The Big Book of Madness: A Tale of Indexed Monsters
Open up a dangerous journey of fighting off monsters at a magical academy in The Big Book of Madness.
When I spotted The Big Box of Madness in a clearance section with some slight box damage, I knew I had to grab it! That was last year, and it’s barely been given enough time on my game table. With news of the recently released expansion, The Vth Element, I figured it was time to see if I might want to invest more. Watch out for that first page!
The concept is excellent: A curious group of magical students heads into the forbidden area of the library, only to stumble across the most dangerous book. Inside, monsters and curses abound! It’s up to the same foolish students to fight off the dangers and ensure the madness doesn’t escape into the world. Who will triumph?!
A Bit of Fire
Although this can be a solo game, at least 2 students must team up. Managing a pair can be tricky enough, although I hope to try out 3-4 students at some point!
With a random draw, my first student was clearly a fellow who simply loved fire. And hugging goblins? Maybe.
Every character possesses a unique ability and starting deck. The former is usually pretty straightforward. It’s the latter aspect that can play a vital role at the start.
Focusing on a single element can provide benefits, but a lack of diversity can hamper efforts to destroy curses.
Even More Fire
My random draw for the other member of this student duo led to an interesting scenario where fire was… On fire?!
As I mentioned, having such a strong emphasis on a single element can prove disastrous. Different elements are needed to take out different curses.
Usually, 3 of the 4 elements are useful during every round. However, it’s possible to take other actions with excessive elements. There are spells to learn and cast, of course!
I was just happy to say that the students had a dragon sidekick along for the ride. There’s no better way to start!
Curses and Elements
Each curse falls into a specific bucket, defined by its elements. Watch out for those multi-element curses, though! They’re extra powerful and can create havoc.
Some of the curses add additional elements to other curses. These tokens aren’t used that much, though.
Bonus points for anyone who can identify this container I used for the tokens. I ended with extra punch boards but constructed all of these little castles. Contain the tokens!
At last, I was about ready to go. The setup process was a little lengthy, but I still enjoyed it. To the book!
A Dangerous Opening
The pages of the literal “book” actually turn to create pages of monsters and consequences. I was immediately greeted by a swarm of nasty little magical insects. Ouch!
On the left side, the surprise effect must be resolved while curses of the appropriate elements are laid out.
Every curse comes into play at different points, so there is usually a little time to puzzle through the ways to avoid the worst of them. Because they can be nightmarish!
I had advanced knowledge of what to expect if the curses were cleared… Or not. I had some ideas in mind. Kind of.
Balancing Successes and Failures
The book itself contains a random selection of 6 monsters. Although destroying curses seems like the most important goal, failing is actually worthwhile at times. For that’s one of the surprising elements: Not every monster must be beaten to succeed! Only the final page must be defeated in order to win. But don’t think that’s easy.
Along the way, madness cards clog up decks, and problems abound with curses that aren’t dealt with. I often fall into the trap of believing that I need to defeat every single curse. In fact, it’s more about finding a way to accept certain failures and strategically plan for successes. Healing madness and buying more expensive element cards are vital.
My pair of students used fire to their advantage to utilize spells and take down some nasty curses! But alas, it was very hard to build up the other elements.
Through the first few pages, they did quite nicely. Bonuses arrived with cleared pages and defeated monsters.
But when fire wasn’t an important element, there was nothing to be done. Madness began to spread. With only a finite number of cards before defeat, it looked rough.
Then this fantastic monster of a samurai showed up and instantly defeated the students. Oh, you! I was foiled.
The Point of Defeat
I went ahead and reset everything, ready to take on that awful book again. Never mind the loss: I upped the difficulty level and expected to struggle quite a bit.
With the same set of spells, I figured I would slowly form a better strategy. It all looked better. Not great, but better.
And then this fantastic guy showed up to point a rude finger in our direction and unleash everything all at once.
No surprise: This was another immediate failure! At least I started to see my weakness in not managing the number of madness cards. Cure, cure, cure! I had a new plan.
In Light and Shadow
Alright. This game shot wasn’t exactly important, but the sunlight was in a pretty awesome spot. I couldn’t resist highlighting some of the curses in this way.
“Destroy” is an important concept here, especially in terms of the madness cards. To destroy is to remove a card entirely from play, typically for the entire game.
In contrast, healing a curse places it back in the madness stack. This has a cost but also delays an immediate loss.
Thank goodness for sunlight, by the way! I’ve been having a lot of fun with board game photography lately.
As I continued to fight my way to the last page and a chance to win, the students started to really doubt my abilities. Remember their focus on fire?
I ended up giving this useful but not-so-useful spell to one of them. It was only after another defeat that I noticed something important. And I got an icy stare in the process.
This spell’s card artwork showcases a lovely bit of flowering greenery on the student’s shoulder. Beautiful!
But a closer look at this student should show that his shoulder is home to some fire. Oops. Not a good choice!
Play Number: 5-8
Solo Mode: Included in the Base Game (Cooperative)
Play Details: Medium Difficulty Level in Normal Mode
Required Play Space: 30″ x 28″
Setup Time: 10 Minutes
Play Time: 25-50 Minutes per Play
Outcome: 4 Losses
In my final attempt, I managed to reach the final page! But alas, I could only defeat 3 of the 5 curses before the book was closed forever. Or maybe stuck open… That’s more accurate. Ha ha! One day, I’ll get there with the students!
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Continue the Conversation
What do you think of The Big Book of Madness? I forgot how difficult it can be to work through every page. More importantly, I loved how the small failures didn’t necessarily mean defeat. Are there other games where failing some goals can be advantageous? I’m on a mission to win at this difficulty level… Let’s hope the students can finally win!