Sunday, June 10, 2012

Mansions of Madness

MANSIONS OF MADNESS

by Fantasy Flight Games

Published in 2011

First, I must issue a heavy SPOILER WARNING. Mansions of Madness is an extremely story-driven game, with pre-designed stories. If you read this post, one of the game stories will be revealed to you in some extent.

Ah, the Cthulhu Mythos!
As you may have read from my previous reviews, I very much enjoy Mythos, and some great games have been made into that universe.
Mansions of Madness is yet another Cthulhu Mythos game, but with quite a different approach than the others I have played. In this game the horror is much subtler, the location much smaller, and the theme even stronger than in the previous games.
And Cthulhu himself only appears on the side of the game box!


Rules of MoM also differ quite a lot from... let's say Arkham Horror. While in AH the Great Old One threatening Arkham could be considered as an unknown entity for the investigators and the townspeople, in MoM the goals, and the story behind it, are unknown for the players as well.
So MoM is more than just reading through flavor texts and defeating monsters, it's about investigating a single, confined location and uncovering a terrible secret of Mythos-like proportions.



At this point, those of you who are familiar with Mansion of Madness knows very well that this game is NOT a solo game. Indeed, one of the players is needed to play the Keeper - the malignant force behind the evil occurrences, trying to kill or otherwise harm the investigators. The Keeper player plays against the Investigator players, and the Keeper knows information that the Investigator players must gradually find out.

Player-made solo variants exist, but I decided to make my own. And so I did, spending some considerable time in creating it, I might add. I think the results are satisfactory, as I can say that I have genuinely enjoyed playing the solo games.
But still, I want to emphasize: We are talking about a game that definitely should be played with at least 2 players, even if a decent solo game is also possible.

But now I'll begin telling the story. Some of the writings here are re-phrased (but not copied) from the game texts.
------------

The Hale-Brighton University for young women has been plaqued by strange technical difficulties. This old, dark structure, originally built to serve as an army fort, had fallen into disrepair when Dr. Patricia McBride, an alumna of the school made a generous donation for the school. Due to her help, the school's science building -  The McBride Science Building - is now equipped with the latest of technology, as well as with the most efficient heat, water and electricity systems.
That's where the investigators come in. Even after the installment of all this new technology, the heating of the science building can't seem to fight against the growing cold of Kingsport's autumn weather. Also, the freezer for the laboratory stopped working, ruining the specimens inside. Lights flicker, and terrible noises are heard from within the plumbing appliances...

Dr. McBride has requested the help of two well-known Mythos investigators:

 Professor Harvey Walters, a devotee of the archaic and obscure, has agreed to offer his vast knowledge and experience to get to the bottom of these strange occurrences. Though old and frail, this old student of the Arcane is rumored to know dangerous and horrible spells, which he can launch upon anything that would threaten him with violence...

Jenny Barnes, a fearless and capable young woman, constantly looking for her lost sister, is eager to tackle each and every occult occurrence she can find. Should she run into something malicious, her trusty automatic pistols will help her to get out of any dangerous situation...


And here they are now. The science building's dark and threatening observatory tower looms against the darkening sky, as the head of the school's science department, Professor Helena Detaigne, leads the investigators towards the entrance.
She tells that the main complaint had been about the growing cold inside the building... The furnace room seems like a logical place to start. The Investigators enter the building and find themselves in a fancy old gallery...

THE INVESTIGATIONS BEGIN:


Professor Walters sees a door to a small closet-like room. Going inside, he searches around in what he determines is just a coat room for the gallery. A sturdy suitcase with a combination lock is found.
The Professor begins picking the lock, but the device is of surprising complexity, and refuses to open up...


Jenny ventures forward, and exits the gallery into a hallway leading through the science building. Suddenly the lights in that particular part of the corridor go out, and Jenny is left in an almost impenetrable darkness!


Through considerable effort, Harvey gets the suitcase open. Inside, there is only a one item: A human skull with two long needles pierced through it to lock its jaws closed! As an expert of occult, Walters immediately senses that this artifact possesses inexplicable powers...
Taking the skull with him, he leaves the coat room and hurries after Ms. Barnes.


Barnes, eager to leave the dark corner behind, opens a door that leads to another part of the corridor and continues her search for the furnace room...



... and the darkness follows her! It's like if the building wants to keep her in darkness, lest she sees something she shouldn't.








Mr. Walters enters the first dark corridor. But as he can't find Barnes there, he decides to check a door to his left.
A bathroom... The only thing that catches his interest is a large, locked cabinet against the wall. After quickly examining the lock, the Professor decides that it can't be picked like the suitcase. No, a key is needed this time.


Jenny hurries forward, as if trying to outrun the darkness! Then something happens: Loud popping are heard and both the corridor and the bathroom in which Harvey is, are plunged into darkness - the electrical systems have suffered a catastrophic failure, and Harvey's skin is singed by the flying sparks!
Something evil is surely present, or could all this just be a coincidence..?


Jenny takes a door to her right, as per the instructions given by Prof. Detaigne. This corridor should lead to the furnace room.

She finds an axe from the table... Seeing how the atmosphere gets more threatning by the minute, Jenny decides to pick it up.




Harvey leaves the bathroom to catch up with Jenny, but he can't spot her in the almost pitch-black corridor. Suddenly he feels an uncontrollable urge to start examining the eerie skull more closely. A burst of insight hits the Professor, and he feels his luck changing to better! Somehow the skull has given him more confidence to succeed in whatever he tries...


Jenny on the other hand is not surprised when the side corridor she's in also plunges into darkness. Not surprised, but this time genuinely frightened! She refuses to deny it any more; there is something very wrong in this building.


Harvey enters the first door he finds, and discovers it leading to the laboratory. A book on the laboratory table beckons him... The Professor picks it up and starts reading, but on its pages are nothing but sickening blackness!

Horrified, the Professor drops the book from his hands.


Jenny reaches the door to the furnace room. It's jammed, but she manages to force it open without much trouble.


Inside, she finds a brass key and a note, written by one of the students and addressed to a someone called Amelia. The brief note tells a location of another, apparently more important note hidden in the bathroom.
Forgetting all about the ineffective furnace, Jenny turns to leave the room... but the door behind her slams shut!


Harvey crosses the laboratory and enters another door. This one leads to an operating room of sorts... It looks quite unclean, there is blood on the operating table!
Upon searching the room, he finds another curious artifact; an enormous red ruby. The professor reacognizes it - this is something called the "Ruby of R'lyeh", a magical item from the fabled sunked city or R'lyeh, where the Great Priest Cthulhu waits dreaming...


Barnes, who finds the idea of being trapped inside a haunted furnace room quite unsettling, begins opening the closed... no, locked door! The door indeed is locked now, but with some effort, she manages to pick the lock and leave the room.
And just in time too! Fire shoots out from the furnace, engulfing the room in flames! A close call...


Harvey experiences something very strange; for he cannot find any doors out from the operating room! Not even the one he used to come in! His intellectual mind refuses to believe that this can be, but his occult side accepts the truth - where there previously was a door, now a seamless wall continues.
There seems to be nothing he can do but to wait for the phenomenon to pass...


Jenny runs back along the dark corridor, towards the bathroom, eager to see what the student has left inside.






Light in the operating room goes out. Trapped inside the dark, frightening room, the Professor again finds himself studying the skull...
And again he find solace from it. He feels it was an excellent idea to pick it up, even if it looks somewhat unnerving.


Suddenly the doors are there again. Harvey feels like he should quickly leave the room, but before finding his way back to the main corridor, he decides to check the freezer. It's completely dark, and the only usable-looking item there is a crowbar, which Harvey picks up.


Jenny runs to the dark bathroom, and begins to look for the cabinet, which her key would undoubtedly open. After stumbling around a bit, she finds it and opens it. Another, silvery key is found from inside, along with another note.
This second note to Amelia tells about the old tower. The mysterious writer seems to think that strange whispers can be heard from the original old fort, and that she has found a way to get in there - from above, through the ominous tower. The answer to all the mysteries could be found from there, she writes.
Horrible plans of some evil creatures are also mentioned...


