Monday, September 29, 2014

First Impressions: Mansions of Madness (Board Game)

Conklederp and I received Mansions of Madness from Salty Liver and her newly acquired hubby for our own wedding, which will be taking place in less than two weeks.  Last night, we finally broke into this monster of a game.

One of the main reasons why I wanted to play this game in particular was because despite its size as a board game, it can be played with only two players without losing any of the attempts to create fear and dread.  The other reason I wanted to play Mansions of Madness was because it is based on various stories by H.P. Lovecraft and I have already covered my issues with playing games based on Lovecraft with groups of people unfamiliar Lovecraftian mythos.  So far, knowledge of Lovecrafts stories do not seem to be dependent on having fun with this game.

That being said, Mansions of Madness is an overwhelming game.  Just look at everything that is included with this beast as mere word could not do it justice:
Picture courtesy of:
The board is made up of double sided heavy-duty cardboard with wonderfully detailed rooms with hallway sized rectangular pieces, large room square pieces (hallway x 2) and one large main hall/front yard piece (hallway x 3).  There are I don't know how many permutations that could be created with these pieces.

Anyway, we are here to briefly talk about the hour long play session that Conklederp had last night.  We did not finish either, but came very close.

I played as The Keeper (the DM in D&D terms) while Conklederp played as the one Investigator (PC in D&D).  Being out first time playing, there were quite a few moments when I had to look at the rules to know what to do with certain cards (if an artifact could be kept after being used or had to be discarded), if the Investigator could search a room when a monster was either in the same room or space or if unlocking a puzzle/lock counts as an action the same way searching a room counts as an action (it does not if the Investigator succeeds in unlocking the puzzle/lock).  

Again, "overwhelming" comes to mind.  It would be like starting a game of Dungeons & Dragons for the first time and anyone who knows what that is like can understand the feeling of performance anxiety, even if it is with someone who is patient and understanding.  Conklederp and I were patient with each other as we asked questions about what to do or clarifying information on cards.  Still, I felt we both had a lot of fun.

Playing as The Keeper, I have to have bits of information kept secret from the Investigators, know which cards I have and when I can play them (cards kept secret) all the while holding down a poker face so I do not give away the fact that I could cripple an Investigator with the drop of a card.  I didn't.  Some cards are event specific while others are dependent on the Investigator being in a specific room or a room with a specific feature (An altar, ventilation grate, hiding spot).  It is a lot of information to take in and keep track of all the while maintaining a sense of fear for the player and role playing the story and keeping the events interesting for the player.

I love it!

Like I said, Conklederp and I played for about an hour, maybe an hour and-a-half with rule clarification happening, but not including the time it took to set up the board, place the room cards in their specific locations, and gather which specific cards I needed for the story that I was telling.  Set-up took about 30 minutes.  Overall, the game is supposed to take about two to three hours from start to finish and I can confirm that with at least two people, this prediction is pretty accurate, although I can understand this being a turnoff for a good segment of the board game playing population.

An hour in, and I have control of only four monsters.  Plenty to drive Conklederp's character insane!

Before we started playing, I also quickly created a playlist of instrumental background music that I set to shuffle.  This list included music from Bram Stoker's Dracula by Wojceich Kilar, Castlevania 64 by Masahiko Kimura, Motoaki Furukawa and Mariko Egawa, Amnesia: The Dark Descent by Mikko Tarmia and Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem by Steve Henifin.  At times the music seemed to mirror the actions in the game, but I never noticed that the music was out of place, but then I was also paying attention to the music when it changed while I cannot say the same for Conklederp.

There is a lot that I have yet to cover such as horror checks, trauma cards, combat, how the choices The Keeper makes during setup affects and changes the story and how events unfold during play, and how the game is won.  I will say that while it is The Keeper's objective to prevent the Investigators from achieving their objective (which is revealed to them through the course of the game/story), if an Investigator dies, that is not the end of the game, but the player can bring in a new character (one that has not yet been killed) up until the final act in the game.  I love that this is a game designed around everyone having fun but still knowing that in the end, someone will have to come out victorious.

I am looking forward to concluding this one (of many) possible storylines with Conklederp and more so to playing with our friends next weekend.  The one downside is that the game is designed for 2-5 players and apparently can be very cluttered and may not be playable if more than four Investigators are playing as the Investigators end up just stacking up in rooms without being able to either do much "investigating" or they spread out too much, uncovering information that would have been uncovered a turn or two later, progressing the story at a slower, more manageable pace.

The point is, there is a lot to this game and I cannot wait to delve deeper into its tentically depths.  Perhaps after we are finished, Conklederp will do a write up about her experience as an Investigator playing Mansions of Madness for the first time.


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