Play Make Write Think

A whole new gaming experience

Before this side quest, I thought of board games (excluding games like chess etc.) as simple, easy to pick up, group/family games. The sort of game you’d plonk down infront of the family and within two moves your grandma is an expert. There’s no way they can compete with the complexities of computer games or sports.

Mansions of Madness drove home a point this class has been making all semester. Board games can be rather complicated. Having read a few other classmate’s analyses of this game, as well as Betrayal at the House on the Hill, a common theme was people spending huge amounts of time to understand the rules of the game. Considering the game came with two THICK rule books, this isn’t surprising. This period of uncertainty is prime probing time. Asking questions to others in the group, testing out the mechanics of the game, exploring the house, inspecting areas, learning from stupid moves, these are all examples of probing that I experienced in the initial phase of the game. I had never exeperienced this level of testing and learning in a board game before (and I realise in the grand scheme of things, Mansions of Madness isn’t even that compicated). Mansions of Madness made me realise that board games are a much broader and more versatile medium than I had previously thought.

On a slighlty less analyitcal note, I thought this game was really fun! I played it with Jessica, Austin and Nelson (a cracking bunch). Of the board games I’d played previously, almost all have been Player vs Player or Team vs Team. I believe this is because PvP reduces much of the need for complexity, there’s no requirement to simulate sophisticated monster mechanics or invent complicated common goals. For a PvP game you just need a simple mechanic that unleashes humans’ innate competitive nature and BOSH you’ve got yourself a board game. I loved the fact that this game is cooperative, all of us playing as a team to defeat a common goal (unless someone goes insane). The cooperation in this game was far and away the best thing about it. Making decisions, together, about where to go and strategizing about who should do what based on their character attributes and actions was a blast.

The medium of the game was also very engaging. We played using an iPad which was an easy and seamless experience. Without the iPad, I imagine the mythos phase would have been less dramatic. No one had to pick a card or roll a die, the monsters just moved by themselves; it was automatic, as if they were real entities making decisions. The miniatures also also added a LOT. There’s an injection of urgency and fear the second you see a giant flying squid dragon placed down.

I had an excellent time playing Masions of Madness. It was by far the most nuanced and complex board game I’ve ever played. I’m looking forward to playing it or other games like it again in the future.

Fighting Monsters and Choosing Your Story

My friends and I got together to play Mansions of Madness. We were all thinking about how we did not have time to play for super long, but we had to get it done. We allotted a good amount of time just in case learning the instructions took a long time. Luckily, we had one person among us who was not a rookie, and he led the ropes.

The interesting thing about Mansions of Madness is that it is a physical board game with an interactive component that allows your story to completely change. I was excited to download the app on my iPad and play narrator. At the start of the game, we were each making our own decisions about where we wanted to explore, but as the game continued on and monsters started spawning, we had to be more strategic. I like how the game strongly encouraged teamwork.

We all had to make group decisions to stop the cult ritual and to eventually escape the mansion. We worked together to make sure everyone stayed alive, and we played our cards so that the strongest attacker could defeat the monster quickly. It got quite interesting when we thought we were being smart by staying out of range of the giant monster. However, it moved again and got directly between us and the doorway.

Here, we were confronted with two monsters, but we had one clear goal and that unified our team. This board game, with the interactive component, made it special. We could fight monsters and unlock rooms in a mansion one adventure at a time. It made the adventure unique to us, and it changed the way we made group decisions.

Overall, we decided that we want to play the game again, but a longer and more difficult version next time. We unexpectedly had so much fun, and when the game was over, I found myself wanting to keep playing.

Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn

The moment I opened the box of Mansions of Madness and saw the bat-winged, octopus-headed humanoid I cried out in joy. That is one of the most well-known Great Old Ones, Cthulhu. And this board game did turn out to be extremely Lovecraftian. The 2018 video game Call of Cthulhu visualized a mansion from Lovecraft world, too, and even the dining table looks strikingly similar. Even in one of the item descriptions, a fragment of the famous Cthulhu chant appeared. Of course, I recognized it within a second. So much for the first impression.

If the definition of “board games” are games that involve a board and movement of pieces, I wonder if I can truly call Mansions of Madness a board game, for it relies heavily on an application. Surely, I can imagine using another set of dice and rule book (or story book?) to replace the app in the game, but the combination of technology and traditional board and pieces gives quite a different experience. A few cut-scenes, images, voice-overs and mini-games add to the sense of reality. Mansions could be made completely into a video game, too, I believe, but that would take away the fun of collaboration with a person sitting next to you. This board game, similar to many others, relies heavily on chances. In a video game, you make an action, and it would likely cause an effect, so skills are critical. For example, in a game like Dark Souls, you can practice to win a boss fight. In Mansions, practice of playing the game can hardly change the outcome of the dice. Here is a simple example, if one player keeps encountering monsters in “Mythos Stage,” while another never does, the difficulty each player faces is different. Therefore, the importance of strategy in this game, in my humble opinion, exceeds a number of video games. Being good at a board game like Mansions requires the player to excel in decision-making, not button-pressing. S/he has to consider not only one step, but the steps after that, and calculate the probabilities.

