As avid gamers we don’t always have the luxury of a willing partner or group to share our passion with. With this in mind I thought it was time to examine the solitaire options for those sad times when it’s just us and no-one else. My S.O. is busy at present providing our shop with a super new all singing and dancing stock control system so I have gaming time all to myself to explore this important topic.
I started with Elder Sign, just the base game with no expansions, to see how it scaled for one player. Was the game play experience significantly different and was this cooperative game playable without the team of investigators I normally accompany into the weird museum?
For those who haven’t had the pleasure of spending time in the museum of hell, Elder Sign is an offshoot of one of my favourite games, Arkham Horror. It is basically an Arkham-Horror-themed dice game. Players are investigators who roam through the halls, rooms, passages, even the public lavatory of Arkham’s local museum attempting to discover enough elder signs to stop the Ancient One from awakening and unleashing unimaginable ghastliness on the New England towns people.
This game has no special rules for the lonely investigator to learn up. The only difference is that a solo player cannot utilise the ‘Assisting’ ability. If you explore a room with a fellow player they can help you out by storing a die on their investigator marker. If you’re on your own, you are on your own. Beyond that the game is identical to the multi-player version.
Does the game play differently? Most definitely. Did it play differently in the way I expected? No.
I thought that my sad lonely investigator would be slaughtered as he rushed from one location to the next in his frenetic search for the elusive items, clues and elder signs he needed. I was astonished to discover as I play-tested various characters versus a variety of Ancient Ones that the characters did rather well. Some investigators were super heroes on their own. Sister Mary scythed her way through all opposition and I imagined her rushing along the corridors with a shopping trolley full of equipment her guardian angel perched precariously on top. She was a one-woman monster slaying army. Not all characters performed as successfully, some were devoured, but out of six games the investigators won four games to two. I blame one of those losses on me being the worse for wear after an alcoholic evening playing D&D. So, little hero slaughter, no oceans of human blood.
What was strikingly different was the gaming experience. When played solo this game has suspense and requires thought. It is very strategic and as you play you have to carefully calculate the chances of rolling the desired symbols to complete tasks. As a solo investigator you learn to step warily and equip yourself sensibly before tackling a difficult location. This is where I failed on the drunken expedition. That night I foolishly tackled the museum with the multiplayer mindset. Investigators playing as a group are more gung ho, pumped up on party adrenaline and less risk averse. They throw themselves into hazardous situations and rely on somebody coming along to assist them if it all goes pear-shaped. The downside of the solo game is that I miss the group oohs and ahs as the dice behave or don’t. When the investigators rollick through the exhibits en masse there is a lot of humour and quite a party atmosphere.
The other significant difference was the storytelling aspect of the experience. As a solo player I had the time to read the flavour text on the cards and immerse myself in my investigator’s individual pathway through the game. The game acquired a chilling atmosphere and engaged my imagination. As a group, players tend to focus on the dice rolling and tasks. The theme is sacrificed as players rush to take their turn, their investigators blundering through the rooms and corridors with barely a glance at the surroundings.
Yes Elder Sign is a great solo game. I should have tried this long ago. I would highly recommend it and it’s great to know that you get two different gaming experiences in one box with the same rules.