Game Reviews: The Doom that Came to Atlantic City, Elder Sign, and A Study in Emerald

Being something of a fan of HPL’s work, it’s not surprising that I’ve amassed a small collection of HPL-inspired things. One such collection is board games and I have a number of tabletop games that are based around the Cthulhu Mythos. Yesterday, my wife planned for me and a small gathering of friends a day to game and try out some of the new games I’ve recently purchased (or have been given) but hadn’t yet had a chance to play. I was able to try three new (or new to me) games yesterday The Doom that Came to Atlantic City, Elder Sign, and A Study in Emerald.

The Doom that Came to Atlantic City was originally a Kickstarter project and the first Kickstarter I ever backed. If the name of the game isn’t familiar to you, it has a long and storied history over year and a half since the Kickstarter was fully funded (and then some). The TL;DR version of the story is this: this jackoff started a KS to get this game off the ground, a Monopoly-esque Cthulhu game, without acquiring the rights to the Monopoly IP from Hasbro, who were understandably upset when they found out. Delays, excuses, and finally it was found out that this guy was basically an inept clown who didn’t seem to know what he was doing when he “cancelled” the game. It also didn’t help that he used some of the Kickstarter funds for personal use, such as moving himself across several state lines. The end result was that he basically walked away with over $120k of other people’s money and was only penalized by being known as an epic tool on the internet. Still, I’m sure the $120k+ helps alleviate any embarrassment.

Enter Cryptozoic Entertainment, who basically swooped in like a squid-headed super hero and saved the game by taking the art, the rules (such as they were) and basically, as far as I know, produced pretty much most of the Kickstarter for the backers without getting any of the Kickstarter money to do so. As far as I’m aware, they basically just gave me a game because some other guy screwed me, they felt bad, and doing so got them another game to produce and sell. Hey, I don’t mind, I get my game and Cryptozoic gets a big plus sign in my mind.

TDtCtAC does play a lot like Monopoly only it’s a LOT faster paced. Rather than buying and building up property, you and the other players are Elder Gods who are stomping around a city, leveling buildings and attempting to open gates to other dimensions on the now cleared terrain. The rules are straightforward and easy to understand, the artwork is simple but well done, and the pieces are freaking epic. My one complaint with the game is that it definitely favors the players who are later in each round. Essentially, a win condition is opening your sixth gate and you open gates by destroying the last house on a piece of property so, if you’re the fourth player in a four player game, you have three other players ahead of you stomping the first house on a property (there are two per property) meaning you are very likely to open gates by landing on the spaces they’ve started clearing. I feel like you should have to clear the last house and then land on the space again to open a gate (that gate opening should be another action). It’d slow play a little, but it would reduce that advantage I just described.

The next game I tried was A Study in Emerald. A Study in Emerald is based on the work of short fiction of the same name by Neil Gaiman, a Sherlock Holmes/Cthulhu mash-up where the world was conquered by the Elder Gods some seven hundred years before and now humankind sort of muddles along under their three-lobed, loathsome gaze. However, while most people are either neutral or loyal to their squamous god-royalty, there is a small but growing band of resistance fighters named the Reconstructionists who are attempting to fight back through assassination (by dynamite, because nothing else will do) and by causing the public to rise up and revolt against the revolting. The story of ASiE is that the players are secret agents of one of two sides, the Loyalists or the Reconstructionists, and that they are trying to work towards bringing about their own particular goals (i.e. winning the game).

The problem with this is that this big secret about which faction the players are working on behalf of? IT’S TOTALLY EASY TO FIND OUT. The moment a player assassinates a royal alien god it’s probably likely they’re a Reconstructionist and the moment someone plays a “hide the royalty” (i.e. save them) card it’s easy to guess they are most likely a Loyalist. So the whole premise of the game in that sense falls apart unless someone is really trying to play secret buggers by throwing someone off their trail.

My other complaint about the game is that it’s complex. Very, very complex with a lot of conditional rules. Reading the rules for the first time was not an easy task and probably took about thirty minutes on its own; I played a game and I know I couldn’t explain game play to a new player with enough confidence that I’d get it right.

However, once we got the rules down it was entertaining. Just way, way complex.

Finally, Elder Sign. I was first exposed to Elder Sign on the iPad and played that version first, the table-top version pretty much plays the exact same way. In short, you’re investigators who are exploring a museum where strange and horrible things are afoot, attempting to keep an Elder God from waking up at the same time. Really, the game feels like budget Arkham Horror and, honestly, I think I like AH more although if you don’t have the time to play AH, Elder Sign definitely comes through. I think I like AH more because while it’s a hard game with the setting and rules stacked against you, Elder Sign’s ability to shout “FU!” at the players is particularly brutal, almost to the point where you might not want to finish a game and just start over (like we did last night on our second game).

We didn’t get to play Mansion of Madness but we can save that for another time. All in all, a really fun time.

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