The new edition of Massive Darkness by CMON is now officially underway and launched on kickstarter, underpinned with a general theme of heaven and hell, and never has a title better fit such a product. Massive Darkness first edition arrived in 2017 with a lot of excitement, great models and nice boards, it had so much content and was a new dungeon crawler, so everything was great, wasn’t it ?
In the end for many buyers it turned out to be less than it was hoped for. The artwork theme was a little more cartoon style than epic or dark fantasy, but it looked good all the same, and the models really shone here and there, but many also came with very similar dual wielding stances. The bigger flaws showed up when it was played a few times, as the balance was not well judged with impossible early difficulty followed by a breeze through later on, and the treasure mechanics was really lacking in engagement and not hard earned or feeling like a reward. Mob packs felt a little awkward, you put a load out on the table and then quickly removed them, they are basically wound shields for the leaders. The campaign was tacked on and did not work, so the game was best played as a one off scenario, but the most disappointment for me was one of its key selling points, shadow and light, which looked new and exciting and was drawn into the interesting tiles, but the rules were hardly implemented in any meaningful or tactical way, and didn’t make any sense either at times. It was a missed opportunity to create something new and great.
So we are back a few years on with a new edition, with revamped rules and tweaks, but are we now close to the perfect dungeon crawler ?
It remains early days, but sadly it seems that it may not be. The most interesting changes i can see are the unique classes and side board games they offer. Thankfully the strange generic sheets that could make any class of any model are gone and something much more interesting is here, with characters that feel unique and have a purpose to the team, this is much better and is a great addition. Then there are changes to the use of shadow which remains a little ‘in the dark’ in terms of implementation (sorry) but at least they are trying to make use of the board art this time.
However Massive Darkness 2 is not going to feel hugely different i feel, treasure abundance is toned down but still seems to remains an overly available resource to collect and transmute, and used by the monsters. I still have no idea why this could be a good thing, as a treasure should be a reward for good play and an item you yearn for a challenge to obtain. When you can just trade in useless items for a good one it will quickly move the game into easy mode and you equip the best items every game. Mobs are still there although agents are removed, which is good, and the combat dice has been changed as it could not have been more over fiddly to work out the results in the original game. Generally speaking all these things look better on the whole but largely are minor alternations rather than game changing ideas. Tiles, cards and player boards still look pretty similar designs we had before.
The new adventure theme is hell and heaven, which is unexpected by most who were looking for more traditional dungeon crawl content. I have to agree that i am also confused by this, some generic demon enemies or theme would have worked as an expansion, but the whole idea of going into heaven in a dungeon crawl doesn’t fit for me. Models are a mix of great and questionable, generally the hell based ones look fine to me and i would be happy with going to fight them. However, the angel models are slightly ridiculous in style with halo’s and birds (yes really). The heroes are also ranging from nice sculpts to um less nice ones – the paladin is neat, the berserker with 80’s immense shoulder pads not so good. The shaman and ranger will likely gather mixed opinions generally but they are different ideas at least. Whilst the core set does not have the greatest hero models, there are kickstarter exclusives for the barbarian and rogue which both look much better. Then we have new necromancer, monk and tinker classes being added with a mixed bunch of characterised models, the hogwarts style ones i would avoid, but again there is an exclusive design that saves the day.
As you may tell i am getting heavenly and hellish thoughts about this game. On one side i love a load of it, but there is a fair amount i wish was different too. The serious question is whether i will back it. At the moment the core set and kickstarter exclusives are enough for me to say yes, there is a lot to like, and the core box theme i am pretty happy with, apart from Michael the angel boss who seems to be in the wrong box as he is better suited to the campaign, and is not a model i like either. A full working campaign was something i really wanted from the original game, but in this version the campaign models and theme is a real issue, and i will pass buying it, even though it may be the only way to get campaign rules to play any future campaign elements. I will see how these are received generally once they are actually tried out.
There are a number of add on boxes, and this is where the cost really starts to climb as you already committed to $100 for the core game and $45 for the heaven campaign box (optional). Two other extra boxes add their own quests and short campaigns, the demon dragon $50 and four horsemen $30. Of the two i much prefer the dragon which would be a bit of a game centerpiece and indeed is more fitting to find within the depths of dungeon, and I can’t help feeling the horsemen suffers from the angels issue as they are not really dungeon crawl material. There are two more $25 enemy expansions boxes for those that do not feel there is enough already, one is going to retail and one is an exclusive, the Cerebrus model is pretty neat though so that set may be one i also add. Finally there are some of the usual dice, doors, chests and tiles you can buy.
Overall I believe there is enough to be hopeful for a good gaming experience, especially with the core box, but it again comes with some reservations especially on the campaign theme. I will keep updating as things unfold > Massive Darkness 2