Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Tuesday 24 March 2020

The Game Shelf Reviews:- The Big Book of Madness: The Vth Element

Game: The Big Book of Madness: The Vth Element

Publisher: IELLO

Designer: Maxime Rambourg

Year: 2020

The Vth Element is the first expansion to The Big Book of Madness. When I saw the announcement of this expansion, I was really surprised to see that it was being expanded at all, given that the original game came out in 2015. We didn't discover The Big Book of Madness until a couple of years ago and when we did we felt like we'd found a hidden gem - a cooperative game that no-one seemed to talk about, that provided us with a good level of challenge and felt different to many of the other cooperative games we were playing at the time. It's been a staple of our collection ever since and so a new expansion was certainly something to get excited bout.

The Vth Element is a modular expansion, with both modules designed to add a little more challenge to the game. You can play with each module independently or play with both at the same time depending on your taste.


The first module adds the titular fifth element to the game: Dark Matter. Dark matter is a new element card that can be added to your decks just like the other four elements, though it only comes in value one cards. Getting dark matter is easy: spend two different elements and you buy a dark matter card straight into your hand. Dark matter has 3 main uses: a pair of dark matter cards can be discarded to be treated as a value one in any other element, four dark matter cards are needed to cure the new dark matter curses that appear with some of the new monsters in the expansion, and lastly you can activate the dark book. The dark book is randomised each game, but always has a series of pages that get both more powerful, and more expensive. At the start of the game the first two pages are available, letting you trigger one ability by spending one dark matter, or a more powerful ability by spending two dark matter. If you do the more powerful option then the page turns, revealing a repeatable action for two dark matter and a powerful action for three and so on.

The second module adds phobias to the game. Phobias replace half the standard madness card in the madness deck and are cured in much the same way. They have two differences though: Firstly they do not get stuck in your hand, but instead immediately get placed into one of your support slots. This may block the card underneath from other player's using it. In addition each phobia has text on it which limits your ability in some way or another, perhaps you can no longer use fire cards, or your character's special ability gets deactivated. Even worse if you cannot place a phobia into support because your support has already been filled with phobias, then you go mad and the game is lost!

Amy’s Final Thoughts

While there are two modules in this expansion one is certainly more fleshed out than the other. The phobia expansion is good, don't get me wrong, and certainly adds some needed difficulty to the game, but it's hardly an in-depth module, so I don't have too much to say about it. It adds to the game and there's no reason to ever play without it unless you want an easier game. As much as I'll always be using it from now on, there isn't a lot of substance to it, and the dilution of the normal madness cards means you are less likely to jam up your hand with madness than in the base game.

The dark matter module is where The Vth Element really stretches it's muscles. It's clearly 90% of the contents of the box with new characters to play as, new monsters to fight, and new element and a whole new game mechanic to deal with. The addition of new monsters comes with new curse cards that require dark matter to cure. This naturally adds to the difficulty as you now have to manage five elements in your deck which only serves to dilute your potency. To counter this dark matter can be directly bought into your hand and converted (at a terrible rate) into other elements, which is enough to tip the scales back a little too. Unless you play exclusively with the new monsters I don't think you'll find this module adds as much challenge as it perhaps could.

The dark book adds some nice new mechanics to the game, I am a big fan of the choice of when to turn the page, the first ability is so useful as a way to spend single dark matter cards, but there's no denying that the later abilities are powerful. Taking the more powerful ability to turn the page might give huge rewards, but are you screwing over everyone else by doing so? There's a metaphor for corruption in there somewhere I'm sure.

Overall The Vth Element is not something I'd see as a "must have" expansion. It adds more to the game and it's not simply more of the same, but it doesn't add anything so game-changing that I'd never want to play without it. That being said what it does add is good and not so complex that I'd ever take it out deliberately either. Overall It's a perfectly adequate expansion, if you love The Big Book of Madness then you absolutely should get it, but if you weren't a huge fan of the base game then I doubt the expansion will pull you back round. On the plus side it does all fit into the base game box nicely, which is always a win for me!

Fi’s Final Thoughts

With a modular expansion, our typical approach is to try each module individually and then mix the two together. However, here there is certainly a lot more content in one module than the other, so I'd recommend simply throwing everything in if you're going to play. With that said, the smaller module with the phobias was probably my favourite of the two. I like how the phobias are a much bigger problem than the basic madness cards - they fill up your support slots and give you constraint in the way that you play. They simply can't be ignored as easily and you might have to cure them at the expense of making progress on the board.

The Dark Matter aspect of the expansion was a larger extension to the game, but still noting complex - it fit in pretty seamlessly. If you're playing with the new monsters then gaining some dark matter in non-optional at least for some players around the table as you will need them to cure curses. The dark book also offers you an other alternative to spend these cards, which are otherwise quite useless and clog up your deck. The dark book actions can be quite fun to use because they're big and powerful, but triggering them is still a rarity in the game.

Neither module is something I would hesitate to add to any game of The Big Book of Madness in Future, but I did feel like we were fining the game quite a bit easier when using them. Maybe we just got lucky or we've been getting better at the game over time,  but I would've liked some more challenge to keep me interested in playing the game and to promote a more nail-biting ending to the game.

The Vth Element is very much a 'more of the same' style expansion. It fits in the base game box, so there's no reason not to keep it, but it doesn't really add anything mind-blowing to the game for me. It's not more complex, if anything we've found games to be slightly easier to win, and there's no reason not to add it into every game. I'm a little disappointed because I was so excited when we discovered the Big Book of Madness and I just don't have any real excitement for the expansion. If you play the base game a lot, then adding the expansion is probably a good idea, but if you're looking hard at your collection and trying to decide which game to buy an expansion for, then I wouldn't immediately suggest The Vth Element.

You Might Like...
  • The expansion adds very minimal extra complexity.
  • The dark book gives you an option to do some fun, highly powered actions if you can hoard dark matter cards.
  • You can fit all of the content in the base game box.
You Might Not Like...
  • There's nothing that really wowed us.
  • There's no extra challenge added with this expansion, which is often nice in a cooperative game.

The Verdict
6.5/10 The Vth Element is a good expansion - we'll play with it in every game from now on, but it's not a must-have and we'd get a lot more joy and new experiences by expanding other games in our collection. It fits in seamlessly, adds a few interesting constraints and opportunities for big actions, but it doesn't do anything fresh and mind-blowing. In our opinion, only the biggest fans of The Big Book of Madness really need to seek it out.

The Big Book of Madness: The Vth Element was a review copy kindly provided to us by CoiledSpring Games.

1 comment:

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