Suddenly Professor Helena Detaigne's voice calls from the library "Welcome, fools!".
Is she behind all the mystery? Her voice sounds malignant and an unearthly aura of magic emanates from her...

Mr. Walters comes back to the hallway, and heads to the direction of the voice. Barnes runs after him.


The persistent darkness spreads and now consumes the other end of the hallway too. Harvey stumbles and gets stunned.
Nursing his sore ankle, he enters through the door that leads to the study. The library should be behind the next door...

Jenny, with her pistols drawn, runs along the hallway to reach the Professor.


Walters quickly examines the study, only to find yet another power failure. The room goes dark, but this time the reason seems to be purely technical. Harvey starts to repair the exposed wiring, in order to restore the lights.




Jenny - knowing that the Professor is more than capable of taking care of himself - decides to begin exploring the tower.
The door to the stairs is found at the end of the corridor, and Jenny hurries through it, and up the stairs. She finds herself in a messy attic loft.



Harvey fixes the electricity in the study. With the light on, he finds an interesting book. A diary that once seemed to belong to a someone named Whateley. Harvey has heard of one Whateley who used to live in Dunwich...
Without spending too much time with the diary right now, he then tries to open the door to the library, meaning to confront Professor Detaigne. The door, however, refuses to open. Harvey feels magical powers pulsing around the door, and he instantly knows that no amount of physical force could get the door open... A magical phrase is needed instead.


Jenny pays no mind to the attic, and its contents, but rather continues to find another set of stairs. She starts climbing them towards the tower room. Footsteps can be heard from inside!


At the top the staircase, a locked door is encountered, but the silver key from the bathroom fits into the lock. Jenny opens the door and enters the tower room. Helena Detaigne is present! A ladder goes down through the floor, apparently leading to the library. The sight of magically infused Detaigne causes Jenny to panic, and she runs out of the room, back to the stairs.

Meanwhile, Harvey also reaches the stairs to the attic. He heard Jenny's scream from upstairs.



Then Mythos breaks loose! A Mi-Go, horrifying, flying, crab-like creature from Yuggoth and beyond appears from the air vent in attic.




Harvey stumbles upstairs, and is caught by the monster. In a heat of the moment, he casts a Shriveling-spell at the Mi-go. Harvey feels that something goes wrong with the incantation, but it seems to have effect anyway; the creature's skin starts to boil!
The sight is so horrible, that the troubled mind of Harvey Walters will probably never forget it... The Ruby of R'lyeh suddenly activates and seems to slow down the time itself! With great haste, Harvey browses through the Whateleys diary and learns another spell from it...


Jenny hears what is going on downstairs, and runs to help the Professor. The mere sight of the monster deeply shocks her, but she approaches it anyway. Drawing both of her pistols she opens fire, but the bizarre physique of the creature baffles her - where should she try to hit it, where is its heart? She fires, but the Mi-Go seems to take no further damage.



Another Mi-Go appears from the vent! Jenny is fast losing her mind, she feels claustrophobia creeping at the back of her ravaged consciousness.

And Harvey's situation looks extremely grave, as both of the monsters are circling arond him...







The Mi-Go lunge at the Professor. The one that got its skin boiled by Harvey's spell bites a big chunk of flesh out of his arm (the crowbar falls to the floor), while the other one slashes him in his back with one of its appendages.
Blood spills on the floor and Harvey suffers a severe back injury.


Harvey, barely alive, casts another Shriveling spell at the previously unharmed monster. The spell works and the creature is covered in boils. It falls down to the floor, still alive but obviously in terrible condition.
AND then the Ruby of R'lyeh activates again, allowing Harvey to cast another spell, the one learned from the old diary.
This spell forms a vicious binding around the first Mi-Go. The binding both crushes the creature, and renders it immobile.

Both of the unearthly monsters are still alive, but the investigators may get out of this yet!

Jenny sees her opportunity arise, and run to take a point-blank shot at the Mi-Go still convulsing on the floor from the effects of Shriveling. The high-caliber bullets do their job, and the critter moves no more...


