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Review RPG Codex Review: The Occult Chronicles and Elder Sign: Omens

Discussion in 'RPG News & Content' started by Crooked Bee, Jul 20, 2014.

  1. Crooked Bee wide-wandering bee Patron

    Crooked Bee
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    Tags: Cryptic Comet; Elder Sign: Omens; Fantasy Flight Games; The Occult Chronicles

    Last year, two somewhat similar games, The Occult Chronicles and Elder Sign: Omens, were released for Windows within an interval of a few months. Both feature board game mechanics and settings inspired by Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. With such a unique premise, esteemed community member Gragt decided to review both of them in the same article.

    Have a few snippets on both games:

    The first of the duo is The Occult Chronicles by Cryptic Comet, released in August 2013. As fans of his previous games Armageddon Empires and Solium Infernum already know, Cryptic Comet pretty much means Vic Davis. Davis is a one-man designer/programmer team and a visionary who specializes in developing games for the very small niche best described as “board games specifically made for computers”. By moving tedious elements like bookkeeping and frequent calculations to the computer, these games are able to feature much more complex systems than traditional board games, without alienating players. Coupled with Davis’ terrific sense of style, this has allowed him to craft some great and memorable games, and his latest work is no exception. While his previous games were straight strategy games, The Occult Chronicles deviates from his canon by being a mix of board game and roguelike with a focus on exploration. Davis later regretted calling the game a roguelike as it apparently gave players the wrong set of expectations, but despite his feelings on the matter, in my opinion The Occult Chronicles is much closer to a traditional roguelike than many of the games that have popped up in recent years and claimed the genre for themselves.

    [...] this is a terrific little game. It features no animation at all, yet manages to convey a tense and heavy atmosphere thanks to its excellent design. Zane Reichert’s drawings illustrating the various events fit the game’s pulp fiction atmosphere very well, striking a good balance between comic-book and creepy. The slow and brooding music by Stian Stark, who also composed the music for Solium Infernum and Six Guns Saga, is perfect for this kind of game; there are no memorable tunes to speak of, but it sets the tone without intruding. While every adventure follows the same basic structure, there is a decent amount of randomly generated content to experience, and I am still surprised to see events that I missed, connected to quests that weren’t available before. As a horror and occult-themed roguelike, I guess the closest thing to it would be the bona fide roguelike Infra Arcana, but the board game aspect makes it fairly unique. If you can get past the clunky interface and obtuse ability descriptions, there are many hours of quality entertainment to be had. A game takes only a few hours to complete, the atmosphere is thick, the challenge is high, and the different backgrounds and scenario options keep it replayable.

    [...] The second game is Elder Sign: Omens by Fantasy Flight Games, released for Windows in November 2013, a mere three months after The Occult Chronicles. This is actually a port of the 2011 game for Android, Apple, and Kindle Fire. Now, it may seem weird to review a game with such a dubious pedigree, but humor me for a while.

    The reason it is reviewed here alongside The Occult Chronicles is that both games share many similar elements, from theme and setting to the board game-like gameplay. Of the two, Elder Sign: Omens plays the closest to a traditional board game, which is par for the course considering it is an adaptation of an actual board game, Elder Sign. There are some differences between them, but for the most part Omens is quite faithful to its cardboard sibling. This also makes it a much simpler game than The Occult Chronicles, if only because it could be easily set up on a table with cards, tokens, and dice, whereas The Occult Chronicles, just like other Cryptic Comet games, would be a nightmare of cyclopean proportions to play that way. The basic scenario has you control a team of four investigators in the ’30s, of various backgrounds and talents, who must prevent the awakening of an Ancient One from the Cthulhu Mythos. To achieve this goal, you must explore the Miskatonic University Museum at night to gather supplies and artifacts, including the titular Elder Signs required to seal the cosmic horror. This time the game makes direct use of the Mythos, and you will encounter familiar figures like the Deep Ones, Ithaqua and even Cthulhu himself. Truth be told, the Mythos is used here more as a coat of paint to give a strong and familiar theme to a horror-themed board game that is light on plot, but it does the job rather well. It may not be as involved as Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, but it's good enough to give you your Lovecraft fix as long as you don’t expect a great plot, great characters, or great dialogue — which isn’t something usually found in a Lovecraft story anyway. [...]

    Both games have their flaws and merits, and while none ascends to greatness, they are well worth a look, especially if you need a fix of horror and Lovecraft pulp fiction.​

    Read the full review: RPG Codex Review: The Occult Chronicles and Elder Sign: Omens
     
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  2. TigerKnee Prophet

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    I wish the Occult Chronicles didn't go complete radio silence. It disappointed me and TBH I think it needs a complete rehaul.

    On the other hand, since it's the weakest of all of Vic's games, I think maybe he should cut his losses and just make Solium Infernum 2 or something rather than spend more time on OC.
     
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  3. Deuce Traveler Prestigious Gentleman 2012 Newfag Patron

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    Very nice reviews, Gragt! I'm glad Clark Ashton Smith gets a mention in Vic's games. Out of the trio of Lovecraft, Howard, and Smith, it's the latter that is often forgotten despite him being such an excellent writer. His estate has allowed for some of his works to be viewed on a website for those interested. www.eldritchdark.com/

    Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn.
     
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  4. PotatoElemental Educated

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    Elder Sign is really fun, but it's not very involved. While there is a fair bit of planning you can do that can minimize risk, in the end you're still very much at the mercy of a dice roll.

