Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Craft: Mansions of Madness

I've always been fascinated by representations of the occult and the extradimensional in narratives, and how they're portrayed in a variety of ways: as paradigms, as tools, as mysteries, as antagonists. Lovecraftian stories (and stories of the same mood) capture these elements best for me, so it's no surprise that I'm in love with The Secret World the way I am. One of the games I've been playing a lot of recently (aside from TSW, of course) is Mansions of Madness: a part of the Arkham Horror gaming franchise produced by Fantasy Flight Games.

Mansions of Madness is a relatively complex tabletop game for 2-5 players. One player assumes the role of the Keeper: a mysterious force that is orchestrating some sort of diabolical plan. The rest of the players act as investigators, chasing down clues and solving puzzles while fending off the Keeper's monsters and the hazards of an openly hostile luxury residence.

I first heard about MoM some time ago when I was initially curious about the main Arkham Horror game. I really wanted to try AH, but its day-long execution and setup, together with its cavalcade of expansions, proved a little too intimidating. The AH-Lite feel of MoM, together with its similarities to Betrayal at House on the Hill (another tabletop game I love, which I will discuss another time) was much more appealing, so I decided to give it a go instead.

I was was an investigator the first few times I played MoM over at a friend's place. He played the Keeper as it was his game set (the game owner tends to be the Keeper because of the intensive familiarity you need to have with everything going on in the complex system), and I enjoyed it a lot. I was impressed with how much detail and flexibility went into the design of the game, and how it felt less like a typical board game and more like a pen-and-paper RPG. The challenges that the Keeper levied upon us players kept us guessing and on our toes, while keeping to the flavor and mechanics of the 1920s Lovecraftian game world.

My friend eventually let me try being the Keeper once, and it was an exhilarating experience. I ran my share of RPGs in the past, and I liked how there's plenty of room for Keepers to bring their unique personalities to the game while providing a clear set of mechanics. My way of being a Keeper was very different from my friend's, and that changed the game's flavor quite a bit. By the time my session was done, my investigators were thrilled with a skin-of-their-teeth win, I was perfectly happy to have lost an epic battle, and  I was firmly decided: I wanted my own set.

I'll talk about my memorable experiences as a Keeper in later posts. In the meantime, here are some photos from the latest game I ran for Caroline and some friends:

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