H.P. Lovecraft was a sick, sick man. A classic American author whose delusions and insanity manifested into the Cthulhu mythos. His stories were contemporary to his days, the early 20th century, and while his visions spawned modern franchises such as Hellboy, and the more recent Cabin in the Woods, the true genius wrote about a time when there was more mystery, when medicine was new, and when adventurers could be found among the ranks of stage magicians and outlaw explorers.
Elder Sign is a cooperative board/card game where you are your friends use your individual traits to solve puzzles and clear rooms in a creepy museum where the fate of humanity lies in the balance.
The Basic Game
In Elder Sign, you select one of several adventurers, chosen from the ranks of grizzled professors, guns for hire, studious research assistants, cultists, and even the occasional entertainer. With their own special rules, an a mix of Sanity and Stamina values, each one in turn will choose to take on the tasks in one of several available rooms and exhibits in the museum. Generated randomly, each game will play differently, and the Old One that is attempting to manifest in the material plane will differ, as well.
By rolling a combination of special six-sided dice, the tasks are completed in turn. Each completed room brings rewards, such as equipment, clues, and Elder signs – a set number of which is necessary to banish the incursion. Failure can cost Stamina, Sanity, or both, and can cause new monsters to appear (making other rooms more difficult) and can even generate Doom counters.
Every four turns constitutes a day, and at midnight each day the Old One exerts his power upon the game board. And whether the players win or lose, it will demand cooperation and luck. Either way, everyone wins or everyone on Earth perishes. No pressure.
A game of Elder Sign takes a little over an hour, on average, but there are variant rules that can make it go longer and more involved.
At present, the basic box costs about $35 and gives everything for three to six players a good evening of fun. There is one expansion which adds new dice, rooms, and events. There are also digital editions, which play very well on iPad and Android tablets, and have kept me insanely sane on more than one airport layover.
There are three colors of dice, green, red, and yellow, each with different faces. Each roll of the dice will give the opportunity to resolve tasks on the room the player is attempting. If a task can be completed using one or more of the dice, they are put aside and the next task is readied. Once they are all complete, the room is won. If a roll is insufficient to accomplish a task, one die from the pool is lost and the mess rolled again.
Weapons and items can be used to re-roll dice, add new ones (such as the coveted red and yellow dice) and in other ways make the risks lessened – but always at a cost. Do you use that holy relic early, or save it for a better time? When should that med kit be used?
The rules are explained in a nice glossy fold-out rule sheet, which only takes about one beer to read (if you do it my way). There are few conflicting rules, and as this is not a competitive game, there aren’t player conflicts to be resolved.
Elder Sign is fun, and a cooperative game is sometimes just what a group needs to form better coherency and have an evening remembering your friendship, not just getting beaten by each other. It is a more mature game, though, and I wouldn’t play this one with my kids under 13.