Posted on May 13, 2015
Mansions Of Madness: Playthroughs and review.
Spoilers: Only sort of… last week we played through the first Mansions of Madness scenario, The Fall of House Lynch. There are 12 possible permutations of this scenario: three choices of Objectives, with two choices of where Edith resides and two choices of Walter’s favourite hiding place. Team Sunday proved that the timeline is tight, so probably the worst thing any new player of this game could do is try to use this writeup as a guide, since one change in the scenario set up will waste more time than you have to complete this.
The turn sequence goes like this:
Investigators get two moves and an action and can take them in any order, although a player completes all their stuff before the next player goes. The action can be to search the room, run, drop items or any of their special actions, or a few environmental things like frantically shove a bookcase in front of a door.
Then it’s the Keeper’s turn, although players immediately get to trade items if they are in the same space, so it doesn’t feel much like a Keeper’s turn. This is to stop baton relays of key items, I guess, which makes sense. Then the Keeper gets ‘Threat’ tokens based on the number of players and can spend them on a number of actions determined by the scenario. In this scenario, I could make Maniacs appear, make Investigators move against their will, move minions around, gain Mythos and Trauma cards and also collect Investigator teeth, but I never bothered with that. That seemed weird. The Maniacs were combat obstacles, along with a few scenario-created zombies and they exist to take health and sanity off investigators, sometimes in chunks.
But the other way of making life harder for Investigators is with the Mythos and Trauma cards. Mythos cards do little weird, thematically appropriate things to them often at the risk of a few sanity or health points. Ben in particular suffered persistent chipping at his sanity, which then allowed me to play a greater range of Trauma cards against him. The more hurt and crazy you are, the more Trauma cards can be added onto your misery. Examples: Sean at one point received a head wound which put his health points down to 4, which allowed me to play a Broken Leg trauma on him. He was not susceptible to that extra damage until he had been beat up a bit. Similarly, after losing a bunch of sanity, Ben was given the Kleptomania mental trauma card. The more powerful of these Mythos and Trauma cards also require threat to play. But once you are at 0 Sanity, the Keeper can pretty much keep giving you awful mental trauma cards, to the point that you become more of a liability to the party than an asset.
The rules are pretty simple, although the setup of the board has to be exact otherwise the game won’t be winnable. I got the board right, but there were a few things I know now that I did incorrectly on Sunday:
– Evade tests, I never had people Evade when they moved away from monsters. It didn’t come up very often, but that’s fine.
– Threat tokens, I wasn’t taking enough at first. I think there was maybe two rounds when I didn’t take enough.
– Mythos/Trauma hand, there should only be 4 of each and I probably went over that, although I wasn’t paying attention to it. I kept buying them and not playing them, so all in all that’s a win for the investigators, because otherwise those threat tokens would have been buying more Uncontrollable Urges or Maniac Attacks.
By Thursday I had things down better and decided to just skip the Evade tests to keep things equitable. The next time I play, I’ll include them: combined with having to make a Horror test EVERY TIME a monster moves into your room or you move into a monster’s room, Evade checks are a powerful argument against wading into combat with every monster that comes your way.
Team Sunday: AKA Fox Force Four.
Ben chose to play as Kate Winthrop, lady scientist, whose special ability was to keep bad guys a bit further away from her.
Sean chose Sister Mary, who was stout of mind and who carried a seltzer bottle of Holy Water.
Noe chose to play as Jenny Barnes, flapper investigatrix with two pistols and a floppy hat.
Mike chose to play as Gloria Goldberg, dreamy new age author armed with a typewriter with which she wasn’t afraid to club someone to death.
Special guest appearance, Mike also played Michael McGlen, Thompson Submachine percussionist, after Gloria’s death just before the No New Dudes buzzer.
Team Thursday: AKA The Testudo.
Rolland chose to play as Kate Winthrop, lady scientist and you could tell she was serious because she brought a microscope this time.
Jim chose to play as Joe Diamond, PI. who brought two guns and a lavishly flowing trenchcoat that billowed behind him, even when he was backing up.
Matt chose to play as Harvey Walters, old duffer; who is a very good character choice in every Fantasy Flight spinoff of Call of Cthulhu games and maybe the longest surviving Call of Cthulhu character of all time.
