Mad Love: Cthulhu hits Tinder

Roll-to-Review-Mad-Love-Board-Game-box.jpgWhen I first heard about Mad Love, I thought Harley Quinn. Then I had awful flashbacks to watching Suicide Squad; already, this game put me in a bad mood. To regain my trust, it offered artwork that reminded me of another Batman comic – one of my favourites – The Doom That Came to Gotham by Mike Mignola. Now that it brought be back to being even keeled, it was time to review Mad Love. A two-player memory game designed by Darth Rimmer (actual name, not a Sith lord), and produced by Imp House Game Company.

This Kickstarter preview was given to me for review, some details will change but the mechanics will not.

How to Play

Setup begins with sprinkling salt along every door frame in your house, adorning your blood red robes or Snuggie, and then ensuring that the only light in the room is coming from a half-burned candle. Only then can you shuffle the 18-card deck and split it into two nine card piles, one for each player. Then the ritual begins. From now on, any sound or gesture giving away the identity of a card will be considered an affront to Cthulhu, and your soul may or may not be consumed.

Players draw the top two cards of these decks, and after a good look they place their cards face down together, creating a 2×2 grid, called the dreamscape. From their decks, the first player draws two new cards to create their hand, while the second player draws one.

During their turn, players can do one of two actions:

  • Push a column of the dreamscape by adding a card to the bottom of a column, forcing the furthest card in the column towards your partner. They must reveal the card, and then perform the actions upon it.
  • Dismiss a card from dreamscape by adding another card to a row – from any side – and sliding the dismissed card out of the 2×2 grid. This card is added to the other player’s discard pile. That player must draw the top card of their deck and carry out the actions on the card.

These card actions either add love or madness, or mess with the fabric of reality and by proxy the dreamscape. If your partnership takes on too much madness, you’ll be forever lost in the seas of insanity. However, if you can find love, then maybe – just maybe – you’ll beat the game and make it to sunrise.

Roll-to-Review-Mad-Love-Board-Game-In-Game

The Good

There are some things that never go out of style like the 80’s, and quick, fun, clever board games like Mad Love. However, in the age of a 1000+ games a year that’s not enough, you also need to stand out. To do that you need a killer artist. Daryl Toh has done a superb job with colourful and creepy card artwork that makes you want to play.

Mad Love’s interesting decisions lay within interacting with the dreamscape through the push and dismiss mechanic. This allows you to setup plays for the future, and to slowly move pieces around the board, as long as you remember them. This memory mechanic is central to the game and failing to remember will lead to fun moments of anguish where you’ll be saying, “I’m sure I didn’t put that there.”

Since this is a two-player game it gets kind of intimate, after a few games you’ll begin to understand what the other player is doing – or at least think you do. This connection is one of the better parts of these silent games and after figuring out the puzzle and winning you’ll feel like you’ve accomplished something together. Making Mad Love the perfect game for a date. Maybe not the first date, but eventually you’ll have show them your board game collection, and on that day, this might be a good one to crack out.

There’s also a fun risk reward mechanism at play. You’ll have to make a move, when you don’t have all the information. Especially after drawing the Ghast, which randomizes the dreamscape. In this case you’ll have a fair idea of what’s in the dreamscape, but not sure where. This creates those moments of apprehension where you have to push or dismiss a card and cross your fingers and hope to Cthulhu that he doesn’t appear.

Roll-to-Review-Mad-Love-Board-Game-Cards

The Bad

The balance of Mad Love didn’t match to our skill set. Having played both Hanabi, Okey Dokey, and having a newborn baby in the house, my wife and I are veterans of being silent. The key to defeating these puzzles is to create systems to replace talking. For instance, in Mad Love, if I dismiss a card in the row closest to my wife, she’ll make the easy assumption that it’s a love card, and I’ll push it to her on the next turn.

This makes the game fall on the easy side of the difficulty spectrum, with us winning five out of the seven games we played. While our experience factored in a lot, the only way to lose this game is to make a lot of mistakes or be extremely unlucky. This is because there isn’t enough chaos in the dreamscape, the push and dismiss mechanics move cards around slowly but in general you can keep track of what you’ve played and where it’s going. Only the Ghast cards will force you from the plans you’re making, but with only two in the deck, they rarely crop up. There’s a lot more design space to be explored around this mechanic, so I’m hoping that an expansion will be provided in the future.

It feels like this game could benefit from a player information card. Or at least somewhere that lets you know how many of each card are in the deck. This would – to me – give more emphasis on the deduction part. As it stands, it feels like the game revolves more around remembering and manipulating the dreamscape, and then having to take risks without calculating the outcome.

Roll-to-Review-Mad-Love-Board-Game-Corgi

Verdict

If you can get passed ease in difficulty, this is a solid game. It’s quick, it’s portable, it looks great, and while I wish they did more with the dreamscape manipulation, what they’ve got is good. I like this game enough to recommend it, especially at the price point they’re offering. It’s still available on Kickstarter for a few more days so be sure to check it out. 

Apologies, apologies, I had an all day business meeting yesterday, and while I asked if they’d let me out early to post this review. They refused! Jerks. Anyway, here it is now, I hope you enjoyed it.

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