"There was an old man named Kent,
Who came from the village of Brent.
He rejoiced at the night,
For the stars where right.
Chanting Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn as he went."UPDATE AUG 2012:
My rating of "9" was preliminary.
Further exploration of the game, especially including the Forbidden Alchemy
expansion, has revealed this game to be a breathtakingly ambitious design - that I for one, love wholeheartedly. Even though I dread setting the bastard up, the game deserves a "10" rating. Hardcore gamers should regard this as a totemic item, worthy of worship.
Twenty years ago, Mansions
would have been regarded as a world-beating masterpiece. I fear nowadays, this design might have been overlooked in some circles - those people are wrong. And not just because I say so.
If you love the Cthulhu dressing, crave a diet-RPG adventure - and aren't intimidated by some fiddly rules and systems, you will adore what is on offer here. Play this on an unhurried evening (maybe once a month) with three other like-minded friends, a full set of painted miniatures, and Ryleh may just rise for you.In relating the circumstances which have led to my confinement within this refuge for the demented, I am aware that my present position will create a natural doubt of the authenticity of my narrative.
1. Amazing theme. I have loved Lovecraft's scribblings since I discovered his non-euclidean works at age twelve or so - offbeat, overwrought horror stories packed with mysterious ancient tomes written by mad Arabs, hysterical folk driven insane by terrible revelations and strange beasts, and a pantheon of tentacled gods the likes of which man was not meant to know. Nowadays, more wonderful than the lore of old men and the lore of books is the secret lore of boardgames.
2. A very deep, heavy box of goodness is exchanged for your coin. And it's adorned with a superb painting, I might add.
3. Fantastic miniatures - the sculpts are very detailed and in great, iconic poses. You also get quite a few of the bleeders for your delectation, each with a system of clever figure-base slots. Slide into it a monster chit describing on the underside a powerful figure-specific power, on the front the beast's two ratings (horror and awareness); all this is easy to see for the players without book-keeping or stat-cards. Nice.
*I am almost salivating in anticipation of painting the cultists (in a Resident Evil 4 style, of course) and eldritch monsters.
4. Smooth and elegant rules. With some very minor referencing of the rulebook during play proper, I'd say a competent gamer can run a game without too much loss of insanity.
5. Smart design. Real smart. Professor Pabodie of the Lake Expedition smart. Unique and radical in its capacity to foster an atmosphere of tense, exciting, thrilling exploration and pulp adventure. This deserves to be a huge success and make everyone involved a coffin full of used bucks. Might be one of the most influential games ever designed, only time will tell. I don't like everything that Corey has accomplished, but this is his masterpiece.
6. In the main, the game is simple and fast to run. You may have to read the rules regarding evade and horror checks a few times, but not much else besides. Turns speed past quickly, with little or nothing outstaying its welcome.
7. Hugely fun for the keeper player. I happen to like setting rooms ablaze and turning out the lights while manoeuvring a mewling Shoggoth toward a half-insane investigator (in the game-world!). You know, it was a lot of fun just closing in on the players with mad, dagger-wielding cultists, even before summoning any horrors from beyond. After thinking about it for a bit, I also believe that you have to play the keeper slightly
like a storyteller. Even though you're a team unto yourself, out to win the game, I think if you break into smithereens everything the players find and use, afflict them with every malady at your disposal, break their legs, poke them in the eyes, throw paintings at them with poltergeist activity, you may
find that they don't want to play again. All the fights with monsters are fair game, I would add, just don't beat the investigators black and blue throughout the whole game with interrupt cards. Who doesn't hate it when their character is moved by the enemy? Oh, that would be everyone.
8. Tactical and strategic decisions are available for both teams. You feel like what you do makes a difference, and that every move and action counts, especially towards the end.
9. Seems to scale well for 2-5 players. The jury is still out on the 2-player experience, but the investigator player could play more than one character easily, if that is what you chose to do.
10. Mini-games. Oh the mini-games! These add enormously to the unfolding narrative, providing fun relief, and a pinch of jeopardy to the proceedings: try fixing a fuse and wiring puzzle with a abomination from another dimension shambling toward you!
TIP 1: put a teacloth over unfinished puzzles - so that players don't figure out the puzzle when they're not supposed to.
