Hello again, folks! I am happy to be back behind the wheels of the analog gaming train and am very excited to share a newer, hipper Tabletop Tuesdays for today’s gamer on the go. I’ll still be covering the most exciting news from all the best publishers and designers, but I’m opening up TT to reviews and other features that will do more to showcase the breadth of board, card, miniatures and roleplaying games.
This week, I am actually going to start with a Tabletop Term of the Week since it will tie in nicely with my review of Fantasy Flight Games’ Mansions of Madness. The term itself is “dungeon crawler” and it is derived from the classic pen-and-paper roleplaying term “dungeon crawl”. In the context of board games, a dungeon crawler is any game where players take the role of characters to explore, gather items and achieve a given objective. Often, this type of game has a fantasy theme and involves a fair amount of swords & sorcery. This is not always the case, however…
Mansions of Madness is a dungeon crawling style board game set in the pulp horror world of Fantasy Flight’s Arkham Horror line of games (which are themselves based on the works of HP Lovecraft and his Cthulhu Mythos). This is a one vs. many style game where a single player will act as the Keeper and control all of the monsters, traps and even certain story elements for the other players who act as Investigators trying to put the pieces of the puzzle (both proverbial and literal) together.
Some of you may have heard me rant about the quality of Fantasy Flight’s components elsewhere, but for Mansions it’s worth going over one more time. This game comes with 350 cards, 32 plastic figures, 15 double-sided map tiles and more cardboard tokens than I care to count. As always, FFG sets the industry standard for components. The cards are a thick, linen cardstock with vibrant artwork and clear, easy to read text. The tokens and map tiles are a dense cardboard with the same linen finish as the cards making them feel very durable and hefty. The figures? Well, I know I’ll be taking the time to paint mine since they’ve got plenty of detail. The Shoggoth model is particularly noteworthy for being both massive AND appropriately menacing.
Unfortunately, I always find myself wishing that the map tiles for this game had some way of locking together. Since the game has a large number of scenarios, the tiles need to have to capacity to be laid out in any combination of patterns. Players just end up having to be careful about bumping the board or table so as not to upset the foundations of the mansions they’re fighting for their lives in. I haven’t had any serious problems with the map tiles in this regard, but it does add a level of tactile tension to an already tense game.
Rules & Gameplay
Mansions of Madness comes with 2 rulebooks. The first is a full set of all the basic rules for both the Investigators and the Keeper as well as basic set-up instructions for the base game’s 5 scenarios. If you’re like me, you might be thinking that 5 scenarios isn’t a lot. How are you supposed to get your money’s worth on a game you can only play 5 times? Well, that’s where the second rulebook comes in. This mighty tome is the Keeper’s Guide and it details all the super-secret decisions that the Keeper must make for the given scenario. These secret decisions can be different every time and subtly alter everything from the placement of vital items to the objectives of the Investigators.
The books themselves are full color and double sided. The main book has a fairly helpful index and all the information is laid out well. For a game as complex as MoM, Fantasy Flight did a damn fine job of making every player’s actions/options very clear. The only real tangle comes when you’re first setting up the game.
Before the players can start Investigating and the Keeper can start hurling eldritch nightmares in their faces, all players need to work together to set up the game board. This is a moderately lengthy process, but it at least ensures every player knows the basic lay of the land. Investigators are charged with setting up the map tiles and choosing characters for themselves. Meanwhile, the Keeper will use their mega-secret guide to make a few key storyline choices which will inform them on where to place clue and item cards on the board. Once set up is complete, the Keeper will read the flavor text associated with the current story being played and the Investigators can begin.
Since the game focuses on investigation and solving a mystery, the flavor text of everything from the introduction to a clue card can help the Investigators figure out what their ultimate objective is. Until they find the right clues, they are almost completely in the dark. To do so, each player behind the wheel of an Investigator can move through the mansion and spend their action exploring, manipulating their inventory or fighting monsters. Once each Investigator has taken their turn, the Keeper will gain threat tokens (based on the number of players and other factors) which they can then use to summon monsters, trigger traps or save in a big, scary pile to play mind games with the other players. At the end of the Keeper turn, an event card may be played depending on what turn it is and which scenario is being played. These events are almost always bad for the Investigators, but may give them much needed clues on where to go next.
Mansions of Madness is a superb dungeon crawler with a rich theme that is well implemented. The mystery aspect of the game adds some nice depth even if the clues are sometimes ham-fisted. Any fan of the work of HP Lovecraft or any of the other Arkham Horror series games should definitely give this one a look. Furthermore, if you know someone who loves games like Clue or Mastermind but hasn’t taken the plunge into hobby board games, this might be worth a look. Having said that, I must caution that this game takes a long time to set up which can turn folks off. It is also a complex game which really benefits from having at least one person intimately familiar with the rules to help guide everyone else. Despite these minor flaws and nitpicks, I am very happy to have this game in my collection and I see it getting a lot of plays in the near future (especially with all the expansions available for it!)
Well that’ it for this week’s Tabletop Tuesday. I will be continuing to play with the format over the next few weeks and bring you guys some exciting new features and news coverage. Please feel free to comment or send me feedback via email at email@example.com
Until next week!