Evil stirs beneath the sands
Have you heard the stories of Nephren-Ka, the so named Dark Pharaoh of Ancient Egypt? Perhaps not, for his reign was so heinous that references to it were struck from record after his defeat. So reads the unsigned note, delivered to your desk at the Miskatonic University. Little sense can you make of it, for it goes on to claim that Nephren-Ka may still pose a threat. Your mysterious friend requests you book passage to Cairo, Egypt. They knows you possess half of the Eye of Light and Darkness, knowledge few others share. Evidence enough that some scheme is a foot.
Elder Sign is a cooperative dice game based on the Cthulhu Mythos of H. P. Lovecraft. Omens of the Pharaoh is its fifth boxed (sixth overall) expansion. It includes three new Ancient One cards and six Investigators, as well as new Ally cards and Monster markers. A new type of item, Relics, is also introduced. These components can be combined with those from the Elder Sign base game, or any other expansion. It also includes a new game mode, the Lightless Pyramid; complete with a 50 card Egyptian Adventure Deck, eight special Adventures, and a 30 card Egyptian Mythos Deck.
Make ready the expedition
Setting up a game of the Lightless Pyramid is much like preparing to play a game mode from a preceding expansion. Players begin with three face up Adventures, and three face down. All subsequent Adventures enter play face down. The Lightless Pyramid game mode uses only the Adventure and Mythos decks included in Omens of the Pharaoh. As this is an expansion, a copy of Elder Sign is required in order to play.
The clock, dice and Other World Deck from the base game are needed, along with the common components (Investigator, Item, Spell, and Ally Cards, and Monster Markers). These will be combined with the corresponding components from Omens of the Pharaoh and set out for players to access during the game.
The Curse and Blessing cards (and dice) from the Unseen Forces expansion and Skills cards from the Gates of Arkham expansion can also be used but are not essential. A number of Egyptian Adventure cards offer the player a choice of rewards or penalties; some of which feature Skills, Blessings, and Curses. A player will always have an option to take a reward or penalty that requires only components from Omens of the Pharaoh.
- Relic Items
Relics are a new type of item that provide a useful ability. Players can discard them in order to reroll dice. Some Relics also bestow beneficial effects if a paired Relic is in play.
- Double sided entrance card
The entrance card for the Lightless Pyramid game mode depicts Cairo on one side, and Dashur on the other. The investigators begin in Cairo, where they can rest and resupply. Resources will be scarce in Dashur, but it's in Dashur that investigators will uncover the elder signs.
- Expedition/Exhibit Card and Tokens
Expedition tokens will be picked up and discarded when various game effects are triggered. Tokens are assigned to the Expedition card, granting abilities to the investigators.
The reverse side of the Expedition Card depicts the Exhibit. The Exhibit can be added to the entrance sheet of any other game mode. This will enable players to utilise Relics when playing either the base game or another game mode (such as Alaskan Expedition).
- Special Adventures
There are eight special Adventures included in this expansion. Four Hidden Chamber Adventures are shuffled into the phase II Adventure cards. There are also four Dark Pharaoh Adventures, which are kept separate and only revealed when triggered by a game effect. If all four Dark Pharaoh Adventure cards remain in play simultaneously, players risk advancing the Doom Track.
The Lightless Pyramid
You have three Ancient Ones from which to choose your foe (or woe, as the case may be!). Nephren-Ka, the Dark Pharaoh, is the best fit thematically, but is considered to have a Hard difficulty. Haunter of the Dark and a second version of Nyarlathotep (original version included in the base game) offer additional challenges. Those are considered to be of Average and Insane difficulty respectively.
The Egyptian expedition will take place over two phases, Cairo (Phase I) and Dashur (Phase II). Each phase has its own Adventure cards. Players draw new adventures from the relevant deck, depending on which phase they are in. The entrance card is the means of tracking and moving between phases. Cairo is the place for supplies, but the elder signs lie hidden in Dashur. Players can progress to phase II at any time. Finding the right time may be the difference between success and madness...or death. Evil stirs beneath the sands. Gather your supplies and discover the knowledge needed to seal away the Ancient One before darkness engulfs everything.
I'm a fan of Elder Sign. I think it's a great thematic game with engaging gameplay. It's also a good cooperative experience. For a game of this style (Cthulhu inspired) it's very accessible. In my experience, new players have taken to this much more readily than similar themed games. They’ve then been more willing to engage games like Arkham Horror or Eldritch Horror. I've had my enjoyment of the game renewed recently as it's proved to be an entertaining, if challenging experience for solo play.
Omens of the Pharaoh is a particularly fun expansion to play. I like the combination of Cthulhu themes with those of Ancient Egypt. The artwork and flavour text on the Adventure Cards do well to enrich the story. It isn't an easy game. At times it will frustrate, but when you finally succeed you'll feel like you've earned the victory.