Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Review: Mansions of Madness Board Game

Mansions of Madness is a brand new board game from the creators of Arkham Horror. The question you might be asking is, why review it here?
Well I’ll tell you.
Not only is Mansions of Madness a great game in its own right (I’ve played it three times now) but it has two great benefits for players of Necropolis and people interested in designing their own similar game.
Mansions of Madness is about a group of 1920’s investigators exploring a variety of old manor houses replete with cultists, witches and a variety of monsters, all set within the mythos of HP Lovecraft. The game board comes in a variety of configurations – basically tiles representing rooms in the mansion are laid out as specified in the scenario booklet. The booklet tells the Keeper (gamemaster) what clues and items to place in which rooms for the investigators to find.

The investigators have a mission to complete and have to move through the house, battling monsters controlled by the Keeper, while trying to solve the mystery and maybe save the world.
Now the benefit to Necropolis (and other similar games) is severalfold, purely from the inspiration gained from some of the rather clever ideas they use in this game. In the spirit of the fact that every wargame, roleplaying game and boardgame of this nature is basically a rip-off of Dungeons and Dragons at some level, these ideas are available as “inspiration” for our own games.
Here’s a list of the juicy bits:
  • Characters entering a room can choose to Explore, revealing the exploration cards within one at a time. These are either weapons, equipment or clues
  • Locked doors require the player to solve actual puzzles before they can get into the room
  • The investigators aren’t told their mission right away (although the Keeper knows). They have to find it out by discovering clue cards during the mission
  • Certain random events occur with monsters suddenly appearing
  • The map is seeded with exploration cards
  • It’s possible to hide from monsters inside a trunk
  • The game is effectively timed (through the slow turning of event cards) with certain Events happening at planned points in the game
The other great thing about the game from my perspective is all the miniatures that come with it!

Now some of them are a bit weird – proportionally and scale speaking – but others are very nice and will certainly get painted up and appear in future Necropolis scenarios.
All in all, a very good game, for its own virtue and for the inspiration and miniatures it can bring to independent horror miniature gamers.

But how does it compare to Arkham Horror?

Arkham Horror is a great game (if a little difficult for new people to pick up). I remember the first time my family and I played it was a disaster because it was so complicated (and we had friends round at the time). However we played it the following night without the friends, cracked the rules, and loved it so much we played it again a third night.

Well my wife and I have played Mansions of Madness three nights in a row too.
The rules in-game are simpler but it has quite a labour-intensive set-up period, more so than Arkham Horror, which was already pretty heavy. Once the game gets going it runs very smoothly. Now obviously in Arkham Horror, the designers were trying to develop a story-based investigation game but, in my opinion, didn’t quite make it. Having clue tokens to abstractly represent investigation and monsters represented by cardboard counters, it lost a lot of the mood of Call of Cthulhu that they were seeking. Though it’s still damn good!
Mansions of Madness doesn’t suffer from this. It plays in a very similar way to Necropolis in that it’s a visual and fairly realistic horror game. The investigation element feels natural and real. The monsters look good and play well – and aren’t abstract like in Arkham Horror.
It’ll be interesting to see what I think in a year or so. For now, I’m very impressed.
Two things I don’t like though:
  1. Mansions of Madness doesn’t last anywhere near as long as Arkham Horror. Although Arkham can drag a little bit sometimes, Mansions of Madness does seem over and done a little too quickly.
  2. In Mansions of Madness the investigators have to find clues before they can discover what their mission is (one of the more ingenious elements of the game), but if you keep your investigators together – as they advise you to do – and happen to go down the wrong hallway, there simply isn’t time to get back round the whole house to find the key you need before going right back to the other end to unlock the door necessary to find the vital clue. Invariably by that point, the time limit has been reached and the objective is revealed anyway.
Maybe with practice this will stop happening – we’ll see.
The puzzle solving that investigators are forced to do to open certain doors is a really clever idea and makes them think on an entirely different level, which must be quite refreshing (I haven’t played as investigators yet). But I wonder if it will get old relatively fast with regular play. Again, we’ll see.
Mansions of Madness is definitely an excellent game and I doff my hat to the designers.


  1. HEY! Mansions of Madness takes more than 4 hours to complete, most of the time, at least. When I played it, we started the game at 6 pm and didn't get finished until about 10:45. Although in between there we had a 10-minute dinner. So... HA! This game is realllllly fun though, and is better than any video game I have ever played. PS- I'm an 11-year-old girl who played it with my uncle (who was the Keeper), my cousin (a fellow investigator) and my sister (another fellow investigator)

    1. Hey, thanks for the feedback.

      I like it too but have found it gets a bit samey after you’ve played all the missions.

      Still! A good game!