Perspectives on Board Games: Mansions of Madness (2nd Ed)
Mansions of Madness is far from the most complicated game I’ve played (I’ve played Food Chain Magnate, ok), though unboxing it was still very intimidating. I’ve certainly never been a “minifig” person, and I know there are those who love that kind of stuff. What most intrigued me about the game originally, and why I ponied up the $120 for it, is two things: first, it can be played solo, and in my never-ending quest to find solo board games, this is one of the highest rated. Second, it incorporates an iPad app you need in order to play the game. Unique, compelling, and worth the plunge, I figured.
Unboxing this game was pretty intense. The minifigs, game board pieces, tokens (that I still can’t tell you the purpose of after a playthrough)… it’s all a bit overwhelming. It took me close to an hour to unbox and match all the correct monsters with their stands, which it turns out I did incorrectly anyway. Further, the pieces don’t fit back into the box well after opening them up and assembling them. Actually, the monsters don’t really fit together well at all. I ended up just giving up on trying to get them to fit together correctly. I’m not particularly invested in the look of games so this was just a little blip on my enjoyment radar.
Setup for this game is really interesting, because you have to have the companion app to use along with the board. Because of this setup is pretty easy. The app walks you through what pieces to put out, where they go, and where to put your player tokens. Admittedly I’ve only done one playthrough, and it was the “first time playing” scenario, but I’d say even for entry level folks it was fairly quick to set up and start playing.
The storyline my cohort and I played through was “Cycle of Eternity.” In this story you are a group of investigators looking into some suspicious disappearances at the Vanderbilt mansion. This all happened during a meeting of the astronomical society, which turns out to be much more than a bunch of nerds looking at stars. It was fairly compelling for a board game, and one of the girls I played with admitted to being a little freaked out during the game, which is pretty cool.
Now here is where things get both better and worse. My biggest issue with this game is that you really don’t need the board to play (aside from the dice rolling). It’s fun to see how things all fit together and to be able to see where you need to explore at a glance, but honestly you could get through the entire game without touching the pieces on the board. If you wanted to play a co-op iPad game, then it would be fine. But I anticipated having some element of randomness or influence from the actual board setup, rather than you just needing to mimic the prompts from the iPad app (ie. move away 2, open this, etc). I totally recognize that board game companies are still figuring out the balance between relieving some of the frustration of complicated games with a companion app and making a game app with paper pieces, but this still didn’t knock it out of the park for me. Maybe it will get better as I progress through the more complicated stories, as there were plenty of game elements we never touched in the initial run through.
The little details of the game are absolutely divine. The flavor text is fun; the little mechanics—while complicated—are pleasing. I appreciate the plot twists and surprises that wouldn’t have been possible without a companion app as well, so while I am critical about how much the app overshadowed the board game elements, it really was an awesome experience. I’m very much looking forward to exploring more of the story, and I have high hopes! I don’t know if I would suggest skipping the electric bill this month to purchase this game, but I’d say it’s worth at least befriending the weird girl who already owns it.