Megabytes of Madness

Writer_smallerRobo Cthulhu

In actual fact, we did make a comic without having played the game. With a weekly schedule, and a limited budget, both time-wise and money-wise, this is often necessary. I would feel bad if we were reviewing a game on these terms, but as all we try to do is add some more humour to the hobby we all love, I feel it’s OK to poke some fun at games from a distance, particularly as we try to keep the comic topical.

I did read and watch a number of reviews on the new edition of Mansions of Madness, and oddly, I can’t seem to get a clear handle on whether or not the game improves on its first, original edition. It’s a game I have long wanted to play, so I was very curious about the new edition, and the changes made. Replacing the role of dungeon master with an app is actually a great idea for a game like this. Obviously, this could never be done with an actual RPG, but with the more limited scope of a board game, it is altogether more feasible. Fantasy Flight Games tried and succeeded in their first app-driven game, XCOM, which runs brilliantly, and fits thematically with being run by technology. Having an app to inject added chaos into a real-time game by timing events, interrupting players and throwing random spanners into the works is actually a brilliant conception.

Mansions of Madness doesn’t quite seem to work like this, though, and appears to simply replace the role of games master with an app in order to make the game fully co-operative. There don’t appear to be any integration issues (unless you count hyperbolic, unfounded, apocalyptic fear), and the game apparently runs smoothly. The issue seems to be with replayability, and the number of scenarios given with the game – which is a sparse four. There are add-ons and expansions, of course, but they seemed to be priced closer to full games rather than expansions. They are of course chock full of tiles, cards and miniatures, but that doesn’t really take the sting out of it for me.

Having said all of this, what I have written above is not a review, nor should it be regarded as such. This is not a game I have played, but while it is not really on my purchase list, it is still certainly a game I want to play. I enjoy Arkham Horror and Elder Sign, and Mansions Madness takes these games further, crafting a more immersive, spooky and mysterious play experience, all of which are steps in the right direction as far as I am concerned.

In the meantime, we have plenty of other games to fill the dark evenings in the run up to Halloween – Ghost Stories and Mysterium being top of the list in that regard.

Anyone played Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition? And more importantly, what are your recommendations for a good night of spooky gaming?

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Dice, dice, baby

Writer_smallerYou gotta roll with it

As previously illustrated, Aileen is a cardboard sniffer. There is no element of unboxing a new game that she loves more than the smell of it. If my own board game fetish were to be thus labelled, I’d be a dice fondler. As soon a new box is opened I’m rummaging around the cardboard and the plastic looking for dice, like some kind of hipster hobo, for whom dumpster diving for food is too ‘last year’. I can’t wait to get them into my hands and feel the weight, the quality; hoping for a good heft, and a satisfying roll. There is of course, an extra thrill of pleasure in custom dice. Unique faces, fascinating symbols, strange new purposes and uses.

I often spend time here proselytising about the wonderful social nature of board games. But their other great appeal is their tactile nature. Picking up a piece and moving it around. Holding a hand of cards. Amassing counters and tokens. Placing a lovingly crafted wooden meeple to claim a territory or declare an action. That wonderful ‘thunk’ as a good hand of dice hits the table rolling. The artwork, the atmosphere it creates. It’s all so tangible, helping you to connect with the game. To turn a box of cardboard and plastic and a dull book of rules into an experience that really engages you.

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To quote the good Dr . . .

Writer_smallerWhat’s the worst that could happen?

For the purposes of illustrating the argument, myself and Aileen take opposing views on the topic of this week’s comic. In reality, though, our views on the matter are in sync: apps in board games are a positive development. The integration of digital elements is taking board games to some exciting places, and I’m certain what we are seeing now is just the tip of the iceberg. Digital integration is another implement in the designer’s toolbox and I can’t wait to see what uses and mechanics are going to be found for it. The amount of innovation we are seeing board games right now is incredible, and the bottom line is that digital is going to help this, not hinder it.

Of course, not every board game needs an app, and contrary to some people’s concerns, I do not think that this is where things are headed. Far from it. We will of course see a proliferation of apps in the coming years as the trend takes hold, but that is what it will be: a trend. There will be a period where it will be shoehorned into games that won’t need it, there will be gimmicks and nonsense, and it will appear to be everywhere for a while. But it will find its level, and best use, in games. The reality is that in a few years time, some games will have apps, just as some games have dice, or miniatures, or expansions.

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XCOM saga

Writer_smallerXCOM saga

Candy Crush Saga, if you are wondering.

And if you are wondering why Beirti is not allowed to have any devices at the table, here’s why.

I was hoping to have played XCOM by now, but it didn’t make it into stores before Christmas, and its release is still eminent. The comic is more about the melding of digital and analogue than it is the game itself, though, so I felt comfortable doing a comic with the XCOM board game in it. XCOM is a real time board game that requires the use of a free companion app, one that essentially acts as a form of DM for the game: advancing threats, keeping time, adjusting the game according to how the players are reacting and dealing with the threats it continually spews out, like so much green mucus at an alien autopsy.

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