Roberta Yang
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Disclaimer: I playtested this. This was the scenario my group playtested first, and the one we playtested most. I think James practically wrote the investigator objectives. I am not even remotely unbiased here. Do not trust a single word I say. (That's why for a long time I didn't review this), but now it seems weird to review everything else and leave only one gap.)

You and your fellow investigators are investigating a playwright whose play seems to be able to drive people mad. The unique mechanic here is the "King's Court" cards, representing four different roles in the play you can assume by being given them by cultists or gazing upon a Yellow Sign. The good news is that while you have such a role, the theater troupe won't attack you - after all, you're one of them! The bad news is that they also represent the Court's influence on your mind as they try to draw you in, so they limit your abilities and give the keeper a special Keeper Action to make you do something bad. It's a fun and quite flavorful mechanic, and like the Lost Souls of House of Fears, it gives the scenario a strong identity that avoids the common POD trap of feeling like a generic base set scenario. The fact that the four King's Court cards are all different, unlock `Til Death Do Us Part's Infection cards, certainly helps.

Personally, I love the Call of the Wild scenarios and that whole design direction, but I know a lot of people feel it lost some of the flavor from the original game. Well, this is not a Call of the Wild scenario. It still has the three-objective system, the linear clue chain, and the base game's style of storytelling; nothing was "lost" here. However, it does have a number of more modern design sensiblities:

1) Everyone has something worth doing. One of the biggest problems with the linear clue chain format is that it makes one investigator (whoever's running around with the clues) critical to the entire investigation, but sometimes forgets to give the other investigators something worth doing beyond "explore aimlessly" or "tag along and maybe act as bodyguards". This is especially bad if the objective is something that also only takes one investigator to complete ("escape the house with Clue 1", "solve Whatever Puzzle 3.14 while holding the story item you found with Clue 1", etc). Even if the objective takes teamwork, it's often something of the form "kill the boss that spawns when the objective is revealed", which still isn't something the other investigators can work on in advance, except perhaps by exploring random rooms and hoping for weapons.

In the Yellow Sign, all three objectives require teamwork to complete. Moreover, all investigators can contribute to completing them even before the objective is revealed, so their actions throughout the entire game affect victory more directly than they normally would. There are also neat little "sidequests" - key/lock combinations off of the main clue chain that reveal a very nice cache of items, which provides a more specific direction for work than "explore around". And the clue chain doesn't take too long to finish.

2) It's not too long. The Event clock is only 10 or 11 turns long, and while the game continues after the Event deck runs out, the game length is much more in line with the Call of the Wild scenarios than the old long Green-Eyed Boy type of scenario.

3) It's very replayable. It was only starting to get stale after the first twenty or twenty-five times we ran it; this definitely has a longer lifespan than most of the pre-CotW scenarios. Part of it is that, being a short scenario, it never seems to overstay its welcome, and the flavor is always neat. Part of it is the fact that the investigator objectives let you work toward them through the entire game but in different ways, so after several plays you start being able to try to read the keeper to figure out what it is you should be focusing on.

4) There's no abrupt "Event 5 ends the game". (In fact, there's no Event 5, though that's less a design feature and more a way of making room for 3 new Keeper Actions.) Instead, Event 4 ensures that the game has finite length by gradually boosting the keeper's power over time until the investigators either win or are overwhelmed. This feels a lot more natural than the old "The clock strikes two - and for some reason the house explodes, everyone dies" endings you sometimes ran into in the base game.

5) The house has a lot of loops - it's a small house and composed primarily of three overlapping loops. This means there's less mandatory backtracking than you'll find in the base game's "tree" maps or even the early expansions' "one giant loop" maps, and gives investigators more options for where to go. It may not sound like much, but in a game where investigator turns are already relatively simple, anything that prevents turns without real choices is a good thing.

6) It's not horribly broken. The usual base set traps seem to be avoided - the objectives are manageable but not trivial for both sides, there aren't any cheap tricks like saving up threat for the whole game and spending it all at once, and the keeper action that spawns cultists at altars is not Summon Worshippers. (In fact, it's a much harsher nerf to Summon Worshippers than most of the fan-fixes.)

7) There are no (or maybe just one?) randomly seeded Nothing of Interest cards. Exploring randomly still won't give you items as often as exploring randomly in CotW will, though - the slots that would have gone to NoI cards are taken by Yellow Signs. It doesn't make the game easier, but it makes it more interesting and leads to fewer unsatisfying turns. Plus, the fact that the cards aren't actually randomly seeded (like in House of Fears, the keeper gets to choose where to put them) allows for some cool mindgames.