However, Mansions of Madness does have a more linear story compared to a number of video games. The number of obstacles (fires, monsters, accidents, not mini-games) a player encounters can vary; yet, the plot stays the same as soon as the game starts. The butler will stay the bad guy, no matter how many monsters you kill. The probing in Mansions, though, is similar to that in video games. There are underlying patterns to be discovered. For instance, choosing to attacking a monster tends to be more effective than evading it in “Investigator Phase.”

Can I be driven to insanity?

By Rachel Vellanikaran

Last week, I played Mansions of Madness with Austin and Zamirah. It took an excessive amount of time figuring out the rules and game set-up, but fortunately Austin had some prior knowledge that sped up this initial process. I liked how the game incorporated the use of an app; it was interesting engaging with the two different gaming mediums for one game. Since the game was taking almost over two hours to play, we didn’t end up making it to the final objective, but I still feel like I got a grasp of it’s decision-making and role-playing aspects. It felt like the overall objective was to maintain your physical and mental strength, but more importantly to ensure you didn’t lose your sanity(while also solving the mystery). If you lose your sanity, both you and your team investigators are in danger or at a serious disadvantage. For example, once you’re officially insane, you can complete “Insanity Conditions,” which could include setting fires throughout the mansion or using whatever weapon you have in hand against other investigators. My character, Rita Young had lots of physical strength, but poor sanity. And at one point, I kept racking up horror cards due to unforeseen monster encounters and the like and was too close to insanity level; but I never quite got there. Though it would’ve been unfortunate for my team members, I kind of wanted to see the change and diversity of outcomes in the game after going insane.

In terms of decision-making, I think there was quite a bit of strategic decision-making, from initially choosing your character and their respective strengths/weaknesses/ability levels to exploring or interacting with various objects, rooms, clues, and monsters in the mansion. This incorporates that telescoping and probing aspect as well. And for us at least, this decision-making was very collaborative as we were all determined to reach the end goal. For example, if Austin or Zamirah were exploring a clue, I would try and fend off a monster in another room since Rita, my character had the most physical strength compared to the other two investigators. We also chose to give my character the heavy weapons, since it would be most beneficial to her.

Overall, I really enjoyed Mansions of Madness since it’s basically my first time doing any role-playing-type game. I’m hoping I can play it through completely when I have more time. I’m still very curious about how reaching the state of insanity changes the game…

Betrayal at House on the Hill: “I spent three rounds running away from you, now you tell me you can teleport?”

Probing was definitely a big part of my game experience. The first time we played the game, we did not thoroughly read the rulebook, because it seemed long and a lot of the rules are talking about the second stage of the game instead of how to begin the game. So I think we did more “probing” than we should have, we discussed and tried to figure out the structure of the three floors of the house, how the characters can move depending on their speed and draw different event, item and omen card based on the instruction on the room cards. It was fairly simple until we got to the haunt part, one thing unique about this game is going back and forth between rule books, and apparently different roles (traitor or heroes) have different parts to read and cannot be shared with the other group. We ended up with a haunt that involved a lot of “telescoping”, which basically states “to do this”, you need to “do that”. The hero side had to gather candles and light them up in a specific room with rolling the dice to a number higher than 5. The telescoping was basically to gather the candles, you need to get to these rooms, which might involves building new rooms, and to light up the candles, you need to carry the candles to a specific room and rolling the dice. But on your way to the room, you also need to be careful about your candles are not stolen by traitor, or not killed by the traitor or monster. The fun part was that because traitor and heros have their own rule books that cannot be shared with the other sides, there are usually some mystical power and ability that seems unrealistic and coming out of no where. There were many skeptical looks at the other side: “is this really in the rulebook?” “Are you sure you did not just made that up?” Of course we shared our ability after the game, but the randomness added some spice to the game. The decision making wasn’t a big part of the game, as most of the battles are determined on what you get from the dices you roll. But the dice absolutely added a lot randomness to the game. We had situations where one side has two dice to roll, and the other side has four dices to roll. However, the two dices ended up having higher number than the four dices. In other words, you could expect to win the game as you see your numbers of each characters are really high and still ended up losing the game. But that’s also the fun part of it, there is no way to tell who is going to win until the very end. There are also so many types of haunts, each having its own setting and little stories to them, adding more excitement to the game. The experience of playing the game was great, and I would definitely play it again at some point.

