Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition
Fantasy Flight Games
Players: 1-5 Players
Play Time: 2-4 Hours
Mansions of Madness originally released in 2011 to mixed reviews. While it had some sound ideas, the game suffered from long setup times and a need for intense attention to detail. Still, the game had a solid following due to just how fun the ideas actually are.
There probably isn’t a board game that has benefited more from having a 2nd edition than Mansions of Madness. Released in 2016, the 2nd edition uses a free companion app which does the heavy lifting. This single overhaul completely changes the experience and makes Mansions of Madness a must play for fans mystery, horror, or role-playing.
The companion app essentially acts as the game’s Game Master and succeeds in doing so. It tells the story, shows as much of the scenario that the players are meant to see, and determines the results of skill checks. In addition to facilitating the game, the application also comes with ambient music and frightening sound effects that establish the mood around the players. When plugged into speakers and projected on a television screen, Mansions of Madness becomes an experience like no other. As a fan of role-playing classics like Hero Quest, Mansions of Madness completely redefined what it is like to play these types of games, and impressed everyone at our table.
The actual game itself is of high quality and lives up to the massive box that it comes in. The base game comes with 32 uncolored plastic figures and many map tiles. There are numerous cards full of conditions, items, spells, and horrors, along with many markers and tokens. It also comes with a conversion kit for those who have invested in the first edition. This kit allows for players to bring over all of their scenarios, characters, and enemies from previous expansions over, which is a welcome addition.
The base game comes with four scenarios, with other scenarios obtainable via physical expansions and in-app DLC. The scenarios put the players in the shoes of investigators, as they try to solve ominous mysteries with Lovecraftian themes. Players can perform actions such as move, investigate their surroundings, and attack enemies as they try to understand their scenario and survive while doing so. Despite each investigator having their own “turn,” the game successfully engages every player at all times by encouraging them to trade ideas and work together. The game is full of puzzles (solved via the app) that may require the entire group to work together or risk wasting a significant amount of time that could be spent surviving. The scenarios have varying amounts of difficulty, with some more focused on solving the mystery and others emphasizing survival.
Battles and investigations are usually resolved with skill checks, which often require dice. Different characters have different strengths, and it leads to players deciding who should be using their resources on specific tasks. The game is well-balanced, with most teams of three-five players/investigators able to have the appropriate variety of skills to thrive in the scenarios without making it too easy or crushing the players.
Winning and losing mostly depends on the wits and planning of the players, and doesn’t necessarily rely on too much luck. If the team experiences bad luck, it is usually due to the ill-advised position of the investigators. Of course, dice rolls and skill checks can go poorly for the players, but this doesn’t occur so often that it ruins the experience.
One example of poor positioning leading to bad luck in one of my group’s campaigns involved the group splitting up to find clues (Scooby Doo-style). Unfortunately for us, we put Father Matteo, a preacher in a position where he would need to fight his way out of a mob of cultists. This encounter was full of strength and speed checks, and Matteo sadly specializes in lore and will. Our ally quickly perished in the crowd and we soon lost the game. All of this could have been avoided if my character was the one outside fighting enemies while Matteo was inside solving puzzles. We lost the game quickly, but it never felt unfair. It was just something that we needed to learn from.
New players likely won’t find themselves overwhelmed by the experience, due to both the presentation of scenarios as well as the application’s design. Every mission begins with an introduction, then places the investigators in a room. The players won’t be able to see other locations until doors are opened. As the players investigate, the map will gradually open up, oftentimes leading to surprises. Enemies aren’t the only encounters players will encounter. There are many NPCs that can help or hurt the players depending on how they interact. Charismatic characters can sweet talk their way out of a fight, while more aggressive builds may decide to use force to get what they want. This freedom helps to enhance the role-playing experience.
Players are unfamiliar with roleplaying likely won’t struggle to play Mansions of Madness if they put in just a little effort. While the game isn’t particularly difficult, it does take a while to learn all of the mechanics. After thirty minutes to an hour of studying the rules, a new player will be able to host the beginning scenario for other new players to experience. The application does quite a bit of hand-holding to alleviate the headaches of learning the mechanics. The game also comes with a quick reference guide if the players need a refresher on the mechanics.
The game has decent replayability as well. Scenarios are replayable and can be enjoyed with different groups. The story and victory conditions will remain the same every time, but there will be minor tweaks to keep the experience fresh. Monsters, clue locations, and NPCs will spawn in different areas, ensuring that the air of mystery remains with every play. Map layouts even change with different playthroughs.
When everything comes together, Mansions of Madness is an experience like no other. In addition to surviving, players must ensure that their investigators don’t go insane from the exposure of the horrors around them. After being exposed to countless horrors, I had an investigator realize that the only way out was to set everything ablaze. Despite how detrimental this was for the team, my investigator set fire to every room he could find. Eventually, this would result in our team failing the mission. The horror mechanic ensures that players will always be aware of not only their health but the sanity of themselves and their teammates. This adds a sort of betrayal mechanic where it can be difficult to trust your partners if they become insane.
In one scenario, the mansion we were investigating was suddenly being torn apart by a rift into an unknown dimension. We were not only dealing with cultists and Lovecraftian monsters but also with an insane partner that was acting out of the interests of the team. Our mansion was reduced to just a few rooms, and we were running out of the time. The only hope for survival was completing a ritual that would close the rift. We panicking, and could practically hear the winds and tears of the house collapsing. We watched as a friendly NPC perished into the nothingness. All of this while fearing our own ally made for a memorable experience. After succeeding in our mission, we later found out that our insane partner wanted nothing more than to get one of our allies alone and kill them. We were grateful that she failed.
The game isn’t made for everyone though. The random nature of the events may be a turnoff for those who don’t want luck in their games. The theme might not have mass appeal either. The horror mechanic, while exciting, can lead to anticlimactic finishes, as the game simply ends when the insane character accomplishes their goal. The app doesn’t narrate an ending, there is no closure. The scenario simply ends. This can be especially frustrating for sessions that last multiple hours, only for them to end because someone successfully set 12 rooms on fire. Finally, the base game only comes with four scenarios. If players want fresh content after that, they will need to download the paid DLC or purchase one of the many physical expansions. Still, despite the low amount of base scenarios, there are still many hours of fun to be had.
Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition is a riveting experience for those who are willing to put in the time to learn the game. The theme is exciting, the scenarios are well written, and the app provides an immersive experience like no other. The game might not be for everyone, but for those that dig the theme and want unique, story-driven experiences, it doesn’t get better than this.
Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition
Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition is an exciting and unique experience that succeeds in almost everything that it sets out to do. While it may not be for everyone, fans of horror, mystery, and roleplaying will find a lot to love.