Let's go mad together! - Mansions of Madness 2nd Ed Review
Like a lot of fellow board gamers, I fell head over heels when I heard that Mansions of Madness was getting a 2nd edition, and that it was going to be an app-driven co-op mirroring the recent success of the Descent 2nd Edition Road to Legend app. Road to Legend has breathed new life into Descent for a lot of gamers, since 1 v Many games can be a harder sell than a full co-op experience; not to mention the potential for solo play. Mansions of Madness 1st edition had much the same issue, further complicated by the extended set up of laying out the entire map and hand-picking miniature piles of cards for nearly every room. The MoM app promises to simplify setup by exposing the map as players explore the mansion (much like Descent’s RtL) and replacing the small groups of cards with tokens that are evaluated by the app.
The components in Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition are of the quality you can expect from Fantasy Flight; high quality artwork, detailed plastic miniatures, and solid cardboard tiles and tokens. The die cutting on my particular set of tokens was a bit off, but nothing that would ruin the game by any stretch. Any fans of the Arkham Files series of games from FFG may recognize a lot of the artwork - some of the items, investigators, and monsters have been recycled from previous games (including MoM 1st Edition and Eldritch Horror).
The recognizable bases for the monster minis from 1st edition make a return here, despite the common complaints about them. I actually didn’t mind them in the 1st edition of the game since all they covered was a picture of the mini on the stand, but for 2nd edition the monster tokens have artwork on them (similar to the tokens in Eldritch Horror) which you will literally only see before you bury the tokens in their holders, hiding the artwork. Since there’s less hidden information on the back of the tokens (monster special attacks are now part of the app), there’s really not a reason to hide the art assets - I would’ve liked to see a new monster stand for this.
The Conversion Kit allows you to use the monsters and investigators from your 1st edition copy of the game and big-box expansions in the 2nd edition. It’s quite easy to swap everything over, mostly requiring you to replace the original monster tokens with the newly provided tokens. The main change in the tokens is that most monsters lose any special attack text they had, instead getting replaced with flavor text; I believe the idea behind this is the app will manage any monster special attacks as required. Otherwise each monster still has a horror and evade rating although they’re managed differently compared to 1st edition (more on this later). Replace the monster tokens, mix in your investigator minis with the new ones provided in 2nd edition adding the corresponding investigator cards, and throw together your map tiles and you’re ready to go. I have both 1st edition and Call of the Wild, and this process took a little over 30 minutes (mostly because I mistakenly glued a lot of monster tiles in place when attempting to attach the monster figures to their bases.
The 2nd edition gameplay is mostly managed by the free app available for iOS, Android, PC, and Mac. You pick one of the four scenarios, select your investigators, grab your starting items, and set up the first room (after some sweet voice-acted introductory narration). Many have already reviewed the gameplay of the new 2nd edition, so instead I’ll try to highlight where the game differs from its original version.
First off the promise of an accelerated setup definitely holds true; starting the game isn’t any more complicated than finding one map tile and placing a few tokens on it. A drastic improvement over the 1st edition. The process of customizing your investigator has also been removed; you no longer have the option of selecting two of the four character cards to tune your selected character - you get one card per investigator and it outlines all your stats and one ability (or starting item).
From there it’s up to each investigator to take their two actions - move, interact, attack, or trade - and then signal to the app that it’s the “keeper’s” turn. Already this is a lot more streamlined of a game than its predecessor, and for me started the feeling that this is a “lighter” game than the previous version. Standard things like mid-turn mythos cards and horror checks have been removed to favor a more streamlined experience. While I’ll be the first to admit that remembering those horror checks during gameplay in the 1st edition were quite fiddly, not having them at all makes the game feel a lot less heavy (which may or may not be a good thing depending on your personal preference).
The Horror checks do make a return however during the Mythos phase. The app will issue an event which may or may not happen depending on if investigators are in certain areas of the map or have certain conditions met (like proximity to a monster or each other), followed by a Monster phase where each monster will activate individually with a movement and potential attack, and finally by forcing each investigator within range of a monster to make a horror check against the “most horrible” monster within 3 spaces in the same room. Once that’s completed the next round begins with the investigators taking their actions once more.
