Unlocked: The Mansion of Mana (Preview)
“Unlocked: The Mansion of Mana’s” setting feels like it was heavily inspired by “Clue” and other similar murder mysteries in that you and other strangers arrive at an old Victorian mansion complete with separate invitations. Only here, you’re competing (as kids) to become Uncle Alfie’s apprentice by helping him get out of a plane of existence that he was caught in during his research of interplanar travel. Put simply, you’ll be unlocking rooms via ancient runic stones and the firs player to make it through the mansion will become his apprentice and win the game. Special thanks to Sean Howard from Good Knight Games for providing me with a prototype for preview purposes. It’s important to stress that prototypes are not often reflective of the final product, making everything featured here (included the rules) subject to change.
My prototype copy came with 24 jumbo-sized key cards, 54 poker sized rune element cards, 50 player tokens (10 of each color), and 5 jumbo-sized player aid cards.
Game setup will vary slightly depending on the number of players. For example, in a two or three player game, some of the key cards will be removed from the deck before being randomly dealt face-up in the specified layout as shown in the manual. This tableau of cards forms the mansion in which players will be attempting to get through. Next, players set up the river by dealing a number of runes cards face-up equal to the number of player plus one. Each player also starts with four rune cards, dealt face-down to each player, to form their starting hand. They also choose a color and get the set of tokens of their color along with a player aid card. The starting player is determined via a mini-game called “A Wizard’s Duel” which is a little like rock-paper-scissors…sort of. Of course, you could skip that and just choose one randomly.
A player’s turn is divided into four phases:
1. Activate Keys – As players place their tokens on keys (explained later), they’ll have access to special abilities. Some key effects can be reused (marked with a recycle icon). At the beginning of this phase, your tokens on reusable cards are moved to the ready position. After that, you can use a key’s effect by moving your token from the ready space to the exhausted space. Other keys let you break other cards by moving ALL tokens on another card from the exhausted space to the broken space. All future tokens added to that card are added to the broken space. Some keys have a locked state in which, when used in conjunction with a Corazon key, locks a single opponent’s token and prevents them from building another key until the acquire the proper runes.
2. Draw Rune Cards – The player may draw three rune cards from the face down deck OR two cards from any combination of the river, deck, or top of the discard pile.
3. Play Rune Cards & Special Cards – The player plays runes from their hand to the table in front of them in order to build any key. Players need not finish a key, however they are restricted to having two unfinished keys in front of them. Multiple players can claim the same key and the same player can claim a key multiple times to use the card’s effect multiple times. Wild runes can be used to complete key sets and using all the same color elements to complete a key grants a special bonus. Runes MUST be laid down in their proper sequence as dictated on the key card. Completed sets allow the player to add a token to the ready position of the card and the used runes are discarded. The icons on the lower right of the key card show the activation times.
4. Meditate – Discard down to four cards plus any hand limit key effects. Runes played in front of you do not count toward your hand limit. After that, the river is refilled by sliding all cards to the left and refilling blank spaces from the deck. If none were taken from the river, the left most card is discarded, cards slide left, and a new card is drawn.
Turns continue until one player creates a path of tokens from the left side of the mansion to the right…that is, having at least one token in each column. The person who did so wins the game! I didn’t cover all the rules found in the manual, but this should give you the general idea. For example, I didn’t cover the four special cards in the game like “swap” and “steal a card”, which adds a bit of strategic randomness to the game. There are also unique goals that will actually change the victory condition. For example, the vampire key turns you into a vampire and your new goal is to share a key location with each player in the game…if successful, you win!
There’s also a single player variant that uses the layout listed in the five player game. This solo variant introduces a new “guardians” phase in which tokens that are not your color act as guardians blocking a player from procuring keys. There’s a three-four page rules primer on this so I’ll opt to let you discover this on your own, but your ultimate goal is to have as many cards left in the rune deck as possible.
“Unlocked: The Mansion of Mana” advertises itself as a big game in a small box and I completely agree with that statement. While the number of components you get with this game are pretty few, the choices you’ll have to make when it comes to which keys you’re going to go after will keep your brain busy. There’s very little randomness from the act of drawing cards, which I really like. Players can risk drawing an extra card by drawing three cards blindly from the deck OR taking runes they need to complete sets from the face-up river / discard pile. The special abilities take a little getting used to, especially since the cards are randomized at setup with every game you play. I found these abilities to be the true hurdle in “getting good” at the game as chaining abilities and locking others out of ones your foresee being issues is where the real strategy of the game lies.
“Unlocked: The Mansion of Mana” is both fun and addicting…you’d do well to check it out.