Island of Insanity 2020: At The Mansion of Madness

Self-isolating before the lock-down with Puffins, Gamers and Cthulhu…

Larry Bernstein took one look at the 100ft tall, six-armed, monocular, tentacled Thing That Should Not Be striding and slithering its way over the hill towards him, and his deeply fractured psyche finally shattered.

His storm lantern dropped from nerveless finger as he let out a high-pitched shriek somewhere between terror and ecstasy, his keen geologist’s intellect unable to explain away the sight. The full horror of The Way The World Really Is tearing apart his reality and sanity.

Cackling maniacally he sprinted towards the monstrosity, screaming “You beauty! You big, beautiful bastard!” and on reaching it threw his arms around the nearest huge tentacle in an enormous, affectionate bear-hug before riding it, rodeo-like, into the gaping, abdominal maw of an awakened God…

The inspiration for the island evil the Call of Cthulhu investigators faced (and perished at the tentacles of) – the Comet Lord from Comet Lord Miniatures.

“That’s me done then, is it?” said a rather jovial Jody. It was after all a fine end to Larry the Geologist, his Call of Cthulhu character for the evening, worthy of a coveted Certificate of Superlative Demise. Plus he suspected (correctly) that a Total Party Kill was just moments away.

Thus ended the second Call of Cthulhu session of Tabletop Tribe’s Island of Insanity Lovecraftian gaming event, held annually on Lundy Island, twelve miles off the UK coast. The previous evening’s session had ended in a similarly fatal way for all involved, but no-one was too upset then either.

They knew they should never have split the party.

Also everyone was just happy to be on the island, especially after the weather last year threatened to cancel the whole event. Most of us had travelled down to the windswept Hartland Quay Hotel and it’s Wreckers Retreat bar the previous day, where we’d taken over the back room and started as we’d meant to go on.

At the Wreckers Retreat the evening before travel. Business as usual then.

Of course none of us knew at that point as we got the beers in, opened Welcome Packs and tried on silly Cthulhu beanies just how close to complete Coronavirus/COVID-19 lock-down we were in the UK by that point. Our primary worry being whether another Force 10 storm would ground the helicopter again.

Fortunately this year the morning of chopper travel brought clear skies and sun, and by midday we were all in the island’s tavern, getting the beers in (the sun being past the yard-arm after all) and already getting some games on the table.

There’s a rule at Island of Insanity: only games with a Lovecraftian theme are permitted in our main gaming area, but everywhere else you can “run wot ya brung”, so dotted about the tavern were games of Trial By Trolley, Undaunted, and Monickers amongst others.

On the table: Trial By Trolley by Cyanide and Happiness

Pretty soon though it was time to get settled into our digs for the weekend. Last year we chose a suitably thematic 19th century lighthouse next to a graveyard  (I shit you not). This year the main gaming area was our very own Mansion of Madness: a 12-bed Victorian villa, nestled in its own little valley, and more than slightly creepy if the fog rolls in

With a huge dining table and equally big kitchen table, plus overflow areas in the entrance hall and living room, we could easily accommodate the twenty of us for gaming. In fact such was the space and the amount of titles I knew we’d inevitably bring, I capped player numbers for each game at four.

Yeah I know it’s possible (and epic) to play more (we played 8 player Cthulhu Wars last year), but ye (Elder) gods, the down time and game length are a bitch.

For Friday arrival day though there was no scheduling, leaving folk free to play what they liked (we were even pretty lax about the Lovecraftian-only theme inside the Mansion), go for walks, chill out in the tavern and generally settle into the relaxed pace of island life.

  • With a tavern like this…
  • …it’s sometimes hard to motivate yourself to go anywhere else!

The weather was great so I suggested a wander up to Beacon Hill Cemetery, to take in the 6th century tomb stones, the ruins of the 12th century chapel and the view from the top of the 19th century lighthouse. You know. Like you do.

By 9pm we’d stuffed our faces for the second time in the tavern and then continued our “settling-in” with a bring-a-bottle party at the Mansion, where I also took the opportunity to have some 5 minute background sessions with the participants of the Call of Cthulhu RPG sessions I’d be running the following two evenings.

The island’s generator turns off at midnight each night signalling candles and head-torch time, but rather than slow things down, it just adds to the atmosphere, and many continued gaming and socialising into the wee hours.

Saturday

Seriously, if I need to explain to you that waking up on a thematic, remote island with a bunch of other gamers, with little to do all day (and all the next) but play board games and RPGs, stuff your face and/or liver and wander about looking at cool shit, then you’re probably in the wrong place.

