Ancient Terrible Things was a kickstarter project, which at the time, I decided not to back. The decision wasn’t based on game play, but more an exercise in self restraint as I had just purchased too many games and I knew that I needed to slow down a bit in my buying. It was to my surprise that I saw this show up in my FLGS recently and immediately had to pick it up. Pulp Horror theme and dice. What else could I want? I know many of you are asking, but don’t you already have Elder Sign? Yes, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have room on my shelf for another Mythos based game. They’re actually slowly taking over my gaming shelves, and I have no complaints about that at all. The real question should be, does one of them outshine the other? Read on…
In Ancient Terrible Things, you play the role of an intrepid adventurer exploring a dark jungle river for Ancient Secrets. Why you’d willing do to a dark jungle to investigate terrible rumors of beasts and unspeakable horrors is beyond me, but that’s what you’ve decided to do. Turn after turn, you’ll decided to travel to a Fateful location and attempt to collect Ancient Secrets (Victory Points) by overcoming an ‘Ominous Encounter’. If you fail to overcome the encounter, you’ll unleash a Terrible Thing, which will count against your points at the end of the game.
To set up a Game of Ancient Terrible things, you’ll first need to build your deck of Ominous Encounters. There are three different levels, Green, Orange and Red. Depending on the number of players, you’ll build a deck of encounters. For Example, in a 2 player game, there will be 6 Red encounters, 6 Orange encounters and 6 Green Encounters. You’ll place the Red encounters on the Ominous Encounters Location on the board, place the Orange on top of that, then finally place the Green encounters on top of the Orange. You’ll then deal one card from the top of the Encounter deck to each of the numbered 6 locations.
Shuffle your Swag Pile, and fill the three open Swag spots with cards. You’ll be able to buy these at a later turn.
Shuffle your Feat Cards, discard the top Feat card into the designated pile.
Place the 4 Achievement Cards near the board and place the 5 Green dice in the center of the board.
You’ll need to now randomize all of the Terrible Thing tokens and depending on the number of players you’ll draw a certain number of them. In a two player game you’ll use 7 random Terrible Thing Tokens. You’ll now flip them over and arrange them from the least harmful (0 negative points) to the most harmful (3 negative points) on the Expedition track.
Each player will now choose a character. If the Captain is in play, they’ll receive the first player token. Each player will receive their player board, one of each type of token. Focus, Treasure, Courage and Feat and 3 Feat Cards. They will also receive any additional starting resources that their character may reward them.
Each Character will place their pawn on the Riverboat location and take one of the Scenario Cards.
Ancient Terrible Things will be played over a series of turns, each turn broken down into 7 Steps. Each step is easily referenced on the player board, so there’s no need to worry about the amount of steps.
1. Riverboat Phase
This step is only performed when there are no more cards at the board. If there are no cards, the player then deals a card from the Ominous Encounters deck to each location in numerical order. You’ll take a resource token from the supply matching the encounter type and place those tokens on the cards. If no cards are left in the Ominous Encounters deck at the beginning of the phase, the game immediately ends.
2. Explore Phase
You will move your pawn to any active location, a location with an encounter card still located at it. You’ll take any resource token on that location and add it to your player board. You may now also take the Special Location Action as well.
At the Crumbling Ruin, you will take the Map token, which will make you the first player for the next round.
3. Desperation Phase
During the Desperation Phase you may spend Courage Tokens equal to the Ancient Secrets Value of the Encounter Card at your current location to perform a Desperate Act. By doing so, you immediately overcome the Encounter and place it into your Score pile.
In the picture above you’d need to spend 2 Courage tokens during the Desperation phase to immediately overcome the ‘Dark Signet’ encounter.
4. Encounter Phase
This is where most of the game will happen, during your Encounter phase you’ll roll dice to overcome encounters and to gain resources. You’ll Take the 5 Focus dice (Green) to build your dice pool. You may then play any Swag or Feat Cards (paying the Feat cost listed in the upper left corner of the card) that allow you to add Luck (Yellow die) or Panic (Red die) to your dice pool.
