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Subject: Mansions, Descent, or Arkham - Which thematic game? rss

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Rauli Kettunen
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Rakeman wrote:
I would prefer a game under 3 hours in length


Bye-bye Descent.

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I own Betrayal at House on the Hill, so I'm not sure if that game has a similar feel to Mansions of Madness, which would make me less likely to consider Mansions as I feel Betrayal fits its niche well enough. Also, I hate side-gimmicks in games (such as the time mechanic in Mystery Express), so I don't know if the "puzzle" feature will bother me. I'm also wondering how "exciting" the game is, or if it is just moving from room A to room B to room C and the occasional monster on the way.


It's the Keeper's task to make the trip from A to B exciting or deadly-serious devil . Mansions for me is short on replayability, but that could just be a personal thing, I don't like rehashing a scenario in it when it's been played with all Objectives. Current play count is 13 and the POD should net +3, but that's about its limit for me. If you don't mind going through scenarios you've played with all Objectives before then replayability isn't as big a concern.
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Freelance Police
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Regarding replayability, look for the MoM geeklist of fanmade scenarios.

The under three hours requirement also knocks out Arkham Horror.

Descent's "Return of the Heroes" "Road to Legends" (and Sea of Blood) campaign expansion sets break down Descent sessions to below three hours for a long campaign. I'm sure you can play the expansion as unrelated sessions.
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T France
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Sam and Max wrote:
Descent's "Return of the Heroes" (and Sea of Blood) campaign expansion...


I think you meant Road to Legend. Return of the Heroes is a different game entirely...
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T France
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Rakeman wrote:
Dam the Man wrote:
Bye-bye Descent.


Thanks for the tips and explanations, how long is Descent's "actual" playtime (including setup I suppose)? And what about Mansions and Arkham? I could possibly stretch to 4 hours if the game is great, but anything over that and it would need to be so good that it's worth buying to play once a year.


1st games of Descent can take awhile, but I've heard 4 hours is the average once everyone knows how to play...
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Rauli Kettunen
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Sam and Max wrote:
The under three hours requirement also knocks out Arkham Horror.


I think I've reached 3 hours under 5 times total in my 104 plays, 90-120 minutes is the norm for AH. MoM runs about 70-90 minutes.
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Dave B.
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Do you have either of the recent Dungeons and Dragons board games? Those might make a quicker alternative to Descent. You can have 1-5 players (and it would probably work with more than that if you combine characters from the two games). There's no DM/GM, though; it's strictly a cooperative affair (which I prefer, personally). An adventure shouldn't take more than two hours, and probably closer to one.
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Laura BlueFrost
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I own and played all three games.

Descent definitely take 3+ hours to complete one game unless you're playing Road to Legend or any of the "campaign" expansions where you get the option to break the campaign into successive gaming sessions but keep in mind Road to Legend would require at least 200+ hours of play time to be completed. If you break that into 2 hour sessions that's 100 game sessions

Arkham Horror is fiddly and takes a long time to play but rarely takes more than 3 hours if I recall correctly. It's a cooperative game and you play against the board, it's old and there are better cooperative games you can try that beats Arkham Horror to be honest. Unless you are a big fan of Lovecraftian theme then you better of with better co-op board games that were released recently.

Mansions of Madness is what I wanted Descent to be. Descent is an excellent game don't get me wrong but it is not friendly to new players and it's hard to find people who are willing to play it with you. MoM in the other hand is easy to learn/teach and is played within 1-2 hours tops.

The Coop-Players vs Keeper idea is the same as Descent but for MoM it actually works with the added "investigation" and "Story Telling" aspect. I am not a fan of story-based Board Games but the story part of MoM is really exciting. Every time we finish a game I just get this weird feeling of watching a cthulu movie but then I realize that it wasn't a movie it was the game experience. Watching Joe Diamond unleash the fury of his gun on cultists while Kate Winthrop risks to be alone and explores the basement for the clue. It's really good.

