What is it: Mansions of Madness is a semi cooperative/dungeon crawl* boardgame for 2-5 people that draws upon the Lovecraft mythos. The Keeper sets up the scenario and runs the monsters and other things trying to kill the Investigators. The conflict resolution system is a d10 roll under system. It takes at least 3 hours to play.
Great what does that mean: The Keeper picks a scenario and then takes a multiple choice quiz in order to determine the exact details that will be used this time. Each scenario has three different win conditions and at least two more variables after that in order to make the game more repeatable. Meanwhile the investigators select their characters and their specific build for the game. Then the Investigators set up the map while the Keeper places the relevant cards onto the board. Once set up is complete the Investigators are given the opening of the story and play begins. Investigators take their turn collectively with specific turn order being derived by consensus. They’re trying to find clues and figure out how to win the game by taking two moves and an action each. The Keeper then collects threat(his currency) and uses his resources to stop the Investigators and/or fulfill his own win condition. At the end of the Keeper’s turn a time counter is placed on the event card, which means that the game definitely ends and is on a clock for both sides.
Scaling: You need at least two people to play this and 3-5 doesn’t really make a difference assuming one key factor. That factor being you use 4 characters by having people double up. The game handles best in my experience with that and due to a small amount of book keeping it’s not overwhelming to do so.
Production Quality: This is a FFG game, so lots of tokens and cards. Both of these are what you would expect in terms of quality, the cards seem to be of a higher quality then BSG and about the same as Rex from what I can tell. The boards seem to be durable, for obvious reasons I haven’t tested this but it has withstood 10+ plays so far. The real thing that shines are the minis, which were originally designed as accessories for Arkham Horror. They’re just problematic if you transport the game anywhere since they will fall off and you will have to sort all of them out again.
What’s good: The basic mechanics are good and depending on your playgroup this can be a rather enjoyable experience despite it’s flaws.
What’s not good: To start with, set up is a pain, the Keeper is in charge of doing most of the set up by himself and this will probably take a half hour. I also don’t really see a way to cut down on this without using more space than the box has. To compare, my group has BSG and Arkham Horror down to 10 minutes top. Next issue is the scenarios are bit hit and miss, it’s generally accepted that only 3 out of 5 scenarios are actually playable. The reason being that one of them devolves into the Investigators rolling every turn and the Keeper not doing much else than forcing that roll and the other has a traitor mechanic for no good reason in a game where you can’t do the hidden traitor thing. And out of the three scenarios that are good, one of them has an objective that is unwinnable for one side.** The next issue is that the flavor is bad, the Keeper only knows what’s going on as the aforementioned quiz provides the answers for the story. The way combat works often leads to complete out of character moments. The puzzles are a frustrating roadblock more than anything resembling fun. My biggest issue with the game though? It’s horribly imbalanced in favor of the Keeper. The Keeper is another player in the game with a specific win condition, not a DM who is responsible for everyone having a good time. I expect my opponents to play to the best of their ability and I’ll do the same. If I wanted a roleplaying game for the Lovecraft Mythos I can buy Call of Cthulthu plus at least one supplement for the same price. If I wanted a boardgame with the same broad roles of hostile player vs. everyone else there are plenty of other choices, such as Fury of Dracula or Descent. And while it may be thematic for the investigators to lose, it doesn’t make for a fun game. While the game already has one expansion and several PoD scenarios, they haven’t received much praise and there is a sizable group who just use the components for their own scenarios.
Overall: 2/5, there are some things that I like about this game, but everything built on top of it ranges from okay to bad. I can’t endorse actually purchasing a copy of this game either given the steep price tag. I might be persuaded to play a game of it with the right people though.
*The game is basically a dungeon crawler but you can also use the term semi-coop to describe the two teams.
**Scenario 4 is the dicefest, scenario 5 has the traitor mechanic, scenario 3 objective 1b is unwinnable for the investigators if the Keeper tries at all.