Mansions of Madness Second Edition – First Impressions

I had longed to play Mansions of Madness for what felt like forever, and now here I was preparing for that pivotal first foray into its dim corridors and terrifying secrets.

I have a very real love for some gothic theming in my board games. Whether it comes from travelling across the lamplit streets of the capital’s underbelly in, London Dread, or listening to the storm press the glass as long forgotten whispers fill the air above our séance in, Mysterium, I will always clamour for more.

Based upon this, getting the sizeable second edition of Mansions of Madness to the table recently was something of a monumental moment. Firstly, well, it ticks the gothic horror box with aplomb, dusty old mansion, supernatural beasts and a merry band of beautifully time-soaked characters instantly paint me happy. Secondly, it’s quite rare that a game manages to see me spending north of £50. The fact that this one took me quite a bit farther into the northern lands of skint is testament to just how much I wanted to sample its fabled delights. And finally, here was a game that would see us sat at the table for some considerable time.

Now as a family that games around the table it isn’t unknown for a good few hours to fly by as we explore our board game passion, however, these hours will generally be filled with a variety of different gaming flavours. Some meatier, such as Dead of Winter or the aforementioned London Dread, and some little nibbles like, Sushi Go! and Dixit. With Mansions of Madness came a whole new prospect, here was a game that could potentially see us chewing at it for an entire three plus hour session! That was somewhat daunting.

When a game hits the table that demands a prolonged stay it can only really go two ways. It’s love or hate. I say this because if a game hits the middle ground of being just okay then there’s little chance of us ever wanting to sit for hour upon hour playing said okay game again. An hour of an okay game is, well, okay, but three plus hours is never going to happen. As I began putting the table together for our first play this was definitely in my mind.

I had longed to play Mansions of Madness for what felt like forever, and now here I was preparing for that pivotal first foray into its dim corridors and terrifying secrets.

Four hours later I left having suffered defeat at the hands of the dark things that lurk here, and with some contrasting thoughts on the experience.

To begin I have to say the theme is captured beautifully. This second edition of Mansions of Madness utilises a super cool app that not only takes care of a lot of the little details that might otherwise slow play down, but that also adds to the atmosphere with elements of background music and occasional voiced characters. I’m aware that some folk are loathe to bring tech into their games, probably as it almost goes against the purity of playing a board game, myself however, I bloody love it! Maybe it’s because I’m new to the hobby, or at least new to the untold riches and depths of the hobby, or perhaps it’s because I am partial to some video game action in my playtime, but for me the addition of tech that can breathe additional life into a game is always welcome with open arms. I often have a background soundtrack playing behind the main tabletop action of my games, and so long as it compliments the play and never overpowers it, then everyone is happy. And the app for Mansions of Madness only ever compliments play.

The game itself is played within a constantly expanding mansion, where every new door opened unveils a new room tile to explore. There are secrets to discover, curious characters to meet, and importantly, an ever increasing horde of monsters and beasties to deal with as the investigators tread precariously from room to room. The play moves from investigatory phases to monster phases during each round, During the investigation the players can use actions to delve deeper into mystery, search dusty corners, tackle puzzles, and maybe take on a cultist or two, as that phase closes we get to watch as creatures sent to test mind and body descend upon the mansion. All of this action is handled brilliantly by the app. For a game with so much depth, so many moving pieces, and so much detail, the minimal amount of time I spent with my head in the rulebook was previously unheard of! This allowed the action to move at a consistently steady pace and interruptions were wonderfully sparse.

Much of the conflict is concluded via dice rolling and each character has strengths and weaknesses reflected in said rolls. Items can be gathered, items can be lost, sanity can also be lost to the madness, and injury is rife as the night descends deeper into mayhem and chaos. The action has a well managed incline in challenge that sees players truly up against it, but never feeling completely hopeless…usually.

At present I am only one play into my time with this game, we played with four players and it was a hugely enjoyable experience for probably three plus of the four hours we sat at the table. However, I have to admit that by the close of the game, and our ultimate defeat, I was somewhat thankful it was over. Now this might well be that as a player I’m not used to games with such long play times and a hint of monotony had crept in by the close. I adored the action right up until the point that I didn’t, right up until the point I felt that little niggle in the back of my mind that my pleasure was wavering. But it also proved a learning process, and next time we get the game to the table (most likely in a few days or so) as soon as any of us feel we’re flagging, we’ll pack up and then pick up where we left off when the batteries are recharged. Failing that I’ll just have to train myself for some distance gaming with frequent refuel pit stops along the way.

Having said all that, if my only gripe with a game was the length of play (and bear in mind this was a first play) then all is pretty well in the dark lands of Mansions of Madness. In fact all is better than pretty well. The game is a monster in size, depth and intrigue. It sinks claws in right from the opening and proves mesmerising and engaging. Everyone at our table, spanning ages from seven to early forties, was involved in the action and invested in the story, the app is a fantastic addition, and the theme is captured beautifully.

It’s early days but this is one mansion we plan to spend some serious playtime in.

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