The attic loft suddenly plunges into darkness!

And to make matters worse, the remaining Mi-Go shrugs off the binding. The threat is not over yet...


Harvey tries to finish the Mi-Go off with yet another spell. He chooses to cast the binding spell again, but the Mi-Go evades the binding.
But then Jenny, her pistols reloaded again, shoots. The room is painted with the creature's odd blood, and then everything is quiet.


Now that the most imminent threat is over, there is only one more thing to do: Kill Helena Detaigne!
She must be the reason for why these alien monsters were here, and for that, she mustn't be allowed to live.


Knowing that the elusive woman is still either in the library, or in the tower room, the investigators decide to approach her from two directions; Jenny climbs the tower and then down the ladder into the library itself, while Harvey goes to the study, behind the magical door to make sure that she won't escape through there.


Harvey finds the witch from the study. He proceeds to cast Shriveling at her, but again the spell has unforeseen side-effects: The woman's skin bursts to flames, setting the room on fire!
Then, before retreating from the burning room, he casts the binding at Helena. The binding works, immobilizing her, though this time in a much gentler way than with the alien.


Jenny quickly searches the tower room, and finds a piece of paper with a magical phrase on it - the phrase that lifts the magical lock from the library door. She climbs down to the library and feels the heat from behind the door...


Harvey's binding holds Detaigne in place, while the burning floor slowly starts to burn her flesh... It's like  the Middle Ages again.






After taking a deep breath, Harvey enters the burning study again, only to cast another set of spells upon the doomed witch. Yet another binding is cast, and the fearsome Shriveling rots Detaigne's flesh at a molecular level!
The sight is horrible, and even the strong mind of Harvey Walters will not be able to take all the horror for much longer. A newfound nyctophobia - the fear of darkness - sets itself in Harvey's mind.


Jenny unwaveringly walks through the door from the library, and enters the study - now filled with smoke. Crazed by the flames and the suffering witch, she shoots at her, but the bullet only grazes her shoulder.


Once again, Harvey dives into the study, and casts his spells. No longer is the witch able to withstand the damage caused by Harvey's magic, and she falls - dead - to the burning floor.


...and upon discovering that their ally is gone, the huge swarm of Mi-Go that had been hiding around the building take flight and leave Earth... for now.




Afterwards, upon searching the library, two metal cylinders are found. The cylinders were labeled "Jessica" and "Amelia".
The contents of these cylinders... are best left unmentioned!

THE CONCLUSION:

A nice story! I even succeeded in winning the game, which doesn't happen all that often. In Mansions of Madness, and especially in my solo variant of it, some stories are much harder to beat than the others.

To bring some highlights up, I found a very nice combo in this game: The Professor's Shriveling + Bind Monster + Ruby of R'lyeh! I'm quite certain I wouldn't have been able to kill the Mi-Go without it.
Also the final "fight" against the witch was pretty cool, even if the witch didn't actually get to fight back.

Mansions of Madness is a game of very high quality components, strong visual and thematic value, and a quite unique way of giving the players an actual sense of exploration and horror.
The game contains many very innovative ideas - for example I like the combat system which is very fast and easy, and while it is luck-based, it fits the theme of the game very well with its flavor texts and sometimes quite surprising outcomes.
Also many things are featured, that weren't used in this game; like hiding from monsters and barring doors.

All and all I think that Mansions of Madness is more of an experience, than it is a game. An interactive experience of horror in the Cthulhu Mythos.

RATING:  10 /10

SOLO RATING:  8 /10

I wanted to give 10 as the solo rating, that's how much I enjoyed playing this story. But as said before, Mansions of Madness can only be played solo with some extensive solo variation rules, and the game definitely loses a lot without an actual Keeper player.
So with that in mind, a solo rating 8 is really high for a game that isn't meant to be played solo at all.

But overall, MoM is one of the very best games I've ever heard of, and I hope that more games like this will begin appearing.
A game about investigators, where the players will actually have to investigate.

The files for the solo variant used in this game can be found from here:
http://boardgamegeek.com/filepage/79642/another-solo-variant-automated-keeper

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