Trying Out: Mansions of Madness

Mansions of Madness is one of the games I have avoided intentionally. I had a presumption about it being a dull game of overly complicated gaming system and too much fighting the Mythos. Luckily yesterday proved I was wrong. After visiting a few local caves with Santtu and Sami we headed to my place and I got to try out the second edition of Mansions of Madness by Fantasy Flight Games.

I had hopes it would turn out to be a good game with emphasis on the investigational aspect rather fighting a horde of deep ones and shoggoths. The hopes weren’t high when I noticed the respectable amount of plastic miniatures that Santtu unloaded on that table.

He did explain that most of them wouldn’t appear in a single scenario and that he had such a plenty amount of them because he owned the FFG’s first edition of the game with most of the expansions. My son was eager the study the figures while I just had to get my hobby knife to reduce the amount of mold lines.

Since we all wanted to test ourselves and the game’s potential we chose one of the most difficult scenarios – Dearly Departed (I try to avoid any actual spoilers of the mission in the following). It had a gaming time estimate of about two hours but we knew it would take at least a double of that time. And we weren’t wrong.

In the following four or five hours we studied the cemetery and chapel in hope for finding enough clues to prevent the heinous plans of a scientific necromancer. It all started with a carefully crafted plan of sealing all entries to the house and trying to go through each are as quickly as possible.

As with most plans this didn’t happen for we were unprepared for the horde of zombies that followed. In the end we couldn’t stop that necromancer’s plan from coming together and couldn’t defeat the final monstrosity in time.

But for the most part of those hours we had great fun!

Mansions of Madness uses abilities and cards the same way as other games of the Arkham Horror Files (Eldritch Horror for example). Tasks are resolved with a pool of special d8 and damage is dealt in cards with variant results (very much alike those from Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd edition).

What sets the game apart from most boardgames I have played was the use of an official application to randomise the events, combat steps and Mythos Phase (I know that FFG’s XCOM: The Board Game an app like this but I haven’t played it – yet). That said app sold the game for me.

Santtu had the app on his iPad but is available from Google Play, Steam and Amazon as well.

When the game began the flavor text was played aloud creating more atmosphere than any of us could have conjured. The same love continued throughout the game with creepy ambient music playing. The app kept track of our progress, told us clearly what would happen during the Mythos Phase (ie. monster phase) and was a great interactive tool guiding the game.

As I understood it the application is the biggest difference to the first edition of Mansions. Previously one of the players would have to act as the game master and control all the puzzles, pieces and monsters. Though I can see and understand why some players love to play the overlord of Mythos I liked this approach much more. It let all the players to participate to the story and enjoy the cooperative style of the game.

I’m not saying the application wasn’t without problems. In fact we noticed several: no “cancel” for accidental button pushing, poor randomisation in some aspects of the game and the lack of possibility to overkill monsters. I might admit that last one isn’t a big problem.

We also discussed about the visibility of monsters’ health as well as the damage our attacks made. Though it makes the game more enjoyable I would have liked to see an option to turn off the visibility of monsters’ hit points. I mean the doom clock (the number of round we had until we would fail) wasn’t visible either. And the lack of that clock most likely caused as to lose the game.

As with most (or all) Arkham Horror Files games the ending was most problematic. We knew what we would have to do but suddenly the game just ended.

Through the narrative we understood we were about the fail a couple of turns before the end but it still felt a bit like the app was cheating. While we discussed about the ending we noticed that the only way we would have succeeded in this mission would have been to split the party and rush through each area as fast as possible.

While this might be a valid plan it does not have the same amount of flavor as going through the scenario in a slower pace. The splitting of the party could also cause more problems like I had during the game.

Mythos Phase targeted only my character seven times during the game. I could have endured that and the spawning of zombies if I didn’t have a single wound that caused me loose one die from Agility rolls. And of course Agility was the only thing the app offered to me in combat in four rounds.

This just might be how the game works (this was our first try anyway) but the emphasis on a single attribute meant that all I did in those four rounds was fail. Now imagine this happening with each character after splitting the party. The game would go on, each player only failing four rounds in a row and then the game suddenly ending without an actual warning.

I do not mean to sound bitter. Of course it was frustrating but it was mainly due to my wrong choice and a stupid amount of bad luck. But it proved that this kind of problem could happen. And that by itself was the biggest problem with the game.

Apparently the application should also randomise the map during each game which should greatly improve the re-playability of the scenarios.

That being said it was a minor flaw. I understand that an application like this is bound to have problems with randomizing and a game like this is going to be tough. We did choose one of the most difficult of missions after all.

Up until the end game everything was pure gold. I enjoyed the mini-puzzles that would have to be solved with the app. I liked the variance our small group of investigators had. And I enjoyed the overall feeling and flavor of the game. I haven’t been playing boardgames or paying much attention to them in ages but this just kickstarted my gaming fun and I would love a chance to try the same scenario again as soon as possible.

To me Mansions of Madness (second edition) with its great application was an excellent experience and a game I would buy if my friend didn’t already own it.

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