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Mansions of Madness: Second Edition» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Can an App Resurrect Our Madness? rss

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R.P. Kraul
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Mansions of Madness, thought by some to be an extinct Arkham Files game, finds itself resurrected as an app-based game that no longer has room for a keeper player and that has nixed the fiddly human setup. To play the game, all you really need to do is arrange the tokens, shuffle the health and sanity decks, and organize alphabetically the common item, unique item, and condition decks. Fire up the application on your favorite device, choose the scenario, choose your characters, distribute your starting items, and you're ready to roll.

The app provides a nice voice-over introduction, and you will find that it sprinkles theme throughout the adventure. In addition, the app generates the map, facilitates monster AI and combat, and handles mythos-related encounters. The app does not track character or monster movement. That's something you will have to do on the table.

When the app generates a new map tile, it tells you where to place exploration tokens, encounter tokens, and possible NPC tokens. The app will generally control movement of NPCs, who will shift from room to room, sometimes as a way to avoid monsters. The app also includes a soundtrack that fits the game well. The music reminds me of of the first Resident Evil video game. I tip my hat to FFG.

The second edition severs the long pre-game setup in favor of a progressive setup. To say the app does all the work, however, would not be correct—you still have to place tiles of various types. Sometimes the app annoys me with how it covers the tile with a dialogue box. Obviously we need the dialogue box. I just wish there was a way to temporarily hide it. That nitpick aside, I like how the app behaves and applaud FFG for the intuitive interface.

Components
As is customary with FFG, the artwork on the cards and the tiles is brilliant and highly thematic. In its Arkham Files games, FFG have defined their own visual style: It's noirish sci-fi horror that was commoner in the early to mid-twentieth century than it is now. It's mildly reminescent of H.P. Lovecraft, whose work inspires the Arkham Files universe, but I'm reminded more of Fredric Brown, a sadly underrated writer who worked in the newspaper business and wrote everything from heavy sci-fi to horror to ironic short shorts. His characters were typically tougher types than the trembling scholars in Lovecraft's work. Brown's "Come and Go Mad" is one of the best pieces of horror fiction I've ever read. Not sure why I mention this, except that as I play Mansions, I think of Brown's stories.

What about the game's often-criticized miniatures? FFG wanted to stay consistent with the Arkham Files games, so they reintroduced sculpts from that series rather than doing new ones. Honestly, if you're even a competent painter—that's the pinnacle of my skill at the moment—you can make them look good. The details are certainly not bad. Those of you who think they are bad—have you seen the hero sculpts from the Shadows of Brimstone core boxes? Those things are pretty awful. The ones in Mansions, not so much. I particularly like the Star Spawn. One of my poor Spawns, however, had a missing peg. Another one of my humans had a detached arm. So much for quality control in a pretty expensive game. Maybe there's aggression in the box among inanimate objects.

The biggest issue I have with the miniatures, however, is the giant black bases that FFG provided. They're ugly, they're too big, and they're just plain dysfunctional. Presumably, you take your monster token and slide it into the base—it's a tight fit. And once you've done this, you'll see only two attributes on the token—you have to flip the miniature to see special abilities. This is just a badly concocted system. It was bad in the first addition, and it stands out even more now, probably because the app-based setup is much cleaner than the manual game setup from the first addition. So these gigantic bases make it seem as though I'm playing a game that's trapped in some void between editions. Sleek app, ugly bases. It's a bad memory from 1995 dragged into a modern game, and despite FFG's billiant art, Mansions' aesthetics suffer for it.

Though you're welcome to do what I did—cut the pegs off the miniatures and order some better stands from Litko. Even if you're not a painter, and even if you don't care about miniatures—I suggest you get rid of those huge clunky bases, as it will improve your experience tenfold.

The miniatures, no they're not CMON quality, but the Arkham Files games offer things CMON doesn’t: Depth, atmosphere, and superior artwork.

How Does It Play?
First of all, I love how damage and horror works. Instead of tokens, you get cards and typically apply them facedown. Certain mythos events and even monster attacks can force you to flip cards face up, in which case you're afflicted by some madness or physical injury. Also, when the number of cards in front of you equals your characters health or sanity stat, respectively, you flip up one card and discard the rest. And if it happens again—

This mechanic feels similar to the injury and madness cards in AH’s Dunwich Horror expansion.

