The Big Book of Madness Review

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The Big Book of Madness is a game by Maxime Rambourg, published by IELLO. It is for 2-5 players. In this game, players take on the role of student magicians, a la Harry Potter, who have unwittingly opened an ancient tome full of dangerous creatures. They will have to work together to vanquish the creatures and seal the book one page at a time before it drives them all completely mad. Failure is not an option. If the players are able to do this, they will be declared the winners.

To begin, the board is placed in the middle of the play area. A number of madness cards are placed on the appropriate space on the board. This number is based on the number of players. The curse cards are separated by element type and then shuffled. Each deck is then placed face down in a separate stack beside the board. The value 2 and value 3 element cards are placed in stacks separated by number and element. These stacks are placed face up beside the board. Each player takes one of each of the four basic spells; Combustion, Ice, Growth and Telepathy. These spells are placed face up in front of each player. Each player chooses one of the Magicians and places the mat in front of them showing the gender of their choosing. Players then receive a number of Element card based on what is shown on their player mat. Any remaining value 1 Element cards are returned to the box, not to be used. Each player then shuffles their starting Element cards, placing their deck face down in front of them. The book, or Grimoire, is set up by placing the Final Page card on the right space of the book’s spot on the board with the Bonus/Failure side face up. The inside pages are shuffled together and 5 pages are randomly selected. The pages are then placed on top of the Final Page with their Bonus/Failure side face up. A Cover Page is randomly drawn and placed face down on the other page cards with the cover side face up. The library spells are sorted faced down by Element. A random spell is selected for each of the 3 Element values. These cards are used to form face down decks for each of the 4 elements by placing the value 3 card on the bottom and the value 1 on top for each stack. These decks are placed by the board. The top value 1 card is then flipped over face up. The Round marker is placed on the Round track of the board based on the player’s chosen difficulty. The Invocation marker is placed on the Invocation space of the Invocation track. The Element tokens are placed near the board within reach of all players. The first player is randomly chosen. They are given the Active Player token. Each player now draws the top 6 cards of their deck to form their starting hand. Play now begins.

The game is played over 6 rounds. During those rounds, each player will take a turn in clockwise order starting with the player that has the Active Player marker. Each player’s turn is made up of 4 phases; Concentration Phase, Monster Phase, Action Phase and Recuperation Phase. The first phase is the Concentration Phase. In this phase the player simply refreshes any exhausted spells in front of them. An exhausted spell is one that’s been previously used and turned on it’s side. To refresh it, the player simply turns the card back right side up.

The second phase is the Monster Phase. This phase has 2 steps to it; advance the Invocation marker and apply the effects of the new space. The first part is to advance the Invocation marker. To do this the player simply moves the marker 1 space counterclockwise on the Invocation track. If the marker lands on one of the spaces numbered 2-5, the player checks to see if there are any curses on the space. The number 3 space has 2 places for curses. If there are no curses, nothing happens. However, if there is a curse on the space(s), then the player must apply the curses effect starting with the active player. If the marker lands on the Invocation space, the player checks to see if there are any curses remaining on the board. If there are still curses, the players suffer the failure effect described on the right hand page of the Grimoire. Once this effect has been applied, the remaining curses are discarded to the bottom of it’s respective card stack. If however, there are no more curses remaining on the board, the players have beaten that particular monster and they receive the bonus effect described on the right hand page of the Grimoire. Once the failure or bonus effect has been dealt with, the Invocation marker is moved to the number 1 space. The Grimoire is turned to the next page to start a new monster. The new monster’s arrival effect as described on the bottom of it’s page is applied. The Round marker is then moved down 1 box on the Round track. The corresponding amount of Multi-Element curse cards are placed on the curse spaces of the Invocation track beginning with the number 2 space. Three curse cards that correspond with the Element symbols on the monster page of the Grimoire are drawn and placed one per space following the Multi-Elemental curses moving from the number 2 down to the number 5 space.

