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Mansions of Madness: Second Edition» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Mansions of Madness: Second Edition Review -- Return to the Mythos rss

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Jason Horner
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When I was asked to be a playtester for this game a while back now, I knew I was sitting on one of the biggest secrets in the board game industry. Today, I'm pleased to post my review of this game.

In three words: It's a masterpiece.

If you are familiar with the 1st edition Mansions of Madness game, you know that it is a tile-based investigation game where you attempt to solve a sinister mystery based in the H.P. Lovecraft mythos. It required one player to serve as the game master, known as the "Keeper" that played the role of the monsters and forces that seek to prevent the other players from winning. The game suffered from a cumbersome setup process involving careful placement of facedown cards on the map board that was error-prone and tedious. In addition, with a human pulling the strings for the antagonists, the balance of the adventure scenarios suffered because of the many options available to the keeper each turn. Yet, in spite of these flaws, the 1st edition game was still incredibly fun, and that's saying something.

Enter the 2nd Edition reboot. Fantasy Flight kept everything that was fun about the game and fixed the flaws that were holding it back. The fiddly setup, AI, and balance issues were all addressed by a companion app. Some board game fans are skeptical about the use of apps in board games, and I very much understand those fears, but the designers have managed a delicate balancing act that allows the app to automate the tedious details and AI behind the game but yet not dominate the game to the point where you feel like you are playing a video game. It really is a remarkable achievement. The app takes over the role of the keeper so the game becomes fully cooperative and all the players get to tackle the mythos together. Each scenario has a voiced intro cutscene and ending, and there are plenty of sound effects and background music to make the overall experience rich and immersive.

When you start the game, you select the story you want to play and choose your investigators. The app then randomly chooses your starting items and then generates your scenario. Each story has several different map layout possibilities and several choices for the locations of important objects. Many scenarios often spawn random monsters or items (some are fixed because they are integral to the story). If you own any of the 1st edition products, you can configure that in the app, and map tiles and monsters from those products will be substituted in place of some of the 2nd edition components for more variety. Altogether, this provides a high degree of replayability, way more so than in the original 1st edition.

Another huge improvement over 1st edition is the "fog of war" effect. The story begins with only a tile or two showing your starting area, and the rest of the map is hidden until you explore further. This defeats a lot of the metagaming that occurred in 1st edition (rooms that had obstacle cards or a big stack of cards are likely places to hide clues). With 2nd edition, you literally don't know what the map looks like, where you have to go, or how much time you have to stop the evil plot that is unfolding. This greatly improves the immersion factor and the unknown horror aspect of the game. Often you won't even know what you want you have to win until you explore further. You'll feel like you're in a horror movie as you and your fellow players try to work out a plan on who should do what and whether you should split up or stay together.

During the Investigator Phase, each investigator gets two actions to do things like move around, explore new rooms, attack foes, trade items, or search/interact with people or objects on the map. After each investigator has acted, you inform the app and it handles the Mythos phase, generating creepy and sinister events that damage your health or sanity, summon monsters, or other nasty effects.

As you explore, new tiles are revealed that may contain items, monsters, or things to search or interact with. Many of these will require an investigator to succeed at an ability test to determine the outcome, so different investigators will shine in different situations. Michael McGlen, the Gangster, is highly skilled at feats of strength and heavy melee weapons. Wendy Adams, the Urchin, excels at feats of speed and coordination and using firearms, due to her high Agility.

You'll need to solve puzzles to progress in certain situations, but fortunately, that is done through the app and it saves your progress so you don't have to pull out puzzle pieces and set them up like with the 1st edition product.

Combat dispenses with the klunky card system of first edition, and instead, there are a series of random results for each type of weapon against each weapon. Some of these are customized for the monster you are fighting, for an even richer combat experience. Most effects have a test you must perform to succeed with your attack, and damage you deal can be related to the weapon's damage rating, your number of successes rolled, or both. Each type of weapon has a particular Ability that is most commonly used in its combat tests, but all of the abilities are used at some point. For example, you may be asked to test Observation to spot a weak point on a creature or test Influence to get a foe to drop its guard. If you succeed at the test, you hit and do damage. Failing means you cannot take advantage of the opportunity and do not damage your foe.

