The BIG BOOK of MADNESS expansion The Vth ELEMENT
The Vth ELEMENT is a quite unusual and brilliant expansion for what is already an excellent cooperative game. It adds two new additions to the run of the game, embellishing and diverting without adding any new players; it's still 2-5. Neither does it add any extra time to the length it takes to play which is 60-90 minutes, and also no changes in the age group aimed at, 14 plus, which we believe is about right. Younger players (say, 10 + years old) will be able to handle the mechanisms but it may not have a strong enough pull to make youngsters put down their iPhones for an hour or two.
The BIG BOOK of MADNESS is a deck-building card game mixed with a fair amount of 'Escape Room' play. As a cooperative you are allowed to talk to each other, in fact we encourage you to talk to each other, as knowing what cards others are capable of playing is a huge bonus. Sadly, unless you have a spell you can cast that allows it you cannot actually swap or give cards to each other.
The two new distractions are The DARK MATTER and PHOBIAS. The former is similar to the four elements of the base game with the exception that Dark Matter isn't an element and thus cannot be used for buying new elements or spells. It can allow the user to cast Charms from the newly added DARK BOOK. Also, although Dark Matter has cards (and Tokens) similar to the elements it doesn't, it only has cards of Value = 1 whereas elements have values that range from 1 to 3.
You obviously need to have the original game to be able to use the Vth Element expansion, but again, unlike most game expansions, this only adds to the game you do not have to leave Base game parts in the box to use Vth Element components.
Yes there will be pieces remaining in the box, but these are items such as the cards remaining after the Big Book of Madness and the Dark Book have been completed, and the not chosen character cards. It is not necessary to use characters from the expansion but you will need at least one of them if you want to use the Dark Book; only characters with access to Dark Matter can use the Dark Book - you can buy the four element's cards by spending similar elements but you cannot obtain Dark Matter cards using regular elements.
The game remains the same, fight your way through the monsters in the BIG BOOK of MADNESS until you reach the last page and defeat the monster there. This is something you have a little control over because there are three Difficulty Levels of play, decided by the number of interior Book pages there are, 3 = Easy 4 = Normal and 5 = Hard experience has taught us that to win you are best to play the Easy version, in fact if there are only 2 players (as there have been for us during this Lockdown period) then anything past Easy is undoable.
The Big Book of Madness game is set up as required and according to the original rules book. Now decide if you are going to play the DARK MATTER or the PHOBIAS expansion or, better still in our opinion, BOTH at the same time (or simultaneously. whichever comes first). I know that for this review I should have played the game using each addition and then the pair together, thus at least three games. Instead we read through the rules, forgot about the 'use one or the other', and we went straight in through using the complete game. I am not sure we meant to do this but reading through the 12 page booklet that comes with the expansion it all just flowed so easily we never even thought about it being two modules.
PHOBIAS are basically 'effects' and are shuffled in with the Madness cards and act in a similar way to them, with the exception that Phobias have orders on them that are triggered when drawn to your hand. Madness cards are without text, they are just symbols. You can lose the game by having six Madness cards in your hand so remember to count Phobias in with the number of Madness cards when checking. Phobias are placed from your hand to the Character card, in one of the slots. Madness cards may be placed there too if you have space and can pay the correct elements to allow this.
MONSTERS are found on every left-hand page of the Grimoire (the Big Book of Madness) and they each place CURSE cards out as their defences. These CURSES are what you have to defeat within 6 Rounds or the Monster escapes and you suffer their wrath. Depending on the number of players the Wizard Hat token is moved down the Invocation chart, adding new Curses as it goes. Each curse has a number of elements on it and you have to play out those elements from your hand - cards that you play are discarded onto your own personal pile. When you run out of cards, you draw 6 cards from your personal deck. If your deck runs out you shuffle the discards and make a new deck, but you also gain a Madness (possibly a Phobia) card as it expires.
Each Magician (player character) has a start-up number and type of cards, as shown on it. There is also a once-per-turn special ability - Curses and/or Phobias can prevent or regulate the use of these powers.
There are Element Tokens which at first, and because some of the most important rules are buried within the text instead of being highlighted or printed under specific headings, look like you play them onto the Curse cards, covering up the element icon they represent; as if you can kill it slowly by adding these Tokens piecemeal. This isn't correct. To defeat the Curse you have to play/spend exactly the right number (4) and assortment of element cards from your hand in one go. If the Book Token travels completely around the six phases and there are still Curses on the track then the Monster escapes and you suffer the consequences. The final card in the Grimoire is the Big end-of-level Monster and to lose to him is to lose the game, collectively.
You should be able to find this expansion in your Local Game Store at a price of £15.00 - £17.00
I thoroughly enjoy the Big Book of Madness game, and the Vth Element has really expanded the fun aspect just by adding Dark Matter. Definitely a game and expansion that you should be including in your game collection.