The setting is early 20th century Cthulhu mythos. You and your fellow Investigators are trying to solve a Lovecraftian mystery and prevent an Old One, a terrifyingly horrible creature, from entering our realm and driving everyone insane. All you have at your disposal are your character's skills and the few objects and allies you may find along the way. Can your mind and will withstand the pressure and keep you sane? Or will you rely on your brawn and speed to see you through?
Mansions of Madness Second Edition is a highly thematic app-driven cooperative board game. It's one of the most immersive board games I've ever played. It comes as close to a roleplaying game experience as a board game can be.
An app takes the place of a game master so everyone can play - no one has to run the game. The app not only describes rooms as you enter them and the items and monsters you encounter, it also directs the monsters, tracks their hit points and keeps an eye on the timer. From the spooky music to the beautiful artwork and eerie descriptions of rooms, monsters, items and the results of your actions, the game takes you there. I’ve seen players literally cringe as a monster was described to them.
Let’s look at how Mansions of Madness plays.
Game play is pretty simple. Each player assumes the role of an Investigator with his/her own unique abilities. Players take their actions exploring some scary place in search of answers, then the game and its monsters get to take a nip – or bite – out of you during their hair-raising turn.
On your turn, you can take two actions from among the following. You can even perform the same action more than once.
- Move up to 2 spaces. If you’re leaving or moving through a space with a monster, you must Evade first (a test to see if you were able to duck past it). You may break up your movement. For example, you can Move 1 space, Search, then Move another space.
- Search. Examine an item (Search token) in the space you’re on. It could be a painting, a pile of papers, a bookshelf, etc.
- Explore. Open a door, look down a hall, etc. Explore tokens mark areas you can Explore further. The app will describe what you see.
- Attack a Monster in the same space with you either Unarmed or with a Melee weapon. You can make a Ranged attack up to 3 spaces away with a Ranged weapon.
- Trade. Exchange any number of Common Items, Unique Items or Spells with other Investigators in the same space as you and/or drop or pick up items on your space. Unfortunately, you can’t Trade Clue tokens.
- Interact with an Interact token, an item in your Inventory, or a Person in your space. Maybe you picked up a book and want to read it or you discovered a strange device and want to experiment with it.
- Component. Use a card’s action.
- Barricade. Move a Barricade in your space against or away from a door or secret passage. The app is good about specifying what items can be used as Barricades.
- Set Fire. Place a Fire token in your space or on an adjacent space. Requires a Light Source.
- Extinguish. Put out a fire (discard a Fire token) in your space and/or a space you move to. You must make an Agility test to Extinguish a fire successfully.
- Push. Push an Investigator or Monster in your space to an adjacent space. Often requires a Strength test.
- Steal. Take an item from an Investigator in the same space. Requires an Agility, Observation or Strength test.
Your fate is often determined by a roll of the dice, though you can mitigate it somewhat with clue tokens, special abilities, spells or items. How many dice you get to roll is usually determined by one of your character’s stats. Characters also each have their own special ability.
Setting up the game is as easy as 1, 2, 3 – theoretically:
- Each player chooses a character or you can assign them randomly.
- Read the short 1-page getting started instructions (only necessary the first time you play).
- Open the app and choose an adventure. The app will tell you which room tiles to place on the table to begin your adventure, what items to start with, etc.
I did say theoretically. I would recommend that someone read the rulebook thoroughly in addition to the minimal getting started instructions the game provides. A quick perusal of the FAQs on BGG can be helpful, too.
I made the game much harder for us than it should’ve been the first few times we played. For example, I missed the rule that said monsters’ range doesn’t extend through doorways and another rule that said monsters only attack one Investigator matching the description. If the description of who the monster is supposed to attack applies to more than one Investigator, then the players choose who gets attacked. Because I overlooked that important rule, the monsters got to take a lot more bites out of us than they were supposed to. It made the game a lot harder than it should have been. It was fun, though! My mistakes certainly increased the suspense level!
I also recommend downloading and printing an excellent Investigator Actions Reference Sheet made by Calvin Le Huray from Board Game Geek at: https://boardgamegeek.com/filepage/135379/
I think it would’ve helped players understand exactly what things they could do on their turn, particularly the first few games.
By incorporating an app, Fantasy Flight removed the need for a Game Master, turning a semi-cooperative game (1st edition Mansions of Madness) into a purely cooperative game (2nd edition). The app also streamlines setup, particularly if you get a Plano box or something to organize the tokens and makes it possible to play solo. It’s available for Android, Apple, Kindle and Steam.
My only gripe with the app is that there is no Back button. If you accidentally hit the wrong button, there’s no undo. Grr. Otherwise, I love how the app handles the details of the scenarios.
As for adding expansions, it's super easy. Just tell the app what you have and it will increase the variety of encounters and scenarios you can play. If you have a copy of Mansions of Madness 1st Edition or any of the first edition expansions, you can add them, too. There are even a few inexpensive DLC scenarios you can purchase through the app that utilize the physical components you already have.
My Thoughts on Mansions of Madness
Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition is really fun and immersive. While it’s not a true roleplaying game experience like Dungeons & Dragons, it’s the closest I’ve found in a board game.
It's very replayable. You can play the same scenario multiple times and it will be different every time. Although the end goal will be the same, you'll have different encounters and find different items. The base game includes several scenarios. Plus you can add expansions with more characters, monsters, items and scenarios.
It took three plays for me to get all the rules right. Not because the rulebook is bad per se, more that it leaves room for interpretation and I interpreted it wrongly a few times. The FAQs on Board Game Geek were a big help. I’m planning to compile them into a quick reference and put it with the rulebook.
My only gripe is with the minis. While the detail is great, the monster minis don’t have their own bases: you have to stick them into the generic bases provided with the game which feature a place to slide in or stand the monster’s reference tile. Unfortunately, some of the minis are prone to toppling over.
Another problem I have with the minis is that they're unpainted. I would’ve preferred pre-painted as I don't paint minis very often. Painted minis probably would've increased the cost of the game, though. The base game's MSRP is already a bit pricey. At least the app is free to download and the DLC scenarios you can purchase in-app are pretty inexpensive.
One of the things I particularly like about Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition is that it’s easy to add more players midgame by including extra characters during setup. So if you have a player who is often late for game night, you can simply add a character for the late player as well during set up and start the game without them.
At Here Be Books & Games, we always set up the game for the full compliment of five characters – even if we have fewer players to begin with. Then if another gamer drops by, we can give them one of the extra characters to play and seamlessly work them into the game. If no one shows up to play the extra characters, it’s not a problem: we just ignore those characters. The app doesn’t seem to notice either. In the rare instance that the app specifically targets an unplayed character by name, we ignore that instruction. So far it hasn’t affected game play for us at all.
Mansions of Madness Second Edition is a really fun and immersive game with rooms to search, items to examine, puzzles to solve, eerie mysteries to investigate and nasty monsters to defeat. Your character may go mad, die in the process or survive to investigate another Lovecraftian mystery.
Mansions of Madness Second Edition supports 1 to 5 players, ages 14 and up and plays in 2 to 3 hours depending on the scenario.
Copyright © 2022 by Tina G. McDuffie.