A big debate in the board gaming world revolves around the use of digital media to supplement a gaming experience. Should a game have an app that may be used, but isn’t necessary, or an app that is required to play the game? Should there be no apps required for board games at all? Today’s game is the first I’ve played that requires an app to play the game.
Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition
Designer: Nikki Valens
Player Count: 1-5 Players
Play Time: 120-180 minutes
Mansions of Madness is a cooperative mystery/exploration game published by Fantasy Flight where you play as a group of investigators trying to solve a mystery in a Lovecraftian horror story. The game requires a companion app to play and it can be downloaded for free on phones, tablets, or through Steam. When you start the game, you pick a scenario on the app and select your characters and then the app takes over. It randomizes which items you start with, and which tile you start on. It then instructs you where to place search tokens, explore tokens, and other pieces on the tiles.
Once the set-up is complete, you begin the player turns. Each character will get to activate once per round. You can move around the environment, explore new tiles, interact with search tokens, and attack monsters, amongst other things. Almost every time you perform an action, whether you explore a new room or interact with a search token, you select that icon on the app and then the app will give you a story moment that will give you options on how to proceed. You make your decisions and then the app will tell you if you were successful or not, or which tiles to add to the game board. After every player has taken their turn, the Mythos phase begins and the app again takes over. It will instruct you through a random event, monster movement and attacks, and a horror phase where the investigators have to confront the madness surrounding them. After the Mythos phase is completed, play returns to the investigators and continues in this pattern until the game is won or lost. While the app directs the game, it doesn’t know where your characters are or where the monsters are. You still have to have the physical board for this. The app essentially functions as a dungeon master, but you still have to move all the pieces. You will also find new items or take wounds, which are represented by cards. The app directs gameplay, but it still feels like a board game.
Things I like:
- Total Immersion. This is one of the most immersive games I’ve ever played. It takes all the best story telling games and randomizes all of it for you, so you actually feel like you’re solving a mystery. You never know what’s behind a door until you open it. You also may not know what you need to do to succeed until you try something. It really feels like an exploration game and it pulls you into the theme.
- The Mystery. When you start a scenario, it gives you a brief overview of what you’re trying to accomplish, but that’s it. It doesn’t tell you any specifics. You are simply dropped into the scenario and you need to figure out what you’re trying to do as you go along. This is another part of the immersive experience.
- Randomization. I’ve played the first scenario 4 times at this point, and every single time the house that has been built around us has changed completely. Sometimes it will start to look similar, and then you open a door and there’s a completely different series of rooms.
- The app. For my first experience with a game that requires an app, I love it. The app takes so much bookkeeping out of the game and allows you to just have fun. The app also makes it incredibly easy to teach new players the game. You can spend the first round as a tutorial and everyone is up to speed almost instantly. It makes for a really seamless experience. The app also provides background music and sound effects which, again, adds to the immersive experience.
Further into the game
Something I really liked, that may not be for everyone:
- The story. One of the times we played this with a new player, the new guy wasn’t interested in the story. An interaction would occur and he would immediately look to the bottom of the paragraph and look at the outcomes and then start discussing what to do next. This game requires you to read the story and the flavor text. There are certain clues that will be given, and effects that will happen all throughout the encounters. You can’t just skip the story and plow through the game. You will miss things. It can probably be done without too many ill effects, but you really should try to take your time and enjoy the experience.
Things I don’t like:
- The price. Normally I don’t make a big deal on the price of games, but this one feels justified. This is a $100 game. You get a lot of minis, cards, and cardboard for that price, but that’s not my grievance. The biggest problem I have with the cost is my next point.
- The scenarios. I mentioned above that the game comes with preloaded scenarios. I love this. The problem I have with it is that there are only 4 scenarios in the base set. They all have different difficulties, which I like, but they also have different play times. The first scenario says it will take 60-90 minutes. They get longer from there. The longest scenario claims to take 4-6 hours. This isn’t realistic for most people. My wife and I, who love this game, may never get to play 1 of the 4 scenarios based on how long it takes. For 100 dollars, I really would have liked to see more scenarios included. At this point, each scenario is 25 bucks a pop. Yes, the scenarios are randomized every time you play, but the story doesn’t change all that much. The environment is different, but interacting with the different items throughout the scenario will yield similar results game to game. And I mentioned that I like the mystery. That element is also gone after playing a scenario a couple times. You now know what you need to do.
- The minis. I really like the minis in this game, but I don’t like the bases. The enemy minis don’t have attached bases. Instead they have pegs on the bottom that press into large black plastic bases which contain a little information about the monsters.The bases are black and opaque and cover all the tile art when they’re in a room.
A couple example of how big the bases are
Additionally, minis don’t stay in the base very well, and every time I open the game I have to try to find the matching bases for the monsters.
That tiny peg in the bottom left is all that holds the mini to the base
It gets annoying. In an industry where miniature production is getting better all the time, and from a company that makes as many miniatures as Fantasy Flight, I feel like this was a poor design choice.
To make sure I wasn’t being too hard on this game, I asked my wife what she did and didn’t like about it. We matched up on almost everything. The specific negatives she pointed out were the lack of replayability and the length of the scenarios. In my wife’s words, “I’m not afraid of long games, they just aren’t very manageable. Instead of having a 6-hour scenario, I wish there would have been a couple more 2 hour scenarios.”
Don’t get me wrong, this is an incredibly fun game. After my first play through, I was super impressed, but on concurrent plays, it seems to be losing its luster. I would still recommend playing this game to anyone, but I’m hesitant to recommend purchasing it. Fantasy Flight has announced that they will be adding scenarios to the game for $2.99 in the future, and there are already expansions out that provide 1 new scenario each. I just expected a little bit more from a company like Fantasy Flight. With that big upfront price tag, you’ll have to make the decision for yourself if it’s worth it. And I’m even going to rate this one a little differently than normal to reflect that.
GLG Rating to Play: 9/10
GLG Rating to Buy: 5/10
Some more of the monsters
Check it out on Fantasy Flight’s Page here: