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Subject: Mina's Not-So-Mini Review - Going MAD With 2 rss

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Milena Guberinic
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Mina's Not-So-Mini Review - Going MAD With 2





The Overview


In The Big Book of Madness, players take on the role of naughty wizard kids who have opened a Pandora's Box-like book in the basement of their school. This book has unleashed a horde of monsters and demons into the world and players must get through the pages of the book and defeat the final boss monster and close the book forever.

Before the game begins, each player selects a character. There are 8 to choose from and each has a unique board, a specific starting deck of element cards, an ability, and slots for support abilities. Each player takes his starting element cards, shuffles them, and draws 6 cards. Each player also takes 4 starting spells (growth-spend 1 earth to draw 1 card, ice-spend 1 water to place 1 card from your hand into your support, combustion-spend 1 fire to destroy 1 card from your hand, and telepathy-spend 1 air to allow 1 other player to take 1 action). A player is allowed to have 5 spells at any given time.

The game board features a grimoire space, in which the grimoire is placed. First, the back cover of the book is placed on the bottom. Then, 5 inside pages, each of which features a monster on one side and a benefit/punishment on the other, are placed on top. Then, a cover page is placed on top.

To the right of the grimoire is a madness card pile. The madness card pile consists of 20 cards in a 2-player game. Each time a player has to draw a card and cannot do so and must shuffle his deck, he adds a madness card to his deck. Some monsters and curses may add more cards to a player's deck or take madness cards out of the game completely.

At the bottom of a board is a monster track that features the numbers 1 to 5 and slots for curses to be placed.

The goal of the game is to get to the final page of the grimoire with no curses on the board. Players can lose the game by having 0 cards in the madness card pile or by having 1 or more curses remaining at the end of the sixth round.

The game is played over the course of 6 rounds. There are 5 turns in each round and each turn consists of 4 phases.

1. Concentration - In this phase, a player refreshes (returns to upright position) any spells he has used in the previous round to make them available for use once again in the current round.

2. Monster - In this phase, the book marker is advanced 1 space on the monster track. If the book marker lands on the spaces numbered 2 to 5, the effects of the curse that is there are applied. If there is no curese in the space, there is no effect. If the book marker lands on the invocation space and even 1 curse remains, players incur the monster's penalty. If all curses have been destroyed, players get the monster's enefit. The marker immediately moves to space 1 and a new monster is placed. Depending on the round and difficulty level, multi-element curses may be drawn and placed in the first spaces, followed by the curses of the element colors shown on the new monster.

3. Action - During the action phase, the active player may use element and spell cards to:
a) Activate a spell - A player may spend 1-3 of the element value required by the spell to activate the spell and obtain 1-3 times its benefit
b) Learn a new spell - A player may spend 2 of the element required as payment for the spell to add a new spell to his spell pool
c) Destroy a curse - A player may spend the elements required to destroy a curse
d) Cure a madness - A player may spend 2 of the same element to cure a madness from his hand and return it to the madness pile

4. Recuperation
In the recuperation phase, a player draws back up to 6 cards. No cards may be discarded. If a player has no cards to draw, he must add a madness card to his deck and shuffle it to draw back up to 6.

The game ends at the end of the 6th round and the players win if they have destroyed all the curses on the board at that point.


The board


The Review




1. SUPER PRETTY
I don't need to say anything else here. Just look at the photos.

2. All the characters feel powerful and unique
Each of the characters has a unique power and each of these powers leads you to make very different choices in the game. We haven't played through all the characters yet, but the unique powers of the 4 I've tried have all given me something different to consider. Further customization through spell acquisition leads to even more unique abilities and the unique starting decks of each character encourage different choices in terms of which spells are acquired. All in all, the characters are all fun and exciting and do the job of making each player feel uniquely powerful very well!

3. Highly replayable
Most, if not all, co-op games feature a high degree of variable setup and player powers. The Big Book of Madness is no exception and I feel like it actually kicks things up a notch when it comes to variability, even when compared to other co-ops.

In The Big Book of Madness, you can choose from 8 different characters, you use 9 of a possible 36 library spells in any given game, you use 1 of 4 different possible cover page monsters, you use 5 of 12 different possible interior page monsters, and all the interior monsters appear in a random order.

I already discussed how the various characters lend a unique feel to each play session, but the availability of library spells can also drastically change the strategies that players use. The monsters can also have very different effects on the game, but these have a bit less impact than the characters and library spells, as they tend to have similar effects, causing players to discard cards or to add madness cards to their discards or on top of their decks. Ultimately, however, all these effects contribute to making The Big Book of madness compulsively replayable.

4. Tense and engaging
The Big Book of Madness is full of tense moments. The monsters can destroy cards from the top of your deck, wipe your support pools clean, and generally punish you in unpredictable ways. Each new monster that jumps out of the book causes new fears because you never know what you're going to get. This creates a lot of tension around what's coming out next.

The more persistent source of tension comes in the form of curse cards. Some are quite wicked, which generates a lot of motivation to try to defeat them before they take effect and you never know whether you'll be able to do so due to the randomness of card draw. Clever play can also help in this regard and its power cannot be underestimated. However, the randomness of card drawing definitely increases the tension in the game. Also, you may be determined to eliminate all the curses in a given round in order to gain the round-end bonus, but again, there's always a degree of uncertainty in terms of whether you'll be able to do that. It's always very satisfying when you manage to pull of a cool combo in the 5th turn and defeat the final curse to gain the reward for defeating that round's monster, but you never know for certain whether you'll be able to pull that off.

5. Interesting decisions, tradeoffs, and puzzly fun!
The Big Book of Madness is chock full of interesting decisions and tradeoffs. Spells can be very powerful, but you have to learn less powerful ones before you can uncover the more powerful ones. Also, you may have a maximum of 5 spells at any given time, forcing players to make difficult decisions about which spells to remove from the game.

Another consideration is the composition of your deck. This is a consideration that's present in any deck-building game, but it seems to be particularly prominent in this one...especially when played with 2 players. It is vital that players have a good distribution of element cards across their decks because curses are typically only defeated with 4 elements of the same color. This means that if a player's deck is deficient in a certain color, it will be more difficult for him to defeat those curses. However, it is also important for players to focus their decks on certain colors because they will more reliably be able to take down curses of those colors AND more reliably be able to activate spells of those colors. At higher player counts, it will be much easier to get a good distribution of element colors across all decks and it will be much easier for each player to focus on a single color. However, at the 2-player count, a good balance between balance and focus is needed. Finding the perfect balance is challenging and fun!

Another tradeoff and interesting decision point is created by the turn structure in the game (i.e. a player first refreshes his used spells to make them usable again, then plays his cards, and finally draws back up to his hand limit). One of the spells allows a player to get a partner to take an action, which can often leave that partner with an empty hand and nothing to do on his turn if it is used. If this results in the defeat of a curse that would have taken effect, then great! If not, then it may not be worth doing.

This interaction also creates an interesting planning puzzle. A player might leave some spells unused in order to use them on his coming turn when a partner gets him to do an action.

The support pools are another a cool feature of the game. It can be very useful to have cards in support in order to ensure you have them available to banish a curse or use a spell later in the game, but placing a card in support generally costs another card and may make it impossible for you to accomplish what you want to in that round, leading to a tradeoff between short-term and long-term goals. Additionally, cards in the support pool can be a bit of liability because there are monsters and curses that can lead to them being removed from the game. Players are allowed to place madness cards in their support pools, which can help to get them out of their hands, but also clogs up their support pools.

6. Players really have to work together and the decisions they make will determine how easy that is to do
The cooperative aspect of The Big Book of Madness comes in the form of spell card abilities and player powers. Most of these involve other players and facilitate cooperation. Acquiring more spells that focus on other players leads to more interaction between players.

In The Big Book of Madness, players are able to share cards through the common support pool, which allows them to more easily gain the correct combinations of elements to destroy the curses, but they can also gain library spells that allow them to share cards amongst themselves. Adding cards to the support pool is itself dependent on a spell card, so player interaction is indeed largely dependent on the spell cards. Otherwise, players are generally building their own decks, drawing from their own decks, using their own powers, and making their own decisions, but their own decisions have to involve other players if they hope to do well, as it is nearly impossible to destroy curses without using the support pool.

As I mentioned above, The Big Book of Madness involves quite a bit of puzzling through the options provided by all players' spells and hands of cards. As such, it is important that players plan out the round as much as possible based on everyone's abilities. The extent to which they are able to do so will vary with player count. In a 2-player game, one player will get 3 and the other 2 actions in a given round. In a 5-player game, each player will get 1 action in a given round. Therefore, there are more unknowns at the start of a round in a 2-player game than in a 5-player game. What you are able to do later on will depend on which cards you draw.

7. Very atmospheric
The Big Book of Madness feels very thematic; the art and mechanics come together to evoke a very strong sense of being in a magical world filled with spells and monsters and Harry Potters!

8. Challenging
A co-op game has to be challenging to remain interesting. No amount of variable setup can turn a super-easy co-op into a co-op I would be willing to play more than once. It's the sense of having almost made it or having barely made it that keeps me coming back to a co-op. I'm happy to report that the Big Book of Madness is full of tense moments that make you think, "If I had done this, maybe we could have made it" or "If I hadn't done that, we surely would have failed."

The game is also challenging in that it gives players only 5 turns total to destroy all the curses unleashed by the round's monster and the punishments for not destroying all the curses can have a very strong impact on the course of the game.

The madness cards present two challenges - managing your hand and managing the madness card pile. Because madness cards cannot be used like other cards during the course of the game, they will remain in your hand from turn to turn until you find a way to cure them or destroy them and doing so costs element cards, which could be put to better use fighting curses. On the other hand, if you end up with a hand full of madness, you're out of the game, so you have to be careful with how long you wait before you start getting rid of your madness.

Managing the madness card pile is another challenge and some monsters can make doing this tough to do. In our first game, we didn't realize the importance of keeping the madness card pile stacked with cards. We kept taking madness (either through exhausting our decks or through monster/curse effects) and then we kept destroying them, which would take them out of the game. It's easier to destroy cards (i.e. costs 1 fire with a starting spell) than cure them (i.e. costs 2 of the same element, but can also be done with spells), so doing this can be tempting. However, an empty madness deck spells defeat, so it's vital to keep enough of those around to get to the end of the game!

9. SUPER PRETTY
Sorry, did I already mention that one?



soblue


I can't really think of anything! This is an awesome game! However, I will mention that one of the cards appears to have a misprint. "Cure" is written as "Heal" on one card. Also, the element cards are very small, which is not a problem for me, but might be for some...

Final Word


I love The Big Book of Madness! Yes, I am a fan of Harry Potter and fantasy in general, which most likely increases my enjoyment of this game. However, thematic preferences aside, I do believe that the game itself has plenty of fun, tension, cooperation, and interest to offer anyone. Indeed, Peter really enjoys it and he is the opposite of a fan of fantasy. I very much look forward to being pulled into this magical world again and again in the years to come because I'm sure I'll be keeping this lovely game for a long time.

MINA'S LOVE METER heart heart heart heart LOTS OF LOVE














Jackie approved!


Burn it!
Dislike
heart Some like
heart heart Like
heart heart heart Some love
heart heart heart heart Lots of love
heart heart heart heart heart All love all the time


To see my other reviews, visit this geeklist.
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Evan Duly
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Thanks for the review and great pictures. I am very interested in this game specifically as a 2 player game and I am liking what I see so far.

I have read elsewhere that someone felt the gameplay was a bit too abstract, they mentioned the monsters having no names and also the mechanics of defeating curses and such essentially being about simply matching different colors (element symbols).

Sounds like you didn't feel the game was too abstract? Did you feel like a junior sorceress trying to defeat big bad monsters?

Thanks again!
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Andy Andersen
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Really looking forward to getting this to the table. With your help, it should be a breeze.
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Daily Grind
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Quote:
I am very interested in this game specifically as a 2 player game and I am liking what I see so far.


I'll give my 2 cents - my wife and I got this over christmas and have only played with 2, but we're having a blast with it.

