Our house is quiet most nights. After coming home from our daily activities we prepare our evening meal and sit at the table and talk about what happened to each of us during the course of our day. After the children are put to bed my wife and I read for awhile and then retire for the evening ourselves. Lately though, I wait until I hear her breathing change signaling she is asleep and I head back to the drawing room and retrieve the book I had discovered in the attic when I was searching for my father’s old coat. This aged tome is filled with incredible, fanciful tales that surely must be a fiction, yet they feel so real. They haunt my dreams.
A strange museum. It’s many rooms filled with unspeakable horrors. A revolving cast of four academics and adventurers struggling to save the world. The only weapon that can prevent the fall of humanity is a series of sigils collected in the right order using a set of six green dice…
…and sometimes a yellow or red die….or both…in addition to the original six, that is…
Elder sign is one of my favorite games because it is based on the Cthulhu mythos(one of my favorite things) and it’s cooperative(another of my favorite things). It’s 1926 and curiosities in a museum are threatening to open a portal to another world and let one of eight Old Ones in to our world to destroy it. You and up to 7(!) other players are investigators who must stop this great evil from getting through by searching the museum for enough “Elder Signs” to keep the portal from opening.
What that means is that on a turn a player must put their investigator token on a card that represents a room in the museum and roll the right combination of symbols on custom dice to unlock the card and get other, special, smaller cards (spells, items, allies) or elder signs! I mentioned it’s cooperative, which means everyone wins or everyone loses, but you can actively help one another. If a roll gives you just one die with the right symbol you may “focus” it and reroll the rest. If two investigators are in the same room then the other player may focus a die as well.
There is a lot here. As far as focusing dice or using the item, spell, or ally cards. Oh! And “mythos cards”! At midnight there is a mythos effect. You discover the effect by turning over the mythos card at midnight. Wait! There’s a clock and it advances three hours at the end of each players turn. And if you have fewer than eight players it’s midnight every 12 hours. There are monsters that clog up the room cards, and other world cards, and doom tokens, and clue tokens, and sanity tokens, and stamina tokens, and a red die and a yellow die you can add with the right cards and, and, and…if your investigator dies you can grab a new one and keep going. Links to rules are here
And I love it. I love the artwork, I love the cooperative play. I love the feel of the dice and the sound they make as they tumble down my dice tower. The feeling you get when you get three rooms in a row and 5 elder signs is incredible. These dice. These custom dice are great. Take a look.
They give me much joy. They also give me much despair. This is one of the big drawbacks to Elder Sign for me. Yes, there are clue tokens and other specialty cards that can help combat bad rolls, even a few bad rolls, but sometimes the cards and the dice are after you and there is nothing you can do. Alternatively, and this is quite rare, you may get rolls that are too good and the game is won too easily. I would definitely say a series of bad rolls is more likely, but gratification is lessened in both cases. There have been nights when we have scrapped a game because it was clearly off to a bad start or played again because the first run was dissatisfying.
Set up is a little complicated, but after a few times you get the hang of it and once it’s all set up it is quite easy to play multiple games in a single evening. I have to admit that even with the drawback of potentially having bad rolls or easy rolls, I still love this game. I love that we cheer each other on when we get the right combination of dice and that we all deflate and prop each other up when the dice are trying to kill us. And I love these dice. These dice.
I haven’t played with more than four people, but I can’t say I would like to. That’s a lot of sitting around and waiting.
Thanks to Porkins for the dice tower design.