Mansions of Madness 2nd edition has been out for a while now, and Caroline picked this game up last Friday since we had been talking about it and the new central feature - tablet app taking the role of the game master. It was very expensive, but after some pondering if found its way to our home and we spent most of Friday evening and the whole of Saturday playing it.
I feel as if I have enough experience to write down a review, which will start with my experience of MoM: 1st edition. I didn't like it. It was a game that was extremely cumbersome and riddled with moments that bogged down the gameplay and adding the insane amount of setup time it just killed any wish to play despite having some good things. One of imo few good things was the feeling that you played a kind of roleplaying game light with a board and miniatures to help you keep track of the action instead of a pure Pen & Paper adventure. Sadly it often devolved into a action/combat oriented game with monsters spawning left and right.
Another drawback was also the need for one player to take on the role of the game master, some people find this role to be fun and I don't blamed them (I had a pretty good time playing the GM in Descent 2nd edition) but in MoM: 1st ed you had to prepare a lot of stuff and keep things and story details in mind, mistakes could ruin the whole experience. It also made it impossible to solo-play the game, which is bad since all previous Lovecraft inspired boardgames by Fantasy Flight Games allowed you to do so (Arkham Horror, Eldritch Horror and Elder Sign). Finally, if you ask me, the models for the monster and the big bases were the definition of ugly and an unnecessary element, the few times we played it at my house we ran the monster tokens without minis/black plastic bases.
Moving on to MoM: 2nd ed it looks like FFG cleaned up a LOT of problems and redesigned the game quite heavily while still keeping the framework and most of the models/board pieces intact.
First of all, the game requires an app to act as the game master - you can't play without it. The app runs on both PC, iOS and Android - so players should have a lot of device options to run the heart of the game.
WHAT THE APP DOES:
The app keeps track of monster movement, keeps track of mythos phase events, evidence you find in your investigations, all search locations, characters that can be interacted with, it keeps track of events and tells you what stats you will use whenever you are required to test something performing actions. It also keeps track of all puzzles and the story in each scenario - generating different details each time you run a scenario. Gone are ALL the cards and tokens required for monster damage, puzzle tokens, act cards that keep track of story etc. And last but not least is the "Fog of War" that the app provides, when you move you explore the story location piece by piece instead of having the entire mansion set up from start. Instead whenever you move to a explore location you unlock new rooms, same thing goes if you move around corners - you don't know what lies beyond before you reach that space that unlocks the next piece of the board.
The app DOES NOT:
Show monster movement and current location of monsters on the map, show where investigators are located, actively limit you to the number of actions and tests you take - you still have to keep track of all that by yourself with the help of the physical components and rules for the game.
You could say that the app keeps track of all that which would be unnecessary for players to know beforehand, or to keep track of - leaving the game rules and various game related choices, character movement and tactics to the players.
Among the other changes, and in my opinion something that improves the gameplay is the combat mechanic, the dice and damage taken by investigators. Explaining these in order:
Combat in MoM:1st edition was something that frustrated the hell out of me. Players had to pick an item to attack monsters with, and then the result was randomly determined by a card. More often than not my attempt to kill a monster with a firearm resulted in "You shoot a warning shot in the air" or something like that which just made facepalm myself over the forced upon stupidity. MoM: 2nd edition gets rid of the cards, instead when you attack you pick the weapon category (such as bladed, heavy weapon, firearm, spell etc) and pick your target. The app tells you what test you need to perform to hit the monster -and what your suffers or failure means. If you succeed you deal damage. There are no more awkward situations.
Dice. MoM:2nd edition uses D8 dice, and I can trace the design behind the dice and how they work directly to FFG's Star Wars X-Wing. Each die has 3 successes, 2 Clue tokens and 3 empty spaces. The game requires you to roll successes, and matching the number of successes either succeeds of fails a test - sometimes the number of successes can give you different results in interactions with characters and objects in the game. Sides of the dice covered in Clue token symbols allow players to spend acquired clue tokens to change those die results to successes at a 1 - 1 ratio. Players who have played X-wing will recognize this from Focus/Evade tokens interacting with the dice.
Compared to all previous games by FFG with a Lovecraft theme that used D6 this is a welcome departure. Finally you no longer succeed on rolls of 5-6 on a D6 die, instead you have a success chance of 3/8 not spending clue tokens and 5/8 if you spend a clue token. Suddenly one of the most frustrating things about Arkham Horror and Eldritch Horror has been fixed.
