This is a board game list, so there has to be at least one Cthulhu-themed game, right? While the theme of Elder Sign: Omens doesn’t tie in deeply to the gameplay, this game is practically oozing with H.P. Lovcraft’s dark ambiance, perfectly adapted to your iOS or Android device.
You start the game by selecting one to four characters to be in your investigation crew. Each gets a unique ability, like being able to change certain dice rolls around or getting extra items. You then select a Lovecraftian monstrosity (called an “Ancient One”) which will dictate the missions and monsters you’ll have to overcome, as well as how many turns you’ll have to defeat it.
On each character’s turn they can take on one of the random missions placed on the board. Each requires a different combination of dice rolls to complete, along with rewards for success and penalties for failure. If you roll the right icons on the dice (which include Investigation, Horror, Lore, and Danger) you can spend them to complete part of the mission. If you do not, you must sacrifice a die and roll again. There’s no such thing as a safe roll in this game, because even if you succeed you’re giving up dice to proceed to the next phase of the mission. So no matter what, you’re odds gradually dwindle. That’s the brilliant thing about this game, because the tension always rises gradually until you reach either a joyous success or a painful defeat.
There are numerous items to collect to better your odds, including ones that let you unlock the powerful yellow and red dice, each of which has more useful icons. The end goal is to collect enough Elder Signs to seal away the Ancient One before its Doom Counter fills up and evil consumes the world.
It’s actually pretty tense, and since resources (especially time) are limited, you need to know when to play it safe and when to press your luck and blow everything on a single mission. You also need to carefully pick which characters will take on particular missions, as their abilities can make or break you. Further adding to the challenge and uncertainty, after every four turns the clock strikes midnight and a card is revealed from the enemy deck. These usually place a few monsters on the table – adding extra challenges to missions – as well as progress the Doom Counter a random amount. Some missions also have negative effects if you don’t complete them before midnight, adding even more urgency to the gameplay.
Elder Sign: Omens has the most eeriness of any tabletop game I’ve played. The music is calm but creepy, like a mortuary. The sound effects can be chilling, and the art ranges from awe inspiring to disturbing. It makes you feel hopeless at times, which is fitting, because you have a good chance to lose even if you make all the right decisions.
While you can play the game cooperatively with others by passing your device around, this implementation seems designed as a solo game, which is uncommon for titles of this genre. Though this makes it stand out for people like me who have a hard time finding other iOS board gamers. Still, I wish the game would let me collaborate with friends online.
There have been a couple of updates to the game since its release, and each time there has been a new free mission as well as an extra-hard paid mission. The newest one, Call of Cthulhu, actually has a bunch of extra game mechanics and that makes it much deeper and painfully challenging. It’s practically a different game all its own and worth the extra $2.99.
Fantasy Flight Games did an immaculate job producing Elder Sign: Omens, with all the key elements of the physical game just slightly abridged to make a better experience on iOS and Android. Not to mention some of the best artwork you’ll find on any iOS game. Roll the dice and give it a try!