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Mansions of Madness: House of Fears» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Very worthwhile despite some issues rss

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Roberta Yang
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If you're considering picking up a Print-On-Demand expansion, you've obviously played Mansions of Madness before, so I'm going to assume in this review that you are familiar with the base game, and perhaps with some of the previous expansions. I will be going out of my way to avoid major spoilers for House of Fears (though minor spoilers are fair, so if for some reason you really don't want to hear whether or not this scenario contains Startling Evidence, stop reading), but I will mention a few objectives from previously-released scenarios when they are relevant.

The major gimmick here is the Lost Souls, which are... pesudo-monsters, you could say. They cause Horror tests, they can "attack" (a pop-up monster appears, makes one attack, and then vanishes), and they can move. They're not exactly like normal monsters, though. They inhabit rooms instead of spaces, and move one room at a time, so how fast they pursue you varies based on the size of the rooms you're running through. Their manner of spawning is unusual (and something I'm not going to spoil). Also, you can't attack them - the only way you can directly influence them once they've appeared is with Unreflecting Mirror, an item you get at the very start that pushes them away a room. They're a cool element, and the fact that they pursue you with irregular movement and can't be directly killed makes them interesting.

Thematically, they represent... something.

I don't usually talk about the storylines in Mansions of Madness very much because they're almost always "passable" - very rudimentary, but still enough to set the stage and get the players somewhat involved. The plot of The Fall of House Lynch is hardly outstanding - a guy wanted to bring back his dead wife, turned to dark arts, went crazy and created some zombies - but it's understandable and it's all the game needs. In the Inner Sanctum, a cult can summon otherworldly monsters and is going to conduct some really bad ritual tonight that needs to be stopped; that story isn't going to be winning any awards anytime soon, but it does exactly what the game needs it to do.

Here, the story is that your agent calls you to a mansion where they're doing a first screening of a movie based on you and your fellow Mythos investigators. When you get there... something bad has happened, I guess? The guests are missing or acting oddly or whatever a "Lost Soul" is supposed to be, the director is missing or dead, and... there are monsters for some reason? (And quite a variety - of the base game monster types, only Cult Leaders, Zombies, and Chthonians are absent.) At least two of the "Investigators Win" ending texts note that the other guests don't realize what horrible fate they only narrowly avoided - and I don't blame them, since I never had any idea what was supposed to be going on here either. At least in other scenarios where it's not clear what's going on, like the Green-Eyed Boy, the Clues and Events are about an active investigation process; here, the Clues consist primarily of you randomly overhearing small talk by party guests / lost souls? / someone??? telling you where to go next. It's especially jarring because I get the sense that the game thinks I know what's going on and what the Lost Souls are (and my character certainly seems to know how an Unreflecting Mirror can move them around), but... I don't. It's the first time that not understanding the plot has actually broken my immersion in this game.

Presumably, making a movie based on your Mythos adventures caused something bad to happen, but I haven't a clue what the Bad Thing was other than that Lost Souls and a weird variety of monsters appeared. Nor do I know why it happened - the Story So Far (which is actually really fun and flavorful if you have someone who can read it in the right voice - and Iammars certainly can!) mentions using some items from your adventures as props, but since no such items are ever plot-relevant, I assumed that was just an explanation for why certain exploration cards are present - why else would this director have a Symbol of the Elder Light in her house? (And even if Cult Robes isn't all that useful here with almost no cultist presence, of course a cultist costume would be needed for the movie!)

