Fantasy Flight has produced an entire line of games dedicated to a New England author who dedicated his life to the study and praise of New England -it's like a dream come true! So here is the newest iteration of Platypus Gaming, Mansions of Madness, a dungeon crawl based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft.
The first thing I noticed about the game, right from the moment I opened the box, is the high art production value. Every element of the game is beautiful and represents a united aesthetic. Tone is such an important element in Lovecraft's short stories and deft art direction creates a consistently lovecraftian tone from the get-go.
The second thing I noticed, while perusing the rule book, is that unlike many other dungeon crawls, Mansions of Madness is truly adversarial. The game is set up to evenly match investigators (protagonists) versus the Keeper (antagonist) and let them duke it out for the victory. There's no issue here of a capricious "game ordinance director" going for a "total party kill" while a more moderate one might hold back -going for a "total party kill" is the Keeper's job! This comes back to the issue of tone as an important aspect of Lovecraft's writing is that the heroes often lose. As in the writing, so in the game: there is a real sense of tension because we know that the heroes can lose.
Once I got down to playing, I also appreciated the simplicity of the game play. Looking at the myriad of pieces and rules made me worry that I'd never be able to play Mansions of Madness without a lengthy internet tutorial -never mind getting someone else to play with me. In fact, the game mechanics are functional and elegant making it easy to pick up and smooth in play. The second factor enhances the narrative elements of the game (it is about solving a mystery in a haunted house after all) giving it the feel of an actual short story. Even playing a starter game against myself gave me the creeps! (ok, the week long thunderstorm helped.)
All in all, I'm loving Mansions of Madness so far. There are two main expansions, neither of which I own, with numerous print-on-demand minor expansions, so as long as Fantasy Flight keeps the game in print, there's sure to be continued fun. My wife and I have enjoyed Fantasy Flights' other Lovecraftian mythos games (Elder Sign: Omens, Arkham Horror, Eldritch Horror), so we're glad to see that this one measures up.