There’s an over saturation of HP Lovecraft games on the market. I often hear it said that the theme alone will turn players away from a game. Given how many already exist, how many we’ve reviewed, and how many more are coming, I certainly can’t blame anyone for being tired of cultists and madness inducing tentacles. Yet, I feel that I have to bring you just one more because if you only ever get one game in the genre, it should be Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition.
It’s not the best game of the bunch, but it’s precisely where the lines of availability, price range, and accessibility meet. The original Mansions of Madness game came out in 2011 and was fairly well received. But the number of pieces and admin required in the original version meant that someone had to manage a bunch of conditional rules and components. Unless someone knew the rules really well and was willing to manage everything for the group, the experience could be a real slog. As a solution, Fantasy Flight Games released a second edition that replaced the fiddly admin with an app complete with a soundtrack and narration.
There is a large demographic of board game players who are adamantly against games with integrated technology. To be fair, I’ve yet to hear an invalid reason. The most common thought process I’ve heard is that people choose to play board games to unplug for awhile. Playing a game that relies on an app to control important aspects like game events, clues, and enemy movement entirely undermines that goal.
However, while I too enjoy unplugging to play games, the app does a fair amount to improve Mansions of Madness’ immersion, setup, and ease of play. The app does so much to alleviate the pain of setup, that I would use it for that alone. All players need to do is choose the story they want to play and the characters they want to play as. The Mansions of Madness app will then tell players which of the many items they get to start with in their inventory. After players confirm they collected the required items, the app will launch them right into the selected story. A gritty-voiced narrator sets the stage while eerie atmospheric music plays in the background. At only a minute or two in and it’s time to start playing.
Ominous music plays in the background while players explore mansions and grimy streets. A range of timely sound effects like thunderclaps, creaking floorboards, and distant screams keep the audio surprising and engaging throughout the session. Between the app’s ease of setup, AI management, and audio, it’s hard not to become engrossed.
Nothing breaks immersion more than a complicated set of rules that players have to frequently stop and reference. Thankfully, Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition also makes that really easy. Every round players spend up to two actions to interact with their surroundings. The most common actions are:
Move – Players may move their investigators up to two spaces for each move action. If players spend both of their actions to move, they can move up to a total of four spaces.
Explore – The Explore action allows players to the explore tokens in the app (represented by a red lantern) to reveal a new map tile and enter a new room.
Search – Search actions allow players to interact with search tokens in the app (represented by a question mark) to search for clues. Searching will often reveal valuable clues.
Interact – The Interact action (represented by an exclamation point) lets players engage with NPCs or key objects in the map. These opportunities will often advance the plot forward or present players with a mini-game puzzle.
Trade – Players in the same space may use the trade action to swap any number of item cards in their possession. Alternatively, if players aren’t in the same space, they also have the option to drop an item and leave it in their current space to be picked up by another players at a later time.
Item related action – Some items will grant players additional actions that can be used at this time. Any card that permits this option will have bolded “Action” text on the card.
Attack – If there’s every an enemy within range of a player, they may choose to spend an action to attack it by selecting it within the app. From there, players will simply follow the flavor text and instructions to resolve the action.
Each character card has a set of six stats (strength, agility, observation, lore, influence, and will) with a number from one to five. If a player is ever asked to make a skill check, players simply need to check the associated stat and roll the number of die that matches their card. The eight sided die has three faces: an eldritch sign, a magnifying glass, and a blank side. The eldritch sign is considered a success and the magnifying glass counts as blank but can be converted into a success if players discard one of their clue tokens. After rolling, players will total the number of revealed successes and type it into the app. At that point the game will determine the outcome and the game moves forward.
And that’s how to play and teach Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition. There are other conditional rules like horror checks or the spread of fire, but they are so circumstantial that the app will manage and remind players of whenever it’s relevant. While this does mean that players may need to reference the rulebook from time to time for the more obscure instances, the app still drives most of the more complex admin. Players will only need to place tokens on the board as the app instructs.
The range of stories available to players is highly depends on what expansions they own. The base game provides four scenarios that all take place in the titular mansion. When selecting a scenario, the app provides users with an overview of the mission’s difficulty, length, and premise so that players may choose the one that interests them most. The base game includes the Cycle of Eternity, Escape from Innsmouth, Shattered Bonds, and Rising Tide scenarios. Thanks to the digital integration, there are also three additional DLC scenarios available (What Lies Within, Dark Reflections, and Altered Fates) that can be purchased and played with just the base game components.
Didn’t quite hit the mark on your last time through Shattered Bonds and want to give it another go? Well, it’s likely not to go as you expect. While four stories for a price tag of $80 – 100 (depending on where you buy your games) may seem like a steep price, Mansion of Madness has a surprising amount of replay value. Every scenario in the base experience (except for Escape from Innsmouth) has multiple configurations programmed into the app. Maps, clues, and puzzles change to keep the experience as mysterious as the first playthrough. Given that the spectrum of scenarios range anywhere from one to six hours to play in full, even the base experience can be quite the undertaking.
To be honest, I’m surprised there aren’t more downloadable scenarios available. Given that it would cost significantly less for Fantasy Flight Games to produce than a boxed expansion, it feels like a bit of a missed opportunity. Especially given the wide range of related Arkham Files games FFG has under their brand. There’s tremendous amount of opportunity for crossover content. Familiar characters like Jim Culver, Wendy Adams, and Silas Marsh already make appearances and it seems there’s still more untapped potential. Either way, there’s plenty to enjoy in the base game as is, even more if you brave the expansions.
As mentioned in our last piece about Arkham Horror: The Care Game, FFG struggles to keep up with the demand of the mythos packs making it near impossible to get to pick up a full campaign in one go. Instead, it usually becomes a long and drawn out process of waiting up to six months at a time for that one missing deck of content, or paying a premium on the second hand market. Unlike one of FFG’s AHLCG, expansions for Mansions of Madness are much easier to come by.
There are five existing expansions, Beyond the Threshold, Streets of Arkham, Sanctum of Twilight, Horrific Journeys, and Path of the Serpent. These add a total an additional thirteen scenarios, each with a number of randomized variants to keep it new, even after multiple sessions. Scenarios range the gambit between the giant logic puzzle in Ill-Fated Exhibit where players search for a cursed object in a museum, to preventing a dinner-party in Vengeful Impulses. Regardless of which scenario you select, there’s a lot to enjoy with Mansions of Madness.
Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition is good fun, and as much as I recommend it, it’s not the best the genre has to offer. I mainly recommend it above others because it lands right in the sweet spot at the intersection of price, variety, and being easy to learn. I would argue that Arkham Horror: The Card Game is a better game, but it’s significantly more expensive. Deep Madness is another great Lovecraft game, but it’s a much harder game to learn. There’s an abundance of games to choose from, but I can’t think of any other game that hits each of the marks as effectively as Mansions of Madness.