Mansions of Madness

Hey everybody!
Happy Halloween! While I don’t really go in for all the spooky stuff personally, I always try to feature a thematic game here on my game day blog, and today’s offering is something I’ve been wanting to get round to for a long time – let’s enter the Mansions of Madness!

Mansions of Madness

(This blog is about 1st Edition, which is currently the only edition that I have played).

Mansions of Madness is an utterly fantastic game. I need to tell you this right at the top, because this entire post will be coloured quite significantly by my love of this game. It was released back in 2011, I picked it up a year later, and had my first game with it around Christmastime. As usual, I played with my regular gaming buddy Tony, and we played through the first scenario, The Fall of House Lynch. While we were certainly enjoying playing the game, despite taking time to actually learn the ropes as we went, once the game was over we had a sort of joint moment of awe at what we’d just experienced. Despite the fact that this game took place almost five years ago now, I can still remember, quite vividly, both of us sort of leaning back from the table when it was over, and letting out a simultaneous “whoa” at how good this game is. Immersive just doesn’t seem to cover it. The game was spectacular – it was incredible, in the very truest sense of the word!

Okay, so enough with the rhapsodizing, let’s take a look at the game.

Mansions of Madness is a one-vs-many game that has its closest parallel (for me) in Descent, where one player takes on the role of the Keeper, while the rest of the group play as the standard stock of Arkham Investigators. The Keeper is an interesting role because, unlike the Overlord of Descent, he is part antagonist but also part DM, and I feel sometimes that people might miss the subtlety of this. Sure, as the Keeper you’re trying to defeat the Investigators, but there is a responsibility to ensure that the story that the game is trying to tell is told. If you play as the Keeper and sit there brooding evilly all game, then it’s not going to be a great experience. I’ve always played this game as the Keeper, so I guess I have more to say about this part than that of the Investigators.

Mansions of Madness

Let’s start with the board. Mansions of Madness is a scenario-based game, and you get five of them in the core set. The board is modular depending on each scenario, with room tiles placed as shown in the set-up guide. It is then the Keeper’s responsibility to “seed” cards in the rooms according to his own set-up guide. Each scenario has up to six distinct parts where the Keeper can make a choice – does he pick choice A, B or C for part one? These story choices determine which Clue cards are seeded into the rooms. The rooms also include items that the Investigators can claim, but many also have traps or locks to overcome before they can be discovered. The set-up guide is crucial for ensuring the cards are placed so that they are encountered in the correct order – locks are no good on the bottom of the pile, after all!

Mansions of Madness

Once the cards are placed, the Investigators set about exploring the Mansion. They’re trying to solve a mystery that is read out by the Keeper at the start of the game, and Mansions of Madness is one of the relatively few board games where flavour text simply must be read during the course of the game! It certainly helps with the theme, and relates to what I was talking about earlier, where the Keeper is part-DM in his role. The Investigators don’t actually get to know ahead of time what they need to do to win, so it’s critical to pay attention to the story, and not just charge about trying to gather up stuff. Though, like any good RPG, it’s always good to get stuff! It’s really cool how the Investigators get to actually make real-time choices about what to do, based on the story being told, and not just some random whim.

Something that really blew me away when I first played this game was the fact that the Investigators will often come across some locked item, either a door or a suitcase, and in order to overcome this obstacle, they need to solve a real, actual puzzle. Normally in these sorts of games, a player would just roll some dice and add a modifier to determine this, but no! There are a variety of different puzzles that you have to physically solve, such as the wiring puzzle shown above. Harvey Walters can have an Intellect of 7 (more on this shortly), meaning that he has up to 7 moves in this puzzle. Moves include rotating a piece 90º, swapping adjacent pieces, or removing a piece entirely and drawing a new one. In the above example, I actually managed it in 5 moves, which is fine for Harvey, but other characters might not fare so well!

Mansions of Madness

When you set up your Investigator character at the start of the game, you take the character’s card, then choose one of two Strength cards, and one of two Intellect cards, which give you the total stats for that character in the game. It’s an interesting way of mixing things up and, while you can’t alter your stats over the course of the game like Arkham Horror, it’s still a nice way of ensuring Investigators don’t always feel the same right out of the box.

