I’ve been playing a lot of Mansions of Madness with my gaming group recently, mainly as keeper, and thought it would be helpful for others to feed back on my experiences and provide tips for prospective Keepers to enhance the game for everyone.
At its best Mansions of Madness can draw you in to the game like few others I've played and provide a real sense of connection with your miniature investigator counterpart as they are preyed upon mercilessly by evil monsters, foul cultists and even the Mansions themselves. At worst, the game pulls you out of this immersive atmosphere with a few clunky mechanics and logical inconsistencies.
As Keeper, there are ways you can increase the immersion factor for the investigators (and Keeper!) whilst maintaining a competitive edge for yourself. Whilst this may not be a strategy guide intended to show how to win every game every time, hopefully it will make the game feel atmospheric.
I’ve scattered a few specific Keeper tips with spoiler tags throughout the article below which I’ve used personally to keep my friends on their toes
As Keeper, the choices you can make throughout the game are limited somewhat by the story setup, but there are a few general tips that apply for every story.
#1 Try to keep your hand of Mythos and trauma cards filled.
It’s always enjoyable (and thematic!) watching investigators worry about whether they dare to go into a room in case they have something nasty happen to them
As you can only play one Mythos card per investigator per turn, then you can get away with having 1 trauma & Mythos in your hand per investigator if you’re low on threat, but the more options you have the better! You should also try and play a Mythos card per turn whenever possible as these are your main weapon.
You should also be prepared to cycle through the trauma cards and not be overly concerned with keeping the potentially devastating “0 sanity” cards in favour of getting trauma cards you can use at any time. The fear that can be instilled from the mere possibility of you having a 0 sanity card is enough to make a wary investigator think twice.
#2 An insane investigator is better than a dead one
Insane investigators (and ones on the way to insanity) can do all kinds of useful things for you. Such conditions as ‘Kleptomania’ and ‘Friend?’ can make for a very unpopular investigator, whilst ‘Spectrophobia’ and ‘Nyctophobia’ can put a crimp in exploration plans.
The insanity cards outnumber the injury cards 2 to 1, and there will be many more horror tests than attacks made on investigators, so you can see the importance of making these cards work by forcing horror tests early on in the game. It’s also a lot more satisfying when the investigators do your work for you and provide memorable moments to tease people about.
#3 Keep the flow of the game moving.
There are certain points where the game can stop for the investigators (puzzles, Keeper turns, playing Mythos cards, etc.) which, if they occur too often, can lead to some bored-looking faces around the table.
Try to plan out what you’re going to do during the investigator turn or in the case of puzzles let other investigators have their turns while you keep a beady eye on the puzzle-solver.
#4 Always read out the flavour text on the cards.
This more than anything will (hopefully) fire people’s imaginations. My favourite example of this is (again) the Mythos cards.
For example, the Mythos card “Who is there?” simply gives 1 horror for 1 threat. Rather than give a horror token to the investigator and discard the card, reading the text can make them wonder just who is whispering their name (even better if one of their friends whispers their real name behind their back...)
#5 Always, always, always remember to make investigators take horror checks for Monsters
Story 1: The fall of House Lynch
Event deck timer: 16 turns
Rooms to explore: 17
This is a great introductory story for new Keepers and investigators, with a low number of rooms to explore and a compact Mansion to stroll round, which means the investigator players can enjoy free reign over which investigators to choose, and the straightforward win conditions for each objective means the Keeper has time to make a few mistakes. That said, I think this one is slightly easier for an investigator win, but not impossible for the Keeper.
The story revolves around the disappearance of a businessman (Walter Lynch) who has lost his family to a mysterious illness and has disappeared from the public eye. The investigators are charged with finding Walter and begin the search at his Mansion just outside Arkham.
The actual Mansion layout is pleasing on the eye, and makes sense as a home. The only room which may at first seem out of place is the Operation Room, but this is a perfect opportunity to let investigators worry about what might have taken place there (and is explained if you choose option 3b).
Spoiler (click to reveal)
I like to use the Foyer as much as possible for Mythos cards. As the main hub of the house, the investigators will have to go through this room a number of times, and should be scared to do so! There are 8 cards which can be played here normally, with a further 9th card if the room is plunged into darkness, so you should never be short of opportunity.
