Elder Sign Omens iOS review

There’s no such thing as an Arkham Horror videogame. It seems like a hole in the market as there is a desire for such a thing but as yet Fantasy Flight Games haven’t pushed the giant of horror board gaming into the digital domain. They have however done the next best thing and created a digital version of Arkham Horror’s dice based little brother Elder Sign for those advanced telephonic devices in the form of Elder Sign: Omens.

Something is awakening in Arkham’s History museum. Something old, alien and evil is trying to break through the fabric of reality and enslave the world. Your job is to take command of a team of four investigators as you explore the museum and try and find the coveted Elder Signs needed to close the dimensional voids and seal the ancient one away.

Arkham's Museum is a very dangerous place.

Elder sign is based on a dice matching mechanic very similar to Yahtzee. One by one you will send your investigators on adventures around the museum where they will unravel the mysteries of the Cthulhu mythos by solving a number of dice matching tasks. The dice matching mechanic transfers rather well to a touch screen device; tap an icon to roll and drag dice to assign them to the various tasks or to discard. To help you in your adventures are various clues, items and spells which all have various effects such as replenishing health or sanity, re-rolling dice or adding more dice to your pool. If the investigator succeeds they are rewarded with these items and even the coveted Elder Signs needed to win the game. If they lose they will be wounded, loose a piece of their mind or worst of all, aid the coming of the Great Old One by adding to the doom counter. After all four investigators have had their turn the clock strikes midnight and doom counter slowly advances. I say slowly, at first you feel as if you have plenty of time. The doom counter seems to advance at a snail’s pace but once one of your investigators is six feet under and another is visiting a comfy padded cell you realise you don’t have enough time or resources to stop the end of the world.

Role the dice and match them to the symbols on the task.
Occasionally, just to ruin your day even further, a monster will appear, these get added to existing locations and defeating the monster becomes an additional task required to complete the adventure. Thankfully defeating monster, and completing adventures, rewards you with trophies which can be spent at the museum foyer to gain equipment or heal your wounded investigators. Trophies can also be used to by elder signs but this is an expensive way to do it. Elder Sign Omens provides a good spread of different investigators to take on their maddening quest. Each investigator not only has different levels of health and sanity but also has special abilities they can bring to the table. Having this variety also brings some longevity into the game. Selecting you investigators and using them to the best of their abilities is the key strategy to success in this game.

You have a variety of characters to choose from.
Omens is not a full conversion of the physical game. Some elements have been stripped out or streamlined; most notable of which is the boss fights. In the real world game if the doom track progresses far enough the investigators have to battle the Great Old One. For the virtual Elder Sign, when the Great Old One awakens the game is over. The full complement of Great Old Ones has been reduced to two, plus an extra in the expansion, and these two represent two separate difficultly levels.

Where Elder Sign Omens really triumphs is mood. Lovecraft’s worlds are dark, mysterious and terrifying. The music and sound effects, although simple, succeed in evoking the mood of Lovecraft’s vision and ramps up the feeling of increasing dread. The areas of the museum are expressed via static images and the artwork used is top notch. Admittedly if you have already played any of Fantasy Flight’s Cthulhu based board or card games you’ve probably seen many of the images before but again they evoke both the 1920’s setting and the horror of the game drawing you in to the setting.

Monsters are generally bad things.
Elder Sign Omens is a game that is perfectly suited to mobile devices. It is too light a game for a desktop PC or a living room console but on a mobile device the gameplay is simple enough that you can play for a few minutes but engaging enough that you keep coming back to complete your game. There’s no doubting that the Omens is a touchpad game that just works; the dice mechanics have been beautifully transferred to mobile devices and the graphics and user interface are easily understood even on a tiny iPhone screen. The game evokes Lovecraft’s terrifying setting well and the music and sound effects add the impending sense of dread that physical games just can’t do. In the end though, Elder Sign Omens is a game about rolling dice and is subsequently entirely luck dependant. You’re aim is to influence that luck by selecting the correct investigator for each task, and carefully using spells, skill and equipment available but if you’re after a game with more tactical control then this isn’t for you. If you are after a light foray into the Cthulhu Mythos or are waiting for an Arkham Horror videogame then this is definitely for you.

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