The game also has a new way of handling damage. When you are impacted by physical or mental trauma, you take Damage or Horror cards, respectively. Sometimes these cards are taken facedown (and have no immediate effect) and some are taken faceup, and have varied effects. Some have no additional effect (only a minor wound or temporary scare), while some represent injuries or phobias that have more lasting effects. I was initially not in favor of this change from simply losing health or sanity points of the previous edition, but over the course of testing, I came to really like the change, as it removes the need to track points with tokens or dice (you simply count the cards) and the varied effects keep you guessing and make you think twice about taking too much damage or horror.

The stories are brand new (no rehashes of first edition stories) and rich and reveal themselves gradually, bit by bit. It's entirely possible to play a scenario and not experience the whole story. You may have to replay it several times (especially if you lose) to learn everything. Unlike the highly linear structure of many of the 1st edition stories (you first need to find Clue 1 that leads you to Clue 2, and so on), those in 2nd edition are often non-linear and complex, and can be approached in different ways. Some things you do have effects later on, and some options may not be available to you unless you do something else first. Once you see how the stories unfold, I think you'll get a feel for the just what app is capable of. Wait until the first time the app tells you to "clear the board". In my opinion, the game balance and internal consistency in the stories is orders of magnitude better than in the 1st edition core product.

The tiles, tokens, and cards are of excellent quality, typical Fantasy Flight fare. Some have complained that the figures are of lesser quality, but I didn't really notice that. The included conversion kit allows you to use the tiles, monsters, and investigators from your first edition products to get even more use out of your prior purchases. This was a nice gesture on Fantasy Flight's part to not alienate 1st edition fans.

As proof that Fantasy Flight thought of almost everything, the app allows you to save your progress and resume the story later, so if you have to run out for pizza, recharge your tablet, or quit for the night, you can pick up where you left off.

I know I'm biased, but the absolute truth is that would really have to struggle to find a flaw with this game that's not a nitpick. It's just that good. The designers clearly spent the time to get things right.

Some have also balked at the USD 99.99 price tag, but as a budget conscious gamer that is picky about the games he buys, I can confidently rate this game as a must buy for anyone that's a Lovecraft, horror, or Mystery fan, or loves the Arkham Horror Files series of games.
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jérémy royaux
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Thank you for the review, very interesting

Just one thing about that price tag
That app seems great but it means less material, why charge so much ? It's still a very high price tag for what's inside the box
x-com the board game (with a similar app) costs less than 60 euros
i think FFG is trying to surf on the hype to win much more money than usual , isn't it?
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Julia
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Hey Jason, nice to have also your review here
 
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Krzysiek Domański
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blackshad wrote:
That app seems great but it means less material, why charge so much ?
Less material then what?
You can't compare with the non-app version as it doesn't exist.
And if you compare with the first edition, have in mind that the 2nd edition has a whole lot more tiles than the 1st one. I haven't compared the card counts yet.
The app isn't free either. And each platform is basically a different app and a separate development process.
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Jason Horner
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Scarlet Witch wrote:
Hey Jason, nice to have also your review here


I wasn't going to because you and BleachedLizard did a great job with yours, but I just wanted to talk about the game from my experience.
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Krzysiek Domański
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jlhorner1974 wrote:
Scarlet Witch wrote:
Hey Jason, nice to have also your review here


I wasn't going to because you and BleachedLizard did a great job with yours, but I just wanted to talk about the game from my experience.

Leng-Spider-Sense activated.
Haven't all three of you playtested this?
 
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Chris J Davis
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haroth9842 wrote:
jlhorner1974 wrote:
Scarlet Witch wrote:
Hey Jason, nice to have also your review here


I wasn't going to because you and BleachedLizard did a great job with yours, but I just wanted to talk about the game from my experience.

Leng-Spider-Sense activated.
Haven't all three of you playtested this?


Yes, we were all playtesters for it.
 
