I had the opportunity to sit down over the weekend and play a lot of board games. One of the games that was new to me, was Iello’s The Big Book of Madness. I’m a big fan of cooperative games, and I was playing with some new people, so I was excited to experience this magically themed new game, and get to know some new people doing it.
The Big Book of Madness
Designer: Maxime Rambourg
Time: 60-90 mins
This game was introduced to me as the closest thing to Harry Potter in a game, and it turned out to not be too far from the truth, to a certain extent. This game is fully cooperative, in which you win together or lose together. As magicians, you have found the forbidden Book of Madness that’s filled with dark secrets and evil monsters trying to break through into the real world. You must work together to channel your spells and vanquish the curses the monsters throw out at you.
Players take turns expending their hand of small element cards that are one of four colours, and numbered 1-3. These cards are used to clear out curses that are placed on the board from the currently revealed monster. The curses either need a total value of 4 of one colour, or the really nasty ones need 1 of every colour. With your little hand of six cards and the initial set up of the game, you will almost never just draw enough cards to do it from your hand, although in the late game sometimes it does happen. You’ll need to use the elements to cast your spells or to place them in support so that others can use your elements on their turn. Eventually you’ll acumulate bigger and better element cards but also some madness cards which serve to clog your hand. You’ll fight a number of monsters before the game ends at the end of the ‘Book’.
There’s so much to say about the artwork in this game, the pictures on the spells, the monster cards and the box work is incredible. Really great graphic design. I’m only not giving it a full five because the elements, and curses seemed a little bland, they’re easily readable and highly functional, but they’re basically just colours and numbers on a card. Also the element cards are the tiny FF size small cards that are awkward to hold and shuffle, especially in a deck builder like this one. Bonus points are earned by this game, for having one of my favourite round markers in a game, that little wooden tome is awesome!
The mechanics are clean enough, but they’re quite bland, and very repetitive. The “deck building” so to speak is very basic, you just try to get cards into your deck with a 2 or 3 instead of a 1, and that’s really it. The curses make you discard cards and take madness or destroy cards, so there’s nothing ground breaking in this game. The spells are great, but they are also very limited, so there’s some great strategy in when to cast those in which situations you want to maximize what you can do. Something that was very disappointing was the end game. We’d fought our way through all of these monsters and then the final boss was exactly the same with the exception that if you didn’t beat him you lost the game. Which seemed entirely arbitrary. There wasn’t anything big or bad or special about him, he didn’t do a bunch of extra things or hadn’t had any effects throughout the game, he just popped up and said ‘hi, kill me or you lose!’ That just felt like a let down, for how much effort we’d put in to getting to that point.
As deflated as we were with the heavy handed end game, I look back and realize I felt that way because I was fully invested in this game. It’s hard. The curses come thick and fast from the get-go. I enjoyed feeling on edge from the very first turn. The decision making and puzzle solving to be able to get everything needed to the table is a real exercise for the brain and was rewarding in that sense. I also enjoyed the scope of cooperation needed in this game. I don’t think I’ve ever played a game where I’ve felt quite so selfless, I would routinely play everything on other people’s turns [through spell use] so that we as a group could beat a curse, or finish off a monster. And when I was the first player, the others would volunteer their stuff to help everyone out. It was just really nice to see such cooperation and teamwork like that.
There’s plenty of monsters in the box, and there’s many spells we didn’t use, which I appreciate, but I felt the game play was repetitive, and the curses, whilst having different negative effects, were all defeated the same way, so as players we were doing the same things over and over, which worries me with future playability. That being said, this game is hard. Which is nice because it presents a challenge, and that’s something that does draw me to play again. I don’t like to back down from a difficult situation.
Final Thoughts – 15/20
This is a decent co-op game, it’s a solid game, but for me it fell a little flat, I don’t think that’s a fault of the game, I just think that I’m not the particular target audience for it. You feel like a naughty school boy playing with a Ouija board, things get out of hand and you and your buddies need to close the portal to the nether world. But for me the theme was a little bland and pasted on. The “deck building” was not meaty enough and the game play too repetative. That being said, this is an excellent family game. It’s not dark or gruesome, the mechanics are easy and the management of your hand, etc. is easy. This is something I would play with my kids, when they’re old enough because it is fully, and I mean fully, cooperative and really teaches you to be selfless in a game that no other coop I’ve played has done to that extent.