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 a bit like Warhammer Quest, however it does offer as a new idea some shadow zone areas where heroes can cloak as 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 indeed excellent, from the minions, bosses to some amazing roaming monsters. The tiles are very nice looking as well, and the counters are functional but there not many of these when compared to Descent or Sword & Sorcery. The rule book is also great looking and works well enough. It also has some neat plastic player boards which hold your active cards and are used to track health and experience, which is a nice touch. So component wise you will likely be happy to have this game, and it looks rather good on the table.
In terms of gameplay you need to go into playing the game knowing that this is a relatively light dungeon crawler, and is less rules heavy than say 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, or even surprises such as in Descent 2nd edition when you use the app Road to Legend. 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.
Sadly the game does have some questionable balancing, as skills are obtained fast, and treasure is everywhere it seems, with chests in abundance and monsters carrying even more loot, it is overload territory and I personally have already scaled it down to one chest per room for one or two players and a maximum of two otherwise. Also experience comes quickly, and I prefer the story mode where 5 micro experience makes one usable one, as it helps make the game tougher and slows the character development, but the overall campaign mode is also a bit tacked on and doesn’t really work, as you tend to start future scenarios overpowered. The game should have had more development time on the balance really, but on the positive side the mechanisms are available to tweak it yourself as you could for instance change the micro-points exchange to any number you wanted to help balance the game. I think ultimately some flexibility will be needed when playing.
The game does work as a quick solo experience, some characters are preferable of course, but Bjorn especially seems to work quite well as he has a headbutt and additional wounds when in shadow available which will still deal damage even through large numbers of enemy defence dice. This made me quite happy as I like to be able to test run games on my own from time to time. Now I own a lot of dungeon crawl games and I actually bought this game largely to replace Castle Ravenloft from the Dungeons & Dragons series, which has become a little stale and limiting, and in this respect it has been a good decision, as the models, artwork and gameplay are so much better here, and it is a slightly deeper game than that particular series. However, complexity 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. In many ways I believe 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 a good looking game 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 over and over, and downtime is minimal, and it will be a success with the right players. It also looks like it will be easy for custom campaigns to be written by fans of the game, and this could ultimately be where the game starts to shine a little bit more.