These seem to be relatively uncontroversial aspects of modern design that I don't think even those dissatisfied with the direction of CotW will have a problem with. Maybe if you only plan on playing it once the shorter game length might make you worry about the price tag, but even then it's certainly a better deal than the first three POD's.

There are a lot of other nice touches that I haven't really had a good opportunity to cover. In older POD's half the cards were just base set cards reprinted for matching backs, but here there are hardly any reprinted cards at all. There are a few Nothing of Interests and a couple of items that appeared in previous POD's (but not in the base game), but that's about it. The items are innovative and very high-quality, and even the new keys have some interesting twists (like a couple new friends for Crowbar in the "keys that actually do something" group, or a "lock" that you need to carry to its "key"). Also there is a cat. The Events have some very interesting effects too, particularly the puzzle on Event 1.

So, what's the catch?

1) It could have benefited from a few more aspects of CotW's design. Yes, there's the linear clue chain, but there are some more specific rough spots that CotW tidied up: the "Attack" keyword, allowing items other than combat deck weapons to be used against monsters without requiring Evade tests, would have been nice with Brass Knuckles around.

2) It's all humanoids all the time. Strictly speaking it's possible for an Eldritch monster to be summoned via that one trauma from CotW, or for a Shoggoth to appear from that one cultist special attack (which seems to happen every time I play keeper here), but by default the scenario is all humanoids. Not even the weirder humanoids, either - just cultists and cult leaders and maniacs. That's fine by me and it definitely suits the flavor and storyline, but if you want to go around beating up zombies or blowing up alien fungi scientists or shooting tentacled monstrosities, this might not be your thing.

3) It has some scaling issues. With the investigator objectives requiring everyone to pitch in and the keeper objectives requiring [redacted], this leans toward the "there's a fixed amount of work to be done, more investigators means both sides can get the job done faster" type of scaling more than any other pre-CotW scenario does. The trouble is that nobody told the Event deck that this was the case. The number of turns before Event 4 doesn't depend on the number of investigators, nor does Event 4's effect - in fact, its effect might become unmanageable more quickly with fewer investigators. The Dunwich Horror, which had similar objective-work-scaling, scaled its Event clock with the number of investigators, and it didn't even need to with such a weak Event 5 - that sort of scaling would have been nice to see here. It's not as one-sided as, and doesn't scale as badly as, a lot of the base set objectives; nevertheless, playing with 2 investigators is quite hard.

And yes, that really should have been fixed in playtesting. Sorry, all.

In spite of that, I think the Yellow Sign still easily the best pre-CotW scenario (and is much closer to the CotW scenarios in quality than to the base set scenarios); it's definitely worth picking up if you have any interest in the game. The mechanics are clever and lead to interesting decisions, the story meshes well with the gameplay, and there are a lot of little nice touches that aren't easy to list here but make the scenario a strong, well-rounded experience.


I have now reviewed every Mansions of Madness scenario released so far, and since my group no longer has a copy of the game, I won't be playing, playtesting, or reviewing any possible future scenarios, so while it's been a fun couple of years, this is it for me. Because of that, I'd like to wrap things up with a self-indulgent ranking of the scenarios, from strongest to weakest:

A Cry For Help [CotW] - Top Tier
A Matter of Trust [CotW]
The Mind's Veil [CotW]
The Yellow Sign [POD]
The Dunwich Horror [CotW] - Great Tier
Blood Ties [Base]
The Fall of House Lynch [Base]
House of Fears [POD]
Yellow Matter [FA] - Good Tier
The Stars Aligned [CotW]
The Inner Sanctum [Base]
`Til Death Do Us Part [POD] - "Meh" Tier
Lost in Time and Space [FA]
Season of the Witch [POD]
Return of the Reanimator [FA] - Bad Tier
The Green-Eyed Boy [Base]
Classroom Curses [Base]
The Silver Tablet [POD] - Silver Tablet Tier

These are rough comparisons and it was almost always difficult to decide how to sort adjacent scenarios, so don't think this means I'm taking a firm stance that House of Fears is obviously vastly superior to Yellow Matter or anything. It just means that I like things significantly higher up a lot more than I like things that are significantly lower down. It's all subjective, too, so it doesn't necessarily mean that you're "wrong" or anything if you like Classroom Curses (but you are, and you have bad opinions and should feel bad).
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Assaf Becker
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Thanks so much for this awesome review. I'm now torn between 'The Mind's Veil' and 'The Yellow Sign' as to which scenario should I try next.
Also, the 'Silver Tablet Tier' really cracked me up
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Eric Dodd
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Thanks for all the reviews, Roberta! I've only played A Cry for Help from Call of the Wild so far, but that really does seem like a great improvement on the base and some of the POD expansions. I've got this one as well so I'll definitely try it soon.
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Guillaume Zork
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Nice review. I like this scenario very much.

