Friday, January 31, 2014

You don't always have five hours to play Arkham Horror

Arkham Horror is one of our all time favorite games, but we will be the first to admit that playing it demands something of a commitment. It's a huge game with a ton of components, and it takes a long time to play, especially if you have a lot of players. There are eight expansions for the game, three of which extend the board, and playing with even a few of them adds quite a bit of complexity. I can't imagine trying to play with all of them at the same time.

These things are what make Arkham Horror such an amazing, immersive experience to play, but they can also be very daunting. Sometimes you want a trip into Lovecraft country, but maybe you don't want to stay there all day. For that, there is Elder Sign, a nifty little dice game that plays a lot like a scaled down version of Arkham Horror.

Players take on the roles of familiar Arkham Horror characters combating a selection of otherworldly Ancient Ones, but this time the tentacled monstrosities are menacing a museum rather than an entire town. Six cards are played to the middle of the table, representing different locations within the museum. Each one features a series of tests which must be passed by rolling a handful of dice with different symbols depicting investigation, combat, forbidden lore, and terror. If the dice you roll match the symbols required by the test, you move on to the next one; if you fail, you get to roll again, but you lose one die from your pool for each subsequent attempt.

If you pass all the card's tests, you win whatever reward it indicates. These can be equipment or spell cards, gateways to other worlds, or treasured Elder Sign tokens, which the players as a group need to amass a certain number of in order to win the game. Failure (by running out of dice) can lose your investigator health or sanity, add monster tokens to the table, or add Doom tokens to the Ancient One's card; if the Ancient One amasses a predetermined number of Doom tokens, it awakens and challenges the players to a probably hopeless battle for the fate of the world.

Like any good cooperative game, Elder Sign is difficult, but not impossible. We played two games with Yog-Sothoth as our Ancient One; we lost the first one, but we managed to win our second game, although we went through six characters over the course of the game.

Rating: 4 (out of 5) Elder Sign has all the basic elements and theme of its more complex older sibling, but is a lot simpler to play. It will never replace Arkham Horror, but it is an excellent alternative.

Date played: January 17, 2014

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