I had initially read some reviews that thought 2p might be too difficult, but we actually won our first game (on easy) and only had 1 (slightly advantageous) rules mishap on the first monster.

A comparison game from my collection is 'Legendary Encounters: Alien' which has similar mechanics, but a different 'feel' to it. Alien seemed a lot more frantic and desperate. And playing the different scenarios resulted in rather different strategies game to game, IMO.

This game feels a little more 'even' in that the first few monsters were pretty tough, but you can feel your side getting stronger and more confident as you progress which gives a real sense of accomplishment when you take the last baddie down. And the randomized upgrade spells give some variety without completely changing the basic plan of attack.

Quote:
Sounds like you didn't feel the game was too abstract? Did you feel like a junior sorceress trying to defeat big bad monsters?


So this is an interesting question because I felt like the Sorcerer side was very immersive and thematic. I did feel like I junior spell-slinger with an element specialty and the upgrade spells worked well for that. You get a good taste of the schools of magic and how your player power fits in with it all.

But the monster side was very abstract as you say. The curses (by the nature of the card draw) aren't thematically related to the monster and the bonus/penalty also can't be related to the monster since it appears on the back of the next card so can be random. I personally stopped even seeing the monster art very early.

So I guess I felt like a junior sorceress trying to defeat a formless, nameless evil.
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Evan Duly
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Thanks for the reply!

That does help me understand how the game feels a bit more now.

Of course, all games have to have a degree of abstraction to work smoothly, for example discarding 5 cards in Pandemic to cure a disease. But ideally I like to have a strong thematic connection with the game mechanics when possible and this game seems to be kind of borderline in that aspect.

Still seem like a fun game though!
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Milena Guberinic
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Orangemoose wrote:
Really looking forward to getting this to the table. With your help, it should be a breeze.

Thanks Andy! I hope you enjoy!
 
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Milena Guberinic
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cafin8d wrote:
Quote:
I am very interested in this game specifically as a 2 player game and I am liking what I see so far.


I'll give my 2 cents - my wife and I got this over christmas and have only played with 2, but we're having a blast with it.

I had initially read some reviews that thought 2p might be too difficult, but we actually won our first game (on easy) and only had 1 (slightly advantageous) rules mishap on the first monster.

A comparison game from my collection is 'Legendary Encounters: Alien' which has similar mechanics, but a different 'feel' to it. Alien seemed a lot more frantic and desperate. And playing the different scenarios resulted in rather different strategies game to game, IMO.

This game feels a little more 'even' in that the first few monsters were pretty tough, but you can feel your side getting stronger and more confident as you progress which gives a real sense of accomplishment when you take the last baddie down. And the randomized upgrade spells give some variety without completely changing the basic plan of attack.

Quote:
Sounds like you didn't feel the game was too abstract? Did you feel like a junior sorceress trying to defeat big bad monsters?


So this is an interesting question because I felt like the Sorcerer side was very immersive and thematic. I did feel like I junior spell-slinger with an element specialty and the upgrade spells worked well for that. You get a good taste of the schools of magic and how your player power fits in with it all.

But the monster side was very abstract as you say. The curses (by the nature of the card draw) aren't thematically related to the monster and the bonus/penalty also can't be related to the monster since it appears on the back of the next card so can be random. I personally stopped even seeing the monster art very early.

So I guess I felt like a junior sorceress trying to defeat a formless, nameless evil.


Thanks for this!

I do think the game works very well with 2 players and is neither too difficult nor too easy. You have several different options for increasing the difficulty and make the game grow with you as well.

Also, as I wrote in the review, I found the game quite thematically immersive. The artwork helped to make it feel immersive and the special powers and spells I learned did make me feel like a little wizard girl. However, I would have to agree that the monsters lack the same thematic integration and "junior sorceress trying to defeat a formless, nameless evil" is an apt description for how the game ultimately feels.
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Stasia Doster
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I just picked this game up Saturday and got it to the table today. I did not play a two-payer game, which is what I normally play, but a four-player game as I was visiting my youngest daughter and my mother. Both my daughters and my mother enjoyed the game as did I. Since I normally play games two-player, I am glad to see that it works well with that player count. I am looking forward to getting it to the table again soon!
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