The scenario: Hired by the business associates of the missing Walter Lynch, the investigators were filled in on the tragic history of the Lynches: Walter’s frantic global search for a cure for an ailing son, the son’s subsequent death and Walter’s unhinged last diary entries. They arrived at the mansion outside Arkham in the middle of light evening rain to find it seemingly abandoned, although the smell of burned food lingered in the air.
Team Sunday immediately split in four different directions. Noe went up the stairs to the basement door (yeah, I don’t get it either) and on the basement stairs found a copy of Von Junzt’s Unaussprechlichen Kulten or maybe an English translation, we never established what languages anyone speaks. The others searched fruitlessly searched for clues. Despite entering the Dining Room to find mouldering food on the still set table, Sean was overcome with an urge to eat, which didn’t seem to do him any harm, which says something about Sean, I think.
Mike made it to the Operating Room and deftly fixed the wiring fault that had plunged the room into darkness. Noe meanwhile found the door at the bottom of the basement stairs jammed tight. Sean uncovered a clue: a sooty trail leading from the kitchen to the other side of the house. Sean uncovered a clue: a sooty trail leading from the kitchen to the other side of the house, as well as a silver key that seemed important. Ben’s searching was getting him nowhere so far.
Sean found whisky in the pantry, so that means he was elected King of Team Sunday. Noe decided to hoof it across the mansion and away from the jammed door. Mike, found a locked suitcase, which he began to open. Ben, meanwhile fumbled around in the dark guest bedroom, what could go wrong, am I right? Well, for a start, he discovered the startling evidence that a further clue to the disappearance of Mr. Lynch would be found in the Garden outside. He was startled. Also, perhaps more pressing, an axe wielding maniac burst through a nearby-ish door, Ben having been alerted to the presence by his fancy science gizmo, so the maniac couldn’t spring out on him, but this left Sean very close to this hatchet-swinging nutjob. Ben could have sworn a screaming burning man ran down the hallway just outside the room he was searching.
Team Thursday from the get-go stuck together. Jim went the same way as Noe, this time finding a Bottle of Whiskey, true to form. Matt brought up the rear, ensuring that the Foyer was free of booze and/or eldritch tomes. Rolland followed Jim, finding the Jammed door at the bottom of the stairs and unable to open it. Matt was attacked by vertigo, but since he was playing the old guy, it’s tough to tell if that was the house or his blood pressure acting up.
The Basement door was bashed in courtesy of Jim’s shoulder and everyone else piled into the room together, with Rolland picking up the Lantern in here and the two of them moving further into the basement. Matt huffed and puffed to keep up and was far back enough that the Maniac felt brave enough to leap out at the old man and whack at him with an axe. Jim came out to shoot him, because all the doors in the mansion are on some tight spring hinges and he couldn’t shoot from the doorway. Rolland, lady of science, searched the basement and found sedatives, while Matt decided to take matters into his own hands and had Septuagenarian Harvey Walters attack the Maniac with his bare hands, which did nothing. SBMO’C chimed somewhere else in the building, but honestly, they had other shit on their minds. The Maniac struck at Matt, but his Harvey was packing a Warding Statue that prevented him from taking too much damage at once, which is a pretty sweet ability turning the tweed-coated old duffer into an effective party tank.
Screaming Burning Man O’Clock:
Team Sunday: Noe took the time to read the fusty old book she had picked up, learning the Blood Pact spell, but as she committed the blasphemy to her mind, the doors of the Laboratory she was in slammed shut all by themselves, because that’s what they do in creepy mansions with old spellbooks being read. Sean, meanwhile, booked it across the foyer, away from Axey McFacesplitter. Mean while Ben and Mike both popped open the combination locks – Mike from the round before, finding a shotgun ready to be snapped together – and Ben in the closet of the Guest Bedroom, uncovering the Elder Sign within.
The flaming zombie guy and the Axe-maniac closed on Sean and Ben. Ben moved out of the dark bedroom and employed his Elder Sign, driving the demented attackers back. Never fear, help was on its way in the form of Sean, spritzing the Maniac with Holy Water, stunning the goon. Help was also on its way in the form of Noe, who strode purposefully through the door, guns drawn, only to trip and have them go off accidentally and harmlessly into the floor.
