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The Rise of Board Games and the One We Love This Month: Mansions of Madness

by: Nick Donovan, the First Guy to Suggest the Party Splits Up

I don’t know if you are like me, but I love board games. I mean, I REALLY love them. I want you to love them too and play only the most fun games we can find each month, but like any good instruction manual….we gotta start at the beginning. 

At some point during the meteoric rise of internet gaming with Crafts of Worldwars, Quests that go on forever, whatever consoles were doing, and any other intellectual properties you want to come up with reverse names for in your head, I felt I was missing something. Here we were in the catalyst of human interaction in gaming and all I wanted was another person in the room having fun. I wanted to cut the cord before it was even close to cool, and I quickly found out that I wasn’t alone.

It turns out thousands of people had a similar revelation. In fact, one large enough that NPR, Lifestyles, The Guardian, CNBC, and many more media outlets found it curious enough to put a name to it. “The Golden Age of Board Games” they call it, there must have been some comic book nerds in the room when they stole the line. Yet, it’s hard to say if it’s a fad as a new generation gets interested in tabletop games or if it’s the result of Kickstarter and crowd funding actually creating better games. However, Reddit user SuperCoquillette’s data analysis of board game ratings clearly shows that some of the highest grossing board games of all time, are duds. The games of our past, based off religious beliefs, community ideals, and even anti-capitalism, like Monopoly or Life seemed to dominate my childhood but they are pretty mediocre. The saddest part of all was while I was playing Monopoly and wondering why anyone would subject themselves to three or more hours of pure frustration and frequent breaks to scream into pillows, somewhere out there people were playing pure gems like Cosmic Encounter and Twilight Imperium.

That gets us to today, and bringing you the best games we can find.

This segment won’t be reviewing games in a traditional sense, I don’t want the ghosts of Milton or Bradley haunting me. Instead, we just want to share what we are playing each month and why we love it….or don’t love it When I expanded my collection back in 2008 I picked up a ton of truly terrible games based on hype or recommendation. Not every game is for everyone but maybe, just maybe, you’ll find something for you.

So I bring you….Mansions of Madness 2nd Ed

Of note, Mansions of Madness 1st Ed released in 2011 for 2-5 players and required a style of board gaming called “Overlord”. Overlord games require one player to play the enemy against a team of cooperative players. These games can be beloved by groups that have one particular personality type that enjoys leading a game and doesn’t mind the daunting amount of work the “Overlord” has to do with all their pieces.

We played, Mansions of Madness 2nd Ed released in 2016, a fully cooperative game for 1-5 players with a companion application that acts as the Overlord player. A great addition from the 1st Ed over forcing me to play at the whims of my Overlord friends. It claims to run 2-3 hours but is more like 4-5+ with more people. The objective of the game is to try and solve one of four (each expansion adds more components and stories) mysteries while fighting and talking through the application that runs the game. As players make their way through an ever growing map they must make sure not to go insane as that changes their win conditions, and they might even end up a traitor.

Why we love it…don’t worry…we get to the love part

Truth in advertising, I hate cooperative games, hate em, can’t stand em, mainly because I have a Quarterbacking problem (quarterbacking is when a player tends to tell other players what to do on their turns) that I may have developed over hundreds of games of The Resistance. I also distrust a game with an application running it because, hey, why even have physical pieces. You know what, I’m over the whole Cthulhu thing as well, if I want to fight beings from another dimension I’ll play Arkham Horror, if I want to explore a creepy mansion with a traitor I’ll play Betrayal at House on the Hill, or if I want to go on adventures with deep story while hacking through monsters with friends I’ll play DnD.

Rant aside, If any of those games are in your wheel house I’ve got good news, Mansions of Madness 2nd Ed does it better. Based in the H P Lovecraft universe Mansions of Madness lives up to its genre, a cooperative horror mystery adventure. I could easily write for hours about it, but I’ll keep it to three points.

TLDR: MoM excels as a cooperative game with interesting story telling and thematic feelings of desperation and dread that isn’t as repetitive as you’d think.

As a cooperative game MoM will never cease to feel like every player has a voice. All the players take turns with the application letting it know what you’d like to do on the board and in return it spews massive amounts of story dialog. In most games, if I’m honest, I don’t even read story dialog, but in MoM it is a requirement. Every single dialog piece feels like a true mystery clue. Everything gets analyzed. If NPC “X’ said “Y” then maybe what we need is in the “Z”! (look at how good I am at avoiding spoilers) The amount of information is just too much for one player to take in and the overload makes the mystery feel so satisfying for every player to sink their teeth into. When you finally connect one clue with another tiny note in the dialog….ooooohhhh shivers and goosebumps, sooo Nancy Drew.

The curious thing about MoM was the amount of replay ability we’ve already gotten. On the outside it seems that once a scenario is finished you wouldn’t have any value in playing it again. It’s far from that, when playing the same scenario over, our least charismatic player attempted to milk information from an NPC, this caused a series of unfortunate events that resulted in a great lord of the stars to be locked behind a flaming bookcase as five people kicked a millionaire to death (hah, that was an odd and spoiler free sentence). With a different group the events were almost unrecognizable. As the most charismatic player got a ton of information from the same interaction. An old lady and a young athlete stood back to back beating down hordes of fish beings, a worker with a broken leg yelled for us to make a swift exit outside only to be locked in a flaming room by one of our own players, and a millionaire sprinted away from danger towards a secret door! (You are either way confused by now, or way interested)

Not every game has to be fair or balanced for it to be fun. With MoM you just don’t leave the table feeling cheated even though the game can be very brutal. Dice rolls make up all of the thematic feeling of dread. Constant rolls about your health, welfare, and ability to make it through problem sets had our hearts in our throats at every turn. As the game goes on it punishes the players for taking longer by making these rolls more frequent and devastating. Once the traitor mechanic (a player receives a new win condition that can be anything from you have to stop the other players to do nothing) that feeling of confusion and dread multiplies.

What might not work?

Money. This game is quite the money pit and for the retail value of about $90 the miniatures and components should be much nicer. To add expansions you are looking at another $40 a pop for very few new scenarios, thank Cthulhu for that replay ability. The base the miniatures sit on are a disaster in game design, none fit right on the base and it’s a huge miss for me. Plus, why would you design a base that covers beautiful art work?

Why you might love it

It’s about the experience! The stories and laughs we had along the way were some of the best. Even when losing I loved every second of it. If you have the money MoM is one of those games that your group just won’t stop talking about, the highest praise any game can get came after our first play through six hours in:

“Oh damn.. So we lost for sure.”

“Yup.”

“But.. What happens if we did talked to the butler?”

“What about that other room!?”

“I was just about to heal him!”

“….”

“Do you just want to play again?”

How to love it more

While you’re already spending loads of money, maybe buy another pack of dice so you don’t have to share. With painting and 3D printing I got rid of the game’s biggest component problem. 3D bases and coloring to identify each monster uniquely. I’m a fan of some terrain also. Doors, bookcases, and fire for ambiance.

Do you like Mansions? Do you like Madness? Buy this game…

Or find a friend to buy it and go play it at their house! You won’t be disappointed. Mansions of Madness got the first month due to its ability to please a wide variety of players. The game is unpredictable and it can change directions on a dime. So for the love of god stop playing cards against humanity at your parties and get lost in something like this. If you are interested in more information or if you are in the NOVA area and curious about trying a game on this website let us know! Next month will be Two Rooms and a Boom, and epic game of deceit with some live footage (hopefully)!

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