The third phase is the Action Phase. In this phase the player uses their Element and spell cards to try and beat the current monster. The player has 5 actions that they are allowed to take as often as they would like and in any order they like, as long as they have the Element cards to pay for them. The costs are paid by discarding Element cards that match the required elements from the player’s hand, support pool or both. The 5 actions are activate a spell, learn a new spell, acquire an Element card, destroy a curse and cure one of you Madness cards. The first action is to activate a spell. To do this the player pays the activation cost of the spell card by discarding the correct type and amount of Element cards. The player then applies the effect of the spell and exhausts it by turning it sideways. The player is allowed to overpay the activation cost by up to 3 times the normal cost to augment the spell’s variable effect. Double the cost provides 2 times the variable, while tripling the cost multiplies the variable by 3.

Another action a player can take is to learn a new spell. The player is allowed to learn a spell that is face up on top of one of the four decks. To learn a spell, the player pays 2 Elements of the same type as the spell. The Spell is then placed in front of the player with their other spells. The next spell in the stack is then flipped over. Each player is limited to only 5 spells. If they learn a sixth spell, they must remove one of their other spells before being allowed to place the new spell. The destroyed spell is removed from the game. Some spells allow a player to place a card in the Support pool. To do this, the player places a card from their hand face up on one of their support slots on their player mat. Each player may have up to 3 cards in the Support pool. These cards are usable by other players to pay an action’s cost, as well as by the owner.

The player may also acquire an Element card. To do this, the player spends Elements of the same type as the Element card that they wish to acquire. The cost depends on the value. Value 2 cards cost 2 Elements, while Value 3 cards, cost 3. After purchase, the Element card is place in the player’s discard pile.

Another action a player can take is to destroy a Curse. This is done by paying the 4 Elements that are shown on the top of the Curse card. Once the Curse is destroyed, the player receives a Value 2 Element card of their choice, which is then placed in their discard pile.

The final action that is available for a player to take is to cure one of their Madness cards. To do this, the player simply pays any 2 Elements of the same type to return a Madness card from either their hand or support pool to the Madness stack.

This takes us to the fourth and final phase, the Recuperation Phase. In this phase, players do a bit of house keeping. First they check to see if they have exactly 6 cards in their hand. If they have more, they must discard Element cards of their choice to their discard pile. Madness cards may not be discarded. If they have less than 6 cards, the player draws enough cards to fill their hand back up to 6. If the player has to draw cards and there are no more cards to draw, the player is forced to add a Madness card to their discard pile and then shuffle it to form a new deck. Once this is finished, the player checks to see if they have 6 Madness cards in their hand. If they do, they are eliminated from the game and must return all their cards and spells to the box. Once this has been checked, the Active Player token is passed to the next player in turn order, ending their turn.

The game continues with each player going through the different phases and taking turns until one of the following events occur. If the players turn all the pages of the Grimoire and beat the last Monster, the players win. If a player is forced to take a Madness card and the Madness stack is empty, the players lose. They will also lose if they fail to beat the last Monster on the last page of the Grimoire or if all the players have been eliminated due to Madness.

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COMPONENTS
This game has some really beautiful pieces. To begin with, the board is really nice. It’s a bit smaller than most game boards but the artwork really captivates you and puts you in the mood that the game’s theme is centered around. There are some Element tokens and the Active Player token that are made of thick cardboard. The Element tokens look like something from the game, Seasons. The Active Player token shows the image from the box cover. The game also has a Invocation marker and a Round marker that are simply gorgeous. The Invocation marker is a wooden book and the Round marker is a witch’s hat. Both of them capture the theme and add a bit of pleasure just looking at the pieces. There are 8 Magicians that a player is able to choose from, 2 for each of the four Elements, one female and one male. The females aren’t just carbon copies of their male counterparts either. Each one has their own unique look and feel, as well as special ability. I’m overwhelmed with just how beautiful these look. You really feel like you’ve stepped into a Harry Potter book once you get these to the table. There are also lots of cards. The game comes with Curse cards, Madness cards and Spell cards. The Spell cards are quite unique. Instead of being the normal card size and shape, these are completely square. The really cool part is that exhausting these cards requires the player to turn them 90 degrees. Normally this would either require you to pick the card up and set it back down at the proper angle or you’d end up hitting another of your cards while turning it. This doesn’t really happen with this square design. A really unique and well thought out design if you ask me. The rest of the cards, look really great too. The artwork is amazing and each card really pops with bright colors and pictures. The Grimoire cards are a good bit larger. These contain the monster pages that the players fight during the game. This is another really unique looking design. The artwork on these is great. The monsters appear to be bursting from the pages of the book. The covers of the book look like some well worn tome of ancient knowledge that you’d expect some wise old mage to have squirreled away in the darkest recess of his library. The designer even went as far as to include an insert that actually works with the game. How cool is that? As I said before, this game is beautiful. You simply can’t argue with perfection, and this game has it in spades.
10 out of 10