The Zombie clutched dangerously at Ben, stunning him, while the Maniac tried to get the water out of his eyes. Ben staggered away, by now, getting pretty close to insanity, having developed Kleptomania. Get all the things! Sean continued spraying Holy Water on the Maniac, maybe killing him (somehow?), while Noe cast her Blood Pact spell to heal and moved on. Mike meanwhile, tried the door out to the Garden and found it magically locked. The insanity of the Mansion was starting to take its toll on the investigators, with weird hallucinations and episodes of vertigo chipping away at their sanity and composure. To make matters weirder, deep in the bowels of the house, a chanting voice signalled another presence…
Super sleuth Sean entered the Master Bedroom, using the silver key, and popped open the eldritch puzzle box, experiencing the hallucination of Edith Lynch’s last moments in the garden and finding the magic phrase used to get into the Garden: moneypasswordjesus. Noe found a torch, which would come in handy when they need to burn this whole place down. Ben booked it across the mansion in the direction of basement, while Mike moved in the same direction, keen to put his new 12 gauge toy to work. The chanting got a little closer to the basement door, while the unpleasant sensory effects of the house persisted.
Ben burst the jammed door open, revealing the cultist beyond it. Sean, Noe and Mike all hauled ass, variously towards the garden and the basement. Sean was unfortunate to run into another Maniac in the lab portion of the house, who clipped the top of his skull off, which seems like that would be bad. It was pretty bad. It got worse, however as the Maniac also broke Sean’s leg. Fuck you, nun.
Team Thursday: Jim shot the Maniac again, who refused to die despite the bullets, but Maniac accepted Rolland’s offer of burning to death when he hurled the Lantern at the axe-swinger. Matt, meanwhile, discovered that the ceremony room was unopenable. The sound of a burning screaming dude got closer, but rather than rush things, the trio of investigators deliberately waited for the burning zombie, killing precious time, but fortunately also the burning zombie, who was simply devoured by the flames before he could sink his bony life-hating hands into their throats. It’s hard to argue with this strategy, given that they were boxed in the basement, but it cost them time they really didn’t have.
They made up for it by running in a big group. They sprinted for the foyer and if Harvey Walters sprinted more slowly than everyone else, no one noticed, although parkouring over the bannister as part of another Uncontrollable Urge seemed a bit unlikely. This defensive formation that prevented me from playing Maniac cards on them, (as Maniacs can only appear when someone was in a room alone), the trio made their way into the Dining room, searching fruitlessly as they went. As a strategy, it wasn’t a bad one. They couldn’t stop me from playing Uncontrollable Urges, picking one investigator off of the herd and then playing a Maniac Attack on the singleton. But that changed the threat cost of a Maniac Attack from 4 to 6, which is nothing to sniff at when I’m only receiving 3 a round. It’s hard to argue that this strategy wasn’t a good idea when none of their legs were broken and their skulls where intact, but they weren’t covering the ground they needed to.
They discovered the sooty burned body, the Silver Key and Clue 1. Specifically, Rolland did, while Jim and Matt went into the pantry, which left Rolland open to a Maniac Attack and that is exactly what happened.
Shit hits fan:
Team Sunday was getting frantic now. Ben made a try to get into the ceremony room attached to the basement, but found it shut fast with no evident way of opening it. Noe lit the Cultist up with her little handguns, before Mike charged down the stairs and blasted the cultist through the door, killing him. Sean could only limp away slowly in the direction of the garden. He could have used Ben’s sedative, but Ben was injecting/freebasing that himself.
Noe and Mike, meanwhile tackled the zombie and Maniac that terrorized the mansion, on their way back to the garden, but Mike accidentally took his eye off his shotgun for a second and Ben absconded with it. He couldn’t help himself! He put the shotgun to use against another murderous lunatic who had been trying to finish off Sean, while Sean flailed around with his evidently never-ending seltzer-bottle of holy water. The light bulbs in the basement simultaneously exploded leaving Noe’s torch the only handy illumination (held between her teeth, presumably while she fired both pistols. Noe and Mike raced towards the garden, but Mike was caught by a Maniac and Gloria Goldberg was butchered there and then, just as the clock was winding up to strike 2.
Thursday: The Maniac, if such things occur to Maniacs, may have realised that he had bitten off more than he could chew. Maybe he didn’t have time as Jim appeared, shot him; then Rolland swept the legs out from under him, then Matt stomped his skull in. In my shock at the sudden, brutal loss (but also because they were all in the same room again), I banked my Threat chips. They booked it through the house en masse, headed for the hallway and bedrooms. Rolland took a sedative, to ward off some of the ill effects he’d accrued. while Matt searched the Hallways. After literally hours of finding nothing cool during investigations, found an axe. Game on, Harvey!
