Sunday, March 13, 2011

Mansions of Madness - First Look

We played two complete games today of FFG's new Mansions of Madness. The forces of ancient evil one both times, perhaps a tiny bit more than narrowly. Still, it was easy to see how more familiarity with the game and sound strategy by the good guys would have given them a chance.

My take: It's all the fun parts of Descent and a good bit of the fun of Arkham boiled down to a two hour experience; probably even quicker with repeated play. The good players need to be ready to get continually pummeled by debuffs, attacks, and "Hey look! Here is a card that kills you!" experiences cast at them by the DM, aka, The Keeper.

Yes, there are printing errors, but these are minor. Overall the components are amazing, the spectacle of the game on the table is suitably impressive. The game cries out for future expansions, of which I am certain there will be many over the next five years or so. A solid Ameritrash purchase. Two tentacles up!



At 9:58 PM, March 14, 2011, Blogger Chris said...

Short review: if you don't like Descent, you won't like this game. However, some of the people who don't like Descent like Doom. The question is, what makes Doom more palatable? And is MoM enough like Doom rather than Descent to make it fun to anyone else?

The biggest difference between Doom and Descent is that Doom is shorter. Descent can drag on all day long, and if you're not enjoying yourself from the get-go, Descent's length can compound the misery. Doom seems to play much more quickly, primarily because there's much less to do. It's basically move and shoot while the DM spawns monsters. Descent has treasure and buying things and pits and potions and all sorts of things that you COULD do. The people that I know that have played Descent aren't interested in that stuff--what it adds to the game isn't worth the extra time it requires to sort through it all.

Like Doom, Mansions of Madness is pretty short. (Disclaimer: we did play two-player games--more players would obviously have lengthened the game.) It's short because the game has a built in timer, and it benefits the game greatly. It's between 16 and 20 turns long (predefined by each scenario), and many times our turns were about one minute per person.

Now, saying a game is short is not exactly high praise. And unfortunately, the short length IS one of the better things that can be said about MoM. But it really does help the game a lot--there's always a sense that you have to be quick and efficient with your moves, something that wasn't really true for Descent. Bottom line: the game never felt like it 'dragged.'

The other thing that Descent has that no one likes (yes, I was getting to it) is a DM that continually slaps cards on players that set them back, often with a distractingly arbitrary feel. When the DM plays a card on you at the end of the game that just arbitrarily says "You lose" and gets to play it because they were lucky enough to draw it randomly, that can kind of sour you on the game. Descent had this, and so does MoM. (It's analagous to the trauma tokens in BSG that would just randomly eliminate one player even if that player played 'correctly' the entire game.) I did that to Ben, and his reaction was "What!?! Really?......uh, ok..." There was nothing he could do. I don't remember Doom having cards like that that just created arbitrary penalties at the DM's whim, and I think the game would suffer if it did.

That's what this game is. It's moving around the board in a predefined 'correct' route that's pretty easy to discover as you go (the game basically has a series of clues in the rooms that say "Now, go to the cellar." "Now, go to the kitchen." All the while, the DM is raining s--t bombs from the sky onto you. The game is basically, can you handle the raining bombs while following the path before the timer runs out?

At 9:58 PM, March 14, 2011, Blogger Chris said...

So you have to know that that's what the game is before you start. I know, FUN, right? Still, the game does have a few things going for it. First, it makes a good story, much like Arkham Horror. In AH, the investigators all die more often than not. But you see the story unfolding as you play, and some people like games like that. MoM is the same way. Second, the theme and production quality is great. The graphics on the boards are detailed and attractive and the minis are good sculpts. (Some people have complained that there are a lot of typos, but we never really noticed them.) Third, as I mentioned previously, the game is pretty short (at least with 2 players). Finally, it comes with five maps, and each map has three different end game conditions (which actually are very different from each other). In addition, different maps are associated with different draw piles of cards. Encounters and equipment for a haunted house scenario simply won't be included in the draw piles of encounters and equipment for a underground crypt scenario. On the surface, it seems like you can get at least 15 plays out of this (and I honestly don't expect to play more than once or twice a month) and have the games feel significantly different from each other. Plus, the FFG website calls this the MoM "Core Set" (implying there are more 'sets' on the way), so by the time I get my 15th play out of this, I expect an expansion to be available with another 10-15 scenarios. The combat is pretty entertaining thanks to a card deck that gives you slightly different attack descriptions and results every time you attack or are attacked. It's not just "Roll a die!"

If you like games that provide theme and story in a short period of time and you find that enjoyable even if you lose, then there's a chance you might actually like this game. (so you're saying there's a chance)

In all honesty, though, I think that describes just Ben and myself.

At 5:47 AM, March 15, 2011, Blogger Ben said...

Masterfully written! Your review may be the best one i have read on this site.

MoM has much less actual combat than either Doom or Descent (or Arkham Horror for that matter). The emphasis seems to be in creating more of an RPG-stlye puzzle-solving, story-based experience that some felt was missing from Descent in particular. So, the game does feel scripted (at least if you want a chance of winning). It may be a bit of apples/oranges, but i find Arkham Horror, despite its randomness, to have a much more compelling narrative, since the players at the table have more control in its creation.

Typing this via cell phone, so please excuse any typos.

At 6:11 AM, March 15, 2011, Blogger Ben said...

Combat in the game provides much more of a traditional horror movie-style feel to it. In Arkham Horror often mid-game you become a one person killing machine, racking up piles of monster corpses as you mow through Cthulhu's legions.

In this game you struggle to just get a hit on the monster. There is a good chance you won't start with any weapons, and until you do you'll be lucky to do more than scratch (and irritate) the monster. Because speed is so important in this game, its probably best to run until you find the Lovecraftian BFG.


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