We had decided to split up, probably not the best thing for us to do, but time was not on our side. I crept along the hallway; knowing I had nobody to watch my back was unnerving, and I was already on the verge of hysteria.
I gently opened the door to the library, at least that’s what the sign on the door said. The light from my lamp pierced the darkness, illuminating an old chair, several bookcases… and something else! I felt a hammering pain in my head; my eyes bulged causing blood to run down the side of my face. I dropped the lamp, fire spread around my feet; I screamed! – Mansions of Madness, an insanely good game?
- Designer: Nikki Valens
- Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
- Year Released: 2016
- Players: 1-5
- Playing Time: 120-180 minutes
- Ages: 14+
- Recommended Retail Price: £89.99
Mansions of Madness (second edition) is a cooperative board game, which sees the players investigating scenes of unspeakable horror. Using the free digital app, which plays the part of the Games Master, the players will move around the streets and buildings of a Lovecraftian world. Monsters will try to spread insanity and death, but there are a scattering of clues to help you solve the mysteries.
What’s in the box?
- 24 Map tiles
- 8 Investigator cards
- 8 Investigator figures
- 40 Common item cards
- 24 Unique item cards
- 30 spell cards
- 37 Condition cards
- 40 Damage cards
- 40 Horror cards
- 24 Monster tokens
- 24 Monster figures
- 16 Search/Interact tokens
- 16 Explore/Sight tokens
- 22 Person tokens
- 4 Barricade tokens
- 4 Secret passage tokens
- 18 Fire/Darkness tokens
- 8 Wall tokens
- 4 Door Tokens
- 26 Clue tokens
- 6 ID tokens
- 5 Dice
- First Edition conversion kit (16 Investigator cards – 33 Monster tokens – 4 Person tokens)
- 2 Rulebooks
Starting with the box – It’s got a lovely linen feel to it and is covered in typical, eerie, Lovecraftian artwork, which is exceedingly thematic.
The map tiles, along with the rest of the tokens, are good quality, punch out, high-density grey board. The tiles are beautifully depicted and, being double sided, there is a good range of diversity. The map tiles cover both inside and outside locations, and the larger areas are up broken for movement by solid white, or yellow lines. All the tokens have appropriate artwork depicting their use, and there are plenty to cover the games requirements.
The investigator cards are 70 x 120mm, and on the front depict an image of the investigator and their statistics. It also includes the investigators special ability, such as gaining extra movement, gaining clues, or being able to affect other investigators. On the rear of the card there is some flavour text – ‘The story so far’ – giving a brief round up and history of the investigator, handy if you wish to employ a little role-playing to the game. Once again, they are all very thematic, with lovely artwork.
The investigator figures are soft plastic, though not the softest you’ll come across. On the whole they have a good level of detail for a board game, and should be easy enough to paint up. They are a very good rendition of the investigator card images, and it’s easy to tell them apart at a glance. There are mould lines to clean up, but other than that, they are pretty good.
All the cards in the game are Mini American Board Game size, and are typical of Fantasy Flight Games cards – High quality, linen finish, with lovely artwork. The inscriptions are clear and concise, and some are double sided, which are to be flipped under certain circumstances.
The monster figures are also made of plastic, though of a different make up to the investigators. Whilst some of them have a reasonable level of detail, others are quite plain. There are mould lines to clean up, and a few gaps to fill before painting, and you’ll have to give them the hot water treatment to get some back into shape. In particular, the Star Spawn, not only were their wings deformed around their bodies, but trying to get them to sit on their bases was a pain; this was also typical of a few of the other figures.
The base on to which the monster figures sit, also houses the monster token. Unfortunately, quite a few of them didn’t fit. They were either far to tight, having to file the sides in order to get them to fit – or far to loose, falling out at the slightest provocation!
The dice are, once again, typical Fantasy Flight Games dice. They are a custom designed D8 depicting 2 clue symbols, 3 success symbols, and 3 blank sides. They are a nice weight, I’d prefer heavier ones, but that’s a personal preference.
The conversion kit, for those who originally purchased the First Edition, contains investigator cards for the 16 First Edition investigators. It also contains 33 monster tokens, 4 people tokens, and a small instruction leaflet.
