My friend, Mike, brought Mansions of Madness over yesterday. He’s a Fantasy Flight fan so I am put upon to play many of their games with their wonderful sculpts, myriad quality pieces, and at least a dozen tiny decks of cards. Mansions of Madness is not an exception.
The first thing I notice as Mike is setting up is the lovely artwork on the map boards. The garden caught my eye first, and I wanted to take a lawn chair and a book and sit there enjoying the tranquility it seemed to have. Then I saw the work room next to it, a blood-spattered sheet on the table. Oh, no, there’s no tranquility here, let’s move on. The foyer is classy with its black and white checkered floor and softly colored rugs; a grand staircase leading up and branching off in two directions. The artwork truly cannot be faulted.
The set-up takes quite awhile, as usual, but Mike is a FF pro and has everything well-organized so it’s on the table in about 15 minutes even with my interruptions to show him a video of the next game I want.
I’m then presented with a stack of characters to choose from and take two. The characters seem very simple with only 3 characteristics to deal with. Ahh, there’s more; two other sets of cards to choose from, each with 3 or 4 more characteristics. That’s more like it. The artwork is nicely mood-inducing, and the fonts are easy to read even with older eyes.
Now for the game play, which separates the men from the boys’ toys. As the good guys, I get to move 2 spaces and do one action on my turn. Actions include running (which means I can move 1 extra space), explore (turn over a card in the room), fight a bad guy/monster, use the ability of a card item I might have, drop an item I have, or use an item in the room such as a chest of drawers to block a doorway or hiding in a trunk. This seems very simple. Yet it’s not.
Some doors are locked or jammed so you may have to roll to test your strength or solve a puzzle or have a key before you can pass through. If a bad guy appears in the room with you, you can’t just run away. First you have to roll to see if he frightened you enough to damage your sanity, then you have to roll to see if you have the agility to evade him. I found this tedious, but then I’m probably not the target audience since these RPG-style games are not my favorite.
Then the bad guy, the Keeper, takes his turn, throwing bad guys at you or moving the ones already on the board. This is also the time when two good guys can trade items if they’re in the same space. Why? Why is this part of the Keeper’s turn? I found this counter-intuitive.
Another part of the Keeper’s turn is keeping track of the Event Deck, placing a token on it to keep track of the number of turns. After 3 to 6 turns, the Event takes place, moving the scenario along in its specific direction.
The good guys come into this house with only a vague idea of what they are to accomplish and must search the rooms looking for clues and items of importance. At a certain point in the scenario, they are given their objective, and hopefully they have done a good enough job of finding stuff and killing off monsters to fulfill it before time runs out (the last Event card is turned over).
My impression of this game began to blossom after the second Event card was turned over: it’s very scripted. Between the clues I needed to find, and the Event deck keeping to its schedule, I didn’t feel like I had a lot of choices but was being shuffled along the appropriate path, like a rail shooter in a video game. By the half-way point of the game, I had decided that this was a lot of fiddly work for very little game play. I could get a better story from Last Night On Earth: The Zombie Game, have more freedom in how I wanted to approach my objective, and the luck factor would be just the same: hope the dice and the card deck favor you this night.