The Big Book of Madness Review

by GameKnight Games

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 DominionStar 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!

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