GTM #218 - Tower of Madness
by Curt Covert, Smirk & Dagger Games


Atmosphere. Tension. Drama.

The Clock Tolls for Thee…

Investigate Unspeakable Horror, Without Losing Your Marbles… Literally!


The works of H.P. Lovecraft have inspired many incredible board games over the years and Tower of Madness by Smirk & Dagger Games is no exception. Any gamer would be hard pressed to walk by without stopping for a closer look at this stunner. Featuring a three-dimensional clock tower, standing a foot tall, and festooned with 30 green plastic tentacles, erupting from every side of the structure, the game might sell well enough as room décor. Happily, game play is equally as captivating, making this a ‘not to be missed’ title.

Now, don’t be fooled by the marbles suspended within the tower, that this is simply a reskin of a childhood classic. Much like the use of the Jenga™ tower in the classic RPG game, Dread, this familiar mechanic is simply used to heighten tension during game play. Because, at its core, Tower of Madness is a dice game, with the tower adding thematically intense drama when a player fails their dice roll. 

To win, the players must each successfully investigate all the Locations in the deck, before Cthulhu rises, thereby saving the world. But – each Location poses a new dice rolling challenge, often making success far less likely and occasionally baiting players to push their luck a little harder to gain victory points. For, while all the Investigators are pulling towards the same goal, only one will win, having made the most Discoveries and thereby comes to understand how to wield the power of things beyond man’s comprehension. 

On their turn, a player rolls 5 custom dice. On every throw, they must lock at least one die, but they may lock more if they wish. To succeed, they must lock a Gate, Heart and Mind (a 1, 2, & 3) over the course of their Turn. The last two dice need to be as high in value as possible to become Lead Investigator and contend for the victory points at that location. 

BUT if they fail their investigation, they must draw one Horror tentacle from the tower, and any marbles that fall impact their character immediately. “It’s the anticipation of having to pull out a tentacle, not knowing what is going to drop, that creates the amazing atmosphere of the game.” Still, not all marbles in the tower are ‘bad’. There is a reason players are investigating, after all. A blue Discovery marble is worth 3 victory points, towards winning the game. Players are also delving into forbidden knowledge and begin the game with two Spell cards – but the only way to gain more is for a white Spell marble to drop from the tower. Of course, this all comes at a risk. If a player collects 4 red Madness marbles, they go Insane – and switch sides, trying to end the game (and the world itself) by summoning Cthulhu. And that will surely happen if the 3rd green DOOM marble falls from the tower before the Investigators complete all the locations. 

As an Investigator, you win by having the most victory points and saving the world– or, if Insane, by being the one Insane player who causes the final DOOM marble to fall, heralded as Doom Bringer. Otherwise everyone loses (though the insane players may cheer as they are eaten last). 

“This has been a passion project of mine for the last three years,” designer, Curt Covert, said. “Not only did I want to optimize game play, but I wanted to find a way to manufacture the game with a price point that wouldn’t chase people away.” It was no simple task, as you might imagine when looking at the assortment of components. The plastic tray, which gives the tower stability, and the 30 plastic tentacles, proved a challenge, going through several rounds of changes to deliver quality and visual excitement, while trimming costs. Considering everything inside the box, this game is a bargain at $54.95. 

Bucking the recommendations of some peers, Curt decided NOT to offer this game on a crowd funding platform, but instead is offering it conventionally through distribution and retail. “It was tempting. When you get a look at this game and imagine it in a Kickstarter environment, it is pure “click-bait” and I’m sure it would have skyrocketed. And perhaps I have missed out on the tremendous marketing opportunity it offers. But for fourteen years, I have relied on the support of retailers to bring my games to market. That shelf space, especially now, is not given – it is earned. How could I go direct to consumer with this game and then look to retailers to pick up the scraps? No, this game has selling power – and I decided that those sales should remain supporting the industry that has supported me. It is my great hope that we will all profit by that decision.” 

This is a game that draws people to it, simply by setting it out on a table, and then captures players with the drama of game play, the fun of dice rolling – and even the transformative aspect of switching sides as an Insane player. “The idea of player transformation, as opposed to player elimination, is one that Smirk & Dagger pioneered with Nevermore. Player elimination, a hallmark of old guard ‘take that’ games, needed to be reenvisioned – and who better than us, a company dedicated to backstabby games. Not only does it avoid forcing players to sit out, it provides a whole new way to play the game – and how you win. So, it is not surprising that a lot of players actually enjoy the transformation and look forward to going Insane, if they can’t win conventionally.” 

Tower of Madness is an easy to learn, easy to demo, casual dice game, dripping with theme and table presence – and is an absolute blast to play. You can look forward to gamers losing their marbles when the game releases, June 2018.


Curt Covert is the owner of Smirk & Dagger Games. A fifteen-year veteran in the industry and the inventor of Cutthroat Caverns, Hex Hex, and Nevermore, just to name a few. In 2018, his new line, Smirk & Laughter, will reach a broader audience than ever with games intended to connect with players on an emotional level