Guest Review : Mansions of Madness

Mansions of Madness cover Mansions of Madness is a game of investigation and horror based in the Cthulhu Mythos. Mansions of Madness shares the theme of Arkham Horror and Elder Sign, which are also based upon the works of H.P. Lovecraft. This highly thematic game is a semi-cooperative game for 2-5 players and plays in 2-3 hours.

Appearance:  The box for Mansions of Madness is the standard 12” X 12” square, but is 4” deep, which is to provide enough room for the large monster models. The cardboard components are a very good quality and include 15 double sided map tiles that are used to construct the modular board. There have been some reports of some warping of these tiles, but nothing to the extreme of the problems that faced House on Haunted Hill. Overall, the cardboard components are of the quality one expects from Fantasy Flight Games. The art is enjoyable and invokes the setting, but if you’ve played Arkham Horror, there’s plenty of recycled art (but, it’s still good).

Rules/Ease of Learning: Mansions of Madness is of moderate difficulty, but most of this difficulty can be carried by the player who takes on the role of Keeper. The Keeper role is that of the antagonist – they make decisions that affect how the story plays out and how the Unnameable Horrors try to keep the Investigators from preventing their escape into Arkham proper.

Investigators have the job of exploring the Mansion and trying to unravel the mysteries that it hides. As an Investigator, your turn is comprised of two movement steps and an action step. An action step involves one of a number of actions, including, using card abilities, investigating a location, and attacking monsters.

The Keeper’s available actions vary in each scenario. The actions the Keeper may perform in a turn are printed on Action cards, which have a point cost. The game automatically balances for the number of players by providing the Keeper with a number of Threat tokens equal to the number of investigators, so in a two investigator game, the Keeper must ‘save’ threat up to unleash a powerful action that costs 3 threat, but in a four investigator game, they can perform that action each turn, if so desired.

There are several situations that have specific rules on how to handle specific tests (such as Horror and Evade tests) which overall, are not complex rules, but because there are a fair number of these situations to recall. A Keeper who is well versed in the rules can shoulder much of this burden without changing the pace of the game signifigantly.

 

Gameplay: Mansions of Madness has five scenarios to play though. Each of these scenarios involve a different mansion setup and also contains a number of choices for the Keeper to make that influences how the plot cards are seeded within the Mansion. This process is rather time consuming and is probably one of the biggest drawbacks for the game. There could also be concern for replayability, but as there are roughly three choices with two-three options, one could conceivably play the same scenario around 9 times before returning to the ‘original’ solution. The plot doesn’t change massively, just where major clues are found. However, Fantasy Flight has already released 3 single-scenario expansions for the base game, plus a large expansion that will add investigators, scenarios, rules, and locations.

Once the board is setup, the theme starts to ramp itself up. The keeper reads a short story aloud to set the scene. This story includes clues on where to begin the investigation. As investigators explore, they’ll encounter locks and puzzles which must be opened or solved. Mansions of Madness has an unique puzzle mechanic which adds to the theme of the game. Puzzles are setup as per card instructions and investigators must solve the puzzle by creating an image, completing an electrical circuit or matching symbols. There are components that the investigators can move/rotate/swap, but the investigator can only do so many actions on his turn, which is driven by the intellect score. This helps to model the skill of the investigator very well and adds to the immersion.

As time passes, the Keeper will reveal Event cards, which result in effects related to the choices made by the Keeper and add to atmosphere of the story read at the beginning of the game. While playing, it feels like you’re exploring a creepy haunted house, and as the eldritch horrors begin to reveal themselves, the race against time becomes more apparent.

There are some mechanics that might take a few plays to really solidify, simply because there are several little things to remember. Of those minor things, there isn’t anything that really makes the game less enjoyable.

Overall, the theme really shines, perhaps giving an even better thematic experience than Arkham Horror. It feels like you’re approaching the Whateley home, with some unknowable horror waiting within. The game mechanics work to reinforce the theme. There’s opportunity within Mansions to take your board gaming a step further and treat it as a mini-roleplaying game, which would only add more immersion within the game.

Conclusion: Mansions of Madness is an enjoyable game. If it’s the only game you play, sure, the replayability could go down due to fixed nature of the scenarios. While it’s firmly a boardgame, the story-driven play could allow those who want to give roleplaying a try could probably have a good time using Mansions as a trial run. There’s some interesting puzzle mechanics and lots of theme to go around.

