On the weekend I played the “Mansions of Madness” board game for the first time. In this Fantasy Flight Games’ board game each player takes control of an investigator exploring a mansion full of cultists and (Cthulhu) Mythos creatures. The game is mission-based and there are about 30 to 40 unique missions. The map of the mansion is tile-based so there’s a lot of variety. One of the players takes the role of the Keeper and controls the investigator’s opponents. Like many other FFG games “Mansions of Madness” has several roleplaying elements, which I like a lot.
One aspect of the game that I like a lot is how spells are handled. For each spell there is a whole deck of cards, which are the same on the front side, but different on the back side. What you have to do to cast the spell never changes, but the effects vary a lot. The spell I got to use several times was “Wither” (at least I guess that’s what it is called. We played the German version of the game). It’s basically a simple attack spell. But because its effects changed constantly, it was interesting and exciting to use every time. One time it had the additional effect of killing humanoid enemies instantly, another time it caused extra damage but also damaged the sanity of the caster. There were also different outcomes when the roll to cast the spell failed.
The way “Mansions of Madness” handled spells got me thinking. Magic is often described as fickle, unpredictable, more art than science, but in most roleplaying games spells always work the same way. Wouldn’t it be cool, if the caster never knew what exactly happens when he or she starts casting? Of course there should be some kind of reliability, but wouldn’t an additional random element not spice things up?
“Mansions of Madness” uses cards for spells, which could work with roleplaying games as well. Alternatively one could create a table for each spell with various effects. This might not work with every game and every genre, but the way this boardgame handles magic is both interesting and fun and perhaps I might use something similar in a future game design. After all, stealing someone’s ideas is the highest form of flattery, isn’t it?