You thought the horror was contained in Arkham. You thought you’d get away from it all for a while. Take a vacation. Relax. Deal with normal life problems.
You were wrong. Turns out cultists can perform their psychotic rituals anywhere in the world – and sometimes in the middle of the journey. Can you deal with the madness while sailing through the skies on an airship, or hurtling down the tracks on a high-speed train? Find out in Horrific Journeys, a new expansion for Mansions of Madness.
How it Plays
Mansions of Madness is a scenario-based mystery game set in the H.P. Lovecraft universe. The scenarios tend to be smaller scale than, say, Arkham Horror or Eldritch Horror, tending to zero in on the titular Mansions and the creepy goings-on within. Okay, sometimes it’s a small town, or in the case of this expansion, planes, trains, and boats.
You can read my initial review of Mansions of Madness here. Since Horrific Journeys is an expansion, I’ll briefly go over the MoM mechanics as a refresher and highlight the new elements of brought to the table.
The game drops players into a room with a bit of story background and an inciting event. It’s up to players to use their actions to explore, find items, interact with NPCs, and figure out what exactly needs to be done to win the scenario. A digital app is required, which instructs players which tiles to add to the board when they explore, handles NPC interactions, combat, and puzzles, and frequently updates players with the “bad stuff” that happens as the scenario progresses.
3 new scenarios are included, as well as a bunch of new map tiles, new enemies, NPCs, and player characters. Along with those components are a few new mechanics. First is flooding – waters can rise and spread, and slow down movement significantly. Unlike fire, there’s no way to get rid of water. You also get Rifts – literal tears in space/time that can suck you into alternate dimensions. Incidentally, a new Condition has been added – Lost in Time & Space, representing the effort required to get back to your reality once you’ve fallen into a Rift.
“Horrific Journeys” is themed around modes of transportation. There is a scenario that takes place on an Airship in the sky, one set on a fast-moving train, and a final one that has our heroes on a ship. Incidentally, the ship scenario adds one more unique mechanic – hidden role cards. Some of the players are secretly Deep Ones, working to sabotage the goal of the human players.
Scribbles in the Dark
Mansions of Madness is still one of the prime examples of great digital integration in a board game. The fully featured app – which runs on a smartphone, tablet, or laptop – is a tool, a component of a larger game that serves to streamline complicated mechanics, minimize confusion, and replace what would be a tedious stack of tokens, tiles, and cards. It doesn’t replace the tabletop experience; it helps make the game work, and gets out of the way.
In Mansions of Madness in particular, it handles secret information to allow for an unfolding narrative that changes and adapts in surprising (yet controlled) ways. With a solid core gameplay system that allows for wide adaptability and a computer that can instruct players explicitly when new mechanics are required, the possibilities for each scenario are nearly endless.
But this isn’t supposed to be a review of the base game, it’s a review of the expansion, Horrific Journeys. Since we know the gameplay is solid and the potential is wide open, the biggest thing each expansion faces is bringing interesting new stories to the table. Are they well written? Interesting? Clever? Do they provide a challenge that isn’t impossible but also isn’t a breeze? Do they allow for cooperation and interaction? Discovery?
The through-line of Horrific Journeys is in the title – Journeys. Getting out of the dark and dusty mansions and into… well, even worse places. The claustrophobia of a narrow train. The menagerie that is a flying airship. The pressing waters of a ship at sea…
Let me first talk with minimal spoilers – basically, I won’t reveal anything that you wouldn’t find out on a brief examination of the components in the box. After all, much of the fun is discovery.
I can say that what I did discover within these scenarios was pretty thrilling. All three scenarios provide an interesting hook, but I think the train scenario was the coolest of the three.
With each scenario, I found myself gripped by the story and eager to find out what would happen next. The pacing was spot on, allowing players to explore and unlock secrets, while pushing tension, unfolding the story, and bringing things to a head at just the right time.
Just like other scenarios, the ones included in the expansion are fully replayable, but you’re not going to have quite as satisfying an experience the 2nd time around when you’ve seen the map and pretty much know what to expect. I’ve only replayed scenarios in order to win when I’ve lost the previous outing, but the second time typically involves rushing through the familiar territory to get to things I now know are needed.
