“I could not help feeling that they were evil things — mountains of madness whose farther slopes looked out over some accursed ultimate abyss.”
― H.P. Lovecraft,
The Antarctic mountain awaits, strange, unexpected, and containing cyclopean ruins that mankind has never before seen. Filled with strange, demoniac relics, it’s a treasure trove of forbidden knowledge and fame for scholars looking for notoriety…and tenure. Survive the perils of the expedition while trying to stay sane enough to help your fellow explorers escape the mountain. Only those with an iron will and strong constitution can escape the Mountains of Madness unscathed.
Mountains of Madness is a cooperative game for 3-5 players where each different players assume the role of the expedition leader, coordinating the mountain traverse, revealing challenges, and hopefully collecting valuable Lovecraftian relics.
Every round begins with the expedition leader choosing an adjacent spot on the mountain to move the aircraft. The tile is flipped and the current challenge revealed. Each space also has a default challenge to overcome if the players backtrack to areas they’ve already visited. Every challenge has a number of conditions on it that must be met. Generally, a range of numbers and equipment type, though sometimes specific numbers are listed in lieu of ranges. Players have 30 seconds to discuss the challenge and what cards they have in their hand to help overcome the challenge. Once that 30 seconds is up no more communication is allowed and cards are played face-down. Once every player has played cards the expedition leader checks the stack of playing cards to see if any condition of the challenge is met.
If any condition on a challenge is met the team resolves whatever reward is listed on the tile. This can be a Relic, more powerful equipment cards, or the ability to remove an Injury Card from the game. On the flip side, for every condition *not* met a Madness Card must be drawn and given to a player of the leader’s choice, or the Penalty Die is rolled, earning players Injury Cards, lost cards, or loss of Leadership Tokens (Explained in a bit.) After this phase, the players get a chance to rest up a bit and then the expedition leader changes to the next player and everything repeats until the players reach the Edge of Madness tile at the top of the mountain.
It should be noted that with every failure, and every relic obtained, Madness Cards are drawn. Madness cards come in 3 levels, and a player’s madness escalated when they’re forced to take a Madness Card and already have one. Some Madness Cards are blank, which is a blessing. Others contain quirks that a player only must show during the discussion phase of a challenge. This could be always talking in the 2nd person, adding 1 to every number they say, constantly having to raise their hand before they talk, etc… Once the discussion phase is over players must continue on as if they never exhibited any strange behavior at all.
An injury is another thorn in the side of players. Injury Cards take up valuable hand space, and can only be gotten rid of by playing them to the pile and having a Heal reward get rid of them. Too many Injury Cards mixed into the deck will resolve in a lower score, or loss of the game come scoring.
One last mechanic to talk about is Leadership Token. These are a limited commodity in the game that an expedition leader can use during any phase for varying effects. Used at the right time they can add an extra movement, allow 30 more seconds of discussion, and more. There are a few ways to earn expended tokens back, but generally, they’re a one-and-done deal.
Mountains of Madness’ endgame begins when the players reach the Edge of Madness tile. At this point backward movement becomes forbidden and players must move through the final 3 Escape Tiles during subsequent turns. Once the 3rd Escape Tile is resolved the game ends and is scored. If players have a number of Relics equal to or greater than the number of Injuries added to their deck they win by varying degrees. If there are more Injuries in the deck it’s a loss, the players having succumbed to injury and madness during their expedition.
This is just a brief overview of gameplay. For all the details, check the game’s rulebook.
- Box 👍
- 1 Mountain board 👍
- 5 double-sided Player Boards 👍
- 1 Airplane figurine 👍
- 1 Sand Timer (30 seconds) 👍
- 1 Sled board 👍
- 6 Leadership tokens ⭐
- 1 Penalty die 👍
- 36 Encounter tiles 👍
- 66 Madness cards 👍
- 11 Relic tokens 👍
- 48 Equipment cards 👍
- 11 Relic cards 👍
- 15 Injury cards 👍
- 1 rulebook 👍
(👍 = Good, 👎 = Bad, ⭐ = Exceptional)
At first Mountains of Madness seems a bit too easy when you first start playing it. The ability to talk amongst each other and discuss how to solve the challenge at hand within 30 seconds makes your first few challenges easy. It isn’t until Madness Cards start creeping in that the game gets pretty interesting. Challenges become an actual challenge as every player acts out their quirks. Sometimes these quirks are pretty obvious. Sometimes not. Icon colors also start to swap the higher up the mountain players get, confusing everyone at first glance about what’s actually needed to complete the challenge. There are various ways to combat this, mostly using Leadership Tokens, but these are limited in the game. Once you’ve reached the Edge of Madness everyone has pretty much gone bonkers and discussion phases are more comical than anything else.
The only real issue with the game is its shelf life. Once players are familiar with most of the Madness Cards the novelty of the game wears off, and things start becoming easier. Constantly playing with fresh players will extend the life of the game, and I do think that most will get their money’s worth out of Mountains of Madness before they reach this point.
If you’re looking for a lighter Lovecraftian game with a social-cooperative aspect, Mountains of Madness is for you. If you’re looking for a more complex game that digs deeper into Lovecraft’s work then there are other games out there for you.
A copy of Mountains of Madness was provided free for review by IELLO
Media personality Rob Kalajian has been a staple in the board game world for many years. As a former writer for Purple Pawn and the owner of A Pawn’s Perspective, Rob focuses on board game reviews, events, and news. A self-proclaimed geek, Rob loves all things toys and games and even helps raise his four kids in his spare time.
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