I was lucky enough to be given a copy of Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition for Christmas so I thought I’d take it for a spin and work my way through the box contents and first scenario.
So what do you get in the fairly substantial box? There’s a rules reference booklet which you’re encouraged to leave to one side for your first game and follow the tutorial booklet instead (I wish this was an approach more games would adopt). Next there are a large number of thick cardstock map tiles and tokens which are all sturdy and well illustrated, multiple decks of cards (mostly small format) for items, spells, condition, damage and horrors and some custom eight sided dice.
The miniatures are reasonably well sculpted and roughly 28mm in scale. The investigators have integral 25mm round bases and are in moderately hard light grey plastic and at first look would seem to need minimal or no cleaning up or re-posing before painting, making them ideal to re-purpose for other games.
The 24 monsters are made in a softer dark grey plastic and will need some hot water to work out the bent bits. They have custom square peg bases with slots for cards so will require some ingenuity to use them in other games too – I’m thinking I might be able to 3D print some adaptors for their bases so I’ll investigate this possibility at a later date. The pegs aren’t a good fit with the bases so they tend to fall out with minimal handling.
Before going any further, it’s worth noting that this game is only playable solo or collaboratively with the horror elements managed by an app, without which it is not possible to play the game. The app is available free for Android, iOS and PC (via Steam) and I was quite surprised to see it had 100,000 downloads in the Google Play store. Now it’s fair to assume that a decent proportion of downloaders might incorrectly assume this is a standalone mobile game rather than a companion app for a tabletop game, but even so – that’s a big number!
With the (200 MB) app downloaded to my tablet and the tutorial book open in front of me, I’m ready to begin.
The first step is to select your scenario from the 13 included in the app. However, the main boxed game only supports the first four scenarios with others requiring the purchase of expansion sets. Two of the scenarios also require in-app purchase (AUD 6.99 each). The scenarios have difficulty ratings from between 2 and 5 and and estimated duration of between 60-90 minutes right up to 240-360 minutes. I chose the first scenario, “Cycle of Eternity” which had a difficulty rating of 2/5 and an expected duration of 60-90 minutes so is an ideal introduction.
Once the scenario has been chosen, you select which of the eight investigators you will use. The getting started booklet recommended two investigators so I selected Rita (athletic) and William (all-rounder) for my first game. The app then allocates semi-random starting equipment for you to split between the investigators and provides instructions for setting up the first area of map, complete with areas of interest (Search tokens) and further areas to explore (Explore tokens). The starting rooms are also semi-random so there is going to be a level of replay-ability that just wouldn’t be possible with scenarios printed in a rules booklet.
Play then proceeds in rounds. Each round includes an investigator phase where each investigator can take up to two actions and a mythos phase where monsters appear and activate and the investigators are assault with various mind-bending horrors. The core mechanic is extremely simple – to test a particular characteristic you roll the number of dice equal to that characteristic and count the success faces. You can also use cards and Clue tokens to convert certain failures into successes. Many actions such as attacking a monster, exploring a new area or searching are resolved via the app and others such as moving, trading and using certain items are resolved just using the physical components.
The pacing and tension are superb and the longer you spend exploring, the more horrific and powerful your enemies become and while they might gather evidence and equipment, your investigators will slowly be worn down by physical damage and the onset of insanity. I don’t want to reveal too much about the scenario so won’t describe much of the actual gameplay and please be warned that the photos at the end of this post may contain spoilers.
In the end, both my investigators were wounded and one was insane but I was just able to complete the mission by the narrowest of margins in a nail-biting finale. Overall my first impression is that the game perfectly captures the spirit of Lovecraft’s novels and the Call of Cthulhu RPG. I suspect that it’s pretty easy to get carried away with getting the expansion sets, but in the meantime I’m looking forward to many more solo and cooperative games of the four scenarios from the main boxed set.
My copy came from KayJays in Footscray but the main game and expansions are widely available. Expect to pay in the region of AUD 170 for the main game and AUD 50 each for the expansions. Highly recommended.