After just three plays I don't feel qualified to rate this... the game hasn't opened it's "magic box" to me just yet.
It seems *fun enough* but every time I'm left with a "is that all there is?" feeling.
UPDATE: After sitting down to play this again over bowls of tortilla soup and Thai veggie stew I get the impression it's more of an activity than a game over which you can exert much control. Tick the "throwing cards with friends and family" box.
Truly *fun enough* but waaay too random to take seriously or bother burning brain cells over.
In college we played a massive Ogre/GEV campaign in which every overrun situation was resolved by a separate game of Battlesuit... It took weeks, and pony-loads of Jolt Cola. Even now, I can't look at the box art without feeling my gorge rise.
It's a petty grievance, but I can't stand the art. In "real" Carc the art is simple and services the picture entire. The art in Hunters is fussy and indistinct; instead of ending up with a map of the game at the end, you get a big, blurry scribble. Call me shallow, call me the-toothpick-counting-guy-who-buys-his-underwear-at-Kmart... but I found the art far too distracting to enjoy the game. For multiplayer I far and away prefer real Carc to this. If you're stuck with two players, The Castle is the best of the series.
Bid disks to buy sets of chits and trade them in for victory point cards.
Mildly intriguing auction & set collection that requires intensive screwage to prevent runaway scoring. The moment someone doesn't use their turn to check their right-hand neighbor that player gains advantage and everyone else starts to lose. So you either play like massive dicks or let someone run away with it.
The underlying math is nifty—casual sets will almost always add up to one fewer than you need to purchase the next VP card.
It's mercifully short, though I'm not sure how it's supposed to be a family game unless such things usually involve tears.
UPDATE: Okay, so one more play, this time without the vicious cycle of openhand slapping, e.g., everyone constantly raising their right-hand neighbor to prevent runaway progress, the lack of which changes it from a brawl to a race. This is probably closer to what the designer intended, as the vindictive bid-fights just made the game bitter.
Never-ending bid fights: low-scoring fight game with lots of retracted bids, making Syndicate cards very worthwhile.
No anal neighbor-checking: high-scoring race game with less profanity.
There's probably a happy medium, but I have my doubts we'll ever find it.
UP-UPDATE: Is this really an auction game? The bidding is resolved in super slo-mo—I slap down some coins, then I have to wait until my next turn to see if I won, or to increase the bid if I didn't. Then another turn to see how that pans out. And if you & I get into a bid fight we can easily piss away a third of the entire game over a single "auction"! So, no, bid-fighting is just stupid.
After group discussion we settled on this game really being about appraising lots and offering to pay just a little bit more than it's worth to scare everyone else off. If you undervalue it, you'll have someone come over the top and then it's probably best to wave off instead of sticking in and putting those resources out of the game for the bulk of the session. If you overvalue it you're spending out inefficiently and will lose the game to someone who shaves it just a hair closer. The goal is to "Baby Bear" it and get it juuust right so no one else wants to spend the extra +1 coin yet you end up paying an efficient minimum for it.
Don't let all the thought and discussion fool you—I hate this game.
UP-UP-UPDATE: Final score—110, 110, 105. Guess who got 105?
A classic prelude to games like Pente and Go Moku. Moderate (read: easy) look-ahead combined with just a smidgen of planning, this game works great with younger kids. As with most games like this they'll outgrow it pretty quickly—but in the meantime their brains will swell & pulse with incredible power…
I'm not really sure about this one yet. It plays a huge number of people, it involves shooting your "friends" and yet... so many turns began with a simple, "I shoot Tod!" Right or wrong, somebody got a card.
UPDATE: Downshifting from a 6 to a 5. My desire to "figure this one out" has shrunk and winked out of existence.
The most fun I had playing this game was when we had a big bag of rubber bands and took turns seeing who could put the most rubber bands around their head/face. So I guess you should just get a big bag of rubber bands instead.
