Mansions of Madness Second Edition Review

Mansions of Madness Second Edition Review

I know there are a few people out there who believe that cardboard and technology should be kept completely separate, that by adding an app via a tablet or computer to their board game domain that they have somehow sullied their table top collection. If you think this way then you are missing out on quite possibly the best cooperative game to come out in 2016 and the most thematic Cthulhu Mythos game that Fantasy Flight Games have ever made, because Mansions of Madness Second Edition may have some minor issues, but otherwise is a superb and deeply thematic adventure game that perfectly marries technology and table top.

The first edition of Mansions of Madness was always a bit of a cult classic (pun intended), a blend of Fantasy Flight Games' Descent dungeon crawler and Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu RPG (the title Mansions of Madness is taken straight from a compendium of scenarios for the pen and paper roleplaying game). It followed a lot of the classic dungeon crawler mechanics; exploration, combat, miniatures and a GM playing the bad guy. It also introduced some new ideas; each mansion was heavily story based and relied on the players solving simple clues, as well as a Crystal Maze like puzzles, before the GM player could complete whatever dark ritual he had in mind.

The problem was it was as shonky as a shoggoth with a gammy leg. The rulebook was more difficult to decipher than the Necronomicon and it took so long to set up it would have been quicker to summon an actual dimensional shambler. Worst of all it, was very easy to make a mistake during setup. I'm still not sure if it was my mistake or an error in the rulebook but one game fell completely apart when we realised the key to a locked door was placed on the wrong side of said door.

Mansions of madness app driven board game review

I can happily say that with one swift arc of a tentacled appendage, all of the problems with the first edition of Mansions of Madness are swept off the table. The game is completely controlled by an app (and it should be highlighted that it is impossible to play Mansions of Madness without the app) so there is no need for a GM or keeper player, set up is near instantaneous (with the mansion slowly revealing as you explore) and the story elements are all controlled and tracked by the app. It changes a complete ball-ache of a competitive game into a painless cooperative and narrative experience.

Did I say painless? I lied. Mansions of Madness does not pull its punches. Rules wise it's a vast improvement over the first edition, with the only ambiguous rule being that regarding range and line of sight, other than that the gameplay runs rather smooth. The problem is it's bloody difficult. Even the first scenario took me three attempts to complete and after five attempts between us, neither myself nor Andy have managed to escape Innsmouth. Whether it's accidentally setting the mansion on fire, losing your grip on reality due the crazy shit going on around you, or simply getting your head kicked in by a Deep One, Mansions of Madness piles on the pressure.

The nice thing is, Mansions of Madness is very re-playable. Even though the main beats of the story will remain the same on each play through, the monsters, location of clues and even the mansion itself will vary each time you play the scenario. Even knowing the solution does not guarantee success, we may now know exactly what we need to do to escape Innsmouth, but that blasted Deep One is waiting for us on the pier slapping a baseball bat into its palm in anticipation.

mansions of madness miniatures board game review

The use of the app not only removes the need for a GM player, it also adds both atmosphere and a mystery that would be difficult to achieve via cards and paper alone. As you play Mansions of Madness the board will be littered with items you can investigate; bookshelves to peruse, family photos to study and locked containers to...erm... unlock. Some of these will require success at various skill checks, which the second edition's new custom dice make a breeze. Your rewards may be further advances to the story, clue tokens or extra weapons and items. The mysteries themselves are never truly earth shattering however, being more like a breadcrumb trail that get you to the right place.

The result is a board game that plays, quite literally, like both a dungeon crawler minis game and a point and click adventure video game, and because of the game's cooperative nature this is often happening at the same time. One player may be running to grab a shot gun so that she can halt the advances of a zombie while another player is desperately trying to work out why the family portrait is so damn important.

There is one aspect of the game that unfortunately draws me right out of the theme though. Many of the scenarios will require you to gain enough evidence and then solve one final aspect of the puzzle. Within the description of the app these will be explained as an old photograph or an intricately carved item, but when you pick up the card to represent that item it's simply says "photographic evidence" or "physical evidence".  It completely breaks the immersion for me as you know for sure you are collecting the pieces to complete the final mystery and removes all manner of investigation and puzzle solving out of the scenario. I would have much preferred these item cards to merely describe the item and then it would be left up to me to work out if they are important or not.

mansions of madness app board game

 Another failing of the app is the puzzles. Occasionally players are required to solve sliding puzzles or crack a combination lock. These puzzles are handled completely in the app, and the actual puzzles themselves are really well implemented if a little on the easy side. My problem is the number of attempts or moves you are allowed to make is based on your character's particular skill level. Unfortunately, although the app tracks how many turns you have had, it doesn't limit it, so a player has to keep track of how many attempts they have made. When caught up in the moment this almost always ends in disaster as a player realises they know how to solve the puzzle and so goes ahead and does so. It would be nice if the app asked you to enter your skill value before attempting the puzzle and therefore limit your actions.

As you might have already worked out, Mansions of Madness is published by Fantasy Flight Games and so you are looking at a table's worth of chits, tokens, miniatures, cards and dice. On the whole, everything is to Fantasy Flight's high standard, with the work on the floor tiles looking particularly gorgeous. There are some people who have had issues with the miniatures, personally, I think they are good enough for a board game, the quality of the moulding isn't quite as good as the first edition but the miniatures do what they need to do.

Mansions of madness monster miniatures

I do have a complaint about the bases and storage of said minis. These miniatures require some minor assembly, mainly plugging the miniatures' pegs into the bases. Unfortunately, they don't stay there of their own accord and so you will probably need to glue them, which leads to the second problem. There's a lot of plastic in this box and no box control. What you do have is the typical folded piece of cardboard trench that has now become standard in Fantasy Flight’s games and you'll be throwing this away as soon as you open the box but then you’re going to have to find a way of storing those minis safely. Maybe I've been spoilt by CMON and Monolith, but it would be nice if Fantasy Flight Games started introducing a way to safely store your minis. Unfortunately, this will lead to an increase in the price.

Which leads me onto the kicker, the price. Mansions of madness has an RRP of £94! That's just under 100 rips for a board game and is unfortunately an eye watering price. Now you do get a lot of cardboard and plastic in that box but it's difficult to recommend a game at that level of investment. I will say this however, that Mansions of Madness is my favourite game of 2016 and is in stiff competition with the Arkham Horror LCG for the best game in Fantasy Flight Games’ Arkham series. It's got atmosphere, puzzles, tactical miniature combat and exploration. I have already racked up more hours of enjoyable gameplay than any other game I purchased in 2016 and if you are weighing up a game based on 'bang for buck', in my opinion Mansions of Madness Second Edition has already payed it's due.

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