Elder Sign: Omens – Review

Elder Sign: Omens - Android screen shot

Elder Sign: Omens – Android Apps on Google Play.

w00t! I just beat Ithaqua using Jenny Barnes alone, and scored 6,920 points to boot! This completes my self-appointed “Jenny Barnes Alone Against the Mythos” adventure series—not exactly a recommended play style, though enjoyable. (You’re better off with a complete cast of four adventurers, of course.)

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

If you’re not familiar with Fantasy Flight’s Elder Sign: Omens app, here’s a quick overview. The app is based on the Elder Sign board game of Lovecraftian horror, which involves bunches of cards (characters, mythos monsters, locations, items, allies, and such), nine specialty dice (with symbols for investigation—1-, 2-, 3-, and in some cases 4-point—lore, peril, and terror, with one special “wild card” symbol), and a couple zillion counters for health, sanity, clues, characters (to mark their location), and secondary monsters. Oh, and a snap-together clock face with plastic hands you move to keep track of time, because something bad usually happens at midnight.

For someone my age and level of “busy-ness,” the board game is on the cusp of being too fiddly for play. It’s easy to forget a line of text on this card or that and miss an opportunity for success or a penalty that should have been applied. And frankly, it’s a tough game to win anyway—in keeping with the eldritch terrors of the Lovecraftian setting.

If it’s not evident by now, I’m not a fan of games like the revised Arkham Horror, which fills the game table with even more such easily forgotten cards and tokens. Then again, you’ll not find me pushing a hundred wargame counters across a WWII hex map while consulting a multi-hundred-page tome of rules. My expiration date looms too close and my bucket list grows increasingly full each year. This is not to criticize people with more time on their hands, or who choose to spend their time differently; it’s merely an observation of my own mental state.

All of which is just to emphasize my admiration for the Elder Sign board game, and for this ad-app-tation of it in particular. Elder Sign: Omens delivers the board game’s design to your tablet or smart phone, keeping track of all the cards, counters, and time. And while the app doesn’t include every single ancient monstrosity from the board game, it does add a few adventurers not available to the original—though they have to be unlocked by completing particular missions.

Most importantly, it makes the game experience portable; and you can walk away mid adventure to return hours or days later, without having to leave a table covered in cards and counters.

In short, bravo for Elder Sign: Omens, an excellent adaptation of an already good board game.

SPOILER ALERT: What follows are comments about specific “Ancient Ones” and adventurers in the game, including notes of how I bested each with Jenny Barnes alone. (Next, I’m tackling them again with Wendy Adams alone, which is probably a foolhardy quest.)

General Advice: Pick your adventurers carefully the first time or two with each Ancient One. In most cases, leading with Jenny Barnes, followed by Joe Diamond, then either Darrell Simmons or Ashcan Pete, and finally Gloria Goldberg is a good line-up. Those characters in the first three slots all have good chances for lots of dice, or for rerolls, and they can open Other World adventures for Gloria, who is at an advantage there. Sister Mary can also be a good lead-off in missions where dice are locked, as she can ignore the locks and free the dice for characters following her.

After you’ve beaten every Ancient One, start again with the easiest, but let the game randomize your characters. You’ll learn new strategies as you’re forced to use each character’s ability to best effect.

Then try again with fewer than four characters at a time. (Just click the check mark before all slots are filled, and the game will launch.)

Jenny Alone: I like Jenny Barnes for her ability to sacrifice an item to score both a yellow and red die. In some cases, she’ll be forced to take a Unique Item, which she can’t convert that way, but they can be used for other purposes, or (in the case of red-die items) for adventures requiring only three or four results to win, or when the yellow die is locked.

Yig (ranked “Easy”) is a chump with pretty much no chance against Jenny Barnes. The two tricks are (1) to make sure Jenny tackles adventures that award her anything but a “Unique Item”; and (2) keep track of her “Trophies,” because you can convert ten to an
Elder Sign if the Doom Track is adding up and you need to end early. To score highest, however, avoid adventures that award Elder Signs, so that you extend the game as long as possible. Eventually there’ll be nothing left but Elder Sign adventures, and if you accumulate nine, then finish with an adventure that awards three, you’ll gain extra points for the bonus signs.

Tsathoggua (ranked “Normal”) is actually tougher faced alone than is Hastur (below), because items bought with “Trophies” cost double. That makes buying a bunch of Elder Signs near game end more difficult. But in general, the same strategy of tackling adventures that keep Jenny supplied with items she can convert to both yellow and red dice works well. And again, to score highest, try to avoid adventures that award Elder Signs, until either nothing else remains or the Doom Track is filling.

Hastur (ranked “Normal”) is almost as much of a chump facing Jenny as is Yig. The only real danger is bonus Midnight doom tokens when the yellow die is locked, so keep it unlocked.

Azathoth (ranked “Hard”) is more difficult mainly because of the sheer number of lunatics that begin populating the board, and the chance of bonus Midnight doom tokens for each. But Jenny can pretty easily keep them cleared away, though this interferes with her free choice of adventures. The end result is that it can be more difficult to extend the game for a high score.

Cthulhu (ranked “Very Hard”) turns out to be fairly easy to beat with Jenny, if you plan ahead. Just hang around the museum until you’ve accumulated at least 30 Trophies (gathering as much gear as possible in the meantime), then score enough Elder Signs to jump to the Pacific, and spend those 30 points immediately aboard ship to locate R’lyeh on the map. (You may have to clear a Midnight adventure or two from the map first, just to keep the Doom Track low.) Once R’lyeh rises, you can ignore any adventures that would have made finding it more difficult. Focus on finding those three gems that let you use all items at R’lyeh (and don’t forget that you can spend Trophies to buy them). When you have enough items to pretty much guarantee success facing R’lyeh, it’s time to finish the mission.

(By the way, because R’lyeh is an “Other World” location, Gloria Goldberg gets her extra dice there, too.)

The Dark Pharaoh (Nyarlathotep’s avatar, ranked “Very Hard”) is considerably tougher than Cthulhu. This scenario allows you to acquire Allies, and Cairo holds few dangers, but the desert locks out one type of item pretty much every day, and then there’s the underworld, and then…well, I’ll let that be a surprise. For Allies, when playing Jenny, I like the “Mender of Flesh,” who can save turns wasted on first aid, and the mystic (I forget her name), who can counter the item lockouts. Through the normal course of adventuring, Jenny generates enough Trophies to pay both Allies for their services when needed.

Also note that everything’s cheaper in Cairo, so spending the first day generating Trophies and items, and the second day spending Trophies at the bazaar, can be a quick way to load up on gear.

Finally, it can be fun to take adventures in town that generate monsters, then head for the desert—presumably leaving the townsfolk to deal with those things on their own!

Ithaqua (ranked “Insane”) is tough; no doubt about it. One weakness of using Jenny Barnes here is that her health is only 4, meaning that the Alaska encounters can be punishing. And if your horses run off with all your supplies once you’ve reached nine Elder Signs, she’ll starve to death before you can accumulate the remaining three to face Ithaqua himself. My advice is stay in the museum as long as possible, gearing up, trying to accumulate a few items that can completely heal her, then save those to the very end. Also, if you can manage to open R’lyeh and save it to the end, you can use it to jump from nine Elder Signs to the needed twelve in one swoop.

After that, you just have to battle Ithaqua. Heh, heh, heh. Best of luck with that.

And speaking of luck, wish me some tackling all those again with Wendy!

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