UPDATE: The comment above is the last time I played this as an adult, with adults, somewhere in the early '90s. As a kid I played the hell out of this... until the cards were as soft as li'l baby blankets & the box was destroyed. Fast-forward to 2011 when I loaned that once-much-loved game out to a friend with two small daughters interested in fantasy home invasion. It was a HUGE hit, firing those young imaginations and setting them on a trajectory that will surely end up somewhere in Dungeons & Dragons proper. As it should be.
So if you ask li'l me & the two battle-princesses it gets a super-solid 11!!. The 5 is sans kids.
PS. Box is long gone. Smashed flat as the loser in a fight between gravity and a shortsighted lack of papercraft engineering.
Rating & comments are for the 1st Printing with the screwed up rulebook; the Revised (2012) Printing gets a 7.
tl;dr — As an Arkham Horror & dice game fan I like what it does, though rules & timing ambiguities keep it from being great. Like AH expect to play it entirely wrong the first couple times, and then find it far too easy once you do get the rules down.
tl;dr After the FAQ: A kinder, gentler Arkham—and not in the good way—this game is mild and crazy-easy. The first printing is a total loss.
Progression through the first 10 plays with the rules out of the box (pre-FAQ first printing):
Thoughts after one play: I'm pretty sure that all the various reports of "too easy/too hard" are due to incorrect play (a critical issue with other co-ops like Lord of the Rings, Ghost Stories & Pandemic)—missing a single, small rule* or even just altering the order of certain events** could make the entire system cascade in one direction or the other.
The rulebook is needlessly obtuse for what is essentially a push-your-luck dice game—assemble dice pool, roll, bank or re-roll shouldn't be so hard to explain. We hit many, many rules ambiguities in our first play, several of which were only answered with a very careful line-by-line rereading of the rules afterward, as the answers were often a single sentence hidden inside a paragraph, and thus easily missed. Still other questions await an offical FAQ.
Other than that the game is pretty, the components excellent, and rolling dice is fun. Also, I think no fewer than three people got eaten by the Shoggoth in the Koi Pond.
After three plays: The key to all push-your-luck dice games is, of course, banking and re-rolls. It took a couple plays to figure out when and where this is possible, as the rulebook is less than effective at spelling (hah) it out.
Success = keep going You can keep rolling as long as you are successfully completing tasks, but, of course, that shrinks the pool, making future tasks more difficult.
Clues Clues are HUGE as they are the primary mechanism that lets you bank and re-roll. Spend a clue to re-roll any or all of the dice in the pool. Most games of this ilk allow a certain number of bank/re-rolls—e.g., three in Yahtzee—but here you're limited to how many clues you have.
Focus/Assist You can bank a single die on yourself, or a single die on a fellow Investigator on the same Adventure card... but you must fail to complete a task first. A small booby prize, though with the die you lose for failure you're down two dice in the pool, so it's a gamble.
Spells Cast before the roll (a dangerous gamble) and bank one or two dice out of a roll (though this could be brutally bad if you are required to bank). Post-FAQ update: Spells are now cast after the roll, to bank dice you already know you want to keep. Does the double-whammy of making the game easier (?!) and removing any downside to spells—removing all thematic coherence. Lovecraftian spells are supposed to be dangerous, but it's all happy fairy magic now.
Elder Sign doesn't feel like a true push-your-luck experience until you understand how to pull off clever combos with all these mechanisms. Then the game really opens up and delivers.
Still, as a tuned co-op machine it misfires badly if you forget the small rules*** or get the sequencing of certain choices or events wrong. Looking very forward to an offical FAQ to clean this thing up.
After sixseven eight plays: I almost get the sense I'm playing it correctly. Almost.
After nine plays: Okay, I finally get it. Elder Sign is a light, storytelling larf, along the lines of Talisman (Revised 4th Edition), rather than a tight, cruel co-op engine like Pandemic. Expectations reset accordingly.