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James
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$115.95 + tax + shipping is not cheap for what you get. I guess if I was living at home spunging off my parents, than sure, the game is cheap.
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Jay Eye
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Canadian taxing and shipping cost are FFGs fault?
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Jason Horner
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blackshad wrote:
Thank you for the review, very interesting

Just one thing about that price tag
That app seems great but it means less material, why charge so much ? It's still a very high price tag for what's inside the box
x-com the board game (with a similar app) costs less than 60 euros
i think FFG is trying to surf on the hype to win much more money than usual , isn't it?


My pleasure.

First, as a disclaimer, I don't work for the company and I can't speak for them in any kind of official capacity. I can only share what I know from playing the game. There are still some internals of the game that I am privy to because of playtesting discussions I've had with the designers that I am still not permitted to disclose.

Secondly, there are many other threads out there that are debating the price tag and if the game is worth it, and they are a much better forum for that discussion. I don't have the desire to meticulously debate whether the price tag is justified. I'll present my opinions here, and you and everyone else can make up your own minds. I don't get paid by the company (whether the product sells well or not).

I don't think XCOM and MoM2 (or their apps) are an apples for apples comparison. MoM2 has more half again as many cards, more than double the minis (some of which are twice the size of XCOM's), and Mansions has 24 double sided tiles compared to a game board (not sure what the price differential is there). The Mansions app, as I understand it, is a lot more complex than in XCOM. MoM2's app comes with four immersive stories with many decision points in each (the number of decision points in Rising Tide is huge). Some events depend on each other. For example, you may not be able to explore a certain room unless you have talked to a certain character first. You may not get a conversation option with a character if you haven't searched a particular item. Each story has multiple map layouts, and a lot of states that it has to track. Many characters you talk to have conversation trees (albeit small ones), and in some cases, the app needs to keep track of what you asked.

Compared to MoM1, MoM2 has slightly less physical content (it lacks the Keeper cards for each scenario), but includes the app. MoM2 includes the conversion kit as well, which is even more tokens and investigator cards. The original Mansions was 80 USD. Is the app and new streamlined and fully cooperative experience worth an extra 20 USD? I think so, but you may feel differently.

Did Fantasy Flight leverage some of the features from the XCOM or Descent apps for the Mansions 2nd app? Probably, but I'm willing to bet there was quite a lot of new development for this app, and each story requires a lot of time to write, develop, and balance. And the Rising Tide story is absolutely massive. It's about twice the size of the others. All of that costs money to develop and FFG needs to recoup their costs.

Is 100 USD a lot of money? Sure it is. Spending that amount of money on any board game is enough to stop and give you pause. Do I think that FFG is gouging players to make more money? From what I know about what went into the app, I don't feel that way.

You always have the option to download the app and rules and try it out yourself.
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Jason Horner
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bleached_lizard wrote:
haroth9842 wrote:
jlhorner1974 wrote:
Scarlet Witch wrote:
Hey Jason, nice to have also your review here


I wasn't going to because you and BleachedLizard did a great job with yours, but I just wanted to talk about the game from my experience.

Leng-Spider-Sense activated.
Haven't all three of you playtested this?


Yes, we were all playtesters for it.


And let me tell you, protecting that secret was NOT easy to do.
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Julia
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jlhorner1974 wrote:
Scarlet Witch wrote:
Hey Jason, nice to have also your review here


I wasn't going to because you and BleachedLizard did a great job with yours, but I just wanted to talk about the game from my experience.


It's always nice to have more than one take on the same game, and it's even better when the take comes from dedicated players like you are Much much appreciated
 
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Weltallex
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I’m looking forward to the 2nd edition and will definitely try it.


But I still have some questions:

1. "Each scenario has a voiced intro cutscene and ending“

What if I don’t want a voice, because I don’t like it or simply because the players like to read the story parts themselves?
Is it possible to disable voices and read a shown text instead?

I haven’t heard the voice yet. Maybe it’s good.
I really liked the app version of Elder Signs, which managed to add a lot of atmosphere through sound, music and vibrations.

I’m from Germany and I can only hope that the german voice and translators will do it right. Unfortunately that’s not often the case, but we'll see.


