Mansions of Madness (2nd Edition) Review

Experience horror and radness in the Mansions of Madness.

A rad picture.
The townsfolk finally had enough of the local gravedigger’s constant Shakespeare quotes.

Mansions of Madness (MoM) is a new, redesigned version of the fantastic (but flawed) board game of the same name from 2011. In MoM, the players control investigators in a Lovecraftian horror-mystery-adventure story; uncovering clues, finding items, solving puzzles and keeping raving lunatics at bay with kitchenware. The majority of the events in the game are tied to the chosen story scenario, of which there are several available, but you can be almost certain that strange rituals are being held and unspeakable abominations (and your demise) are constantly drawing closer.

In the previous edition, the monsters and events were controlled by one of the players, who also knew the position of items along with the overall story and basically opposed the other players. This could be likened to classic tabletop roleplaying games with one player being the dungeon master (keeper in the Call of Cthulhu RPG), but  with a more malevolent intention. Some gaming groups would find this perfectly fine, but mine have a habit of harboring grudges if you slap them on the wrist with a ritual dagger. Thus the game often felt ”fake” as whoever played the opposing keeper dared not use his/her full arsenal against the investigators.

But let us all raise our hands up towards the cosmos and praise the glorious madness that is the second edition of MoM! The opposing player has been replaced by an evil AI mastermind and all the story events and descriptions are handled by a digital companion app. This redesign has turned the game into a fully cooperative experience where the players explore together, discover together and die together as the app tells you what you find behind the unlocked door, what you hear when you answer the telephone, and which horrible monster is going to take your brain.

A cool picture.
The app tells you where to put map tiles and various tokens, along with descriptions of events and outcomes.

The app is available for download on PCs, mobiles and tablets, although the mobile screen is quite small and a hassle to pass along in a group. We found our own preferred setup to be a laptop with a wireless mouse, plugged into a TV screen. A tablet, if available, would probably be a fine option as well.

The transition into a digital-physical hybrid has made the game much faster to setup and more pleasant to play. The atmosphere, immersion and suspense when playing a new scenario is top-notch and the various choices in the game are exciting. Should we investigate the room we heard a noise from or barricade the door? Would accepting the offer made by a mysterious voice be wise? Should we run or should we try to fight? This brings us to the only major flaw in the game which is replayability.

The first time through a scenario is fun and intriguing, but the second time through is like reading a detective novel again. Sure, it may be fun to read it again but you kind of know all the twists and turns already. The randomization of the content is far less than advertised, with only the location/type of some characters, rooms and items changing on our second playthrough. Despite this the game oozes fun for hours and future scenarios are sure to come.

 

Designer: Nikki Valens
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Platforms: Table/Floor for the physical game, PC/Mac/iOS/Android for the digital app.
Players: 1-5
Playtime: 2-3h+
Release date: August 4, 2016
Ages: 14+