Alan Li Side Quest 6: Reflection on Betrayal at the House on the hill, Being balanced is better than especially good only at some traits

I played the board game Betrayal at the House on the Hill with Keita, Ruohan, and Kathy. Although we watched the tutorial videos ahead of time, figuring out game rules took us roughly 2 hours. The game is complicated but well designed with many possible endings, and I am really interested to explore other possibilities after we successfully played the first round.

The probing and telescoping part of the game is largely exploring rooms, character strengths and weaknesses, and collectible items. Different rooms have different arrangements of doors and exit rules that sometimes relate to character traits. Doors have to be present on both rooms for a successful addition, and speed limit of the character limits how many rooms each character can move/add in a single hand. My character was Darrin “Flash” Williams, who has high speed but mediocre/low in might, sanity or knowledge. Darrin was great in the exploring part and was able to open almost as many rooms as I wanted and moved freely across the house, but my weaknesses started to show when the hunt started. Collectible items are used when the room tells the character to pick an event/item/omen card, which can either help or hurt the character capability. These cards are really helpful for characters during the hunt started. Some of the cards enhances some traits and can be very helpful for some characters low on that trait.  

Decision making is a central part of this game. Before the game started, I chose my character for his absolute advantage in speed, which enables me to escape or move to ideal location much faster than any other character. And in the game, many times I have to choose whether to open a new room or stop at the current room then pick the card indicated. And some cards require sacrificing one trait for another, whether or not to make that exchange was crucial for the character’s ability. After the hunt started, decisions are even more important. As we played hunt #43, it required explorers to light candles with speed roll more than 3 and move the candle to another room with knowledge roll more than 5 to place the candle. When the candle placed is equal to the number of explorers, the explorers win. Otherwise, the traitor wins. And the hardest part to win is to deal with the immortal monster. Collaboration became crucial for winning in the hunt. My character was great in speed but weak in knowledge, which led me to light the candles and move them to Kathy’s character, who was great in knowledge but weak in speed. Even though we tried to work together, the traitor with monster was hard to defeat. Monster could move freely to any room in the house and challenge me, even with my high might (enhanced with armor card), I could only reduce might from fighting with the monster and unable to kill it even if I won. My high speed became useless while facing the omnipresent monster. Also, the traitor kept challenging me on knowledge and sanity rolls, which I was weak and constantly in the brink of dying. My luck in rolling kept me alive many times. That is when I realized having balanced character traits is far better than just being great at one or two of them. It is more likely to die and lose when the traitor keeps challenging you with your weakest trait, and your strong traits will not even have the chance to take effects. Items like the armor that makes traits interchangeable allows more variability and skills to play the game well. More uncertainty with the many hunt rules also makes the game more complicated and fun to play with.

For the argument Steven Johnson made in Everything Bad is Good For You, I think the opposite holds true after playing with this board game. While video games have the rules programmed into the software and stop the users from making illegal moves, board games are a lot harder to play by the rules, which is why it took our group such a long time to figure it out. There was no one telling us what are moves we can do or cannot do. When confusion comes, a lot of reading and explaining is needed to have everyone understand and agree on the rules. This is much more time-consuming and harder than video games.

This game is far more complicated than any other game I played before. The progress of the game is nonlinear and have many alternative paths and possible endings for players to find out. The event/item/omen cards are crucial once the hunt starts and can change a character’s ability completely when facing with different goals. Luck, skills, and collaborations are very crucial in this game, which makes this game highly unpredictable and fun to play with.


Here we are going to talk about Mansions of Madness. Yes, that game with that ridiculously long rulebook to teach you how to be a decision maker in the game. At first glance, the game is daunting in its medium as it gives a lot of rules that you would only expect to be doable in a video game. However, the combination of the app that the game requires and the board game combined makes the game very interesting to play. In my opinion, the goal of the game is to protect yourself from becoming insane. I think that it better to become physically harmed than insane because when you’re insane, you become a hazard for other players as well. So, my team (Austin, Rachel, and I) made it our mission to not become insane by any means necessary.

So, let’s talk about the decisions that was made in order to ensure that none of us went insane. Foremost, we all got card that balanced each other’s weaknesses out. For example, Rachel had the character with the most physical strength, so I had the character with the most sanity, while Austin fell in the middle of the two extremes. This kind of did not work out the most for us as Rachel had the least amount of sanity, but unluckily had the most amount of horrors. However, I luckily continued to get clues which took some of the pressures of my fellow player, Rachel. MANNNN we love those clues. Hence, through the decision making of keeping a balance, we were able to keep the game going on for a while. In the words of Austin, “let’s get these d**n monsters!”

Losing the House on the Hill

On Tuesday night I played Betrayal at House on the Hill with three other students from class: Michael, Giovanni, and Sadie. We initially started reading the instructions out loud, which was helpful, but we decided it was taking too long so we watched a five minute video instead. We were confused about the “haunt” part of the game, but we knew it was a later part of the game so we started playing with understanding just the basic exploratory of the game. As my character, I decided to pick Darren “Flash” Williams (speed: 6, might: 3, sanity:3, knowledge:3) because I thought the increased speed would be useful to get to places faster than the other players.

