Several of my friends Kickstarted Massive Darkness some time ago, with their pledges arriving recently. As the new hotness that everyone had been hanging out for, it jumped the queue and made it straight to the table for a few games. This will be slightly different to my usual write-up of board games, and I’ll have a short series of articles about Massive Darkness, rather than my usual single initial thoughts piece (as I have a fair bit to share). These articles will roughly be:
- Overview of the game and components
- My initial thoughts on the game mechanics
- Discussion of play modes (i.e. solo, story, etc), if we get stuck in further
Overview of the Game
Massive Darkness is a fantasy dungeon crawl game, with a backstory I find a little confusing and fairly weak. Despite that weakness, I think most of us can probably use our imaginations and call to mind any one of a number of fantasy settings to create our own stories, which is exactly what I’m planning to do here.
The game is a co-operative game for up to six players, with enemies controlled by the rules system (for clarity, this allows a single player experience). You lay out board tiles to create your dungeon map, with a pre-set objective (i.e. get something and get out, get something and defend an area, kill the king, etc), noting that in the missions we’ve played the board starts devoid of monsters and treasure. Monsters spawn either from Door cards which are flipped when a door is opened, or from event cards at the end of the turn. The Door cards so far have felt a little ‘samey’, as most seem to feature treasure-monster-treasure, however we have only played two games so I’ll reserve judgment.
One thing to note, the way we’ve been playing, this game takes up a massive footprint, with seven full sized card decks (for monsters), eight smaller sized card decks (treasure, door, event, artifact), the map, space for dice rolling and tokens. I think you could cycle the decks through as you progressed, but even then, it’s still two full sized and at least three small sized decks. We had just the game setup on a 3’x3’ area and it didn’t felt a little cramped, so worth bearing in mind if you’re space constrained.
Combat mechanics are fairly simple (thankfully more complex than Zombicide, but well below Imperial Assault for example), with the attacker getting a certain number of red and yellow dice and the defender getting blue and green dice, based on equipment and skills. The game avoids the “bucket of dice” problem (which seems to have been frequent in recent board games I’ve played) by capping the number of each coloured dice at three, thereby seeing no roll having more than 12 dice. Penalties to dice pools are also applied after the maximum is reached, so abilities that deny dice remain relevant throughout games, as you could be removing one-third of their pool. The dice contain various numbers of sword (for attack) and shield (for defence) symbols, as well as ‘diamonds’ and ‘bams’ which can trigger special abilities. Later in the second game I found the game slowed down a bit during combat as we tried to work through optimal ability combinations, but not so bad as late game Descent or Imperial Assault.
The treasure cards seem fairly varied, with a mix of the usual equipment you’d expect (swords, shields, armour, bows, wands, etc) as well as potions which are one use and can heal or grant abilities. Interestingly, most monsters draw a treasure card and get to use it when you fight them, with the hero who lands the killing blow then taking the card. You do seem to collect a lot of treasure cards through the game as well, with it feeling like each character picks up a fair bit of ‘filler’. Luckily, you can trade in three cards to get a higher level treasure card, so you don’t feel stuck with a bad draw from the deck.
Heroes gain experience points when monsters are killed (basic minions grant XP only to the killing hero, but most monsters grant XP to all members of the party), and these can be spent either on a special class ability (may mark a mob for bonuses, kill a minion, etc) or to purchase new skills/abilities (the key has seemed to be to increase hero maximum health early, as this usually unlocks regeneration for healing as well). The abilities are also capped by level, which increases as heroes move through the dungeon, so more powerful ones won’t unlock until much later in a dungeon.
Enemy models activate mechanically, so they’ll attempt to attack (preferring ranged over melee attacks generally), or move if there’s noone in range. We haven’t really seen if there’s a cat-and-mouse aspect to the rules yet, as we were generally charging in and attempting to take down monsters as quickly as possible. Some of the monsters seem a lot more powerful than others, but their special rules definitely fit thematically from what I’ve seen. There also seems to be a good mix of different enemies to face, in one missions we fought: zombies, zombie wolvez, goblins, troglodytes, a cockatrix, Hellsbane (a riff on Diablo I’m told), ratlings, an Abominatroll, Reptisaurens (lizardmen) and orcs.
It’s worth noting here, that we’ve been playing with Kickstarter editions of the game, which contain significantly more loot than the basic box, and additionally, with Zombicide Black Plague models and cards also as we’ve also had access to those. I’m intending to crack into just the basic box and play with that to see what the experience is like, which I’ll comment on in one of the later articles.
All in all, the game is a pretty cool dungeon crawler, with a relatively simple set of rules and straightforward gameplay. It’s been good fun the first couple of games, although I’m conscious it feels like there won’t be a great deal of depth here. I’m most excited about the collection of models within it and using them in other games (RPGS, Frostgrave, etc), but will talk more about them in the next post.