Fans of “Elder Signs,” the board game, will be very happy to learn that the app called “Elder Signs: Omens” has plenty of new stuff to offer. The game itself costs something like four dollars, and when you add the two currently available expansions (one featuring Cthulhu and one featuring Ithaqua), the whole deal comes in at only around nine dollars – and is worth every penny.
For starters, the basic app features some changes to game play. The changes are subtle but provide a fresh experience. But to be fair, let’s get a few drawbacks out of the way.
The app allows four, only and exactly four, investigators on the team. This is not really a major issue as the board game seems designed ideally for four, but it is a loss of flexibility. The only Ancient Ones in the base game are Yig, Azathoth and Tsathoggua, while the expansions add Cthulhu and Ithaqua. This may be a short list, but Tsathoggua is not found in the board game at all, and Cthulhu and Ithaqua actually take the player on adventures outside the museum!
The game lacks allies and this might upset some players, particularly those who want Duke to be in the game. Further messing with what can be bought at the Museum Entrance, Tsathoggua doubles all costs. They also made the Lost & Found a spinner that you spin by touching it – you no longer get to choose whether to lose a sanity or a stamina on a bad roll, but have to take whichever one comes up. Getting +5 tokens is a nice option, though.
Dice locked on spell cards are not available for any player. Even if you don’t use a die you locked on a spell during your turn, the die is freed up for the next player’s turn. This simplifies the game and seems to streamline it.
Certain adventures are also different from the board game. For example, Transported by Magic gives an automatic +1 doom token at midnight, rather than +1 per Other World that is opened. Veterans of the tabletop version will notice others.
The Investigators is where “Omens” really starts to shine. All of the characters from the boxed set are in the base game. The two expansions each offer four new investigators and one unlockable investigator, for a total of ten characters not available in the board game. The powers are slightly different for some of the characters from the board game. Here is the breakdown:
- Base Game: Sister Mary, Harvey Walters, Gloria Goldberg, Jenny Barnes, Joe Diamond, Dexter Drake, Carolyn Fern, Darrell Simmons, Bob Jenkins, Amanda Sharpe, Vincent Lee, Mandy Thompson, Kate Winthrop, Ashcan Pete, Michael McGlen and Monterey Jack
- Call of Cthulhu: Marie Lambeau, Wilson Richards, Diana Stanley, Mark Harrigan and Leo Anderson (unlockable)
- Trail of Ithaqua: Lola Hayes, Jim Culver, Tony Morgan, Jacqueline Fine and Wendy Adams (unlockable)
Marie Lambeau can trade in four trophies to change a die to any result. Wilson Richards can change the yellow die to any result. Diana Stanley receives an extra clue token for monsters defeated. Mark Harrigan can solve tasks in any order. Leo Anderson receives an extra trophy for adventures.
Lola Hayes can spend two trophies to refresh a green die. Jim Culver can focus a die even when he completes a task (but still only once per turn). Jacqueline Fine can spend a clue token to discard and redraw a mythos card. Diana Stanley ignores sanity and stamina costs for completing tasks. Wendy Adams can change a terror result to any result, once per glyph conjure.
The app version is generally more difficult than the board game, with doom tokens piling up fast. Most users online agree that the “Doom +3” mythos effect comes up rather often. There are no lingering effects, so you’d think the game wouldn’t be as hard, but that is clearly not the case.
To summarize, here are the differences. We will take into account both expansions, since the whole package only cost nine dollars:
- Only five Ancient Ones, but Tsathoggua is new
- Ten bonus investigators
- No saving locked dice on spell cards
- 4-investigator teams only
- No allies
- Subtle differences in adventures and investigator abilities
- Adventure in the Pacific Rim or Alaska!
Now that we have the basics out of the way, let’s consider the two expansions.
In the “Call of Cthulhu” expansion, you have to first collect seven Elder Signs in the museum. Then the game takes you to the Pacific Rim with entirely new adventures. Once there, you must spend a total of 30 investigations to locate the sunken island of Rlyeh. But monsoons and other factors will increase that total. This can be done by spending dice that you roll on a glyph conjure (which means you can’t use those dice to solve tasks!) or by spending trophies aboard the ship (which supplants the museum entrance). And if you don’t actually solve the adventure, then any dice you spent amount to zilch.
There are no more Elder Signs to be had until you actually solve the Rlyeh adventure, which gives you the final four and wins you the game. But finding the city isn’t enough. There are three separate locks on the adventure – one for the red die, one for the yellow die and one for both clues and spells.
Certain adventures have a special type of reward that might, if you are lucky, give you a jewel that could unlock any of these. The purple jewel will allow you to use clues and spells in the Rlyeh adventure while the red and yellow jewels will unlock the dice. This special reward might instead let you reroll spent green dice or give you five trophies, so they are always of value. But you won’t know until you solve an adventure that gives one as a reward, or buy one on the ship for 15 trophies, which type of benefit it will provide.
The totally new adventures and monsters that await on the Pacific Rim are a great way to keep the game fresh, and you will feel a sense of accomplishment when you finally unlock Leo Anderson. Not because he’s that special, but because you won’t believe you’ve actually won!
If you think the first expansion is hard, you are not ready for “Trail of Ithaqua.” The premise is that you are preparing for an expedition to find a lost researcher in Alaska. You must first collect supplies, rather than Elder Signs, in the museum. But doom tokens are piling on while you search out these supplies, which are generally offered as rewards for adventures but can be bought for 2 trophies each. Once you get to Alaska, you lose a supply each turn, and if you ever go without supplies the investigator loses 2 stamina per turn. There is nowhere to buy supplies in the field; not even at the base camp (which is the stand-in for the museum entrance), but you might find some on certain adventures.
The icy winds tear at you as you try to collect enough Elder Signs to advance to the next stage of the Alaskan adventure. Once you have enough to move on, the story takes you to a new checkpoint (but any unsolved adventures are still in play). If you make it to the cave of Ithaqua, you still have to defeat him no less than three times in a row in order to win! The unlockable character is Wendy Adams, who is a good deal more useful than Leo Anderson in “Call of Cthulhu.”
With so much available for only 9 dollars, the game is a steal. And with no setup time or table space needed, you’ll find yourself playing the app version more often than the tabletop game, unless, of course, you want to play with friends!