should hope to solve the Adventure quickly or obtain enough trophies to ‘purchase’ an Elder Sign. Player Aid – Medium.
No shot-gunning Adventure Cards. Whatcha draw (06 cards) is whatcha get. This allows for a quicker game and more strategy due to less of a flood and resulting ‘gerbil wheel” of potential cards and new resources. It allows the players to focus better on just 6 cards and provides for more game enjoyment and possibly even some roleplay. Even.
Red die “wild card” can be a Three” (03) investigation if you so desire. Player Aid – Small.
Death / Mortality Realism. When your time is up’ and you get consumed, expire, circle the drain, meet your maker, shake hands with the Devil, ect. Your Character card is gone and you do NOT draw another one. If this is a solo game – you lose, sir –I said good day, sir. GOO Aid – Large.
Focusing and Assisting. After focusing or assisting a die, any future die rolls MUST include the focused or assisted die, before moving on to other tasks. GOO Aid- Medium.
Doom comes interminably and more quickly. The doom track STARTS with a 25mm figure token on the very FIRST spot (if there is a monster, then it appears) and EACH new turn, the doom track advances one time IN ADDITION to any card advances. This variant goes hand in hand with the six adventure card limit and also serves to make for a quicker game…and forces the players to think, plan and strategize. GOO Aid – Large.
Clues are small not huge. Again, this isn’t Scooby Do. A clue token allows for a SINGLE die re-roll and not all the dice. GOO Aid – Medium.
Only Common Item cards are recycled. When the last common item card is used – then reshuffle and make a new deck. All other small cards to include Adventure cards are once and done, and never reshuffled / recycled after use or completing. I mean seriously, how many copies of the King in Yellow do we want floating around? GOO Aid – Large.
Rare items stay with you until used to complete an actual task. If you are fortunate enough to own a copy of the Necronomicon and deign to use the ‘red die in a particular Adventure but do not ‘need’ to actually use the red die, i.e. completing all the task with the green dice, no matter if you were actually rolling the red die…then the Necromicon can go back to your backpack or briefcase to be used again, in another Adventure. Common item use stays the same – once the yellow die is rolled, the common item is discarded after the adventure card, no matter what the result. Player Aid – Large.
Museum gift shop is not Bob Barker’s price is right game show. Now you can only purchase a SINGLE rare item, a SINGLE common item, a SINGLE Elder sign and a SINGLE ally. Healing multiple times remains the same though. GOO Aid – Large.
Assisting player take his lumps along with the primary investigator. The assisting player suffers the exact same adventure card loss penalties that the primary investigator takes, as they are assumed to be working together to solve the adventure, side-by-side. GOO Aid- Large.
Whoops, one for tiny, pathetic human-kind: At ONE time during the game, a given player may “cheat” and change the outcome of one particular thing – a die roll, for instance. Our particular game-aid for this is a large cardboard picture of a 1920’s mercury head dime. Everybody gets….one. Player Aid –Large.
It always bad for human-kind. ANY roll, mistake miscue or other incident ALWAYS goes against the player whenever there is a decision to be made. Leaning dice, ect that type of thing. If you can’t quite remember if you advanced the clock or drew a mythos card at midnight…too bad...do it up. GOO Aid – Large.
Monsters are finally played ‘right’. Monster can only appear on Adventures that have the white border designation for them and not ever on other Adventure cards. This may seem like a player aid, but not so fast…Monsters are defeated if their ‘Monster tasks’ are completed BUT the entire adventure task(s) must be completed - then the monster is removed and THEN the entire Adventure task must be completed again in order to resolve and remove the Adventure card. In this manner, several monsters may ‘morph’ on top of each other and EACH ONE must be defeated along with the rest of the card, so it is conceivable that an Adventure card may need to completed 3 or even 4 times in a row to resolve and remove it from play - much tougher monsters in my opinion. This ‘monster variant’ goes hand in hand with the ‘Elder Sign’ usage variant and again, makes for much more strategy and exciting, realistic game play. Even – somewhat. Heh
The GOO are also finally played right – Supremely deadly, as they should be. BTW they are not called “ancient ones” -they are “Great Old Ones” (GOO – love that acronym). They attack EVERY turn when awakened not every 12 hours, BUT players may use a common and unique item and even an Ally, to gain the red and yellow dice against them-obviously, strongly advisable. GOO Aid – Large.
Three ways to “win” or at least keep playing.
1. ’Defeat’ the museum by solving / completing and removing all six (06) Adventure cards. Coupled with a deployed Elder Sign Glyph is a Complete or “Hard” Player Win.
2. Not completing all six (06) Adventure cards BUT using a single Elder Sign token to ‘seal off’ the GOO from entering our world coupled with battling and driving the GOO back = “World is Safe for NOW” outcome. Soft Player Win.
If unable to solve all six (06) of the Adventures, then you MUST battle the GOO.
a. If you have already placed an Elder Sign token on the GOO, you have effectively sealed off his possible entry into our world but you must still battle the GOO – if you lose / die…our world is still safe with the employment of the Elder Sign glyph. Sacrifice tie.
3. If you did not complete all six (06) Adventure cards AND DID NOT place an Elder sign glyph on the GOO, you must battle it. If you successfully drive back the GOO, you live and our world survives (sacrifice Tie) but if you fail and perish, our world falls into a Mythos related hell. Complete Fail.
4. Should you win completely (hard win #1 above) You may now enter yet another game Variant and collect the ‘defeated’ GOO card as an ultimate trophy and draw another random GOO card and a new six (06) Adventure cards starting a whole ‘new’ game – also referred to as ‘Runnin’ the table’. All cards / Adventure cards are NOT recycled or ever used again.
As always, I look forward to questions regarding this variant / home rules set.