The available Keeper actions are to take 1 Mythos and 1 trauma card (Evil Presence), move a monster up to 2 spaces (Command Minion), take a body part from an investigator to sacrifice (Take Sample), force an investigator to perform an action or move (Uncontrollable Urges) and to unleash (or heal up) a crazed maniac (Maniac Attack).
At the start of the game, the best card is undoubtedly Evil Presence, especially as you can play it for 1 threat, end your turn early and regain the spent threat which you can save up for an early play of Maniac Attack.
Speaking of which, Maniac Attack is your trump card. As the rest of the Monsters you will control in this story are event-dependant, this is the only guy you can depend on appearing when and where you need him most, so make effective use of him when paying all that threat. Thematically, I like to place him next to a door as if he’s just burst through it, which also lets you move him back into the adjoining room to scare anyone in there as well
You can only play Maniac Attack on a lone investigator, so if the investigators are wandering in groups, then Uncontrollable Urges (or ‘Panic’) can be used to isolate your chosen victim.
Spoiler (click to reveal)
It may seem tempting to spawn or heal a Maniac at every opportunity when playing with 4 investigators, but this can get old pretty quickly. Instead, you could also use Uncontrollable Urges to make investigators waste or use items they may not otherwise use such as Sedatives (on a fully sane investigator) or Nameless Cults/Elder Sign in the hope they fail (or pass!) and take horror.
Command Minion and Take Sample are obviously useless until you get a Monster out, but once out, don’t be afraid to use Take Sample liberally. You only need to use it to fulfil win conditions for one of the objectives, but by taking the sample to the altar you gain 5 threat, as well as putting questions in the investigators’ minds as to which objective they’re playing.
Don’t forget that taking a sample also lets you move the monster 1 space, which combined with Command Minion gives you a 3 space headstart on reaching the safety of the sealed-off altar.
Liberal use of these actions and Mythos cards should provide the theme of a House of horrors inhabited by screaming madmen (or a madman...), but the event deck (and clues) provide more substance and detail to the plot.
The first time you play through the game as Keeper you may want to let yourself be surprised by the deck, but for this story especially, it may be worth memorising some of the event cards as otherwise you may end up performing an action which you get for free with the next card (or for which the Event may be wasted).
Whilst most of the events provide good explanations and tie-in to the initial story (for those investigators who were paying attention), there are a couple of choices that don’t necessarily make sense.
Spoiler (click to reveal)
Specifically the fire zombie for Event 1 (3a), and the Gunfire in the bedrooms for Event 2 (2b).
You may want to come up with explanations for these events ahead of time if you select those choices to prevent confusion, but otherwise the events are well tied-in to the storyline.
Finally, let’s take a look at each Objective in a bit more detail. I’ll put these in spoiler tags for those who are playing the game for the first time, as part of the fun is discovering your own tricks!
Spoiler (click to reveal)
Objective 1A is the odd-one-out for this story, as it relies on the investigators discovering clue 1 in order for them to be able to win the game. As the investigators have no way of knowing this it can be a bit of a sickener for first-time players learning the game.
There are a couple of methods by which you can spur the investigators on should it look like they won’t find clue 1. My favoured solution would be to hint at where Walter Lynch is hiding if they’ve progressed well with the clues but are running out of time, but if they’re really lagging behind then perhaps playing a Maniac Attack and revealing the Objective card will at least give first-time players a chance of winning.
Thematically, this objective is all about Walter’s descent into madness through his efforts to communicate with his son through a séance, so good thematic choices would be 3b (an unfortunate victim of Walter’s experiments for Event 1 or even his son) and 2a (Walter’s attack for Event 2), as well as emphasising Event 3 is Walter’s tragic wife.
You may also want to limit the use of Maniac Attack to give greater impact to Walter’s appearance, and make use of the Mythos cards to show how the Mansion itself has become possessed by the side-effects of the séance. At no point do you need to kill the investigators to win this one as you can win by holding out for the timer if needs be.
Potential Nemeses: Any investigator with weaponry can mess up Walter, but Jenny Barnes and Joe Diamond with their .45 automatics and good Marksmanship (boosted if within 1 space) are annoying as most ranged weapon Combat Card attacks use this attribute, and Michael McGlen with Dynamite or his trusty Tommy Gun with potentially 2 attacks a turn are particularly nasty.