TIP 2: I beseech you to use the optional 60-second time limit for puzzle solving. It worked in Space Hulk, and boy does it work well here.
11. Well written rulebooks. Mostly. It took me two readings of the rules for me to grasp every pseudopod of the design. However, I would have liked some detailed notes on the scenario set-up pages, regarding the mission-specific rules. For instance, the ladder in The Inner Sanctum
comes in two parts, but the second half is not revealed until later in the game. If I had not puzzled this out before play, I may have panicked slightly during a rushed set-up, flipping backwards and forwards furiously through the booklet looking for a side-note that does not exist. We only played one rule wrong during our first game: the flipping of combat cards and which titles trigger a result. By this I mean, we played that a "sharp-edged weapon" only read out the "sharp-edged weapon" combat card results. You do this, but you must also use the generic "melee weapon" combat card results. I reminder in the rules might have solved this minor issue.
12. Feels like a semi-RPG experience - and that is not something I say lightly, but you do hear it all the bloody time these days and mostly it is not the perfect truth. More so than most any other boardgame I have played, this crafts a fascinating narrative that grips the players and forces them to concentrate on a story. Great stories they are too. Some internet parrots will squawk that you should just crack out the Cthulhu RPG if you demand that kind of game evening. Well, yes, you could
do that. But sometimes I just want to watch a movie, and not wade through an entire TV series, even if it's a brilliant one.
The atmosphere is augmented massively by the copious amounts of flavour text on everything. It's great to read out a small plot before the main game begins, and then a prologue specific to the keeper's story decisions. All this is for naught, and the entirety of the game, if your group does not read out aloud the flavour text on each and every card. Do not buy this game (it is not for you) if you intend to play it by picking up a card and saying "move back 2 spaces", instead of reading the card: "You back away in horror as a pair of blood-red eyes approach you from the gloom..."
13. Brilliant art on the cards. Even if they are recycled from other FFG Cthulhu projects, I don't care.
14. Each room tile is a work of art, drawing you into the Mansions of Madness with resplendent chapels, cobweb strewn attics and tiled halls. They are very well rendered, I must say.
15. Expandable. You will want more of every damn thing. You could expand the combat decks with new descriptions of severing and whatnot, you could add extra charcters to increase choice. New room tiles depicting a clifftop, or a summoning circle in a nearby wood, or a conservatory attached to the mansion, or a sewer system, or a [insert almost any good 1920's horror location], would be welcome. New scenarios using the rooms you already have would be smashing. New monsters, obviously.
16. It's a cooperative team game! All the investigator players try to solve the clues to the unholy mystery together. They win or lose as a team.
17. Tension. Due to the event deck system, and the keeper placing clock tokens on top of the deck, you have a built-in timer mechanism - this obviously fosters tension. As the clock ticks, nasty, bad things happen. Better get a move on, chaps! The ground is shaking, and I hear funny things.
18. Game machinery. The gears and workings of this remind me of Horus Heresy (just a taste) and Fury of Dracula, mixed with a dungeon-crawling game.
19. Pace. We know that the pace of the game is largely dictated by the keeper's actions, but the restrictions on what he/she can do and when (threat tokens and scenario-specific keeper action cards), mean that the game feels a helluva lot less like a crap dungeon game (Descent) and more like a RPG. To be clear, I mean that you're not fighting every turn, at least not at the start of the adventure. There is time to explore, and not be harassed every turn by an axe-licking nutcase - though that may happen! Also, the monsters in Mansions have a bit of weight to them, unlike most of the horde in Descent. It's good to have to regard each monster as a real threat, not as an approaching balloon ready for the investigators to pop.
20. Arkham Horror. One of my biggest gaming disappointments was Arkham Horror. Overwrought, overcomplicated, messy, with amazing fluff gaffer-taped all over it, but that's just my opinion. I'm a Cthulhu junkie, owning all the novels and virtually every Cthulhu RPG book produced, so I was coming at AH with the eyes of a dedicated fan, and it still fell way short of my expectations and desires. Mansions of Madness is superior to that game in every way that matters to me.The yawning lightless gulf of N'kai - beneath Mount Voormithadreth, the four-coned volcano.