Contrarily to some other scenarios I won't comment on, it has an entertaining story and a general flavor that is close to the mythos fiction ; furthermore, it has unique very nice mechanics. And, cherry on the cake, the clue chain is not entirely linear.

cheers
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trevor

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I love the way MOM is evolving into such a great game. Sure, It was a little clunky in the beginning but the developers are bending and shaping some things that didn't work great and the game is really taking off. I hope they keep going and release more and more stuff for it (although I'm not sure since we know FFG hates expansions )
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Nathan Lewis
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Thanks so much for the reviews as well as the ranking list! Much appreciated.
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trevor

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You can't leave us Roberta!
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Guillaume Zork
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I replayed it yesterday evening. So, I have to edit my above comment, the clue chain is linear but several side paths exist. Plus, a friend of mine who was the keeper immediately caught (shame to me I did not), the explicit reference to a classical album from a well known metal band. Events are (no spoiler):

I - Frayed ends of Sanity
II - The Shortest Straw
III - Eye of Beholder
IV - To Live is To Die

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Rich Moore
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Classroom curses turned my group off this game for over a year. I've finally convinced them to try again and I think it's going to be this scenario (I.e. The yellow sign). Thanks for the review!
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Surprisingly just got this as a gift. Excited to play it in the future. I have CotW unplayed still, but it's nice to have even more basic scenarios beyond scenarios 1-3 in the base set (I haven't tried, but heard of the horror stories for green eyed boy and cursed classrooms or whatever). Thanks for the review.
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Roberta Yang
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Green-Eyed Boy isn't replayable and trying to replay it will retroactively taint your impressions of your first plays, but it's a decent enough experience for one play if you have the time for it. Play either 1B followed by 1A (I think it's 1A, play the one that isn't "stall for event 5 YAWN") or just play 1A. 1B often ends quickly and abruptly in a keeper win with no warning in a way that is either hilarious or awful (or both) depending on your group's sense of humor, so knowing your group you can decide whether to run that one or not.

Classroom Curses I found horribly dull even on first play but I suppose it wouldn't hurt to give it a shot. If you do try it, be sure to put Clue 3 in the Furnace Room.
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Aaron Stark
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amikezor wrote:
I replayed it yesterday evening. So, I have to edit my above comment, the clue chain is linear but several side paths exist. Plus, a friend of mine who was the keeper immediately caught (shame to me I did not), the explicit reference to a classical album from a well known metal band. Events are (no spoiler):

I - Frayed ends of Sanity
II - The Shortest Straw
III - Eye of Beholder
IV - To Live is To Die


That is freaking awesome.
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Raistlin
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Thank you very much for your scenario's ranking list.
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Brady Sadler
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metal134 wrote:
amikezor wrote:
I replayed it yesterday evening. So, I have to edit my above comment, the clue chain is linear but several side paths exist. Plus, a friend of mine who was the keeper immediately caught (shame to me I did not), the explicit reference to a classical album from a well known metal band. Events are (no spoiler):

I - Frayed ends of Sanity
II - The Shortest Straw
III - Eye of Beholder
IV - To Live is To Die


That is freaking awesome.


Glad you guys caught this
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Richard Pickman
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Great breakdown as always, Roberta.

Did you and your group just burn out on Mansions, or was there another reason your group doesn't have the game anymore?
 
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Roberta Yang
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rpickman wrote:
Great breakdown as always, Roberta.

Did you and your group just burn out on Mansions, or was there another reason your group doesn't have the game anymore?

Partly due to burnout, partly because only one of us actually owns the game and we don't live near enough anymore.
 