I'm really surprised that this problem is in this of all scenarios, since one of its other gimmicks is that the backs of the Event deck contain extra flavor text - you can have the keeper read it out to you by going to the central Chapel (where the film is being screened) and asking what part of the movie is currently playing. While this could have been really cool, the opportunity is squandered - the flavor text doesn't give any plot details at all, it just tells you where one of the Clues is. And the Clues already do that, so the Event deck's hints are redundant. And even if they weren't redundant, they'd still be too slow to be useful - Event 3 points at Clue 3, Event 4 points at Clue 2, Event 5 points at Clue 1, and so on. After the very start of the game (where you actually need the text to point you at Clue 5), this text is utterly useless. It's a cool mechanic, and I'd like to see it used again in future scenarios, but squandering it on "Hey if you bought a POD expansion and yet you still haven't learned to interpret Mansions of Madness's extremely straightforward Clues yet, here's a bonus hint" is disappointing.

The Keeper Actions are Evil Presence, Command Minion, Darkness, and two new ones that basically let the Lost Souls move and attack. Notably, none of these let the keeper actually summon monsters (well, the one that lets Lost Souls attack does so by dropping temporary monsters that only last for one attack), so the keeper is dependent on Clues and Events to get proper monsters. Between that and the presence of Darkness, it's tempting to call this a fixed version of Classroom Curses. The primary difference is that this isn't a boring piece of garbage, and is actually very well-balanced... mostly.

1C, unfortunately, is a Save Up Threat And Win (let's call it SUTAW for short) objective.

SUTAW objectives are basically what the name implies. They're objectives where the keeper can win by sitting back, doing nothing, saving up Threat the entire game (tapping Evil Presence once per turn and playing any Mythos or Trauma cards drawn that can be played and cost no Threat), then spending all of the Threat in one turn to win. The SUTAW strategy, in the appropriate objectives, is extremely non-interactive, gives the investigators no chance to respond (since they don't get any turns between the keeper doing all of this and the game ending), and is pretty much an autowin for the keeper. This is one of the easier types of problems that can occur when writing scenarios, and it shows up distressingly often in official scenarios; this isn't the first time we've seen one:

* One Inner Sanctum objective basically requires the keeper to drive an investigator insane and surround them with cultists. Getting Clue 1 will eventually require an investigator to go up to an Altar. When they enter a room with an Altar, the keeper activates Summon Worshippers over and over again (depending on the target's Willpower, perhaps mixing Summon Worshippers with Summoning for Shoggoths); by that stage in the game, the keeper has enough leftover Threat to drive the victim insane this way. Congratulations, someone is now insane and surrounded by cultists. (It may be worth tapping Dark Ritual a couple of times beforehand, grabbing nothing but Trauma, with the intent of grabbing Spectrophobia.)

* I haven't tried it out personally, but I have been told that Pyromaniac can easily do this for the default "kill everyone" win condition in Blood Ties by suddenly lighting up the whole board, and I believe it.

* I think Season of the Witch had one involving the Altar endgame but I can't remember what it is off the top of my head, so I may just be confusing it with the Inner Sanctum.

* Return of the Reanimator has Pyromaniac doing this again (which I have actually seen firsthand). It's even worse this time because the awkward Campfire location makes it almost impossible for Pyromaniac to be used for anything else. It's especially bad in 1A, where the boss can hide behind a Sealed Door while the helpless investigators burn.

* Yellow Matter has the "someone has more mutation tokens than health" objective. Since the Keeper Action that gives investigators mutation tokens isn't once-per-turn, it's easy to wait for someone to go for Clue 1 (which is always at an Altar), then summon cultists, drop 10 Mutation tokens on the victim, and knock out the last few relevant health points with a 6 Cultist + 2 Byakhee army if the victim's health is higher than 10.

Now, some of these are abusive strategies in otherwise-fine objectives that can be played enjoyably by ignoring these exploits - you can play Blood Ties and just not activate Pyromaniac more than a couple of times per game. 1C here, sadly, is not like that. Even without using the SUTAW strategy, the objective is still effectively "The keeper spends 16 Threat"; SUTAW just lets the keeper do that all in one turn.