1. The figures are unpainted. So you will have to learn fast or pay somebody that does know how to bring these miniatures to life. The immersion in the game will be hugely enhanced by a full set of painted models, I guarantee you.
2. Each game will probably take 150+ minutes.
3. The owner of the game is highly likely to become the keeper of the scenarios, more times than not, due to the very nature and structure of the game.
4. Large amount of set-up and putting away time is required. This is due to the large quantity of parts (cards and tokenry) that keep the game-engine running.
5. Prodigious number of baggies required. Opening and closing these puppies (of Tindalos) will keep somebody busy before and after play. A good solution is a pill box or some-such.
6. A fair bit of dice rolling is necessary. This adds tension in places, and you can increase your odds of success by spending skill points - of which you don't have many. Just letting you know, because some gamers don't like dice (Philistines!).
7. I can see that some players may be put off by the inclusion of mini games. They really shouldn't be afraid of this design choice. They are a radical idea, granted. For me, the mini-games are a crowning achievement. Yes they require different thinking than is usually applied during other boardgames, but I do not feel that they distance you from the rest of the game's undertakings. Some fear that puzzling over a puzzle, alone, without any help from the others might be embarrassing or humiliating. I don't play with boneheads so I don't foresee this as an issue. Actually, scratch that, not everyone is good at abstract quizzing who enjoys a good theme-rich game. I still think they will like this aspect when they have actually tried it.
8. Pricey. Worth every hard-earned coin.
*Not sure why folk whine about the price - in the manner that they feel they should get more in the box. Hey, I realise not everyone has a suitcase full of cash to spend on boardgames in these hardened financial times, but I know people who spend double the cost of Mansions on one night of hard drinkin'. Put it this way, I think you should realise that you're getting the design for the price, not the box of plastic monsters. I don't buy a Blu-ray and say: "In this box I only got the disk". Behind that disc, in the film's production, could have been years of hard toil and craft (say Avatar, Beowulf, or Tron: Legacy). Surely it's the content that ultimately matters here, isn't it? I'd pay the same price as Mansions for just a card game - if it was the world's best card game, mind you. What I am explaining badly is that the "game" is more important to me than the pawns and cubes in the box, but I might be a rare breed.
9. The box insert has failed its SAN roll.
10. It's a cooperative team game! This fact alone will pour on a certain amount of hate.
11. Replayability. I don't see replayability as an issue. Also, if someone else wanted to be the keeper of a scenario straight after I'd just ran it as the keeper, because he can tweak the plot, I'm certain I'd still have a load of fun as an investigator. This has been a key criticism of Mansions since the first news, and it is mostly unjustified, How often do you really play your games? I've looked, and some of you have 300+ games - you can't tell me you've play all of them the 20+ times or so it would take to get bored of them. Same here. I reckon I will be able to play what I have in the original box many, many times on either team before getting weary. And that's not counting on me playing the same set-ups with a different game group. You could play the same scenario with different folks and have a totally separate experience.
12. Cannot be played solo. That would drive you insane, if you dared to attempt it.
13. Pre-game preparation. I strongly advise any potential keepers to prepare a scenario pack, with all your decisions made and all the cards and tokens needed for the quest inside. This way, all you need do is build the adventure from your pre-made pack. I would not attempt to play the game at a convention or game-meet without preparing something like this beforehand.
14. Stress. Playing as the keeper could be stressful (the ever-present fear of cocking up the game by incompetent secret play).
15. Revealed rooms. Sure, you're missing a little of the theatrics you would get if the mansion chambers were revealed one-at-a-time, but what you get instead is a crackerjack story-driven venture. The game would progress at a baby crawl if you had to set up each map-tile as you went along, shotgun or torch in nervous hand.
In summary, does the game achieve its objectives, as stated by Corey in his scribbled notes? A resounding yes! Mansions of Madness is fantastic, and the Cthulhu game I have been awaiting for many years.
I'll leave you with a conversation overheard between a cultist and one of his robed buddies:
"Cthulhu seems like kind of a wuss if he can be trapped by a sinking island or killed by a boat."
"That’s just because the stars aren’t right. When the stars are right, it don’t matter how many boats hit him. He’ll sink whole continents and lick off the people like salt off a pretzel."
"You keep talking smack like that, he’s gonna eat you first." Click here.