Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Elder Sign

Insanity! Madness! Woe and despair! All things that happen if you try to read an instruction manual from FFG and expect to play the game in the same night. That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but it certainly seems to be true. The first time I tried to play Arkham Horror I sat down with the rules a full three hours before we sat down to play and started going through them, and we still had difficulties in understanding what we just read. In all fairness, that was a while ago, we started late at night, and there was much drinking to be had,  but not when reading over the rules mind you. Since then, AH has been a great game to play, but it rarely makes it to the table due to the sheer time commitment it takes to actually play the damn thing. However, FFG has recently release a game that is heavily similar in theme and plays in about a 1/5th of the time.

Elder Sign from Fantasy Flight Games is a card and dice based game focused on the Cthulthu mythos, and is set in the same setting as their Arkham Horror and Mansions of Madness games, and is just as rich in H.P. Lovecraft theme and lore as either of them. In the box you'll find 6 green dice, a yellow die, a red die, clue tokens, stamina and sanity tokens, and a lot of cards, covering characters, weapons, spells, items, allies, adventure/events, other worlds, and elder gods.

Some of the different investigators
In the game, you play as an investigator from 20s, each of which has a unique background which lends itself to their starting sanity and stamina, as well as their special abilities. You find yourself in a museum late one night, investigating as you do, when all of a sudden crazy shit starts happening, books start bleeding, monsters want to eat your soul, cultists want to sacrifice things, and oh yeah, theres an elder god on the verge of waking up that you'll have to personally fight if he does in fact wake up.  So yeah, crazy stuff.

One of two tasks completed
During your turn, you'll move from card to card (referred to as adventures) trying to complete tasks to battle bad guys and resolve these adventures. To do so, you need to roll dice and match the symbols accordingly to the tasks at hand. If you roll and can match the requirements needed to one of the tasks, you lock those dice in to complete that task. You then take your remaining dice and roll again, doing the same thing over again in order to complete other tasks on the card. Once you complete all tasks, you have completed the adventure, and are rewarded accordingly with clues, weapons, spells, and elder signs. These elder signs are what you need in order to win the game by collecting a number of them equal to or greater than a specific number that is associated with each elder god, which needs to be done before they wake up and devour you.

The basic setup

And that is the basic ongoing gameplay to the game. Players are trying to work together to avoid the catastrophic doom that will occur if one of the elder gods awake, and are racing against a clock throughout the game. No seriously, they are. There is a clock that advances after every turn, and every time it strikes midnight, more bad stuff happens, and the elder gods doom track advances. Upon completion, they awake. So, to avoid this from happening, players will play cards from their hands or complete certain adventure cards that will assist in either slowing down the clock or removing doom tokens from the board, all the while working to get those elder signs that will win the game.

Several of the adventure cards

The game is pretty fun, and plays well with a variety of players (box says 1-8, but have only played it with groups of 4 and 5 so far). The characters in the game are straight out of AH/MoM, and provide a large variety of special abilities that when used in conjunction with each other make for a very powerful investigative team. Which is good since it seems that nothing but terrible, horrible things happen in this game as it progresses. Many adventure cards have situational effects that are constantly in play and do bad things to you when you fail a task and roll a terror symbol. If you fail to complete all the tasks to an adventure, you loose sanity and stamina. Monsters show up and want to kill you constantly. Even when you complete an adventure and collect your rewards, many of the cards have the symbol that makes you either put a monster in play or advance the doom track by one.

Cthulhu Elder God card

Throughout the course of the game, you are rolling dice and playing cards to modify rolls or assist other players in completing tasks, so at no point does it really feel that you have down time in it. Its theme and goals/objectives are similar to AH enough that folks may consider it to be Arkham lite, but the mechanics are for the most part very unique to it by comparison.

The game could benefit from a physical board to play the Adventure cards onto, as well as give the clock a physical stationary place it could live, but thats super minor and me just being petty. Elder Sign is fun, and made moreso if you are familiar with and enjoy Call of Cthulthu and the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Definitely a solid alternative to Arkham Horror when you want the feel and the flavor but don't have the time.

The Elder Sign

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Thursday, September 8, 2011

City Square off

City Square off is a two-player game from Gamewright Games that puts players in a head to head competition of of city planning. You will immediately note that this is not a very good simulation of city planning, as it plays out in about 15-20 minutes, and involves no mechanics for planning committees, public hearings, budgeting sessions, or zoning. As much as I love planning committees, I think is safe to say that is probably for the best.

In the box you will find two 9x9 gridded player boards, two sets of 21 "cityscape" pieces in various tetris-like shapes, four starter pieces in the shape of buildings, and a deck of cards that match each of the 21 cityscape pieces.

The gameplay is very straight forward; players will each pick a starting building, each with a unique footprint and place it approximately in the center of their boards. From there, a card from the deck is flipped, and players will simultaneously place the cityscape piece coresponding with the card on their player board. The cityscape pieces must touch at least one previously played piece, and must fit onto the 9x9 board. If a player can't fit a piece on their board, then they loose. If both players can't fit a piece on their board, then the player with the largest unused space wins.

And thats it really. It's fast and fun, allowing for plenty of gameplay. As far as tile-placement games go, it has enough uniqueness going on for it that you can't really compare it to games like Blokus. We played this several times over the past week, and each time presenting new and different problems. Because of the deck, there is no one key strategy to go off of, and each of the starting buildings unique footprint means that you can't copy your opponent either.

While it is designed as a two-player game, it easily can be played as a single player game as well since each player has their own board. Granted, playing solo will not be as desirable an accomplishment when applying for city planner and they see this on your resume. They usually are looking for accomplished planners, and will be looking for people with a solid two-player career.

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