Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de

Mountains of Madness


Rob Daviau

Iello Games


No. of Players:



G@mebox publisher Frank Schulte-Kulkmann writes about the game:

The big novelty from IELLO for 2017 is staged in the world of H.P. Lovecraft, and Mountains of Madness takes 3 to 5 players on a doomed expedition into the Antarctic. Behind a chain of nearly impassable mountains a city of gigantic size has been discovered, and it will be the task of the players to reach this city - and return to tell the tale.

This sound like a perfect setting for a deep strategic cooperative game, but as could be expected from a Lovecraft story, the horror is lurking in some unexpected corners. The playing mechanism itself actually is quite straightforward, with the players trying to overcome obstacles found on Encounter tiles by the use of Equipment cards in their hand. Moving up the mountain chain, the players have to find a way to enter the doomed city and fly out of it, and for every step they take an Encounter tile on the gameboard will be revealed. These tiles list different challenges, falling into the four equipment categories of Tools, Books, Weapons and crates, and collectively the players have to sponsor Equipment cards from their hand with their values exactly matching the values required by the challenge on the Encounter card.

However, what may sound like a simple question of discussion among the players becomes increasingly stressful during the course of the game, since the turning over of an Encounter card forces the players to turn over an hourglass, giving them just 30 seconds to come to an agreement which cards should be used. This time limit alone may still seem tolerable, but actually the things the players may face and find during their expedition will slowly drive them into madness, filling them with an unspeakable horror the closer they get to the city itself.


In gaming terms, this boils down to the players drawing a Madness card whenever they find a new unspeakable relic or fail an encounter, and these cards do not represent any kind of action or rules penalty, but instead they list a communication defect which the drawing player from now on has to observe in all communication with his follow players during the encounter phase. Three levels of Madness cards exist, and whereas a Level 1 Madness still may seem tolerable, every new situation which requires the same player to draw a new madness will increase the level of the card he has to draw, with the new Madness card replacing the previous one. So, for example a Level 1 madness may require a player to speak with an accent or in rhymes, Level 2 may result in the player only asking questions or expressing numbers in form of a simple addition of two other numbers. However, Level 3 may become really unnerving to the other players, since now the insane player might not speak the type of cards he wants to play, shout about ideas without speaking them out, or answer any question positively.

This increasing loss of inter-player communication may sound like a nightmare to strategy gamers, but it will be the absolute delight of gaming groups who enjoy cooperative games with a rather atmospheric twist. Years ago I have read the Lovecraft story which forms the background for this game, and indeed the stress of the expedition and the strange findings are having very negative side effects on the expedition crew. Designer Rob Daviau actually has found a stunning way to create a playing experience which challenges the players with exactly this growing feeling of despair, and so the expedition is deemed to perish if the players' madnesses are allowed to progress too far.

Only the current expedition leader actually can try to temporarily stabilize the situation, and so the players possess a pool of Leadership tokens which can be spend in a joker-like manner in the different phases of a round, for example to extend the discussion phase during an encounter or to make a player ignore his madness for the rest of the round. However, the pool of Leadership tokens is limited, and whenever the players are required to refresh the pool one Leadership token will be permanently removed from the game, giving the expedition leader stepwise less authority to keep the expedition on track.

Mountains of Madness does not only profit from Rob Daviau's eccentric design idea to make the player's deal with some real communication obstacles, but the deeply thematic experience is also nicely complemented by the dark artwork of illustrator Miguel Coimbra. Designer and illustrator have done a great job in creating a true H.P. Lovecraft boardgame, and after yesterday's Kitchen Rush this game certainly is another sign that game designers are exploring new ways how to entertain the players. With a comparatively short playing duration of about 1 hour and a manageable set of rules Mountains of Madness certainly is no strategic heavyweight, but the game actually shines for it's very unusual communicative challenge and with a highly thematic atmosphere.


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