Over Christmas I received Elder Sign as a gift. Elder Sign is intended to be a simpler, faster game in the style of Arkham Horror, which I like in concept, but do not have the time nor stamina for 4-hour games with 1-hour setup. Elder Sign promised to be about half that.
Initially, upon opening the box, doubts grew. Arkham Horror has the long setup because it has lots of pieces: a bunch of different types of tokens, several decks of cards in at least two different sizes, conditional setup based on random choices (if Nyarlethotep is NOT the big-bad, separate out some of the monster tokens and don't use them), etc, etc. Elder Sign has most, but not all, of the same. There are fewer token types, but not by much, and the board was replaced by a deck of cards, but there are still a lot of tokens to be sorted, and there are still Nyarlethotep-specific monsters. It looked like setup was still going to take a long time.
Fortunately, it seemed to go fast, and we could get to the game itself. There were two major changes from Arkham Horror: The map is gone, replaced by an ever-changing set of 6 location cards. Instead of moving from building to building and along the streets of Arkham, you move from room to room in the museum, and you get to do so freely during your turn. Also, the method of resolving goals has changed. Now, you try to match patterns on dice in a similar manner as in Age of War. If you succeed, one set of things happen (mostly good); if you fail, a different set of things happen (mostly bad). These results are printed on the card, so you can decide what to do based on the possible outcomes.
The turns are greatly simplified from Arkham as well: Arkham had 6 phases per turn, many of them lengthy, from spawning and moving monsters, to players acting, to triggering mythos events, etc. Elder Sign reduces it to 3: Move your character, resolve any tasks, advance the clock. You may move you character anywhere (including the museum entrance, which allows you to spend resources on healing, items, etc). Resolving tasks was described above, and advancing the clock is simply turning the hour hand on a cardboard clock ahead 3 hours and doing some stuff at midnight. The pace of the game seemed much faster.
All in all, I liked Elder Sign. It hit a lot of the thematic notes of Arkham Horror, and delivered on its promise to be a simpler, faster, game. It also hits the sweet spot of being able to play it with a wide number of people (the game is rated at 1-8 players). I have yet to try it solo, but I might do that sometime.
- Elder Sign, a game review