The problem with the boardgame Arkham Horror is that while it does a fine job of creating the 1920s world of H.P. Lovecraft, it is also far too complex. Elder Sign, also from Fantasy Flight Games, simplifies the Lovecraftian world -- and in this case, less is definitely not better.

Like Arkham Horror, Elder Sign is a cooperative game where players work to either prevent a monstrous Ancient One from entering the world, or (if they fail that) engaging in the last-ditch battle with the horrific beast. Players control one character, and that character consists of Sanity and Stamina scores, one ability, and starting items. Players move between the entrance (where they can regain Sanity or Stamina , buy items, or trade trophies for items) and the rooms (six cards, possibly more if Other Worlds come into play).

Each room has a number of tasks, and a player rolls dice hoping to match the symbols on the tasks (sometimes using the items to affect the results). If a player succeeds, they get the card (as a trophy) and the items listed on the card. If the player fails, they may suffer a terror effect, lose one die, and keep trying to complete the tasks with the remaining dice. If it's impossible to complete due to a lack of dice, the player suffers the penalty. Rooms may also have a monster, which is defeated by rolling the dice and matching the task on the monster; a defeated monster becomes a trophy for the player.

The players win if they get enough Elder Signs to keep the Ancient One at bay. However, after each player's turn a clock advances three numbers (on a spinner) and each time it hits midnight a Mythos card is drawn, often adding a Doom Token to the Ancient One's Doom Track. If the Doom Track is filled in, the Ancient One awakens and players have a very uphill battle against the creature.

Elder Sign is easier to play and win than Arkham Horror -- but it's also too simple. Since the characters only have one special ability, solving the tasks virtually always comes down to rolling as many dice as possible and hoping for a good result. (I love one person's description of this as "Cthulhu meets Yahtzee.") Elder Sign is okay, but its lack of depth and challenge make it fine for only an occasional play.

Overall grade: C-

Reviewed by James Lynch

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