Spoiler (click to reveal)
Objective 1B is your earliest chance to use one of the big beasties supplied with the base set in the form of a Shoggoth (and who can blame you for wanting to do that!), and I feel also involves the most strategic work for the Keeper in getting not 1, but 2 samples to the altar with enough time to get the Shoggoth out of the front door of the Foyer (and presumably free to roam the streets of Arkham causing mayhem as in Arkham Horror). The investigators may not worry about you getting 1 sample past them, but once they realise how much threat you receive, they’ll be wary of letting you get a second.
The low number of Monsters available to you for this story only increases the difficulty, so you could either time your usage of Take Sample with Command Minion so you can get 2 through at once, or else use Maniac Attack as often as possible! Don’t overlook the text at the bottom of the card which lets a Maniac without sample move to any space in the Mansion, so you could drop off a sample at the start of your turn, then immediately move the Maniac to the next victim.
When the Shoggoth arrives, it will cause a lot of horror tests as it rampages through the Mansion, so save up some trauma cards to manipulate the investigators. The combat attacks aren’t as devastating as you might hope, and can sometimes backfire so be wary if and when you attack.
As an aside, don’t be afraid to let the investigators try to block off the Basement with the Barrier for this one, as the Shoggoth will always destroy the Barrier and only once could it be stunned by doing this, otherwise taking scratch damage (or even healing itself). The only downside is losing a turn to attack the barrier, so if time is tight this could be a good move for the investigators. Another point is that with Maniac Attack the barrier is useless unless the Maniac tries to get back through as you can move the Maniac anywhere you want (without a sample).
Finally, make sure you leave enough time to get the Shoggoth from the altar space out of the front door. This will take 4 turns of Command Minion providing the Shoggoth is not stunned or otherwise moved by unfavourable combat cards, but you can reduce this to 3 if you are able to use Take Sample and move en extra space (though you can only have 1 sample at a time). This objective always feels tight for time, and usually produces a good close game.
Potential Nemeses: Sister Mary... oh Sister Mary and her Holy Warding ability. The ability to push the Shoggoth back 3 spaces can leave your plan in ruins. Kate Winthrop’s Flux Stabiliser can also stop your Maniac showing up where you want him (though she can just be avoided), and Joe Diamond’s Lucky Break can one-shot the Shoggoth as well.
Spoiler (click to reveal)
Objective 1C plays slightly differently in that you have to wear down the health of the investigators with relatively few monsters in the hope of killing 2 of them off, so this one feels more like a traditional dungeon-crawl with gamesmaster.
With bad luck the Keeper can also virtually lose the game by the investigators being in the right place at the right time when Clue 1 is found with either an investigator in the foyer with high intellect to solve the puzzle lock, or one with an axe who can smash through it! The one saving grace is that usually an investigator with high intellect is collecting the clues, and as they have they tend to have the lowest health they can potentially be picked off.
Thematically, the zombie horde arising when the clue is revealed is awesome, but you’ll need to store up a bit of threat to get them into the foyer in time to really affect the game. Your ever-helpful Maniac can also be used as a workhouse, and good use of ‘Panic’ can give you a couple of vital extra turns.
Whether you can win this objective as Keeper is largely dependent on whether the investigators pass their rolls for combat damage, so in that respect a bit of bad luck means you may miss out, but concentrating on the weaker investigators with enough force should provide rewards.
Potential Nemeses: Somewhat surprisingly, Harvey Walters! With his Warding statue, he won’t take much damage when defending, and can follow the clue trail with impunity. The other 3 male investigators also have reasonably high health and so will provide a challenge to take down (not to mention Ashcan Pete can send the axe to whoever needs it at the end of the game with Duke), and Gloria Goldberg can Bind Monsters to stop them attacking.
I was going to put guides to all stories in one post, but this seems quite long, so I might break them up a bit (which also gives me more time to get more of a handle on Green-eyed Boy), but hopefully you’ve found this helpful in some way, and always remember even if you lose as Keeper as long as you’ve enjoyed the game you can claim the moral victory for running such a good game
Wow, tremendous analysis, and a LOT of work to write it all up for us.
THANKS !! I'm printing it out now.
Thanks Chick, hope you find it useful
I've written up most of story 2 and a bit of story 3 so hopefully I can get those posted up this weekend as well.
Great summary! Playing my first game as keeper tomorrow evening and this definitely helped to clarify some things. Thanks!