Reviewed by Chantal Noordeloos
MANSIONS OF MADNESS: 2ND EDITION (Fantasy Flight Games, 1 to 5 players, ages 13 and up, 120-180 minutes; $79.99)
Sometimes we buy games that simply don’t make it to the table. They sit on our shelves, collecting dust and give us that gnawing feeling of guilt that comes from spending money on something we don’t even use.
MANSIONS OF MADNESS 1st edition was that game for us. It took, I believe, about four years before we finally played it. The rulebook was daunting, and no one wanted to be the player who controlled the monsters. It took four years to get a volunteer to play this part, and we finally got it to the table…
We liked the game, but it was still not something that we would play with just the two of us. It had the same issue as DESCENT… we don’t like playing player versus player unless we are with a group. One on one, we either prefer co-op or the type of game where you really don’t have to attack your opponent.
The new app for DESCENT fixed that problem for us, which made it a lot more enjoyable. Lo and behold… not long after we played MANSIONS OF MADNESS 1st edition, I came across an announcement on Twitter. MANSIONS OF MADNESS was getting a second edition and this one came with an app which would run the game for us. Just like DESCENT.
I may have squealed with joy. This was it… this would get MANSIONS OF MADNESS on our table more often. What luck! And what was even better, they would incorporate the first edition of the game as an expansion, so we didn’t have to get rid of that.
The day the game arrived was magical. Dutifully changed all the cards on the monster miniatures while my husband made his way through the rules. As designed by Corey Konieczka, and like all the Lovecraftian themed games by Fantasy Flight, it has a lot of rules but these are a lot more manageable than the first edition ones. Perhaps it helped us that we played the first edition and had a basic comprehension of the game. Perhaps the app just makes it easier.
Okay, so what about the game? What did we think about it? Spoiler alert… we loved it. The first edition was great, but we enjoyed this quite a bit more. The app really is great to set the mood. The beginning and end of each scenario have a voice actor for the narration. If it was up to me, the game would have more of that. I may be quite proud of my different accents but I don’t think I can do the characters (or setting) justice by reading out all the dialogue and the descriptions. It works great as is, though. It’s not really a complaint, more wishful thinking on my part.
The game reminds me a little of one of those point and click computer games that I loved as a kid. You wander through a world of tiles that keeps growing and changing around you. It really does change, because the NPCs on the board move around. They can run away, or get killed or simply leave. What I love about this game is that it’s more than just the standard “see the monster, kill the monster” game. You explore, discover, talk to characters and you solve puzzles. The latter is has to be my favorite element. The app provides you with simple puzzles that are challenging to solve within the few actions you have. It really brings an exciting element to the game.
People worry about putting digital components into a board game because apps are known to have bugs or crashes. This is true, and it can be annoying. The first weeks that this game was out, the app had a few hiccups. We had some problems with the save and quit function which led us to play the second scenario twice, and we still haven’t finished it. But that’s normal with new technology and I think we should be forgiving about it. Little flaws like that don’t ruin the game-play for us. Fantasy Flight really did their best to fix the problems as soon as possible and I have faith they’ll keep doing so throughout the improvements and upgrades of this game.
So, do I have any negative points? Yes, I do, but they’re small. I rate this game a 9 out of 10, so I really do love it a lot, but it failed to get a perfect ten because of a few niggles I have with it. First of all, whoever decided to make the tiles did NOT think things through. I think it would be so much easier numbering the tiles (odd numbers on one side, even numbers on the other) so that you can stack them away logically. The app keeps asking you to put down tiles mid game, and we spend WAY too much time trying to find them. The more expansions we’ll get, the more frustrating it will be to find the right tiles. I tried to sort them sort of logically, but since they’re two sided, I haven’t found a system yet. This was just poor judgment if you ask me.
Then I have another “niggle”. This is quite a personal one, so I have no idea if other people experience it the same way. It’s about the limited actions; I don’t mind that you only get two actions, that makes the game more challenging and that’s fine by me. What does bother me is that almost everything costs an action. Even the characters special talents or simple things like “picking things up”. That really limits what you can do in the game, and worse… it can lead to “boring turns”. The excitement in this game lies in exploring new areas, searching places, talking to characters and solving puzzles, not in walking around and picking up items that you had to drop in the Mythos phase. One or our friends, who was the only one who could heal us, ended up spending most of his time walking towards us and healing which made the game a little dull for him. We ended up making decisions that weren’t very clever so that he could do experience something other than “I come over and heal you”.
Another thing is that the game can get pretty relentless both for the characters but also for the players themselves, and it can limit characters’ actions quite a lot. My husband went insane half way through our last game (scenario 4, which lasts 4-6 hours) and he spent hours being mute. This meant he couldn’t talk to me (and we were playing a two player game) or to the characters on the board. While that makes for an interesting puzzle—since we had to make sure he did the searching while I did the interviewing—it was too soon in the game to be dealing with this and it did get a bit frustrating at times. There needs to be better ways to clear insanity or injury because we never got the chance in this very long game. And a character can just get very unlucky during the Mythos phase; it can hit you quite hard and give you a lot of damage or horror in one strike.
I don’t mind getting hit hard, but it would be great to be able to heal. The way Arkham horror used to give you the opportunity, I believe, to go to the hospital or psychiatric ward. This game supposedly has items which can help… if you find them (which we didn’t).
Another thing I want to mention (that’s not necessarily a niggle but something worth mentioning) is that I hope FFG will provide us with more scenarios very soon. There are only 4 scenarios that come with the second edition and that’s not enough. The games are replayable—unlike games such as T.I.M.E. Stories, which has a similar feel to it—and I’m sure there’ll be some variety each time you play – but it won’t be as exciting as finding the story the first time. It’s nice not to know what’s going on or what your mission is. The surprises is what makes this game so utterly amazing. We want more of this! A lot more!
Some of the games can get pretty lengthy—so you can’t just play them on a week night if you have to get up early the next day—and it would be nice to have a few more scenarios that would last under 2 hours.
Aside from these little issues, which really didn’t get in the way of the game play too much but were just minor annoyances, we adore this game. It’s the most atmospheric one in its genre that we’ve played so far. The tension is wonderful, the puzzles are awesome and I love the different characters.
I’ve never been a huge fan of the Cthulhu-verse books, but I have to say that the Lovecraftian games really do tickle my fancy. It’s no secret that I’m partial to horror and the Fantasy Flight games manage to put down a pretty interesting setting.
Mansions of Madness really ticked a lot of boxes for us. I feel that the second edition is slightly more streamlined than the first one. It just works.
I would recommend this game to anyone who enjoys a story-driven dungeon crawl with a strong horror theme. You won’t be disappointed! – – – – Chantal Noordeloos
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