I’m not reviewing another Marvel game? What is going on with this world!? While I do have more Marvel games (and just may get to them in the future), I’m talking a look at another unique deck-builder. See? Not moving too far out of my comfort zone.
Released: 2015 | Country: France | Publisher: IELLO | Designer: Maxime Rambourg | Artist: Xavier “Naïade” Durin | Players: 2-4 | Age: 12+ | Time: 60-90 min
Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Harry Potter, The Big Book of Madness sees the players as young elemental wizards who have grown bored with their basic, beginner studies. After being frequently told to stay away from the demonic “Big Book of Madness”, the youngsters decide that the book is simply where the more powerful spells are kept. Sneaking to the library, they open the Book and unleash its horrors on the world. Working together, they do their best to quickly learn new spells from the books around them, and banish the creatures back to their pages before succumbing to total insanity.
LEARNING CURVE: MODERATE
I’m going to admit that the game is actually very simple to pick up. However, if you are not paying attention you may never grasp what is going on. This is a game that requires strategizing, communication and planning ahead – and you need to be paying attention to understand what is going on and to ultimately have fun. Each player has a balanced amount of element cards, which they can use to purchase stronger element cards, banish monsters, buy new spells or activate existing spells.
This game actually seems to vary in difficulty depending – as mentioned above – entirely on how invested you are. You need to be constantly thinking of your next moves and paying attention to the moves taken around you. If everyone is focused and prepared with the intention of beating the game, you can breeze through. This isn’t intended as a casual game to keep your hands busy while socialising. If there is a weak link, you will get eaten alive.
The first time I played this game, I thought it would be a breeze. My party swiftly got overwhelmed and got our asses absolutely kicked. We depleted the madness deck entirely, losing the game, and decided to keep playing anyway – we still lost. The second time, however – we came prepared. Everyone was alert, and communication is key. We carved through the Book like a hot knife through butter, sustaining no actual damage at any point through the game.
The art for this game is absolutely stunningly gorgeous, and the rules are simple to grasp (even if winning the game isn’t always so). I enjoy how you can choose your character and the monsters you will fight – and how none of them seem to have names, allowing you to apply your own stories to these characters if you choose. Even the spells you can learn will vary from game to game.
If I have any tips for those looking to try this game, it is to buy more powerful element cards immediately, and buy new spells as soon as possible. Yes, the “level one” spells you can buy suck. But the “level two” and “level three” spells hidden beneath can and will change the outcome of the game significantly. Buy the “level ones” just to get them out of the way.
I really enjoy this game, but it is challenging and cooperative, and can make your brain hurt. For example, lets say we needed four Earth cards to defeat a curse, injuring a monster. For the sake of argument, my friend Brodie has three Earth cards and an Air card, while I have a Water card and the final Earth card we need. As it is Brodie’s turn and all four cards need to be played at once by the same player to defeat the curse, Brodie uses his Air card to cast “Telepathy” on me, allowing me to take one action. I use my Water card to cast “Ice”, placing my Earth card in the universal “support pool”, allowing Brodie to access it and defeat the curse with all four of our Earth cards together.
Brain hurt yet?
There are no official full expansions, but in 2015, three promotional monster cards were released to add to the Big Book: A mime, a golem, and an evil Santa.
IF YOU LIKED THE BIG BOOK OF MADNESS, TRY:
Honestly, I haven’t played a game quite like it. My suggestions will be based on what aspects you might have liked.
Legendary (2012) – Would you believe I actually have many, many other board games? I know I talk about Legendary a lot, but if you enjoy the idea of building a stronger deck in order to finally overcome monsters co-operatively, this Marvel game may be for you.
Tokaido (2012) – Game wasn’t really your thing, but you can’t get enough of Naïade’s art? No shame in that. Though they play nothing like The Big Book of Madness, Xavier Durin also did the art for this game, as well as Seasons (2012).
King of Tokyo (2011)– Trust in IELLO. Though Maxime Rambourg has not made any other games of note yet, the publisher has made many – including the fan favorite King of Tokyo (and sequels). Again, this has little in common with The Big Book of Madness; but if you enjoyed the game and want another game from the same publisher, one you can trust to have engaging gameplay, simple rules and gorgeous artwork – look no further.