gYou’re first year magicians impatient to learn proper spells. So you break into a chamber of secrets to read the Big Book of Madness, that your teachers have explicitly told you is off limits – of course, they’re only saying that because it’s filled with awesome spells!
Oh, wait… no. It’s filled with madness.
Madness and monsters, bursting out of the pages.
Now you and your classmates have to gather the elements and quickly learn spells from the other, less dangerous books around the chamber, in this co-op deckbuilder
You’ll need to quickly improve your magic skills to defeat the monster at the end of the book. If you survive the madness long enough to reach that particular battle.
2-5 players select a magician to play as: big earth guy, thin air guy, medium water guy, medium-big fire guy, or sexy earth girl, sexy air girl, sexy water girl, sexy fire girl.
I love almost everything about the game’s amazing, colourful art. It’s reminiscent of a Disney or Pixar and draws you into the world, making you want to see an animated film about these magicians – except the game takes the same approach to female body diversity as those studios. Which is, basically none.
Nevertheless, props to fire girl – she’s pretty badass (and note the burning desks).
Once you’ve chosen your magician – each with a different set of starting elements and a unique special ability – the madness begins.
You open the book to unleash the first monster, and curses along with it. The book’s really cool. It’s made of cards that look like pages with monsters bursting out! Monsters will be on the left, and immediately attack, for some effect like forcing players to discard cards or giving them madness (junk cards that clog up your deck).
Bonuses and penalties for winning and losing on the right card combine with the monster on the left hand to create a lot of variability each time you play. You also don’t use all the monsters, spells, or magicians each game – so replayability is fairly high.
You all start with four basic spells, but can learn new ones, which let you do more complex actions, like reshuffling your deck, or curing madness cards while drawing extra cards.
Madness is in the title for a reason. You get 6 cards in your hand each round, which you can spend on buying or casting spells, or destroying curses (which require four element cards to resolve). If you destroy all the monster’s curses within 5 rounds, you get a win bonus. If not, you get a penalty, and the page flips, revealing the next monster.
Madness cards clog up your 6-card hand, and if you get to the bottom of the madness deck, you all lose. If a player ever ends up with a hand full of madness, they’re eliminated! There is player elimination in this game. And some powers that basically skip your turn. Seems like both are fairly rare, though, and the communication between players means eliminated players can still help strategise.
Curses can mess you up, but sometimes they’re not so bad. Coordinating with your fellow wizarding delinquents is important, as that awesome wooden book token moves and activates the next card (or two cards in Round 3) each turn. So, while you might be able to resolve that Water Curse now, fixing the Earth Curse that’s coming up next round may make more sense.
On the right-hand page of the book, you can see the three elements that the next monster will curse you with. So sometimes it’s better to prepare for the next monster, especially when you realise this one’s curses aren’t going to get resolved.
Losing to a monster isn’t always that bad. And you only need to defeat the final monster to win. Which is great, and terrible. It means that failure or sacrifices early on are okay. But it also means that the entire game hinges on the final battle. So you need to use those earlier rounds to build up a better deck and spells to help you, but luck of the draw will still play a factor.
Oh, also make sure you remember this key rule – when you destroy a curse, you add a free 2-value element card of your choice to your discard. It’s very easy to miss this rule, and it isn’t in the player aid. Playing without it will really drive you mad, and make the game much harder, even on the lowest of its three difficulty settings.
So, you’ve got really beautiful and detailed – if not entirely unproblematic – art, a co-op deckbuilder with lots of variability and replayability, all wrapped up in easy-to-understand mechanics. All in all, a great game. Hopefully someday we’ll win.