Mansions of Madness: Blood Ties (Part 1)
The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.
— H.P. Lovecraft, “The Call of Cthulhu”
Mansions of Madness by Fantasy Flight Games is about an ancient conflict, between incomprehensible things and a few ignorant people willing to peer into the unknown, and in the process push back the darkness for a few minutes more or lose their sanity. It takes place in the thick of Lovecraft’s (and his inheritors’) fiction, in a vast universe hostile, or perhaps worse, indifferent, to man.
I sat down on Halloween night with my wife, my sister Emilie, and two friends to play through one of the game’s scenarios, “Blood Ties.” This is the story of what befell four investigators as they struggled to uncover the mystery of a blood relative, and the legacy he may have passed on…
Briefly, How it Plays:
Mansions of Madness is a competitive game. Every player but one adopts the role of an investigator, trying to figure out what’s going on. They don’t know what their goal is, nor what their opponent’s goal is. Which, of course, makes their primary goal to figure out their goal, while trying to preserve their physical and mental well-being. The other player assumes the role of Keeper, representative of whatever shadowy force has gripped the mansion. He knows what the goal is, both for himself and the investigators, and it is his duty to bring the dark plot to fruition while hindering the puny efforts of the investigators.
A game round is composed of three phases. First, the investigators take their turn. All investigators act during this phase, in any order they decide. An investigator may move two spaces and take one action (again, in any order), which could include sprinting to move a third space, using an ability from a card, attacking a monster, dropping items, or exploring a room. Once they have all moved, any investigators occupying the same space may exchange items.
Second, the Keeper acts. Each investigator generates him one “threat” token, which he spends to trigger certain abilities that are determined when the game begins.
Third, time progresses. Both the investigators and the Keeper are on the clock, and both may lose the game if they do not accomplish their goal before time runs out. In practice, this means that a time token is placed on the back of a card with a printed number. Once enough time tokens have accumulated, the card is flipped over and resolved. Usually the game ends in failure if neither team has accomplished their goal by the time the final card is flipped.
The Story So Far
Our story follows four characters, though one of them is more central to this particular tale.
The first is “Ashcan” Pete, inheritor of this estate from a blood relative, his uncle Artimus. Ashcan has been living wherever the road has taken him, with only the company of his old hound Duke, so the news of his strange uncle’s passing and Ashcan’s inheritance of his estate was likely a pleasant windfall. His uncle was prone to mumbling such vanities as “We’re a special family, you know that?” which had the effect of estranging him from most of his relations for the last few decades. No one from the family has been to his estate in that time, so Ashcan is unprepared for what he finds: Artimus was simply insane, building his mansion in pieces. The bedrooms are in one place, but the lavatory is in another. Simply mad. At any rate, Ashcan hopes his dear crazy uncle left some sort of fortune or treasure in this place.
Ashcan is not alone in this adventure. He has brought with him three others, all of whom expressed interest in seeing the grounds. Artemus’ estate was hours east of Arkham even by auto, so after the funeral, Ashcan was not picky about letting these strangers give him a lift. The first of these is Kate Winthrop, a scientist. She insists on bringing along her expensive and fragile microscope, and is disturbingly open in telling a story about how she once watched her mentor be devoured by an ethereal beast. Ashcan is not sure of her mental stability.
The most sane seems to be old Professor Harvey Walters, who is also the operator of the automobile that ferries the four of them out to the woods. Sane is a relative term among this bunch, as Professor Walters can hardly stop himself from rambling on about obscure and archaic artifacts. He insists that he is carrying one with him, but appends that he cannot permit anyone else see it.
Last is Sister Mary, who turns out to be a quite the bearcat about her vows when Ashcan tries to strike up a conversation about the chassis he can make out beneath her habit. After he nurses his wounded pride for a time, Ashcan asks what her weird tale is, only for her to purse her lips, look out the window at the light rain, and mutter, “Nothing.”
Our gang of misfits drives up to the estate and parks in the rear. It is still drizzling, so Ashcan follows instinct and lights a campfire in the garden while the others take a quick look at the grounds. Seeing nothing, they return to the fire for warmth and to discuss how to go about searching the place. Ashcan and Professor Walters want to begin by searching the storage shed nearby, but Sister Mary and Kate feel a trembling in their feminine intuition at the sight of the moldy shack.
Will our heroes solve the mystery of Uncle Artimus’ confused estate? Will Kate break her precious microscope? Will Professor Walters’ back last the night? Will Sister Mary give into temptation and fall headfirst into Ashcan’s rugged good looks? Find out next time, in Mansions of Madness: Blood Ties, Part 2.