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Subject: Capsule Review - The Big Book of Madness rss

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Richard A. Edwards
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Lacey
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The Big Book of Madness. Iello, 2015. $40. Design by Maxime Rambourg, Illustrated by Naïade. 8 Magician sheets (with player aid on back), 56 Spell cards, 136 Element cards, 1 game board, 17 Grimoire cards, 48 Curse cards, 35 Madness cards, 1 Invocation marker, 1 Round marker, 1 Active Player token, 16 Element tokens, and a rule book. 2-5 players. Ages 14+. 60-90 minutes.

In this cooperative game of magic and madness, the players take on the role of aspiring student magicians who have opened an ancient grimoire, releasing powerful monsters from its pages. Each page (Round) releases a monster who has an immediate effect and then places potential curses on the board. If reached before being destroyed, curses will have negative effects on the players. If you can destroy all the curses before the end of the round, you vanquish the monster and gain a bonus; curses have varying effects and if even one remains at the end of the round, a negative effect will occur before turning the page. And with the turn of each page, the monsters become more difficult.

To achieve victory the players must work together, using resources and spells, to try and destroy curses before they take effect. This requires communication, planning, and sharing. One of the basic spells everyone has allows you to give another player an action out of turn, another lets you put an element into support where anyone can use it. Getting the right elements available and having the right player use them at the critical moment is imperative to destroy curses, and ultimately, if you destroy all the curses placed by the final (boss) monster, you win the game.

During your turn, you can use your spells (if you have elements to pay for them), learn new spells (if you have the elements to buy them), acquire new element cards (by paying for them with element cards), cure Madness cards (using elements to return them to their deck), or destroy curses. You are limited only by having enough elements to do what you want.

Madness cards, given to you by curses and monster effects, just clutter up your hand which is why you want to cure them. If your hand is ever made up of only Madness cards, you are out of the game! And if the Madness stack ever empties, you lose immediately.

Since having the right element cards is essential, the game sometimes seems a bit random. A bad draw can doom you to apply the effects of a curse. Acquiring the right element cards can help build your deck to mitigate this randomness, but that takes time and the early curses depend on your starting magicians’ decks and lucky draws.

The huge amount of player interaction makes this one of the best cooperative games I’ve played. The artwork is beautiful and evocative. The rules are easy and straightforward. Each game is a different challenge since the group’s starting magicians determine your element cards and different powers, the grimoire is built from a subset of random pages, and the curse decks will provide varying curse effects, making it highly replayable. And if you find it too easy, which I did not, you can increase the play mode (adding more curses) to make it even more challenging.

A fast, fun, and very enjoyable cooperative game.

This review was written based on a privately purchased retail copy. No compensation was involved.
c2015 by Richard A. Edwards
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thanks for the review. can you comment on how the game handles the alpha gamer problem relative to how it's handled in other popular co-op games like pandemic?
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Richard A. Edwards
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As most cooperative games, it is susceptible to analysis paralysis and the alpha gamer issue.

It really requires a lot of communication and sharing in order to win. I imagine some groups might play with their hands displayed in which case an alpha gamer might try to direct everyone's card play.

Keeping your hands to yourself might stop this from being an issue, but sharing the information about who has how many of what elements is critical to know in order to win, so at least verbally sharing needs to be done. And I imagine some groups will find it easier to just display their hands.

In some ways this game is even more prone to alpha gamer because one of the spells lets the current player give another player an action, which is almost always done for a specific reason. So you'll hear a player say I give you an action to do X, specifying the action they are expected to do (along with how they might achieve that action, such as "use your 3 Water plus the 1 Water player C has in support to destroy the Water curse").

And in several games we found there were critical moments where we all tried to puzzle through the best move and the game slowed significantly as everyone looked over everyone's cards and we talked through various possible actions until we found the best way to proceed, which of course ultimately came from one (alpha) gamer's suggestion, which then required several players turns/actions in order to accomplish.

If players try to "win" the game on their own, they *will* fail. This game *requires* cooperation in order to win. You *must* communicate what you have in your hand, spells and abilities; you will need to give other players an action out of turn and you'll need to put cards into support so that other players can use them too.

This is one of the most interactive cooperative games I've ever seen. The more the merrier, though of course it is also vulnerable to domination by an alpha gamer making it no fun for others. As usual, it will depend on the group dynamics for its fun. You will win or lose as a group.
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Indalecio
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If your playgroup has strong alpha players then you should probably consider avoiding this game. I would say the same thing about games like Pandemic, so it's really nothing to do with how good the game is.

I think hiding your cards defeats the purpose of co-operation in the game (bearing in mind there are no personal agendas), and I would personally hate doing this, but you are welcome to try that option if you think it would work with your group.

I (respectfully) disagree completely with the statement made above about the fact communication is required and one player cannot tank the game etc. A strong alpha player will analyze your cards and tell you what to activate, which cards to place in support and everything else. The spells allowing somebody else to play during your turn will make this even worse.

I am an alpha gamer myself at heart, as I love analyzing the entire group's capacity to play most efficiently against the game at any point in time, leading to judgment calls made on my end that are actually the responsability of another player. Now I like to think that this side of me stays inside me, as I try to suggest options that I think are best but always let the player decide in the end whether I agree or not.

This game is one of the few ones forcing out that side of me. I don't play with "weaker" players or people not able to make decisions, but when everybody says "well nothing we can do this time" and I see that we can in fact do something, I speak it out, explain who should do what, and then the players can't really say we won't do as I say because the alternative is to lose. So we do it.

This is a great game, but be prepared to situations of that kind.
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The mime promo monster card solves the alpha player issue for one page (its passive ability mums all players)

By extension players could agree beforehand that only the active player can talk/ask questions. If you're not the active player you can only answer, not initiate or elaborate (maybe even limit answers to yes & no?)
 
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Allan A.Y.
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I was hoping that the game has more stuff like the mime, but then I was sadden to found out it being only one monster and a promo...
 
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I just got my copy in the mail today. After I've played it a bit we can head over to "variants" and come up with new fan monsters?
 
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Richard A. Edwards
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I'm still waiting the release here in the USA. The several plays I based my review on, played several times over a couple of days at a gaming convention in October, really made me look forward to playing more.

Word from Iello is that the street date for the game here in the USA is Dec. 10th.
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Kevin Lause
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Hey Richard!

Thanks for this fine early review of the game. Well done!

I have a question: How well do you think this game would play solo if the player uses more than one character?

Any thoughts on this would be very much appreciated since I really like the idea and look of this game, but I don't want to order it if it has no possibility for solo play.

Thanks!

Kevin
 
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Richard A. Edwards
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Thanks, Kevin.

I've only played it 2, 3, and 4 player, but I don't see any reason it would play any different solo.

Mechanically, there are 5 turns each round and each Magician takes a turn, so if you're playing 1-4 characters, you'd still get the same number of turns.

But, the more Magicians you have, the more options you have. Each hand provides different elemental cards, essential to destroying curses. Each magician starts with the same spells, but buys different new ones. Each magician also has different abilities.

In theory, I guess you could even play it with just one magician, but I imagine the lack of options would make for a very difficult game. You could try different numbers of magicians to see where the difficulty feels best for you.

Since it's a cooperative game and requires a lot of communication to win, I think it would be a fine choice for solitaire as long as you don't mind playing several wizards.
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