Still, with new components, monsters, characters, and items, you can maybe get a slightly more fresh experience going back to an older scenario you’ve mostly forgotten by now with some of these new elements added in.
In the third scenario, the one set on a ship at sea, there is a significant and potentially controversial change. In this scenario, hidden role cards are used so that one or two players may be working against the others in secret.
In my opinion, this change was unnecessary. Mansions of Madness is difficult enough as is, and working together with the other players is a big part of the fun. The 2nd edition of the game was revamped so that no one had to be the “Keeper” and everyone could play together. But now in this scenario (unless you play with 2 players), you don’t know who you can trust. To me, it seems this scenario could have easily been kept mostly the same and let NPCs fully take on the role of possible enemies that you had to sort out.
There are some interesting ideas in the design, but perhaps those should’ve been saved for a different game. Or perhaps an expansion specifically dedicated toward hidden roles, so if you weren’t into that sort of thing you could just avoid the whole expansion.
Those interesting ideas relate to how players interact with the app. There are several points in the scenario when players are given a choice, and that choice is made secretly in the. These choices involve risk/reward – so you may have the option to play it safe, or to take a risk that could go bad, or to just do something bad. Either way, the others don’t know what you did – and the app handles the lasting outcome which you may find out later. It’s an interesting mechanism that works well with the app integration.
I would warn you, if you’re going to play this scenario, read the goals of each side carefully to everyone before starting (the goals are printed on the back of the loyalty card). There’s some slight difference in the wording of each goal that caused some confusion, and almost outed me early on over some questions about the rules.
Anyway, enough of this. The short of it is that Horrific Journeys is a great expansion, and even the more unfortunate parts of the boat scenario are not game killers. Even if you hate the idea of secret roles, you still get 2 great scenarios and lots of new components that might get mixed into existing scenarios; you can also play the 3rd scenario with 2 players to avoid the roles.
Okay, enough playing coy. I’m not going to give away the meat of any of these scenarios, but I am going to start talking a little bit more about the content in them. I’ll try to stick with only what gets revealed in the first few minutes of any given scenario.
SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT
The first scenario, set on an airship, is a straight-up murder mystery. A body was discovered mid-flight, which means someone on board is the killer. Your little team of investigators has limited time to talk to all the NPCs, gather evidence, pursue leads, and confront the killer before it is too late. This is a heavily story-driven scenario, with a bunch of puzzles and very little combat. It forces you to pick and choose the leads you pursue, paying attention to subtle hints. A notebook allows you to review important details about evidence and conversations you’ve had with NPCs.
What’s most exciting though, is that the killer can be different from play to play. While the backstories of each character are more less the same, the evidence can change up. Like any good murder mystery, everyone seems guilty – so those subtle clues you must gather are key to solving the problem, even if you’ve played before. It really makes you feel like a regular Hercule Poirot, at least if you solve the case.
The train scenario was thrilling. It starts with one of your traveling companions disappearing in thin air, and soon more people start disappearing. I can’t say too much more, but I will say that I never thought you could properly portray a tense high-speed train escapade in board game format… but this scenario truly succeeds.
In the last scenario, you’re literally on a sinking ship. The first thing that happens is an explosion in the engine room, and there’s no repairing this ship. Race to the lifeboats as the ship is literally sinking behind you, but you’ve got to find and rescue as many NPCs as you can. Unfortunately, one of the NPCs and at least one of the players are Deep One Hybrids, hoping to drag the humans to the bottom of the sea, so be prepared for plenty of suspicion. Does that guy really think it’s best to skip a room and potentially leave NPCs behind for the greater good, or is he out to sink everyone?
As much as I prefer the fully co-op scenarios, I will admit the hidden roles probably add a bit more replay value than some of the other scenarios, but not every gaming group will be into that sort of thing.
I hope this gives you enough information to decide if the expansion is for you. I, for one, enjoyed all the scenarios and found them well-written and interesting.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Fantasy Flight Games and Asmodee NA for providing a review copy of Horrific Journeys.