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Elder Sign Rewards – Taking a Closer Look

I really like Fantasy Flight. As a company, they are acing the board game scene. As well as creating a games from pre-existing franchises, Fantasy Flight are known for creating their own mythologies to hang games around. That may be the Descent universe, the Legend of Five Rings mythology, or the fantastic story based series simply called the Arkham Files.

The Arkham Files cover a whole host of different games, each set in the Cthulhu mythos (created by HP Lovecraft) and given a unique twist to make the world malleable to the needs of the player base. Whether that is a classic board game like Eldritch Horror, an RPG style game like Mansions of Madness, a living card game like Arkham Horror, or a dice game like Elder Sign – if you like the Cthulhu mythos then Fantasy Flight have created a game for you.

In my household, we are big fans of the Arkham Files. Having played Eldritch Horror in the past (the solo review was actually one of the first reviews I ever wrote) and being regular players of Arkham Horror, we recently bought Elder Sign in order to expand our love of the mythos.

As a dice game, Elder Sign is an interesting game to play. With the dice immediately asserting that there is a level of randomness in play, Elder Sign swiftly becomes more of a game about luck mitigation than it does about developing any solid strategy for progression. It is this aspect that makes Elder Sign both beautifully amazing, and one of the most frustrating games you could ever play.

Elder Sign mid-game (I actually lost this one playing solo)

The Plot of Elder Sign

Elder Sign kind of, like with all Arkham Files games, follows a story. In Elder Sign you are investigators working your way around the Miskatonic University Museum. To that end, the rulebook actually describes the events of the game as this:

“The investigators face adventures in and around the Miskatonic
University Museum, where the Ancient One’s imminent return
is causing a number of bizarre events. By overcoming these
encounters, the investigators hope to acquire Elder Signs,
which they need to seal away the Ancient One and rescue their
imperiled dimension.” – Elder Sign Rule Book, page 2

So, throughout the game there are different locations or events (known as Adventures or Adventure Cards) that come into play. Through rolling dice, you aim to fulfil certain criteria that are on those Adventures. If you fail to do so, then bad stuff tends to happen. If you succeed; however, then you are often rewarded and good things happen…and then sometimes you complete an Adventure and…well…both happen. Good and bad – but hey – you can’t win them all.

The goal of Elder Sign is to collect enough Elder Signs that you can stop the Ancient One from awakening, as if the Ancient One awakens it becomes incredibly difficult to win the game. You ideally want to pre-empt that through collecting enough Elder Signs to keep them sealed away. Usually, this is around 9-11 Elder Signs, depending on the Ancient One you have out, but it can fluctuate.

Without any modifiers, the average investigator will be able to roll 6 green dice on their turn. Those dice have the sides of 1 Investigation, 2 Investigation, 3 Investigation, Lore (Scroll), Peril (Skull), and Terror (Tentacles). Through the use of items, players can add a red die and/or a yellow die to their roll to help augment their results. Yellow doesn’t have Terror, but has a 4 Investigation in its place. Red doesn’t have Terror or the 1 Investigation, but instead has the 4 Investigation and a Wildcard.

Getting items is critical to the game as they allow for additional dice, but they also allow for some other neat abilities to help keep your investigator live longer, augment the state of play, or augment your dice rolls.

Although you can buy rewards that allow for you to purchase additional items, the majority of the time items or rewards come from being able to successfully complete an Adventure. It is this fact that we’re going to dive into over the next chunk of this article.

Dexter Drave with a common item (Food) and three Allies

Rewards in Elder Sign

Throughout the course of Elder Sign you will complete locations or events that give you rewards. Those rewards vary.

Firstly, it is worth noting that each card will give you one or two Trophies. Generally speaking, Trophies can be spent at a location that is always in play called the Entrance Sheet. At the Entrance Sheet, players can gamble for rewards or they can spend Trophies. The Entrance Sheet is the best way of getting certain rewards in the game, such as Allies. Trophies also act as a very vague difficulty notification – so Adventures with one Trophy are generally easier, and give fewer rewards.

Having recently created an Excel sheet of all the Elder Sign locations and events, however, I can tell you that out of a total of 56 cards (48 core Adventures, and 8 Other World locations) only 17/56 have 1 Trophy. That equates to around 30%.

Leaving aside the Trophies, however, there are 9 types of reward. Those are:

  • Elder Sign – These are needed to win the game. They are a resource for winning the game, but that is about it.
  • Common Item – These are yellow cards, often allowing for use of the yellow die. Occasionally they will offer other in game effects, such as healing (Investigators can take stamina and sanity damage) or to change die rolls such as from a Lore to a Peril. Occasionally, a yellow card will allow for you to take control of the red and yellow dice together.
  • Unique Items – These are red cards, allowing for you to take control of the red die. Occasionally there will be, like with the Common Items, intriguing effects such as removing monsters from play or changing die results. Again, some Unique Items allow for you to take control of the yellow die as well
  • Spells – Spells are interesting because they allow you to freeze dice for later use. Occasionally they will allow healing or removal of monsters, as well as a couple of other effects.
  • Clues – Clues are tokens that you can spend to get rerolls, without needing to discard die in between the rerolls (as is usually the case).
  • Ally – Allies are a superb asset as they offer a whole host of abilities. Those range from mitigating the negative effect associated with an Adventure if you don’t succeed, to gaining double items from a specific type of card, to being able to regularly change die results. I really like Allies in Elder Sign and end up purchasing them most games.
  • Gates – Gates open Other World locations. Other World locations are generally awesome, as they offer better rewards for easier rolls. That being said, there are a number of ways they can hurt you.
  • Monsters – Booooo – When monsters come out they add or replace lines of criteria on the Adventure Cards. This generally makes them harder to complete. That being said, depending on the monster, and the Adventure Card they can very rarely make it easier.
  • Doom – Boooo – Another negative. Doom goes on the Doom Tracker, and progresses the Ancient One further towards their awakening.