So 1C is unplayable, which makes House of Fears a 2-objective scenario. But that's not so bad - most Mansions of Madness scenarios are at best 2-objective scenarios (I think the Fall of House Lynch might be the only exception). Unfortunately, House of Fears needs 1C to exist. The investigators have... a very simple potential strategy in this scenario (which I won't be stating) that could make life quite difficult for the keeper, due to the way the scenario's mechanics work. One of the big deterrents against this strategy is 1C, which ends up being easier for the keeper if the investigators have been employing this strategy. But "easier" here just means "spend 4 Threat instead of 16 Threat"; it's an autowin either way, so it makes no difference. So if you pretend 1C doesn't exist, this strategy becomes much more viable, which helps the investigators a lot.

There's a cascade effect - 1C being bad hurts 1A and 1B in turn. And while some sort of effect like that applies to most scenarios, it's a lot stronger here than it usually is.

Because of that, I would recommend repairing 1C instead of scrapping it altogether. While revealed, Objective 1C lets the keeper do something involving a monster; my current recommendation (which I confess has not been tested) is to make that "something" once per turn, and to require that "monster" to not be a cultist or a witch.

On the other hand, while 1C sucks, 1A and 1B seem very well-balanced and made for tense, enjoyable games. One hinged on Joe Diamond killing a Shoggoth bare-handed; another hinged in Michael McGlen solving a puzzle in a single turn. (Considering how much work seems to have gone into those two, 1C's obvious lack of testing - or even reading, given that Iammars noticed the problem while first sleeving the expansion before even playing it once - is surprising.) So if you can forgive the need to repair one of the objectives, this scenario is definitely worth your while, and is by far the best of the POD scenarios (it's one of the best MoM scenarios released so far in general, really).

The items include a lot of classics that you'll recognize from other POD's. There's Capsules of Tranquility, Smith & Wesson, Symbol of the Elder Light, Brass Knuckles... it's like they want the POD's to collectively feel like a single expansion, so they all share a bunch of items that would have been included in that expansion if it actually existed. Actually, what's surprising is how few new items there are. Aside from Unreflecting Mirror, the only new ones are Keys, and even then they're basically just "a Key that gives +1 Willpower" and "an Axe that is also a Key". But I'm not complaining. (Actually, what I'd really like to see is Symbol of the Elder Light included in a scenario without the Darkness Keeper Action. Its Action isn't usually worth using when the darkness token can be so easily replaced at will, but if darkness tokens were spawned off of Events or from some new Keeper Action that limited where the darkness token could be placed, it might be more interesting? But I digress.)

The Event deck provides a good example of why the keeper should be allowed to read the Event cards before the game starts. Here, some Events give the keeper the one-time-only option of paying Threat to buy permanent monsters, which are some of the only permanent monsters the keeper can possibly get in the game. But if the keeper doesn't know this, and spends all their Threat during their Keeper Action Step are normal, they can be screwed out of their monsters. It's a newbie trap, and a particularly mean-spirited and unthematic one at that, and one that will make the game less interesting for all concerned if it's fallen into.

While it's not without its flaws, House of Fears is still one of the best Mansions of Madness scenarios that has been officially published so far (I put it in my top three alongside Yellow Matter and Blood Ties), 1A and 1B are extremely fun to play, and if you already have Forbidden Alchemy and are looking to pick up a POD, this is definitely the one to go for.
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Blake
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Nice write up Roberta, thanks. Can you tell me which two scenarios round out your top 5?
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J Conway
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Roberta, the depth of your analysis into Mansions of Madness and its expansions is astounding. Thank you for your excellent reviews!

It's obvious that you keep playing, so that's something in the game's favour - but your criticisms of its flaws are so comprehensive that I continue to hold off on buying MoM myself! haha, so it goes I guess... goo
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Roberta Yang
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Snake1 wrote:
Nice write up Roberta, thanks. Can you tell me which two scenarios round out your top 5?

