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Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition Review

July 25th, 2017 by

Mansions 001I don’t do things in half measures. When we decided to start reviewing board games on the site more regularly I had a brief Facebook conversation with Daren to see what was out there – after all, Daren has been balls deep into analogue gaming for just over a year now.

I wanted to start off with something that could just as easily be played in a group or solo, couldn’t involve aliens or dragons (the wife point blank refuses to watch, play or do anything that involves these) and it had to have a digital element so that it was a bridge between our video game reviews and board games.

Daren replied with three simple words – prepare your wallet. After that though he suggested Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition. So I set off and loaded up http://www.findyourgamestore.co.uk/ and searched for my nearest stockist of big boxes of cardboard gaming goodness.

So what do you get with Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition? Well apart from what you have seen in the above Crib Sheet video featuring a box heavy enough to be used as a murder weapon- what do you mean you haven’t watched it? Get back up there and hit play – narrowed down it’s about a team of bumbling investigators wandering around a spooky mansion investigating the mysteries hidden within – think Scooby-doo but with less unmasking and pesky kids and more cosmic horrors intent on destroying humanity and everything else in their path.

The first edition of Mansions of Madness was a one vs many affair where one player took on the role of The Keeper – or the Dungeon Master – but unlike many other role playing games where the DM is encouraged to fudge a couple of rolls in order to facilitate a good game, The Keeper was a full on “versus” role, encouraged to win and crush the hopes and dreams of their friends on the other side. This resulted in some players being eliminated early on and mysteries never even being close to being solved. Not the greatest scenario for a story telling game.

Reading online, the setup of the first edition was also a pain, with the word “chore” being mentioned a few hundred times in articles and forums I read. This element often fell to the person being The Keeper and worse still, one small error in the setup could make the entire scenario unsolvable for the other players. These flaws didn’t stop the game being loved and everyone wanted more – just better.

With the second edition of Mansions of Madness, Fantasy Flight have tried to fix these main issues with a small but often controversial tweak – app integration. However not only have they added app integration but also the complete replacement of the Human Keeper with said app.

I mentioned that this was controversial but why? Well for some the inclusion of an app is enough to discredit the entire game as yet another prime example of novelties in board game. “What happens when the app isn’t supported”, “what if the app breaks?” “What if there is a glitch?” and my personal favourite “We don’t need electronics in tabletop gaming”.

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All of these questions do indeed seem valid, after all Daren recommended this game to me because I wanted a game that bridged analogue and digital games, if I hadn’t put that caveat in my question, there are literally hundreds of other games he could have suggested. After poking around in the app (which is completely free on your app downloading store of choice), I was struggling to see why this was a board game at all.

The app generates the map layout, randomises encounters with monsters and narrates the entire game. Why exactly is this huge box selling for between £75-£95? I opened the box for my first visit to the mansion and it took less than five turns to realise how fantastic this actually is. This is a big box game with lots of awkwardness and set up woes, quite simply I would never ever attempt to play this with the wife as she would get bored during the setup. The app eliminates this by blending into the game and simply becoming another game component. The app literally says “Hey you wanna play this game, enjoy yourself, I got this.”

Awkward setup gone – sort out tokens, pick an investigator, separate a few piles of cards and hit start on the app and you are under way. The app reveals the board as you investigate, it tells you where to spawn monsters and where to put tokens. It keeps track of monsters health and tells you how monsters attack and how they move. It doesn’t however keep track of where the monsters or players are on the board – this you need the human element for and let’s be honest if it did that as well you really wouldn’t need the big box of stuff.

The game is still a dungeons and dragons style experience so if you have enough players, one player controlling the app and reading the narrative to the others works the best but it also works equally well for an investigator to take on this role as well.

Even with the app driving the game this is still a board game at heart and as such you will be rolling dice. A lot of dice. Whether you are trying to open something be that a jammed door or the skull of a riot member, the app will ask you to make a skill check which involves rolling a number of eight sided dies which have elder signs (success), blanks (unsuccessful) or magnifying glasses (clues) with the latter being able to be converted to successes with the use of clue tokens.

With the fact that the check will tell you what scenario will unfold with a pass or a fail,  it’s nice to be able to mitigate some of the luck of the roll away with the spending of tokens but in the end you will experience the agony of defeat which you were sure you would win or the ecstasy of the win when you really had no right to do so – all down to the whims of randomness.

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The same mechanic is used for attacking monsters, you tell the app what type of weapon you will be using, a skill check is rolled and the app gives you the result all sprinkled with lots of narrative and flavour text. As you can imagine this makes combat random and as unpredictable as everything else in the game.

Taking damage in most games is a simple token which counts down your health stat but Fantasy Flight see that as a little boring and, keeping with the unpredictable theme, in Mansions of Madness you draw a wound card which could be anything from a minor wound which counts down your health or something a little more painful sounding which comes with additional penalties.

Sanity works similarly – and this is something Daren has mentioned on a previous podcast – with horror cards drawn when the puny mind of your investigator cannot comprehend the horrors that their eyes are witnessing. Take in too much horror and you’ll end up going insane which means you may be forced to take on a secretive win condition that may or may not be at odds with the other players.

If that wasn’t enough randomness for you, then at the end of each turn the app throws up Mythos Effects – or simply put, bad stuff is going to happen. This is totally random and comes from nowhere. You literally do not know what is coming and there is little in the way of protection from this.

The game comes with four different scenarios of varying lengths and difficulty. To play through them all once will take about 15 hours and you will need to play more than once as the game loves to beat you down so you are unsuccessful. There is also a lot of replayability due to the app randomising everything. There are also a number of expansions you can purchase if you desire.

The components are of the very best quality and design. If you are coming from a mass produced monopoly-esq gaming background then you will be simply blown away; detailed and beautifully illustrated on every card, map board, token, miniature and character sheet. The only low point is the bases the miniatures fit into, often clumsy within the game and prone to “pop-out” from the base.

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If you are a fan of thrill-ride horror or investigations and want to make the leap to analogue gaming then you can do far worse than Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition. A lot of people will be put off by the price point as it is a serious investment however the quality you are getting multiplied by the number of times you will play makes Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition great value for money.

Midlife Gamer Rating: 9/10     Year of Release: 2016
Designer: Nikki Valens     Manufacturer: Fantasy Flight
RRP:  £92.99

Disclosure: Midlife Gamer reviewed Mansions of Madness over the course of  six weeks. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.



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