Mansions of Madness is the cooperative revision of the first edition that carried the same name. As per the first edition players will be attempting to solve the mystery by following the clues and exploring their surroundings. As in any Cthulu based game however, your character's mental state will slowly deteriorate as you are subjected to more mind-unravelling secrets of the universe, and there will of course be plenty of monsters who will do more than unravel your faculties.
The core difference between editions with Mansions of Madness is the ever controversial introduction of an app to take the role of the Keeper. Previously one player would take this role, pitting them against the other players, and whilst this was quite interesting I always felt that they could quite easily overpower the party if they so wished.
In addition to this they had to set up the board in a very particular way, meaning it was not only very time consuming, but a single mistake during set up could jeopardise the entire game. The introduction of the app not only reduces the set up time to a mere few minutes but allows all the players to play cooperatively and believe me its still no walk in the park. If you owned the first edition you can also add in all your monsters and tile sets to the game.
As with all modern Fantasy Flight Games, Mansions of Madness comes with two rule books. One of these is a rule reference whilst the other is the "learn to play" booklet and I must say that I love the fact that FFG continues to use this two book set up, it really makes learning and playing the game that much simpler. Due to the use of the app in this game the rules take a back seat role here.
Mansions of Madness comes with 32 miniatures, eight of these being investigators and the rest being monsters. There are some great sculpts here including two giant star spawn and some very dynamic investigators, however they are cast in a soft plastic so some bending may be required if you would like them to stand appropriately. Another small caveat about the miniatures is the huge bases for the monsters, this is mostly because of the carry over from first edition, however some are so large they take up entire room spaces, which does damage the atmosphere some what.
The game also includes 24 map tiles, and these will be placed down when required to create the board. The tiles come in two varieties, large or small, and in stark contrast to first edition they will be placed as you explore the area rather than the entire board being laid our before play commences. For me this was a huge positive as it helps to create the feeling of mystery and exploration. Furthermore when the app generates the board it will do so with a degree of randomness, allowing for an even greater level of replay-ability.
The other components consist of tokens and cards which will be drawn and placed when instructed by the app. These represent individuals, items and interact markers throughout the mission. The game comes with a first edition conversion kit which I very much appreciated and was a really great inclusion. This instructs you on how to integrate all your tiles, monsters and investigators from the first edition into this version, which is exceptionally easy as you literally just add the components into this set. These components will then be added into the map generator and will crop up from time to time.
The app is certainly the most important asset to this game and it's compulsory. It can be downloaded for free and drives the entire narrative, presenting the story along with sound effects whilst explaining the placing of new tiles and tokens. Within the gaming community I know there is a bit of hesitation when it comes to the introduction of technology to board games and in some instances it's a gimmick, however within Mansions Of Madness I find it entirely appropriate as it adds to the idea of a struggle against unseen forces. If you played first edition I think you will also find the huge reduction in set up time a bonus.
As I've alluded to previously, set-up is short and sweet. All the cards are separated into their respective types, be these items, conditions, spells or the two ill effect decks, horror and damage. The last two being the only ones that are shuffled and placed face down. During the game the app will tell you when to draw or place these on to the board. Following this you pile up all the tiles and create pools for all the tokens.
Now comes your first decision of the game as you need to choose the scenario. To do this you need to open up the app and click on start a new game. The base game comes with four missions with quite varying difficulty but for your first game I would most certainly heed the game's instructions and play the Cycle of Eternity map, this will certainly be challenging enough. If you have integrated the first edition components you may have a few more options when choosing the scenarios, but I would not recommend any of them until you have played your first game. There is also an estimated playing time for each scenario and these can differ greatly from 60- 90 minutes to 300+.
Now we have the scenario it's time to choose your investigators. The game comes with eight and each player should choose one unless you are playing solo, in which case you should take two. Each of these will have an ability, as well as a set of attributes including their horror and damage threshold. Character abilities differ widely with investigators who have weaker special effects having better traits or more hit points.
