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It is 1926, and the museum’s extensive collection of exotic curios and occult artifacts poses a threat to the barriers between our world and the elder evils lurking between dimensions. Gates to the beyond begin to leak open, and terrifying creatures of increasing strength steal through them. Animals, the mad, and those of more susceptible minds are driven to desperation by the supernatural forces the portals unleash. Only a handful of investigators race against time to locate the eldritch symbols necessary to seal the portals forever. Only they can stop the Ancient One beyond from finding its way to Earth and reducing humanity to cinders.
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. Players take the roles of investigators racing against time to stave off the imminent return of the Ancient Ones. Armed with cards for tools, allies, and occult knowledge, investigators must put their sanity and stamina to the test as they adventure to locate Elder Signs, the eldritch symbols used to seal away the Ancient Ones and win the game.
To locate Elder Signs, investigators must successfully endure Adventures within the museum and its environs. A clever and thematic dice mechanic pits their exploration against monsters and the sheer difficulty of staying sane and healthy, all within the standard game duration of one to two hours.
Inspired by the horror of H. P. Lovecraft, Elder Sign pits players against the terror posed by one of eight possible Ancient Ones. Each of these otherworldly horrors insinuates its unique presence into the world, hindering or limiting your investigator’s ability to seek the Elder Signs. If evil persists, the Ancient One awakens once events bring its Doom track to completion.
The Clock progresses inexorably forward, shrinking and shrinking the time until the great otherworldly horror emerges. Each time midnight strikes, there is a chance the Ancient One’s power will spill more fully into this world. Monsters may appear, and the Doom track may progress. Investigators must find enough Elder Signs to seal away the Ancient One forever before it awakens, or they will find themselves forced into combat, directly confronted by the being’s awesome power.
At the beginning of each game, and each time the Clock strikes midnight, a player must draw a new Mythos card. These cards mirror the increasing influence the Ancient One has in the world. As the investigators continue with their desperate exploration, Mythos cards release monsters into the museum and surrounding area, advance the Doom track toward completion, strike at the investigators’ resources, or add new dimensions to the Adventures awaiting the investigators and players alike.
Because the Mythos deck spreads the Ancient One’s influence round by round, players must move quickly. Their investigators must undertake harrowing adventures, confronting supernatural monsters as well as sheer terror and madness. All the while, they must keep their wits about them, looking for whatever clues they may find among the aisles of artifacts and esoterica. The investigators can’t afford to fail, lest the Ancient One awake.
In order to resolve an Adventure, you must match dice results against the requirements for each of the Adventure card’s tasks. If you fail to complete all of an Adventure’s tasks, your investigator suffers the consequences. Often this means a loss of sanity or stamina–or both. Investigators who have their sanity or stamina reduced to zero are devoured and removed from play. Other failed Adventures push the Doom track further forward or release monsters into the world, making the investigators’ task all the more difficult.
When you successfully complete all of an Adventure’s tasks, you unlock its rewards. They can yield clues, provide new resources, introduce investigators to new allies, or uncover Elder Signs. Not all rewards are good, though, and the successful completion of some Adventures may release monsters or lead to Other World Adventures, bringing greater risks and rewards to the table.
Elder Sign features 48 Adventure cards representing the supernatural events and places of intrigue in and around the museum the investigators must explore to stop the Ancient One. During game setup, players build the museum with six initial Adventure cards, chosen at random. The staggering number of possible museums means that investigators will almost never pursue the same sets of clues in two separate games. Additionally, all Adventure cards feature unique requirements, and many have powerful text that radically alter gameplay.
Given such eldritch perils, what drives the men and women called to explore the museum? Each of the 16 available investigators have individual talents and resources they bring to the search for the Elder Signs. Many investigators dedicate themselves to a specific research focus, allowing players to alter dice rolls or substitute one die result for another. Some focus on acquiring more resources. Others can restore sanity or stamina to investigators who have suffered the loss of either.
Players may select the investigators of their choice or choose them at random. No matter which investigator you control, you must use your investigator’s talents and resources strategically. Investigators have access to common items, unique items, and spells which may afford extra dice during Adventure resolution or allow a player to substitute one die result for another. Most investigators begin with two starting items and can acquire more through the successful resolution of Adventures. Clever use of investigators’ talents and timely item use are crucial as players work to bend the luck of the dice to their favor.
In addition to the investigators’ talents, spells, items, and allies which allow players to adjust dice rolls, the rules permit players to “focus” dice, saving one die result for a future roll at the cost of an extra die. Players can only focus a die once per Adventure card, so judicious use of the focus rule is essential to the completion of the more complicated Adventures, especially when monsters appear!
Players may cooperate to assist each other’s rolls, but any investigator assigned to assist another risks losing sanity or stamina even when it’s not his turn.
For the diligent and the studious, there is a science to the dice. Only through its proper application can the great powers’ malignancy be kept at bay.
Elder Sign recreates the Lovecraftian thrills of eerie suspense and mind-numbing horrors in a game players can finish in one to two hours. Expert design in rules, card text, and innovative dice mechanics blend to form a game that’s quick to learn, quick to play, strategic enough to reward frequent replay, and eccentric enough to immerse players in the museum’s supernatural intrigue.
Lavish artwork, sanity-draining Adventures, and gates to other worlds–avid readers of H.P. Lovecraft should find themselves at home in their hunt for Elder Signs as the end draws nigh.