So, there are nine possible rewards, of which seven are great to have and two are distinctively negative. The question is – how are they distributed?

A closer look at a card. The rewards can be seen in the bottom right corner. This card offers a Spell, a Unique Item, and a Monster. You can also see there is a monster already in play on this card, requiring 9 Investigation to beat. This card also froze one of the green die, meaning it couldn’t be used again until the card was completed.

Distribution of Rewards in Elder Sign

Obviously, looking at the perks and rewards listed above, there are some that are better than others. When playing, we often find ourselves prioritising what we go for based on the rewards. That priority list usually goes –

  1. Elder Signs
  2. Allies
  3. Gates
  4. Unique Items
  5. Common Items
  6. Spells
  7. Clues

Although it is subject to change depending on the precise scenario. The question that I found asking myself last time I played however (it was a solo game) was “how are the Elder Sign rewards distributed?”

In theory, you would expect them to be distributed in a certain way in order to facilitate the usage of them throughout the game.

This led to drawing up six graphs, and those graphs are what we are going to look into with a bit more detail below.

An Ancient One. You don’t want these guys to awaken as their criteria are really difficult to beat if you do.

Distribution of Rewards on Adventure Cards

So there are two different core ways of analysing the data when looking at the rewards. On some cards, rewards are doubled up, meaning that it isn’t as simple as saying “how many cards show set types of rewards”. 

So we are going to look at that, but we are also going to look at the number of rewards themselves. 

So the above graph shows number of cards offering the items, as opposed to the number of items offers. The number of items offered is below –

It is no surprise that there are similar patterns. Now, there are a few interesting points of note.

Firstly, Allies are rare, meaning it makes sense to purchase allies as well as go for the singular card that offers one as a reward.

Secondly, does anyone else find it interesting that there are more Unique Items on offer in Elder Sign than there are Common items?

Clues are the most common, which makes sense. Likewise, although Monsters are only slightly less frequent than Common Items, there are a lot of them. There are also a lot more Monsters than there is Doom – which we can all be thankful for.

Thirdly, to answer the initial question, 22/48 Adventure locations have Elder Signs. This equates to about 46%. This means you may need to go through several other cards just to get Elder Signs out onto the board.

Distribution of Rewards on Other World Cards

Things are slightly more interesting when we look at the Other World cards. Once again, we can look at the two different graphs – however, this gets interesting because there are only eight Other World cards.

Oh yeah – lots of trophies and lots of Elder Signs. As you would expect, there are no additional Gates, no Other World cards spawn more Other World cards, but there is a lot of Doom – in fact, Other World cards are more likely to spawn Doom than they are Common Items –

Yep, Doom is incredibly common amongst the Other World cards. Once again, Unique Items are more common than Common Items, whilst Monsters don’t appear at all.

There is a second way of getting an Ally on the Other World cards; however, only one. It’s still best to purchase them on the Entrance Sheet.

To return to the previous question about the 46% of Adventure cards that offer Elder Signs, 100% of Other World cards do. This means that those 8 Adventure Cards offering Other World cards as rewards are worth going for.

Summarising the Cards

Okay, so we can look at those graphs, and in many ways they speak for themselves – that being said, we can take these graphs one step further by merging them.

As you would expect, Trophies are the most frequent rewards across the cards, since every card offers one or two. That being said, there are a few additional points to note. The first is that, although there slightly less cards offering Clues than Elder Signs, there are actually more Clues on offer. They are relatively even, but Clues just about nudge Elder Signs out.

Secondly, Unique Items are far more common that Common Items – with Spells sitting somewhere between the two.

Doom is horrible, that being said, it isn’t the end of the world. With most of the Ancient Ones requiring around 10 Doom to awaken, the fact it only appears on five cards in the game does make those five cards easier to avoid. You still have 51 to play with.

There are as many gates as there are Other World cards. This means it is possible, even without Spells or Special Abilities, to unlock every Other World location in a game. This means that with Spells and other abilities it is possible to work your way through some of the Other World cards more than once.

Finally, Allies are super uncommon, but also incredibly helpful. My advice would be to save up the Trophies and then purchase them from the Entrance Sheet.

So there we have it – a bit of a dive today into the different rewards that are available through completing various Adventures in Elder Sign. As a game Elder Sign may seem simple, but it is actually incredibly interesting. There are a lot of things going on with it and so we will undoubtedly return to it over time.

In the meantime, what are your thoughts? Have you played Elder Sign? What do you think of the game? Let me know in the comments below.

Articles about other games in the Arkham Files:
Eldritch Horror Solo Review
Arkham Horror (LCG) Review
A Guide to Cthulhu Themed Board Games

1 Comment »

  1. I bought Elder Signs as part of our COVID “buy games the wife can play!” game-purchasing binge, and we really like it!

    Thanks for the in-depth analysis (which admittedly made my brain hurt a little bit).

    This is he game we’ve played the most of during COVID and it will get more plays I’m sure!


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