Massive Darkness is one of the shining examples of the symbiosis of modern-day board games and Kickstarter. With 3.5 million dollars in funding and 22,000 backers, we just had to take a look and figure out what the hype was all about.
There’s nothing better than packing your gear with a group of fellow-adventurers for a journey into the unknown. Dungeons are rife with both treasures and terrors – you never know what will be lurking around the next turn. Fantasy adventure is one of my favorite themes in literature and it’s great when you can experience it outside of a book, like in a game (or D&D quest). Massive Darkness fills that niche nicely.
Massive Darkness is a dungeon-crawl, cooperative board game with no game master. Explore the darkness for loot and experience, facing hordes of awesome miniatures. The components are extremely high-quality, the rules are straightforward, and the mechanics allow for variable player combinations and experience. So grab some friends, grab a table, and get ready for some good old sneaking and slashing.
The Darkness has returned to the land. Answer the call, Heroes!
In Massive Darkness, you’ll join forces with the other players to enter the underground lair of the Darkness. You’ll work together, jumping from shadow to light, engaging the enemy when the moment is right. The minions of the Darkness can be anything from orcs to goblin warriors, to giant spiders. You’ll never know what creatures await you around every corner. Play the quests in order to follow the storyline, or create your own legends using the tokens and modular board tiles. The Lightbringers won this war once before. Now it’s your turn to add your names to the history books!
A Brief Overview of Massive Darkness
In Massive Darkness, you and your fellow lightbringers – weapon and spell wielders united against the resurgent forces of Darkness – head out to the fringes of society and search out the monstrous races that were pacified in the previous generation’s war. The game offers two play modes, a single-shot game, and an extended RPG-style campaign where your character’s retain equipment and levels between games. Dungeon-delving is dark work, and you’ll have to use the shadows to survive.
Versions & Expansions
Unboxing Massive Darkness
The first thing you’ll notice about Massive Darkness is that it’s MASSIVE (who would have thought?). The box is huge and with good reason. You are getting a ton of stuff with just the base version of the game. This doesn’t even include any of the many expansions and add-ons that came with Kickstarter pledges.
Components: (We’re gonna need a bigger table)
- 75 Highly-Detailed Figures
- 6 Plastic Hero Dashboards
- 6 Color Plastic Bases
- 12 Color Plastic Pegs
- 12 Custom Dice
- 9 Double-Sided Game Tiles
- 280 Cards
- 6 Class Sheet Pads
- 111 Tokens
- 1 Rulebook
With the game, you are getting 75 highly-detailed miniatures. I know that sounds like a cheesy advertising gimmick, but actually, you should take the time to look at all of the components. They’re pretty awesome. The dwarves and monsters are already pretty neat, but if you check online, you’ll see that some people have hand-painted theirs and they look even better.
The next major component is going to be the big character boards. They are very similar to the ones you’ll find in the Zombicide game, and I think they’re a great way to keep track of your character. We’ll go over more on what they do in “Your first game” section.
You also get several character and ability sheets. This is going to look confusing, but I promise, it’s not as complicated as it seems.
Create your hero:
Heroes begin with natural starting skills, but you can tailor them to your own playstyle with different classes, weapons, and skills as they level up.
The heroes all stick to pretty standard fantasy roles – you’ve got a Barbarian (fighter), a Berserker (a really pissed off fighter), a Paladin (a fighter who dabbles in battlefield medicine), a Wizard (a fighter with spellz), a Ranger (a fighter who can shoot a bow), and a Rogue (the fighter that lurks). It makes sense to try to get your group to play a variety of characters so you have a good mix of skills going in.
The underground lairs are a mixture of shadow and light. Entering the darkness of Shadow Zones allows characters to access powerful Shadow Abilities.
Your success or failure will come as a team. Band together to fight back the minions of the Darkness and accomplish your goals.
How to Play Massive Darkness
Massive Darkness at its core is a Dungeon-Crawler game. Dungeons are not typically known for being brightly lit with homey floral wallpaper. They’re dark and foreboding. Massive Darkness uses its shadow mode system to really bring this aspect to life. If you look on the board there are clearly marked spots that are lit up and others that are dark and hidden within the shadows. When your character is within the shadows they can activate shadow mode abilities and skulk around in the dark to hide or to make use of devastating attacks.
The lifebringer card is set up before every game. On it, you’ll set up a number of life tokens on top according to the scenario. This card adjusts the difficulty of the game because each token on the card represents a respawn for a character. If you get overwhelmed early on, no big deal. Just respawn your character at the start of the map and remove a lifebringer token. If you ever run out of tokens then the game is over. Think of it as a built-in difficulty setting. Just like when you played old school SNES games on easy mode, you got more lives, whereas, in hard mode, you get less. It’s a pretty ingenious way of building in checks and balances within the game.
