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!!

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

Cthulhu on the horizon!

Hey everybody!
It’s game day here at spalanz.com, and today I want to talk about some of the news from FFG about new Cthulhu-themed games coming on the horizon that I’ve only recently had the time to digest (the new Star Wars trailer dropping has primarily been responsible for my tardiness here!) So let’s kick off the Halloween season with a look at the next big box expansion for Eldritch Horror: Masks of Nyarlathotep!

Masks of Nyarlathotep

This was an expansion that was both entirely expected, and yet completely blew me away with the announcement last week. I mean, for sure we would be getting Nyarlathotep in the game soon enough – it’s a Cthulhu mythos game, what would it be without the wearer of a thousand masks? But I had entirely been expecting to see him in a small-box expansion, with some specific Mask monsters, and nothing more than that. Oh, how wrong I was!

Masks of Nyarlathotep introduces a campaign mode of play to Eldritch Horror, and currently we only have a few lines towards the end of the announcement that tell us what is involved here:

When taking on a Campaign, players will need to win multiple games, with consequences and benefits carrying over to the next game after each threat is sealed away from the world. If stopping any single Ancient One seems an impossible task, can the investigators possibly hope to succeed as these otherworldly beings attack one after another?

However, earlier in the article we learn that there are several cults springing up across the world, each seeming to worship a different entity, and it’s up to the investigators to stop them. While my first thoughts about campaign play were that we could play games using different expansions, and they would all somehow feature into this mode, I think rather it will be implemented as more self-contained within this box. I’m going to guess, then, that this expansion won’t have a new sideboard, but instead will just be choc-full of cards that allow for several different gameplay experiences, maybe even mini-Ancient Ones like the Heralds from Arkham Horror, all of which will add up to some climactic endgame against Nyarlathotep himself. Nyarlathotep will still appear as a more regular AO if you want to just play a straight game with him involved, but for the campaign mode he’s probably going to have some kind of mechanic that makes him stronger the more Mask villains we don’t defeat, or something.

We’ll see in Q1, 2018!

Omens of the Pharaoh

The next bit of news I was really happy to see was the new Elder Sign expansion, Omens of the Pharaoh!

Have you played Elder Sign: Omens? It’s a pretty good re-interpretation of the card game for Android/iOS, and features an expansion based on the sinister goings-on in Egypt. The Dark Pharaoh, Nephren-ka, has already made it into Eldritch Horror of course, and now he’s making his malevolent presence felt here, too!

I really like how the new mode for Elder Sign has allowed games to move out of the museum. Don’t get me wrong, I still love the classic game where you’re wandering the deserted exhibits at night, but Omens of Ice was an incredibly flavourful (and difficult!) game, and while I still haven’t managed to get round to Omens of the Deep, I’m sure that will also be a delight.

Whoever made the connection between having locations to explore inside a museum, and locations in a more general sense, should definitely feel a deep sense of pride at that achievement!

Adding the Egyptian horror feel to this game is definitely something to be pleased about, as it’s a classic setting for the mythos, though if we’ve already had the frozen Alaskan wilderness, the deep sea and now Egypt, I wonder whether this line of ‘Omens of’ expansions can continue for much longer? I’m guessing there will be an Amazonian jungle (or some kind of tropical theme) expansion at some point, but then what?

FFG’s Lovecraftian games are always a true delight, and I cannot wait to add both of these games to my collection when they arrive early next year!

No time for games?

Hey everybody,
It’s another game day here at spalanz.com, and today I thought I’d deviate from the norm, and ramble a little more than usual in what may turn out to be a shorter blog. It’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, at any rate, so why not!

Long-term readers of this blog, aside from being a handsome bunch, will no doubt be aware of the fact that I moved house recently. I actually bought a house, which itself is something of an achievement, of course! But it comes with a lot of attendant responsibility, naturally, and the particular house that I’ve moved to has been in need of a little work. It’s not falling apart, but it’s not how I’d like it, you know? Anyway. I guess my energy has been channeled into that, leaving me with very little time for anything else.

It may be that increased sense of responsibility, or the increased financial responsibility if nothing else, but I’m finding myself with no real time – and crucially, no real inclination – to play games. In the couple of months since I started packing up my life, I’ve managed three games of Warhammer 40k, which in itself, is an intriguing achievement, but nothing else.

new games

Part of the reason for this, I feel, is that I’m still getting the measure of the new place, and where I can do things. The dining table that I used to play on, which used to be sat in front of a window in my old flat, is now in a comparatively darker corner, and doesn’t lend itself well to long gaming sessions.

In a recent effort to combat this, however, I bought myself The Dreamlands expansion for Eldritch Horror, which has of course been out for a number of months now, but which I hadn’t yet managed to pick up. I thought, getting myself something I’d thought about for a while, for a game that I do very much enjoy, might bring me out of this gaming funk. However, after a week sat at the top of my stairs, I’ve now put it away with the other expansions for that game, largely unlooked-at. It’s a similar story with Path to Carcosa, which I’d picked up the other week in an effort to kick-start my campaign idea for the Arkham Horror LCG, but which has also remained unopened since I bought it.