The Keeper can interact with the Investigators in a variety of ways, using a currency of threat points. Over the course of each round, the Keeper gets a number of threat counters equal to the number of players, and he can use these to pay the costs on a number of different cards, such as the Mythos cards or Action cards. These can be played to either slowly increase the madness, or to suddenly go all-out and really spring the traps of the mansion!

Several of these cards do direct damage to the Investigators, and in true Arkham Horror-style, the Investigators can be both physically and mentally crippled over the course of the game. However, it’s not all shadowy-Keeper versus the Investigators, as there are a variety of monsters lurking in the dark places of the mansion, and the Keeper can use these to attack the Investigators head-on. Unlike in other Arkham-universe games, the monsters in Mansions of Madness are actual miniatures, though they also come with cardboard chits that slide into their bases for that classic Arkham Horror feel.

Mansions of Madness

The combat system in the game is card-based, which I seem to remember was somewhat in vogue around this time, with a few big games featuring cards rather than dice to resolve attacks. Dungeonquest has a similar kind of system, off the top of my head…

Mansions of Madness

So, rather than simply rolling dice and adding modifiers for strength, you determine what class of monster you’re attacking – humanoid (blue), beast (brown) or eldritch (green) and determine what weapon, if any, you’re using to go at it. You then draw cards from the appropriate deck until you find a card you can resolve – that is, a card that describes an attack with the type of weapon you’re using. There is still a dice element involved, as the cards will often ask you to test your Strength or something, but it’s overall a very different implementation of playing a board game.

You’ll no doubt notice that the cards above are split in two – this is because the same cards are used if an Investigator attacks a monster, or a monster attacks an Investigator. In my experience, it can be quite common for these decks to cycle through at least a couple of times over the course of a game, though subsequent expansions brought out more of them to add some variety!

Mansions of Madness

In addition to all of this, there is also an Event deck going on irrespective of what both Keeper and Investigators are up to in the mansion. This Event deck consists of five cards, one of which is drawn after a set number of turns has elapsed, and its effects are resolved by the Keeper based on the story choices he made during the set-up. In the Fall of House Lynch scenario, the Objective card is revealed when the fourth event card is drawn, and this Objective then determines what happens. It’s an interesting way to keep something of a timer on the game, ensuring that you don’t end up just endlessly wandering about durdling, but in all of the games that I’ve played, I have never felt like these cards got in the way of the flow of the game.

Indeed, the whole game in general just flows very smoothly. For sure, it flows much better if you have experienced players – particularly an experienced Keeper – but despite the weight of stuff in the core set box, it does actually feel quite streamlined and, dare I say, intuitive when you start playing. Don’t get me wrong, there are a bajillion moving parts in this game, and it can be something of a nightmare to deal with, but if you just sit back and immerse yourselves in the story, you will be rewarded beyond your imagination!

I hear that Second Edition has streamlined the game somewhat, not least by relegating the role of Keeper to an app. I thought it surprising the new edition finally added actual new Investigators to the pool of Arkham Horror denizens – Agatha Crane, Carson Sinclair and Father Mateo join the ranks of Harvey Walters, Jenny Barnes and “Ashcan” Pete! I was initially dismayed to learn that the Keeper had been removed, and it strikes me that the app feels more like playing a video game than a tabletop board game. I haven’t actually purchased the new edition, but I’m nevertheless intrigued as to whether the new Investigators will make the shift into those Arkham games that I do follow!

Interestingly, there was an article published on the FFG website earlier this year that talked about Mansions of Madness – and more broadly about Arkham games in general – and their family-friendly theme. It’s not something I’d thought about before, but these games can actually feel like a horror movie when done right. Is that the sort of thing you want to play through with your kids? Mansions of Madness has a rating of “ages 14+”, while Arkham Horror is 12+, which I’m really surprised by. Though I suppose the threat in the older game is somewhat more magical, whereas games of Mansions often involve blood-crazed maniacs trying to hack off your leg with an axe, and the like. There’s something more visceral, I suppose, and it can be quite terrifying to younger children if you have a good Keeper…

At any rate, I cannot recommend this game enough, certainly at this time of year!!

