Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition – First Impressions

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Hello youse.

As I speak to you now, I am about to crack open Mansions of Madness Second Edition. The original was a game I loved. But it was a difficult game to get to the table. It took a fair bit of time to set up, a lot of maintenance, and so that great, ambitious game didn’t get the plays that it deserved. It also had a troubled roll-out of its companion expansions, and the game seemed to lose some lustre. But now it’s a do-over, and all that hard work will be dealt with by the game’s companion app. This is an exciting game release. If this works, we might have something very special on our hands.

Read on, and I’ll give you my first impressions.

Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition

As I write this, it is 2am, and I just finished my first session of Mansions of Madness Second Edition. To be accurate, I just finished my second session. In my first play of the first scenario, one of my investigators went completely insane, and that was soon to be that. And to be completely, entirely accurate, I didn’t finish the scenario the second go-round either – I decided to save and quit, so that I can resume later.

Yep. My session now has a save state, and I can pick it up later.

One word.


Before I get to the Wow, let’s look at some negatives. Or, at least the one negative I can think of at the moment – the monster miniatures. The monster minis in Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition are much like those in 1st edition. Plastic monsters snap onto plastic tiles, and cardboard Monster Tokens are slipped into the base. But I found the monsters in this box a bit of a bear to attach to their bases. They’re made from soft plastic, and the little pegs that are supposed to allow them to attach to the bases are not dependable at all. The monster tokens were also a tight fit into some of the bases, and a little bit of that initial set-up disappointed me. We’ve been spoiled recently with the quality of components from some other companies (Cool Mini Or Not and Games Workshop, for example) and these pieces felt like a real step down from those.

But hey. The rest of this piece is going to be about that Wow. That stuff I just mentioned is purely here for balance. Who cares about the toys when the game is this good?

The rest of the components? Beautiful. The cards, the artwork – superb. The map tiles are absolutely gorgeous, and come in only two tile sizes, making them easy to handle and easy to organise. And there’s not a huge amount of clutter in this box. No fiddly stuff, just lots of cool shit – monsters and maps and cards and spells and weapons and excellent status effects.

The central component of the game is the app. The app is available for iOS, Android and your PC. In fact, you can download it from Steam right now and take a look if you want. It’s a slick, beautifully designed app that is essentially a Gamesmaster in a Box. This app runs the game, and it’s the best use of an app in board gaming yet.

Let me talk a little bit about board games and apps. It’s a tricky thing to get right, isn’t it? And that’s because board gamers want to play board games. We never want to feel like the app is the game, and that the board and pieces are extraneous. Golem Arcana, a game that used an app to assist with tactical battles in board gaming, couldn’t shake that niggling feeling that you might just as well have been playing the entire game through the app. Once that feeling sets in, your game starts to suffer. But there’s no fear of anything like that happening with Mansions of Madness, and here is why – the app brings the world alive, but it has no agency over your characters.

Here’s how it works. First, you choose a scenario in the app, and choose the investigators that will face that scenario. The app tells you which items your chosen characters will start with, hits you with some introductory story (voiced and illustrated), and then tells you which map tiles to set up on your table. You’ll be told which areas of the visible map can be interacted with, searched or explored, and you’ll place tokens to signify these places – these tokens will also be tracked on the app. Then, you’re told where to place your investigators, and the game begins.

Each turn, an investigator can make two actions. They can move, search, interact, explore, attack, whatever. But here’s the crucial thing – the app doesn’t know where your characters are. The Mansion of Madness is alive, doing its own thing, marking its own time. It doesn’t give a damn about you. You’re just a rat caught in its maze. As you move around the world, performing actions, you notify the app where necessary. If you search a specific area, you tap that search icon on the app, and it reveals a bit of story. You’ll usually be given some kind of skill test to pass (very simple, rolling dice according to your attributes) and you’ll tell the app how many successes you rolled. Then the app will reveal more story. The app tracks the state of the house, which monsters are present, where you are in the story. But it doesn’t know where the players are, or even where the monsters are. Most of the actual mechanics of the game are still in the player’s hands – the app is just providing colour and surprises, and creating an incredible sense of life.

And wow. Wow.

There is so much mystery and excitement in this game. Playing alone, just now, with two investigators creeping around that mansion – already I can see the massive potential. Without even having completed the first scenario, I can see why this game is worth getting hugely excited about. I love how much of the story is a complete mystery to the player. I love how the app remembers how many successes are generated on each interaction, allowing other characters to assist in later turns, lending a real feel of organic co-operation. I love how there’s a sense of stuff going on in unrevealed rooms while your characters are goofing off elsewhere. I love that everything, and I mean everything, is rooted in story.

