Double Group Plays >> Review
Three college students are sitting at a square table in the Emory Student Center. One of the three has played twice. I was that player. The first time I ran through the game, I was responsible for handling the rules and understanding the overview of the game. It felt free form in that the objective of the game was handled indirectly from me to the other players. The decision of actually setting the game as solo play or team work was in my hands. From my interpretation, it was an independent mystery game played with others. However, the set-up of the game further established the lack of competition and individuality due to shared spaces on the board game and relying on the person who knows most of the rules. There were other cards to ensure helping other players as well as implied interpretation that getting the “insane” condition card would end badly for everyone. Thus, from our group interpretation, it was supposed to be a cooperative mystery game. Clearly, from the first to second game with two different groups, as the rule decider, I decided to keep the cooperative play environment as opposed to the independent survival approach of winning. Even when the game coerced us near the end that only a single player could survive, we decided against that and focused on the experience and narrative. We, as players, ended up setting a team process and strategy decisions as in one player decides what they want to do, but the consent and open opinions of others also played into what the one player does. Sometimes, the physics of the game altered or were bent to fit into the group dynamic. A rule from the book was the use of the clue tokens where it was for the player only; however, when someone was in trouble or needed a token, anyone in the team would offer theirs. Another was the ignorance of yellow and filled borders and deciding which ones to cross. The result was still fluid gameplay that did not downplay consequences on players and still held the “logic” of the game. Barricades and stealing items in trade actions were not in use, and the fires were extinguished for the good of the group. When I played with the insane condition, I ignored it, knowing I would lose the game; however, the team objective was more important, and all of us wanted to know more of the story and propel the game onwards rather than win/lose.
My Final Thoughts
Mansions of Madness actually offered that nonlinear experience in setting aside book rules and previous interpretations of games. For example, the order of the players did not matter. Another was the board game was set in moveables tiles and used technology for interactive experience. In fact, when I played through the second time with another group, the map of the game changed, and the game time was extended. The gameplay was straightforward in a sense that all the basic rules such as borders, dice, and damage cards were laid out. However, there was plenty room for error when it came to subtle questions such as what was considered in range, what borders could be crossed, or even if special abilities were considered actions. Group 1 chose a more fluid style, making up rules as we go while retaining the same physics of the game when we had those questions. Group 2 went for the strict book structure, following the exceptions laid out in book terms. Honestly, I did not enjoy the second approach, but it also offered me different insight in that different strategies were made to move through the game. The items and conditions made the game very complex, requiring each of us to decide what was best for the group, for ourselves, and if we even remember what cards we have in our inventory. Truthfully, I believed the app added to the complexity of the game, filling in the plot holes and confusion during gameplay. It understood the need for fluid gameplay and easier user interface as opposed to complete manual reference. This allowed the manuals to be less cumbersome and more useful. Overall the game was non-linear; this is added to the fact that the app randomly generated maps and encounters. This allowed the use of probing and telescoping in reaction to the various random challenges presented. For me, it made each game of the same story feel different. There were general rules set up that resembled more of guidelines. The landscape of the map changes, each turn and item offers different challenges, and even the group dynamic can change the choices we make. Thus, Johnson’s claim holds true in this board game.
A Side Note
My favorite character was Carson Sinclair the butler. He keeps falling and tripping in game (while accumulating damage from those), but he can challenge a Hunting Horror (snake monster) to fisticuffs. I find him hilarious and cool. What’s yours?