Being an avid fan of Arkham Horror who never played Mansions first edition, I was surprised by Mansions' simplicity. First edition reviews often mentioned the overwhelming complexity, but there's something to keep in mind, namely that the person doing the review was very often the keeper, which means the long fiddly setup factored into their review. That aside, I can't see where any edition of Mansions is in the same stratophere of complexity as Arkham Horror. In Mansions, there's no doom track to worry about. There's no terror track and no skill sliders. You don't have to bother with monster limits or other worlds. Mansions strikes me as the simplest of the Arkham Files games.

Whether that's a criticism, I'm not sure. I will say this: In Arkham Horror, the players definitely have more things to do and more decisions to make. But some of those "things to do" fall under upkeep. Mansions, for its simplicity, manages to paint a feeling of dread at least equals that of Arkham Horror.

I was playing a solo scenario yesterday, and my three characters were walking around this village, investigating, and I fell under this impending sense of dread, as I knew things were going to hit the fan soon—and boy, did they hit the fan. Mansions conditions you to expect the worst, and it does private horror really well. I still prefer Arkham Horror because it's this giant, complex mechanism that's somehow still thematic and just works despite itself—and despite what detractors say. But I'm glad that the two games are different. Mansions, though not as deep, is more accessible, quicker to play, and every bit as thematic. And I don't mean to imply that Mansions is a light game. It's pretty light compared to AH, but as board games go, I wouldn't call it light. Medium, maybe. My point is that, take away the setup from the first edition, and the game is not very complex.

No doubt the app abstracts some of the complexity. This is the real benefit of an app—it can turn a complex game into something that's accessible to the average person. Though I haven't played the first edition, I don't imagine it appealed to the average gamer, especially considering the long fiddly setup. On the other hand, the average gamer shouldn't have an issue with the second edition. Apps potentially bring complex games into the mainstream. Plus, as I’ve gotten older, I’m less inclined to want to ingest a 45-page rulebook. No thank you. I’ll take an app, which simplifies things.

Those who say apps and board games ought not mix—well, I get that argument. I get that many gamers don't want their hobby infiltrated by technology. In baseball, there are a lot of purists who argue that machines shouldn't call balls and strikes. The game has always had a human element, and it should stay that way. Those kinds of arguments, I can at least understand, but I've heard some ludicrous arguments as well. Example: a board game app is just like a video game. That's like comparing a school play to a motion picture.

If you don’t like apps in your board games, fine, but understand that one of the leading board game publisher in the world is going with apps. You can scream all you want, but screaming isn’t healthy, I’m told, and you will always have plenty of app-free options in the world of board games.

The Narrative
Mansions enjoys another advantage over other AF games, namely that it tells a cohesive story. Because it's a scenario-based game, Mansions has a definite beginning, middle, and end. The story isn't haphazadly pieced together by cards.

On the other hand, though, the quality of the scenarios depend on FFG's ability to write them. The first scenario, which acts as an introduction to the game, is a little ... let's just say I found the drama a little out of balance. I can't say much more without spoilers. I understand that FFG pulls back to avoid giving away surprises, but in scenario one, I found the delivery slightly manipulative. It's a pretty minor complaint, though. It's still an enjoyable introduction to the game, even if it only hints at the game's capabilities.

I like that the app generates the map and controls monster AI, but it also controls combat, and this is something I wish they'd left on the table. To facilitate combat, the app requires too many clicks, too much fiddling. In a perfect world—my perfect world, anyway—there would be a deck of hero attack cards, a deck of attack cards for each monster type, and combat would be resolved on the table. That would have made for a more satisfying experience, in my opinion. Instead, you click on the app, read a paragraph of text, resolve some skill check, apply damage, etc. The app-based combat introduces too much pointless fiddling, sending players in from the app to the table back to the app.

