Mansions of Madness
“Light rain falls on your face as you exit your car in front of the estate. The house is huge, unkempt, and shrouded in eerie silence as you approach. You rap on the door, and there is no response. A moment later, the door creaks open of its own accord, and you enter the foyer of the enormous mansion.”
And so begins The Fall of House Lynch, one of the many scenarios in Mansions of Madness. We call them scenarios because it’s not a single story. Though the back-story remains the same, the events and details are up to the players.
Mansions of Madness has a “game master mechanic”. This means one player knows the story, knows what’s going on, and knows what they must do to win. This player is known as the Keeper. The other players must work together to uncover the mystery and ultimately solve it, or prevent the Keeper from accomplishing their goal.
There are two noteworthy things here. Firstly, the board is modular, much like the board of Gears of War (same designer, Corey Konieczka). In this case though, every scenario has a defined layout but the clues and puzzles are in different places. Secondly, the figures. These things are amazing. The monsters look genuinely scary and the insane people and cultists look creepy. It’s just stunning. It should also be mentioned that the puzzles mentioned before are physical sets of tiles that need to be rearranged. This has a nice tactile aspect to it, and your character’s success is directly affected by your intelligence, though your number of tries is determined by the character.
Before play begins, all the players are asked to leave the room so the Keeper can set up the map and hide the clues. Once the other players return they choose a character and two basic sets of traits. Then the back-story and introduction is read out loud, preferably in a spooky voice with the lights turned low.
Basics of Play:
Each character can move two spaces and then perform an action. This action can range from the basic, such as running for one more movement space, to complex things like attempting a puzzle. The Keeper can throw a spanner in the works at any time by causing supernatural events to occur. After all the players have taken their turn, the Keeper gets to perform certain actions allowed them by the scenario, paying for them in threat tokens. These threat tokens can run out, and prevents the Keeper from simply bulldozing the characters. The Keeper can also save up these tokens over a few turns, for a final massive supernatural conflagration!
Played with the right people, this game can be spooky and engaging. Played with the wrong people, it can all end up feeling a little silly, but that can happen with any game that’s designed around a spooky atmosphere. Like the kid that laughs in the haunted house theme park ride.
Components: 4/5. Beautiful, well made figures on a rich and detailed board, though the writing on some cards can be very small.
Gameplay: 4/5. Only the Keeper needs to learn any real rules, and will guide the other players through the game.
Complexity vs Depth: 4/5. Mansions of Madness accomplishes a rare feat. Depth without complexity. Players are constantly engaged with the story, wanting to know what happens next. And all they have to remember is: “Two moves, one action”.
Theme: 5/5. The best example of a Cthulhu Mythos game I’ve ever seen. Enough said.
Overall: 4/5. If you like ghost stories, and face it who doesn’t, you will love this game. Easy to learn, some great stories with plot twists on every turn of a card. Just don’t invite your cousin that shouts in the movie theatre.