    It's still a tremendously good game for a quick fix between more serious endeavors, and maybe that is why it succeeds so much as a mobile game.
     
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  5. Applypoison Numantian Games Patron Developer

    Applypoison
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    Interesting article, looking forward to tackling the Elder Sign section.

    The character generation process of OC, just by itself, sounds like tons of fun. Apparently, the game makes good use of it, too.



     
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  6. TigerKnee Prophet

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    It SOUNDS a lot of fun especially when you first pick the game up and look over all the options you have.

    In practice? The early game is so killer that you only have a small selection of viable builds to pick. As you progress through the game, almost every character is going to look very similar because of the same reason although the game becomes more playable as you get more options.

    In addition, unless you're already familiar with the probabilities of the weird poker game it uses as conflict resolution, it's really hard to tell what the heck exactly the difference between "Reduces difficulty by 1", "Draw 1 more card during challenges" and the very exotic stuff like "You will draw at least 1 Face card during conflicts" actually does to your math and chances of winning conflicts.
     
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  7. Cool name Prestigious Gentleman Arcane

    Cool name
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    I'm impressed.


    :hmmm:


    They somehow managed to get them all wrong.
     
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  8. Jaesun Fabulous Moderator Patron

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    How should they have done it then?
     
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  9. Cool name Prestigious Gentleman Arcane

    Cool name
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    Wands should have deal with physical combat. Pentacles should have been the measure of physical fitness, but neither running away nor evading traps should be part of it. Instead, resisting insanity should be. Cups should have been related to arcane and mystical challenges of all kinds, but also to evading traps and running away. Swords should be related to all mental challenges.

    Communication is hard to decide were should be in a one layer system - It can be swords, or it can be cups. The same goes with psychic abilities, because they shouldn't be treated as a single set - Receptive ESP should be Cups, Active ESP should be Wands, etc.

    Anyway, modified like that the game mechanics and their complexity are kept exactly as they are, but the traditional symbolism actually makes sense - It does not come even remotely close to being perfect, but the simplification is understandable given the simple rules.



    Though if I am allowed to go on a tangent, I do not understand the point of using the symbolism to begin with. To simplify it to such a point makes me ask, why not just call it, I don't know... Combat, Fitness, Intellect, and Sorcery instead?

    I had the same problem with Solium Infernum. It is incredibly facepalmy if you know your demonology, which is kind of sad because it is an awesome game if you can get past it. >.<
     
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  10. TigerKnee Prophet

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    I seem to recall this conversation on the official forums as well and I think the answer was something along the lines of "most people gonna think swords = fighty shit and pentacles = magic shit anyway instead of their actual meanings" so blame society's lack of knowledge at large, I suppose.

    As for why use the symbolism? Probably "Because it looks cool" and to go along with the Card gameplay mechanics.
     
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  11. Jasede Prestigious Gentleman Arcane

    Jasede
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    Or you know you could be like Utena and use symbolism to actually tell a story rather than just have things that look cool. Designers these days.
     
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  12. Topher Cipher

    Topher
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    Elder Signs really is excellent and has been a staple of my gaming time for years; though, I'm a fan of board game mechanics.
     
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  13. crawlkill Kill all boxed game owners. Kill! Kill!

    crawlkill
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    I'd really love to see some of the Occult Chronicles guy's stuff on mobile. They've always seemed purpose-built for involved, portable play, which is kind of lacking in the space.

    I...like Omens, but mostly for its absurdly high production values. It's a beautiful presentation. The game itself, well, I've played it many, many times, and I've never been able to make it feel more than random. There's only so much the limited strategy that the few choices available to you can do to obviate the rampant diceboning.
     
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  14. thesheeep Arcane

    thesheeep
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    Exactly!
    I hate when everything is balanced to death and like to choose challenge not (only) via difficulty setting but by the build I play.
     
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  15. MicoSelva Prestigious Gentleman Monstroterratum Furiosum Patron

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    Summonning Gragt for brofisting.

    Nice review overall. I actually own the board game version of Elder Sign, but I do not really like it, mostly because every game feels very similar and because it is really, really easy. I believe we never lost, which is inexcusable for a co-op board game, which should be challenging by default (hello, Eldritch Horror).

    I wish Fantasy Flight would turn Arkham Horror into a PC game. I could use a computer to remember all the rules, exceptions to the rules, and exceptions to these exceptions. AH is still my favourite mythos game, due to variety and challenge it provides, but it is quite hard to find people to play with, especially after Eldritch Horror release.

    As for Occult Chronicles, it seems interesting, and I would gladly check it out if I had more free time, but as it is, I barely am able to play the games I am most interested in, and adding one more to my B or C-list (where Solium Infernum resides) is kind of pointless.
     
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  16. TigerKnee Prophet

    TigerKnee
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    I actually agree that Arkham Horror would have been the game that better takes advantage of the PC format due to all the fiddly rules you have to remember and keep track of in the physical version. To this day I think I still make rules mistake when playing it.

    But I guess they chose to port Elder Sign because of the general LCD of the cellphone playing market. C'est la vie.
     
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  17. ColCol Arcane

    ColCol
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    I think Vic and not just OC is done with. NO blog updates for a while, I actually emailed him twice and received no responses. I don't think I have even seen any recent forum post by him.
     
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