I had a couple of walks scheduled for the weekend, but we actually did Sunday’s walk on Saturday, as it featured a fair few places that the Call of Cthulhu crew were going to be encountering in the session that night, and since four of the six players were island/event virgins I thought it’d be cool if they saw the locations of their potential demise/insanity/both.

Half a dozen intrepid investigators even decided to walk right to the lighthouse at the north end of the island*, returning several hour later beaming from ear to ear, despite the weather hot on their heels.

*That’s right, there’s more than one 19th century lighthouse on Lundy. There are three.

After lunch it was time for a bit of scheduled gaming, which saw Cthulhu Wars and Mansions of Madness sharing the dining room table, and Eldritch Horror sprawled across the big farmhouse table in the kitchen.

Those of you familiar with my past articles know that I’m not the biggest fan of the miniatures in Mansions of Madness, despite loving the game itself.

So we ditched them all as the art on the monster tokens is great (and completely hidden if you use the big black plastic bases that come with the minis… okay, don’t start me) so they worked great on their own and saved some precious weight and space on the chopper (we unboxed it all).

We sadly also had to leave behind the lovely sculpted plastic gates for Cthulhu Wars for the same reason, combined with prodigious amounts of unboxing for most titles, but for Eldritch Horror we made the effort to bring some 3D printed gate and monster token holders as the extra weight/space is definitely worth it for the improvement to gameplay.

Games boards like Eldritch Horror‘s quickly get littered with counters and tokens laying flat, so colour-coded gate (STL link) and monster (STL link) token holders not only add some three-dimensional organisation to this, but help easily identify the relevant monsters/gates come the game’s Mythos phase.

Regardless of bling or not, everyone predictably had a ball, with an overflow game of Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu kicking off in the living room as it had the day before.

The evening rolled around all too quickly so it was off to the tavern for more fodder and then most went back to the mansion to pick up where they’d left off, whilst I took half a dozen to the other property we’d hired (a short walk from the mansion at the top of the valley), for the weekend’s first Call of Cthulhu session.

Rather than use a published scenario I’d made a bit of a rod for my own back by deciding to write something custom and Lundy-based. Way more prep work than I’d anticipated, but it seemed a waste of our surroundings not to go for it.

I also went all-out on the support material, with laminated character sheets (and write-on/wipe-off OHP markers of course!) and dice pouches for each player, plus clipboards (to make sofa-lounging much easier) which were transparent to enable other players to see the large format character portrait made for the reverse side.

Added to that were various “Roaring ’20s” props lying around the room, and a huge 2m x 1m replica of the 1906 map of the island, with standees for each character so we could keep track of the party as it predictably (and fatefully) split up.

Props to the players though as they roleplayed their characters’ motivations to the hilt – I mean why would the geologist and surveyor bother to hang around with the admiralty man and the private detective? Or the lighthouse-keeper’s wife?

To cut a long story short (and not spoil the plot for anyone reading this that may come to future events and play the same scenario) there was general batshit insanity and everyone died horribly.

Things benefited greatly from the addition of some discreetly placed Bluetooth speakers (check the bottom of the article for a link to these) playing audio courtesy of the Syrinscape app and filling the room with the sounds of waves, seagulls, rain, thunder, cultists chanting and assorted other atmospherics. Highly recommended.

By the time we’d finished it was past 1:30am and the island’s generator had already been off for an hour or so, which meant a nicely creepy walk home for many of the players – including one of the number who had to make his way all the way back to the lighthouse to his requested, hermit-like digs, past the spooky graveyard on the way!

Sunday

Sadly the weather wasn’t as good to us on Sunday, although many intrepid explorers still braved the elements at various points of the day to check out the castle (and the smugglers cave beneath it!), the precipitous Devil’s Limekiln, seals, puffins (who had arrived a couple of days before us) and other irresistible draws. But the planned scheduled walk was shelved.

Then it was back to the same happy geekery as the day before. Mansions of Madness was swapped out for Cthulhu: Death May Die in the mansion’s dining room, and five players took over a table in the tavern for a game of Treasure Island – I mean what better place to play than on an island, in a tavern full of bits of shipwrecks?

Treasure Island in the tavern with our friends from Asmodee Live, who came along for the ride and to film our little gaming micro-con.

Come the evening there was another Call of Cthulhu session for a new group of victims players, this time in the living room of the mansion, but with the same inevitable, gory, sanity-rending outcome to the previous night. So everyone left happy.