Final Analysis: Man, I wanted to love this game. It's totally in my wheelhouse—Lovecraft, dice, quick co-op. But the first printing is a total loss. The rulebook is wrong on several fundamental issues (spells, focus/assist, etc.), three of the characters need to have new rules scrawled on their cards, and the FAQ changes make the game stupid easy.
Lovecraft + co-op + easy = WTF?!
A good co-op needs to have an out-of-the box win-rate below 50% in order to bear repeat play—the tension of not knowing whether or not you're going to survive is the game. It also incentivizes "beating" the game and gives big emotional payback for a hard-fought win. Elder Sign has none of this. I'm not even sure we've ever lost.
Yes, I could make up rules to increase the difficulty but that's not what I paid FFG for. If I wanted to make my own games, or houserule the hell out of the ones I own (and then blunder through personal playtesting to see if they work) then I'd be doing that. If a game is a "make-your-own" kit then say so on the box.
I'm sorry I was an early adopter on this one. Rating dropped to a barely deserved 5.
* Like adding a Doom Token to the Doom Track whenever an Investigator is devoured.
** Like what happens when you complete an Adventure card:
1. Receive reward(s) 2. Move Investigators to Entrance 3. Remove dice & take card as trophy 4. Draw new Adventure card
is important as monsters in the "reward" line cannot be put on the new Adventure card. An easily missed, teeny-tiny detail. Post-FAQ update: Nope! Monsters are now an exception and can be added to the new card. This change does the double-whammy of making the game easier while adding an exception to the rules. Just what it needed...
*** "Lose sanity/stamina" is entirely different from "adjust your sanity/stamina"—thus, the stamina cost on something like the Hallway on Fire cannot be prevented with Food, for instance. Another tiny detail that is merely implied by word-choice in the rules... and, upon closer inspection, the rules use both interchangeably. So, the question is, can you use a steak dinner to save yourself from a fire? Or kill a Ghost with Whiskey? Post-FAQ update: Yes. Yes you can.
(NOTE: Comments refer to the 2005 First Edition; this issue has reportedly been corrected in later printings. Not sure about the last bit, though...)
The idea is great, the execution not so much. The main problem lies in the printing on the cards—it's small, fussy, and blurred. Also, the card backs are not printed opaque enough to obscure all of the info on the front. It's not difficult to discern what kind of card you're drawing next.
In the end the transparent overlay is a gimmick that gets in the way of the actual game.
HIDEOUS TOXIC UPDATE: I went and dug this out—ten years later—and found that the cards had done something stinky, sticky and industrial. The clock turns all things to poison eventually; these just got to it sooner than expected.
So apparently you're supposed to say what your spell is for (whether this is in the rules-as-written or a capricious house rule, I do not know) and as the turn-taking progressed around the gathering of competitors the goals of the spells were various:
When it got to me I said my spell was "to thin the veil between our world and the void dimension of Gnlorthrax Thousandlegs, to sunder His chains, loosen His cavernous blowholes and prod Him to bellow my name into little children's dreams—forever."
There was at least one mom shaking her head and mouthing no.
Still, like the recitation of a demon resurrection passage, it's loose and hinky, requiring on-the-fly rules adjudication and eventual house-ruling to work smoothly and well. If you're inclined to tinker, have at it. Otherwise, well, it's a five.
Outside of the theme, the equipment for this version is super sweet—the title deeds are pasteboard tabs that slot into the board, making it easy to see what's owned and what's up for grabs; the snap-in hotels and houses are nifty, though you have to be gentle with them; and the raised plastic board creates a natural arena in the center for dice-chucking.
But then there's that whole theme thing... no blind hate for Phantom Menace here; I'm just a purist when it comes to Monopoly. All the crazy re-skinning of the base game detracts from the entirely appropriate and well-integrated Roaring Twenties feel of the original. I want gin, jazz and flappers—not blue milk, forlorn symphonic swells and Droids—with my financial dickery.
I rate the base game a 7 when played:
- by the rules as written - with four adults - ending at the second bankruptcy.
