So, I sat down to try out Tower of Madness at a gaming con recently. It has a great 3D visual that draws the eye of a lot of notice, so it got a lot of people stopping. Interestingly, almost everyone one that saw it made some sort of reference to the old game of KerPlunk. While the initial comparison is not invalid, Tower of Madness is so much more than just a Cthulhu KerPlunk. It’s surprisingly stressful, but it’s the fun stress that
There are three endgame scenarios. If the Investigators (players) complete all location cards without three DOOM Marbles falling, they win. If all three DOOM Marbles fall before that point the Investigators lose, the world is consumed, and any Investigators drive insane during the game may cheer (as they will be devoured last). Third, if an insane Investigator caused the final Doom marble to drop, they are named the DOOM BRINGER and win the game.
Gameplay is simple but changes slightly each round. The first Investigator reveals the top card of the location deck. Each location has a unique rule that changes how the game works for that round, and there are enough location cards to play multiple games with little to no duplication. Location-specific rules aside, the player will roll five dice, and must lock in place at least one die on their player board each roll. Over the course of their rolls they must lock in a 1 (Gate), 2 (Heart), and 3 (Mind), or their investigation fails automatically and they must pull a tentacle from the tower, and deal with and marbles that fall as a result. The remaining two dice are called the “discovery dice” with the player having the highest total being the Lead Investigator for the round, and collecting the points for that location.
Pulling a tentacle isn’t always bad, mind you. Any blue Discovery Marbles that fall are worth 3 points towards victory. White Spell Marbles let that player draw a spell card, but aren’t worth points on their own. If a player collects four or more Madness Marbles they become Insane, changing a number of elements for them. Of course, if the third DOOM Marbles comes out the game is over, so there’s always a risk.
Spell cards have a SANE side and INSANE side, with different effects on each side, and you can also gain one of five different Unnatural Influence tokens that can be used once in a round for special effect, before being returned to the middle for the following round.
Because there are a lot of elements to the game, the rulebook takes a bit of time to get through, but not an unreasonable amount of time. The only real issue we had was with setting up the clock tower. The cardboard is a single piece, that folds around and is held closed magnetically. Because we opened the game from sealed, we found that the tower wanted to come apart, returning to its packaged, flat, state. We used a couple of small bits of painter tape to reinforce the seam, but I suspect after a bit more playtime and wear, this issue will solve itself.
Overall this game is a great blend of Cthulhu Mythos horror and a light easy game. It’s a strange combination, but Smirk and Dagger have really managed to strike the balance well.