Game Buzz: Mansions of Madness

Until I got into gaming, I had absolutely no idea what the Cthulhu Mythos was.  One minute I was living in a Necromonicon free world, then I was suddenly surrounded by Lovecraft.  I’ve tried to read some works by good ole H.P., but I can’t get through them.  It’s primarily his writing style, which is very macabre and descriptive.  I’m sure I’ll give them a go again – I really am intrigued by the legend he managed to create.

Mansions of Madness - image by BGG user Surya

The Cthulhu Mythos has spawned a number of games, including the Call of Cthulhu RPG and the Arkham Horror board game.  I’ve played Arkham Horror and absolutely love it.  Now a new game is coming out in that world, a game called Mansions of Madness.  It was designed by Corey Konieczka and is being published by Fantasy Flight Games.  The game is for 2-5 players aged 13 and up, and takes a purported two hours to play.  It’s been one of the most hotly anticipated games at BGG since its announcement in 2010, owing to the popularity of the Mythos, the pedigree of Fantasy Flight, and the success of Mr. Konieczka (who also designed Battlestar Galactica and Runewars, among others).  The game is semi-cooperative – some of the players will be investigators trying to unravel a mystery, while another is the keeper, who is trying to accomplish some evil scheme.

Mansions of Madness is a Fantasy Flight production, meaning that there is a ton of stuff in the box.  This includes (deep breath) 8 investigator figures, 24 monster figures, 1 ten-sided die, 224 small cards, 126 regular sized cards, 15 map tiles, 72 damage tokens, 24 horror tokens, 24 monster tokens, 18 room feature markers, 4 sample tokens, 12 sealed door markers, 24 skill point tokens, 24 status effect tokens, 13 story choice markers, 12 threat tokens, 6 time tokens, 3 lock puzzle setup tiles, 15 lock puzzle pieces, 23 rune puzzle pieces, 3 wiring puzzle pieces, and 15 wiring puzzle pieces (GASP).  You also get a nicely illustrated rulebook that contains the Investigator Guide with some pregenerated stories, and a Keeper Guide.  The rulebook has been published on Fantasy Flight’s website, but you’ll have to get the game to see the Investigator and Keeper Guides.  No spoilers!

I’m not going to go over everything about the game here.  It’s a typical FF rulebook, with lots of text and lots of complicated little rules.  If I try to understand everything without even looking at the game, I’m sure I’ll go insane.  And while that might be a desirable state to partake of some Lovecraftian whimsy, I’m not playing this for a while and I still have a job to go to tomorrow.

Minis - image by BGG user haarrrgh

At the start of the game, players choose a story and player roles.  The most experienced player should be the keeper.  The monster minis get set up by inserting a token into the base so that pertinent information is visible through the openings.  Other components are separated by type and placed in easily accessible areas.  The investigators and keeper then perform different set ups.  Investigators set up the map, choose characters, read the introductory story, take cards and skill points, and place their figure on the start space (indicated by the investigator guide).  The Keeper performs the steps listed for the chosen story in the Keeper Guide, which include choosing an objective, setting of the Action and Mythos decks, and seeding the board with various cards.  These set ups are done simultaneously, and you can’t make decisions based on what the other side is doing.

Each game round consists of Investigator turns and a Keeper turn.  During the Investigator turn, each player can move up to two spaces and take an action.  You don’t have to do these in order, and you don’t have to do your moves consecutively (you can do your action between your two steps).  Possible actions are to run to an adjacent space, use an ability from a card you control, drop items, attack a monster in your space, or explore to reveal obstacle and exploration cards in the room.  Once all investigators have completed a turn, it’s time for the Keeper turn.  The first thing that happens is that investigators in the same space can trade items, and stunned investigators can get rid of a stun token.  The Keeper then gains threat tokens equal to the number of players, which can be spent to perform actions from Keeper action cards.  Each monster on the same space as an investigator can attack once.  Finally, the Keeper places a time token on top of the event deck.  If the number of tokens equals the number shown on the back of the card, remove the tokens and resolve the event.

If the Keeper fulfills their objective (shown on the objective card), they win.  There are three different objective cards for each  story, so even if you’ve played a story before, the investigators won’t know exactly what the Keeper is trying to do.  The Keeper can also win if all investigators die.  The investigators win by finding all clue cards that are hidden around the board, and then by finishing a final objective that the Keeper will reveal.  If the investigators and Keeper fail to complete their respective objectives by the time the last event card is resolved, the game ends with all players losing.

This is really just a brief overview of the game.  There’s a ton of stuff you have to know, such as how to fight, how to open locks, how to perform checks, and how to read the various symbols, that I’m not going into detail on because a) it would take a long time, and b) I haven’t played the game to actually see how everything works.  This is one of those experience games that you really have to play to understand.  The puzzle-solving aspect appeals to me, but I wonder about the replayability.  It’s nice that each story has three separate objectives, but someone who has played a lot may be able to tell what the Keeper is trying to do eventually.  This is one reason the rules recommend that the most experienced player be the Keeper, but what happens if people have the same experience level?  I’m not sure how many stories there are, and this is a game that almost guarantees expansions, so I’m sure that if you’re done with the base game, you can just move on.

This is an intensely thematic game.  The obvious comparison is to Arkham Horror, although this seems to be a completely different experience.  The early reviews have been quite positive, with no one (so far) rating it lower than a five on BGG.  I’m sure that, once the game is actually released, that rating will fluctuate, but this is definitely one to watch.  They’re still taking preorders, and this game is going to cost you around $80 unless you find a deal online.  Thanks for reading!

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