I suppose this could well just be me over-reacting to a temporary situation, as I try to readjust to the new surroundings and stuff. I do have walls to paint and a kitchen to replace, and have been spending more time at DIY stores than I have been with games, but once the house is more to my liking, I’d guess I’ll be back to it. I’m having some vague ideas about trying to get my girlfriend into playing some games, so that could also be an opening.

The new Magic set, Ixalan, is releasing on Friday, and while I’ve been a bit out of things during the last few months with Amonkhet block going on, I have perked up some more at the thought of vampires and pirates and dinosaurs all running around, so if nothing else, I’m hopeful that I can get some more decks built and see some more cards played!

I’m very curious as to how long this situation is going to last, at any rate…

I’m back!

Well folks, it’s been a roller-coaster of a time, moving house with all manner of internet problems, but I’m now back!

Been taking a look around at what I’ve missed, and blimey! There’s so much good stuff! I don’t really know where to start, but I’ve just noticed this, take a look!

It’s the miniatures game I’d been hoping for back when FFG had the licence. Imperial Assault is good, don’t get me wrong, but I always enjoyed Star Wars Miniatures back in the day, and this looks like it could be similar!

Oh my god, you guys – it’s Necromunda! Obviously, I wasn’t in on this back when it was first came out in the 90s, but after all of the hype back when Shadow War Armageddon came out, I got interested in the older game. And lo! The classic is now coming back. Exciting times! The minis previewed on the Warhammer Community website don’t really look all that great, though, I have to admit – I think it’s probably more to do with the paint job, of course… I guess we’ll see!

I need to take a look at the rest of the stuff I’ve missed over the last couple of weeks… Hope you’ve all been having an excellent summer so far!

Battlelore!

Hey everybody!
It’s part two of my game day blog special thing, looking at two games on the Battlelore system. Following last week’s look at Battles of Westeros, it’s time to take a look at the fantasy version, Battlelore itself!

Battlelore

The second edition of the game, Battlelore came out late in 2013. Set in the same universe as the hugely popular Runebound, but featuring the factions that we’ve all come to expect from Terrinoth in this post-Runewars age, the game pits the human Daqan Lords against the abominable Uthuk Y’llan. The game is a pretty strategic tabletop wargame, and prior to the launch of the Runewars miniatures game earlier this year, I’d have said it was probably the premier such game from Fantasy Flight.

If you’ve read my Battles of Westeros blog from last week, you’ll have a fair idea for what to expect from this game, as well. I think Battlelore is the more enjoyable game, in part because the fantasy theme elevates it somewhat from the gritty battles in the earlier game. There are also a number of different elements changed in Battlelore that make it just more interesting, to me! Let’s take a look at some of them now.

Battlelore

The system is of course going to be similar to BoW, so it should be no surprise that there is a Command Card system that is used as the main mechanic. You order your troops about the field by selecting from a hand of cards, and then over the course of the round those orders are carried out. That does make it sound quite simplistic, of course, and I think it’s important to note that there is a tremendous amount of strategy involved here, as you try to ensure you manoeuvre your troops into the best possible position.

Battlelore

The troops have similar-looking cards to those in BoW, but I just want to talk a moment about the deployment here. The game also comes with those smaller cards shown at the bottom of the above picture. These deployment cards all have the same back, and at the start of the game you pick these cards out and place them in the hexes on your side of the board face-down. There are also Decoy cards, so an element of bluffing is introduced as to where your big threats actually are.

There is also a really cool element to both army building and scenario generation for the game. Similar to BoW, there are scenarios to play through, though rather than having the prescriptive feel of Westeros, here the scenario is generated by players each taking a scenario card, which shows one half of the battlefield board, and marks out their deployment zone as well as detailing victory conditions. It’s a really interesting way to ensure the game feels fresh whenever you play.

Additionally, armies are generated by a points-based system. Those small deployment cards show the points of each unit as a “muster value” in the bottom-left corner. Armies are generally costed up to 50 points, and the game comes with a few suggestions for each of the factions within.

 

Battlelore

So how does combat work?

Well, there are fancy dice that you throw, the number of dice being equal to the attack value (in the red circle) of the attacking unit. The dice have sword symbols for melee attacks, and bullseye symbols for ranged attacks, and for each hit you score, you remove a model from the unit. Each unit in Battlelore also has special abilities that can take place during combat, adding to these basic mechanics. It makes combat fairly straightforward overall, anyway!

If that’s the battle, what about the lore?

Battlelore

The dice also have a weird diamond symbol on them, which is the lore symbol. This allows you to gain one lore token – these tokens are then used to play Lore cards that can have different effects over the course of the game. Each faction has their own distinct deck, which allows for the theme to come through quite strongly here. As you can see in the picture above, the cards show when they can be played, but there is still a very strong element of strategic depth to how you use these effects over the course of a game.

