Published on October 17th, 2014 | by Nicole Jekich1
A Late-Night Monster Mash
Monster Mansion Review
A rag-tag group of strangers have come to the local theme park and wandered off, pulled by curiosity through the closed doors labeled ‘Monster Mansion’. They awake startled and realize those doors were a portal to a eerie place where monsters creep.
It is up to you and the rest of the strangers to make it through the dungeons and mansion floors alive and escape; but beware, there may be an assassin in your midst with other plans or the exit may close if you don’t reach it in time. You’re in for one freaky night!
(We received a prototype copy of Monster Mansion for this article. Monster Mansion is currently on Kickstarter and final art, design, components are subject to change. The pictures in this article do not reflect final production.)
From the instant you open the box, you feel like you’re part of Monster Mansion’s story and adventure. The cube shaped box is designed to look like the mansion that you will soon be running around on the inside and the cover art features the sign which your characters passed before ending up in the Monster Mansion dungeon.
Among the game pieces and cards inside the box, there was also an envelope with a wax seal. It was a letter printed on linen paper addressed to me specifically cordially inviting me into the Monster Mansion and encouraged me to bring me friends. Whether each copy will have this same note, I do not know, but it was definitely a welcome surprise and an amazing thematic touch. I know receiving a letter beckoning you to creepy mansion is a common trope in horror movies and Scooby Doo episodes.
Setting up the game is very self explanatory-the game doesn’t have a physical board, but the play space is composed of a series of tiles placed between the start and end points. The start begins in the dungeon and curves around a winding flight of stairs to the mansion floor which leads to the exit. Players can collect gold coins, items and an attacking monsters upon each turn.
The heroes of the story are a varied group: the wealthy VIP business man, the off-work nurse, the sweat-stained theme park body guard and a pair of trouble-making siblings are all playable characters. It feels like playing a real person as opposed to an exaggerated character and I enjoyed the change of perspective. The art on all the cards is small but the icons are easy to reference during your panicked turn.
My favorite feature of Monster Mansion is the HP tracker. A series of bars in ascending HP numbers goes underneath your character and monster to indicate how much health each of them have. The amount of red/health above a character showed how close they were to death and was a quicker way to mark damage than grabbing counters and dice and is a great visual aid for the party healer.
Essentially Monster Mansion is a dungeon delving game in real time. It recommends a full game time of 10 minutes per player and can hold 2-8 players at a time. For our first play through we were a team of three and we needed to succeed on exiting the mansion before 30 minutes was up. Piece of cake, right?
Each tile on the dungeon and mansion floor are randomly selected and remain hidden until a character enters a room. Once a tile flips over, it reveals a trap or challenge that a character must experience when the exit that room. It usually means succeeding on a skill check roll to prevent damage. In the meantime, at the start of each player’s turn, they draw an encounter card and place it to the right of their character card.
Encounter cards are split around 40% monsters and 60% other cards which include heals or finding an object or a cold wisp of air. These wisp encounter cards don’t have in game effects, but add to the suspense. It’s that sigh of relief every adventurer wants when they open a door and don’t get a face full of fire or zombies. When a player does have a monster latch on, they attack each turn (if they have an attack) until killed.
During the game, players can buy items from a line up using the gold they receive from killing monsters or finding them in the room through encounter cards. Items can be purchased, sold and exchanged at any time during the game. Having this rule really cuts down on taking long turns that might hinder your exit.
Items range from weapons to increase your attack, additional healing, or devices that prevent room traps from activating. If you have one time use items, it’s best to use them as soon as a player could benefit from one. Monsters and rooms often target items and make players discard them. Use it our lose it!
There is another part of the game where players have a hidden agenda if you have four or more players. The premise is that there is a VIP hidden in the group of civilians that must survive and there is a hidden assassin who must ensure that the VIP dies. I’m not much of a fan of hidden roles and having an assassin in this game feels out of place. As a cooperative game it stands completely on its own but if you want to have secret backstabbing, you have that option.
We unfortunately didn’t make it out of the mansion before the timer buzzed and we were a mere two rooms away. One of our players even went backwards to try and help us out. Losing didn’t seem bad because the game only lasted 30 minutes. We were ready to start over again right away and follow more closely together because splitting up never works!
As the Nurse Jessica Jones I did have quite a few turns where I literally couldn’t do anything-I had no money to buy items; I had two monsters on me that reduced my attack to 0 and also prevented me from attacking and no one in the party needed to heal. If you want to win the game, stay focused on balancing the party by having a healer and someone with a good fighting skill at least and work as a team by helping each other battle the monsters and quickly move through the rooms.
I can’t wait to see what other rooms and maps that will be available on Monster Mansion Kickstarter. In the rules there are different game modes to try including competitive races to the end and solo mode. As someone who wouldn’t normally pick up a horror adventure game I was surprised how much I enjoyed Monster Mansion: the gameplay was familiar yet elements were unique, set up was fast and easy and the gameplay was fun and challenging.
Monster Mansion is a well executed game idea and theme and the fully cooperative game of Monster Mansion is a great dungeon delving experience that isn’t laborious.