TLDR Review: Oh My God I Love This Game.
I played Mansions of Madness 1st Ed with the rest of the Cult of Tea And Dice, and we (for the most part) liked it. It was a gorgeous game and despite issues with some of the missions it was enjoyable. It did suffer a bit from the same “Evil Overlord” problems that Descent has where the GM player had to play very hard and really victimise the players as much as possible to keep the game working as appropriate. It was less prevalent in Mansions however and I believe this was actually due to the subject matter, you expect a Cthulhu Mythos game to be “harsh and murdery”.
One thing about it that stopped us playing it more? Set up.
It took FOREVER to set up, and if the GM made a mistake the mission could be impossible but you wouldn’t necessarily realise that until the end. You had to create the decks of items and so on, build mythos decks, select and set out the clues in the rooms and so on and so on. The set up also mostly landed on the GM making the separation even more pronounced and making the GM position less fun. We tend to play games to get together with people and have fun, anything that isolates one player, then make them do more work than the other players? That’s not a good thing.
Does this get solved by Mansions of Madness 2nd Ed? YES
Mansions 2 now supports up to five players, and although one of them has to drive the app everyone gets to play. Which is AWESOME. No one is left out, and the work is taken out of the set up. Now you just sort the components and grab starting items, then the app shows you the first room setup, complete with “things you can look at, interact with, or go through” the player party sets all this down and begins play. Which is where the App comes in.
One thing that I would say is that the app probably should do more “keeping track” of how many actions that you have and are performing. Specifically I think it should keep track of how many “puzzle steps” each player has available. Also a back button, might be worthwhile, we skipped a monster attack by accident as we didn’t realise we had moved on to another monster of the same step.
That said the is pretty awesome, not only does it tell you your starting equipment, but going forward keeps track of what you have and have not investgated, controls the movement and attacks of monsters and NPCS and generating the map and “random occurences” which where before would be triggered by the GM to mess with the players, is now triggered by the app during the mythos phase.
As you take an action you move on the board, and then click on the appropriate item on the app to find out what happens or what tests you need to make. If a puzzle is required although it doesn’t keep track of how many actions you should have, it will record your progress and inform you once you have completed it and what happens next!
Handily the App doesn’t “take over” the game. As the rather fine review over at Rock Paper Shotgun noted, the app runs stuff, but the board is still integral as are the card decks and so on. You never end up feeling that you may as well just be playing a cooperative Ipad game instead of a board game, which is good. It does help to have a person do the voices however we found!
To give an idea of how the app works I’ll give an example of entering the Bathroom in the mission we played. I clicked to investigate the cupboard above the sink, only for the app to inform me that the floor had collapsed! It then asked for a Speed; 2 check, and told me if I failed I had to take facedown damage, and if I suceeded I took an item, and moved back to the hall. The Tests in the system work much the same way as before, with a slight difference. You still roll a number of dice = to your stat, but the dice ar d8’s with either Elder signs (Success) Blank (Fail) or magnifying glasses (mayyybe?!?) on them. You need enough elder signs to reach the target number, but if you have clue tokens you can turn magnifying glasses into elder signs on a one to one basis. I LIKE THIS A LOT. It makes clues powerful but not always so, if you have rolled no magnifying glasses those clues are useless.
It works similarly with the attacks as well, you choose what weapon you are attacking with (for example a bladed or heavy weapon) and the app tells you what to roll. In the starter adventure I’ll admit I murdered a ton of cultists and deep ones by the fact that I was a grave digger with a machete. Even better the app keeps track of the monsters hit points for you, no more pushing cardboard hearts into slots for me, and it will also tell you when they die.
The only vague worry I have is that the creatures attacks and horror checks can repeat fairly often, indeed the person I was playing with ended up worrying whether she was related to a deep one for most of the fight. With a few App updates however this should cease to be a problem.
One thing I havent done yet but that I intend to do at the weekend is to use the conversion kit and include everything from the first edition and it’s expansions. The inclusion of this kit is very definitely a feather in FFG’s cap, they could after all have made us all buy expansions to include these things, but they chose not to and I support this stance. The method of adding these items into the app is very easy (you just click on the extra item and mark it as enabled).
The only thing that does worry me is the app currently only has 4 missions in it, one of which is the *easier starting adventure. That said the app alters parts of the adventure each play through so the replayability is there, but I would like to see more adventures released for this via APP updates pretty quickly, specifically extra missions that use the 1st ed missions might be nice.
On the whole Mansions of Madness Second Edition is frankly awesome and i want to play it more, and with more missions!
*Easier here is relative. It just tried to drop a Star Spawn on us in the starting adventure… We ran away. FAST