I picked up Elder Sign a couple of weeks ago, and I don’t think a day has passed where I haven’t played it at least once. Since my friends aren’t into games so much, I’ve been forced to play most of the games solo; I decided to do so using just one investigator, to see how only one fares against an Ancient One and its minions.
After two rough games, where I got accustomed to the rules and how the mechanics work, I decided to log results because I’m a bit of a statistics nut, and I wanted to judge the strengths and weaknesses of each investigator. Here’s how the games went. I ran every investigator against an Ancient One, determined randomly. You’ll see as the games continued, I began to keep more detailed notes.
1)Jenny Barnes defeated Yog-Sothoth.
2)Professor Harvey Walters defeated Nyarlathotep.
3)Sister Mary defeated Cthulhu.
So, after three games, the investigators were 3-0, and at least two of the wins came easily. I thought back on the games, and wondered if I was doing something wrong. I hadn’t, but with one exception. There’s many little details to remember playing the game, and I wasn’t 100% positive I was always advancing the clock when I should. To remedy this, I began jotting down each adventure card the investigator tackled--through simple math this would make it easy to tell if I were advancing the clock as needed.
4)Amanda Sharpe lost to Shub-Niggurath.
The first investigator loss. The game lasted only 15 turns. Horrible Visions hit the board, kicking out two doom tokens at midnight, and the cards quickly filled with monsters. Still, Amanda had a good chance. Seeing things weren’t going her way, she accumulated trophies (monsters) for a final showdown. In the battle, it came down to the last roll. What could be more exciting than this? But, the roll didn’t go her way, and she was devoured by the Black Goat of the Woods.
Stats: Amanda successfully completed 5 of 13 adventures, for a 38% success rate.
5)Darrel Simmons lost to Hastur.
Another close contest that went to a showdown. Simmons was successful in 8 of his first 9 adventures, then hit a snag, completing less than 50% of his remaining missions. In the fight, it lasted to two midnights, then Simmons was devoured.
Stats: The game lasted 27 turns, Simmons successfully completing 13 of 21 adventures, a 62% success rate.
6)Joe Diamond lost to Azathoth.
In a game that was eerily similar to the previous duel, the P.I. was successful in 12 of his first 14 adventures, building up a large lead in Elder Signs to Doom tokens. Then, Diamond began to fail his missions, and the mythos cards began to fill the doom track. After failing a Terrible Discovery and Don’t Fall Asleep, Azathoth awoke, and the black abyss of everlasting darkness engulfed humanity.
Stats: Another game that lasted exactly 27 turns; Joe successfully completed 14 of 21 adventures, for a 67% success rate.
So, three more games brings us to an even score of 3-3. By diligently tracking time, I noticed how often I had overlooked advancing the clock (hint, hint, everyone). About three times each game I had honestly forgot to advance the clock, but by taking notes it was simple math to determine where the clock should be. Doom tokens spring forth quickly, and where a game can be going swimmingly for an Investigator, it can quickly turn the other way if one gets poor dice rolls and runs out of Common, Unique Items, and clue tokens. The games continued...
7)Kate Winthrop defeated Yig.
On paper, it would seem this would be an easy contest. Monsters do not appear after set-up for Kate, and the diminutive scientist doesn’t have to be concerned with terror effects. Yig, on the surface, doesn’t look like much. Heck, I’d never even heard of this critter in the tales of Lovecraft. What threat could this pretender pose? Yig’s weaknesses are also his strengths. His doom track filled quickly, and he awoke. In the end, Kate was fighting for her life to keep the forces of darkness at bay. She banished this AO at 3pm. At midnight, it would have been her.
Stats: In a contest that lasted 32 turns, Kate completed 15 of 27 adventures, 56%.
8)Bob Jenkins defeated Ithaqua.
This contest was the most exciting game I’ve had thus far. And with it, there’s a pattern that seems to develop. The Investigator completes many early adventures successfully, runs out of Common, Uniques, or Clue tokens, hits a snag, the AO catches up, and the final few turns can be very tense. Here, Jenkins built up a substantial lead, hit one small bump, and found himself needing to build-up his SAN and STAM for free in First Aid. Doing this, the Doom track began to fill. In the end, it came to the last pitch of the dice. Needing to win the game now, Jenkins challenged R’lyeh for three Elder Signs. Having used his red die and all of his clue tokens, he needed to roll two lore (scrolls) on his last two green dice to win. If he failed, he would lose his mind. Remarkably, the dice were with him, and the two green dice flashed scrolls, banishing Ithaqua back to his black hole, or wherever he resides.
Stats: Stats can be misleading. Jenkins was successful on 18 of 23 adventures (78% but was extremely lucky to win) in this great game that lasted 30 turns.
9)Gloria Goldberg defeated Yog-Sothoth.
In the shortest win for an investigator, Gloria dispatched Yog-Sothoth in 23 turns; her special ability winning the day. A highlight in this game was Gloria successfully completing Public Lavatory with two monsters in the room--a Maniac and a Byakhee. She had the help of Ruby Standish.
Stats: Gloria was successful in 11 of 16 adventures--69%.
The investigators now lead 6-3. It’s easy right? Keep reading...
10)Monterey Jack lost to Nyarlathotep.
Jack’s successes and failures were consistent throughout the game at 50%. He was successful, then failed, successful, failed, rinse and repeat. In the end, this wasn’t enough to keep him from losing his mind. Nyarlathotep’s tough monsters gave him fits.