Upcoming Black Library goodness

I’ve made a return to the Horus Heresy series, and a short discussion on Twitter has got me looking ahead for more on the latest and upcoming Black Library offerings…

Oh my goodness, this thing has gotten my interest! The Devastation of Baal looks like it should be a really good book. Guy Haley does churn out some great fiction, of course, and I’m really keen to see how the new 8th Edition timeline is going to progress, so I’m looking forward to getting this next month!

I’m not the biggest Blood Angels fan, of course, but I did really enjoy the Shield of Baal series back in 2014/15, so if it gives off this kind of vibe, then I’m all for it!

Also – Space Marine Conquests? Is this another series of Space Marine-centric novels? If they have similarly amazing stories as the Devastation of Baal seems to be, then I’m all for it!

Sons of the Hydra, coming in January, sounds like it could be a really interesting book. An Alpha Legion soldier seeking redemption for his legion? I’m more intrigued than I can possibly say! Of course, I have an Alpha Legion army that is still something of a work in progress, and definitely hold a soft spot for the duplicitous sons of Alpharius. It’s one of the things that’s interesting me so much about Deliverance Lost right now.

There are still plenty of new books (and some not-so-new!) that I want to get round to, mainly that I’m waiting to arrive in paperback, top of that list being Ghost Warrior and Shroud of Night. It’s going to be a very busy winter!

Necromunda News!

Hey everybody!
I’m so excited to see the news about Necromunda from Spiel – pre-order date for the new boxed game is 11 November! I’m so looking forward to getting this game in my hot little hands!

Necromunda Underhive

It looks wonderful, anyway – GW have really been knocking it out of the park with their boxed games, and I can’t wait to see what this one is like. Should be a lot of fun, and I look forward to a whole slew of expansions and support for it with new gangs and – gasp! – maybe even the Adeptus Arbites, themselves! Let’s hope…

Adeptus Arbites

No longer Standard: Innistrad

Hey everybody!
There’s a distinctly horror-filled theme to game day blogs this month, as we approach ever-closer to Halloween and, today, I thought I’d share with you all a deck that I’ve built for Magic the Gathering that sees a lot of stuff I never thought I’d use in a deck! We’re headed to the plane of Innistrad, where vampires and werewolves prowl the night, and it’s all the people can do to invoke the angels to keep them from harm!

Innistrad

Innistrad block came out across 2011-12, and features the expansions Innistrad, Dark Ascension, and Avacyn Restored. As per usual, we had several new mechanics featured in the block, the most famous of which being the double-faced cards. These cards have no card back, but instead feature a day and night side, with text that describes the conditions under which the card turns from its day to its night side (and sometimes, night to day). The card never leaves the battlefield, so any auras or counters remain on that card after its transformation. The mechanic was predominantly used on human cards that transformed into werewolves, though there were a couple more instances (including a knife that turns into a demon).

This really serves to highlight the gothic horror theme of Innistrad, which is perhaps one of the most flavourful sets ever released for Magic the Gathering. There are predominantly five tribes explored over the cards in the set, each tribe belonging to an allied colour pair: the aforementioned werewolves in red and green; vampires in black and red; zombies in blue and black; spirits in white and blue, and humans in green and white.

Innistrad

Innistrad, as a horror-themed set, also featured graveyard mechanics such as Flashback (first seen back in Odyssey), as well as wider graveyard strategies in general. Morbid was a mechanic that granted creatures benefits if another creature died this turn. Dark Ascension continued the horror theme by giving us Undying cards, which triggers when a creature without +1/+1 counters on it dies, bringing the creature back with such a counter. Fateful Hour is an ability that triggers if your life total is 5 or less, often providing a last-minute boost for creatures in some way. Despite often being overlooked, I think this mechanic is one of my favourites purely for the theme!

Finally, Avacyn Restored brought more new mechanics, including Miracle, a card that could be cast for its Miracle cost if it is the first card drawn that turn – the card frame was changed slightly to show that the card was a Miracle card, and led to players doing that weird sliding the card across the playmat towards themselves to ensure the card didn’t hit their hand before they cast it. Soulbond allows you to pair a creature with another creature, and both of them get a specific ability as a result. Both mechanics featured across all colours except black, which saw a return of the Undying mechanic and an emphasis on controlling just one creature (as the opposite of Soulbond).