The Fall of House Lynch, and... probably Inner Sanctum? Sure, it's a 0-objective scenario, but up until the endgame it's fantastic, and it's my go-to example of a scenario where the different objectives actually encourage the keeper to play differently. Though I still need to play `Til Death Do Us Part more (haven't played it since December, been too busy with Forbidden Alchemy + custom scenarios), so that one might edge out Inner Sanctum once I give it another shot. Of course, this is only counting official scenarios, otherwise Iammars' customs would be up there too.

Canonical wrote:
Roberta, the depth of your analysis into Mansions of Madness and its expansions is astounding. Thank you for your excellent reviews!

It's obvious that you keep playing, so that's something in the game's favour - but your criticisms of its flaws are so comprehensive that I continue to hold off on buying MoM myself! haha, so it goes I guess... goo

A lot of what I do is pointing out specific negative things because positive things are harder to nail down. It's easy to say, "This part here doesn't work". It's hard to say, "This part here is what makes the scenario as a whole great", because while it only takes one bad element to cause a problem, it takes a lot of good elements working together to make a scenario great. But since I like being able to actually say specific things, and bad things are easiest to specify, I often end up with reviews that go something like, "Elements X, A, Q, R, and D suck and need to be fixed. Anyhow, good scenario, one of the best, definitely worth checking out."

For all the wordswordswords above, the only major problem with House of Fears is Objective 1C, which I think my band-aid fix should take care of. Do I wish the back of Event text had been put to better use? Sure, but it's not like the scenario would be better by having no such text at all. (Actually, I'd like to see more scenarios use the back of the Event cards to add extra flavor text.)

One of the nice things about MoM is also that it provides a nice engine for building fan scenarios, so if you're willing to try out custom content, it helps the game a lot. Some of the problems I describe also don't have that much effect in the game for most groups; most keepers won't save up threat for insanity-spam in the Inner Sanctum, and even our group (which is full of overly-analytical types who enjoy breaking games and then raging about the games being broken) has never gotten around to abusing Pyromaniac in Blood Ties.

Basically, MoM has major problems, but just reading my reviews may give you a negatively skewed view of it. If you're considering getting it, the best thing to do is to try playing House Lynch once at your FLGS - I've found it's very much a love-it-or-hate-it game, and it's hard to predict whether any given individual person will like it or not. That's why I generally review individual scenarios instead of MoM as a whole.

The game also seems to be moving in a positive direction - two of the best three scenarios were among the most recent scenarios released, they seem more willing to try out new concepts now (whereas Season of the Witch and the Silver Tablet felt very more-of-the-same), and I have high hopes for the next POD (since it's unlikely they'll stop releasing expansions now).
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Jen McTeague
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salty53 wrote:
A lot of what I do is pointing out specific negative things because positive things are harder to nail down. It's easy to say, "This part here doesn't work". It's hard to say, "This part here is what makes the scenario as a whole great", because while it only takes one bad element to cause a problem, it takes a lot of good elements working together to make a scenario great. But since I like being able to actually say specific things, and bad things are easiest to specify, I often end up with reviews that go something like, "Elements X, A, Q, R, and D suck and need to be fixed. Anyhow, good scenario, one of the best, definitely worth checking out."


It's worth pointing out that this scenario was fun to play. Seriously, when analyzing a scenario, sometimes that gets lost. It has a flaw, but that doesn't stop it from being a fun scenario, even on repeated plays. That's more than I can say for some MoM scenarios.

Quote:
Basically, MoM has major problems, but just reading my reviews may give you a negatively skewed view of it. If you're considering getting it, the best thing to do is to try playing House Lynch once at your FLGS - I've found it's very much a love-it-or-hate-it game, and it's hard to predict whether any given individual person will like it or not.


Hey! You guys break the game. I have to fix what you break.

Quote:
The game also seems to be moving in a positive direction


This. FFG tried an experiment with Mansions, some things worked and some things failed. They've been learning from their mistakes (mostly, stupid locked door shoggoth) and overall the game is improving. For an experimental game, that's all we can ask for.
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J Conway
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salty53 wrote:

A lot of what I do is pointing out specific negative things because positive things are harder to nail down.... I often end up with reviews that go something like, "Elements X, A, Q, R, and D suck and need to be fixed. Anyhow, good scenario, one of the best, definitely worth checking out."


