The Big Book of Madness by Iello Games (BBoM) was released last December. My brother and I got a chance to check it out at Gen Con 2016 (check out some photos Here and Here) and we purchased it. We really enjoy cooperative games such as Pandemic and Ghost Stories, so we figured BBoM would be a nice addition.
Initial Impression? Visually Stunning and Great Theme!
One of the negatives that I got from walking about the Indy Convention Center at Gen Con 2016 was that many game companies are rushing games to market. Without naming names, I saw a plethora of games with bad art, cheap/sub-standard components (can you say it looked like crayon on a cereal box interior?) and poor execution. The Big Book of Madness is exactly the opposite of all that!
The art is visually stunning and evocative of the theme: students of a magic academy open a Big Book of Madness and now have to try and contain the monsters jumping forth from its pages. The character choices (there are 8, 2 in each of the 4 colors/elements of magic) are all distinct in presentation and have different rules mechanics.
Other game components are also of high quality. The board is sturdy and supports the theme. On the board, he BBoM rests in the middle, the madness emanates from the hole on the right, and the scroll on the left keeps track of the rounds and curses. On the scroll, the arabic numerals are rounds, the roman numerals are the 3 levels of difficulty, and the brown cards are extra curses to add each round. Spaces for the curses are at the bottom and the large numbers are for the individual turns within a round. A book token moves along those big numbers counter-clockwise from 1 to 5 and back again.
One of the best thematic components, and also a great source of evocative art, is the Big Book of Madness itself. The book has a cover that is opened at the start of the game, revealing the first monster and its curses. Each round the book is turned until it gets to the end. Here is an example of what an open book looks like. Looks like a real book, doesn’t it? In reality it is a set of double-sided cards that are slowly flipped and moved from the left pile to the right.
Game Play: Fun…and really, really tough!
To summarize the rules, each player manages a deck of element cards and a set of spells toward the goal of removing curses. If the players remove all the curses on the board they defeat the current monster and get a bonus, otherwise they get a penalty. If the players defeat the final monster they win, otherwise they lose. Players get more and more element cards and also Madness cards as the game progresses, combining deck-building and resource management mechanics. The game has a lot of opportunities for cooperation as players develop a common support pool of element cards and can actively give non-active players actions during any active player’s turn.
I found the level of both tension and difficulty within BBoM to be very similar to Ghost Stories (Ghost Stories at Asmodee). We played both a 2-player and a 4-player game, and like most cooperative games, the more players involved, the harder the game felt. We won the 2-p game but lost the 4-p game (pretty badly actually). While bad luck certainly played a part in the 4-player loss, most of the game we felt like we were behind and struggling to catch up as the number of curses slowly increased each round. And we were playing on the lowest level (I) of difficulty!
As this is what makes BBoM very fun indeed! Beating a cooperative game the first few times you play it should be tough. The enjoyment comes from both trying to win and also learning how to win. At one point in the 4-player game we were down and just about out. On my turn I needed to draw a 3-point white card to defeat a curse that was going to finish us by draining the Madness deck. What happened? I drew the needed card and well…the crowd went wild! We were hooting and hollering even though we knew that I had only temporarily delayed the inevitable defeat. I learned a lot in my first two plays of BBoM and I anticipate that winning will be easier but probably not more likely than 50-50.
Verdict: A Very Good Game
What else can I say about BBoM? The rules are well-written (and the rulebook is gorgeous too) and the game offers 1) enough strategy and complexity to keep avid boardgamers interested while 2) being simple enough for casual gamers to enjoy it. Here is an example of what a game looks like in progress:
If you like cooperative games, I highly recommend you run, don’t walk, to your nearest game store and buy The Big Book of Madness!