Mansions of Madness takes people on a journey through dark and mysterious places in HP Lovecraft’s Massachusetts. For years, bands of daring investigators have faced off against a gatekeeper who marshalled the forces of darkness against them, hoping to kill them or drive them insane before they could uncover the mystery that lay within.
As with a lot of 1 vs many games, to get that real co-op experience in the original Mansions of Madness, you needed a big group. It was a very different experience for 2 or 3, and entirely out-of-reach for the solo gamer.
Now though, Fantasy Flight have given us Mansions of Madness Second Edition. Instead of a player controlling the Gatekeeper, this role has been taken by an app. Mansions of Madness Second Edition is fully cooperative, or even a solo game, with a house that unfolds unpredictably before you.
It’s a very good time to be a fan of Lovecraft-themed games, with both Mansions of Madness Second Edition and Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu having recently arrived, and a new Living Card Game due around Halloween, Arkham Horror.
For today though, let’s take a look at what Mansions of Madness Second Edition has to offer.
A flat-pack Mansion – and a town besides
Mansions of Madness Second Edition comes in a huge box, packed with stuff. Inside, you’ll find a selection of tiles from which you will assemble the houses and towns you explore, plastic miniatures depicting your investigators and the monsters they face, along with all manner of cards and tokens
Mansions of Madness Second Edition is a thing of beauty: The art for the location tiles is particularly nice, but all of the graphic-design feels well-done and for the most part, the component quality is as good as you’d expect from FFG.
The Monsters: What a Nightmare!
Used as designed, you’ll never actually see the card-art once you’ve assembled the miniatures…
The big let-down in Mansions of Madness Second Edition, is the monsters. They come in three distinct parts – the cards which show their name and stats, a small plastic miniature, and very sizeable black base.
The bases are large and solid black, hiding the art on the monster card, and obscuring the area of the board they stand on. The pegs that attach the miniatures are generally a poor fit, and you’ll probably need to file/cut/glue to get them to stay put.
When a high end game comes with miniatures that won’t stay on their bases, the internet can be relied on to explode, and Mansions of Madness Second Edition is no exception, with threads all over Board Game Geek debating what to do.
Ultimately, the Monsters certainly aren’t a game-breaking issue: you can wedge them into the bases, or use the tokens by themselves, and have something perfectly functional for playing Mansions of Madness Second Edition. That said, for a game this expensive; particularly one which looks so fantastic in every other respect, it feels like a real shame that they couldn’t maintain the standard here.
So what do we do? How do we solve the mystery?
Each game of Mansions of Madness Second Edition begins by placing your investigators on the tile which represents your starting location. The app will tell you which tile to use, and which search / explore markers you can interact with. Each investigator gets two actions to move, explore, interact with things, or fight any monsters you encounter. If you want to go through a doorway into another room, or investigate an object in a room you are in, you will select it via the app, and be told what tests to take, or tiles to place. Once the investigators have had their turn, the Mythos phase allows the app to generate random events, spawn monsters, and send any existing monsters to assault your mind and body, in an ongoing attempt to thwart you!
William is a fairly balanced character, Agatha’s 5 and 9 (Health and Sanity) and 2 and 5 (Strength and Lore) are the most extreme numbers seen so far
Lots of actions in Mansions of Madness Second Edition will require you to take tests. You roll a number of custom 8-sided dice based on your particular skill level in that area. Each Elder Sign you roll is a success, and each blank face is a failure. Magnifying glasses are typically failures, but you can spend clues or use other card effects to convert them to successes.
At the start of a scenario in Mansions of Madness Second Edition, you are simply exploring. As you progress through the game, details will gradually be revealed until you have a clear objective, both in a narrative and a mechanical fashion. Depending on how long you take in your exploration, the objective can change. Too late to prevent something happening, and your new goal may be damage-limitation or simply escape!
Rise of the Machines: Facing the App
Some people have complained about App crashes / freezes. As the owner of an almost antique iPad Mini, I’ve not had any problems…
The key new element to Mansions of Madness Second Edition, is the app. It can be downloaded free from the App store, or Amazon, and it’s great. It has a really atmospheric feel to it. It captures the dark, gothic feel of Lovecraftian New England, yet manages to remain clean and easy to navigate.
The app also does a really good job of providing unpredictable and changing scenarios for your boardgame, without getting to the point where you just feel like you’re playing a computer game. The app will tell you what new tiles lie behind the door you have just passed through. It will spawn Monsters, telling you who they move towards, and what skill you use to fight them. Despite all this, the app has no concept of where you or the monster may be. As such “a Mythos event effects all investigators in the kitchen” could be disastrous or irrelevant, and you have to confirm whether there’s anyone there for it to take effect.
Puzzles in Mansions of Madness Second Edition are generally used to represent arcane tasks the players have to undertake, or locks or glyphs to be deciphered, and are now automated through the app. Typically solving a puzzle requires you to slide tiles into place on the screen or enter guesses for which symbols appear in a sequence. You can move one tile / make guess for each point of Lore skill you have (so Agatha gets 5 guesses, Yorick only gets 3) – you can also spend clues for extra actions. Having the app generate these puzzles allows a really high level of replayability for an element that would otherwise get predictable very quickly.
It’s Déjà vu. Again!
Aside from the miniatures, the biggest issue people have raised with Mansions of Madness Second Edition, is that it only comes with 4 scenarios. The scenarios are very good: thematic, and without feeling too generic (a complaint some people had about first edition), but there is no denying that limited quantity.
