If you have some affinity with the kind of games we at the EOG prefer to have on our tables, you’ll understand that Mansions of Madness is a firm favourite around these hallowed halls. This game brings together all those things we hold dear to our hearts—miniatures, beautiful board illustrations, a strong story element, and theme you almost have to wipe off the components with a soft absorbant cloth. An excellent session yesterday evening playing the second adventure, The Inner Sanctum, inspired this little article.
Mansions of Madness was released by Fantasy Flight Games in 2011 and is by the wonder boy of the studio, Corey Konieczka, who sadly doesn’t seem to be spending as much time on the actual coalface designing games lately (let’s hope he has a few big projects up his sleeve). It unabashedly capitalises on the success of Arkham Horror and Descent by the same studio, but there are some pretty innovative things going on under the hood of this Cthulhu-mythos theme-fest.
Check the Library for more on Mansions of Madness—it’s well covered here, with a rundown of the rules, a painting guide, and a suggested foamcore box insert configuration. For now, let’s look at last night’s ‘story’: The Inner Sanctum.
Warning: Spoiler Alert! Reveals some elements of The Inner Sanctum adventure.
Our three brave, some might say foolhardy, investigators—scientist Kate Winthrop, physician Vincent Lee, and well-heeled socialite Jenny Barnes—after receiving a letter asking for help from the missing Professor Marie Leblanc, found themselves outside an old monastery in the dead of night. Figures clothed in dark robes filed silently into the chapel, and after a pause, our heroes followed them. Seeing the cultists heading in the direction of the basement, Winthrop and Lee pursued, while Barnes hung back to search the bathroom (no doubt using the opportunity to check her makeup in the mirror). She did discover, however, a locked cabinet that required a brass key to open.
By the time Winthrop and Lee had reached the basement, the murmuring distant sound of chanting had increased until, at the foot of the stairs, they encountered two of the brown-robed cultists. Before their horrified eyes the humans began some kind of unholy spell, until a tear opened in the very fabric of the air, and as the cultists sacrificed themselves in an insane frenzy, out crawled an horrific hound-like beast from nightmares, its blue snake-like tongue flicking incessantly in and out of its snout! Combat was joined!
Winthrop was the only investigator with a weapon—a knife, so Lee left him to what needed to be done and explored the basement storage room, where he discovered a small brass key in a box full of maggots. Clutching the key, he returned to where Winthrop and now Barnes were battling the creature and a steadily increasing number of cultists. Barnes was thrown to the floor, to suffer severe blood loss. Lee began suffering from the effects of claustrophobia as the room filled with battling figures.
Finally, the otherworldly hound was dispatched, but to the investigator’s horror, another summoning ritual was enacted, and as three cultists sacrificed themselves to the Void, out crawled a huge beast spawned in the deepest depths of horror—a creature whose name is whispered only in the most terrible of tomes—a shoggoth! Thankfully, Winthrop’s experimental Flux Stabilizer forced the creature to materialise in an adjacent room. But it was clearly time for the investigators to leave the basement.
Thankfully, Winthrop’s experimental Flux Stabilizer forced the creature to materialise in an adjacent room. But it was clearly time for the investigators to leave the basement.
Barricading the door against the creature’s questing tentacles, the investigators ran back to the corner hall, where they encountered the cult leader himself, along with another of his minions! The madman cast a fireball at his assailants, setting the hallway on fire. His cultist follower was dispatched but rose again from the dead and kept fighting as a mindless zombie, gnawing on Barnes’s face! As the flames rose the shoggoth burst into the room and almost swallowed Lee whole. Somehow, the brass key was used to open the bathroom cabinet in the chaos. Unfortunately, Vincent Lee could bear the madness no longer—being almost swallowed by a shoggoth probably didn’t help in this regard—and went totally insane. Barnes managed to kill herself when her gun exploded in her face. Only Winthrop, perhaps protected to some degree by her air of scientific detachment, persisted alive and sane.
Their next destination was now obvious—the chasm under the monastery. Lee was insane but still functioning—sane enough to solve a tricky electrical puzzle in the study, in fact. The private eye Joe Diamond chose this moment to burst in the front door of the monastery, only to be confronted with the unimaginable vision of a shoggoth making its blasphemous way across the chapel floor. Could the adventurers continue to fight off the deadly attentions of further cultists, not to mention the aforementioned shoggoth, and put a stop to these evil plans to summon otherworldy monsters to destroy the entire town of Dunwich?
We’ll never know, because everyone had to work in the morning and we had to stop there.
Ahh, but what a game. Surely Mansions of Madness, played with the right people, is as close as you can get to a roleplaying game in a boardgame. It does suffer from the well-known FFG ‘too long’ syndrome, but flows very quickly and easily once you get into it, and the stories naturally develop. I love the way the combat system is a series of descriptive vignettes. The components are spectacular, especially when you’ve painted the figures, which I highly recommend.
I’m looking forward to many more sessions of this game, probably as the Keeper throwing the most horrific obstacles possible into the path of the unsuspecting investigators. As all good meglomaniacs love to sign off: mwha haa ha aha ahaaaaaaa!!!!