Innistrad block is widely said to be one of the best in Magic’s recent history, with many people praising the theme as well as the play environment. There are a lot of notable cards from the set, though perhaps overwhelmingly worth mentioning here is Liliana of the Veil, the second Liliana planeswalker card, and a card that is widely agreed to be the second most powerful planeswalker in the game.

MTG Liliana of the Veil

Sadly, I don’t have enough kidneys to sell to afford a Liliana of the Veil, so the deck I’ve been tinkering with for a while is centred instead on one of the Angel cards from Avacyn Restored: Bruna, Light of Alabaster.

Bruna, Light of Alabaster

Bruna is a blue/white angel who can draw all of the auras to herself from across the battlefield, graveyard and your hand whenever she attacks or blocks. It’s an interesting mechanic that I had originally given some thought to much earlier in the year – back when I was in my Commander phase, as it happens! I do like auras, despite the fact that you risk losing them all if the creature they’re stuck to dies, and have collected up quite a few across my collection. In addition to this, I wanted to try out making a deck that focuses on Humans, a tribe that I usually don’t bother with as I prefer the more fantastical creatures on offer! So, looking through my Magic collection at the Innistrad-block cards specifically, I came up with this deck as a sort of Angelic Humans blue-white aggro thing:

Creatures
Alabaster Mage
Bruna, Light of Alabaster
Captain of the Mists
Elgaud Shieldmate (2)
Goldnight Commander (2)
Goldnight Redeemer (2)
Gryff Vanguard (2)
Herald of War
Lunar Mystic
Nearheath Pilgrim (2)
Tandem Lookout
Thraben Valiant (2)
Veteran Armorsmith
War Priest of Thune

Enchantments & Artifacts
Angelic Accord
Call To Serve (2)
Divine Favor
Holy Strength (2)
Tricks of the Trade (2)
Scroll of Avacyn (2)

Instants & Sorceries
Break of Day (2)
Ghostform (2)
Glorious Charge (2)
Inspired Charge
Mass Appeal (2)
Skillful Lunge (2)

Land
Forbidding Watchtower
Glacial Fortress
Island (7)
Plains (8)
Seraph Sanctuary (2)

Bruna, Light of Alabaster

It’s nothing special, but there are some fun things going on there that make me happy, so I can’t complain too much! I do want to look at the mana base some more, and there are a few cards I’d like to include to further help the strategy (Champion of the Parish is top of that list!) But I thought I’d play with this thing first, and see where it takes me from there!

Innistrad is definitely one of those sets that has stood the test of time, with plenty of flavourful cards that I find myself coming back to time and again. Well, I do love me some vampires!!

Star Wars: Phasma (a review)

Hey everybody,
Yesterday, I finished reading the latest new canon novel in the Star Wars universe, Phasma. One of the new “Journey to The Last Jedi” books, the novel is very much in line with previous books that we’ve had in the run-up to The Force Awakens back in 2015, providing no real meat for the rumour-hungry, but just teasing tidbits for the new film.

Right then, time for a return to some #StarWars I think! #Phasma #TheLastJedi

A post shared by Mark (@marrrkusss) on

The book takes place somewhere around the same time period as last year’s Bloodline, with most of the book forming a frame story around Phasma’s past on the post-apocalyptic world of Parnassos. We meet Captain Cardinal, a stormtrooper tasked with training the children taken into the First Order’s ranks, as he interrogates the Resistance spy Vi Moradi. Moradi has been researching several high-ranking First Order personnel, which makes her the exact tool Cardinal needs to take down his hated rival, Captain Phasma.

Moradi’s tale is basically Phasma’s life, and is told through several extended sequences that are lightly dusted with a return to the interrogation. We see Phasma encounter General Brendol Hux after his ship crash-lands on Parnassos, and their trek across the desert to find it and thus salvation from the harsh world.