Physical/Mental damage. This too has been remedied in a way heavily influenced by X-Wing. Instead of damage tokens you now draw Health and Sanity loss cards. Each point of damage has you draw one card, keeping it face down. The number of cards in each category tells you how wounded you are. Sometimes events, heavy damage dealt by enemies or other actions cause you to flip existing damage cards face up- resolving the effect. This is actually great because damage cards can be like a ticking bomb, the more you have the greater the probability that you will suffer if you have to flip cards face up. Effects are crippling but it is not until you reach the limit of your health or sanity that the game amps up the difficulty for your character.
Running out of health you are permanently wounded drawing random card stating what permanent damage you've received - running out of health a second time you die. Even more dangerous is going insane, which happens the first time you lose all your sanity. Insanity cards are special since players pick one randomly and read the back of the card - not telling their fellow gamers. The insanity can range from nothing in particular happens, to actively working against the rest of the group in secret in order to win your own personal victory!
When a character is eliminated due to death or losing mental control completely the game ends no matter how many investigators are left on the board.
Now let's talk about scenarios, you get 4 core game scenarios, it is hard to tell exactly how much variation you get compared to 1st Edition (where you had 3 variants on each). What we have noticed however is that the app changes things up when you replay a scenario, so there may be more variables at work than in 1st edition, though exactly how much remains to be seen. We have played one short and two very long scenarios and the "Rising tide" scenario in particular (where focus is on investigation and interrogation of suspects) feels like you could get a lot of variation in suspect/game end location due to the size of the story in that scenario.
The information I've found online is that layout of the board and other things will change if you replay scenarios again. Two of the scenarios in the game are heavily Shadow over Innsmouth influenced which I just loved. Both are long scenarios, with one of them taking you straight into Shadow over Innsmouth and an attempt to escape town, the other has you prevent an occult ritual and saving the town. We've played 3 out of the 4 core scenarios and I must say that I like them better than the core scenarios I played in 1st edition.
One VERY important thing to know about the expansions and something else that the app allows you to do. The app keeps track of your game collection, core games and expansions for both 1st and 2nd edition of Mansions of Madness. The great thing is that you can add 1st edition content (monsters/board pieces/investigators) seamlessly into 2nd edition with a click, and you get conversion pieces for monster tokens inside the box of 2nd edition Mansions of Madness for free!
What is little known if you do not do some research beforehand, is that the two expansions for 2nd edition available at the moment "Suppressed Memories" and "Recurring Nightmares" are in fact the playable content and pieces from the core game and the two 1st edition expansions. As such, if you have 1st edition content, you should NOT buy the 2nd edition expansions as you already have all you need! Then in the app you just tick the boxes on all the 1st edition stuff you have and it is added to the game. The 1st edition core game contents give you 8 investigators, more monsters and a lot more board pieces - as well as one extra scenario "Dearly Departed" to play. Forbidden Alchemy give you more monsters, some board tiles and variants to the scenarios, while Call of the Wild give you characters, board tiles, monsters and "Cult of the Sentinel Hill" scenario.
To sum this mess up here is a conversion/content table:
Core 1st ed MoM = 1 scenario, 15 map tiles, 8 new monsters, 8 new investigators, Dearly Departed scenario
1st ed Forbidden Alchemy = Variants to existing scenarios 6 map tiles, 2 monsters, 4 investigators
1st ed Call of the Wild = Cult of the Sentinel Hill scenario, 11 map tiles, 4 investigators, 7 monsters
2nd ed Recurring Nightmares = Same contents as Core 1st ed MoM.
2nd ed Call of the Wild = Cult of Sentinel Hill scenario, 17 map tiles, 8 investigators, 9 monsters
Overall I'm very enthusiastic about Mansions of Madness 2nd edition. I think the app and new design choices solved a lot of 1st ed problems. I also wonder if we will see a future of app based content with micro transactions to get more variants/new scenarios that don't require new pieces. The ability to play the game solitaire is priceless, but it is also fantastic to be able to play a story driven game with all the players taking the roles of investigators not having to force anyone to play the game master. The only downside of the app/design this game has taken that I can see at the moment is that it makes it impossible to implement player made scenarios - at least at this point. For 1st edition there were numerous fan made scenarios (of varied quality nonetheless) that you could download and print out and start to play as you saw fit. That option is removed with the app.
I highly recommend Mansions of Madness 2nd edition a solid 9/10, based upon my experience of 1st edition and my expectations on the game as well as the implementation of a game master with the app.