Elder Sign is a cooperative dice-rolling game based on the Cthulhu Mythos in which you and your fellow players work together as a team of researchers investigating a museum, attempting to prevent the rise of an Ancient One. Players must collect a number of Elder Signs before the Ancient One fills its Doom Track, kills the players, or drives them all mad. Sound good? Then find out more in our in-depth look at both the physical game and its digital alter-ego, Elder Sign: Omens.
How Do You Play?
The museum that forms the playable region of Elder Sign is composed of a number of large cards, each representing a room, while in the digital version you are faced with a map of the museum with a number of locations highlighted on it.
Players choose a room to enter (embarking upon an Adventure) and attempt to roll dice and match the symbols on the card—sometimes in a specific order. If the player successfully completes their Adventure by matching all the symbols, they can gain spells and weapons to help them win more Adventures; they can also gain the all-important Elder Signs needed to defeat the Ancient One. Failing the Adventure can result in a loss of the player’s health and sanity, the arrival of a monster who will increase the difficulty of future Adventures, or Doom being added to the Ancient One’s Doom Track. After each player’s turn, a clock is advanced and at midnight, the Ancient One reveals a card that can benefit them, so players are encouraged to win as fast as possible. Some rooms also have their own, usually negative, Midnight Effects.
How Do You Win and Lose?
To win at Elder Sign, players must collect a set number of Elder Sign tokens. The number is determined by the Ancient One they are fighting.
The tougher the Ancient One, the more Elder Signs will need to be collected to defeat it. Completing some Adventures will win you multiple Elder Signs, but the better the rewards, the harder the Adventure will be to complete. The team of players lose if they all are killed or driven insane by the Ancient One, or if the Ancient One fills its Doom Track.
Are There Any Expansions Available?
Yes. For the physical game two expansions, Unseen Forces and Gates of Arkham, are available. If you are playing digitally, there are currently three expansions: The Call of Cthulhu, The Trail of Ithaqua, and The Dark Pharaoh. All three unlock additional player characters and Ancient Ones to battle.
How Do the Costs Compare?
The base game currently retails for around $30 with the expansions costing $15 to $20 each, making this one of the cheaper games currently on the market. The digital base game retails for $6.99 (iPad), $3.99 (iPhone), $14.99 (Steam), or around $4.50 on Android. Expansions are $2.99 each.
What Age Is It Suitable For?
The game is recommended for age 12+, and having played it many times, that feels like the correct choice from the developer. While the game play is simple enough that a younger child could understand what’s going on, the artwork is obviously very intense (this is a game set in the realm of the Ancient Ones, after all) and some of the mechanics would likely go over their heads.
The digital version also contains occasional cut scenes that could scare young children. If your child is already acquainted with classic horror, they may enjoy the game, but for the majority, the recommended age will be accurate.
Has It Been Featured on TableTop?
Yes! Elder Sign was featured on series one of TableTop and was played by Felicia Day, Mike Morhaime, and Bill Prady.
Is It Actually Any Good?
Whether or not you will enjoy Elder Sign, either digitally or physically, is more than likely going to boil down to how much you enjoy randomness as a factor in your gaming. Completing Adventures is entirely based on dice-rolling (occasional cards and characters can change die rolls, but these are frustratingly few and far between), which means that even the best-equipped Investigator can fail spectacularly over and over again if the dice just aren’t in the mood to behave.
This can be incredibly aggravating, and I would know. Despite countless attempts and intentionally hoarding as many helpful cards as possible, I am still yet to beat the final card of The Call of Cthulhu expansion, by nothing more than sheer bad luck.
The randomness effect does, however, level the playing field, meaning that any group of players can work well together from experienced Investigators to total newbies.
The cooperative element really shines during physical play, as players debate which rooms/Adventures they should attempt and which to avoid. We played as a group late on New Year’s Eve and, despite losing spectacularly, had a great time playing—and isn’t that the whole point?
Digital Vs. Physical
Green = Pro, Red = Con, Black = Neutral
- Game set up is as good as instantaneous.
- The game keeps track of which cards can be used at any time, instantly deals out the correct rewards (or penalties) at the conclusion of an Adventure, and advances the clock as required.
- The player has to play as multiple characters, remembering each individual’s special abilities and current inventory once their turn rolls around.
- Designed for single player, so you don’t need to get a group together.
- The single-player format means the game loses out on the cooperative nature of the physical version, arguably one of its best parts.
- Both the base game and the expansions are cheap. The complete game with all expansions can be bought for as little as $13.
- The base game is somewhat limited and quickly becomes repetitive, so the temptation to buy expansions is high.
- Rooms with a Midnight Effect (a usually negative outcome every time the clock strikes midnight) are easily spotted on the map, as are those with Terror Effects.
- Only one room can be seen at a time, so the player must either remember the requirements for each one or spend time looking at each one every time they choose a new room/Adventure.
- Lots and lots of parts means the game takes a very long time to set up.
- The game can be played by up to eight people, making it a great party game and a good choice at a games night with lots of guests, where other games might leave people out.
- Midnight and Terror effects are written in small print on the cards, making them easy to overlook.
- Although more expensive than the digital game, the physical edition is one of the cheaper games on the market (keep an eye out for frequent price reductions too).
- Despite being cheaper than many games, the build quality is fantastic and the pieces are all well made and lovely to handle.
- There are only two expansions. However, for those of us trying to limit our rapidly growing game collections, this may be a good thing!
- The cards representing the rooms are laid out on the table and the requirements for each one can be seen all at once, making choosing your next room/Adventure easier.
- Best played with a group, so not ideal if you don’t have a gaming group or local gamer friends nearby.
GeekMom received the base game of Elder Signs: Omens for review purposes.