When game designers Granerud and Penderson invented Panic Mansion (Shaky Manor in the US) they were literally responding to the challenge of thinking not outside the box but with it. And so Panic Mansion was born, a dexterity game based around sliding, rolling and shuffling objects within a box. It’s a simple fun concept that’s really appealing to younger kids and well executed.
How to play:
Panic Mansion can be played with 2-4 players. The game box comes with four ‘mansions’ each a rectangular box divided into 8 rooms. There’s also a set of tiles featuring rooms on one side and objects on the other. Finally, there’s a collection of differently shaped objects, (eyeballs, spiders, ghosts, zigzag snakes, ‘treasure chest’ cubes, and your ‘adventurer’ figure). What’s immediately obvious is the quality of the components. The cardboard rooms and tiles are beautiful and sturdy, and all the objects are well made with clear thought put into how these shapes will move differently from eachother. This game is built to last handling by kids and the quality makes it a pleasure to play.
There are two game variants. In the first, players start with their adventurer, three treasure chest and 1 ghost scattered across the rooms of their mansion. The first tile is turned over, indicating which room players must then get their adventurer and their three treasure chest into while excluding everything else. Players roll, shake and shuffle their box to be the first to complete the task without physically touching the objects. The overall winner of the game is the first person to win 5 of these little rounds. The catch is that everytime you win a round the player on your right chooses a new object to add to your mansion. So the more you win the trickier it gets to only get your adventurer and their treasure into designated rooms. N really enjoys this bit, always choosing the objects he thinks will be fiendishly difficult for the other players.
In the second game players still need to win 5 rounds to win but this time everyone starts with two of each spooky object plus their adventurer and the three chests scattered around their rooms. Now two tiles are drawn: on one side showing a room and on the other the objects players need to get into that room. This is by far the trickier game, and I think the most enjoyable, so when playing with younger kids it’s best to start with the first game and progress upwards.
What we like about the game:
Personally I find it quite tricky but DaddyG completes the challenges so quickly he’s often having to go deliberately slow so N can catch up. In my mind this makes it less desirable as a family game because the skill level is not balanced enough. In the first game variant, winners are restricted by having extra objects added to their rooms when they win, but as others start to win that constraining element is reduced. So it doesn’t quite rebalance the game when someone is clearly very skilled at shuffling the objects.
Saying that, there is much for kids to enjoy about this game and N considers it a favourite. There’s no getting away from the fact that rolling around spooky shapes in a box is fun – it’s fun for kids and it’s fun for adults too. It’s also a great one for encouraging concentration, perseverance and fine motor skills. Like those hand held little ball mazes, there’s something totally absorbing about trying to get your pieces to go where you want. And N often has his head down still trying to complete the task even after someone has won.
If N is playing with other kids or myself and Grandma, we are more evenly matched so it works much better as a game but really I think adults still have the advantage when playing with younger kids. With younger kids, Panic Mansion is best suited then to kids playing competitively against eachother. It is easy to set up and follow, and it’s something a bit different that can appeal to other kids when they come round to play. But as dexterity and speed increases with age there’s every chance older kids can beat the adults so I wouldn’t write the game off quite yet for family play, especially if you’ve got a big brood with siblings close in age.
Panic Mansion is not the type of game I would have necessarily picked up in a shop because it appears a little too simple (we received it in our Board Games Crate subscription). But I’m happy we have it. As far as kids games go, this is far more enjoyable, and better constructed than a lot of the games on offer for younger kids. It’s a game that certainly appeals to younger primary aged kids, so you can’t really go wrong here. Sometimes a simple concept, well executed is all you need. As such Panic Mansion is a great lightweight game for ages 5 and upwards (age 6+ on the box). And if you can get the skill levels equally matched then there’s enough challenge here for an enjoyable, cheeky couple of quick rounds among the older players too.