There's one scenario in particular in which the app flexes its muscles, and people who have been through this scenario can testify that this game's capabilities are almost limitless. And to go back to my original point, it's a cohesive story that just happens to be pretty large. Trying to do this kind of story on a table with cards and dice alone—there are a lot of possibilities, but few of them would be positive. This is where the app really excels—generating a long complex narrative. I've not seen this kind of narrative depth or story-telling potential in any other board game. It's an RPG experience without the campaign. The world broods around you. The dread rises. Many games purport to offer cinematic experiences, but Mansions really delivers.

To realize Mansions' full potential, FFG will need to provide a lot of support. There are bugs to fix, and to FFG's credit, they've already released three updates to the app. But as operating systems update, and new devices come to the market—bugs will always be an issue, and FFG probably knew this before they got involved in apps.

FFG also needs to keep developing material for Mansions. It's unfortunate that there are only four scenarios in the base game. Granted, these scenarios are good, but people as fascinated by the game as I am won't have a hard time playing through each of them multiple times. Sometime in the fall, FFG will release components from the first edition—a box of miniatures and tiles from the core game, and another box of components from the two big expansions. Each box will include an additional scenario, but if I'm being honest, six total scenarios by the end of the year—it's not enough. FFG need to give us more. I will gladly pay $5 for new scenarios, assuming they're the same quality as the ones we've seen so far.

There's been a lot of buzz about this game so far, and deservedly so. This is an innovative product that has the potential to outstrip any thematic horror game on the market. Whether Mansions evolves or gathers dust—that depends on FFG. I hope they view it as a living, breathing game that's constantly hungry for new material.

Positives:
1. Outstanding artwork on the cards and tiles
2. The app represents and innovative system with unlimited potential
3. Cohesive scenario-based stories
4. Stellar horror atmosphere
5. The damage and horror system

Negatives:
1. Oh, dear, those miniature bases give the game a retro look—and it’s not a good one
2. Combat could have been left on the table
3. This game is a hungry beast, and FFG need to feed it often
4. Compared to other AF titles, the game is pretty simplistic
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Keith Scholes
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Very much agree with you about the dialogue box obscuring the tiles, it is really annoying. Surely they could have positioned it better or at least made it moveable. Is there anywhere that we can requesst app enhancements rather than just bug fixes?
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Richard A. Edwards
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Actually, damage and horror are typically taken face up.
"All Damage and Horror are claimed faceup unless the effect causing the Damage or Horror specifies otherwise."
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R.P. Kraul
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keitharchaeologist wrote:
Very much agree with you about the dialogue box obscuring the tiles, it is really annoying. Surely they could have positioned it better or at least made it moveable. Is there anywhere that we can requesst app enhancements rather than just bug fixes?


Maybe the FFG forums. The dialogue boxes are necessary only for thematic text. No need to tell the player where to put tokens/walls when the app can simply highlight them on the tiles.
 
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Dave K
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Love 'em even if a few games get scuttled from time to time.
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I largely agree with you. The miniatures are kind of ehh, and the game probably needs some more scenarios, but it's so gooood while you're playing. It's pretty much exactly what MoM needed all along.

The combat being driven through the app was fine with me rather than cards, as it lets them do unique text/functionality for reused figures (such as the "Priest of Dagon" being a big baddie even in a non-Dagon scenario) without more decks of cards. I do agree it requires a little extra tap tap tapping though.
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mortego
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Hahahaha, your number four negative is my number six positive.

Great write-up, though! Kudos to YOU!
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Steve R Bullock
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In this case, yes, an App has done just that.

Rarely have I gotten so hooked on a game as MoM, and it is all because of that wonderful app.

Despite the flaws and weaknesses of the game, I have to say it has become my new favorite - and I am looking forward to more expansions later this year!
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Louis D
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small question
having played eldritch quite a bit and eldersign(both games i dont own)
here are a few questions concerning their similarities

1 - i love the player progression in eldritch, the idea of buffing up your character, gethings item and trading them to be usefull. you feel like your lili-chen or charlie cain!! ... its not as good as in descent 2.0 ... but the caracter progression is pretty good
something that is pretty lacking in eldersign

2 - the problem whit eldritch is that... you can easaly end up whit 7 items, 9 spells .. and for some reason.. it feels like its to much

3 - i always feel the ** awakening in eldritch ** and anti climatic.. same for eldersign... its like if its add rules that are weird to deal whit.

