Mansions of Madness 1st edition was received with mixed feelings by a lot of people. This new and evolved version of the game tries to solve some of the problems of the first version. Does it?
By Paco Garcia Jaen
Fantasy Flight Games has become the most prolific producer of Lovecraft based board games. And they have started to do very well, I have to say.
Actually, they have been doing very well for quite some time now. I have enjoyed Arkham Horror, Elder Sign and Eldritch Horror quite a lot. And so I have enjoyed Mansions of Madness first edition, so this was going to be one that I would likely enjoy too.
Upon opening the box you could be forgiven for thinking you are opening the mother of all expansions for Mansions of Madness. Huge amount of miniatures (some of the squeezed because of the lack of space and more than a few that needed unbending with hot water), an even bigger amount of tokens, cards with spells, unique items, conditions, equipment… Also more characters, more mansion and garden tiles and new adventures.
So, at first glance, more of the same.
However, there is something very different, and is that this time you need an app to play the game.
In the original game, one of the players had to play the part of the mythos. It was the person who run the game, prepared the tiles, puzzles, monsters, scenarios… everything. Now, an app does it all for you, so the game is fully cooperative.
The look and feel of the game components is the same FFG has been using for pretty much all their Lovecraft games. The characters are the same you will find in Elder Sign, Eldritch Horror and Mansions of Madness. In fact the first edition characters and he rest is compatible with this version, so if you have that game, you can still enjoy it with this.
Each character has a special ability they can perform, sanity and physical power hit points and then a series of abilities like observation, strength, agility, knowledge, etc with a number beside them that will determine how many dice you roll when using them.
So what does the app do? Firstly it let you decide what scenario you want to play. It will ask you what character and how many of them will play and then tell you what rooms to start with, where to place the clues, doors, obstacles you can move, non player characters… Everything in lovely 3D in your tablet or smart phone (ideally tablet for size) and with a soundtrack to go with you in your adventures. I can tell you that makes getting ready to play this game much quicker and very, every easy.
The app also decides what roll you have to make to get over a challenge. For example, some times it will ask you for a strength roll to open a jammed drawer, but sometimes it will ask for a knowledge roll instead, giving you a description of how you pull in the right way because you know the lock, rather than because you are just applying brute force. Thus having a strong but not very wise character might be handy in some circumstances, but not always.
The game mechanics haven’t really changed that much. Your characters have two actions per turn and a limited number of action types – move a few spaces, explore, search, push, trade items… – and little else. That’s it.
Once all characters have performed their actions, and they can do it in any order they wish, the mythos turn comes up and then thing start to happen. Things that the app will tell you. If monsters appear, or if nothing happens… all handled to you effortlessly without reading a single page.
Do you happen to find a puzzle? Don’t worry… the app will display it for you and you can solve it there and then. It will keep track of the progress and the number of times it’s been attempted. The cool thing about this is that you actually have to solve the puzzle without having to set-up tokens or use any more space on the table. The challenges include things like driving a brick through a mobile labyrinth, or a game of finding he right combination of shapes and colours with a limited number of attempts. And they can be as hard as they get!
How about talking to non player characters? For example the butler who holds certain key you have to convince to give you. Just like you would do in a videogame, you can talk to that character with a limited number of sentences. It can be a bit basic at times, but they give more depth to the game and makes it richer as those characters can be part of the winning conditions for the scenario at hand.
Something else that is handy about the app? You can save the progress and make it easier if you have to set-up again and continue playing another time. In our case that is very handy because we usually stop for food breaks in the game, so this way we don’t forget anything.
Also, there are several configurations for each scenario, so even if you play them more than once, they will likely be different, so the replayability value of the game is greater of its older sister.
Combat is also handled by the app. You decide what to attack and the app will give you the choice of what sort of attack, unarmed, with a slicing weapon, heavy weapon, a spell… then it gives you what roll you have to make – sometimes it will be strength, sometimes it will be speed, sometimes, something else – and then enter the number of hit points you inflict. Once you reach the number given to the creature, it disappears. No more hit point tokens on top of platforms that move around.
When the playing characters receive damage or horror (insanity), they get cards upsiedown. Once they fill their quota as given in their character sheet, they will be asked to turn one of the cards upside down. Each card has some effect that will apply to the player. For example if you fill your horror quota, you might turn against the other players, or simply be given a different set of winning conditions (like burning half the rooms in the mansions or similar), so your character is not right away lost. Of course if you fill your insanity or physical quota again… not even you can survive that!
The length of the adventures depends greatly on many factors, but I would be surprised if you needed less than two to three hours to finish them. There are lots of things to do all the time and solving some of the puzzles can be time consuming.
I think this version of the game is better than the previous one. Hands down.
Not because it does anything that is too different, it doesn’t, but because of the app helping you run the game and managing the already large space needed for the game.
Yes, it is true that depending on the app can be a pain in the ass if you don’t happen to have yours nearby or simply the battery run out, but if you know you are going to play, make sure you have it filled up with power because you will need it. I think it is just a matter of getting used to the idea that you need your tablet or phone to play this game and once you are in that frame set, you should be OK.
The adventures are as close to an RPG as you can get without the need to play an RPG, which I guess is what make them so appealing to me.
Set up and pick up time have been reduced too, which is good because previously you could take as long setting up as playing, specially if your characters died quickly.
Talking about that, adventures in here are also quicker to get you in the swing of things with monsters likely to appear one or two turns into the game. Fighting them is hard, but not impossible, so there is less fear of getting into a room with a Hound of Tindalos or a cultist this time, which is good. Also the new mechanic of being able to move some pieces of furniture to block doors and trap monsters in rooms where they can’t get to you is truly great.
Lastly, I loved the way the adventures go “in crescendo” as the game progresses. They start slow and then the pace of everything moves up a notch, making everything more frantic and difficult.
Production wise the game is sound, though it is only a matter of time before FFG has to update their production values for minis. They are starting to look a bit too old-school for me. The app works without any glitches we saw, though we could do with some more advanced features, like placing characters in the correct rooms before saving so we know where we were when we come back to the game, or even letting us use our own music rather than the same soundtrack again and again. Also, storing the game saves up in the cloud so we can jump from device to device would be very neat.
The rules are just as gorgeously laid out on paper as always and the artwork is as good as ever because it is the same as ever. Some might think it is lazy of FFG to keep using the same illustrations, and even the same sounds in the app you can hear in Elder Signs, but to me it makes sense, not just from the economic point of view, but from the line development point of view. Why use totally different illustration in games that are, essentially about the same thing? You re playing the same thing in different ways, so having the same characters gives a familiarity that is nice to bring from one game to the next.
The price tag is a bit ouchy, though. Even though you might feel you come out with less because it has less tokens than the previous version, we can’t forget that with this game comes the development of a very complex app that needs updating every time a new expansion comes out, and that has to be paid for. Retailing at around 100$, £90 or 100€, this game is a lot of money, so try it before you buy it if you can and your budget is tight.
If you liked the first edition of Mansions of Madness, I would certainly ask Santa to get you this for whatever you celebrate. If you didn’t like it, please have a go a this one because you will probably be very pleasantly surprised.
If you like the CoC RPG, please have a go at this because it offers a somewhat watered down RPG experience that you can prepare in next to no time. Also, I doubt you will be able to find that many tiles and miniatures for this price anyway, so it is a sound investment.
Fantasy Flight has really done it very well and the integration with the app is so good that gives me hope for using more apps in the future, so FFG has managed to somehow lower my levels of scepticism, something not easily done!
Now get off that chair and get this game. There are mythos to combat!