Once Cardinal thinks he has enough information that he can discredit Phasma as the poster-child for the First Order, he confronts first Armitage Hux, and then Phasma herself, with dire consequences.

I have to say, I was not really a fan of this book. For the most part, it felt like Mad Max, not Star Wars, and once I was done with it, having had some time to reflect, I really don’t think this is the sort of backstory that I wanted for Phasma. Sure, I’m not really sure what I did want, but I don’t think it would have been this.

This is really turning into a theme for me with these new canon novels of late. I think it boils down to the fact that we’ve had a number of years of new canon material now, and yet the universe still doesn’t exactly feel like a cohesive place, really. Part of this has to do with the fact that we’re still waiting for the new trilogy to resolve, of course, but I’ve read a good number of these things now, and I don’t feel at home within the universe as I used to. I don’t feel that I know anybody, or anywhere, or, really, anything.

I’m trying not to be negative about these novels, because I’m sure that a lot of work is going in, behind the scenes, to keep the narrative more focused than it ever was under Bantam, but at the same time, my expectations for new Star Wars novels have been reduced so much, I’m quite shocked that I’m even still buying them. (And don’t get me started on the comics!)

Now, don’t get me wrong, the story is a fine tale, and the concept of the framing device is quite interesting within Star Wars literature generally. My biggest gripe, I suppose, is that there’s still that air of expectation around the novel as there was with Aftermath; for sure, Phasma seems to be a major player in the next movie, so a book about her origins is bound to be a big-ticket item. There are some interesting slants on the First Order that we get later in the book, as well, but in the main this is the tale of how Phasma met Brendol Hux, and how she escaped her origins on a backwater world. Mad Max fans will possibly enjoy the feel, but even then, any story that involves a foot-slog across a desert is bound to get tedious after a while.

If they stay true to form, we’ll get a novel next spring/summer like Bloodline, which will vindicate the publishing programme and fill us in on several of the details that couldn’t be discussed before the new movie hits.

Which leaves me thinking – why not just publish different stories in the run-up to the new movies, if they’re not going to give us anything really meaningful?

Ghostmaker

Hey everybody!
Earlier this week, I finally finished reading my way through Ghostmaker, the second novel in the Gaunt’s Ghosts series. I won’t deny, it was a tough slog to get through this one in the end, not as good as the first, but get through it I did… let’s take a look…

Back to the Ghosts tonight! #Warhammer40k #GauntsGhosts

A post shared by Mark (@marrrkusss) on

The novel is set on the world of Monthax, as the Ghosts are preparing to fight another onslaught of Chaos Cultists. However, the actual story of this action doesn’t really begin until about 100 pages from the end. The majority of the novel is taken up with reminiscences from several key members of the regiment, tied together with a couple of pages of Gaunt walking the trenches and reassuring his men on the eve of battle.

We get to see Gaunt arrive on Tanith for the founding ceremony, and the Chaos invasion that ultimately destroyed the world. We see extended flashbacks from Major Rawne, Mkoll, Larkin, Corbec, and others, which somehow manage to interweave among each other as well as helping to inform the final story section, where the Ghosts storm a ruined building on Monthax and find a small group of Eldar from Craftworld Dolthe, who are trying to seal a webway portal to which the Chaos cultists are so desperate to gain access.

While the structure of a series of reminiscences like this is quite a tried and tested formula for telling a story, I found that it irritated me the longer it went on in this particular instance. I generally don’t read the synopses on the backs of novels like this, but had somehow caught sight of the fact that the Ghosts were going up against the Eldar, and so was looking forward to seeing that – as a result, every time I read about something else, I felt somehow cheated by it. The book isn’t a bad one, and fans of the series no doubt will appreciate the character portraits that emerge as we get to see more of individual Ghosts, but I felt that the endless flashbacks got in the way of a story that I wanted to read.

And that’s the great shame about Ghostmaker, for me. I know that, ultimately, the novel isn’t really about the Tanith vs Eldar battle, but the final chapter that actually details the fight is actually really interesting, and I wish that there had been some way of peppering these flashbacks into the narrative while throwing the focus instead on the “present” story.

I think I might have another break before making it on to Necropolis, anyway!

Ambush!