MoM is a little less fiddly as Arkham Horror and the setup is way worse (takes 30 minutes) but I think it's worth it. Since Betrayal At House on the Hill doesn't have the Keeper vs Players mechanic and since MoM doesn't have a traitor mechanic i consider them both different. MoM is pre-set while BAHOT unfolds randomly. So, you're going to have a different game experience despite both sharing the same Horror Theme.









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spencer thomas
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My 2c as I own all 3 and betrayal.

MoM has a pretty good feel to it but I personally was hoping for a random exploration system like that of Betrayal. The scenario's fairly static with the story choices you make really only moving where the keys are. I do enjoy the game a lot but I am not pulling it off the shelf every time because I do not want to out play the limit scenarios. I have not tried any of BGG's fan scenarios so I can't speak to how much that would increase the replay-longevity.

Descent is just a beast of a game. I own the core, an expansion, and Sea of Blood. From all of my reading and game experiences both of the campaign expansions ( sea of blood and road to legend ) have broken mechanics that took a lot of wind out of our sails. (yw for that) The set up/prep time for the keeper was to long for me and we needed to set up a night a week just to make the campaign feel worth it. This to me really blurs the line on the purpose of board game versus playing a role playing game.

Arkham Horror is an fickle beast. Sometimes it can play very fast, sometimes it can drag on. When we only had the core game a 4 player game was done in 30 minutes because 3 players had spells/unique items that allowed to meet a win condition very quickly. Other times the game has really drug on but that maybe because of errors on our parts on not following the Doom Track rules correctly.

My suggestion for you, with only the information you gave us, would be Arkham Horror. It plays well with 2 players and we've even played 7 man games. The expansions also add to the diversity of things that can happen at old locations as well which is a big + for replay-ability.
 
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Even if you leave out the issues with Descent's game length (mitigated somewhat by the RtL expansion), there's still the problem of balance. Typically it's best for the Overlord to repeatedly just target the weakest players in the player's group, over and over. This leads to boredom and stagnant gameplay. Also, the other issue is that games rarely seem to stretch to a full and exciting conclusion. Usually the Overlord's best chance to kill the players will be earlier on though it's rare for him or her to do so immediately. Thus the game goes about a 1/3rd of the way in and someone loses, then no one wants to try again because of the risk of it taking a long time (once the players start winning and getting loaded up on goodies and thus nigh undefeatable, no matter how good the GM is at the game).

So it's just a problematic game all around, in my experience. It's worth owning for the minis and tiles, though...and if you get lucky enough and have a tense exciting match all the way down to the wire, well that's gravy.

I don't know enough about the other two (though I've enjoyed Arkham in the past and it has great expansions which help its replayability) enough to make a threeway comparison.
 
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spencer thomas
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whytefang brings up a good point. As the owner of Descent I walked a fine line of completing against the players because if you looked at the options, focusing all attacks on a player until they died was the best move. You then moved to the next easiest to kill. This was a source of frustrations for some players and even myself, it didn't see very 'fair'. Once a tank got a good piece of armor I really had not chance of hurting them.

To counter this with the Well of Darkness expansion the overlord can get special cards that can beef up his deck. One card allows you to destroy a players equipment. While this is needed to help the overlord is was also a real frustration point for players, they work to get a little ahead and get their toys stomped on.

So really, to get the game to a more equal point in many ways you need the core and two expansions. I'm sure others have had different experiences but just not quite our groups choice.
 
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Julian Wasson
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With our group 6-7 hour games of Descent are completely normal. If we all hurry our turns we can get it down to maybe 4.5 hours. IMO, the balance is pretty wonky and since it's so intense and competitive, and sessions last so long, the wonkiness just feels terrible. Honestly I feel like if they could condense the game to the 1-2 hour range it would greatly benefit. The campaign expansions help both help with this and exacerbate it. Individual play sessions are a good length, the actual game is hundreds of hours long. So once one side starts doing really well or really poorly you still get that foregone conclusion feeling, it just takes longer to get there. I'm pretty disillusioned with Descent in general. Once we started doing weekly sessions I was just thinking to myself, "Why don't we just play D&D? It's basically just a strictly better version of this." YMMV, naturally, but I'd caution that while it certainly is cool it's just as certainly not a game for everybody.

