Well kids, there comes a time in every nerd’s life that you just find yourself ambling down the road of life only to realize you’ve left some much beloved geek-tivities (activities for geeks for those not in the know) to fall by the wayside. You find a box of your old stuff in your parents’ attic and say “Man! I forgot all about this! Why the crap did I ever stop using this?” Then the adult in you chimes in and says “Age, money, kids, job…” And you say, “Alright grown-up brain…simmer down…jeeesh!” Anyways, where was I going with this? Oh yes… renewing your nerdy teenage membership card!
Pen and paper RPGs, who remembers those bundles of fun?! I sure do! My Cyber-Knight was a force to be reckoned with!! I lost touch with my Rifts and D&D roots a long time ago for the above listed reasons. And with no real other players to call upon, besides my wife, I just kind of accepted my fate and let it go. Until now that is! While Mansions of Madness isn’t exactly a pen and paper RPG, it definitely scratches that itch perfectly for modern day adults. Tons of character types to choose from, plenty of randomized scenarios, and a tidy 60 to 240 minute play time (and sometimes even more!). Combined with a convenient companion app that takes over the role of dungeon master, what more could you ask for?
This game actually belongs to my youngest brother, who never quite dove into the pen and paper RPGs the way I did, but he still really likes a good meaty board game. Also, he’s young, and single and apparently had eighty bucks just lying around to drop on a fancy board game….crazy kids these days! At any rate, we happened to be visiting him when it arrived in the mail and we (my brother, my wife and myself) all huddled around the coffee table in gaze-mazement at all the tokens,map tiles,cards and figures that lay before us. In that moment a silent agreement was made that “Oh yes, we would play this together on this very day”. Boy, did we vastly underestimate the depth of this game. So, put on your wonky detective caps and put your feet up by the fireplace as I bring you down into the depths of mystery and despair, Cthulhus and witches, crappy figurines and overpriced expansion packs! * waves hands majestically*
Human Sacrifice! Dogs and Cats Living Together! Mass Hysteria!
So, I understand that there is an older version of this game that probably does come much closer to being a pen and paper RPG of sorts. This was due to the need of an actual Dungeon Master type person in order to play. But our sights were set on the newest, second edition of the game that boasted the use of a free app that took over the job of DM. This also gave everyone the chance to play and enjoy the mystery solving together. Isn’t technology grand?
First of all, let me say, that this game is an outright beast! It comes in a huge box covered in tantalisingly spooky artwork that immediately made me want to dive right in and start solving whatever horror themed mystery they felt like throwing at me. It also made me feel like playing Bloodborne. Same era and atmosphere…excited yet? This train hasn’t even left the station yet baby, so hold on to your socks!
The contents of the box were equally impressive, albeit slightly overwhelming at first glance. Now, the version my brother ordered came with a few of the expansion packs already included so there was more stuff in this box than if you were you to just buy the base game itself. Honestly, the sheer amount of stuff they crammed into this seemingly bottomless box was staggering.
It’s Not a Purse, It’s Called a Satchel. Indiana Jones Wears One!
The map tiles come in two sizes: (small 3.5in x 7in, large 7in x 7in). All are double sided and labeled, so the game can tell you exactly which tile to lay where during play. These tiles, along with the tokens and enemy cards, are made out of hefty, sealed cardboard that’s super sturdy and almost feel like they’re made out of wood. The artwork is fantastically bright and detailed, capturing that Gothic Victorian vibe perfectly. Most of the artwork reflects a nighttime atmosphere, be it an indoor or outdoor map tile. This is significant given most of your investigations will take place after dark, with you and your colleagues trying your darndest to survive until morning. Easier said than done a lot of the time believe you me!!
