Just in time for your halloween indulgence (even if this review is not) is one of the major board game conversions in the form of Elder Signs: Omen. It terms of how much sanity you can expect to lose, it sits between Necronomicon Horror and Arkham Horror.
If you are not at all familiar with the Cthulu genre then you mit not get this game and why the fact it’s so tricky to beat is actually a reasonable part of the game. It also means you haven’t read my earlier review of Necronomicon Horror and that makes you a bad person.
For reference, the Cthulu mythos thrives on cosmic horror. Lovecraft’s (the principle author of this subgenre) sensibilities were reported to have been severely effected by coldness, such that it induced a mild terror in him. As such, much of his writings are touched by an impending dread of unrelenting oppression. You cannot escape, and you can’t really defeat the monster, you can only just run faster or choose your moment of death. This is the leitmotif of cosmic horror, being the fight against the futility of something phenomenally more powerful than you, and hungry.
For those familiar with Arkham Horror, Elder Sign is something of an Arkham Horror lite. For me, this is actually a compliment, because while I appreciate a lot of the thematic presentation of Arkham Horror I find it far too convoluted. That’s before you add one of six plus expansions.
So here you will see all the familiar characters and artwork of Arkham Horror, and some of the similar mechanics. Each character has a health and sanity rating, which will inevitably deteriorate as the game goes one (with only a few options to restore them back). Each character has special abilities and skills, ranging from magic to physical prowess and reseach.
These investigators are investigating a museum where the eldritch horrors are trying to awakening and consume all the world. You are trying to stop this by collecting enough elder signs before the doom count hits twelve. You collect elder signs by successfully completing various adventures that crop up throughout the museum. This can be achieved individually, or collectively (making it only slightly more easie).
To complete an adventure, you have to try to match glyphs that are randomly drawn to those shown on various tasks within an adventure. This incredibly random element can be somewhat reigned in through various mechanisms in the forms of spells, equipment, and skills. These will allow you to hold specific glyphs, convert existing glyphs, or expand the amount of glyphs you can draw. You can only use one set of glyphs for any given task, and with each completed task or failed attempt to match, you have to discard one glyph and thereby reducing your total pool of glyphs. It’s a quick downward spiral that will see you lose most of these tasks.
Adventures come in a numbre of different varieties. Some have tasks that must be completed in a designated order, some have monsters that must be defeated before the other tasks, and some have terror ratings that will do bad things to you if you draw terror glyphs. Some also have specific effects that occur only at midnight (which is about evey four turns). If you win, you get good stuff, sometimes even an elder sign. If you fail the adventure, and you lose either health or sanity, or both. Also, you might cause the doom clock to move forward.
Generally, you probably won’t need to worry about health or sanity until you get familiar with the game, because you’re likely to end the world before you die or go mad.
High production values, wonderful atmospheric music, gorgeous visuals, and a comprehensive tutorial is enough to send any person happily gibbering into the fray. Best of all, the game will open up with a motion comic animation and a horror conventional narrator setting the scene.
Throughout the game, there are many useful ways to check up on the facts of the game. However, they aren’t as intuitive as they could be. Have a quick glance through the written rules, which are pictorial and easy to view (especially when also supported by a video tutorial), it will be easy to discern where those prompts are. I think all signs show that the game developers have thought about how difficult this game is to access, particularly through the window that is the iPad. Nevertheless, they have made excellent effort to break down those barriers.
In regards to the multiplayer aspect, it is possible to play up to four players through pass’n’play. However, I have just as easily been selecting all four characters and experiencing the game through the manipulation of them concurrently. So you could share those roles multiplayer through pass’n’play (which is probably the nominal method). In that respects, it shares something with Ghost Stories in being a player versus environment type of game with a cooperative win. It’s not as dependent on cooperation as Ghost Stories, but having a single mind driving all the characters certainly helped. Sadly, unless the online multiplayer is hidden somewhere, it was obscured from my view.
9/10: A very solid nine. The difficulty of the game and learning curve may put off some of the more casual players. However, there is very little to fault relating to the implementation of the game.