I love that the simple decision to attack a monster opens up a world of story possibilities. You decide which monster you’re attacking, tap it in the app, and select the form of attack you are making. The app then generates some story to match your situation. So if you’re unarmed, your character might swing a punch. But he might also just get really angry and hurl some heavy object at it. The skill checks will be different for both these things, so there’s this constant unpredicability about each conflict. It’s wonderful. The monsters, too, attack in different ways, and attack different characters at different times, building a thrilling story that can’t be second-guessed. You can’t ever switch into autopilot.

I love how horror works. When you are affected by horror, you take cards from the Horror deck, face-up. Sometimes these have minimal effects, and are then turned face down. But sometimes they stay face-up, as lingering fragments of psychosis. (One of my characters became paranoid and had negative status effects every time he shared an area with another investigator.) And the Horror cards are brilliantly realised, honestly. Flashback, for example, is a card that turns one of your earlier face-down Horror cards face-up so that you have to relive that nightmare all over again. Even in these cards, ostensibly there to track mental damage, there is a focus on story above all else.

Oh, and that mental damage? You can go insane. And if you do, your specific type of insanity remains unknown to fellow players. And it can affect how you play the game – by directly affecting your own win conditions. It’s like this game has it all.

And how much more can the game have? Well, that’s the most exciting thing – the potential is here for a game that can be constantly telling new stories. It struck me hard the moment my character found a journal, and I took the card that represented that item. On the table, in your hand, it is a card with an illustration of a journal. But you read that journal on the app. So this journal can represent a hundred journals, right? Every one saying different things. Every one the key to a different story. Maybe, at some point, we’ll get the chance to write our own stories on the app, or share them with the community. The possibilities are genuinely – genuinely – endless.

For those of us who have the Mansions of Madness 1st Edition stuff – some good news. There is a Conversion Kit free inside this box, and it converts your 1st Edition monsters and characters so that they can be used in 2nd edition. All those map tiles you had can be used too. You simply tell the app that you have access to all this stuff and it gets piled into the big generator, making your toybox much bigger. Now there’s even less chance of guessing which monster is behind that door.

These are just first impressions, remember. But my first impressions are “Wow.” I can’t believe that big, unwieldy Mansions of Madness has been transformed into this lovely, elegant, progressive thing. And there’s still so much more for me to uncover. I’m still not entirely sure how much of a difference there is when replaying scenarios, but I can tell you that I had a sneaky peek at another New Game of that first scenario and the Mansion layout was completely different. There is definitely cool stuff going on under the hood of this thing that I haven’t quite got my head around just yet. I haven’t played one of the famous Mansions of Madness puzzles on the app, and I’m excited to see how well those are executed. I look forward to unpeeling more and more of this game over the months ahead, and I don’t doubt that we’ll talk about it again a little bit further down the line.

Be aware, too, that there’s stuff I haven’t told you about because COOL STUFF SHOULDN’T BE SPOILED.

As a guy who grew up playing pen and paper RPGs, and almost always as the Gamesmaster, I can’t tell you how delighted I am to see an app get this role so right. It’s the kind of thing I used to dream about when I was a little guy. “Imagine one day a computer could be the GM, and I could play too.”

Folks, I just sat in my kitchen, on my own, and played a beautiful HP Lovecraft-themed story-heavy RPG/board game hybrid with a robot as a Gamesmaster. It had sound effects and a brilliant soundtrack too. Oh, and then I saved it so I could play again later.

Am I dreaming?

Don’t wake me up.

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  1. Synesthesia says:

    The pricetag is insane, though.

  2. milligna says:

    Please write about video games again.

    • Mutak says:

      Please learn that the entire world does not revolve around you and that a thing not being for you is not an insult to you and does not require a response from you. Failing that, maybe just expand your horizons a little bit.

      • itsbenderingtime says:

        There’s a couple different ways to interpret milligna’s comment. I got good sleep last night and I’m feeling good, so this is how I interpreted it:

        “Hey Rab, I like your writing. I miss you talking about video games, and I’d like to see you do that again sometime”.

        What a pleasant compliment for Rab, don’t you think?

    • Kestrel says:

      Please make America great again

    • G_Man_007 says:

      Please please me.

  3. Father Dagon says:

    Hot sticky gravy, this news is GREAT. I’ve loved MoM since 1st ed first came out, but the setup was such a rat bastard to deal with… sometimes taking upwards of 45 minutes for the DM player before anyone else could really do anything, and if you accidentally put one hidden key token BEHIND the door it’s supposed to unlock instead of before, the entire scenario becomes unwinnable and everyone knows it’s your fault. I’ve been dreaming of a digital interface to track that agonizing part for AGES.

  4. thekelvingreen says:

    Yeah, the original is a good game that is crippled by making the GM role too difficult; setting up takes ages and it’s possible to break the scenario and not know it until you’re a couple of hours in. A digital GM should solve that and is a very sensible addition to the game.

    Even so, I’m not convinced by Rab’s cry of “all hail our robot overlords” and I’d probably still rather play Call of Cthulhu instead nine times out of ten.

