Mansions of Madness, 2nd Edition: An Unexpected Love

One of my favourite games of late…

Please note that all the pictures from this review correspond to the Spanish edition of the game. However, other than the language, the games are the same.

Overview of the Game

In Mansions of Madness (2nd Edition), players (from 1 to 5) find themselves in a Lovecraftian universe, trying to solve mysteries and facing indescribable horrors. Such is the case, that players may go mad or die in their intent.

Spanish box for Mansions of Madness

The second edition of the game is fully cooperative, as it requires an app that controls the game: from the layout of the scenario, to the monsters/enemies and the generation of random events. In the previous edition of the game one of the players had to assume the role of game master and control the monsters and the development of story.

The game starts by players selecting one scenario, choosing one character (with certain skills, health and sanity levels, and a special ability that no other character has) and assigning the available items – some are random, some are fixed – to them. Then, the game begins: players discover the setting as their characters explore it – it is never available right from the start.

Cardboard tokens representing enemies (left) and playable characters (right) with their stats.

As the game unfolds, players need to decide what to explore, which monsters to fight, and uncover the clues that will help the investigators figure out the mystery. The game becomes harder as time goes by, the difficulty acting as a timer. Note that, in the context of the game, time is not the hours and minutes that you spend discussing your moves, but rather the number of turns it takes for the players to achieve the scenario’s goals.

Some item cards. There are a lot of them.

The base game (there are already several expansions out) comes with four different and independent scenarios. It sells for about € 80-90. According to the publishers, the time required to play ranges from 60-90 minutes, for the first scenario, to 240-360 minutes for the last one. In my experience, however, we’ve taken much longer (we’ve played three different scenarios, and only completed one of them successfully).

Miniatures of the game.

Review and Thoughts

In case you haven’t noticed the title of the review, I really, really like this game. Ironically, though, at first sight it’s not the kind of game I usually play or like. I tend to favour meaty Eurogames which can be quite complex, such as Agricola. Not only this, but I dislike combat-heavy games. Just to mention an example: not that long ago, I played a session of Descent (1st edition) and I found it boring. I also get bored watching most action films, so there is probably a correlation there.

However, this is far from the case in Mansions of Madness. Although there is combat in the game since there are enemies that need to be defeated, there is much more to the game than that. In fact, it’s mainly a game about mystery, discovery and storytelling. The enemies are an element that interferes with your goals as an investigator, and because of this you may have to deal with them, but your ultimate objective is to solve the mystery, not necessarily kill them.

Apart from the discovery element and the story-driven game, I also like that the game is cooperative. I generally don’t like confrontational and “take-that” games, where, in order to win, I need to attack – in a broad sense – the other players (and vice versa). If, instead of competing with the other players, we’re all working together to achieve a common goal, the experience feels much better.

In terms of complexity, I’d say that this game is on the lower side of the scale. Although there are many different actions and on the initial plays you’ll probably need to refer to the rules multiple times, I’ve seen many harder decision-making processes. In general, it’s pretty straightforward and it’s not difficult to come up with a strategy.

Rulebooks for Mansions of Madness (Learn to Play and Reference Guide). You should read both because some things are not explained in the Learn to Play guide.

When it comes to the number of players, I’ve played one game with two players (1st scenario) and two four-player games. In general, I’ve enjoyed the four-player games more, for a very simple (and maybe absurd) reason: there are less mythos phases or, at least, they are further apart. The mythos phase takes place after all the investigators have finished their turns and, to keep it short, it is the phase where the enemies take their actions.

This phase relies a lot on the app, and at one point I found it a bit tiresome to have to interact with the app so frequently to carry out the enemies’ actions, especially in a two-player game. Having said that, this is my only important “complaint” about the app, otherwise it’s really useful and helpful. Still, this will not deter me, at least at this point in time, from playing the game with two players.

In terms of price, the game is not cheap compared to other games. I guess this is partly explained by the fact that it comes with miniatures for the enemies and investigators, as well as all the tiles to create the layout of the scenario. However, the price I’ve paid per hour of gameplay is cheaper than other activities such as going to the cinema or participating in an escape room.

When it comes to the quality/aesthetics of the game, I love the tiles, they are beautiful; but I’m not particularly fond of the minis representing enemies. The black bases they come with take up a lot of space in the scenario. Moreover, if you do not glue the minis to the bases, they generally come apart between games, so it makes little sense to assemble them before play. I’m seriously considering using tokens (which also come with the game) instead of minis if the minis cannot stand on their own, without the bases.

One of the monster minis without the base. This one can stand on its own, thankfully.
Same mini as before, with the awful black base. It takes up most of the space in the tile, unfortunately.
Cardboard token corresponding to the previous monster, instead of the mini. As you can see, it takes far less space and it looks really good.

Finally, there is another subject I’d like to mention: replayability. Although there is a certain randomness in the scenarios (e.g. enemy generation, location of some of the rooms/buildings, etc.) the story remains the same from one play to the next. Although I haven’t replayed any of the scenarios yet, I guess that it is going to feel pretty much the same.

Conclusion

Overall, I really recommend the game if:

  • You love story-driven games.
  • You don’t mind a bit of combat and randomness.
  • You love mysteries and enjoy having a sense of discovery.
  • You’re an X-Files fan. I didn’t realise how similar this game is to the X-Files until someone pointed it out online. Yes, I’m an X-Phile.
I enjoy reading, watching TV, playing board games, photography, learning and languages. I also enjoy traveling and exploring new places at my leisure. I like writing about life and sharing it through this blog. And in case you didn't know, I love dogs ;)

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