The other night, my friends and I got a chance to play not just 1, but 2 magic-themed games! Trickerion and Big Book of Madness. Trickerion is a worker placement game with magicians performing for the most glory. Big Book of Madness is a co-op game (which could easily have been lifted from the Harry Potter universe) about students in a Hogwarts-esque setting. They “accidentally” open the wrong book and let loose some evil! The student have to work together to close the book or … bad things happen.
My friends Joe “Junkerman” and CC both really liked Big Book of Madness, so I asked them to write a review for me. So, below is a review of “Big Book of Madness” by Iello games. Joe takes lead, and CC follows up with some interesting comments.
Let’s start this off right:
I was pretty confused when reading the rules, but it came together pretty well. In game, we were a little clueless and probably made some mistakes at the start, but we hit a stride by the third page, and were able to figure out a little cooperative strategy to win. We kept discovering new “magic tricks” for solving problems throughout. Fun game!
Instructions: 4 (man, very few games score above 5 here)
Cooperative Play: 8 (some coop games don’t involve a lot of real cooperation)
We’ve all played several cooperative games of varying complexity: Ghost Stories, Pandemic, Arkham Horror, etc…
So, we all liked the book layout for bad stuff coming at us turn-by-turn –it looked great, easy to manipulate, easy to track, totally thematic, original, fun! Huge bonus there. I’m sure if Donald Trump invented this game, there would be no end to his gleeful gestures, squinting, and superlatives. 😉 Loved the production, the art, and the layout was relatively streamlined. One idiosyncratic problem I had was that the character cards have no names on them. I guess I’m a bit of a ham, as I want to respond to the character when I’m playing. I always remember Felicia Day playing Lords of Waterdeep on TableTop, singing the name of her guild every turn, “~Silver~ ~Stars~” to the merriment of the group. I want to announce, “Dr Doorstop jumps out the window,” or in this case, “Frida Frostpickle telepathically summons Ernesto Econowand to support her with three fire!”
Most of our confusion centered on our actions. What is that for? Why would we want to do that? Why don’t I just focus on one thing? What’s the priority resource at any given moment? On the board we had a few problems with figuring out the setup, starting resources, which cards were which. Once we got started it was a little confusing where things start and where they end. We had issues mid-game with what happens when we “Destroy” madness cards. We ended up figuring that when they get “destroyed,” they get discarded away from the source stack –which pushes us closer to losing. We also had a few mid-game issues with some of the spell abilities, how much they can accomplish, and where they are limited.
We started a little on our heels. We were unable to prevent several curses from happening, and didn’t kill the first monster. I think we killed the second and successive monsters, but were unable to stop all of the curses happening, especially on early turns. By the end of the game, we had built up a little planning into our actions, getting ready for the next page, and we did pretty well. It was nice to feel like you can get it together as a team, put together a tentative plan, and make it mostly work.
I was surprised how much we used telepathy. Those were the first group of spells we all upgraded. Likewise, I was totally surprised how super-powerful the blue spell was –that lets you take cards from the discard pile into support. Wow. That was awesome! At the start it seemed silly, then -bam- we started figuring out how cool support was. I’d say 50% of our plays were to assist other players, and it felt awesome to make some uber-support action by putting all triple resource cards into support or something, “Okay, I’ll just do this, this and –THIS! Uh-huh! How do you all like me now?”
I think if the rules had benefited from some decent tech-writing skill, this game would be a double fist-pumper. Writing rules is tricky. It’s not quite like a book, where if the reader has to go back, it means you didn’t write it very well. They need to be put into an accessible form for easy reference. Every section needs a little general “this thing is for this, which you’ll need on that turn.” That helps a ton. If you’ve never ventured beyond the boundaries of Monopoly, this game could be more than mildly confusing. If you’ve been devoured by Cthulu in more than one game, this should be a fun romp!
-rockin’ review by Junkerman
Joe’s review is spot-on. Agree on all points.
About all I’d add is a little bit about the production quality. I was really happy with the art and component design. Joe mentioned the stand-out design on the book, but the art, character portraits, and other elements were really appealing, too. The theme really shone through the mechanics thanks to the evocative visual design of everything.
I did think the track seemed a little confusing, how it looped to a little two-part thing up at the top, instead of truly going left-to-right. It wasn’t clear if that two-part thing was actually two steps or one step, and the odd sequence design left room for some confusion. I suspect it was a compromise based on the limitation of the board space; they needed enough room to place cards on all five slots, and there wasn’t room for a sixth. But I think the nature of that space on the board could have been better communicated.
(It just occurred to me that maybe that was because it wasn’t a space, and you don’t actually get a “sixth turn” as a breather between pages – that the first curse comes out on the first turn, and when you finish page five, you go immediately to page one, and those symbols are just to remind you what you are supposed to do when you “loop around”. Were we cheating?)
Overall, though, solid and enjoyable. I liked it enough to pick up a copy myself.