Lately we have been playing a lot of Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition, so I thought it was time to do the Mansions of Madness Review!
Product: Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition
Company: Fantasy Flight Games
Mansions of Madness Review
Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition (MoM2) is a story and event driven game focusing on mystery and investigation in a Lovecraft-themed world. At its core is an application driving the story, and creating the progress for the players.This is not the first we’ve seen of MoM: its 1st Edition has been out for a while now and was a ‘player as the Gamemaster (GM)’ driven game. Unfortunately this often ended up being GM vs characters. MoM2 thankfully does away with a player for Gamemaster and unfolds the story through the use of software application (mobile or PC), acting as the GM. This makes MoM2 a fully cooperative game, and I feel this change is a huge improvement. Gone are the ‘human error’ moments of mis-reading an adventure path or forgetting to place vital clues; this is all handled by the application now and it has yet to misplace anything.
Look and Feel
Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) has a history of delivering excellent quality products and this game is no exception. The quality is great and the theme is really presented in the look of the game board tiles, miniatures and tokens. Even the application really presents the right look and feel for the game, adding appropriate sound, voice acting and background music.
The theme of course is Lovecraftian horror, and that is exactly the feel you get from the game. As mentioned above, the game elements themselves present this but so do the stories you play through. A lot of time and effort seems to have gone into the adventures/ stories and how things both proceed, and how the difficulty ramps up over the duration of a game. Even though certain events seem telegraphed at times, it doesn’t really detract from the game.
The biggest concern people seem to have is how much the app breaks immersion. I am going to be on the other side of that fence and say that I feel the app aids, rather than hinders, immersion. As well as presenting the right feel with visuals and sound, it also keeps the story and event triggers hidden so players aren’t able to set up their pieces knowing what is to come. Encounters are randomised based on your collection of tiles and miniatures (gained via expansions), so this means you never quite know what to expect. This increases replayability, as the tile and encounter arrangements will vary slightly between replays.
MoM2 has two game Phases: the Investigator phase where players have their turn, and the Mythos phase where the bad things happen and the application organises encounters and events against the players.
The games mechanics are simple, with each character getting 2 actions a turn choosing from a small number of action types. Custom dice retain the theme of the game and are rolled to obtain successes, of which a minimum number is needed to succeed at a task. These simple mechanics means you can focus on the mystery and story, not the mechanics themselves.
Dice have 3 types of results: blank, investigation and Elder Sign. Elder Signs are successes; investigation results are able to be upgraded to successes via the use of clue tokens, equipment, powers or conditions; and blanks are just bad luck. As an RPG-Lite style of game, each adventurer has a card providing background, stats and abilities. These indicate the amount of dice to roll for a given check and various cards (equipment, powers or conditions) may also modify these checks.
The key part of the MoM2 system is the app which, as mentioned above, acts as the GM for the game. This allows all 5 players to now play cooperatively. The app handles the layout of the board/ map and reveals the story as you go. Puzzles and investigations are also handled fairly elegantly by the application, allowing for multiple attempts to be made by multiple players. Combat is also presented by the app, providing story text, required player rolls and results. Best of all, the application allows itself to be customised by your collection and randomises some of the events, monsters and layouts based on that customisation. I feel the apps adds to MoM2 and makes it much more accessible: it is an excellent tool allowing the players to focus on the game, rather than the minutiae of remembering random points.
MoM2 is good at providing a great atmosphere and tense gameplay. This game is for those who love the Lovecraft mythos, the horror/mystery genre with investigative aspects, and cooperative games. MoM2 feels like a very interactive but open and well themed ‘choose your own adventure’ set in a Cthulhu mythos story.
As stated by FFG. the game really can handle between 1 and 5 players well, and is another strength of the game for those that enjoy solo play. The duration of games tends to be slightly longer than advertised on the story selection screen however.
MoM2 isn’t really designed for people with little interest in the Lovecraft theme, or mystery/investigation genre. Players will spend most of their game time moving around a map, uncovering more of the board and story, and investigating what is going on. Player confrontation is minimal to non existent and combat, while it does exist, is not the key focus.
The potential for MoM2 is huge with expansions providing more box packs with miniatures and map tiles, or simple app releases with new stories. Combined with the smart way the tile/expansion sets are broken up and selected in the app, extensive variation is provided and available allowing FFG to make future updates as granular as they desire. Almost any manner of story can be told and players are kept in suspense with surprises handed out via the application.
MoM2 is a massive step up from the 1st Edition. It retains the look and feel of the previous, but the move to the app-based system is an excellent step forward. The game falls in the same realm as games like Betrayal at the House on the Hill and Dead of Winter, but is a more narrative/story telling game with more focus on solving the puzzles together as a group.
There are a few things we found in playing that are worth remembering
- If you own the old MoM 1st Edition you can use your existing tiles and minis. When you then buy the 2nd Edition game there are upgrade instructions showing how to incorporate what you already have into the new game. This will save you purchasing two repackaged sets for the 2nd Edition.
- It is important to remember you can save the game and there are autosave points, at the end of each phase. The downside is you can’t save in the middle of a phase.
- There is a log file available of all the text shown in the game so far. As a part of the options, you can view the log. If you miss a discussion or result, you can scroll through, find it, and apply what you missed.
There are some criticisms of the game and while the game is excellent there are a few things to note.
- The game itself is costly, around the AUD$160 mark for the base set, and up to AUD$70 for the expansions. To be fair that does get you a lot of tiles and miniatures and a half dozen or so stories to play through.
- The game absolutely requires the app. People who don’t want to use it, or don’t like the idea of it, should stay away as there is no facility to play without the app.
While personally I feel the app is brilliant, there are downsides. If you have no power, you have no game. Make sure your chosen device is charged, preferably with the ability recharge while you play. Keep in mind that the app will drain your battery fast.
- To get the most out of things, we found that projecting the app on a centralised TV was much better than passing around a tablet, which can break immersion. That has the potential problem of needing a TV handy with a way to connect your device by casting or having a wired connection to your device before starting. That being said, when your tech side of things is set up and working it is simple to get started.
- I strongly suggest organising your tiles and tokens. Game setup really is simple and quick as long as you actually have everything organised, ready to go, and can easily find the floor tiles and tokens you need. If not, expect to spend a reasonable amount of time looking for things.
- One final thing about the app, and some comments that have come from our gaming group: it really is only one step removed from being a complete online game. It would not take much to include digital cards, tokens and playing pieces, and it could be a complete online or digital game. Obviously then it isn’t a board game but it is interesting to see what could occur in the future.
All up I love Mansion of Madness 2nd Edition. The application is an asset, allowing the game to be played cooperatively while not know what is coming. Add to that my collection is randomised every time I play the game and no game is identical.
It did take a bit of setup time, and the technical aspects still plague us occasionally , usually when we play in new locations.
If you love Cthulhu and the Lovecraft genre, and you love story based games that are cooperative I can’t recommend this enough. It is an excellent game, but beware the costs (both initial and hidden).
Rating: 9/10, only losing a point for the cost and occasional fiddliness of setting up the game.
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Contents: Easier seen at the FFG webpage
Game Style: 1 to 5 players. Investigation and story based, cooperative gaming. Custom dice.
Pictures have been sourced from Fantasy Flight Games website.