iPad Game Review: Elder Signs: Omens HD for iPad (iPhone version also available) Reviewed by Tom Slayton
Elder Signs: Omens is an iOS adaptation of the Arkham Horror board game; although this version has been tightly focused (simplified) to make it a bit more accessible. In this game you will take role of a supernatural investigator and try to prevent Azathoth, an ancient Eldritch Horror from awakening. Don't worry, gameplay is much simpler than you probably imagine, however, it's extremely difficult to win.
Before I got my iPad, the most complicated board game I'd ever played was Monopoly. The thought of managing all of those tokens, chits, counters, and cardboard cutouts made me queasy. However, my iPad has happily changed all of that, and Elder Signs: Omens is a great example of why. If you're new to this type of game, this is actually a great place to start as the game goals and concepts are easy to grasp, and the tools at your disposal are completely idiot-proof. After spending several hours with it, I realized that there was another reason why I was able to grasp the basic gameplay so quickly; It is essentially a more strategic version of Yahtzee, albeit one with cosmic horror-filled Lovecraftian overtones.
You begin the game by first selecting the character(s) you wish to play. Each has his/her own special abilities that will aid you in your quest to contain Azathoth. If you're having trouble deciding which to select (I sure did), there is a large button that will randomly select four investigators for you. This is a cooperative game so there is no need for an AI. It is you, or you and some friends, against the game. Once it begins, you will be shown a beautifully drawn map of a museum, as well as some counters on the side of the screen that serve to keep track of your characters' health/sanity, time of day, and your progress toward containing Azathoth. Each highlighted section of the map will offer a different adventure in which you will fight not only for your world, but for your life and sanity, as well. With dice. This is where the Yahtzee similarities come into play as you will roll a set of multi-sided glyphs (dice) and try to match them with the tasks on the screen. Unlike Yahtzee, however, the character(s) assigned to that particular adventure will be able to mitigate the randomness somewhat by allowing you to lock, re-roll, create, and convert glyphs. You are only allowed to complete one task per turn, and if you are unable to complete a task you must discard a glyph, which will not be replaced.
As you can imagine, this can quickly result in a downward spiral, causing you to lose that particular adventure. Make no mistake; you will lose more adventures than you win. This is intentional, as the game is very, very difficult to win (think about how many perfect Yahtzee games you've ever played). This isn't to say, however, that losing isn't satisfying. After all of your characters die, go insane, or release Azathoth, you will be treated to a final score. High scores are retained, and you will find yourself working continually to better them. If you play enough, the right combination of strategy and luck will certainly reward you with a win. This happens often enough to keep you coming back, yet not so often that it becomes meaningless.
The combination of instant-on, no setup time, and accessible gameplay makes this one a sure winner, so long as the horror theme doesn't put you off.
The graphics in Elder Signs: Omens are beautifully rendered reproductions of the board game art. There is just enough animation to add a fine layer of polish, but not so much that it distracts you from the game. The images themselves may be too scary for younger gamers, although the intent is obviously to tap into our own deepest fears (There's Something In The Basement...), rather than introducing new ones by way of violent or gory images.
The music and sound effects are absolutely top-notch, and should be a big motivator for anybody who is still stubbornly clinging to their cardboard version. Bells tolling, doors creaking, sounds of rustling and growling; these are all beautifully-sampled and are perfectly accompanied, at times, by wonderfully spooky mood music.
Of all the grown-up board games I have played on my iPad, Elder Signs: Omens is my favorite. This may be due to the fact that I didn't have to hurt my brain trying to understand the actual game mechanics and strategies, or it may simply be because it's a lot of fun to play. Either way, I wholeheartedly recommend it to anybody who is even remotely interested in iPad board game adaptations, as long as the horror theme isn't a deal breaker, that is.
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):
Graphics: - 5 - Faithful, high-resolution reproductions of the board game art coupled with beautiful, yet functional game counters, maps, and glyphs. Sound: - 5 - Sets the mood in a big way. This game is headphone-worthy. Controls: - 5 - An accurate touch interface and intuitive controls. Gameplay: - 5 - The core gameplay is easily understood, as are the strategies you will need to employ to be successful. Winning is difficult, but it's meant to be.
Playing Hints and Tips:
Pay attention to the lower left side of the screen while you are on individual adventures. Icons will glow when abilities can be brought into play. Different abilities are useful at different stages so always check before you roll your glyphs (even the first time). Don't forget to utilize the Museum Entrance portion of the map to heal or enhance your characters. They won't last long if you don't.