Rolland and Jim, meanwhile, were cracking the bedroom, having found a puzzle box, which Rolland solved and receiving Clue 2 – the hallucination of Edith’s last moments. This left now-even-less-vulnerable-than-ever Matt open for a Maniac Attack and the nutcase duly appeared for an old-fashioned Axe-off.
The Clock Strikes 2:
Bonnnnng! Bonnnnng! The house began to shake and the investigators knew they’d have to confront Walter Lynch and put an end to this madness, while out in the garden, dead-and-buried Edith struggled through the soggy loam to await them.
Team Sunday: Sean and Noe passed into the garden after using the magic phrase moneypasswordjesus and Sean found there dEadith and Walter Lynch, insane beyond comprehension and bristling with unholy power. Noe’s guns blazed. Ben, meanwhile, made a dash for the now suddenly open ceremony room. Mike returned as Innocent Passerby Michael McGlen, who had been out taking his Tommy Gun for a walk and heard some commotion at the old Lynch house, so decided to stop in to gun down this bozo with an axe, who was maybe just a guy defending his home from Tommy Gun wielding gangsters. Ratatat-tat, see?
Sean, plying his own axe swinging skills struck at Walter Lynch as Noe desperately double gunned the madman and Michael McGlen rushed to save the dames in distress. To his horror, maybe, Ben found nothing in the Ceremony room beneath the house, just a giant Red Herring. And with that realisation his last,
Team Thursday: Matt stunned the Maniac with his axe, which was maybe the best thing that could happen, short of decapitation; while Jim and Rolland moved into the Lab. Rolland took the time to learn the Blood Pact spell and Edith, poor dead, hate-filled, unliving abomination Edith appeared, having shambled her way out of the Garden. Jim tried to put her out of her misery/his way with his Colt .45s in the Lab, while Matt sacrificed his action to let Rolland take the axe and run towards the Ceremony Room beneath the house, as eager to uncover the Red Herring as Ben had was, yet as he did…
…the evil presence beneath the house pulled the structure down around them, dragging the surrounding area into a pit, crushing the investigators and the insane Walter Lynch laughing madly with them.
I’m not sure how hard this scenario is compared to the other permutations, but it did seem legitimately difficult. It should: this foal counts the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game as its grandsire, so victorious endings should be rare and won at cost. Looking at the map and playing through only what is necessary to put you into combat with the big bad guy, it takes 1 investigator 8 turns, with no foes or shenanigans from me, leaving you with seven rounds to kill him, which is tough, because he’s a badass. With more investigators, you can only shave a few moves off that by overcoming obstacles ahead of time. More investigators lets you tackle bad guys, spreads the pain of the trauma cards a bit and gives you more shots at solving puzzles.
If you beat a Mansion, you’ll have earned it. This game is heavily stacked in favour of the House, as it were. Combat is hard, especially in confined quarters, since it robs the investigators of their ranged weapon advantage. The hallway, foyer and through doors with the shotgun were the only opportunities in this house for ranged ranged combat, rather than gun-fu. Even if combat is going well, or is survivable, it is chipping away at health and sanity and there is no benefit to combat other than stopping that.
Part of it seems like luck, but I think it may actually just be about adapting your strategy to what’s happening, or indeed, even figuring out what is happening. Using the things that you find in a useful way is important as well, but you’ve got to know how to use them. The combination of Elder Sign (which pushes monsters back) and a Shotgun which can shoot 2 spaces away and through doors, might take two players to use, but those two players can fuck the monsters in this scenario up badly, at little risk to themselves. Repel, shoot, repel, shoot, all the while making the keeper use up threat to get back to attacking. Similarly, using the Lantern as Rolland did, to immediately take out a combat threat saves two more rounds of melee.
Investigation is maybe the most important part of the game, because it is the only thing that reveals what you must do to win. Without uncovering clues, you can’t even start to make progress towards your end goal, whatever that may be. And the clues matter: the first clue (small case, to distinguish it from the Clue cards) was that the house of the guy missing for ages smelled of burned food. That points you in the direction of the kitchen, where you receive a Clue which points you to the hallways. There, you can uncover the clues that send you to the third clue which will tell you what you need to do to win. But if you don’t pay attention to these and move to different areas, you may pick up cool gear, but you aren’t solving the Mansion. Which is fine if other people are, but bad if they’re not. Team Sunday progressed further, in a worse state than Team Thursday. Striking a balance between the two approaches seems like it’d be vital.