Hey everybody!
It’s my 700th blog post! Crikey!

This isn’t really going to be a very long post, but it’s going to be an exciting one, all the same! See, I’ve been doing a bit of an inventory of my Warhamer kits that are waiting to be built, and while I’m continually shocked at just how much plastic I have waiting for me to get round to it, I think that everything I have is fairly necessary. I mean, of course, that I don’t really have an odd kit for an army that I don’t really collect. I have a lot of things that I’ve not really managed to properly do much of anything with yet, like Space Marines, and I have a lot of stuff for well-established armies such as Necrons and Dark Eldar. And I have bits and pieces for the combined Militarum Tempestus/Adeptus Mechanicus list that I’m working on, along with some pieces for a Genestealer Cults army that has been on my mind for about a year now…

Genestealer Cults progress

It’s this last army that I want to talk about briefly today. I’ve got a bunch of kits, along with the stuff from Deathwatch Overkill, that has been in varying stages of completion for quite some time now. I know the colour scheme that I want to use, both on the mining Cultists and the guardsmen Cultists, and I have a vague idea for including a detachment of Tyranids in with them now that I’ve been delving into Index: Xenos 2, but it’s finding the time to work out a proper army list that is proving to be difficult right now!

So far, I’ve decided that I want to have a core of actual Genestealer Cultists for the army, and I’m probably looking at a Battalion detachment, given the number of HQ units that I’ll be doing for these chaps. My big plan is to then have waves of Neophyte Hybrids much like in the picture above, though on a much larger scale. I think I want to get at least two more boxes of these guys – to add to the one box I bought last year, and the contents of Overkill.

Incidentally – how good are the contents of Overkill for starting a GSC army?! According to my calculations, the total points cost for the models you get in the box, for 8th Edition, is 809 points. Now, that does assume a squad of 5 purestrain genestealers, and not the four that are supplied, but it’s otherwise a very good start to the army. I was initially a bit bummed that GSC don’t yet have a Start Collecting box for the faction, but I actually feel that Overkill is such a good place to start, it’s a lot better than a Start Collecting box will be. Though, you don’t get any transports in the boxed game, of course.

Anyway!

I then have a sort of secondary plan to use the Acolyte Hybrids probably in a separate detachment with an Acolyte Iconward. However, I found it quite interesting when working out the points values for the squad of Acolytes that I had built up last year:

The squad that I built up just over 12 months ago now works out at 106 points, by my reckoning – with the weapons forming almost half of that cost. Now, I have 5-man troop squads that have quite a high cost, and something I’ve been thinking about when building my Imperium army has been keeping the cost down in order to get more bodies on the ground, so I’m surprised at just how expensive these things can turn out to be.

The modular flavour of building a 40k army is something that I really enjoy, and drilling down to that level of precisely what I can kit out my guys with is always a lot of fun for me. Especially given how restrictive my first army, Necrons, can be! So I don’t think I’m ever going to go for a boring, basic squad, but I do feel somewhat bad about including such expensive wargear in just one squad!

(I’ve lost some of my miniatures in moving house, and currently can’t find the Neophytes that I had built prior to the move. Once I do, I’m planning to write up a proper “My First Genestealer Cult Army” style blog, so stay tuned for that!)

The Tyranid detachment is something that I’m very much looking forward to adding, as it’ll finally give me the impetus I need to get painting these chaps! I love the look of the Zoanthropes, and have been looking forward to getting them done for a while now. I’ve been thinking about adding these in a Vanguard detachment, just because there are more Elite units of Tyranids that I want to add to the army than anything else. I definitely want to build up my Maleceptor for the list, and add some Venomthropes (along with a Toxicrene in the heavy support slot). It would be more thematic, however, to build the list around a Broodlord and Genestealers, which are troops in the Index, so I suppose the idea of concentrating on a Vanguard because of the Elites really isn’t quite so limiting.

Genestealer Cult

Anyway, I thought this blog would be a short one, but clearly not! Tyranids and Genestealer Cultists always intrigue me greatly around this time of year, so I expect to be talking about them more as the autumn goes on. Thanks for making it this far through the post, and here’s to the next 700!