The wife and I gave The Big Book of Madness (TBBoM) a first go last night, two players on Easy mode with no difficulty variants. Out of the box set-up was clear and the rules straightforward. The only thing that was a little confusing at first was how the invocation marker worked but we sorted that out fairly quickly.
As a general overview, the gameplay is pretty intuitive. You are a student of magic starting with a few basic spells and a special ability. You have a deck full of elements which you use to power your spells, buy new spells, heal yourself, etc.
Another interesting character mechanic is ‘support’. You can think of this is loading up a battery of elements that you can use later on (I like to think of it as loading up a shotgun).
When the book is opens on the first player's turn, a monster appears and attacks, which can cause a variety of negative effects. Along with the monster come a string of curses that will, over the course of each round, affect the players negatively as well. To stop the monster, you have to spend elements to destroy all of its curses before it escapes (at the end of the round). You only really need to take out the very last monster to win, but not stopping the earlier monsters before they escape also causes negative effects. Unchecked, these effects can pile on rather quickly!
After 5 player turns, the monster escapes (if all of its curses are not destroyed) and a new one pops from the book. Later monsters get more and more curses, scaling with player decks and spells improving throughout the game. The 6 round is the final monster, which must be destroyed to win.
Madness is the ‘main’ negative effect. Madness cards get added to your deck, clogging up future hands. You also cannot discard them to get rid of them, so they can build up in your hand. If you ever end your turn with an entire hand of Madness cards, you’re out of the game. Getting rid of Madness is also something to be careful of as there is only a limited pool of Madness cards in the game. Curing Madness replenishes that pool while destroying Madness does not. If the Madness pool ever runs out, everyone loses.
Doesn't seem like there's much to it but that was about it as far as how it was played.
What really made this game interesting from a play perspective was the extremely high level of interaction and spell/element combinations. Despite having a fairly simple concept, spells can immediately start having powerful game effects. Since your number of spells is finite, as you buy more, your abilities permanently change. Bigger spells are not necessarily ‘better’ either, as everything is powerful in the right circumstance. Beginning spells seems weaker, but they’re really just more general (more useable in more circumstances). We lost our first game because of the lack of a beginning spell that no one had anymore.
Another interesting thing that I don’t usually see was the ability to permanently affect other players decks – give or exchange cards.
Overall, we had a great time with it, and I’m looking forward to seeing what other spells there are in the game, trying it with more players and (possibly) actually winning! The art was gorgeous and effective. The components nicely done (I particularly liked the Evocation marker). Despite owning close to a dozen deck-builders, TBBoM manages to stands on its own with its combination unique mechanics and high interactivity.
To close, someone asked me on the Facebook BGG group how this compared to Legendary. My thoughts…
It is a deck-builder and some aspects of that are universal, buying new cards, deck composition/size management, etc., and there is the concept of stopping things on a time limit, like in Legendary (Marvel version, Encounters has some of these differences as well) .
This is pure co-op with no competition for points, hidden goals or traitor.
You can go mad and be out of the game (this almost happened to me first game).
There are 4 currency types that you have to buy up and combine (base Legendary had two)
Smaller decks can hurt you since you add Madness every time you run out of cards in your deck.
You can build up a small external support deck over time to help pay for things
Cards in hand are just currency (and blockers). Your spells are on the table. You could think of it like 5 heroes that you can use once a turn each. But you have to pay to use each time as well.
Interaction is very high, more akin to Shadows of Camelot or the Lord of the Rings co-op games. You can't be stingy, you have to be careful about what spells you buy (don’t get something just cause it’s good, make sure you’re the most effective person to have it), nor is there really downtime as you need to pay attention on all turns to see where you might be able to help clear a curse, etc.