Banish monsters or go crazy tryin’: The Big Book of Madness, and more games to play


Why should your view into the wild world of hobby board gaming be restricted by the few dozen games I own and play? A few weeks ago I got on the phone with a handful of respected gamers and friends to see what they’ve been playing — and gave them a chance to pitch the experience.

Ed Klein, Gamer’s Haven
Game: The Big Book of Madness

One of my recent favorites is The Big Book of Madness: It’s kind of a Harry Potter situation where you’re playing a group of students in a wizarding school who have snuck into a restricted section of the library and opened The Big Book of Madness. Monsters have come out of the book and you have to cooperate to get them back into the book without going insane.

It’s a deck-building game, so you’ve got to manage your hand with elemental power cards that you use to cast spells and banish monsters. The rules are pretty smooth and the mechanics and learning curve are reasonably light. The complexity comes in figuring out the best combination of things to do, because there are lots of ways to chain actions.

It’s probably one of the best cooperative games I’ve played in a long time. It’s hard to “quarterback” (where one player dominates by telling everybody else what to do on their turns), because there are so many options that there’s not an immediately apparent “right” or “wrong” play. There are a ton of different choices every turn on what to do or how to help (or ask for help from) other players. This keeps everybody engaged all the time and adds a fair amount of tension — especially since you’ve got to mitigate the effect of madness cards that gum up players’ hands and threaten to take them out of the game if they go mad. — EK

Mark Chamberlain
Game: Android: Netrunner
Netrunner is unlike any other card game on the market. It's a high-stakes, edge-of-your-seat battle of lone wolf hackers versus monolithic corporations; each side trying to advance their own nefarious agenda. Nobody’s good in this universe, everybody has their shades of evil.

I played Magic: The Gathering professionally in Florida and have played almost every competitive card game out there — from Call of Cthulhu to My Little Pony — and Netrunner is closest to my heart because it’s unique among all card games that have come out in the last eight years.

It offers great gameplay and has gathered an incredible community around it. It’s so smart and clever, and you don’t have to commit to it as a “lifestyle” game like you would with Magic. With Magic, everybody is chasing special cards in booster packs to get an edge; Fantasy Flight games designed this so that you don’t have to do that to enjoy it. The other day I got my butt kicked by a friend who had only the core set.

But more than this, Netrunner brings a story with it that is inseparable from gameplay. The theme doesn’t feel “crowbarred” in; it feels like a true narrative that comes alive with every turn you take. (Check out the choose-your-own-adventure Netrunner fanfic “Why I Run” to see the kind of world this game can evoke for players.) — MC

Jake Jacobs
Game: Dead of Winter

(This cooperative/competitive zombie survivor game was reviewed in my blog back in January. Click here if you to check out the writeup.)

This gets more playtime than any other game on our shelf because the variety of scenarios you can play — and the number of uniquely tough situations that pop up during each game. None of our other games play as differently, and in as many ways, as Dead of Winter does.

There’s so much going on that players are never just sitting around looking at their phones when it’s not their turn. You’re always thinking about the probability of being able to find critical items — and figuring out who the traitor might be. This game has huge replayability and consistently keeps us all engaged. It’s really well designed — even if somebody gets outed as a traitor, that person can still keep playing as an exile.

The traitor aspect can be really exciting. In a recent game, one of my buddies always claimed that he could never contribute when we had to come up with extra food and fuel to avoid a crisis in our survivor colony — until game’s end, when he slammed his traitor card face up with a “Fuck you!” Even though we got demolished, it was still extremely entertaining. I’ll definitely be a lot more suspicious of my fellow players going forward. — JJ

Nate Warren is a Colorado Springs-based copywriter who offers both the veteran gamer and the uninitiated a local window into the burgeoning and wildly creative world of hobby and designer board games enjoyed by fanatics and connoisseurs — around the corner and and across the globe.

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