There are two rulebooks – A learn to play, and a rules reference. The ‘learn to play’ booklet contains 20 pages and covers the basics of the game. It includes a game overview, setup, and everything else required to get you playing the game; though it doesn’t cover all of the rules, it will certainly get you going along the right path.
The rules reference contains a glossary covering pretty much everything you will need to know. During your first play through or two this book will act as your reference, giving a deeper understanding to the rules than ‘the learn to play’ guide, and covering all the bits not mentioned. It also covers game setup, using the app, and setting up the monster figures. Finally, on the back cover, there is a quick reference guide, covering the phases of the game.
How does it play?
- If your familiar with the game play, feel free to creep along to ‘What do I think?’
Before you do anything, you need to download the free app. This is readily available for iOS or Android devices, and can also be downloaded on to a Mac or Windows computer.
Setup – This assumes the monster figures have been mounted on their base with the appropriate token inserted.
First create the card decks by shuffling the damage cards and place face down at the side of the play area. Repeat with the horror cards. Alphabetically sort the common items, unique items, spell cards, and the condition cards – place them in individual piles, face up, at the side of the play area.
Gather the map tiles and organise them by size.
Place the monsters within easy reach, ensuring they are mounted correctly.
Separate all the tokens by type, and place them at the side of the play area.
Open the app and ensure it is up to date. If you have any expansions make sure they have been included.
Choose a scenario on the app by selecting ‘New Game’. Alternatively, by pressing ‘Resume’, you can continue a saved game.
Choose investigators – Each player selects an investigator, taking the matching card and figure, and selecting that investigator in the app. It is suggested that, when playing solo, two investigators are chosen.
The app will then inform you of your starting possessions. These can be distributed amongst the investigators as you see fit.
After selecting ‘Begin Scenario’, a prologue will be narrated, setting the scene of the scenario.
Pressing ‘Continue’, you will be shown the starting tile, along with various features to place. You will also be shown where to place investigators.
The app will then move to the ‘Investigator’s Phase’.
The investigators decide their turn order, and can each take two of the following actions:
- Move – The investigator may move up to two spaces. Another action may be taken in between moving from one space to another.
- Search – Investigate a search token in your space by selecting it on the app, and following the instructions given.
When selecting a search token on the app you will be presented with a description, and a choice to cancel or search. Before the word ‘search’, you will see the action icon, whenever you see this icon on a choice when within the app, it will cost you an action to carry out.
- Explore – Investigate an Explore token in your space by selecting it on the app.
- Interact – Interact, either with a person, or an Interact token, by selecting it on the app. Some interact tokens lead to a puzzle on the app, which may require solving to progress.
- Attack – Attack a monster in your space, or within range, depending upon what weapon you wish to employ. You do this by selecting the monster icon on the map, and then selecting the monster you wish to attack. You will then be given a choice of weapons you can use, select one and read the text. You will then have to carry out a skill test, comparing the result to the requirement given within the text, and inputting any damage caused.
- Trade – Either trade possessions with another investigator in your space, or pick up/drop items in your space.
- Barricade – If a barricade is present in your space, then you can use it to block a door.
- Extinguish fire – Discard a fire token in your space, and spaces through which you move during your turn.
- Push – Either push a monster or another investigator to an adjacent space. Depending upon the willingness of the recipient, a skill test may be required.
- Set Fire – If your investigator has a light source, then you may set fire to your space or an adjacent space.
- Steal – Under certain circumstances, an investigator may wish to steal a possession from another investigator. A skill test will be required
A skill test is often asked for by the use of the test symbols, which appear in parenthesis, during the narrative. See below for an example.
Whenever a skill test is required, it is carried out in the following manner – A skill test will be indicated by an icon representing the skill in question. This will be followed by either a number, which indicates the required number of successes to be rolled, and/or a modifier, which indicates whether more or less dice are to be rolled.
The investigator then consults their investigator card, rolling the number of dice as indicated next to the skill under test, taking into account any modifier. If the required number of successes is rolled, then the investigator has passed the test. If a clue symbol is rolled, an investigator may choose to spend a clue token to convert that die to a success.
For example – Rita Young is attacking a monster with a firearm; the narrative goes like this – “You take in the creature’s hideous countenance, and fear courses through you as you raise your weapon (Will;2)…” This indicates that Rita will need to test her Will, requiring 2 successes. She has a Will of 4, so rolls 4 dice. She rolls one success, a clue, and two blanks. If she has a clue token, she can spend it to convert the clue to a success, and pass the test.