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Richard Pickman
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Are you playing anything else these days? I'd love to see your thorough, critical treatment applied to other games. The MoM community owes a lot to your contributions.
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Roberta Yang
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Lately we've been rotating through different games each week, each of which I've only played one or twice. The main recurring games are Battlestar Galactica (sans expansions), Hanabi, Dominion, Sentinels of the Multiverse, Galaxy Trucker, Space Alert, and The Resistance. But most of those have been reviewed to death by now, and with the exception of Sentinels I don't have much to say about them beyond fangirling over how great they are.
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Richard Pickman
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I hear you. Mansions was a bit unique in having a really brilliant concept with tons of potential (a very solid adventuring engine), coupled with some severe flaws in execution (too many broken scenarios). So, there was a lot of room for constructive comment. I wonder whether one day there might be a MoM 2.0 which incorporates your patches out of the box. (I know you've characterized CotW as MoM 2.0, but of course it's a big-box expansion.)

BSG is a great game that brings your entire personality to the table. I have played a lot with the expansions, but lately I have returned to playing without them; the elegance of the base game design leaves that much more room for mind games, which is where the fun is.

Another game I find very clever and exciting, yet somewhat flawed, is Fury of Dracula. My group isn't enthusiastic about it, because the first hour can be quite slow; Dracula is laying his traps, the hunters are collecting supplies, and there isn't much action. I would be interested in your take on that game.

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Roberta Yang
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The BSG base game is brilliant. The BSG expansions (or at least Pegasus and Exodus, haven't played Daybreak) have interesting ideas, but awful execution that makes them not worth using. I think the only expansion content we still use are the band-aid fixes Pegasus included (Caprica gives jump prep, 10-card Quorum hand limit, Investigative Committee doesn't reveal destiny, revealing Cylons hand off their loyalty cards automatically, the pretty 3D plastic basestars exist).

Haven't played Fury of Dracula, so I can't comment there.
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Richard Pickman
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You actually needed the ten-card Quorum card hand limit? You do know that anyone who hoards Quorum cards is a frakkin toaster, right?

What do you think about Space Alert? I haven't played it yet, but I just got a copy for a friend.

We played some of The Resistance, but we moved on to Avalon about a year ago; we find it more nuanced and interesting.
 
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Roberta Yang
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Filling the Quorum hand is great, once you can cycle the quorum deck you can toss out Authorizations of Brutal Force at will, which lets you completely ignore heavy raiders and do nasty things to regular raiders. Usually in the early game the president uses XO's to draw 3 quorum cards and play 1; it doesn't take long for the hand size to reach 9 doing that.

Space Alert is probably my single favorite game. I've had groups where it doesn't "click", but in a good group it is amazing. It's a coop game where you have to work together in real life rather than just mechanically, the time limit makes it super-intense, the only non-deterministic element of resolution happens when you've already let damage through so when your ship explodes it's never just due to luck, the outcome always feels close either way and is usually memorable... it's just an amazingly fun game.

I'm so used to Avalon now that I say "The Resistance" when I mean Avalon. I'm pretty annoyed that the new roles expansion is only for the sci-fi Resistance, not for Avalon; it really feels like they're going out of their way to make me buy the exact same game twice, which there's no way I'm going to do.
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Dan Roe
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Everything from Avalon is now available in The Resistance, isn't it? Sciencey-future Merlin, Percival, Oberon, Morgana, the Lady Of The Lake, Lancelot and Excalibur are all either promos or in the new expansion that just got Kickstarted, I think? Is there anything else that was in Avalon that I'm not remembering?

I wonder if Avalon wasn't as popular and they're quietly folding everything back into one product line?
 
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Roberta Yang
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Rodafowa wrote:
Everything from Avalon is now available in The Resistance, isn't it? Sciencey-future Merlin, Percival, Oberon, Morgana, the Lady Of The Lake, Lancelot and Excalibur are all either promos or in the new expansion that just got Kickstarted, I think? Is there anything else that was in Avalon that I'm not remembering?

Doesn't do much good for those of us who currently own Avalon.
 
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Dan Roe
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salty53 wrote:
Rodafowa wrote:
Everything from Avalon is now available in The Resistance, isn't it? Sciencey-future Merlin, Percival, Oberon, Morgana, the Lady Of The Lake, Lancelot and Excalibur are all either promos or in the new expansion that just got Kickstarted, I think? Is there anything else that was in Avalon that I'm not remembering?

Doesn't do much good for those of us who currently own Avalon.

Is kind of my point, yeah. Everything they've released since Avalon has (at least in part) added Avalon stuff to CyberTheResistance, there hasn't been anything going the other way unless I've missed something.
 
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