Mansions of Madness is a board game where one player is out to royally screw you
Mansions of Madness
Mansions of Madness isn't a new board game, the Fantasy Flight published title has been around for a few years, and I finally got a chance to sit down and play with some friends over the weekend. Imagine a version of Arkham Horror that isn't absurdly complicated, and where one of the players takes control of the board and the monsters in an attempt to ruin the day (night?) of the party going into the mansion to solve a series of mysteries.
Yes, you'll lose sanity points, but you'll also want to take the DM out back and beat them senseless. This is a game where the player that controls the board and monsters can hurt the other players, and can do so relentlessly. Of course, in the Cthulhu mythos, the hopelessness and sense of impending doom is part of the fun.
And Hell sent its spawn to your door
The ability for a player to control the board and help to craft each adventure is a large part of the draw here. The rules are relatively simple; you can learn how to play in an hour or so, although whoever is setting up the adventure has a bit of preparation to do before each session.
The game is made up of pre-written adventures, although the keeper, the player who sets all this in motion, has a good amount of discretion in how each will play out. He or she gets to hide the clues, control the monsters, and determine when bad things happen. And bad things will happen.
So the investigators are given some flavor text to begin each session, and they then must explore a mansion or an outside area to figure out what they must do, and then accomplish that feat. Each character can move to areas on the board then take an action, but there is an ever-present sense of a ticking clock. The keeper is given a set amount of threat points per round, and these can be used to send in a trickle monstrosites into the board throughout the game, or they can be hoarded to launch an all-out assault against the players near the end of the adventure. The more players on the board, the more threat points the keeper is given.
It's the keeper's job to kill you, or at least make you miserable. The fact that one of your friends is trying to kill you adds a certain amount of personality to the game; this isn't the dry AI that's baked into most co-operative board games, as you can try to work out where the player would have hidden the clues, and how much he or she is likely to punish you for going out on your own to cover more ground.
Each adventure can go a few different ways, and those decisions are made by the keeper; even if you've played one of the adventures a different keeper may run it in a very different manner. The setup allows for tight stories, well-crafted sessions and a high level of replayability, and there are also plenty of for-pay and fan-created expansion packs to explore as well.
I don't want to dive too far into the actual mechanics, but the game does a great job of making you feel like an investigator trying to piece together each mystery while keeping your mind and body intact. The game even introduces some clever mini-games for the players to discover and solve.
Mansions of Madness excels at telling an honest-to-goodness story, made better by the devious actions of the keeper trying to make sure you don't make it out alive. Each mystery also comes with scripted events that happen every so often to make sure the story moves at a good clip, and the odds are usually stacked against you. The longer you wait, the worse it's going to get.
The game pieces themselves are well made, the cardboard is nice and heavy, and the printing is about what you'd expect from Fantasy Flight: It's all done well, and there is a lot of it. There are only five scenarios in the basic game though, and even with the different choices given to the keeper that seems a little underwhelming. That said, fan-made adventures can help to pad out future sessions even without the for-pay official expansions. Or hell, write your own. This is a game that's open to tinkering, and you could create your own adventure.
There is nothing like feeling as if you're getting ahead in your adventure, finding clues, and then realizing nothing bad has happened in a while and the keeper has been hoading threat points.
Then they begin to laugh, and you know enough to run.