18 June 2021
A monster’s guide to monetising fear
Hidden within this small-box game from Ludonova are the denizens of the famed Monster Mansion. This travelling fair attraction drifts between cities, leaving all who attend chilled to the bone. But, in a neat twist, players won’t be the unwitting patrons of this monstrous abode, instead taking on the roles of its struggling owners.
These purveyors of fear are intent on dishing out ticket after ticket to willing thrill seekers through the hiring of the most frightening actors, in a race to empty their booths before their equally sadistic fairground rivals.
In game terms, Monster Mansion sees players collect sets of classic monsters, gradually building up their terrifying tableaus and increasing their ticket sales through clever card combinations. Each round, a new lineup of monstrous actors will arrive at the mansion’s imposing doors looking to be auditioned. Players then choose the order in which they wish to act - receiving the appropriate resources - before employing an actor for its listed cost in skulls.
Some actors simply increase sales by a specific amount, whilst others rely on multiple monster types or colours owned by the player and their neighbours. Furthermore, completing various sets grants reward cards in the form of unique monsters giving an instant boost to sales. As soon as someone’s last ticket sells, the game ends and the circus leaves town.
Ignoring its theme, Monster Mansion is essentially a battle of two numbers: the sales level and ticket numbers. Everyone starts the game with thirty tickets they’re looking to shift, with more being claimed each round dependent on player order. With the help of the monsters under their employ, players’ sales levels will increase, allowing them to shed that many tickets at the end of each round. It’s an interesting mechanic that feels somewhat clunky and counterintuitive at first, but eventually evens out to a fairly satisfying economic micro-puzzle.
The game’s grisly aesthetic comes courtesy of Brazilian artist Arthur Mask, whose monster and location designs are both fun yet grotesque. There’s a decent amount of variety in the actors too; from Frankenstein’s monster and his bride, to the Creature of the Black Lagoon – unfortunately their corresponding game effects are less varied, ultimately limiting the potentials for deeper strategy. A few cards tease an amount of player interaction but mostly this boils down to glancing at your neighbours tableaus and simply tallying up.
Overall component quality is impressive, with large linen-finish cards, thick cardboard tickets, and bright wooden skull tokens. On the downside, the skulls are notably small, occasionally making the act of pulling a specific amount from the drawstring bag a fiddly process.
Monster Mansion makes a bold attempt at bringing something new to set-collecting card games, and it honestly doesn’t feel quite like any other. But, it doesn’t quite surpass others either. Despite a relatively large deck of monsters, card interactions are limited, thus sapping away strategic options and making repeat play-throughs feel similar and unrewarding. Nonetheless, its horror theming is nice and it works well as a decent paced filler game – ideal for the forthcoming long, cold, and spooky nights.
PLAY IT? MAYBE
There's some neat mechanical ideas lurking within Monster Mansion, but unfortunately not enough of them to maintain interest or truly bring about its theme in a cohesive manner.
If you’re a fan of the escalating tension of Splendor’s classic set-collecting but were unenthused by the Renaissance period’s lack of cinematic monsters, Monster Mansion could be worth a look.
Designer: Yann Dupont
Time: 30 minutes
What’s in the box?
- 37 Actor cards
- 12 Reward cards
- 12 Location cards
- 4 Mansion cards
- 4 Player screens
- 4 Sales markers
- 1 Sales board
- 80 tickets
- 88 skulls
- 4 Turn order tiles
- 1 Discard tile
- 1 Starting player token
- 1 Cloth bag
This article originally appeared in issue 48 of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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