elder-sign-ancient-oneI came to a realization recently when playing Elder Sign, a dice game based on the mythology of H.P. Lovecraft. In the game, you have to collect a specific number of Elder Sign tokens before the Ancient One awakens; otherwise, you have to battle the Ancient One to determine the outcome. On this particular day, I wasn’t faring well — throughout the game, I’d drawn the most difficult cards, failed tasks by close margins, and had character after character die. Finally, I got to the endgame and had to battle the Ancient One I call Narcolepsy. (I can never remember the real name, much less spell it.) While I lost even more of my investigators in this stage, one of them stayed alive long enough to finally conquer Narcolepsy and win the game.

During this drawn-out endgame process, I realized something: while battling the Ancient One is probably considered the least desirable outcome, it’s also one of the most exciting. Admittedly, it can get a little tiresome, rolling the dice over and over and over again — but there’s a definite sense of tension, and if you succeed, you feel like you’ve really accomplished something.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is buying the last Elder Sign by cashing in ten trophies. When I first started playing, I loved this option. Buying a Sign was easy! But as I got more experienced with the game, this technique was a lot less satisfying when I used it to win. Part of the problem is that the character earns the tenth trophy at the end of a turn, and then you have to wait until that character plays again in order to spend the trophies and buy the sign. So once the last trophy has been earned, winning the game is a foregone conclusion: as long as nothing drastic happens, you’re going to win. That leaves you going through the motions for the last few turns until you can actually execute the purchase. When you finally reach that point, it doesn’t feel very exciting.¬†Battling the Ancient One can get tedious, but it’s definitely more satisfying than buying the last Sign.

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