Lovecraft Horror on the Go – Elder Sign: Omens Reviewed

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Game Name: Elder Sign: Omens

Publisher: <Fantasy Flight Games

Year: 2011

Players: 1

Ages: 12+

Playing Time: 60 Minutes

Platform: Android and iOS

Retail Price: $3.99

Category: Mobile Horror Game

I have to say, as an Android phone and tablet owner, many times I feel as if I’m a redheaded stepchild in terms of available mobile games (or any good meaty games in general) when it comes to the operating system; iOS has loads more excellent content to choose from and it’s unfortunate that established game companies like Days of Wonder, Cryptozoic Entertainment, Plaid Hat Games, Gary Games and so on are really missing the boat by not embracing the Android platform. As a recent article points out Android’s 850,000 daily activations surely is nothing to sneeze at.

Yet this isn’t an article about publishers missing the boat but a review for Fantasy Flight Games’ second foray into the Android game market. The title is Elder Sign: Omens and it’s a good one to be sure!

Just like most things FFG, production quality and presentation are definitely top notch. The varied soundtrack is fittingly unsettling and fantastic artwork (much of which lifted from other FFG Lovecraft related board games) is everywhere to be found. The four short introductory tutorial videos are of the same quality as we’ve come to expect in other previews and game play vids from the company. All in all the presentation brings about the foreboding that’s a prerequisite for any good Cthulhu mythos based game, regardless of genre.

Obviously enough, Elder Sign: Omens is based on the Elder Sign board game and takes place in H.P. Lovecraft’s mythos. Elliott is infinitely more familiar with Elder Sign, as he presented that review and I’d never had a chance to give it a play, so the app is my only experience with the system and I’m sure quite a few adjustments were made to translate the game to the mobile world.

I know Elliott considers Elder Sign a bit of an Arkham Horror lite – allowing gamers to get some of the feel of the bigger, more epic game in a much shorter timeframe. I can’t say Elder Sign: Omens feels like Arkham Horror in any respect but it’s still a great title to add to your collection of app games.

Elder Sign: Omens tells the tale of horror in a museum as a great ancient evil, the Great Old One Azathoth, looks to make its return to our world. Once 12 Doom Tokens are in play the dimensional gate opens Azathoth and the world as we know it will never be the same. To prevent Azathoth’s return you’ll need your team of investigators to collect 14 Elder Signs to seal the gate forever.

You’ll begin Elder Sign: Omens by assembling a team of four investigators from a collection of tried and true Arkham Horror stalwarts; even Elliott’s favorite Ashcan Pete is included! Each character has a special ability such as healing stamina or sanity, changing Glyphs after conjuring, increasing the value of an investigation Glyph and so on. Each character has a starting value for Sanity and Stamina as well as some starting items. The investigators you choose to play with make a huge difference as they’ll come with different starting bonuses, permanent bonuses, and Sanity/Stamina combinations.

Collecting the Elder Signs is no easy task as you’ll assign your investigators, one at a time, to different adventures within the museum. Each adventure is broken up into smaller tasks, and each of these tasks will have specific Glyphs attached to them. To complete the task, and thus finish the adventure, you’ll receive Glyphs at random and hopefully be able to make a match. If you make the matches, you’ll complete the adventure and earn rewards – many of the more difficult adventures score you Elder Signs. If you fail the adventure, your investigator could lose Sanity, Stamina, both, or possibly even worse results like adding Doom Token to the Doom Track.

During the adventure, if you don’t get the Glyphs you’re looking for, there are a few things you can do to try to change things up and get the Glyphs you need. As you progress by completing missions, investigators will earn different one-shot power-ups that can be used to lock a certain Glyph to keep it for the next Conjuring, or change a Glyph to a specific one you need, or increase the number of Glyphs each turn of the adventure.  Likewise, investigators earn Artifacts they can use to return to the museum entrance and spend on healing and power-ups styles of their choice.

The adventures themselves play out rather nicely as you begin with a certain set number of Glyph slots. Playing Glyphs to complete a task will reduce your number of slots, and not being able to complete a task will force you to remove a slot, in order to Conjure more Glyphs, reducing your number of slots as well. You’ll keep drawing new Glyphs until you either finish the adventure or run out of slots and fail. Since you can only complete tasks if you have all the glyphs you need in a single hand, and you need to complete all the tasks to complete an adventure, you’ll find yourself failing a lot!

Once an adventure has been completed, a new adventure is placed on the board and you may even receive an additional adventure which takes you away from the earthly realm. Off to The Dreamlands or R’lyeh perhaps?

Making the game even more difficult is the fact that once all your four investigators complete their turn the clock strikes midnight. The midnight hour can add Doom Tokens or monsters to the board (or both) to make your gameplay even more frantic. Some adventures have a midnight icon which means some bad effect will take place every night the event stays on the board. The effect could be more Doom Tokens coming into play, all characters losing Sanity or Stamina, losing items from your inventory, or even a combination of nasty happenings. These midnight adventures tend to be more difficult than average and you’ll want to complete these as quickly as possible. Other adventures are marked with terror icons which mean you’ll experience some negative effect if you can’t complete the tasks with your first Conjure. Some adventures even have negative rewards if successfully completed due to their mind-shattering nature!

Like many of Fantasy Flight Games’ best print titles, Elder Sign: Omens can be a brutally difficult game to win. Much of the enjoyment comes from how close you get to winning as opposed to knocking it out of the park every time you play. Paying attention to your investigators, their abilities, and the one-shot items they carry can go a long way toward completing the game with a result other than Azathoth’s devastating return. I will point out that even the most careful play may not lead you down the path of victory due to the amount of luck involved with Elder Sign: Omens.

There really is very little control in what Glyphs you receive during any adventure and, even with some of the best one-shots available, there really is a slot machine feel to the Conjuring. Of course, the board game is random with the rolling of dice so this isn’t a huge issue but you will have an occasional frustrating moment after you’ve used everything in a character’s arsenal to manipulate your Glyphs and still fail the adventure.

Overall, Elder Sign: Omens is an excellent addition to your mobile gaming – especially if you’re a fellow Android user – and provides a much longer and fuller experience than most apps. Some folks may not like the hour or so game length but you can save your game at any point and pick up where you left off at a later point. The game has lots of theme and, even if you get spanked time after time, will have you coming back for more!

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