Massive Darkness, a kickstarter from Cmon arrived in August 2017, and goes up against dungeon crawlers such as Castle Ravenloft, Descent 2nd Edition, Warhammer Quest, Silver Tower and Sword & Sorcery in what has become a highly competitive genre. This game comes with huge model content and was a huge success in terms of backing numbers, but all dungeon adventure games offer slight variations in play style, and so it is important to see how it stacks up.
Dungeon crawlers usually have either a random room generation, such as Warhammer Quest and Castle Ravenloft or a more pre-made scenario storylines of Descent 2nd Edition and Sword & Sorcery. Massive Darkness follows the pre-set scenario approach, but monster types are randomly generated and you will collect treasure and obtain new skills as you adventure. Another main variable we see is how monster intelligence is handled. In this respect Descent and Sword & Sorcery have more complex ways to help vary what enemies do, while the original Warhammer Quest selects one enemy to each hero approach. Massive Darkness will target the most experienced hero, which is again more on the simplistic side, however it does offer shadow zone areas where heroes can cloak unseen and stay protected from sight, also receiving a bonus skill, and this is a new mechanic for this type of game.
As ever with Cmon games, the miniatures are the main feature and this game has loads of them, and they are generally excellent, especially the roaming monsters, although a two weapon pose is overused. The tiles are nice but not as good looking as Descent, Warhammer Quest or Sword & Sorcery, and there are not as many tokens and counters compared to other dungeon crawlers. There are neat plastic player boards which hold your active cards and are used to track health and experience, which is a nice touch, but skills are recorded on tick sheet pads rather than proper cards, which is a shame. Component wise you will likely be happy to have this game, and it looks great on the table.
In terms of gameplay this is a relatively light dungeon crawler, and is less rules heavy than even Descent 2nd edition. Enemies do have different attributes and skills, but the game board is set out before your start and there is no real story telling on the way such as with Silver Tower or Sword & Sorcery. It does scale well for the hero numbers, with variable mob numbers and health points, which will help it get played with different sized groups, and will also work as a solo experience.
Sadly the game does have questionable balancing, and early game you can find unbeatable monsters. Experience points come quickly and skills will be obtained fast, with treasure everywhere and chests in abundance your character will improve quickly, and nothing feels particularly hard to earn. The campaign mode is also tacked on and doesn’t really work, as you tend to start future scenarios overpowered, or unable to use certain items, which is mechanically forcing things and lacks realism. Also once you obtain a lot of equipment and skills, the game can become a maths exercise in adding and subtracting modifiers.
I own a lot of dungeon crawl games and after many plays this one is an odd mix of some simpler rules to follow, but then is bogged down with fairly complex layers of combat modifications. I bought this game largely to replace the Dungeons & Dragons series that is more simplistic, but sadly it has not quite delivered the feeling of exploration and surprise. It is a step down from the engagement of Descent and Sword & Sorcery. I feel depth wise Silver Tower is its closest comparison, although that game does have additional storyline to read out during each game which feels more engaging, with Massive Darkness responding with miniatures you can unpack and play straight away.
With everything considered, Massive Darkness is about speed, fun and enjoyment, where you wont have to think too hard about strategy or continually look up rules, but combat is a little painful as the game progresses. It will be a success with the right players, especially for one off scenario games.