Skill checks have also been revisited, instead of rolling a D8 and trying to get under whichever stat you’re testing, you instead get a number of D8 dice based on your stat (similar to Eldritch Horror). The dice are custom dice, I think similar to the dice in Elder Sign, that have either blanks, clue icons or successes; one clue token can be discarded to convert a clue icon to a success.
The damage system has also changed, I think for the better. Throughout the game you can receive mental or physical damage in the form of face up or face down cards. Both count against your character’s limits, but face-up cards can come with additional effects like becoming dazed or restrained. Also, once you’ve reached your character’s limit in either health or sanity, you will become wounded or insane and reset your count; effectively giving you a 2nd chance but with a serious detriment to your character (or, in the case of insanity, changing your personal win condition!). If you hit your limit a 2nd time, your character dies and the game is over for everyone at the end of that round.
Overall, the 2nd edition of Mansions of Madness is a fun, accessible iteration of the Arkham Files franchise. I dare say it might be the lightest game of the series (in terms of complexity), barring possibly Elder Sign - and I actually found that a bit disappointing. MoM 1st edition to me is an epic game, one that requires an unspoken contract of investment between the players that is instantly formed when you sit down at the table and see a sprawling mansion full of unexplored mystery - a battle between the one player who holds all the keys and 4 investigators doing their best to overthrow their dastardly plans. Unfortunately, those traits are also what make the 1st edition of the game so hard to get to the table, so I can definitely see the appeal of this lighter, accessible version.
Gratefully the theme of the game hasn’t changed much despite this; it’s still a occult murder-mystery type of game that doesn’t hold any punches. You will be intrigued by the introduction of each scenario, there will be events and monsters who’s actions make your skin crawl, and you will feel like you’re unraveling a mystery with each exploration token. I definitely appreciate the new writing that’s been done for the app and look forward to experiencing each scenario (and hopefully future app updates with new scenarios!)
My biggest beef with the game is the lack of physical content, which seems like a weird complaint since most of the game substance is within the digital app. That said, there’s 24 monster figures, but only 7 or so types of monsters (cultists, deep ones, deep one hybrids, ghosts, riots, hunting horrors, and star spawns). In addition, there’s only 6 different statuses (two of which you only get through maxing out your character’s damage) and 6 different spells - this version feels like it suffers from the same fate as Eldritch Horror in that it won’t feel complete without another card expansion. I think after a few plays you’ll be seeing the same few cards, which will annoy some players. Particularly since the evaluation of spells requires you to draw a new copy of the spell - it’s entirely possible you see every Wither card in one game.
If I hadn’t already had MoM 1st edition and an expansion, I would feel pretty ripped off paying as much as this game’s MSRP for the seeming lack of content in the box. Granted, there’s a lot of content in the app itself reducing the need for some of these things (and I’m sure the price of the game helps offset the cost of development of the free app), but after coming across the same 7 monsters and 4 status effects game after game I imagine it will start to wear thin after awhile.
MoM 2nd edition also feels like a different game from its previous version. For better or worse, it’s no longer the sprawling monstrosity of a battleground between the keeper and investigators, but rather a light-ish co-operative explorefest that has players thinking “well I hope we figure out what we’re supposed to do?”. It’s almost as if the urgency of the mystery is removed, simply because you aren’t able to visualize the possibilities of the mansion’s various corridors - it’s entirely up to an app. You can’t look at the board and wonder what might be in the garden shed, or why there’s a ladder down into the cellar; instead you click on a token and see what happens.
In the same breath, the battle with the keeper is missing as well. There’s no other player that you’re trying to outwit, no one with that intimidating hand of mythos cards and trauma poised to strike with every room you step into. You don’t feel as successful progressing through the scenario against an app as you do overthrowing the keeper’s plans to get that next clue, only to find that they tricked you into a corner as they spawn a Cthlonian at the only exit.
It’s not a bad game, and it’s definitely going to find a place in my collection as a more accessible way of getting some Eldritch action. But it is a different game, one that people in love with the 1st edition may not necessarily like.