Also, thematically Descent is very weak IMO. Generic fantasy setting, and the way that each step and each turn is so critical feels completely backwards from how I expect and want a dungeon crawler to feel. It's a brutal splat-or-get-splatted system with a focus on tight tactics. There is absolutely zero sense of exploration or wonder in the game, it's simply too bloody-minded for that.

Arkham Horror is an excellent game IMO, but again it's certainly not for everybody. I wouldn't be too concerned about the co-op thing. Most groups I've played it with haven't had a problem with that aspect of it. The fiddliness is what people I've played with have disliked about it. It's not really that complicated, it's just that the turn order feels foreign to many people and there's lots of little things to keep track of, lots of piles of cards to shuffle, etc. It works best if you are interested in reading all the flavor text on the cards and like doing crisis management triage for all the different spinning plates. A normal playtime for us is in the 3-4 hour range, with a half hour of setup/teardown included in that.

Mansions of Madness is definitely the shortest/most manageable of the group. Our first game took about 2.5 hours, with rules explanation and a fairly indecisive keeper doing setup. Subsequent games were about 1.5-2 hours. I also wouldn't worry about it being similar to BatHotH. The keeper and the focused scenarios make it feel completely different. It's hands down the most thematic of the group. I've never been excited about the badass things my investigator does in AH, but in our very first game of MoM we were all cheering for particularly heroic exploits and making fun of one unlucky teammate. In fact, I'd say that it's the second most thematic game I've ever played, behind Battlestar Galactica. It's just really fun and the weight is well-judged. My only gripes are the replayability and the balance. It's eminently expandable and they do a good job making each scenario very distinct. But for me replaying the same scenario a bunch of times is kind of like rewatching the same movie a bunch of times. It's still kina fun but it's just not the same. I do also feel like it's balanced somewhat in favor of the keeper. But that's appropriate to the theme and the playtime is short enough that you never feel like you're playing a game you lost an hour ago. The puzzles are kinda gimmicky, but they're also legitimately entertaining puzzles and the way they integrate with your character's stats is neat. If they really bug you it wouldn't break the game to replace it with a roll on your intelligence score.

Of these three, MoM is the one that I would most heartily recommend unless the iffy replayability is a dealbreaker for you. TBH Arkham Horror is my favorite of these games, but MoM is the only one that doesn't carry the "definitely not for everybody" caveat. MoM fails your replayability criterion, but AH is right on the edge of your time length criterion.

One more thing: if you're looking for a good dungeon crawler, Wrath of Ashardalon and Castle Ravenloft are better choices than Descent, IMO. The theme clicks better, the balance feels better (although you're totally intended to exploit rules oddities), and the playtime sits around 1.5 hours.
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Michael Off The Shelf Board Game Reviews
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I would have to agree with a lot of the sentiment already given here.

Descent, really has lost it's luster for me due to the cheap price and wide availability of 4th Edition D&D. 4E has just become the better gaming option for anyone wanting a Fantasy RPG board game.

I know D&D has a stigma still, but if you buy the new red box and a Monster Vault, you basically have a much better, and more balanced version of Descent. I have yet to do so, yet I would wager you could take the Descent Quest Compendium and run the entire series using only the 4E rules.

Admittedly though I don't regret buying Descent for the miniatures, they are fantastic for playing 4E.

As an experiment, I would love to grab a group of people who have never played Descent and run a few games using 4E rules just to see the results.

Reference the rest of your question, Mansions of Madness lacks replay value after 10ish or so plays. Arkham has more expansions and thus greater replay value, and in the Magical Jones Theory Realm of Mansions vs Betrayal vs Arkham, Arkham wins.
 
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