Shower thoughts: Why I prefer Mansions of Madness over the others

Fantasy Flight Games is one of the companies that I attribute me getting into board games to. High school was in many ways peak geek for me and board games were one aspect of that. The first two expansions for Carcassonne had been translated during my high school years and the board game renaissance was in it’s infancy. Settlers of Catan and Munchkin were a regular pastime, a friend bought the Doom board game because, well, Doom, and then… Arkham Horror was released.

I’ve had a fondness for the Cthulhu mythos from an early age. I found a translated collection of H.P. Lovecraft’s short stories in the local library and that same library also had the translated fourth edition of the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game. Cthulhu and cyberpunk, those were the things I gravitated towards.

So, Arkham Horror is released in 2005. I find out about it, buy it pretty much as I find out about it and for several years I play it any chance I get. I buy the expansions up to Kingsport Horror as they come out and I’m loving it because why wouldn’t I, it’s a board game and there are Great Old Ones. Anyone who has played Arkham Horror with several big box expansions knows the game becomes a literal eldritch horror to set up and not that fun to play anymore. This combined with Life Things finally led to me not playing it anymore and finally selling it.

Let’s skip to present day, as this shower thought is on the precipice of turning into a bath pondering. Between then and now I have played Eldritch Horror, Elder Sign, Mansions of Madness: Second Edition and Unfathomable, the successors to Arkham Horror; sadly I have not tried the third edition of Arkham Horror but in this context it probably does not change anything. With so many games sliced off from the same mythos and borrowing many of the mechanics between them it’s just natural for people to compare and rank them and that’s what brought this shower thought on.

“Mansions > Eldritch > Arkham, and it’s not even close” was my instant response to one such discussion on Discord. I stopped for a moment to think why that answer came to me so quick, what was the subconscious reasoning behind it. Bashing Arkham Horror is easy since it’s a relic of it’s time but on the surface Eldritch Horror is a much better game than that and also has more game to it than Mansions of Madness. So I took that shower and I think I figured it out.

All these games share so much between them they’re basically different variations of a game; I do not mean bash any of them with this comment, it’s good to cater to different types of players and the shared mechanics and symbols make it easy to learn the other games. But the thing that raises Mansions of Madness above Eldritch Horror for me — and why Unfathomable might actually take the crown — is the focus on the journey over the destination. The central mechanic of all these games is rolling dice and should they be divorced from the Cthulhu mythos theme I’m pretty confident I would skip most of them; Unfathomable being the notable exception here since Battlestar Galactica proved the formula works with zero Yuggothians.

Most likely my background in roleplaying games contributes significantly to this but what I want from these games is Cthulhu first and game second. If I want to play an excellent board game, with emphasis on game, none of these are on the shortlist, but sometimes I just want some Cyclopean cities with geometry that is all wrong in my life and Unfathomable and Mansions of Madness are the ones I prefer for that.

And to be clear: I’d happily play any of these, none of them are what I’d consider bad games, but a successful persuade roll is probably required for Elder Sign and the older editions of Arkham Horror.