Roll your dice. You may then Re-Roll up to two times, you may re-roll all of your dice for free, with the exception of Panic Dice, whatever you roll on Panic dice, that’s what you’re stuck with. You may also spend Focus tokens to re-roll individual Focus Dice (Green) equal to the number of Focus Token Spent. (Spend 3 Focus tokens, you can re-roll three dice)
Before of after each roll, you can play Feat cards, or exhaust Swag cards if they have an exhaust ability. (Aren’t we getting tired of finding ways to say ‘tap a card’ by this point). You may not play cards that allow you to swap out dice after your initial roll!
What can you do with your results?
This was my initial roll for the Dark Signet Encounter. 2 5′s and 3 3′s.
I decided not to re-roll any of my dice. I used the pair of 5′s to defeat the Dark Signet Encounter, adding the card to my area, which will be worth 2 points at the end of the game. Then I reference the Scenario card. In this particular Scenario, I was able to spend the 3 3′s I rolled to receive 3 additional Feat tokens.
So what would have happened if I didn’t beat the encounter? Or if I choose not too? You can always make the choice to not beat the encounter, using all of your dice to prepare for upcoming turns and spending them for resources based on the pay outs from the Scenario card. If you do not beat the encounter, you’ll take one of the Terrible Thing tokens and place it on your player board. At the end of the game these will be totaled and subtracted from your Victory Points. But wait…there’s strategy to this, as the Terrible Thing tokens are random, the first few on the track may be worth no negative points at the end of the game. So you may want to purposely lose to an encounter, take the Terrible Thing token and just prep for the upcoming rounds. But I skipped a head a bit…
5. Terrible Thing Phase
If you fail to overcome an Encounter, or choose not to, you unleash a Terrible Thing. Discard the Encounter to the Rumors area of the board and take a Terrible Thing Token. If this is the last Terrible Thing Token on the track, then the game ends immediately.
6. Trading Post Phase
You’ll now move down river to the Trading post, where you’ll be able to purchase any of the face up Swag cards available by spending treasure tokens. When you’re finished buying, if any spaces are empty, refill them with the top card from the Swag pile. If you did not purchase a Swag card, take the left most card and return it to the bottom of the Swag pile.
7. Refresh Phase
Draw Feat Cards from the deck until you have three cards in hand. Turn all of your exhausted Swag cards back to the non exhausted position.
If all Pawns are on the trading post the next round starts with the player who now has the Map piece.
The Unspeakable Event
This is the end of the game. When there are no more cards to be placed onto locations or the last Terrible Thing token is taken, the game ends.
Add up all of your Ancient Secret Points, subtract any Terrible Thing points, add in any Achievement points you may have earned. The player with the most points wins.
Thoughts on Ancient Terrible Things:
Ancient Terrible Things is a blast! As a Lovecraft Mythos fan, I’ve enjoyed Elder Sign, in fact it mostly gets played on my phone as it’s easier, due to the fact that there no set up. As much as I enjoy Elder Sign, there are times where it feels like an exercise in futility. There is just no way to win, sure we’ve beat it, but a few bad rolls and it’s all down hill. I don’t expect a battle with the Elder things to be easy, but I also want it some what fun as well. Which is exactly what Ancient Terrible Things brings to the table. Please don’t mistake the above commentary for A.T.T’s being Elder Sign light, because it absolutely isn’t. Sure there are similarities, but they’re very much their own games. The ability to manipulate your dice rolls, spend focus tokens, or just use your rolls to gather resources is what really makes this game shine. The way the Feat and Swag cards work with your tokens and dice rolls all comes together very nicely.
If you’re looking for some pulp horror fun, with some interesting and unique art and shiny dice, you need to look no further. Ancient Terrible Things has earned it’s self a spot on my shelf next to all of the other terrible things that go bump in the night!
Now, if I could only get my hands on that Kickstarter card… Who knows maybe I’ll befriend a cultist who can conjure one.