2. The app then randomly chooses your starting items and then generates your scenario

Making some choices about their characters before the game started was a part which all of my players really liked.
They liked creating their mini-roleplaying-character, not only because it gave them something to customize and to think about, but also because it was something rarely seen in other board games.

Generating the scenario is great, but why can’t players choose at least things like their starting items?
Just a choice of one or two things and the scenario could be generated after that.

I’m glad they simplified the game as a whole. But I'm not sure about not being able to customize anymore (besides from saying "put all stuff from 1st edition/expansion x into randomizer").


3. Many scenarios often spawn random monsters or items (some are fixed because they are integral to the story)


How random are the monsters here? Do they fit together thematically? Especially when I want to use my 1st edition and expansion monsters?
Or will we encounter a Deep One in one room, in the next a Mi-Go, then a Goat Spawn, then a Ghost, …? (some of the old scenarios more or less did that. And I didn't like it – SPOILER: For Example, when I played CotW’s "The Mind’s Veil“ for the first time, the combination of different monsters that you could spawn felt totally wrong and weird. I customized it every time I played it again)
 
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reaching out from the in-between spaces...
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Can I ask how you were picked to be a beta tester? This is something I am interested in doing.

You can GM me in order not to derail the thread or put the info in here for others.

Jorune
 
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Russ Hawthorne
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Hi,

The app IS free on steam



haroth9842 wrote:
blackshad wrote:
That app seems great but it means less material, why charge so much ?
Less material then what?
You can't compare with the non-app version as it doesn't exist.
And if you compare with the first edition, have in mind that the 2nd edition has a whole lot more tiles than the 1st one. I haven't compared the card counts yet.
The app isn't free either. And each platform is basically a different app and a separate development process.
 
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Janne
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Alcibiades73 wrote:
Hi,

The app IS free on steam



haroth9842 wrote:
blackshad wrote:
That app seems great but it means less material, why charge so much ?
Less material then what?
You can't compare with the non-app version as it doesn't exist.
And if you compare with the first edition, have in mind that the 2nd edition has a whole lot more tiles than the 1st one. I haven't compared the card counts yet.
The app isn't free either. And each platform is basically a different app and a separate development process.


But creating the app is not free, so consider its cost included in the price for the game in the box.
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Jonathan
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Thanks for the write-up. Personally, I'm also interested in reading a review from someone who isn't a playtester as - regardless of how impartial you wish to be - being a Playtester is always going to affect your thought process compared to someone who hasn't.
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Jason Horner
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luminok wrote:
I’m looking forward to the 2nd edition and will definitely try it.

But I still have some questions:

1. "Each scenario has a voiced intro cutscene and ending“

What if I don’t want a voice, because I don’t like it or simply because the players like to read the story parts themselves?
Is it possible to disable voices and read a shown text instead?

I haven’t heard the voice yet. Maybe it’s good.
I really liked the app version of Elder Signs, which managed to add a lot of atmosphere through sound, music and vibrations.

I’m from Germany and I can only hope that the german voice and translators will do it right. Unfortunately that’s not often the case, but we'll see.


Narration, sound effects, and background music can be enabled or disabled independently of each other, so you could turn off the narration and leave the sound effects and music on if you like. Only the intros and endings are narrated.


luminok wrote:
2. The app then randomly chooses your starting items and then generates your scenario

Making some choices about their characters before the game started was a part which all of my players really liked.
They liked creating their mini-roleplaying-character, not only because it gave them something to customize and to think about, but also because it was something rarely seen in other board games.

Generating the scenario is great, but why can’t players choose at least things like their starting items?
Just a choice of one or two things and the scenario could be generated after that.

I’m glad they simplified the game as a whole. But I'm not sure about not being able to customize anymore (besides from saying "put all
stuff from 1st edition/expansion x into randomizer").


I too was a bit sad to see the customization go. I'm a Dungeons and Dragons DM and player for a long time, and I love customization. But I suspect it was largely done to cut down on setup time and reduce the number of cards that ship with the game.