4 - double sided injuries and spells are one of the best thing in eldritch

5 - eldritch is a little to long to set-up to my taste


so if anyone could tell me how is mansion of madness similar to these 5 points

final question: does the app works well on a android phone ? like a nexus 5 or something similar

 
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R.P. Kraul
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LouisDavid wrote:
small question
having played eldritch quite a bit and eldersign(both games i dont own)
here are a few questions concerning their similarities

1 - i love the player progression in eldritch, the idea of buffing up your character, gethings item and trading them to be usefull. you feel like your lili-chen or charlie cain!! ... its not as good as in descent 2.0 ... but the caracter progression is pretty good
something that is pretty lacking in eldersign


Unfortunately I haven't played EH, but I have played a lot of AH, and I think they're similar in some respects. Comparatively, Mansions is more about story telling than character development.

Quote:
2 - the problem whit eldritch is that... you can easaly end up whit 7 items, 9 spells .. and for some reason.. it feels like its to much


I've found some of that in AH, but it's not been my experience with Mansions.

Quote:
3 - i always feel the ** awakening in eldritch ** and anti climatic.. same for eldersign... its like if its add rules that are weird to deal whit.


This is one of the areas where many of the Arkham Files games stretch credibility. When the GOO shows up in AH, as far as I'm concerned, we lost the game. Sometimes I play out the rest for shits and giggles. But really, we're going to fight Cthulhu with pistols and shotguns? Get real. But Mansions doesn't have this game aspect at all (thank goodness).

Quote:
4 - double sided injuries and spells are one of the best thing in eldritch


I love them here, too. Nice implementation. Unfortunately, there is a HORRIBLE example in page 11 of the Learn to Play book that is completely incorrect and has led a lot of people, myself included, to applying horror and damage incorrectly.

Quote:
5 - eldritch is a little to long to set-up to my taste


Mansions 2ed is very quick to set up. Five minutes. Gather the tokens and characters and miniatures, shuffle two decks of cards, and that's about it. The gameplay length itself varies depending on the scenario. There's one scenario in particular that is very long. But the setup for the game is among the shortest in my game collection.
 
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Louis D
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a big big thank you for those answer,
could you develop a little bit on caracter progression
do you actualy find items in MoM that helps your caracter
a shotgun, a ritual book, a ability to reroll ( lucky cigarets )
or single stat boost,

is there any way that the caracter you started from is not the same you ended up whit other than stories and injuries.
is there anything physical aspect ( gained a spell, gained a ally )

or is that caracter progression only from a narative point of view
 
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T France
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LouisDavid wrote:
a big big thank you for those answer,
could you develop a little bit on caracter progression
do you actualy find items in MoM that helps your caracter
a shotgun, a ritual book, a ability to reroll ( lucky cigarets )
or single stat boost,

is there any way that the caracter you started from is not the same you ended up whit other than stories and injuries.
is there anything physical aspect ( gained a spell, gained a ally )

or is that caracter progression only from a narative point of view


Yes, you can gain items and spells, some of which boost your stats...
 
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oldschoolgamr
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LouisDavid wrote:
a big big thank you for those answer,
could you develop a little bit on caracter progression
do you actualy find items in MoM that helps your caracter
a shotgun, a ritual book, a ability to reroll ( lucky cigarets )
or single stat boost,

is there any way that the caracter you started from is not the same you ended up whit other than stories and injuries.
is there anything physical aspect ( gained a spell, gained a ally )

or is that caracter progression only from a narative point of view

Yes, you find items, spells, etc. in MoM same as in Eldritch Horror. There are more limited chances to get things in MoM as there are a set number of search points that get used up once they are searched. I have found .45 handguns, a slithering spell, and yes a lucky cigarette case (that modifies rolls). It's the same, just maybe not on the same scale. Think finding things in a building not across the globe.

Yes - the character develops over the course of exploring the mansion - they get equipment and spells that buff the characters with modifiers or rerolls, etc. Allys are not yet a thing, but there are NPC you can interact with that may improve your situation (or the opposite).

OSG

 
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PLayed this with a large ipad and speakers up full volume... Twas epic! The narrative aspect of the game is so top notch. Great tension!
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