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Mansions of Madness: Second Edition» Forums » Reviews

Subject: A wonderfully executed, horrifying experience rss

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Dan Allen
United States
Maine
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Let me preface this review by saying that I have not played the original Mansions of Madness, and my only experience playing games with the same mythos is one play of Arkham Horror. So if there's something that I find novel here that is just a duplication of a previous mechanic or theme, I apologize to the fans of the franchise and mythos - I hope this review is helpful to those new to both as I am.

Mansions of Madness: Second Edition is a cooperative experience where a team of investigators are sent on a mission to a mansion with little context at first, setting the stage for a long night of mystery and intrigue. Players can choose from a wide array of characters, ranging from a physically feeble, mentally hardy professor to a healthy, nimble young dilettante. As with any cooperative game, having the right mix of abilities and constitution is key to the team's success. Each player is allotted two actions each turn, which could involve moving, searching an item/section of a room, exploring the mansion by revealing a new room, trading items with your fellow investigators, and so on. As you move about and search, you find clues to what is going on around you and why you are there, which propels you toward your ultimate goal of solving the mystery set forth by the scenario (in particular, we began with the Cycle of Eternity scenario, the easiest of the 4 that come with the base game). You also find different items and spells which can help heal you, regain your sanity, or fight against the malevolent forces from alternate dimensions.

Speaking of which, this game has no shortage of horrifying creatures to pit against you! I don't want to give away too much detail given the value of mystery and the unknown in this game, so I'll stick to describing the quality of the components. The figures that come with the game are sturdily mounted on rectangular plastic bases that contain information about the creature for easy reference, and the figures themselves are a durable plastic that are beautifully detailed and wonderfully grotesque. They don't come painted, so if you're into painting figurines, there is a great opportunity to make this game your own and bring the horrors of the Ancient Ones to life. The same goes for the investigator figurines - they are much smaller than the enemy figures with a smaller base, but still nicely detailed in many different action poses and props.

The mansion tiles are super-thick cardboard with double-sided art so they each serve a dual purpose. They're also conveniently labeled with a name and icon so you can quickly find them when the scenario calls for it - there's nothing worse than halting the suspense of a game to set up a new room, and this nice addition helps mitigate that and keeps gameplay moving. The artwork on the tiles is beautiful (and appropriately dark), and unobstructed by the grids that are present in similar games (Doom, Descent). At first I was surprised and a little turned off by the lack of a consistent grid, having played Doom and Descent a handful of times. As we played more, I realized the advantage to removing the granularity of movement - you feel like you can cover more ground in less time, and you're not distracted by having to make tons of tactical decisions through the course of the game by kiting around enemies to avoid them which feels unrealistic and in my opinion detracts from the action. The game just puts monsters in your face and if you're in the same room or close by, you're going to deal with it. It's going to try to rip you limb from limb and steal every last bit of your sanity in the process, and that is going to happen a lot.

That brings me to my next point - the monsters are so in your face in this game and relentless that even the easiest scenario felt difficult and like we would lose many times, and I loved it. You're having to constantly encounter these horrifying beings and running away usually isn't a realistic option. You're instead sucked into the horror and pain that these beings thrive on, and you have to manage your sanity and health rather than dance around these creatures that, quite frankly, will find you wherever you are. Forcing you to deal with them adds so much to the suspense and feelings of dread in the game. That is where I feel this game excels over other similar experiences. What enables this gameplay is the brilliant system of experiencing horror and damage. When you become horrified, you can take horror cards face down that indicate your loss of sanity - which, if you do end up losing, can change the win conditions of the game, pit you against your fellow investigators, and lots of other nasty stuff! Sometimes something so bad happens that you resolve the conditions on the other side of the horror cards, which can provide conditions on which you suffer more horror and loss of sanity. At one point in our game, for example, I was paranoid, claustrophobic, and a kleptomaniac. What this means is that I had to stay in open areas, I would lose more sanity if I were around my companions, and if I were in the same location as a fellow investigator, I would randomly steal their items. I became a pariah quickly until I could regain my sanity. As you build up facedown horror cards, you increase the chances that you'll get one of these horrible mental conditions as you continue to lose your sanity, further compounding the issue. A similar mechanic is in place for physical wounds and taking damage, such as breaking bones thus slowing your movement, and the like.

