The Big Book of Madness by iello is a co-operative deck-building game that drops players into the roles of magic students who have opened a forbidden magical text. Now they must work together to defeat all of the monsters that are escaping in order to close the book again.
The game begins when you open the book and have to deal with the first monster. Each monster will put out curses. Players will have only five turns to try to defeat the all of the curses. If you are able to clear the curses by the fifth turn, you beat that monster and get a bonus. But if even one curse remains, you have to suffer negative effects. Also, if you haven’t defeated a curse by the time the turn marker gets to it, the curse effect goes off.
One of the great things about this game is that no matter who’s turn it is, everyone is still involved.
Each player has a deck of element cards with values of 1, 2, and 3. In order to defeat a curse, you will need to play a total value of four of that same element. Each turn only one player gets to act. In the first turn, their goal will normally be to defeat the curse that’s in the turn 2 spot. If they don’t have the cards necessary to defeat the curse, they can use the element cards in their hand to activate spells (pictured below) to try to draw more cards, support their cards, and give the other players turns. If you place a card in support, it puts it into a pool that everyone can use to clear a curse.
The players have to work together to figure out the best use of their cards and spells to defeat the most curses. At the end of the player’s turn, they draw back up to a hand of six cards. When the turn marker (which is a tiny book, SO CUTE!) advances to the number 3 spot, both of those curses go off. So sometimes the best you can do is figure out which curse is the worst and try to defeat that one before they both go off.
Each time you defeat a curse, you can chose an element card of value 2 to put in your discard. The right side of the book page shows players what curse elements are coming up next. So if you look around and your team is lacking in earth element cards and that’s the first curse that’s going to be on the board, you might want to chose to grab an earth card.
Another aspect players have to manage throughout the game is madness. Each time a player has to shuffle their deck, they have to put a madness card into the pile. If the stack of madness is ever depleted, you lose. If a player ever has six madness in their hand, they die. You can keep playing without them, but if everyone dies, obviously you lose the game. Some curses and monster effects will make you destroy madness cards or put more madness in your deck. There are ways to “cure” madness, meaning you put it back in the pile, and ways to destroy it so that you stop it from cluttering up your hand.
Players will also be able to buy higher value element cards and new spells as the game progresses. The spells can do some really awesome things like cure madness or support cards from your discard pile. There are level 1, 2, and 3 spells, and the higher level spells are only revealed after the lower level spell is bought.
This game has a high replay value, because the monsters, upgrade spells, and curses are all randomized. Also, each of the eight possible character choices have their own individual special abilities and initial deck compositions. As a side note, I love the fact that there are an equal number of female characters as male characters. Too often I sit down to play a game and there are few options for me to play as a woman. I love that this game provides ample options! Back to replay value, players can add even more variety by upping the game difficulty settings, which will add in more curse cards each round.
I highly recommend this game. I love the theme, which is beautifully carried over into the mechanics and the artwork, which is stunning. I love that the monster deck actually looks like a book! The variety of play in the game is also great. Because so much of it is randomized, each time you play it’s different, which makes it impossible to figure out the “best” way to play.
One thing that I hate about some games is that while it’s someone else’s turn, none of the other players have anything to do. The design of The Big Book of Madness pretty much requires everyone to be constantly involved and to brainstorm the most efficient way to use their elements and spell cards to defeat the curses. All in all, it’s super fun and only takes about an hour to an hour and a half to play.
The Big Book of Madness is for 2-5 players and retails for $39.99.