In lower player counts you certainly want the more balanced characters as though some actions such as unarmed combat rely primarily on strength and agility this is not always the case and you cannot afford to specialise. Once characters are chosen the game will generate a pool of starting items for you. These are distributed as you wish amongst the party with some items always coming in to play when certain investigators are present. These items range from machetes or crowbars, which have very obvious effects, to spells and even a dog. After completing this step you are ready for the prologue.
This involves the app reading the story for the scenario. This is important, as it will not only set the mood but it also contains some hints as to what you will be looking for. Having a smart TV or tablet comes in handy as you can play it through their speakers. After hearing the prologue you'll be instructed to place the starting tile and any associated tokens, each will be given a description as you place the token so it is also worth listening out for clues here.
Playing the game
You and your fellow investigators are now on the starting tile and there will be a variety of search and explore markers around you, so how do you interact with these? More importantly how do you solve the mystery?
Each round of the game will consist of two phases, the first of which will be for the investigators and the second more ominous one is the mythos phase. During the former each investigator will perform two actions and they will be from the following choices move, explore, search, trade, interact, component or attack actions. Though there are quite a few of these actions they are all extremely simple, the move action is rather self explanatory and allows you to move one space on the board.
The explore, search and interact actions allow you to interact with tokens on the map. This is done by clicking on the corresponding marker on the app and following its instructions, many of these will be skill checks which consist of rolling a number of dice equal to the matching attribute on your character sheet such as a strength or willpower test, and may be modified by how difficult the action you are trying to perform is. The explore tokens are what will expand the board and when interacted with will add a new tile from the box along with any tokens and/or monsters!
Trading allows you to pass items to another investigator in your space, with the component action allowing you to use an action present on one of your cards. This could have a range of effects such as healing yourself with bandages or opening a puzzle box. This brings me to another great feature, certain items once discovered have an interactive function through the app, the puzzle box for example sets you a puzzle which you must solve in a certain number of moves and the journal decides if you have collected evidence for certain missions however these aren't the only interactive items. These little touches were present in the first edition but were no where near as easily accessible and required the set up of a number of parts. The final action is to attack, you do this by selecting the monster which you wish to assault via the apps drop box and choosing which kind of weapon you will be attacking with, this will determine the type of tests that you will carry out.
Once all the investigators have completed their actions you can now select end turn and its time for the game to strike back.
The mythos phase is almost entirely generated by the app and will start off with an effect that may target an individual or all of the investigators, this is almost certainly a negative such as inflicting horror or damage and every turn these tend to get worse, so haste is most certainly of the essence.
You may have realised that I have not stated how you can win this game, this is due to every scenario having different victory conditions and these while being hinted at in the prologue and through token interaction are not revealed until much later in the game. Trying to uncover the objective as early as possible must always be a priority.
Each round will consist of these same two phases with the players trying to uncover the clues that lead to the scenario being resolved before the game resolves itself and that is all I can really share about the game without unveiling too many of the surprises in store.
Utterly brilliant is how I would describe this latest iteration of Mansions of Madness. It brings all the great elements of first edition over whilst streamlining them to make setting up and playing the game such a joy. You do have to be a little careful you don't over click when progressing events and be sure you read all the text but apart from that the game plays incredibly well. The unveiling of the board as the game continues really adds that sense of exploration, and the atmospheric music and sound effects add far more to the game than you may first realise with the game's theme permeating throughout. The investigators will certainly be battling insanity throughout.
Replay ability seems to be the biggest concern and for one of the scenarios this could pose an issue, but with four core scenarios and more to be released through expansions and DLCs on the app this should disappear. If you own first edition then the extra tiles and miniatures are a a welcome edition, giving you more variety but they are in no way essential. If you did want to pick these up though they have been re-released.
So there we have it another great Cthulhu based game and in an over saturated genre, Mansions of Madness certainly stands tall.
Take your first step to insanity
Mansions of Madness is available from our online store, so confront the slumbering evils of the cosmos today.