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Tower of Madness

Investigate spooky locations from abandoned prisons to dimensional rifts, and try not to lose your sanity.

A dice and marble game, Tower of Madness looks visually arresting right off the bat. But how does it play?

Gameplay

The centerpiece of Tower of Madness is, well, the tower. You put it in the center of the table, insert thirty tentacle pieces into all four sides (these pieces run through the tower, coming out the other end) and then pour thirty-nine marbles into it before putting on the roof and shaking the tower a little so that the marbles are evenly distributed throughout.

A certain number of location cards (the number varies based on player count) form a deck and the game begins. Each round, players take turns investigating the current location. On your turn you roll five dice. You must lock in at least one die each time you roll. In order to investigate a location you must lock in a one, a two, and a three: if you do this you have successfully investigated the location. The remaining two dice may be locked in as any number and their sum is how successfully you investigated the location. If you fail an investigation, you pull a tentacle out from the tower.  Marbles may fall out when you do this.

If you cause a blue marble to fall, it is worth three points at the end of the game. A white marble allows you to draw a spell card (spell cards offer you special onetime abilities such rerolling some of your dice). Red marbles represent madness, and you set them on your player tracker, if you collect four of these, you go insane. There are also three green marbles. If these all fall out of the tower, Cthulhu rises and the game ends.

At the end of the round, the player who was the most successful at investigating the location earns the location card (if no player successfully investigated it, it is discarded). Each location card is worth a different number of points at the end of the game. If a player is insane, he does not roll dice or attempt to investigate the location — instead, he pulls a tentacle from the tower on his turn (he may also use special, insane spells). If he causes the third green marble to tumble out of the tower on his turn, he wins the game.

Once the final location card has been investigated, if Cthulhu has not risen, the player with the most points wins the game.

Tower of Madness Components

Review

The tower itself is an incredible set piece. You see it and you immediately want to play a game with it. The tentacles reaching out are thematic and cool, and the tower holds together quite well. Actually playing the game, there’s a Jenga­-like level of suspense when you or another player pull out each tentacle and hope the wrong marbles don’t come tumbling out.

This suspense all works quite well with the theme of the game, and leads to a great escalation as the game proceeds. In fact, you want to play with more players if possible, for the very reason that the more players failing the rolls ensures you will have more moments of suspense as tentacles are removed from the tower. If you go insane, it’s also a lot of fun to study the tower and decide which tentacle to pull and which one you think will lead to the most marbles falling out.

Lovecraftian horror is a popular genre for board games, and Tower of Madness represents the theme well. All of the artwork looks great, and the locations themselves are fantastic. The locations also bring a nice variety to each round, always mixing up the rules a little bit and changing the difficulty.

The components for the most part are all solid, however while some of the marbles are very vivid and it’s easy to tell their color, a few of them we really struggled to identify.

Tower of Madness is a fun combination of dice, marbles, and classic dexterity gameplay from games like Jenga or Kerplunk. It looks great, plays well, and the rules aren’t overly complicated. It’s richly thematic and suspenseful. It’s not easy to win, but you’re battling Cthulhu — you don’t want it to be.

Pros: The tower is a lot of fun to play with, thematic, good artwork

Cons: Better with more players, some marble colors were difficult to identify

Disclosure: we received a complimentary review copy of this game.