A few turns into scenario 1: The Fall of the House of Lynch.
You might remember me mentioning that we played Mansions of Madness from FFG back in March. Well, since then we've managed a couple more plays and I thought it was time to type out some of my thoughts on the game.
Arkham Horror. I like AH but I thought something more true to Lovecraft that maybe took place on a smaller scale as opposed to an entire city would be cool. Something RPG-ish perhaps. And then they announded Mansions of Madness. "Blimey" I thought, "they read my mind!"
The first time we tried it I messed up a little bit as the Keeper, I switched two stacks of cards around during setup, which resulted in a slightly off-kilter game that didn't flow very well as a story. It was still fairly entertaining but nothing really spectacular.
When we next had a chance to play it I decided to try the same scenario again, but making different scenario choices, to see how well it would stand up to repeat plays. The story aspect worked better this time around as all the cards were in their right places, but although we had a good time I had hoped for more when it came to Mansions of Madness. It felt like there was a lot of cool concepts there, but as the basic game stands right now you don't really get that Arkham Horror-but-more-intimate-story-driven-pseudo-rpg-experience that I think a lot of people expected. I know I did at least.
Then again, it might simply have been the particular scenario we tried. After having played it twice I felt that the it was a bit... well, boring. It's a cool idea to have this crazy maniac keep showing up, hacking his way towards you just to chop off your ear and run away with it(!), but from a pure game play perspective it gets a little repetative in the long run. So when we managed to get the old Arkham Horror crew (me, Anders, Micke and Claes) back together a couple of days ago we gave Mansions of Madness another whirl, this time trying the second scenario: The Inner Sanctum.
Setup for scenario 2: The Inner Sanctum.
Now... there might be some SPOILERS below, so if you want to avoid that skip ahead.
The story was that the Investigators are going to an old monastary in Dunwich to investigate (didn't expect that did you?!) some cult activity. As always in MoM they didn't know what their final objective would be, but started to simply wander around the house, trying to find clues. All during setup there was quite a bit of talk about sticking together and presenting a unified front, but when we actually started playing the stupid sods split up in three different directions! I guess the lure of being the first to pilfer a shotgun was too great.
My objective as the Keeper was to get four cultists into the Ceremony Room where they would sacrifice themselves to summon a Cthonian. If I then could keep the Cthonian alive for four turns I would win the game. So I started summoning cultists by the two altars in the basement and the crypt and then used them to collect some nasty Mythos and Trauma cards for later use against the Investigators. I kind of forgot that I was supposed to march them towards the Ceremony Room and had some fun turning two of them into a Hound of Tindalos and attacking the poor bumbling humans instead!
Two of the three investigators simply ran into locked doors and dead ends, while the third (who actually followed the clue from the intro text!) ran into some stiff resistance. After some close calls and some debilitating injuries they teamed back up and started to make some headway. By this time I had remembered my objective and had a bunch of cultists make a beeline for the Ceremony Room. Not knowing exactly what they were up to, but certain that it was probably nothing good, the Investigators tried to stop the cultists and a fierce battle ensued! It looked like I would have succeded in getting them all in there when Gloria Goldberg cast a Shrivelling spell that set the room on fire! That pretty much dashed my hopes of achieving my objective before the time limit was up, so I decided to simply hinder the Investigators in achieving theirs.
At the beginning of the game I pretty much dominated and the Investigators were at my mercy, however after grouping up and having found an axe and learned the Shrivelling spell (as well as Michael McGlenn's tommygun) they proved a much more formidable threat. By this time McGlenn's sanity was down to zero while the other two had only one or two points left. This left them much more susceptible to mental trauma cards and I thought I would have a field day! Having one of the Investigators being insane sounds like play time at the zoo, but it turned out that it didn't do much of a difference. Now and then I could move one of them a few steps or some similar little trick, but I didn't really feel that I had a chance of stopping them. Then I drew the really nasty Trauma cards...
So this is how it all ended: the cultists had summoned a Shoggoth that blocked the investigators way! McGlenn and Aschan Pete did what they could against the protoplasmic horror but it was far from enough, and Pete even lost his trusty axe to one of its' slimy pseudopods! They needed Gloria's spell. When she saw the monstrosity she simply turned and ran however and in the following round of combat it almost killed Ashcan Pete! Gloria did manage to find her courage again and put an end to the beast with a Shrivelling spell (again setting the room on fire!). She and McGlen advanced forward in the cave system and were about to enter that last forboding door when McGlen suddenly shouted "I see your slimy tail!" and opened fire on Gloria! She fell dead to the ground as McGlen turned the gun on himself, splattering the wall behind him with his brains. Pete stared at the scene in horror, barely noticing the cultists who were surrounding him...
McGlenn vs the Shoggoth!
In the end neither side won but I think we all agreed that it was a true Lovecraftian ending! Some hightlights was the early fight with the Hound of Tindalos, me forgetting about the Cult Leader and Anders' and Micke's bad dice rolling when trying to kill him, and then how Claes set the entire Ceremony Room on fire foiling my plans! Then of course the battle with the Shoggoth and the dark ending.
In any case, this time Mansions of Madness played out a lot more like I had envisioned it. It still isn't quite the game I had in mind (it never is, is it?) but we had a lot more fun with it. What I think we're still struggling with is that it's actually very linear in nature; you have to follow the clues to make progress. And while you can go around and explore you will most likely only end up finding locked doors and waste time that could have been better spent following the leads together as a group. Given the open layout of the map, having to follow a set path can feel counter-intuitive.
Wow, this is starting to get a bit long. And here I thougth I would have room to make a combined post on both Mansions of Madness and Lord of the Rings: the Card Game. Forget that!
So in conclusion I think Mansions of Madness has great potential but that it needs to be cracked open a bit, allowing a little bit more freedom into it while still managing to tell a compelling story. This is a tall order I know, as it's a thin line to tread. Arkam Horror is the polar opposite where you have a complete freedom to do whatever you want, but no semblence of a coherent story. I do think there is a middle ground though but I fear Mansions of Madness will need the inevitable expansion to really get it there.
It's still a fun game, don't get me wrong, but as it stands right now it depends a fair bit on your players and even more on what scenario you play. The first one was mediocre while the second one was fun so I'm hoping the third one will be great (and the upcoming print on demand scenario sounds neat!). I remain hopeful however as I think there's definitely room for this kind of game on the market. FFG just need to refine it a bit more.