If you’re a fan of the Cthulhu Mythos, you’ll get a healthy dose here, even if Cthulhu doesn’t make an appearance.

Guest Review : Quarriors

Quarriors Game Box & Layout
Quarriors Game

In Quarriors, you and your opponents must quest for glory by purchasing spells and monsters that will allow you to destroy enemy critters while keeping your own alive. This is accomplished by gathering and spending “Quiddity”. Quarriors can be played by 2-4 players and takes very little time – usually between 15 and 30 minutes. This quick and quirky synthesis of a dice game and a deck-building game delivers fast, light entertainment, but suffers from a handful of minor drawbacks.

Appearance: Quarriors is generally pretty easy on the eyes. It is a light game with a light-hearted theme, and this is reflected in the cartoony art style of the cards. The die-shaped tin is also a nice touch. The dice themselves – there are 130 (!) custom dice in the game – are solid and intricately-designed. However, the relatively small size of the dice combined with the complexity of some of the patterns can be frustrating when you have to read a tiny number at the centre of a swirling vortex.

Rules/Ease of Learning: Players who are familiar with deck-building games such as Dominion or Thunderstone will catch on to the central mechanics of Quarriors very quickly. Newcomers to such games will not be unduly handicapped; the rules are simple, and even a complete board game novice should be able to pick them up in a matter of minutes.

In Quarriors, each player starts with a set number and distribution of dice. These dice are placed in the player’s dice bag. Each game, there will also be some creatures and spells, randomly chosen, which make up the rest of the available dice.

At the beginning of a round, the active player randomly draws six dice from the bag and rolls them. The starting dice might allow players to produce Quiddity, summon a creature, or reroll dice (or any combination of the three). Purchased dice may include spell abilities or allow players to draw extra dice for the turn.

After a player has finished rolling, it is time to decide what to do with them. The Quiddity produced by the die roll may be used to either purchase a new die or to summon as many creatures as you can afford. Spells may be cast using Quiddity as well, and most spells can either be cast immediately or kept ready in front of the player until they are needed.

Creatures attack each opponent as soon as they are summoned, dealing damage according to the attack score in the upper-right corner of the die. Like all summoners worth their salt, players in Quarriors use their conjured creatures to soak up damage that is directed their way. If there are no creatures to absorb incoming damage, nothing happens. If a creature receives more damage than their defense score in the lower-right corner of the die, they… well, die. If a summoned creature survives until a player’s next turn, the player places the die into their used pile and scores glory according to the value on the die. When a player reaches a preset amount of glory, they are victorious.

Gameplay: Quarriors is a very quick, light game. The strategy involved is not very deep; often the best path to victory seems quite clear from the beginning – buy the biggest monster and/or the best spells whenever possible. This is certainly not the case in the more robust deck-building games upon which Quarrior’s central mechanic was based, such as Dominion. In those games, there are often several different potential paths to victory.

As a result, the real variation in player performance in Quarriors seems to depend entirely on chance. The random nature of dice rolls, combined with a second layer of randomness in pulling dice from your bag, adversely affects any potential strategy. Quarriors can therefore be a very frustrating experience for those – such as myself – who do not like a high degree of luck in their games.

That being said, this is a *dice* game. If you come into a game involving 130 dice looking for deep strategy, of course you’re going to be disappointed. It is an enjoyable, well-constructed game, and many of the balancing issues can be easily fixed. Some of the creatures are ludicrously overpowered (*cough* I’m looking at you, Quake Dragon), and removing them will probably double your enjoyment of the game.

One thing that Quarriors definitely has going for it is game length. Quarriors is probably the only game I’ve ever played that regularly takes *less* time than the estimate printed on the box. Teaching the rules and setting up a game for the first time will likely take longer than the game itself. Some find it too short, and offset the game length by bumping up the glory required to win. I am certainly not one for so-called “house rules” in games, but Quarriors does seem to need a bit of after-market tweaking.

Conclusion: Quarriors is a quick, quirky quest. If you don’t expect Quarriors to be anything but the goofy, light, fast dice game that it is, you won’t be disappointed. It is a very interesting take on the now-tried-and-true deck-building mechanic that we know and love, and may serve as a useful introduction into the deck-building world for younger players or for those who don’t like shuffling. Those who thirst for more strategy and more control over the game can move on to deck-building games such as Dominion or Thunderstone, and those who don’t can keep on Quarrioring.