I didn't go into full detail above, but there are different types of starting items. Some of the starting items are fixed for each scenario. I believe some are drawn from a list that fit a certain type -- e.g., a weapon. Others are totally random. All scenarios generate a list of starting items and the players divide them amongst themselves as they wish. We tend to give items to the investigators that benefit most from them. I usually give Healing items like Bandages to investigators with low Health. Heavy weapons are given to characters with high Strength. Spells are given to characters with high Lore, and so on.

Some scenarios have more or fewer starting items -- a combat heavy scenario that requires you to fight right away might guarantee you a weapon or two. A more investigative scenario might give different types of items. That's the big advantage to having the app decide this, as it can provide a group of starting items more appropriate to the scenario. Thus the game can handle a story where you need to scavenge for all your equipment as well as one where you already start out well equipped. This wouldn't be possible with a fixed starting setup. With 8 characters in the box and 16 more in the conversion kit, there is a pretty good variety of investigators to choose from already. Chances are you will be able to find a character that fits the archetype you want to play.

luminok wrote:

3. Many scenarios often spawn random monsters or items (some are fixed because they are integral to the story)


How random are the monsters here? Do they fit together thematically? Especially when I want to use my 1st edition and expansion monsters?
Or will we encounter a Deep One in one room, in the next a Mi-Go, then a Goat Spawn, then a Ghost, …? (some of the old scenarios more or less did that. And I didn't like it – SPOILER: For Example, when I played CotW’s "The Mind’s Veil“ for the first time, the combination of different monsters that you could spawn felt totally wrong and weird. I customized it every time I played it again)[/q]

I don't want to spoil things for others reading, but it varies by story. Much like the starting items above, some monsters are fixed, as they are a central part of the story. Other scenarios spawn random monsters or choose from a short list of several types. Basically, it all depends on what fits the story. If you are a Lovecraft fan, I bet you could make a pretty good guess about which monsters are likely to appear in the "Escape from Innsmouth" scenario, and you'd probably be right. Theme is very important there. In stories where the monsters are less critical to the story theme, there is more variety. You will also get more variety if you check the 1st edition products in the app, and less variety if you don't. I wouldn't say the app has done away with the totally random monsters completely, but I think there are fewer instances of ridiculous combinations of monsters than before.
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Jason Horner
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JJWonderboy wrote:
Thanks for the write-up. Personally, I'm also interested in reading a review from someone who isn't a playtester as - regardless of how impartial you wish to be - being a Playtester is always going to affect your thought process compared to someone who hasn't.


Of course. I encourage you to do so. I thank you for taking the time to read mine.
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luminok wrote:

1. "Each scenario has a voiced intro cutscene and ending“

What if I don’t want a voice, because I don’t like it or simply because the players like to read the story parts themselves?
Is it possible to disable voices and read a shown text instead?


The text is fully displayed on the screen. So, you can mute the tablet and just read the text from your screen, or read it alloud to the other players. In my experience, though, the voice acting is good so this won't be needed.

luminok wrote:

2. The app then randomly chooses your starting items and then generates your scenario


3. Many scenarios often spawn random monsters or items (some are fixed because they are integral to the story)


How random are the monsters here?


Everywhere you read the word "random" on these forums, you should actualy read "variable". The app randomly picks from a set of possible map layouts, tiles, items, monsters, etc. to include in each scenario. All of these sets are designed so that they will fit the story and the mansion you are exploring. There will be no forrest randomly appearing in the middle of the house. Likewise, I don't think you will randomly see zombies where it wouldn't make any sense.
 
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Jorune wrote:
Can I ask how you were picked to be a beta tester? This is something I am interested in doing.

You can GM me in order not to derail the thread or put the info in here for others.

