I’m a huge H. P. Lovecraft fan, and Cthulhu used to be my favorite theme. As we get more and more of the same themes, both Zombies and Lovecraft feel a bit over used. As I was Writing for Dice Tower News I came across the announcement for Mansions of Madness, a second edition of the 2011 hit, to say I was hesitant would be, well…100% false. I immediately pre-ordered the game through my FLGS and have absorbed any information Fantasy Flight Games has released ever since. There are so many things that drew me to this game I didn’t even flinch at the $99.99 MSRP.
Mansions of Madness: Second Edition is a fully cooperative game for 1 – 5 players. Each player controls an investigator that is investigating…something. It depends on the scenario. The first thing that drew me into this game was that it has a companion app. In the past, this type of game would have one player control the map, the undiscovered items, the monsters, the events, and basically anything that wasn’t a player character. The app does all of this for you, which I’ll detail more when I talk about my first game.
When players start the game, they set up and sort the decks (items – common or uncommon, spells, conditions, damage and horror), place the tokens, monsters, and tiles in a reachable area, then load the app. Before you select New Game, you can tell the app what games and expansions you have, so it know what it can tell you to use. After you select New Game, you select the Scenario.
Each Scenario has a time estimate with the shortest being 60 – 90 Minutes and the longest being 240 – 360 Minutes. There is also a save option in the app, so if you don’t have 6+ hours to play at a time, you can play for a while, then come back and finish another time. Then each player selects an investigator takes the investigator card, and the miniature. In our first play, Cortnie selected Agatha Crane the Parapsychologist, and I choose William Yorick, the failed Shakespeare actor turned Gravedigger.
[SPOILERS: Scenario: Cycle of Eternity]
Next the app will tell you what items/spells you start with, and how many clue tokens each player gets. This is different each time. I’m not sure if it is random, or if it is generated based on what investigators and scenario is chosen. Probably a bit of both. But you divide the cards between all players by what ever means the group decides. I started with a 2×4 and a pocket watch. Cortnie had a spell (flesh ward), a fire extinguisher, and holy water. The app then plays audio of what you’re doing in the scenario. In our case, we received a call from the Butler at the Vanderbuilt Mansion. He was concerned about the unnatural things that had started happening at the estate. He called you because you have been investigating disappearances in that neighborhood, although Mr. Vanderbuilt had refused meeting with you, his staff had been interviewed. The butler thinks his master is in danger, and wants your help. The scenario begins in the mansion after you arrive to investigate your first lead in the case. This was our starting set up:
Each round, every investigator can take two actions. A move action moves you up to two spaces, other actions include explore, investigate, search, attack, trade, and use an item. After all players have taken their actions, the Mythos Phase starts with the app instructing you through events and monster actions. Most actions are done through the app, the biggest downside of not having a tablet is we were using my iPhone 5S, which lets only one player see the app at a time. The action started upon entering the mansion, as we heard muffled shouts, crashing of pots and pans, and some hissing.
Cortnie started by investigating the search token closest to her (ignoring the shouts and hissing) and found some evidence. I approached the door from behind which the shouts had emerged. If you know me at all, you know that I LOATH snakes. I thought about just barricading the door and leaving the person to fend for themselves, however I’ve been burdened with heroism wanted to help someone in need, I opened the door. What I found was the Butler, running from a Hunting Horror (Basically a giant Snake with bat wings). I spent a couple of rounds fighting the Horror, while Cortnie searched and found more clues. Talking to the Butler, we found out that Mr Vanderbuilt had gone into the garden with what we interpreted as Cultists. However, the Butler wouldn’t betray his master and tell us how to open the locked door because I had failed the skill check. Instead of trying again, I just moved on. We systematically searched every corner of the mansion, clearing the room before moving on.
