Mansions of Madness published by Fantasy Flight Games and designed by Corey Konieczka is a one versus many (in this case one to four) board game using H.P. Lovcraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. It was first released 2011. It plays from 2 to 5 players (ages 14 and up) in 2 to 3 hours (or less).
In this game, there are two groups of players: the Keeper and the Investigators. The keeper is a sort of game master or overlord which controls much of the game and is the antagonist for the investigators using sinister powers and monster to thwart them from uncovering clues, discovering their objective and accomplishing it. The Investigators on the other hand are the remaining players (one to four) who take the roles of a 1920’s character archetype. If you are familiar with Arkham Horror, you will be familiar with the eight characters found in this game. The investigators role is to search the mansion (of madness) for clues to uncover what plot elements the Keeper has chosen for the particular story scenario being played.
The game comes with five stories in total: The Fall of House of Lynch, The Inner Sanctum, Blood Ties, Classroom Curse, and Green-Eyed Boy. Each story has three slightly different objectivess that the Keeper selects and keeps hidden until forced to reveal when the investigators uncover the appropriate clue. Additionally, each story has between 1-5 other elements for the Keeper to select from to tailor the each story slightly. These usually involve where the next clue can be found in the clue change.
To setup, which this game has quite an involved setup, the Investigators setup of the map which is composed of a number of thick cardboard map tiles to make the mansion (of madness) and select and spec (choose what abilities they want) their character for the game. While the Keeper pulls the required clue, lock, obstacle, mythos, and event cards for the story and seeds them on the map in the appropriate areas depend on the story elements chosen.
Game play begins with the investigators who each allowed to move their character two spaces and receive an additional action which can be used for a variety of things such as movement, combat, room exploration, use of items, etc. After each Investigator has had a chance to complete their turn, the Keeper draws threat (the currency they need to power many of their actions) and plays whatever effect they can afford and adds a time token to the event deck. When the event deck has the same number of token as the number listed at the bottom, the card is revealed and read aloud by the keeper performing all actions it lists as applicable. The game continues until the investigators or the Keepr have completed their objective causing the other side to loose. In Mansions of Madness it is possible for both side to lose in that case the game and the Great Old Ones win.
The components in this game are of high quality. In fact, I only really bought this game for the unpainted miniatures which I have all since painted. Please note, the picture shown is not my painting of the miniatures. The sculpts are very good on par with similar 28mm war game pieces. The artwork is also very good to the point I always think there is a mar or scratch in the Exploration Cards due dilapidated hallway they feature. The map tiles are also both attractive looking and function as the same time.
Like I said above, I really only bought this game for the miniatures but decided to sit down and play a game since it came with it. When reading the rules, I admit I was a little underwhelmed by it as a veteran pen and paper role playing gamer. However, upon playing it the rules form a tight structure for both sides to work within with very transparent game mechanics. Additionally, the game is intended to be more head to head rather than a Game Master facilitating an adventure in more typical rpg. Though I would recommend new Keepers to understand the Investigators’ players skill level and relative interest in what they want out of the game. Most of the stories are heavily weighted toward the Keeper. This balance will equalize after multiple replays and the players roughly know what they need to do for story becoming more of a game of deception on the Keeper’s part. Speaking of re-playability, the base game does have a limited stories, objectives, and elements. Even the objectives and elements are that varied mechanically. Objectives are sometimes opposites and elements are usually where the clue can be found in the mansion (of madness). If Investigator players are enjoying this game for the mystery and exploration, it will have a fairly short shelf life. However, if the Investigator players have played the same story multiple times the nature of the game changes as the Keeper must bluff where the clue chain goes and be on their toes about accomplishing their objective.
The Pros, it is a very light, structured rpg that has a definite ending. While the game itself mention it, it is very jump in, jump out of game as players can join/leave adding/removing Investigators while the Keeper simply adjusts the amount of threat they collect. It is a very good use of the Lovecraftian theme. It has very good physical components. Fantasy Flight Games have excellent customer service (I lost a piece of the game making it unplayable and they quickly replaced it).
The Cons, the game has a long and involved setup and long break down. The Keeper and incorrectly seed the map and make the game unwinnable for the Investigators. There are so many components that it is very easy to lose a vital piece making certain stories unplayable. Some of the stories if you take a step back and look at it as a whole may come off anticlimactic. Because of the miniatures it is pricier than most board games.
Bottomline, I actually have grown to enjoy this game the more I play it. It hits the table each week and is likely to for at least the next month. For something I wasn’t expecting to even really play that much it has blown me away. If you and your group are interested the general premise of Mansions of Madness and none of the cons are deal breakers, I recommend picking it up. I give it 4 out of 6 Elder Signs.