Once all investigators have taken their turn, the end phase icon on the app is selected. This ends the investigator phase, and moves on to the mythos phase. The app will generate an event, which may affect one or more of the investigators.
For Example: “As Preston Fairmont is walking, he suddenly trips over something and tumbles to the ground. Place the Medical Textbook Common Item in Preston Fairmont’s space. He suffers 2 Damage (Agility +1 negates).” Preston’s agility is 4, so he rolls 4+1 dice, and requires 2 successes to negate all the damage.
Once the mythos phase has been resolved, the app will then move on to the monster step. A narrative will be given of the monsters actions, which will usually include moving to be within range of an investigator, and then attacking. It is important to note the wording of the narrative passage, as it can often mislead you into moving a monster twice, when it should only move once.
Narrative example: “The Hunting Horror moves 3 spaces toward the investigator within range with the lowest observation. Then it attacks that investigator.” The choices then offered by the app are – ‘The monster attacks’, and, ‘No investigators within range’. If there are no investigators within range of the monster, before it makes the move, then do not move it – select ‘No investigators within range’ on the app – you will then be told how the monster will move; usually, so many spaces towards the nearest investigator.
Note – Within range means within 3 spaces, and cannot be counted through walls or doors unless specified.
When an investigator suffers damage, then damage cards are issued facedown to that investigator. Similarly, if horror is suffered, horror cards are issued facedown. There are instances within the game that cause these cards to be flipped over; the instructions on the card are then resolved.
Once all monsters have had their turn the app will inform you that all investigators within range of a monster, must carry out a horror check. If more than one monster is within range, then the check is made against the monster with the highest horror rating, as indicated on the monster token. Only one horror check per monster is made, and all investigators that are susceptible to that check, will suffer the consequences.
Once the horror checks have been carried out as required, the end of phase icon is selected and a new investigator phase is begun.
Play continues until the app concludes the story, or all investigators have died or been driven totally mad! Before this happens though, investigators suffering damage or horror to their maximum amount, become either wounded or insane. They then reset their health/sanity back to its starting amount, and draw a wounded condition card or an insane condition card. The instructions on the card are then applied and, in the case of the insane condition card, this may affect the victory conditions for that investigator.
So, what do I think?
First impressions can mean a lot, and, when you first take hold of the box, you start to get the feeling that this is going to be something exciting.
The box is weighty, has a nice linen feel to it, and it all combines to make you want to open it and delve inside.
The artwork throughout the game is dark and intriguing, drawing you in to the world of Lovecraftian tales. It’s the little details that I find really appealing – Like the tentacle bursting through a window of the mansion on the box, or the slight smirk on the face of Preston Fairmont.
Opening the box you are confronted by a sheet – ‘STOP!’ Basically it’s informing you that you need to download the app to play, and where it can be found. On the reverse is a break down of the app interface. To be honest I never found I had to refer to it – a sign that the app is fairly intuitive to use.
I’ll revisit the app shortly…
Once you have the box open you’ll be confronted by a plethora of components. The cards are very good quality, and I found the instructions/narratives on them clear, and easy to understand. They also blend in nicely with the story telling of the game – the whiskey, for example, can be drunk to discard 2 facedown horror, and then the bottle can be broken and used as a weapon.
The map tiles show a variety of settings and are a nice heavy duty card, ideal for ensuring they stay where put, as well as being resistant to the high degree of handling they will get.
All the tokens are of the same high quality, and I have never run short during play.
The miniatures – I like the investigator figures, they are all suitably posed for their character, and contain a fair amount of detail for a board game miniature. The monster figures on the other hand, are a mixed bag. Firstly, I had a lot of issues getting them to fit on their bases – mainly due to the plastic having warped. I know it happens, but there was a high percentage that wouldn’t fit, and you expect a little more for the price paid.
Secondly, the level of detail isn’t to the same standard as that of the investigators. Yes, some of them do appear to have a good level of detail, but when you look closer you’ll see that it’s all very simply done. For example: The skin or clothing of the monsters looks detailed from a distance, but looking closer you will notice that it is a simple repeat pattern used to good effect. Now, this isn’t necessarily such a bad thing. Once painted, which should be a fairly simple task, they will look quite effective from the distance one would see them on the board.