RULEBOOK
The rulebook for this game is beautiful as well. There are lots of really great pictures and examples, all throughout the book. There’s a great introduction to the game and the world that the designer has created at the beginning of the book. This little detail just adds more flavor and thematic elements to the game. Everything is explained in really great detail, including a huge full page picture of how the game should look set up. Every little nuance of the game is lovingly addressed and featured from the Grimoire pages to the player’s Magician mats. Everything is laid out in such a way that there is nothing difficult to understand or read. The rules also include rules for 3 different play modes from Normal to Nightmare. There is also an index of the various terms that a player might encounter during the course of the game, as well as their effects. Yet another great little added detail to help the players full understand the game. The book isn’t that thick so reading through it doesn’t take that long. Much like the components, the book is beautiful and full of information and pictures. I love it.
10 out of 10

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GAMEPLAY
What can I say about this game? Well I could say that it’s absolutely one of the best cooperative games that I’ve ever played. The game is very thematic. It pulls you deeply into the rich stylized Harry Potter like theme and doesn’t let go. It’s quite challenging. Each monster has it’s own unique style so that no two will feel exactly alike. The many different elements lead to lots of options and choices to make. The characters all feel unique even between the 2 genders of the same element. Most games simply copy the same formula for success on both the female and male characters but this game makes each character special and unique. The curses provide lots of challenges and variety as well. There are many different options which lead to tons or replayability. The game is really easy to play and is one that even younger players can enjoy. There’s nothing too gruesome or monstrous to give younger players nightmares. It’s very easy to teach as well. The game doesn’t overstay it’s welcome with most game sessions lasting around an hour to an hour and a half. The game is very tense and you will find yourself worrying about your next move as you try to beat each monster in the book. Once you’ve gotten the hang of playing normally you can even up your game by making it even harder with one of the variant play modes. The game works great with any number of players. Of course the more people that you have playing the more ideas and options you’ll have available for making those hard choices. I really love this game and can’t find anything negative about it. This would definitely be my pick for game of the year.
10 out of 10

OVERALL
The Big Book of Madness is a thematic thrill ride of fun. It’s a fairly simple game to play but can be quite challenging and tense. It doesn’t take a really long time to play. Most game sessions last around an hour to an hour and a half. The artwork is beautiful on every part of the game and compliment the theme greatly. The theme itself is very rich and full of Harry Potter like goodness. I absolutely love everything about this one. It truly looks and feels amazing. The game has tons of replayability and works well with strategy gamers. The game’s design is truly unique in lots of different facets including the different characters as well as the Grimoire. This is unlike any other game I’ve played before and is highly enjoyable. Fans of cooperative and thematic games like Pandemic or Ghostbusters should really enjoy this game. I would highly recommend it. It’s one that can be played with even younger players without too much support or problems. My kids really enjoyed it as well as I did. I can’t praise this game much higher than that. It’s definitely my choice for game of the year. This is an absolute must buy for every gamer. It should be in every collection. You will not be disappointed.
10 out of 10

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For more information about this and other great games, please check out IELLO Games at their site.

www.iellogames.com

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About Gaming Bits - Jonathan Nelson

I'm a happily married man with 2 wonderful kids. I love my family very much. I'm a big fan of board, card and RPG games and have been playing for over 20 years. As a board and card game reviewer, I'm hoping that this blog will inform, educate and entertain you. If you like it, please tell your friends and have them join in on the conversations. Thanks and GAME ON!!
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