Elder Sign: Omens: the flabby maw of defeat

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In another Lovecraft themed iPhone game (that isn’t very good) called Necronomicon, I’ve had the most luck pairing a lunatic with a shotgun and just letting the cards roll out. It’s a bit like trench warfare, with cultists, monsters, shoggoths, Old Ones, and so forth dying in suicidal charges against my lunatic and his shotgun. Cthulhu’s Verdun.

But in this game, Ashcan Pete has amply demonstrated that a hobo and a shotgun are only as good as the handfuls of dice they roll. Since his disastrous showing, things haven’t gotten much better.

After the jump, can we snatch victory from the flabby maw of defeat?

Reporter Darrell Simmons investigates the remains of the High Priest and comes away with a Flesh Ward spell that will help him manage die rolls. Then, just as Monterey Jack is about to whip out his cigarette case to tackle the adventure locking down our valuable red-die items — including his own powerful magic tomes — a new adventure pops up that locks our yellow die items. Such as cigarette cases. So renowned archaelogist/adventurer Monterey Jack with his backpack of useless equipment tackles the easiest adventure on the board. He opens a gate to the Plateau of Leng, a terrifying place we won’t be visiting anytime soon.

Private dick Joe Diamond concludes the first day by attending the new Gala in the Great House that is locking our yellow items. Using his only clue token and his special skill that makes clue tokens doubly useful, he rolls, re-rolls, uses his clue to re-roll again, and then uses his special ability to re-roll yet again. Go, Joe, go! In a white-knuckle finish, he beats the Gala in the Great House. Now yellow items such as Monterey’s cigarette case and Joe’s axe can be brought to bear. And now midnight strikes and we randomly draw two monsters, a ghost and a fire vampire, each of which locks yellow-die items.

This is pretty much consistent with Lovecraft’s stories. Fighting Cthulhu is a matter of one step forward, three steps back. But what kind of horrible model is that for gameplay? Why would I bother continuing to play? Shouldn’t I instead pen an angry screed to publisher Fantasy Flight about the horrible difficulty level of their game, with the commensurate one-star rating on iTunes, and a suggestion that they stick to subject matter in which the good guys win, like Lord of the Rings, Battlestar Galactica, and World War II? And then shouldn’t I repair to something more my speed, like deBlob 2 on the Xbox 360, that Prince of Persia game in which you never die, or Civilization V?

The important thing to understand about Elder Sign: Omens is this: you’re not playing to win. You’re playing to get a high score. It’s a bit like a pinball machine in that regard; you will always lose the ball, but it’s all about what you can accomplish while the ball is still in play. In Elder Sign: Omens, you get points for completing adventures, banishing monsters, and so forth. Winning or losing is just one facet — albeit an important one — of your final score. That’s the point. This is a score-based game, not a victory based game.

At this point, I’m guessing we’re on the short track to a loss, and a low scoring one at that. My four characters are all low on sanity, our special items are locked by adventures and monsters, and the board is full of risky challenges. Fortunately, unlike God, Cthulhu plays dice.

Up next: one day more!
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