At this point every few rounds, during the Mythos Phase, a cultist would spawn and search for us. Through these events, we learned that there was a ritual going on in the garden that we should probably stop. We explored into the Lounge and as I was reading the description aloud, and setting up the new tile, Cortnie got up. It was a hot night so we had the back door open for a breeze. She had gotten up to close and lock the door, not because it was cooling off, but because the content of the game gave her the creeps. This is what our map looked like:
We fought a few more cultists, found a journal to get some background on the Vanderbuilts, and learned that there was a switch in the library to open the Garden door.
Let me talk about combat in the app for a minute. In combat, you select what type of weapon you’re using: Heavy weapon, bladed weapon, spell, firearm, fists, etc, then the app will tell you what happens. I won’t say that it’s different every time, but in the whole game we didn’t run into a repeat and I was using a heavy weapon the whole time. Even if you use the same weapon, skill checks might be different from round to round based on what happens. For example, you may need to make an observation check to look for an opening to attack with precision, or bring the weapon down with as much force as you can by making a strength check. This made the combat aspect very exciting.
There are also skill checks in the form of puzzles. This is my favorite implementation of the app. There are mini games, that you can only take a number of moves equal to the stat that the puzzle tests. You might have to try many times. One of the puzzles is essentially the mastermind game built as a mini game. These puzzles need to be solved before progressing in the game, and can take multiple rounds to complete.
Many of the skill checks tell you what needs to be rolled before the roll, although some have you enter how many successes you had, and will tell you the result based on what you entered. These tests record your results in the app, so you can add to it on a later action, or have multiple investigators attempt them.
In the Mythos Phase, the event would often start with the name of one of the investigators. Anytime I read ‘Agatha Crane’, Cortnie would glare at me, then the app, then look horribly offended. To be fair, 3/4th of these events did target her, but it was still adorable.
When we made it to the library, there was a cultist who summoned another Hunting Horror, and then vanished. We fought it a couple of rounds and defeated it, and the attempted the puzzle.
After the first try we ended the Investigator Phase, and realized that exploring the whole mansion took too long. The door to the garden, which we should have been going for as soon as we learned that there was a ritual going on, burst open and Mr. Vanderbuilt came through and announced the Ritual was complete, freeing his attention to eliminate us.
We laid down a garden tile and the app described a large portal at the far end. Also a Star Spawn emerged and was quickly coming our direction.
A few turns later, we died. The evil in the mansion had won.
Cortnie and I still LOVED the game. At first the app felt fiddly, and the 60 – 90 minute scenario took us two and a half hours, but once we learned how to play, things felt smooth.
The next day we sat down to play a second time, and were slightly disappointed that the starting tiles were the same, but most everything else was changed, at least its location, and I hope that we’ll see even more variety with the longer scenarios. I have loaded up the app several times and know there is at least one other starting set up for the first scenario.
In the second game, we played much quicker, not exploring everything, but following the clues we got. We stopped the ritual this time! We got the evidence against Mr Vanderbuilt. The Butler was actually a monster in disguise and had lured us here. Our new objective was to get out of the mansion with the evidence. We fought and defeated Vanderbuilt, a cultist, and the Child of Dagon (butler). There were no other creatures in the house, all we needed to do was make it to the front door. The very next event would cause three damage to me, unless I rolled a successful skill check. I came up with all blanks, and died.
When an investigator dies, or suffers too many horrors, the remaining investigators have one last phase to complete the objective, or they lose the game. Cortnie didn’t have enough actions to make it out of the mansion, and so we lost the game. Also, in this ‘fully cooperative’ game, if an investigator is eliminated, they do not win with the rest of their team.
The solo game is the same as the two player game, except one person controls both investigators. I have a group coming this weekend to play a full 5 player game, and if any opinions change, I will post an update.
For now, Mansions of Madness Second Edition is overlooking all other games on my top list as my favorite game of all time. Fantasy Flight has already announced two expansions, that reprint and update first edition content. I plan on pre-ordering both sets as soon as they are available.