Team Thursday’s luck with the d10 was appalling. Like, Ed Gein’s workshop trashcan bad. Sure, none of them died, but looking back at it, death may not be the worst thing to happen to an investigator. Being alive and insane is the worst thing that can happen to an investigator, but being alive and slowed down may be almost as bad. As long as you don’t die after the objective, you’re right back into the game with a new stockpile of fresh, unsullied brains. Jim was onto something when he said that players should use up their investigators – investigating plays a more valuable role than does survival, right up until the end of the game. It would be better to think of the Investigators as a team of 10, only 3 or 4 of whom play at a time. When Gloria left the game (in pieces), Michael McGlen was tagged in immediately. There may be some scenarios where restarting at the Start square is a costly setback, but the Foyer in this example served as a handy hub around the 4 branches of the house – kitchen/basement/bedrooms and lab.
The choice of starting characters and their builds may be important too, (for ease of future reference I plan to put the Characters and their builds up in another post if I can bring myself to wade through this WordPress shit again, which is up in the air) although only in the sense that you should have a group that complements each other, rather than some characters being optimal. Fox Force 4 had plenty of skill, but not a whole lot in the way of combat power (a typewriter and two little pistols), which Michael McGlen and Joe Diamond and even Matt’s surprisingly durable build of Harvey Walters have in spades. 3 players didn’t seem to have disadvantages compared to 4 players. The extra body may help for getting investigations done, but it puts more power into the Keeper’s hands to wear those bodies down.
The strategies of the two parties made a difference though. By striking out every which way early on, Team Sunday were able to uncover a lot more. They weren’t necessarily able to solve or resolve everything they encountered right away; but knowing the lay of the land helped get the correct person to the task that best fit their skills. Team Thursday’s defensive formation (huddled together in a room in between sprints) held them back, but definitely protected them. Knowing when to split up and when to come together might be easier if you replay a scenario, but I also suspect experienced players would get the knack for it, especially since my flow and use of Threat tokens isn’t a secret.
What I like about this game:
The Quality: I feel like I underpaid for this game. That’s how nice everything is. The models are really pretty rad. Nothing seems to have been skimped upon.
It’s an entire game in a box: Like Descent and the other variations of this model by Fantasy Flight and a few other companies, everything you need to play this game, in a way that is aesthetically pleasing, is in this box. Sure, with a RPG book the only limit is your imagination forever and ever, except when your other limit is time. In all probability, I’ll never have time to play all versions of all the mansions, because life. But every time I do play it’ll be on gorgeous tile rooms and with cool minis and I’ll only ever have to put 5 minutes of forethought into a game.
That last sentence wasn’t quite true: It doesn’t have to be me. The game advises that ‘the most experienced player’ should be Keeper, but there’s nothing to stop someone else from taking over Keeper reigns, because I couldn’t possibly guess which configuration of Mansion they’re going to build in that 5 minute decision making period.
It’s unusual: I’ve never seen a game where the players have to interact with the board in quite this manner. There aren’t many investigation games out there, and it’s slightly different from the common “Collect three things to win” game. You’ve then got to use your three things intelligently.
It’s a son of a bitch: Seriously, between the purely malicious things the Keeper can do, to the complexity of the board and the unstoppable countdown to failure, this is a difficult game. Not difficult to learn, the rules aren’t that difficult, but just a genuinely hard game to beat. The pay-off for making this game difficult to win as a player is presumably the sense of accomplishment upon achieving the win. We’ll find out if that’s true… eventually.
It’s well supported: There are two big box expansions, with new monster minis and 4 new investigators per box as well as tiles and scenarios and what not. There are also manufacturer Print On Demand scenarios, which come as packs of new cards, rules and a scenario. Some of them seem to play with the formula quite a bit and that’s kind of cool to see.
What I don’t like about the game:
I’m never going to have time to paint these miniatures. which is a shame, because they’re cool and look really good once they are painted. I probably will paint them, eventually.
It’s a bummer that it has a 4 player limit. But this game isn’t going to be to everyone’s taste, so I’m not too worried about my door being broken in with hordes of people wanting to play. I think to be an enthusiastic player of this game, you’ve got to be fine with losing and losing hard, unfairly and often. If you’re one of those brave souls, we should get another game; sooner, rather than later.
Players? I’d appreciate your take on the game.