This alley might be there every time, but the person could be elsewhere, or he might be a pile of crates to investigate…
Out of the box, I don’t think the re-playability is the big problem some people have made out: Some scenarios in Mansions of Madness Second Edition will change most times you play, with different rooms appearing, or the same rooms in different places (in 6 games of the first scenario, the house was substantially different on at least 4 occasions). Others are more static in their layout: scenario 2 doesn’t really change in terms of the tile arrangement, but it still offers a varied game-play experience.
The reason for this, is that each session will have a different unfolding of events. You will start with different items, which will have a knock-on impact on what you search for or find. Depending on what actions players take, you may or may not encounter specific Monsters or NPCs (or the same NPC alive or dead!), you will face different random perils, and will no doubt have a very different experience in terms of the damage and horror you suffer.
I don’t want to overstate the variety in Mansions of Madness Second Edition though. Once you’ve played a scenario and been told that to win the game, you need to find your way into SOMEWHERE, stop SOMEONE, and make your escape before SOMETHING happens, then that will be more-or-less set. However, the more I play Mansions of Madness Second Edition, the more I find that the game has new ways of surprising me through the app as something new comes up.
The app-driven nature of Mansions of Madness Second Edition means that it will be hard for fans to create their own scenarios as they did for the previous edition (it would need FFG to release an official scenario-creating tool, something which is being petitioned for by the gaming community), but overall, I’m confident that there be plenty more scenario content to follow, even if it’s currently unclear what this will cost.
Mansions of Madness Second Edition – now with added Madness!
If you’ve played any of the Arkham Horror games, then the strength and sanity ratings for each character will look very familiar. Characters in Mansions of Madness Second Edition typically get 14 points spread amongst the two stats, and you can take a balanced character like William Yorick, or a min/max-er like Rita Young, who is very athletic, but has less mental resilience to balance that out.
Horror (damage to your mind) and Damage (blows to your body) are dealt by Mythos events and interaction with Monsters. You take cards from a deck, some of which will flip face-down, whilst others will remain face-up, inflicting an ongoing penalty.
I really liked the Damage and Horror Decks: having these unpredictable interactions makes things much more interesting than in a game like Elder Sign where Sanity and Health are fairly abstract stats that only matter as numbers. In Mansions of Madness Second Edition, the knowledge that a single card can cause a sudden cascade of additional horror or damage, prevents you from being blasé about a stat that looks healthy, and generally heightens the tension of the game.
Once you have damage equal to your health, you are wounded, which restricts your movement. Everyone can see that you are wounded, and everyone knows what this means. Once you have Horror equal to your sanity however, you go Insane, and only you know quite what form your insanity will take. Insane conditions are an interesting twist to the game – double-sided cards, with a generic front that reminds everyone you have gone mad, and a hidden, randomised, back that describes your new victory condition.
This is brilliantly thematic, and the chaos and uncertainty that ensue are perfectly Lovecraftian. Is your fellow investigator still working for the common good? Or are they trying to burn the place down, and kill themselves/others? That said, these can be a bit awkward in implementation. It’s one of the few aspects of the game which doesn’t fit the “5-minute intro and just start playing,” approach which otherwise makes the game so easy to get into. I’ve also had players growing frustrated when they suddenly acquire impossible conditions. Overall I’m glad they included them, but I suspect that they offer much more gameplay value to a group of experienced players who know each other and the game well enough to lend a role-playing flavour to their sessions, and who feel comfortable messing with each other’s heads.
Reach your limit for Damage or Horror a second time in Mansions of Madness Second Edition, and you are eliminated, triggering game-end after the current round if the survivors have not secured victory.
The Verdict: Madness? Or a no-brainer?
My first batch of painted miniatures, on clear Perspex bases – they don’t overwhelm the Mansion tiles, and I can use the Monster cards as reference aids
The app-driven gameplay of Mansions of Madness Second Edition is brilliant, and this is definitely in the top two for my favourite new game of 2016 (check out this review for the other contender).
It does a great job of telling a story, and creating a narrative experience that is engaging, thematic, and makes for hours of great enjoyment. If you want to play it as is, then ten minutes with craft knife and glue makes the miniatures usable, although there is definite reward for an hour or two spent presenting the miniatures in a more appealing way.
It does seem inevitable that if you play Mansions of Madness Second Edition regularly, you’re going to need extra scenarios eventually – fortunately, more content is on its way!
FFG have already released new two expansions, one containing the tiles and figures from the first edition of the game and another featuring the tiles and figures from the first-edition expansions. Alongside this, 2 new scenarios have been added to the app for Mansions of Madness Second edition, playable “free” if you own first edition, or by buying the expansion (there is 1 scenario attached to each box) if you don’t.
Overall, I loved Mansions of Madness Second Edition, and think it will repay all the time and money you invest in it – just be prepared for that to be quite a lot of both.
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I'm an avid board and card-gamer, still trying to figure out where Board Gaming fits into life as the dad of a very grabby toddler.
I enjoy thematic games (Fantasy, Cthulhu, etc) and play a lot of cooperative games, along with a bit of competitive gaming (currently Legend of the Five Rings) when I can make it out of the house.
When not playing games, I can be found doing a mundane office job, or working on my own Blog, Fistful of Meeples.