The token pieces are made from the same sturdy cardboard and initially need to be punched out of a larger slab of cardboard. So very satisfying! They are also double sided with the clue tokens being the only ones that don’t have different images on each side. There is a corresponding token to cover just about all your nerdy needs like little green keys called clues for altering the outcome of various dice rolls, red lantern tokens that represent explorable areas and yellow question marks for searchable areas. There are also specific and non specific NPC tokens that the game will tell you when and where to place. All of these are people you can interact with and possibly gain information or items from. Also included in the menagerie are tokens to represent fire/darkness, walls/doors, cellars/manhole covers, barriers/blockades and little colored symbols that fit into the monster bases to differentiate between like enemies. There are even more tokens I could go on and on about, but I think you get the point….you are buried in a mountain of tokens, none of which are superfluous.
Roses Are Red, Violets Are Blue. I’m a Schizophrenic And So Am I.
Now onto the cards, to which there is also a mountain, but a much less daunting one. Most of the cards are pretty straight forward such as weapons, spells and status effects, each one with clear instructions for their use. There are also evidence cards, that depending on your scenario are necessary to collect in order to complete the investigation. Each character is granted a certain number of physical health (represented by an anatomically correct heart) and mental health (anatomically correct brain…that is blue). Based on your dealings with monsters and obstacles you will be given these cards accordingly. The face up card will have a written penalty of varying severity, some as simple as just keeping the damage and flipping the card over or gaining a temporary status effect, all the way up to nasty business like discarding items or drawing more damage/insanity cards.
Face down, the cards are merely counters, but at any time the game can tell you to flip one over and relive one or more of your past penalties. Gain enough of either card, face up or down, and you will either become injured (from too much damage) or go insane (from too much horror). And here is where the game can take a sharp turn into “no longer co-op friendly CareBear land”. Being injured just means that your actions become limited, which while a pain in the butt is nothing, NOTHING compared to the rolling wave of destruction insanity will wash over your game. Now some Insanity penalties are benign and nothing will happen other than making your teammates sweat for the remainder of the game over what fresh hell you just drew from the deck, while others will completely turn the game on it’s head.
Imagine that in order to win now you have to set fire to everything, or steal your teammate’s items or you can no longer speak. Or maybe in order to win you now have to make sure your teammates are also injured or insane. The real kicker is you can’t tell the other players what your insanity card has instructed you to do. You just have to wreak havoc and hope they catch on to your plan. Doesn’t it just make you want to rub your hands together and cackle maniacally? Upon becoming Injured or Insane your slate gets wiped clean of all facedown damage and insanity cards, however should you be unfortunate enough to take more damage or insanity to re-reach your limit you die and everybody loses…EVERYBODY….way to go man, seriously!?
I’m Here To Chew Bubblegum and Kick Ass…
When all is said and done, enemies are pretty straightforward. There is a picture token for each one with some stats and flavor text on the back. They give some health and power stats on the front as well, but those aren’t really used in game as far as I can tell. This might be a leftover mechanic from the first edition of the game where I imagine you were also given someway to track each enemies HP. In the handy, dandy second edition though, the App takes care of everything from tracking damage during battle to enemy movements and conditions. I’ve also noticed that depending on the scenario you’ve chosen to play, enemies of the same type will have different HP and require different stats for a successful slaying. I’m not sure if there are figures available for every enemy, but there were a fair few included in the set we were using. All the figures in their own right were fairly impressive and detailed, especially the Cthulhu. Feel free to pronounce that as you please by the way…tomato/tomato….wow that really doesn’t translate into writing does it? Toe-may-toe/Toe-mah-toe? Kuh-thoo-loo/Se-thoo-loo? It’s just a word….calm down….nobody needs to get trolled….*finger guns at the ready*
While the figures themselves are quite remarkable, that all swiftly comes crashing down when you realize that only with a prayer and/or crazy glue do these things stand up properly in their little plastic bases. Being the tactile perfectionists that we are we opted not to glue the monsters in, but instead simply suffered through our campaigns with unenthusiastic riot mobs brandishing their torches and pitchforks while laying down in the alleyways or if we are feeling super uninspired by our enemy selection we will just use the straight up enemy picture token. An imagination is a terrible thing to waste kids!!
