Massive Darkness, a kickstarter from Cmon has now arrived 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 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 more on the simplistic side like Warhammer Quest, however it does offer as a new idea some shadow zone areas where heroes can cloak unseen and stay protected from sight, also receiving a bonus skill, and 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, albeit a two weapon post is overused, and there are some amazing roaming monsters. The tiles are generally fine but not as good as Descent, Warhammer Quest or Sword & Sorcery, and counters are functional but there not many of these 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 getting nice new cards which is a shame. Component wise you will likely be happy to have this game, and it looks good on the table.
In terms of gameplay this is a relatively light dungeon crawler, and is less rules heavy than Descent 2nd edition and Sword & Sorcery. Enemies do have different attributes and skills, but the game is very much set out before your start and there is no 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 work as a solo experience.
Sadly the game does have questionable balancing, as experience comes quickly and skills are obtained fast, and treasure is everywhere, with chests in abundance and monsters carrying even more loot. The campaign mode is also a bit tacked on and doesn’t really work, as you tend to start future scenarios overpowered, or unable to use certain items, which is mechanically weird. Also once you obtain a lot of equipment and skills, the game becomes too much a maths exercise in adding and subtracting modifiers. The game should have had more development time on the balance really, and ultimately some flexibility to the rules will be needed when playing.
I own a lot of dungeon crawl games and I bought this game largely to replace Castle Ravenloft from the Dungeons & Dragons series that had become a little stale and limiting. However, complexity here is still a step down from the engagement of Descent and Sword & Sorcery and for more serious gaming groups these will likely remain more popular. I felt 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, but Massive Darkness responds with miniatures you can unpack and play straight away.
With everything considered, Massive Darkness is about fun and enjoyment, where you wont have to think too hard about strategy or look up rules, and it will be a success with the right players especially for one off games. However in my larger dungeon crawl collection it did not stack up as well as i was hoping.