Carter resolved to go with bold entreaty whither no man had gone before, and dare the icy deserts through the dark to where unknown Kadath, veiled in cloud and crowned with unimaginable stars, holds secret and nocturnal the onyx castle of the Great Ones.
–H.P. Lovecraft, ”The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath”
In Elder Sign , your investigators undertake perilous adventures, finding and witnessing scenes that no man nor woman has previously seen, scenes no man nor woman should ever behold. Yet they press on because they must. To win the game, to prevent the rise of the Ancient Ones from the cracks that spread outward and weaken the barriers between dimensions, your investigators must find the Elder Signs needed to close the portals and seal the Ancient Ones away forever.
They’re going to need a lot more than luck
It’s true that Elder Sign is a dice game, and dice games all share an element of luck. But Elder Sign is also a game of strategy. You’ll make choices about when and how to make use of available resources. You’ll make choices about when and where to pursue new resources. The right decisions can provide the edge you need to win, but without resources your investigators will have only luck to overcome the obstacles before them–and luck is seldom on their side.
At the beginning of each game, players set up the museum by randomly selecting six Adventure cards. These represent the occult exhibits and events that investigators will explore. If the investigators successfully complete an Adventure, the card is replaced by a new one.
Adventure cards each require a combination of dice to complete all their tasks. Players begin with only a half-dozen custom green dice to help their investigators conduct their search. Different game effects allow players to temporarily access special yellow and red dice. Tasks are stacked vertically on an Adventure card and may be completed in any order, unless an arrow points down the left side of the card (as it does on The Guided Tour ). After failing to complete a task, a player subtracts one die from all future rolls that turn, making it important to succeed on tasks as early as possible. Players can attempt tasks even if they fail on the first roll, but as the dice dwindle, so do the chances of completing the Adventure. As an added challenge, when an investigator completes a task, the dice used to complete the task are “locked” into the task, limiting the available dice for later tasks.
An investigator attempting to complete The Guided Tour must first roll two investigation. Any dice used to complete the task remain locked into the task. The investigator must then roll the remaining dice and attempt to match four investigation. Again, any dice used to complete the task remain locked into the task. With whatever dice remain, the investigator must then roll one lore. If he succeeds, the investigator completes the Adventure and discovers two clues and a common item. If he fails, he loses one point each of sanity and stamina.
Play to your strengths
The first strategic decisions players make, then, are which investigators to use and which Adventures to attempt. Darrell Simmons allows his player to score an extra investigation on a single die. Thus, a player could complete the first task on The Guided Tour with just one investigation, boosted to two by Darrell Simmons. Again, for the second task, Darrell Simmons could boost an investigation die, helping a player to complete the second task with fewer dice, possibly just one. This frees up more dice for later tasks, and the odds Darrell Simmons can roll one lore result out of four dice are certainly better than if he had committed five dice to the previous tasks and had only one remaining for the final check.
It’s only natural that a player controlling Darrell Simmons will attempt Adventures that require a lot of investigation. Also, his high stamina and moderate sanity give him good odds of surviving a couple failed attempts at Adventures like The Guided Tour. However, he doesn’t have as many tricks up his sleeves for an Adventure like A Terrible Discovery , which requires less investigation but more lore, as well as a terror result. What’s more, A Terrible Discovery is a truly harrowing Adventure, demanding investigators sacrifice one sanity per task to complete them. And if an investigator fails? He loses two sanity! It’s maddening, and with only a half-dozen basic dice to attempt the tasks, it’s extremely difficult.
That’s where another host of strategic decisions come into play. In addition to their talents, investigators all start with a number of items or spells. Darrell Simmons begins with a common item and a unique item. Others begin with spells, clues, or allies. All these aids allow you to tilt the luck of the dice in your favor, to one degree or another, but most are discarded once you use them. Most items add one die a player can roll for one attempt at a task. Spells typically allow you to save one die result from one task for use in a later task. Players spend clues to re-roll any or all of their dice during the completion of tasks.
The decision becomes, then, whether to use them early or late, on easier tasks to save more dice for later rolls, or to increase the chances of success against difficult tasks.
Some resources, like the ally Eric Colt , remain in play for a greater duration, and players would be wise to take maximum advantage of their abilities. So long as Eric Colt lends his aid, A Terrible Discovery is less daunting an Adventure. An investigator needs no longer sacrifice part of his mind to complete the tasks, though his failure would still result in a catastrophic bout of madness and the loss of two sanity.
When Elder Sign releases in Q3 of 2011, players will find plenty of challenges in the Adventures, and they’ll be rewarded with a plethora of strategic choices to make about when and how to use their resources. Players will also face the difficult decision whether to pursue Adventures that yield Elder Signs or whether to pursue embark upon easier Adventures to build resources for the tasks that await them on their hunt for the Elder Signs.
The gaming community is already buzzing about the supernatural intrigues of the museum, and you can join the discussion on our community forum . Then, in a week, you can check back here for the next preview of this exciting game, Better Good Than Lucky, Part Two , in which we explore another dimension of Elder Sign .
Elder Sign is a fast-paced, cooperative dice game of supernatural intrigue for one to eight players by Richard Launius and Kevin Wilson, the designers of Arkham Horror.