22nd Apr2019

‘Big Book of Madness’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

book-madness-box

In Big Book of Madness, the players work cooperatively to defeat various spirits and monsters unleashed from a grimoire that they accidentally opened. Spells will be cast, curses will be broken and ultimately, the players will hope that the grimoire can be sealed before time runs out.

Big Book of Madness draws on similar characters and concepts from universes popular with young teenagers such as Harry Potter (although it is not licensed) and as such, it is best played as a family game with players spanning age groups. If you don’t have (and can’t borrow) any children, the smart deck building will also appeal to fun loving adults on most occasions.

As with all IELLO productions, Big Book of Madness is a fabulous looking product that is made to the highest standard. There are numerous components to walk through, but most of them are split across various decks of cards, so let’s work our way through each of those to begin with. There is a fairly small central board that helps to control the flow of the game, onto which the players will place the pages of the grimoire.

These pages are themselves oversized cards, each of which has a demon and its effect printed on one side and then a win/loss condition on the other side. What this means is that when the grimoire deck is assembled, the enemies and what happens when you do (or don’t) defeat them is shown clearly as a two page spread. Players will need to work through several monsters to win, and it is possible to lose before reaching the final scenario.

Now, when I mention monsters, I am probably conjuring up images of some fairly unpleasant artwork in parents’ minds. Never fear, because again, IELLO products always use beautiful, stylish artwork that is more characterful than it is scary. Big Book of Madness is no exception and each otherworldly creature more impish than it is terrifying, although I would still suggest that this is a game for older children heading into their teenage years, rather than young kids.

When each demon arrives, it will bring with it a number of curses, which can be made worse the further into the game players are, because a separate time track will add yet more curses. Each curse is a card that belongs to one (or all) of the key elements in the game and must be placed onto the main board. As game rounds are played, a beautifully sculpted model of the grimoire will circle around, activating curses as it lands on them – this is always bad for the players.

To combat the effects of these curses and ultimately to defeat the monsters, the players will use a range of spells that can be cast by collecting element cards and playing them. Each player begins with a player card (of which there are several) that sets out their starting hand of element cards, as well as a set of basic spells. As the game progresses, players can use elements to cast spells and to draw more elements, essentially expanding both their range of abilities and their ability to cast things more efficiently.

Over the course of Big Book of Madness, players will need to make decisions about when to upgrade their hand and when to cast spells, whilst all the while managing the jeopardy of the curses and the active demon. As always with a game like this, the focus is on teamwork and the game is designed to ensure that the players will always struggle to do everything that they want to.

Demon curses can always be overcome by spending the appropriate amount of element cards and using an action, which wastes valuable time that could be used for deckbuilding. It’s worth noting that only the final monster can truly defeat the players, so everything up until that point is about how well prepared everyone is for the final encounter. Waste too much time preparing and the players will suffer many negative effects that weaken them, but fail to prepare at all and it’s unlikely that the players will have the elements and spells needed to win.

On that note, the monsters each come with their own unique power, in addition to the curses that they lay down for players. Demons can force players to randomly discard spells, or to lose access to one of their support slots – these support slots allow players to place their own element cards into one of two slots that can then be accessed by other players. Some combinations of monsters can be especially challenging if faced consecutively, but usually the effects are fairly balanced.

Big Book of Madness presents a simple proposition – how will the players cooperate to defeat the challenges at hand. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and as a result, neither should the players. There are occasions when a monster ability will feel as if it has unfairly hamstrung one of the players going into a round, and when this happens, someone will either need to step in with a house rule, or the players will need to cover for that player – knowing which is the right option will depend on the age and skill level of the players around your table.

Overall, Big Book of Madness is a solid addition to the shelf of any family group that enjoys attractive, cooperative games that use smart, decision driven gameplay (in this case deckbuilding) to entertain everyone at the table. The skills learned in Big Book may be at the simpler end of the deckbuilding spectrum, but they are nonetheless representative of the mechanics used in more complex games. Overall, a good game that I will continue to enjoy with my family for some time.

***½  3.5/5

A copy of Big Book of Madness was supplied by IELLO Games for review

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