Once we started playing the game, we started exploring and collecting events, objects, and omens. Many of the rooms contained events, and I started to realize that putting all my stats into one category (speed) may have not been the best idea, because I started to lose other stats by not rolling high enough. Because your stats determine how many dice you roll, many times losing stats can make it easier to lose even more stats, which gave me the idea that a more standard 4,4,4,3 stat distribution would have been superior. After a while of exploring, which mostly coincided with me losing stats, we picked up one omen too many and the haunt began.

The haunt was the most exciting and fun part of the game for me. We had haunt 9 which started out with everyone as a hero and we had to all get to the pentagram chamber in order to kill a dark fiddler. Once in the room, we had to roll a sanity roll of 5+ four times to dispel the dark fiddler and win the game. However, if we sanity rolled less than 4, we died and became a traitor. In our game, Sadie was the first to become a traitor. Next was me, then finally Giovanni until only Michael was left as a hero. Might became an important factor in the game as we took turns trying to take down Michael. The game got really tense as Michael lost health. It could have gone either way, but Michael managed to eek out the last 5+ sanity roll. Luckily for him, he had high might and sanity stats, otherwise he might not have been able to pull it off.

Overall I thought this game was really fun to play, especially the haunt portion, as the stakes were high and it basically became a free-for-all to win the game. Although a lot of the game comes down to random chance, there’s also a large amount of freedom and multiple different ways to play, which I enthusiastically enjoy.

Never Felt More Betrayed

For someone who doesn’t play board games often, this was easily the most complicated board game I’ve ever played. In my opinion, the game was not so friendly to new users. The hardest part for me was trying to understand the overall objective of the game, and what the goal of moving my player around the board was. First of all, I essentially picked my character randomly because I had no idea how much each attribute mattered. I ended up choosing the character with the most knowledge, hoping this would somehow be important later (sadly it wasn’t. at all.) I had to engage in probing in attempt to understand how the game worked and what was important. Why do I want to open further rooms, and what significance, other than potentially improving my attributes, do the cards have? Do I want to stay relatively close to the spot we started at, or is it smarter to get as far away as possible? I knew it wasn’t just me because the people I was playing with seemed to be missing a sense of direction as well.

This board game forced us to make a few strategic decisions, but, for me at least, most of those decisions felt random since I didn’t really know how the game worked too well. I felt that it was pretty linear in the sense that we just wanted to get to the haunt, and there wasn’t any other way to end the game. Also, I felt like the haunt took an unnecessarily long time to start. But, when it started, the game started to all make a little more sense. I didn’t feel like there was much telescoping in the game because it was filled short-term objectives, and no long-term objectives. This was probably due to me being a new player to the game though. Once the haunt started we all had to rush to the pentagram chamber, and I realized that I was at a huge disadvantage since I drifted far from the beginning of the game. Once we began battling in the pentagram chamber, the game was left up to the luck of dice rolls. The haunt was the most fun part of the game for me since I love intensity. Until then though, the game just felt like it was lagging along, and I wasn’t having that much fun. Overall though, I enjoyed the experience of playing such an intricate game; it was very interesting to me, a person who’s used to playing simpler games. Congratulations to the legend and winner of our game, Michael Mariam.

“Cycle of Eternity”

I played the game “Mansion of Madness” with Wenyi and Kimberly. It basically combines the form of both board game and video game, featuring Lovecraftian’s horror monsters and puzzle-solving mindset. That is to say, we not only have to set up the cards and roll the dice on the table but also have to download its app to trigger the plot.

When Wenyi and I first started setting up the game, we were confused when going through the wordy rule book, because there are a lot of rules that make sense only at the particular situation. Thanks to Kimberly, who has previously played this game with her friends, we get to understand the rules and set up the game successfully. We chose one of the base game that is supposed to be about 90 to 120 min. However, we still couldn’t finish it in 3 hours. According to Kimberly’s previous gaming experience, she said, it is because we tended to explore the map more after Wenyi got a Claustrophobia Horror Effect with accumulative Horror cards that could lead her to Insane when in a small map. At first few rounds, we played slowly, checking the rule book frequently. Also, we forgot that each character has their own strength. For example, William Yorick, my character, can gain an extra clue whenever a monster is defeated, but we did not realize it until halfway through the game.

The game is more comprehensive and playable than I thought it would be. It is an interesting combination of video game and board game that I believe it preserves the most enjoyable part of each game formats. For example, the gaming process, like dice rolling, could just be a random number generator in the video game, which makes the players feel like they have less control during the game. However, there are drawbacks as well. If the game is entirely data-based, the mistakes like forgetting the characters’ strengths will not happen.