A component of this game that I understand is different from the first edition is the companion app. Personally I am totally turned off by the addition of electronic components in board games, whether self-contained or requiring an app download. I didn’t like it when they added a room randomizer for Mystery Mansion, when they turned paper Monopoly money into a debit card system, and I definitely thought I would strongly dislike an app-driven experience for this game. When I sit down for a tabletop game, I’m doing it for the player interaction, the tactile experience of handling physical pieces, and the ability to completely disconnect from my otherwise highly digitized life. So to say that you HAVE to use the app to play is an immediate turn off for me. But I rolled with it.

And I’m glad I did. Despite being an obvious venue for FFG to grab more of your money via future microtransactions, it does make the game expandable with new scenarios (something which was totally lacking from the original Doom: The Boardgame, one of my personal favorites), and it provides great replayability. The game has a number of puzzles to work through, and if they were the same each time, then once you’ve played a scenario, the game would immediately lose value. The logic puzzles were engaging, delightfully frustrating, and provided some brief solace in an otherwise high-octane battle against the supernatural. The app also provides sufficient randomization so you’re not always spawning the same creatures, doing the same skill checks against the same creatures, and outcomes of successes and failures can change. Maybe too random for some, but it felt just right to me. The other convenience of the app is that it totally removes the need for a dedicated player to play against the others (think the overlord from Descent, or the invaders in Doom). Having been the guy that has to frequently run invaders just because of my experience with the game, it’s amazing to be able to join the group and let “someone else” take care of it, and not make the decision on who that has to be. Spoiler alert: the app is relentless and doesn’t care if you’re entire team is on the brink of destruction

In case it wasn’t obvious from my glowing review, I loved the game and would recommend it to anyone looking for a change of pace from other similar games like Doom and Descent, just be prepared to set aside a good chunk of time to think through your actions and enjoy the experience. At least the time won’t be spent fiddling with components and setting up elaborate scenarios – the automation in place is your friend here. And when the house is burning down around you and you’re on the brink of insanity – will you turn against your friends that kept you alive, or will you push through to unravel the deepest mysteries?
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Jeff Beck
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Excellent review, thanks. I am also pleased that I am not the only one who likes the minis that come with the game (they do seem to get a lot of grief from some people).
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Benny Bosmans
Belgium
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Great review.

I played 2 times the first version and I think the human controlled game was a tad better.

Although it depended on the quality of that game master of course.

I think MoM2 is typical for this age in gaming. Lots of plastic, lots of expansions incoming and apparently it is very popular.

Of all the Lovecraft games I tink the Eldritch/Arkham Horror games are better though. While I enjoy playing solo, the App restricts a little bit too much the freedom of solo play.

The system in MoM is a bit dry and I doubt the value of replayabilty.

I am all positive about hybrid games. I love XCom the boardgame, but I am not totally convinced with the MoM2 App.

Eldritch Horror gives me more "freedom" in my solo play. Perhaps my views may change in the future, but I feel too limited in my options in MoM2.

Certainly in solo mode this kind of AI is very difficult to program into digital devices. The "last final human tuning" of such AI can be very difficult to achieve and was proven by Conflict of Heroes: Eastern Front – Solo Expansion, which is at the moment the most powerful solo system available in board gaming.

So my guess is that MoM2 is a good game for group play and simple fun, but it is not the ultimate in solo gaming, which will hamper its success in this direction. Many people will buy this to play solo thanks to the App, but it quite doesn't succeed compared to EH/AH or in the case of adventure wargames the cited Conflict of Heroes solo expansion.

Still a long way to go in automated AI's...




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James
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Just ordered MOM 2 and one of the expansions and I hope it will see more table time than MOM 1.
 
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