Finally, I don’t like the way the monster tokens fit into the base. Many of them are too tight a fit, damaging the token if you push too hard. Once I’ve painted up the figures I will probably leave them out, keeping them at the side of play for quick reference.
On to the rules. Those of you who have played a few Fantasy Flight Games will be familiar with the way they tailor their rulebooks. Personally, I don’t mind having a ‘Learn to play guide’ that only teaches the basic game play and rules. I think they have definitely improved things from the likes of Eldritch Horror, where I found myself continually consulting the rules reference.
Once you’ve played a couple of times, the ‘learn to play book’ will stay in the box. The rules reference will prove to be a godsend during these first games, and you will, even after five or six play throughs, still find yourself leafing through this guide on the odd occasion. But, it is quick and easy to find whatever you may be looking for, and the quick reference on the back will guide you through the turn sequence.
On the whole I found both books well written, with lots of examples, though there can be a bit of cross-referencing when looking through the rules reference book.
Now the game itself – Mansions is part of the ‘Arkham Horror Files’, along with Arkham Horror: The Card Game, Eldritch Horror, and a few others. This means that the investigators will be familiar to those who’ve played the other games, and instils a nice feeling of familiarity. Especially if your keen to play the same character throughout the games.
The investigators themselves are quite varied, and their special abilities all prove to be useful – you just have to figure out how to get the best out of them – this means there’s a good chance they’ll all see some use over time.
Set up is fairly simple; once you’ve sorted the cards, you just follow the app. After playing many games that require a GM to run the bad guys, this makes a refreshing change. Everyone can play together, and the app does an excellent job of building the tension as progress is made. I especially enjoyed the way it builds the map as you explore, leaving you guessing at what could be around the next corner.
Player turns are quick, and can often end in frustration, but in a good way. You never seem able to achieve your aims on a turn; the two actions you can take are never enough. This adds to the anxiety; the pressure to solve the mystery ramps up as the game progresses, and, you have to move quick! You won’t realise this in the first game or so, but the app doesn’t sit around waiting for you to simply find all the clues and solve the mystery. No, it soon becomes evident that time is not on your side, and you have to make difficult choices. Do you collect that weapon from the next room, wasting valuable actions, but it may prove useful later on? Or, do you press on, saving time, and searching for clues that will help in your progress to the ultimate goal?
The way weapons and spells are handled in combat is a nice touch. Thematically, you’re up against these supernatural beings, having no idea of their strengths and weaknesses. So, when it comes to choosing what to attack a monster with, it’s not always the obvious that will do the most damage, and this means you always have a chance, even if you have to resort to good old fisticuffs!
Spells are interesting too. They can be really powerful, but, as you have to flip the card after you’ve attacked with it, and then apply the results, and having no idea which version of the spell you may have, it can be a risky business. Again, this is all very thematic, and great fun.
The scenarios on offer straight out of the box are varied, and all offer a different experience. I would like to have seen a few more, there are only four, and though there is some downloadable content, there isn’t enough of it. Getting the expansions really is the best way to increase the number of scenarios.
I enjoyed the story telling throughout, and all the mysteries provided a good challenge, though I’d take the suggested difficulty with a pinch of salt!
I would like to have seen a few shorter scenarios included. The play time can be fairy lengthy – 6hrs in some cases – but you can save your game. We found that, if we saved a game, we never resumed it – mainly because you really need to play it again ASAP, otherwise it can be difficult trying to recall exactly what was going on. Also, if you don’t leave it set up, then you will have to record where investigators/monsters are, what level their health/sanity is at, and what they have equipped.
There is a fair amount of dice rolling, but luck can be mitigated by collecting and trading items that will back up your investigators weaknesses. This gets harder as the game goes on – the difficulty is progressive, and you have to prepare yourselves early for the obstacles that will confront you. Once again this adds to the frantic excitement of the game.
Talking of dice; I would like to have seen one or two more included, as you often find yourself needing to roll more than the 5 included, but this is a minor quibble.