Meanwhile in the kitchen there was the sight of a crazy, eight player, 2-player-team game of Fate of the Elder Gods, whilst elsewhere in the house, games of Elder Sign, Miskatonic University, Innsmouth Escape and other vaguely Lovecraftian (or at least tentacled) titles such as the awesome Tentacle Town played out, buoyed up by booze and laughter.

I didn’t get back to my own digs at the castle until around 2.30am, weighed down like a donkey with games, speakers, a laptop, 3D scanner and other stuff. Exhausted, but happy that folk seemed to have had another day of gaming bliss at Island of Insanity.

Monday

Who would guess at the horrors that occurred under that roof over the weekend?

There’s always a hope on the Monday morning of Island of Insanity that a huge fog bank will roll in and strand us on the island for a few days more, but the weather was gloriously sunny and wind-free. So after another flight brief at the tavern and a cooked brekkie it was time to wave everyone off on successive chopper flights.

There was also time for a little informal presentation to one of our number, Jay, who purchased the very first Island of Insanity event ticket last year. It takes some trust to hand over a fistful of cash to a stranger who says he’ll take you and a friend gaming on a remote island, by helicopter, for a weekend.

So as a little thank-you I printed out a little tentacular-based figure of him looking not too dissimilar to an Innsmouth dockworker, from a scan I did at the 2019 event (to make gaming minis of a few of the attendees). The jammy sod got to sit up front with the chopper pilot on the way back too.

I was lucky enough to stay a few extra days, and was due to catch up with more gaming friends the following weekend. But by the end of the week the tavern was closing along with the largest properties due to Coronavirus/ COVID-19 restrictions, so I left with Friday’s helicopter. A week later the island completely shut down just prior to the UK’s total lockdown, so we were incredibly lucky to make it this year.

Back home the social media group for the event was still buzzing with the slightly forlorn chat of attendees desperate for next year’s event to roll around already to see them back on the UK’s best gaming hangout. In our opinion anyway.

And we’d be right.

If all this sounds like your kind of deal, you can register your interest for Island of Insanity 2021. Provided we’re all out of lockdown by then. Places are usually incredibly limited, as first choice goes to previous attendees, after which tickets are opened up to the unwashed masses.

Island of Insanity 2020 – Games Played

(Tabletop Tribe may earn a modest commission from sales generated from some of the links below – details here. Where an item is out of stock or price gouged on Amazon, we’ve provided a link to the publisher’s page.)

Lovecraftian

Eldritch Horror
Cthulhu Wars
Mansions of Madness 2nd Ed
Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu
Call of Cthulhu (Keeper’s Rulebook)
Call of Cthulhu (Investigator’s Handbook)
Call of Cthulhu (Starters Set)
Miskatonic University: The Restricted Collection
Don’t Mess With Cthulhu
Innsmouth Escape
Pocket Madness
Cthulhu: Death May Die
Cthulhu Dice
Unspeakable Words
Munchkin: Cthulhu
Elder Sign
Elder Sign: Omens of the Deep

Other

Tentacle Town
Campy Creatures
Undaunted
Treasure Island
Just One
Sub Terra
6 nimmt
Nyctophobia
Trial by Trolley
Monikers (WARNING: Great game but stupidly expensive everywhere!)
Decrypto
Bang! The Walking Dead (N.B. reskin of the standard cowboy version)
Wavelength
The Mind

Hardware & Other Stuff (for interested/interesting parties!)

Zamkol Portable Waterproof Bluetooth Speaker (I actually used two of these for a more immersive sound, as they have a pairing function.)
Bluetooth Speaker case (not actually made for the Zamkol speaker but fitted perfectly and was much cheaper than the “official” one)
H&S Polyhedral Dice set x6
Blackfire 16mm Assorted D10 Dice Sets 00-90 (seem to have doubled in price since i bought them but struggling to find them elsewhere. Got them for Bonus/Penalty dice in Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition.)
Stabilo OHP Pens (SuperFine) (Fine work well too – but Medium are too thick except for maps.)
Roaring 1920s Memorabilia Pack
Transparent Plastic Clipboards (Set of 6)
SWEYE 26800mah Power Bank (great for when the generator cuts out!)
Extension Cable with 4x USB Ports (We took two of these – 20 people need a lot of charging stations!)

Additional images courtesy of: Jay Redfern, David Hodder, Jonathan Kershaw and Belinda Small

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Island of Insanity 2020: At The Mansion of Madness