Disclaimer: This game is one of my favourite games of all time so this review may be slightly biased :P. I love this game and I hope that others who get a chance to play it will too, so in an effort to give you a bit of an idea of what Mansions is about and how it works I have written this review.
Mansions is a game set in the rich universe of Howard Phillips Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos (if you haven't read anything by him and you enjoy sci-fi/horror writing I urge you to check out his works). Most of the games and other spin-off material of his works focus on his fictional New England area in America and Mansions is no different with a lot of the narrative being set in Arkham' Kingsport, Innsmouth and Dunwich. The game is essentially a narrative driven choose-your-own-adventure combined with RPG elements, which is what makes it really accessible to new players, if one person knows how to play they can guide everyone else through the game with relative ease. It does have a few problems but the good far outweighs the bad, so lets get into the components shall we?
The miniatures section is going to be split between the 'pre-Streets of Arkham' and 'SoA onwards' releases as I said Fantasy Flight has changed miniature manufacturer (or at least upped the quality from their current one) and the difference is huge.
This game has a LOT of components from the gorgeous map tiles to the monsters and everything in between, first off this game features the classic 'box insert that is just a folded piece of cardboard' design that a lot of FF games share, which is a little annoying in a gmae that features so many components that have to be sorted into piles to play. If you can afford an organiser for this definately get one, it's well worth it. Other than that the box art is great and it's the usual hardy, linen printed box that a lot of FF games come in.
The map tiles, these are absolutely gorgeous, they are all double-sided and feature really nicely detailed rooms of the titular mansions you will be exploring. They're tough and don't damage easily and fit together pretty seamlessly sometimes with help from some of the overlay tiles to add doors that link two rooms that don't usually have doors linking them. Speaking of overlay tiles, these are great too, made of the same hard card as the map ones and just as durable and the detail really carries through to these too. The doors blend really well into the walls of the tiles, barricades don't stick out like a sore thumb, even darkness tokens when placed over light sources in rooms make the room actually look darker (Pro tip: if there is a light source in a room you are instructed to place a darkness token on, place it over the light source).
The dice are great the usual FF D8s with the elder sign and magnifying glasses on some faces to represent successes and clue uses respectively, they roll well and look pretty nice too.
The cards are the usual fare for FF: mini american sized with some character cards being a little larger, french tarot I believe. The Character cards depict clearly everything you need to know about your character: their stats, abilities, physical and mental endurance and their special ability with a bonus backstory on the reverse. The other cards are: physical and mental damage, spells, items, unique items, conditions and now elixirs too. All of these cards feature a small description, some flavour text and a picture which all look great.
Now Miniatures and bases, so as I said before the older miniatures (base game to Beyond the Threshold) are of significantly less quality than the new ones, this isn't to say they're awful, they work and are identifiable however they aren't nearly as detailed and some of the smaller ones are very fragile. Generally with the older figures the large monsters look great but as you get smaller the quality goes down. The new figures however look great and if this and Star Wars Legion are a sign of things to come I am really excited. The new figures are really nicely detailed and really sturdy, I talk about this in my previous review of Legion but I was pleasantly surprised when I opened my SoA box. Now, the most annoying part of the game for me: the bases, the bases for enemies are essentially slabs of black plastic with tiny windows in them for monster stats, the monsters come with these cool little tiles by the way, awesome picture, flavour text and some stat numbers but this is all covered up by these evil black slabs that also don't hold the tiles very well. I have seen some homemade clear plastic bases for monsters and wow, they look amazing, you can see the tile under the monster, they don't drop monster tiles everywhere and they look really professional.
So the first thing about the gameplay is that this game uses an app, yep an app on your smartphone or computer manages most of the game for you. I haven't played mansions 1.0 but apparently the biggest complaint about it was that all of the setup and randomisation was done by the players and this lead to some degree of human error which had potentially devastating effects on the game, so FF's solution was to create an app to run all that boring stuff for you. You tell the app what expansions you own via a little collection manager tab and then it knows what to include in your games and it works so well, with a one exception: the save game function makes no sense if you have to pack the game up, the app will remember what has been inspected and what has been killed but who has what items, where your characters are, how much damage you've taken, etc. is all on you. That said most of the narratives you can choose from are engaging and dripping with Lovecraftian flavour, the music and narration are both fantastic, I played a game without the background music once, don't do it, it adds such an atmosphere of tension to the game and that's a big aspect of it.
The way a game game works is: everyone chooses a scenario they want to play, they range from sixty minutes to a whopping three hours and all have their own difficulty level too and they all feel really unique from each other so each one feels really fresh which is great. Then each player chooses a character to play and there are some great ones and some that just aren't good at all, if you have trouble choosing just read the back stories and play the one you like the sound of the most. The app then assigns you some items which you share out amongst yourselves and embark on your investigation, the app then switches to a short intro read by some pretty decent voice actors to set up the story. You're then greeted with a screen that shows your starting area and all of the points of interest in that area represented by little chits that you place in the indicated areas of the tile. Your characters will all begin in the same spot and then it's up to you to decide where to go from there, the map is revealed as you open doors or cross certain thresholds which adds this great sense of exploration as you go through the story, that said there usually isn't time to explore everything most scenarios have things that will happen as the rounds progress and baaad stuff will happen if you take too long.
The game is played in phases: The Investigator Phase where the players will make their actions, each player is allowed two actions per turn, you can: move (up to two spaces), attack, use an item or interact with a point in the environment. The Mythos Phase is where any monsters on the board will take their actions and the app will generally have a randomly assigned 'mythos event' in which you must pass a skill check to avoid some form of debuff or damage. As you make your way through the environment you will not only discover new rooms but also monsters and people to interact with too, the people can help or hinder depending on the situation but most of the time are worth talking to and the monsters will spawn and hunt you for the rest of the game unless they are killed which can be easy or pretty hard depending on your character roster and items on hand. Monsters generally will make your life hell, any character within range of them during the mythos phase has to roll a horror check which will cause some nasty mental effects if failed also they like to take bites of you so it's best to take care of them before moving on, most of the time.
Most Scenarios require you to piece together information or evidence to figure out how to complete them before you are swallowed up by the abysmal cosmos or devoured by eldritch horrors, which adds a great logical puzzle aspect to it. there are also many puzzles built into the game generally to unlock doors or boxes that are really fun without being too time consuming or challenging. There is a great sense of tension and urgency the whole way through the scenarios which comes to a head at the end of them when you must make decisions based on the information you have on hand and hope your deductions are correct.
As previously stated I love this game, it flows so well and each scenario feels like a Lovecraft story. It combines story telling, RPG elements and deduction really well and is so easy for even people who aren't familiar with the mythos to play and enjoy because at it's heart you are all helping to piece together a tale of survival by wits and luck and you are all working together to survive the ordeal. I rate this game very highly and would recommend it to most people from new gamers to the more experienced to people who just enjoy a good tale of cosmic horror.
- The game looks beautiful and the attention to detail is great.
- True to the Lovecraft Mythos.
- Easy to learn.
- Large variety of Scenarios (with expansions).
- Newer expansions have excellent miniatures.
- Creates a really tense and almost desperate atmosphere leading to a great sense of achievement when finishing scenarios.
- Bases are badly designed and get in the way a lot.
- Some people may not like the app aspect of the game.
- Replayability in the same group can be sort of limited.
Well that was a long one, thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed it. I'll be back again next week with another post about some card or board game related topic.