Each player will have a character board that holds all their character info. The main slot holds the character card, the two slots below indicate your hero’s two hands and is where you hold your weapons, and the slot to the right is for your armor. The peg holes on the left indicate your current health and the peg holes on the right side indicate how much experience you’ve gained.
As you progress further into the dungeon, you’ll encounter increasingly strong monsters. Each cardboard map tile represents how large the dungeon is, and as you progress to the next map piece the monsters you encounter will become stronger. This is represented by the various guard decks numbered 1-5.
Every time you explore a room, a door card you draw will indicate the number of treasures and monsters that you’ll encounter. The door card will tell you how many and where to place them. If you are still on the first map tile, you will draw from guard deck 1. If you’ve made it to the second map tile, then you will start to draw from guard deck 2, and so forth.
Your First Game of Massive Darkness
Step 1: Pick your character.
For every character, you’ll notice that there’s a suggested class. Every character is going to have their own individual character abilities, but they are also going to have a set of class abilities that can level up as well. This means you can mix and match the classes, adding a little bit of variety to your character selection. You can even make a dwarvish wizard if you really wanted to.
Step 2: Try not to die.
There are several scenarios to choose from and like most games, the first will be a basic setup that acts as a tutorial to introduce you to the game. The tutorial dungeon is pretty simple to follow. You have to find a key and make it to the exit.
The Pros and Cons of Massive Darkness
The miniatures are amazing. The quality of miniatures is top-notch in my opinion, and all of them look fantastic. The giant spider, in particular, is my favorite, and you get a ton of miniatures in the box.
The character boards and the abilities of each character are very cool. It adds a ton of replayability to the game, and I love leveling mechanics. There’s just something about seeing your weakling character become a beastly wrecking ball over time.
The Shadow mechanics work very well and add a lot of depth to the game. There are times when you are going to be facing a group of monsters that you simply can’t kill without taking heavy losses, and it gives you the option to run away. This added a bit of fun realism to the game for me. Usually, when you play a game you’re never given a challenge that’s impossible. Here, it’s very possible you could be outclassed by a monster, but it’s up to you to decide to fight or flee. A appreciate that the game gives you more than one way to approach a situation. Overall, I was very impressed with it.
The leveling mechanics of the monsters work great as well. When you draw from the specific guard decks to reveal what monsters you are fighting, it still seems to be very balanced. CMON has done an excellent job of creating a system that levels with you so that you never truly feel like the game is too easy or too challenging.
Massive Darkness becomes exponentially more difficult the more players that you add. Honestly, this can either count as a plus or minus, depending upon your own preference. On one hand, you are forced to really work together with the other players as you add more, but on the other hand, your leveling and skill growth begins to slow to a crawl, which is one of the cooler aspects of the game.
There have been a few complaints about box organization, which isn’t surprising considering they’ve crammed so many miniatures and components into the box. It is legitimately hard to close the box back up unless everything is perfectly in place. This is more of a minor annoyance with the game than any real drawback.
- Massive Darkness is a Dungeon-Crawler with RPG elements.
- You’re going to get a lot of high-quality miniatures.
- The game has two play styles.
- One-shot game mode where leveling is accelerated.
- Story mode where leveling is slowed, but characters are persistent between playthroughs.
- Massive Darkness has a very high replay value and comes with 10 campaign quests. Kickstarter backers received more.
- There are several major expansions already out that add a lot more miniatures, new characters, dungeon tiles, and more scenarios.
Massive Darkness is one of the cooler dungeon-crawler games out there. It comes with a bunch of fun thematic elements that work really well. The Shadow system, in particular, works as a natural progression of the theme and they did a really good job with it. The leveling system is very fun, and the quality of the production value is incredible.
The two modes of Massive Darkness: one-shot campaign and story mode have very different leveling systems. In my experience, games with two different modes tend to favor one over the other. One simply outshines the other in every way. For Massive Darkness, it’s the one-shot campaign. The leveling system feels very well-paced and balanced. It allows you get to start dungeon-delving with cool abilities relatively quickly.
The story mode version can seem very slow and tedious at times. Story mode might just look unpolished when compared to the one-shot mode. It’s still fun, but it doesn’t seem to get me as excited as playing a one-shot.
All said MD is a force to be reckoned with. So sit down, clear a BIG space on your table, and get ready for a beautifully crafted adventure.
Have you played Massive Darkness or any of its expansions? What are your thoughts on this crowdfunded dungeon-crawl? We’d love to get a second opinion, so drop a comment below.