Jorune


Posting here because it could interest to many (I was alpha, not beta for Mansions, tho). Some of us were contacted directly by FFG because of quality posts in the forums. Others simply have applied (link: here) and their application was accepted. Being accepted requires you to sign an NDA, and it also doesn't automatically mean you'll actually test something (even if it usually does), but it's the first step to make. It's useful to add some links to significant posts you made over the years, to prove you're capable at handling rules and difficult wording; and it could be useful having a person vauch for you (for instance a tester saying "yes, this guy here? He's a good one")

Still, it's very important understand this point (it's not referred to you, Jorune, it's more in general): many people believe that being testers means getting a cool game in advance. This is so wrong I can't describe how much wrong it is. Being a tester means playing a game that probably it's not as awesome as it'll be in the end; working around the clock to respect deadlines; returning home tired and wishing for a pizza and instead printing, cutting, sleeving cards and then playing until late; logging in every day on the testing forum and read all posts and comment and actively debate until the game is perfect (or as perfect as it could be); means putting your own ego into the pocket because you need to help building the game the designer wants to have even if this means the game is no fun for you; and a lot more. And it means keeping always in mind this: each game has a limited number of testing slots. If you accept, you have the moral obligation to give a contribution to the game, because you accepting means another one staying home, but still the final quality must be granted. I've seen testings suffering hugely by the disappearance of testers, but this meant a lot more work for my group and for the others to assure the final product is excellent.

IF after reading all of this, it's still fine and you're ready to suffer, then you'll also have a greater joy. For me testing means help building a better community and having our common passion spreading; for others it's discovering the delicate minutiae of balance and wording and the creational process; for others it's having good news and fun in advance; but still, each of these comes with a burden.

Sorry Jason for partial derailing.

EDIT: fixing typos
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Weltallex
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Thanks for the answers and reviews.
I just took a look at the app and I think I like it.

As I said before, I was already a fan of the Elder Signs app (which – in my opinion – is a much better game than the board game version).

The MoM App looks very useful.
Everything is done just nicely and has so much potential.
 
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Scarlet Witch wrote:
Posting here because it could interest to many (I was alpha, not beta for Mansions, tho). Some of us were contacted directed by FFG because of quality posts in the forums. Others simply have applied (link: here) and their application was accepted. Being accepted requires you to sing an NDA, and it also doesn't automatically mean you'll actually test something (even if it usually does), but it's the first step to make. It's useful to add some links to significant posts you made over the years, to prove you're capable at handling rules and difficult wording; and it could be useful having a person vauch for you (for instance a tester saying "yes, this guy here? He's a good one")

Still, it's very important understand this point (it's not referred to you, Jorune, it's more in general): many people believe that being testers means getting a cool game in advance. This is so wrong I can't describe how much wrong it is. Being a tester means playing a game that probably it's not as awesome as it'll be in the end; working around the clock to respect deadlines; returning home tired and wishing for a pizza and instead printing, cutting, sleeving cards and then playing until late; logging in every day on the testing forum and read all posts and comment and actively debate until the game is perfect (or as perfect as it could be); means putting your own ego into the pocket because you need to help building the game the designer wants to have even if this means the game is no fun for you; and a lot more. And it means keeping always in mind this: each game has a limited number of testing slots. If you accept, you have the moral obligation to give a contribution to the game, because you accepting means another one staying home, but still the final quality must be granted. I've seen testings suffering hugely by the disappearance of testers, but this meant a lot more work for my group and for the others to assure the final product is excellent.

IF after reading all of this, it's still fine and you're ready to suffer, then you'll also have a greater joy. For me testing means help building a better community and having our common passion spreading; for others it's discovering the delicate minutiae of balance and wording and the creational process; for others it's having good news and fun in advance; but still, each of these comes with a burden.

Sorry Jason for partial derailing.


No need to apologize.

Julia vouched for me.
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Jason Horner
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luminok wrote:
Thanks for the answers and reviews.
I just took a look at the app and I think I like it.

As I said before, I was already a fan of the Elder Signs app (which – in my opinion – is a much better game than the board game version).

The MoM App looks very useful.
Everything is done just nicely and has so much potential.


I agree completely. Tell me what you think after you play Rising Tide.
 
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NoFunAtAll
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Well I just went out and bought the game, the biggest thing holding me back from buying the first edition was the horrendous setup and the fact that one player was left out of the experience, acting as a DM of sorts. Seeing what FFG did with the Descent app I was already convinced it would be a great piece of work.

I plan on learning the game by first playing it solo, any comments on how that will go?
 
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