Game Review: Elder Sign

Elder Sign is a game based on the Ben Stiller Comedy “Night at the Museum.” Your cast of characters are stuck in a museum gone mad, unbearable things coming to life and annoying you until they’re dealt with. The whole thing culminates with fighting for your life to recover an artifact… or dealing with the terrible repercussions of letting it loose upon the world.

Tell me that’s not the same plot!


Elder Sign is a great die-rolling game to use to get skeptical people into gaming, but my 6 games of it told me that it might not have the lasting power that I hope for when I purchase a game. I want something that can be whipped out 40 times before getting sick of it. A product that can last 40 games without driving me crazy is something that changes every time, has depth of both strategy and gameplay, and keeps you active through the whole experience. Elder Sign is close in each regard, but the problem is obvious. There is always a “best” move.


Knowledge wins this game.

There is a perfect way to play this game. Despite the randomized elements, like the “Midnight effects” that happen every 4 turns. Nothing that happens can change the strategy of the game. It’s just do what makes the most sense each turn and you’ll never lose. Don’t have all 6 basic dice? Don’t do a mission that requires you to do it perfectly or in order then. Your character is really good at rolling Skull (peril) symbols? Get on that mission with all the peril, bro. Have a bonus that gives you dice when you do a specific type of mission? Well no shit you should do that.


Common Sense wins this game.

Luckily for this game, not everyone has that common sense available to them all the time. I’ve played games where people didn’t beat a single mission all because they went for big rewards right off the bat, with no preparation – no rerolls or added dice or special cards to MAKE things work. The worst thing about that strategy of go big right away is that it’s actually pretty rare for Elder Sign to punish you for wasting time, I’d say it’s probably only 1 in 10 cards of the “Midnight Deck” (which you are forced to draw from every 4 turns) that actually advance the game towards a conclusion. They usually just annoy with you a tiny bit, by adding a monster or taking health or sanity points… none of which will cause you to lose on it’s own. And it’s much more rewarding to get rid of small problems so you can get the best gear to tackle the big problems.


Patience wins this game.

All things considered, the game makes a definite attempt creating a difficult scenario. It asks you to randomize your villain pick as well as your character pick. Which means your character won’t always have a helpful skill for the enemy you’re trying to take down. There are also a lot of ways the game can screw you over through its random chance. It’s totally possible to lock every single one of your basic dice on the first turn and to lose automatically… the chance of that is nearly 0 but it’s possible. Even if you have that terminally unlucky guy in your squad, the guy who can’t catch a break, he’s probably not going to sink the metaphorical ship.


Luck matters, but not a whole lot.

If you’re in the market for a game that basically plays a lot like Yahtzee, but with monsters. Or you have people in your lives that you want to like games, but you can’t get them to commit when they see the rule book for Axis & Allies. This is the adventure you want to take them on. It’s pretty short, it has moments of intensity, and no new player to the game has ever told me that they didn’t like it. Which… counts for something. Definite recommend, but your hardcores might not last as long as your newbies here.

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