Elder Sign: My Favorite Fantasy Board Game

Elder Sign, fantasy board game: cards and dice

At the most basic level, Elder Sign is a dice game: you pick an Adventure card and try to roll the combination of dice the card requires. What makes the game unique and satisfying are the fantasy elements that run through the game. Elder Sign is based on the Cthulhu mythology created by author H. P. Lovecraft. The game is populated by human characters reminiscent of 1920's detective stories: Jenny Barnes (the Dilettante), Joe Diamond (the Private Eye), Michael McGlen (the Gangster) and more. These adventurers have to collect Elder Signs to defeat an Ancient One: Cthulhu or one of the seven other gods and monsters bent on destroying our world.

The artwork on the cards is top-notch and inventive, evoking a fantastic and mysterious world, and the captions and descriptions enhance the atmosphere. I really appreciate the level of detail that runs through the cards; the artwork and story elements keep this game from being more than just a fantasy version of Yahtzee (as one reviewer put it).

While there is a definite element of luck in gameplay, I find that there's enough strategy involved to keep the game interesting and re-playable. You have six active adventure cards at a time, and there are enough of these cards (and mythos cards, which add extra complications) to keep the game challenging and fresh. I carefully choose which adventure card to tackle each turn based on the powers of each character and the selection of helper cards they have available. The fact that I play solo probably adds more strategic decision-making, since I'm looking at the capabilities of all four characters when making my choices.

Speaking of characters, I have to compliment Fantasy Flight for providing truly satisfying choices in that area. Given the theme of the game and the time period of the setting, it would be easy to have a concentration of male characters, but Elder Sign is impressively balanced. There's an equal selection of male and female adventurers to choose from, and the female characters are just as powerful as the men. I love having interesting women to play, and after experimenting with different adventurers, I've gotten in the habit of choosing a four-player team solely of women (the Dilettante, the Scientist, the Nun and the Student). I've had excellent results with that mix and plan to keep using it.

I can't say that I have many complaints about the game, but in fairness, I'll mention the few I have. For one, I felt like there weren't quite enough cards in the decks of Common Items, Unique Items, and Spells. Luckily, this issue is solved if you get the recent expansion, since it includes more of each of those cards. My other complaint is minor: I wish the box had some way of neatly organizing all the pieces for storage. I got a plastic organizer to corral all the small tokens, but I can't quite fit everything inside the box that way.

To sum up, I think Elder Sign is an excellent choice for board game lovers who want an intriguing fantasy game that can be played in 2 - 3 hours. This game will spark your imagination and provide many hours of fun and entertainment.

Elder Sign Unseen Forces Board Game

Unseen Forces is the first expansion for Elder Sign. It adds more of the cards you already have (characters, spells, unique and common items, mythos and adventures) and adds new elements in the form of blessings and curses. I haven't gotten a copy yet, but it's on my wish list for Christmas!


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