One thing we didn’t get on with were the insane condition cards. When an investigator loses all of their sanity for the first time, they draw an insane condition card. These affect that investigators win condition, and can see them doing odd things – setting fires, stealing from others, or just not speaking – all very thematic for someone who’s ‘lost the plot’! But, the people I played with just didn’t enjoy this part of the game. It didn’t bother me though, and can easily be ‘house ruled’.
Moving on to the app, and this is always going to be a debatable subject. There are those who believe a table top game should be digital free. They will tell you that it interferes with the communion that people should be sharing when playing analogue games. And maybe they’re right, to a point!
This game’s app has its issues, but in my opinion they are minor, and do not detract at all from the bonding feeling you get when sitting around a table with your friends or family, playing a game that involves everyone. It balances the use of the app with the use of the physical components brilliantly, and it’s probably the closet thing you’ll get to a computerised GM.
The initial narration sets the scene, but after that it’s up to someone else to read out the text. You can pass this duty around, especially if playing on a tablet, or nominate one person to be spokesman. Either way works, and would prove quicker than if you had to listen to it all being narrated. The sound nicely adds to the atmosphere, and plays away unobtrusively in the background.
The minor issues? Well, one isn’t so much an issue, it’s what could have been done better, and may well be in future expansions. And that is a greater use of puzzles. We really enjoyed the puzzles set on the app, though many of them we found too easy. I think there is greater scope to explore here, though I’m sure there will be some detractors to the greater use of the digital gadget!
The other minor issue regarding the app is the way that it eats battery life. Admittedly, our iPad is getting on a bit, so a fully charged new tablet may not experience this. But having to plug the device in to the mains half way through a game (always ensure that you set up close to a plug socket!), and then having restricted movement of the pad, can cause a few expletives to be uttered!
Finally, there’s the conversion kit. Now I understand why it has been included; to aid those who have the First Edition and want to invest in the Second, it’s like a loyalty bonus. But there is a fair amount of items in it, and it just sits there, unopened, in my box. Surely they could have reduced the cost of the second Edition, and sold this separately for those who needed it? But then I am speaking as someone who doesn’t own the First Edition!
Can I play it… all on my own?
This has the makings of great game to play solo. It is suggested that you use two investigators, but I usually use four, though this does take up a bit of space in front of you, and you have to ensure you don’t overlook something – you can really weave a good bit of story telling as you play. There’s also the bonus that you can concentrate on your own strategy, instead of hanging your head as ‘that’ player decides… they’ve just got to go and get that sixth weapon for their arsenal!
Anyone who’s a fan of the ‘Arkham theme’ and likes the idea of a miniatures ‘Mansion’ crawl involving mysteries and puzzles, is going to love this. There’s the added plus that nobody has to play ‘the bad guy’, and the whole thing comes together to offer a very thematic, role-playing on a board, experience.
It’s easy and quick to set up, but you will have to allow yourselves plenty of time if you wish to finish a scenario in one sitting.
It does have a suggested age of 14+ as there is a fair amount of text containing scenes of gore, but I was happy for my horror loving twelve year old to play, and she really enjoyed it – it has become her favourite game. There is also nothing complicated about the game play, and you can teach/learn the game very quickly, allowing you to get the most out of it straight from the off.
I say above, ‘has the makings of a great game’, why? Well, a word on replayability – Once we’d completed a scenario, I found that I didn’t really want to play it again, and with only four available initially, this can be a downer. I will say though, that it took two to three attempts at each of the four scenarios to complete them, which does offer up a good fifty to sixty hours of game time! But the experience was never as good as the first attempt, when you’re exploring the unknown for the first time and have no idea what is going to be put in front of you.
Changing the investigators and adding expansions does alter the way some of the scenarios play, but for me, it’s not enough. Of course, if you’re willing to invest in the expansions and downloadable content, then there’s a lot of mansions to explore, and I will admit, this is something that we’ve done, so it can’t be that bad!
Mansions of Madness offers a thrilling rollercoaster of a time as you race towards your objective, and you slowly lose your sanity as everything comes falling down around your ears! The excitement at barricading the door on a horde of monsters, and deliberately setting fire to the place, are all things you have to look forward to! Bring it on!
Official site – Fantasy Flight Games
Recommended video review – The Dice Tower
Recommended play through – Rhado Runs Through
Board Game Geek Page – Here
My One Year On look back – HERE