  5. G_Man_007 says:

    My dreams:

    1. To play one of these games (finally)
    2. For you to be the GM…

  6. sgt. grumbles says:

    Even though I’ve played my 1st Edition only once or twice — after spending tens of hours painting all the minis — I was still interested in picking this up until I saw the price. $99! That seems dreadfully expensive.

  7. Bull0 says:

    Didnt realise this was out already! Sounds grand

  8. Cocoarico says:

    If you told me there was a 2nd edition MoM that streamlined all the gruntwork and I could play it cooperatively with my wife without setting up a gamenight it would be an insta-buy.
    But I have a fear.
    At what point does it become unplayable?
    Example:I can throw down the set of monopoly my parents bought before I was born in a heartbeat.
    Will this run on windows 12, iphone 9s or whatever else the future holds?
    One of the greatest aspects of boardgames is that they are always playable, and the more you play them the more history they have.
    Ill still prob buy this, but in five years I will curse FFG for not updating the app to the latest OS and go back to the original.

  9. Premium User Badge

    Lars Westergren says:

    The little time based puzzles to open locks etc are gone, or? They were simplistic, but I liked them.

    • Josh W says:

      They’re still there, but the game is now much closer to “play a game on a puzzle website to progress”, thanks to the app integration; there’s a slightly broader set of possible puzzles.

  10. The Great Wayne says:

    Nice to hear it’s good.

    Descent 2nd seems to have done really well with its app (Road to Legend) and its spawning more stuff like this – which is very good news, I think of lot of people play with one-two people top, and having one be the GM is always problematic.

    Not even mentioning playing with people allergic to negative interaction, like my wife. Can’t play this kind of game without getting the silent treatment if I kill her character at the wrong moment.
    So, now we get to hate together on the tablet. Yay for happy couples !

  11. MacBeth says:

    Oh, this pleases me immensely – I love many things about the first edition but it really does risk insanity setting it up and running it – I’ve only managed to get people playing it a handful of times. All these improvements seem to be exactly what it needs and I’m very happy I can reuse the old content.

    The trend for these high-production-value boardgames costing £100 or thereabouts isn’t ideal but it’s really time I’m short of these days, not so much money…

  12. Elgarion says:

    You just sold it to me. That said I’m waiting for its french version (should be out in a few months from here)

  13. BTA says:

    This is an incredibly cool sounding thing that I’d love to play with friends and very much wish was cheaper than $100. Curse you, Florence.

    Perhaps suggesting a price split might work, but with only 5 players that’s still $20 per and then there’s the matter of who it stays with…

  14. xGryfter says:

    I just recently (like within the last couple months) got into board gaming though I haven’t really played much of anything other than Betrayal at House on the Hill which I had a lot of fun with. I just bought Ascension, Zombicide and Flashpoint the other day (haven’t even opened them yet) but I really want to play this. I’m debating on if I should send the other Zombicide and Flashpoint back to get this or if I should just bite the bullet and keep them all so I have a rounded selection.

    I also know there are more complex games out there than Zombicide and Flashpoint and while I think I would enjoy those they would likely be too much for the people I play with.

    • chairmanwill says:

      Personally, I would say that Mansions of Madness, with all the difficult bits done by an app, is far more welcoming to new players than Zombicide. I find Zombicide to be fiddly, over-long and not that much fun. Mansions is pretty snappy once it gets going – the entire problem with 1st ed was how hard it was to set up.

  15. mbourgon says:

    What I’m most curious about is setup time. Both Arkham and Eldritch take a while to setup. Eldritch gaming is more streamlined, Arkham has more bits to do (sometimes I like that, sometimes I don’t). But both take a while to set up. If I can put it together and play in 5 minutes, I’ll spend the $$$.

    • mcgeeza says:

      It really is a 5-10 minute setup time. And most of that time was my son and I choosing which investigator we wanted to be.

    • Shiloh says:

      Sorry I’m late to the party on this one… but there’s an excellent companion app for Eldritch Horror which has all the encounter decks on it – and the author keeps it bang up to date as the inevitable expansions come out.

      Since d/ling it, I’ve *at least* halved set up time. I use it all the time now.

      It’s on the Google Play store here:

      link to

      Excellent piece of work.

  16. overmindless says:

    I was thinking of selling my 1st edition and expansion Forbidden Alchemy and buying the 2nd edition. After reading the review I’m thinking of keeping what I have and use the conversion kit. Would that be reasonable?

    • Josh W says:

      It does add things, but because it’s randomised and digital and I’ve only played it a few times, it’s tricky to determine how much it adds to the experience overall; in our game the computer added in some of the monsters and tiles from the original set, and it seemed to work pretty well (ie. killed us, but in an interesting way), although we haven’t seen anything from that expansion yet.

      It’s entirely possible that they will create a set in the future that takes the bits from the first edition that the new edition is using and makes a second edition expansion out of them, so it might be worthwhile selling and buying that kind of thing in the future, but it’s basically pretty unknown.