For sure. You're on a critical wavelength and I really appreciate that.


salty53 wrote:

Basically, MoM has major problems, but just reading my reviews may give you a negatively skewed view of it.


Appropriately enough, perhaps?

After reading a host of reviews, I think you're right that this is a love/hate sort of game. Your reviews are great because they present a deep analysis, but also because they remind me that I need to think about how often game-breaking scenarios would really come up with my group. Yours is obviously very analytical - which I think is awesome - whereas I suspect that most people that I would play with would just think "HORRAY! shoot the tentacle beast! Oh noes now I am insaaane" etc.

So the advantage of a highly critical review style is that I can more easily think about whether it would bother me that MoM has its issues.


salty53 wrote:

If you're considering getting it, the best thing to do is to try playing House Lynch once at your FLGS


Or trick someone into gifting it to me for a birthday, etc....devil
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Spike Kat
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1A Objective HoF Expansion - SPOILER!!!!


1A objective for the investigators looks too easy.
had a question:
Spoiler (click to reveal)
if they walk to the nursery from the foyer in the first round,
they could solve the wire puzzle and discard the faulty projector.later,
when the objective is revealed, investigators need to discard the faulty project.


WTF? am I missing something in the ease of solving the objective?
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Jen McTeague
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You're forgetting a couple things:
Spoiler (click to reveal)

1. In order to solve the puzzle in the Nursery, the Investigators need to get the key provided with Clue 1 over to the Nursery. This is at least 6 spaces away.
2. The Keeper's win condition is to kill someone with a Hound of Tindalos. Seeing as the Keeper has known this the whole game, he should've been spending his entire time trying to whittle a player down so that a Hound can easily kill them.
3. The wiring puzzle is not easy and depending on the original setup, may require multiple turns, especially if the Investigator solving it no longer has any skill points or has low Intellect. (Or you can get unlucky like me and have Michael McGlenn solve it on his first try. bleh.)


That being said, it's not the hardest Objective in the world. But it's not as easy as you make it.
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Roberta Yang
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Spoiler (click to reveal)
Yeah, you got the Obstacles' order backwards in the seeding.

It's still not exactly a hard puzzle, since it's 3A instead of a standard boss puzzle like Whatever Puzzle #B or Rune Puzzle 9, but all the objectives in House of Fears are pretty easy on both sides. 1B is still probably more difficult for the investigators than 1A, though.
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Tim O'Connell
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I played through 1B yesterday, and I thought it was one of the better scenario's we've played.

Spoiler (click to reveal)
I thought the lost souls were great - monsters who followed the players being annoying. Unfortunately, I never got to use the Shoggoth - Kate Winthrop used her opg to reveal the objective early. I probably should have placed the Shoggoth then and there, but not having prepared beforehand (I only own MoM, no expansions, my friend brought them over) so I wasn't entirely sure where to place it. The players took their time to get the clues though, which was their downfall - playing with 6 players (1 keeper v 5 players) they explored the whole house, but didn't have the keys in the right spots to get far. Panic! was used twice to delay them a turn each time, and getting the right trauma's on the right people helped (key carrier (kate) had the trauma where you make a horror check everytime a player enters your room.)

Not reading the event cards didn't help, as I had no threat left over to get the hounds, but I thought the monsters weren't really needed, as my objective was to send one of them insane. Just using the lost souls to cause horror checks every turn did the job, along with mythos cards. Sometimes I'd create a cultist or witch in their path to slow them down, but i was never really trying to hurt them.


