Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Big Game Hunting - Actual Play: Mansions Of Madness

We’ve been looking for an Arkham Horror-like game to take the place of the Cthulhu horror classic for a while. Although we really enjoy Arkham Horror, it takes forever to set up and play, plus if there’s a lot of people it’s difficult to keep everyone engaged in it sometimes. We’ve been wanting to find a game with that ‘feel’, but not that level of detail or laborious setup. So, when we heard about Mansions Of Madness, I thought it would be ideal.

The first thing I noticed was how neat the game actually is. It’s got a very nice setup system – which means that we could design our own scenarios. Double-sided map tiles (for indoor and outdoor areas) slot together to make up the play area – and there are five scenarios, each with variations already provided. The mechanics within the game for the ‘GM’ (or bad guy) is quite cool – there’s a set of variables within the scenario, but they can be in different areas and used in a variety of ways, depending on the multiple choice answers the GM gives to set up the game. Most maps had two or three Objective cards, depending on those choices, and some of them have additional ‘end result’ conditions linked to your selections during the setup. So, though there are only five scenarios, it’s conceivable that you could play the same scenario, with different events each time.

From the player side, it’s a difficult game. It’s not an easy game to win fights either – they’ve kept a lot of the mechanics from the original Arkham Horror, including dodging and horror values assigned to monsters. The twist now is that they’ve got much more hit points and a way to track that.

Our first play through saw two characters dead within half an hour, and resurrected as zombies, but we won, only just. The second play through saw the GM (me) win, but only because I insisted on setting the whole area on fire.

The models are gorgeous – new sculpts of the old cast that you might have encountered in Arkham Horror, if you’ve played, and lots of good looking monster miniatures, as well as one or two new ones.

I think the thing that had me most excited - and still holds my attention even after a dozen plays of the game or so (we’ve since bought the Season of the Witch expansion, which brings up the count on the game scenarios to six) - are the puzzles. There are several puzzles in the game, where you have to complete basic tasks – rewiring, matching up symbols on tumblers, or reorganising pictures to match diagrams. On the surface, it doesn’t sound difficult, but it’s really refreshing to find a game that actually challenges people to do something other than roll dice. Fighting is still dice rolling in this game, and attributes are pretty much fixed once you've chosen cards, so the ‘puzzle’ mechanic makes this a unique and utterly captivating game that I return to often when I’m looking for a challenge.

We’ve still not instituted the "60 seconds to solve" rule (which they suggest to make the puzzles even more challenging) but to be honest, I don’t think we need to. It’s a lovely game, and well worth taking a look at, especially if you’re a horror or Arkham horror fan. Find a GM with a wicked streak and I promise you, you’ll have a really enjoyable night.

D Kai Wilson-Viola is back where it all began, getting ready for the exciting next step...

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