Honestly, the MSRP for this game is $120, for that I think they could have designed the monster figures a little better, something as simple as…oh I don’t know…making the plastic feet pegs the same size as the base holes? I managed to make them all stand up somewhat properly for pictures, but that was because they weren’t being shuffled around on a lopsided game table. Believe you me there was still a great deal of deep breathing, going to my happy place and resetting involved just for those few shots. Maybe if my brother decides to paint them he will glue them into their bases as well, but otherwise it would cause a major storage dilemma to try and fit them back into the box along with everything else.
If I’m Not Back In Five Minutes, Just Wait Longer…
The App that Mansions of Madness uses is a work of art in of itself. As I mentioned earlier it takes on the role of Dungeon Master and story teller so everyone can equally spend a few stressful hours attempting to plumb the depths of some mystery, all whilst trying to stay sane and not die. Friendship Goals!! The App is free to download on Steam and while a read through the provided lengthy instruction manual is definitely recommended the App does a great job of taking care of the base needs of the players. Also, while the game is best played with multiple people the App makes it easy and still pretty fun to play a single player campaign if you wish.
Starting out you are given a list of scenarios to choose from. Each one will have a small synopsis, a level of difficulty, and a suggested play time. Let me get this out in the open right away…suggested play time is BS!! Not once in all of the times we’ve played Mansions of Madness so far have we even come close to beating it in their suggested time frame. The first time we played it took us about five hours total to complete! Granted, it was all new to us and we were constantly going between playing and reading the rule book. Even now though, a game will still take us at least 3 hours to complete if we don’t institute our “House Rules”.
In the interest of time and sanity, there were a few of the delivered rules we decided to slightly alter after playing the game a few times succinctly dubbing these alterations “House Rules”. I wont get into what changes we made since I have no intention of blathering on about the rules and play structure especially for those of you who haven’t played it, but suffice it to say they just made the gameplay run much smoother for us and made it much less of a drawn out slog to victory.
The only downfall of the companion app really is that while you can indicate which expansions you have prior to setting up your game, you can’t indicate that you have both the scenario and all accompanying playing pieces in your possession. It is unfortunately possible to own the digital scenario expansion, but then you are left having to shell out fifty bucks to get the map tiles to go with it which is a major bummer. If you own the first edition of Mansions of Madness you can use some of those pieces which is definitely nice though. Also, to my knowledge, Fantasy Flight Games intends to fully transfer over the first edition scenarios into the App, which will be great for people who already own the physical game. Not so great though for us newbies, but really are you even a nerd if your hobbies don’t have the potential to cause bankruptcy?
I’m In a Glass Case of Emotion!
Once you indicate to the App which characters will be playing you will be drawn in to your chosen scenario by means of a well-spoken narrator (who, for whatever reason, I always picture as the butler from the first scenario) reading you a scripted prologue accompanied by some truly great artwork to set the stage. The App will randomize suitable Map tiles from what sets it knows you have to work with, giving you usually a single tile to start off. You will be shown where to put the various tokens and clicking on each will cause windows to popup with information and potential dice roll options. Each scenario will have a base story and a few in game mechanics that will always be the same whenever you play, but for the most part everything else will be randomized making replayability very high.
There are plenty of expansion packs available, some physical, some digital. Obviously, the digital ones are extremely cheap since all you get are new scenarios. The physical ones on the other hand can range from $30 to $60 and while that may seem steep I feel the price is justifiable given the amount of content included in each. And compared to other games of this type those prices are generous! *cough cough Dark Souls cough* But that’s a story for another day.
I gotta say I was super stoked when my brother first told me about this game, even more so when he decided to buy it himself and save me the eighty bucks I would have inevitably spent to do so myself. Mansions of Madness was just the game I needed to revive that long-thought-dead part of me from my youth. Plus, it now has me looking for other games of similar nature. Hooray for expensive hobbies!!! The cost is high but so is the fun! And you can put that on a t-shirt!!
So, have you ever played Mansions of Madness (old or new versions)? Did you or do you still play pen and paper RPGs? Who is your favorite character to play?
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