Overall, its my favourite scenario that i've tried so far.
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Roberta Yang
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Quote:
Kate Winthrop used her opg to reveal the objective early

For some reason, it seems to be a common house-rule that her OPG actually reveals the objective instead of just reading it. This fails to fix the fundamental problem with her ability while introducing new mechanical problems like the one you encountered. It's honestly a terrible fix and I wouldn't advise anyone to play with it.
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Jimmy Wei
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Hi Roberta,

I've read almost all your reviews for each story. For the SUTAW problems, do you think if it's possible to be fixed by just setup a maximum threat points for Keeper? Like 4,6,8,10 for 1,2,3,4 investigators?
let us leaving the other flaws first. The rule states the maximum hand limit of the keeper but not the threat point. A lot of games have the resource limit...By saving up threat points keeper would have a ultra combo during the final moment at any scenario, even in those scenarios without Summon worshipers, the ultra combo would still be deadly and mostly...boring. It's frustrated that Investigators played several hours while their opponent didn't do anything expect give them a sudden death at the end.

My group also feedback that the 'Clue card' is a very disappointing mechanism. For the most time, the only reason for finding a clue card is to find next clue, which ultimately to Clue 1. But before they reaches Clue 1, they really cannot get even tiny information of Keeper's object. So the story itself become less attractive cause they don't need to care anything on a Clue card expect the next direction. Still it's not unacceptable , after all that's just what the game designer want us to do, 'quickly find clue 1!'. My group wants to be a little prepared before the revealing of final object, even tiny information like 'Your tissues on the altar become XXXX', so they may realize that the object is related to sample, then in later turn they might have more options or tactics instead of just rushing to next clue in swarms. Nobody likes to play 2-3 hours and when finally reaches Clue 1, just awares that everything is too late.
However it's rather hard to be fixed via clue than Event card, Due to the basic choice mechanism during setup makes clues less connection to the Object (Actually only one question matters...).
I can see that the intention of choice mechanism is to make game replay able and random, but does everybody really love to play a single story several times with same group member? Meanwhile FFG might add more information at each Event cards (Usually Event resolved by choices) to make the story more interesting and leave some spaces for investigator to image the meaning. Even so this is still not as funny as getting these pieces by finding Clue. They are 'investigator' , aren't they? Not runner or adventurers…They should be existing when discover any clue.So perhaps add some extra text when they find clue, or a quick interaction session between Keeper and investigators will be good ?
 
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Weltallex
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Hi,
Played the german version of HoF yesterday and while having a lot of fun we stumbled upon a big problem with inaccessible parts of the mansion.

Now I wonder, if the problem exists in the english version too.
So here are my choice markers (telling a good Hounds-of-Tindalos/timeloop-story) and the problem – I don't know the original english names of all cards, so some are just guessed, sorry for that):

Choice Markers:
1A 2B 3B 4A 5A

1. The investigators could walk through the whole left part of the map – Foyer, Gallery, Library, Studyroom, Angled Corridors ...
Then the stairs to the cellar where locked by the Armor with the missing sword (?) – The sword was placed in Bathroom 2

2. Bathroom 2 with the sword in it was a locked saferoom – you needed the Key.

3. The Key to the saferoom/bathroom2 was placed in the Dining Room. But that was locked by a locked door – you needed the Silver Key.

4. But the Silver Key was placed in the Freezer – but to get there you needed to walk through either the Dining Room, Bathroom2 or the Cellar Stairs.

I gave the Silver Key to the investigators as a quickfix.

Do you think there's a mistake in the german translation or some investigation cards oder locks where swapped? Or is it the same problem in the english version?



As a whole the story itself played very well, it was a fun ghost story and a close win for the two investigators. As an experienced roleplay gamekeeper I had to fix some plotholes and card texts though, but that was fine.






 
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Roberta Yang
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If I recall correctly, the armor is an Obstacle, not a Lock. You should be able to walk past it even without the sword, you just won't be able to successfully Explore its room, so you can walk up the basement stairs to get to the freezer.
 
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Weltallex
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Aahm ... yes blush
Hadn't played it for a while and totally forgot that ...
 
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