A couple of the nerds managed to get together for a boardgames evening last Friday. We choose mansions of madness as we'd played it a few times and had a good time. Our choice was once again vindicated as we had a hoot despite the TPK (total party kill).
Mansions of madness operates similar to a few games out there (including descent) where one player is the opponent/antagonist/DM/whatever who attempts to kill off the other players who are working cooperatively.
Each turn the DM earns up points to pay for spawning monsters, causing horrible things to occur, creating poor environments for the Investigators (dark rooms, locked doors, etc). This typically scales up by matching the number of points per turn to the number of players, so that neither side gets steam rolled with too few/too many players.
As a 'call of Cthulhu' inspired game, it includes the mandatory 'sanity' value as well as health. Playing in a Cthulhu game is really a case of prolonging the inevitable rather than being a hero. Often the end destination for characters (literary as well as game) is in the mad house, shortly before death. Typically the horrors of contact with sanity blasting monsters and situations (and dark knowledge) causes a slip of sanity to the point where the characters get pretty buggy. Mansions of madness models this well by allowing the DM to inflict specific mental 'traumas' upon an investigator once their sanity goes too low. This can include kleptomania (stealing from other players), fear of the dark (unable to enter certain areas with taking additional sanity damage), fear of being alone (can't get too far from other players), paranoia (can't get too close to other players) and can include cards that cause the investigator to attack other players or even kill themselves.
Mansions of madness has a system that easily prevents endless game play, as there is a timer mechanic that causes cards to flip up that advance the plot (and often create terrible problems for the players). I suspect this is an updated mechanic lifted from Arkham Horror (another board game set in the Cthulhu-verse).
Our latest game had the investigators checking out a new university building (built on the ruins of an old tower) which suffered from strange heating/cooling and electrical problems. The DM managed to delay us enough in the early game that, despite clearing most of the map and loading up on gear, when we finally found the final clue the timer was running down. Careful counting of squares meant that we had no margin for error and had to run straight out of the building with no delay.....past the Mi Go that had been revealed with the final card.
Unfortunately the mental traumas loaded up on my doctor character meant that he would run out of sanity in the first turn of fleeing. The DM managed to play a card causing the Doctor to panic, and find the only true way of escape.......death. Given that he was only armed with a bone saw, we figured this would be a truly horrible suicide scene worthy of such tasteful films as hostel.
Stories to Remember
Mansions ends up with wonderful to remember events like this each time we play. The first time we managed to take a maniac down with the final die roll of the game before the timer ran out. For some reason that is hazy to me now (we may have actually lost but played out the roll anyway) the wandering bum with the axe ended up killing another investigator in the same round as the maniac. We decided that the follow through had chopped through both of them. Epic stuff really.
Our win loss is standing at 1:2 with the single win characterized by the players running roughshod over the monsters. My professor hobbled around the board (I think with a broken leg) nuking giant worms and cultists with a horrible dark magic spell, the shrivelling. This gave enough cover for the other characters to finish following up the clues. Perhaps there is something to be said for fighting fire with fire.