In a fairly broad nutshell, that’s it! Battlelore is not the sort of game that I get to play a lot, primarily I think because of the wargame aspect it has. Similar story to Battles of Westeros, really! However, it is a great deal of fun to play, and there have been a good deal of expansions to the game over the last four years, from “Reinforcement Packs” that feature a single miniature that you can draft into your army, to the Undead faction released back in 2015. The symmetry with Runewars has been off for a while of course, as we still haven’t had the Latari Elves released for the game – and now that the Runewars miniatures game has landed with such force, it has me wondering what the future of Battlelore will be. I can’t claim to have any insider knowledge, of course, but anecdotal evidence seems to be supporting the idea that Runewars miniatures game is selling well, perhaps due to its appeal to the disenfranchised Warhammer Fantasy players. Given the fact that Runewars miniatures and Battlelore have such close parallels as to almost be the same game, it makes me wonder if we’ll actually see any further support for it, or if instead the game will just quietly sit in the inventory as Runewars had been for so many years before it.

I suppose only time will tell on that front!

Battles of Westeros

Hey everybody!
It’s game day here at spalanz.com, and this week is the first in a two-part series that takes a look at a pair of fairly similar games from Fantasy Flight, tabletop wargames that use a hex-based map the players fight over. This week, we’re going to Westeros!

Battles of Westeros

Battles of Westeros was published in 2010 by Fantasy Flight, as “A Battlelore Game”, and uses a lot of the mechanics from the earlier, fantasy-based game. Set in the now-iconic universe of George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, players take the armies of Stark and Lannister to bloody combat across a series of scenarios that recreate some of the climactic battles of the novel series.

The scenario-based system means that you get to play different games each time you play, as the victory conditions are always changing. There is, of course, also the option of a Skirmish game that allows for less-prescriptive games. The system is fairly straightforward, with one side needing to secure objectives and such, and the gameplay tends to be uncluttered, allowing you to focus more on strategy than rules.

Each game round has four phases: rally, order, marshalling, and regroup. Rallying the troops is basically refreshing all of those units that have acted already in your last turn. Ordering the troops is where you dish out the orders for the coming battle; Marshalling is where those orders happen, such as movement and combat; and finally Regroup is the cleanup step where you check for victory and the like.

Battles of Westeros

The army you choose will give you a choice of Commanders you can play, as shown above. Commanders have some powerful in-game mechanics, and always come with a group of bodyguard units. Jaime Lannister comes with Lannisport Guard, for example, so he will take up one slot in the Guard’s grouping when deployed. His abilities, however, will usually affect the whole army, and not just the army unit he’s with. For example, Commanders have a one-use “commit” ability that is quite powerful, but can only be used once in the game before the card is flipped over. Jaime’s commit ability affects all of the units adjacent to him whenever he captures an enemy Commander, while his regular ability only affects the unit he’s in.

In addition, Commanders come with a suite of Leadership cards that are added to your deck at the start of the game. These Leadership cards form something of the meat of the game. Usually, a card will have one ability that will require you to spend tokens to use them (Jaime Lannister has three such tokens to spend per turn, denoted in the bottom-right of his card). These cards are used during the Order phase to give your army direction for the coming turn. The Commander’s Leadership cards, however, have multiple choices on them, providing for greater tactical flexibility over the course of the game.

Battles of Westeros

The combat system is notable for using 8-sided dice (a precursor to X-Wing). Each unit is colour-coded, from the most basic infantry troops (green), to the middle-guys (blue), and finally the elite units (red). There are more green symbols on these dice than red, naturally, and in order to roll a successful hit against a unit, the dice need to match that unit’s colour. Additionally, green units roll 2 dice, while red units roll 4 dice, so while it is possible to defeat an elite unit with your chumps, it can be a slog. However, it is also possible to roll a Valor symbol, which is a bit like a wild card and will cause a hit no matter what colour of unit you’re attacking. Of course, the very chumpiest of infantry have a further restriction that denies them this ability, but it does mean you have more of a chance than you might think.

The dice also have the potential to cause Morale hits, which force the unit to retreat one hex. this can be important as some units can Counterattack if they survive the first round of melee combat. When hits are resolved, one model from the unit is removed for each hit, so you can potentially wipe out a unit, which causes a Morale loss for the army overall. If your House’s morale gets too low, your army will flee the battlefield immediately. Importantly, Commanders are not removed as casualties in this way, but instead have a “capture rating”, denoting the number of hits that must be done to them in a single round of combat once all other models in the Commander’s unit have been removed as casualties. Captured Commanders are removed from the board, and their abilities can no longer be used.

Battles of Westeros is a really fun and engaging game, and will appeal especially to fans of the books looking to get something deep out of a board game. It does use a lot of elements of the traditional war game, of course, such as morale and line of sight, and games tend to take around 2 hours to get through, so it will likely appeal to pretty dedicated folks! I had a lot of fun playing this game back in the day, though as other games have taken over my game nights in recent years, its long set-up and play times meant that BoW became relegated to the point where I eventually sold it all last year. Which was a shame, as it’s a really great game.

The game has been kinda languishing in FFG’s inventory for a while, however, with no new expansions since 2012’s House Baratheon box. While they have launched the LCG in a second edition, I think Cool Mini Or Not’s upcoming miniatures game will likely mean that Battles of Westeros has seen its time in the sun…