|Mansions of Madness | Published 11 October 2010|
The dim lightbulb swung lazily on its cord, and with intermittent flickers it threatened to abandon the dank basement to total darkness. The thought of it made the tiny hairs on Jenny’s neck stand up, but it wasn’t the darkness that frightened her most. Reaching a slim hand into the blue silk purse hanging at her side, Jenny drew forth an ivory-handled .45 automatic pistol as she began her way tentatively across the dirt floor. By her third step, however, the heels of Jenny’s Parisian leather shoes were sinking beneath her. The earth was freshly disturbed... but what had been buried in the mansion’s cellar, and by whom?
Horrible secrets lie hidden in the dark corners of Arkham, and it’s up to a few brave investigators to bring them to light. In our exploration of Mansions of Madness, the macabre board game of horror, insanity, and mystery for 2-5 players, we’ve thus far seen an explanation of story construction and the mechanics of character setup. Today we’ll take a look at the investigator turn, and we’ll see how humanity’s heroes collect the clues necessary to stop the keeper’s horrible plot.
Every turn presents an investigator player with several compelling options, but precious little time before the keeper completes his dark objective. On each investigator’s turn, he may take two Movement Steps and one Action Step, in any order. Movement Steps are simple; they consist of moving an investigator into an adjacent space (an area separated by a white line or a door). But what if a door is locked? During setup, the keeper will have “seeded” the board with Exploration Cards (representing items and clues), and placed Lock Cards on top of some of those stacks as determined by the scenario guide. To enter a room that contains a face-down Lock Card, the investigator must first turn the card face up and resolve it, which sometimes calls for an Attribute Test (as seen in last week’s preview).
The choice of how to spend your Action Step is rarely as simple. Let’s imagine that you are in control of Jenny Barnes, the wealthy fashionista who was dragged into a horrific web of mystery by a troubling letter from her beloved sister. During investigator setup, you chose to arm yourself with your trusty dual .45 automatic pistols and the “It’s Personal” once-per-game ability. As your Action, you could use a special ability (marked "Action") from one of your cards, or you could:
“Explore” is the most common Investigator Action in the game, and it drives the discovery of items, spells, and most importantly, clues. When a player performs an explore action, the keeper flips over all cards in the room being explored one at a time, starting with the top card in the pile and working down (the order is important, since a much-needed clue may be hidden beneath a difficult obstacle). The keeper reads each card aloud and then hands it to the player exploring the room, who must place them next to his character card.
Exploration Cards come in a range of types and are generally quite useful to the investigator who draws them. Items like keys (necessary for opening certain locks), tomes (which often provide Spells), artifacts (ancient and powerful tools), and weapons (anything from pistols to crowbars) are all spread throughout the crypts and manors of Arkham.
Clues, however, are the most important Exploration Cards available to an investigator, since they guide players toward their ultimate objective. As we saw in our first preview, the keeper begins the game by planting clues around the game board based on the story choices he makes (and places them under stack of other Exploration Cards, Lock Cards, and Obstacle Cards). Each clue leads investigators to the next clue, compelling them to follow a carefully constructed narrative thread until the keeper’s evil plot becomes apparent. The final clue will then complete the puzzle, directing players toward the scene of the story’s climax. But will they uncover the truth in time, or will the keeper complete his evil plan?
In short, the mechanics for Mansions of Madness are streamlined and intuitive, and are designed to keep the focus where it belongs: on the story.
Though the mysteries behind Mansions of Madness continue to unravel, many horrors still remain undiscovered. Keep checking back over the coming weeks, when we’ll take a look at the keeper’s turn, combat, and puzzles!
Mansions of Madness is a macabre game of horror, insanity, and mystery for two to five players. Based on the beloved fiction of H.P. Lovecraft, Mansions of Madness tells a story in which one player takes on the role of the keeper, a malevolent force working to complete a sinister plot, and all other players take on the roles of investigators, the unlikely heroes who gather to oppose him.
<Sigh> Doesn't look like this is very amenable to soloing...but no matter; it looks so good, exciting and accessible that I may even be able to get my non-gaming friends to play this one with me.
another board game I have to get. How many is too many? Only time will tell.
This just keeps getting better! I might even be able to talk my non-gamer friends into this one. So excited!