Stats: 7 of 14 successes for a rate for 50%. The game lasted a brief 21 turns. Lots of time in the museum recouping STAM and SAN.
11)Ashcan Pete lost to Cthulhu.
What can I say about good ol’ Ashcan Pete? This guy is, by far, the weakest of the characters. What a dreadful performance he had. He didn’t complete a single adventure, acquired free First Aid, then lost more adventures. Thankfully, he lost his mind before Cthulhu could devour his soul.
Stats: Ashcan was 0 for 5 on his adventures (0%) in a game that took 8 turns and only 15 minutes of real time to complete. I felt sorry for Duke, who was sacrificed on turn 4. (No, Cthulhu isn’t this good--Ashcan IS this bad). A truly sad game.
12)Mandy Thompson lost to Shub-Niggurath.
Now we come to Shub’s second contest. Knowing what she was up against, Mandy came out with gusto, acquiring 5 Elder Signs fairly early in the game. Then Shub locked the board. Monsters everywhere, Horrible Visions on the board, kicking out doom tokens and more monsters. Mandy tried as hard as she could, but after an epic 56 turns had to face one-on-one battle with this horror. She had only one trophy, and was doomed at the second strike of midnight.
Stats: 6 of 31 successes (19%). All 6 successes were in the first 17 turns of a 56 turn game. Many monsters killed, many turns in First Aid.
Twelve games in and we’re even once again, at 6-6. The investigators would get the last evil laugh, or so it would seem...
13)Michael McGlen defeated Hastur.
Michael McGlen had the luck of the Irish on his side (I couldn’t resist). This bad boy gangster started with two Common Items and kept winning, acquiring more Common, Unique Items, rolling to victories and never looked back. Some of his rolls were truly incredible.
Stats: Mike was 20 for 20 (100%) in his adventures and acquired 13 Elder Signs to Hastur’s 7 Doom Tokens. This contest lasted 26 turns.
14)Vincent Lee defeated Azathoth.
The doctor started putting bad medicine on Azathoth from the outset. On the first turn he won Public Lavatory with a Hound of Tindalos and Byakyee in the room, with just the green dice!! In 31 turns, Doc had 14 Elder Signs, winning the day. Azathoth had 7 Doom Tokens.
Stats: Doc was 15 of 22 (68%) on his adventures.
15)Carolyn Fern defeated Yig.
A doctor of a different stripe, Carolyn did well throughout the game, but it doesn’t take much to awaken Yig. Carolyn seemed stuck on 9 Elder Signs for most of the game (it takes 10 to defeat Yig), and the AO began to catch up. Needing only two more DT to awaken, Carolyn finally snagged the last ES, winning another one for the side of humanity.
Stats: It took a mere 21 turns for this fast duel to play-out. Carolyn was 14 of 18 (78%).
16)Dexter Drake defeated Ithaqua.
This matchup presents a problem for the mage, Dexter Drake. After all, spells are Drake’s bread and butter, and each time he casts a spell or uses a Unique item, off comes a point of STAM due to Ithaqua’s ability. Well, don’t talk to Drake about matchup problems, baby. Undaunted, he won the game using very few spells, claiming 13 of 20 adventures (65%) and winning comfortably by the count of 11 ES to 4 DT.
So, the final score was 10-6 in favor of the investigators. Before I cover the championship, I’ll address a few points for the solo gamer.
This game is way too easy??? That wasn’t my experience. The investigators were lucky to win a couple of games--Bob Jenkins over Ithaqua and, to a lesser extent, Kate’s win over Yig. THis make it a well-balanced game. For the group gamers, I can...see...somewhat how the game would be easier--multiple characters who can “assist,” and the Mythos cards are less likely to kick out DT given contingencies---with more characters, the more likely there is to have an investigator with the necessary Unique, Common, or Clue Tokens, preventing some of those mythos card’s DT from appearing.
But by how much does a group help? There are 32 mythos cards. 9 have you directly add a doom token. 14 have you put out a DT given a contingency. That’s 23 of 32 mythos cards have you add a DT to the doom track.
If you’re finding the game too easy, my first recommendation is to diligently keep track of time. Until I started recording each turn, I thought I wasn’t missing advancing the clock. When I started tracking turns, writing them down, I caught myself forgetting about the clock. By recording the turns, it’s near impossible to forget advancing the clock, midnight comes, and more than likely, out come DT.
Cards, as well add DT. Mythos Card+Horrible Visions=Big Trouble. I’ve had 3 DT hit the table at once with this combo on the board. Draw an adventure card (it’s Horrible Visions) advance the clock to Midnight, bang 2 doom tokens hit with HV. Now, turn over the mythos card--add a doom token to the doom track. There’s 3 DT in the blink of an eye.
If you still find the game too easy in group play, my second recommendation would be don’t replace an investigator when one dies (I was a bit surprised to see the rules allow this). If you’re guy dies, you’re out of the game, Gertrude, go watch TV. Such is the price for character death.
Third recommendation, just play with one to three investigators. The biggest rule change should be “You don’t get to cycle through 16 investigators if your guy dies.”
Fourth recommendation, use Ashcan Pete, either solo or with 2-3 players. This guy is weak. I mean WEAK. Use Ashcan Pete vs. Shub-Niggurath, then tell me how easy the game is.
I’ve rambled on too long. I’ll cover the championship in a response to this post. It will be Kate Winthrop versus Shub-Niggurath, a matchup advantage for Kate. But will it be enough to defeat big, bad, Shub? Place your bets early and often.