It’s time for another game day here at spalanz.com, and this week I’m taking a look at the latest expansion for Elder Sign: Omens of Ice! (This blog was originally slated to come out in Halloween week, where it would have made more thematic sense…)
Elder Sign is one of my favourite games to break out for an evening of cosmic horror and dice rolling. The Gates of Arkham expansion from early 2015 introduced a new mode of play for the game, where we left the museum behind and ventured into the various neighbourhoods of the town. Omens of Ice is an expansion in the very same mould, as we venture into the Alaskan wilderness, following the mysterious goings-on in the wake of the discovery of a statue of Ithaqua…
I love the snow theme in pretty much any game (The Frozen Wastes for Runebound being a prime example of this!) and was truly enraptured by the Mountains of Madness expansion for Eldritch Horror for the amount of theme that comes through in the gameplay there. Omens of Ice feels very similar to these games, as you need to ration your supplies as you face the biting cold.
Omens of Ice features a staged encounter deck, where the cards you encounter in stage one vary between the green (easy) and yellow (normal) difficulty, while stage two are only the yellow and red (hard) cards. I really like this because it allows the designers to make the game feel like you’re trudging into the wilderness, and passing into stage two actually means something. It really echoes the source material such as Algernon Blackwood’s The Wendigo, where the earlier part of the story feels ‘safe’ while the later parts in the wilderness are most assuredly not!
The Expedition Camp card replaces the Museum Entry card, and acts like that card in every way. The Track card tracks both your supplies (based on the time of year) and the length of your adventure. Supplies are a new commodity that have an impact on the game that can, for instance, affect the stamina of your investigators if you don’t have any. The day track is linked to the clock, unsurprisingly, and advances whenever the clock strikes midnight. If the track reaches the end during Summer, you just add two doom tokens to the Ancient One track and move back to the Day 7 space; in Winter, however, if you take too long on your investigation, you’ll lose the game!
The day track also governs the Storm mechanic. Storm tokens act like penalties on encounter cards, and are placed on encounters through various effects, such as on the Ancient One track or through failing to complete an encounter, as well as through the day track. Some of them are blank, but some of them will cause you to lose health or supplies, etc. Some of them are blank, however, merely clouds threatening on the horizon rather than an actual threat for you to deal with!
There is also a new deck of Alaskan Mythos Cards that features some horrible new effects to reflect the biting winter conditions.
The new investigators are a mixed bag already in the Arkham Horror universe, while the Ancient Ones feature the iconic Ithaqua himself, naturally! The item and spell cards are the usual mix of giving your investigators bonus dice – including two items that each allow you to take the red or yellow die even if it is locked. Not sure how game-breaking that could be, as while it is a pain when you have a bunch of stuff you can’t use because the die is locked, it’s still a fundamental aspect of the struggle in this game. I haven’t yet had the specific situation come up to see how game-changing it could be, but the thought is there…
Overall, I really like this expansion a lot. It’s difficult, don’t get me wrong – I haven’t actually managed to win a game yet, with the timed mechanic from the day tracker causing me a lot of problems – but it’s also super-thematic, which is something that I really enjoy about FFG’s Lovecraftian games. While I wouldn’t call the Call of Cthulhu LCG a misstep, I do feel that the co-operative struggle against the Ancient Ones is a much better way to implement mythos games, and was really pleased to see that avenue for the upcoming Arkham Horror LCG.
EDIT: Since writing this blog, FFG have announced a fourth expansion to Elder Sign, Omens of the Deep, again using the Gates of Arkham mode for gameplay. Looks like this is now the set manner for the game, and I can’t wait for both it and further ‘Omens of’ expansions to come out. Maybe Omens of the Sands for an Under the Pyramids-style expansion? We’ll have to wait and see!