Played this an awful lot in elementary school. We made up tons of new units and vehicles for this... Back then I probably would have given it a TEN!!! but it's far too old-skool to hold up. It's like playing a David Drake novel.
As it's all innuendo, players are either octogenarian scions of industrialist dynasties who run around their estates (sans pants) "Benny-Hilling" a bevy of concupiscent maids—livin' la vida Pleistocene—or they are serial killers. All the nudging and winking could topple the thematic balance either way.
If you draw a straight line 25,000-years-long between the two data points of the Venus of Willendorf and this game you end up underscoring the fact that men are filthy pigs who, for reasons known only to Nature, can become violently erect at the sight of a boob-shaped cloud. Damn you, super-sexy sky!
My friends are hideous, and so I had tears in my eyes playing this. Ah, well. My love pillow would understand.
Several plays with my wife, not sure what to say about it yet... It manages to evoke some of the same feelings as the board game, and the nasty knob can be turned up or down as the players wish. The memory aspect is minimal. After our first intentionally nasty game (lying in wait to purposefully torpedo each other's efforts), I rather like it.
Takes a light game and froths it into ghost-meringue. Rolling dice is fun, and that's pretty much all you're gonna get out of this. The whole experience is nothing but scrotum-tingly gamblin'... but even that bit is castrated by only having one re-roll.
In the end this is just about the equipment: if you like the clatter of dice in a cup and want to do that while you ride tickets, go for it. Otherwise, I had the mad desire to play real Ticket to Ride while playing this.
UPDATE: I'm liking this more and more. It makes the game super-short, and it's really easy to pull off some spectacular blocking. If the game were longer with screwage of that magnitude, it would just piss people off. If the game were just as short and everyone had to play like Fonzie, it'd be boring. As is, it's the perfect mix—a completely different game from Ticket to Ride proper.
Too much "limp-factor", and I'm not talking about eight inches of limp, either. Middle-of-the-road forgettable, so much so that I'm sitting here scratching my head trying to remember why I shouldn't just sell this... or abandon it to the vagaries of wind, sun and passing hobos.
Not nearly as nifty as it appears. The game has a tendency to lock up horribly, with players passing in turn, unable to do anything, often ending the game before it could develop into something interesting. Even when it does manage to wheeze and chug along, it usually comes down to a four-letter-word cussathon with various stacked permutations of words like "DUCK". (And just in case yer wonderin', I do has a Lit degree, so vocab ain't the problem.) Play Scrabble instead.
A classic "grind for nibs and trade for nobs to score dinguses" game, there's little to recommend this outside of the sex trafficking, yellow cake smuggling and the drawing of sand turtles with your, ahem, member. That said I won't rest until I win at least once, at which point I will poop in the box and mail it to Reiner Knizia.
Really, really wanted to like this more than I do. The Warhammer world is fun, the art is fantastic, and the component quality* and presentation are like a gingerbread house in the middle of the woods.
In the end the problem, to quote my son, is that "it's not Magic."
Not that it has to be, or even that it's trying to be. But I get where he's coming from: why play this when you could be playing Magic: The Gathering? It's a better game, a deeper game, a more satisfying game. And if we're going to be playing a fantasy-themed card game for the next 20 minutes, I'd rather throw some Magic around.
*With the exception of different-sized cards in the expansions. I hate card sleeves, and when the cards are even fractionally larger or smaller or funny-shaped it affects the shuffle. (And, no, pile sorting doesn't randomize the cards—it just makes sure no two cards are next to each other.) If you overhand or monge shuffle with different sized cards, they end up clumped by size. Riffle shuffling is better, but the bigger cards get mangulated faster. Ah, well. I should count myself lucky to have such problems, no?
Slightly more fun than the original due to the addition of the Necronomicon pages thing, but really, at its rotten core, just more of the same. I suppose if you loved the first couple you'll get off on this; it just hit me as incredibly mood and group dependent. I could see squeezing a wad of mindless fun out of it one week, only to have it squeeze back the next...