23 May 2013

Mansions of Madness first impression and thoughts

Anders at our club invited me and a couple of other guys to try out Mansions of Madness, it's a game that could best be described as a zoomed in version of Arkham Horror. I've been looking at this game since it was released a while ago but just had a weird gut feeling that something was off, or at least didn't directly appeal to me enough to buy it myself.

First of all I love Arkham Horror, however as I got more expansions for it the game became a lot better and more interesting - but also a damn chore to setup and clean up. As such perhaps Mansions of Madness should appeal to me since it is a (slightly) less component heavy game. But what made me hesitate was the limited amount of scripted scenarios, five to be exact.

Talking with Anders about this he said that there are indeed five scenarios (meaning 5 different floor plans) but that each scenario had 3 different stories which the game master could pick from, and that there were further variations within those 3 stories that could slightly alter them even further.

You could argue that once you have played 15 games you got your money's worth, but since boardgames (and especially Fantasy Flight Games titles) are so expensive I have this built in preference of being able to play a game without running into this dead end of already played through content.

You could argue that games like Descent 2 or Battles of Westeros have the exact same problem, but I would disagree, since Descent 2 at least offer character development making the amount of variants vastly increased, and Battles of Westeros is about tactics first and the "story" second. Mansions of Madness on the other hand is a very story driven and thematic game that is exciting to play when you don't know what's going to happen and it relies heavily on the "investigators" not knowing all the story elements, the tricks that the GM can pull and being able to foresee events.

My worry is thus that once you have played through the stories and variants of the core game it may be difficult to find it as exciting as it was during the first "fresh" play through, because as soon as you realize what story is being played much of the game and possible plans of the GM are spoiled.

Having played only once so far, I have to say that my worries have not been put to rest and I still think that the game suffers from the scripted content. I could argue that FFG should have included more scenarios in the scenario book, but on the other hand it is possible (but players very rarely have time, imagination or energy for it) to come up with your own scenarios and floorplans - thus prolonging the enjoyment and replayability of the game.

Now a bit about the game itself.

I't quite good, I have only played it once but I don't think it is super awesome. My perception may be clouded by everything I have already written.

It did however feature a couple of really interesting aspects that I really liked. In game puzzles that created a bit of a "adventure game" atmosphere where you have to solve puzzles. In this case there were mosaic, lock en fuse box puzzles. These would all have been dead simple to solve had not the game enforced a limitation directly tied to the character you are playing. The more intelligent the character the mode work you can spend on figuring out the puzzle during one attempt. The game allows players to pick up where they left with the puzzle, or let another investigator finish it for them in a subsequent turn - but you always tried to solve it in one go to save "in game time".

Another thing I liked was the way the game master had planned out his whole  take on the story game and certain effects only occurred if the circumstances in the game were fulfilled. The game master also seemed to have a bunch of options at hand which he could play during various circumstances such as when the health or sanity of an investigator reached a low level.

The thing I liked the most however was some kind of "weapon/damage" deck which was played each time an investigator intended to fight something. The investigator declared what weapon was going to be used, and before any die was rolled the GM drew a card that related to that weapon and provided a random effect - such as suddenly running out of ammo, going nuts and firing at everything in the room, accidently dropping your weapon, doing critical damage etc. This created a much more tense and unpredictable combat situation than simply min/maxing weapon vs monster the way you do in Arkham Horror.

Anders said that the game had fulfilled its purpose when I at one point declared "we are all fucked no matter what we do..." when things were going really bad, and yeah it was interesting to see how you began thinking about how to survive rather than how to best kill the monsters.

On the other hand the game we played was slightly absurd in that we died with IIRC 4 investigators and new investigators were constantly arriving at the house. I poked fun of this, especially since the entrance of the building was burning since the early beginning of our game and how that, gunshots and wild screams kept attracting curious neighbors. The possibility to get new investigators when you die is also featured in Arkham Horror. However where it is relatively rare to lose an investigator completely in Arkham Horror the setting and gameplay of Mansions of Madness is a LOT more deadly and it kinda broke the immersion a bit throwing new characters into the story. It also made the game more action oriented than I would have liked. I actually liked the very beginning of the game where it was more of a mystery and exploration with the sense of danger  more than the later stages of the game when monsters kept spawning at a rate which was impossible to handle.

I won't write this game off, or recommend it, at this point. I feel I would need to play it a couple more times to see if there is a pattern of how games develop. These were just my first impressions and thoughts about the game which I have been curious but very hesitant to get into myself.

One last thing that though, the miniatures you get in the game look a LOT better unpainted than the "pre-painted" versions you can buy through FFG. The painted versions looked horrible, so don't waste you money on that and keep with the nice and much crisper looking raw plastic look.


  1. Intriguing. Great write up and photo's and really useful for someone considering this game.

    1. The production value is truly top notch, as always with FFG products and they recycle a lot of the great artwork from Arkham Horror (which has also been used in the Call of Cthulhu card game).

      It just didn't fully click with me after having played it, usually I know if I like or don't like a game after a single play through but it wasn't possible to tell just yet with this one. It had some good things, but it had elements that worried me, very heavy emphasis on combat that spiraled out of control towards the late game and possible replay value issues are the biggest concerns.

  2. Having read your article, I have to say I agree with some of your criticisms.
    Due to it being story-based the replay value is more limited than other games. I'd argue the level, since the stories are open-ended enough and - as you noted - the storyteller gets to make choices beforehand in order for it to change from game to game. That way it's also different for the storyteller each other Still, it doesn't have as high replay-value as for example Britannia has.
    It's possibly also on purpose, since this way Fantasy Flight is able to sell more stories as add-ons afterwards ^ ^

    I'd have to disagree with the combat-focus, though. That particular game we had that time ended up particularly combat heavy, as it's built around the concept of cultists rallying to stop you.
    Spontaneously, I'd say the combat in this game is overall comparable to Arkham Horrors level. Fighting monsters is a core aspect, but not the main aspect.

    If we get the chance, I'd love to ST another session. Having read your article I think I have one that you guys would really like
    ...which is also one of the things I like about this game: You can choose story (or create your own, for that matter) depending on what you group etc you're playing with. What the story is focused on, as well as the win-conditions for either players or the storyteller are, depends a great deal on the storyteller's choices before the game, and they're quite varied


  3. Given your experience with 18th C. Horror gaming it would be extremely interesting to have you commenting on A Touch of Evil. I wonder if it could be transposed into a 'real' table-top game à la Chaos in Carpathia / Strange Aeons?

    1. I have never played it, I have seen it on the shelf in the local game store but never picked it up - the cover picture was quite off putting - looking it up on Boargamegeek though and seeing the contents is a great contrast!

      Now I may have to put that on my list :-)


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