What is this game about?
The most flippant way to describe Elder Sign is "Cthulhu Yahtzee." You and your fellow players (if you aren't playing solo) are investigators exploring a creepy museum in the 1920s—a museum that holds the key to preventing an Elder God from entering the world and destroying all that we hold dear. To win the game, investigators must collect enough elder signs before they run out of time and the Ancient One awakens. To do that, they need to hold onto their health and sanity while successfully examining locations within the museum (and sometimes within the mysterious other world that is connected to it). To learn a location's secrets and to stay unharmed while doing so, players need to visit those locations and roll specific combinations of dice.
Although there are spells and items that help to mitigate die rolls, Elder Sign is still very much a game of luck. Each time a player fails to roll the correct combination of dice demanded at a given location, he or she must subtract one die from the pool and try again. If the player succeeds, he or she gains the items—sometimes including elder signs—shown on the location card. In the case of failure, the player faces the negative consequences detailed on the card.
How does it play solo?
Because Elder Sign is a cooperative game with no hidden information, it is very easy to solo. I recommend controlling at least two investigators in order to take advantage of special abilities.
As I have noted before on this blog, Elder Sign is a game beloved by many, but it falls flat for me. I don't find the dice rolling mechanics satisfying. Even with items and spells, if the dice aren't with you, you are stuck. I prefer to feel like I have more "power" over my dice, so I can do something even with bad rolls.
While the art is really good, I don't feel the Lovecraftian theme very strongly, either. The flavor text on the cards doesn't make up for the fact that I'm not really doing anything that feels like making progress through a creepy old museum. If I'm going to play a game set in the world of H.P. Lovecraft, I'd rather play a more story-driven game set in the same universe, like Eldritch Horror. If I'm going to play a dice game, I'd rather play one with a more satisfying sense of progression, like One Deck Dungeon.
Do I recommend it?
No, I don't. A lot of solo gamers would disagree with me, but I think the dice rolling mechanics are so luck-driven that they are unsatisfying, and that the theme isn't applied richly enough to make up for it. I have heard many times that some of the expansions vastly improve the Elder Sign experience, but I don't want to throw good money after bad.
If you find yourself deeply attracted to this game, however, there is an app—try that before you sink more money into a physical copy.
Overall Rating: 2 stars
5 stars — I love it!
4 stars — I really like it.
3 stars — I like it.
2 stars — It's okay.
1 star — Meh.