Board in the Stacks: Pocket Madness

Pocket Madness (BGG, Amazon) is a funky little filler card game from Passport Games for 2 – 4 players which plays in 30 minutes. It is inspired by the Cthulhu Mythos cycle of books and stories by H.P. Lovecraft. In the game, each player is delving into the adorably dark mysteries of the void and beyond by researching, opening portals, and publishing what you’ve seen and learned of the beings who reside there. There is a danger to all this research into the unknown as players will slowly grow mad as they learn more and more. It is, quite literally, publish or perish at Miskatonic U.  

There are two types of cards — Portal Cards and Location Cards. There are 7 portal cards numbered from 6-12 and they are placed face up in the middle of the table. The Location cards are numbered 6-12, and they are 6 sixes, 7 sevens, 8 eights and so on. This is known as a pyramid deck…and I love a good pyramid deck. The location cards are shuffled and each player gets dealt 2, and 17 cards are removed and placed face-down. The remainder are flipped face-up. Then the two decks (one face up and and the other face down) are shuffled together and fanned out on the table. The result is an array of cards some exposed and others hidden.

The Portal Cards are up top and the splash of cards below (17 face-down and the rest face-up)

I know this may sound complex but this isn’t much harder than setting up for a game of “Fish.” Don’t sweat it, you’ll do just fine.

On their turn players can take one of three actions.

  1. They can “research” by drawing the first 1-3 cards from the deck.
  2. They can “publish their research” by playing a complete run of cards from 6-12.  When you play a run every other player needs to take a madness token. For every subsequent run played during that round an additional madness token is collected. So, for the first run each opponent gets one madness token. The 2nd run gives 2 madness tokens to each opponent and the 3rd gives 3 madness tokens to each opponent.
  3. They can play sets of three or more of the same card and collect the corresponding portal card of the set played. Portal cards provide the owning player with a special power they can do once a round.


Play will continue until one person plays all their cards or the draw pile is exhausted. If a player runs out of cards first then that person wins the round and can discard half their madness tokens and all the other players gain one. If the round ends because the draw pile is exhausted, everyone takes one last turn to play cards and then players get one madness token for each different location still in their hand.

Another round then begins and keeps on going until one player had 10 madness at the end of a round. At that point the game is over and the person with the fewest madness tokens (so the most sane person) wins.

Here we have an example of some Portal Cards and the abilities they provide.

Pocket Madness is essentially a rummy game where the object is to draw up cards into your hand in order to make sets and/or runs and then meld them to score points. In Pocket Madness, rather than scoring points, you are punishing other players with madness by making them read your hideous thesis or by playing runs and sets, and gaining extra abilities.

This is an enjoyable enough filler game. Nothing particularly exciting. The theme is thin. The art is cute and colorful. The gameplay is engaging and provides enough interaction to mess with other players. Those new to the space may not be attracted to the theme and be turned off by the tongue-twisting names. However, the rules are simple and familiar enough that as long as you don’t try to sound out “Nyarlathotep” or “Shub-Niggurath,” you will likely find a fun and accessible card game here.  

Buy it if you have need for Cthulhu themed filler and if Cthulhu games are popular at your library. Otherwise pass on it.

A set of 12’s and THE GUG

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