The Big Book of Madness currently holds the title of my favourite cooperative board game, and here's why. I should preface this by saying, as someone who loves deckbuilding games, games like Dominion, Star Realms and Clank!, there was no way I wasn't going to like The Big Book of Madness. It's a deckbuilding game with gorgeous art and a fun theme: you and your fellow players are students at a nameless wizarding school, and traipsing through the forbidden section of the library you've opened a book of monsters. It's up to you and your friends to quickly defeat the monsters and reseal the book before they wreck havoc on your school and your psyche. In order to do so you'll need to quickly learn new spells and find more potent sources of mana in order to handle everything these monsters throw at you. As a deckbuilding game, The Big Book of Madness stands out a little by having you fill your deck with your spell-casting resources, while the spells you actually cast remain outside your deck and can be upgraded or swapped for new ones as the game progresses. You'll always have access to your Aura of Fire or Essence of the Earth, but unless you've made sure to include enough Fire and Earth mana in your deck you might not have the resources to cast the one you want on a critical turn. And this is a game where every turn matters. If you and your team aren't extra-efficient with your actions as the game progresses, you'll see your decks start to fill up with unusable Madness cards that need to be burned to purge from your deck. The characters you select at the beginning of the game and the different elements of spells you acquire throughout encourage you to specialize in certain types of magic, so while one player might be especially good at getting rid of their excess Madness, others will have to rely on their teammates to keep them from completely losing it. You don't have to beat every monster in order to succeed in The Big Book of Madness, just the last one, but if you've been struggling on your way to that last monster fight it certainly won't be easy. It takes a lot of coordination and preparation to defeat that last beast and seal the book again! Things I liked: It has a lot of unique elements (like card storage for future turns and your always-available list of spells) that I haven't seen in other deckbuilding games, while still providing the kinds of gameplay that I expect and enjoy from the genre. Amazing art. Plays up to 5 players, which is common for cooperative games but having more board games that play more than 4 players is never a disappointment. Actually challenging: Again, something that is common to cooperative games, but with each player having a couple of spells and managing a deck's worth of resources it's much more difficult for one player to start managing everyone else's turns, everyone needs to keep thinking and be on their toes. It feels really satisfying when you do actually make it to the end and beat the last monster. Did I mention the art? Things I didn't like: Actually challenging: On the harder difficulties, this game gets stressful! As someone who has a bit of a competitive drive, every decision becomes harder to make as you lead up to the final fight, and although the game provides ways to combat it, randomness does play a factor in which cards you'll draw. Harder difficulties are much harder to play if you don't give it 100%. Although it's unlikely to happen, if a player ends up being unlucky enough to accrue and number of madness cards and is stuck only madness cards in hand at the end of their turn, they immediately lose and are kicked out of the game. As a penalty for not managing your madness it makes sense, but having that much madness in hand is already such a detriment, I don't know if it needs to be exacerbated by making that player sit the rest of the game out. Verdict I love it! As you might have guessed from the beginning, The Big Book of Madness is currently one of my favourite games. If you enjoy a good cooperative challenge and are ready to puzzle through some devilishly tricky turns where one wrong spell-cast could mean unleashing waves of monsters upon your poor school, give The Big Book of Madness a shot!
Thirsty Sword Lesbians is a new tabletop RPG focused on telling stories of queer love and power from the mind of April Kit Walsh, and boy oh boy have I been itching to play this game. It's been on my radar since late 2019, so it's very exciting to finally be holding the physical copy in my hands. If you want to hear more about a game where swords cross and hearts race, a game full of drama and emotions, you've come to the right place! Thirsty Sword Lesbians uses the Powered by the Apocalypse framework, a system that's proven to be both versatile and well-suited for this style of game. For the uninitiated, Powered by the Apocalypse games use two six-sided dice for the vast majority of rolls in the game, similar to the way you use a twenty-sided die in games like Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder. When your character attempts a move and you roll the dice, a result of 10 or better triggers an up beat, a result of 6 or lower triggers a down beat and a result from 7-9 triggers a mixed beat. Depending on what move your character was attempting, an up beat or a mixed beat will usually give you all or some of what you were trying to do, while a down beat will allow the game master (GM) to use a GM move against your character or the group. The system is great for a game focused on characters and narrative like Thirsty Sword Lesbians because every result moves the game and the story forward, even a down beat. You'll never have a character fail to pick a lock, fail to notice the hidden lever, fail to break down a door and be left sitting there thinking "What now?" because every roll is an opportunity for the GM and the players to move the plot along. Even with the similarities to other Powered by the Apocalypse games, there are a lot of things that set Thirsty Sword Lesbians apart. First and foremost is how emotionally sophisticated it is—fitting for a game about relationships and melodrama. Many RPGs are mechanically focused on what the characters can do, abilities and powers showcase the fantastical abilities and superhuman attributes that players will wield during the game. Thirsty Sword Lesbians, in contrast, uses it's mechanics to focus on the characters' emotional journey and their connections with other characters. The game has classes, called playbooks, but instead of being primarily focused on a character's abilities or what kind of training she's received each playbook focuses on a central conflict that motivates and consumes the character. The Devoted must reconcile their commitment to a person or cause against their own self-care. The Trickster desires closeness, even as she fears vulnerability. The Seeker comes from a toxic society and has to pit upbringing and tradition against justice and developing their own values. While the different playbooks do have different abilities they can use, they focus on the character's relationships and central conflict, reinforcing the themes of the game. Thirsty Sword Lesbians has also taken a trend I've seen, using safety tools, and baked it right into the rules. Playing a game about romance, emotions and escalating stakes can have emotions running high, both in and out of character. To keep the experience positive for everyone, players are encouraged to set boundaries, check in with each other, and veto game elements that make them uncomfortable. At the end of every session, every character gets a small XP reward if anyone used a safety tool that game. It's inobtrusive, but it sets the expectations and explicitly allows players to speak up or check in if they or another player isn't having a good time. It makes a lot of sense for a game that deals with topics like this, and I'd love to see it worked into other games going forward as well. There's a lot of good stuff in this book, from the diversity of the included settings, to the baked-into-the-game celebration of feminism, to the explicit inclusion of all queer, trans, intersex and other marginalized people, to the jokes in the names of all the different playbook's moves, it is a game that is bursting with heart. As a queer individual I fully recognize this might not impact everyone as strongly, but the number of times reading the rules that I felt powerfully seen and welcomed was almost overwhelming. Whether you're someone who's always played D&D, has played every RPG under the sun or has never played an RPG but wants to try, I strongly believe this game has something for you. Including whether you're queer or not! From the game's Kickstarter: What if... not Lesbians? We’ll let you in on a secret: you don’t have to play a lesbian. The game plays with themes that are common for all sorts of people who are marginalized on the basis of gender and sexuality, as well as feelings that go beyond the queer experience. If you want to play thirsty sword cishets, we’re not going to stop you—just don’t be surprised if the game turns them queer. Give it a shot. Live fast, break hearts, fall in love and fight for something worth fighting for! You'll always have your friends by your side. You can find Thirsty Sword Lesbians in-store or here on our webstore.
One year and one month ago, I read New Zealand author Tamsyn Muir's debut novel, Gideon the Ninth, and my life was forever changed. It is so wonderfully original, filled with such satisfying prose and so unapologetically queer; it is without a doubt the best thing I read in 2019. I am very, very eager to share it with you.Read The Story
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