This weekend me and the boys have been playing Massive Darkness 2 on Tabletop Simulator. This epic dungeon crawler is a pre-release demo from Cool Mini or Not and features a simple one-shot scenario and 4 playable characters. The game itself is currently trending up towards $3m dollars on Kickstarter with tons of additional content being unlocked on a daily basis. But is the game any good?
Firstly, let’s remember that this is not the final version of the game and that there will still be revisions to what the final version will be but we can get a good feeling of how the game will play from the demo.
Massive Darkness 2 is going to ship with a ton of variety in the base the box. 8 Mobs, 4 Wandering Monsters, 2 Bosses and 10 one shot adventures. The mobs feel unique, from the Fire Entities which like to... well... barbecue thieves as far as we can tell, to the demonic imps that get so angry when you attack them that they explode and fill your armour with rancid imp guts.
On top of that when a mob spawns they draw a weapon card which will randomise their attack mode, meaning in one game you might face axe wielding skeletons and in the next they have crossbows. Not only does this add to the replay value but it also means the game box isn’t stuffed full of different varieties of skeletons, making it a much more exciting painting prospect.
The heroes in the game are asymmetric in a very different way to other dungeon crawlers. Each one ships with their own mini-game that makes them play differently to each other. The Wizard has a spell amulet that helps emulate the recharge period between casting the same spell, while the rogue has a literal bag of tricks that help guide her actions. Each Hero also has an upgrade trees which improve their abilities as they level up across the game, going from level 1 to level 5.
The game features a vast array of treasure cards allowing you to customise your hero with new weapons and armour, granting new and varied abilities. You can also find a forge or two on the map and turn spare trinkets into potentially powerful weapons.
Despite the crunchiness of the asymmetrical heroes and the randomisation of villain abilities the core game mechanics are simple to learn and implement. Each hero has 3 actions which can be spent on 3 very simple actions, move, fight and trade and in some rare cases “special actions” granted by their class or items they may have found. When you opt to move you gain movement points which can be spent to move, open doors or interact which is how you collect treasure and open chests etc. When you attack you build a pool of dice based on your items and the enemy defence all with easily recognisable icons. The dice have a variety of symbols but most are self explanatory and the rulebook clearly explains the rest.
The current version of the rulebook is lacking. I have watched several demo games and Q&A’s with the designers and there are clearly rules that are in their heads that are not in the rulebook at all.
For example, the number of dice rolled for any given action is limited to the number of dice in the box. Most games in this style have no such restriction, if you don’t have enough dice you just roll, remember the results and roll again.
The rulebook contradicts itself or the components in multiple places, for example the Paladin’s rules state on his turn he can move his auras, whereas his components say he can move them at any time. The Wizard's turn example states that he uses an action to cast “Dark Magic” but there is no indication as to why that spell costs an action when “casting a spell” is not one of the 3 listed actions a hero can take.
Other rules are simply omitted from the rulebook entirely leading to midgame questions and confusion, which is odd because they aren’t edge cases but situations that came up in both of the games we played so they must have come up in playtesting too. Rules like “Do heroes get XP if a minion dies from a status effect”, “What is the range of an effect like Heal? Can it be used on other heroes or just yourself” “What is a free action and when can it be taken?” “Is there a limit to how many Fire or Ice tokens a character can take?”
One use item cards also need an icon or a “Discard after use” line adding to them, currently they just have a grey background to delineate them and it’s not really all that obvious how they work or that they are a "Free Action" to use.
Bizarrely what happens when your character dies is listed in a sidebar call out rather than in the main body of the rules, I scrolled past this three times during a game looking for the section on dying.
Finally the scaling for the game feels out of whack. The game plays 1 to 6 players but if you play anything above 4 you’re asking for trouble in my opinion. The mobs increase in size by 1 for every player in the game, but they also roll an additional dice for each player, in both attack and defence. This means the first player to attack a mob each round gets hit and hit hard. Each dice has a ⅓ chance of inflicting an unblockable hit. In a 6 player game that will result in an average of 2 unblockable damage, enough to nearly kill the Rogue or Wizard and if you roll like us, enough to actually kill you. And that’s not to mention the fact that some mobs deal damage on more than 2 faces of the dice.
There are typos in the rulebooks, on the cards and even in the one shot mission created for TTS. Obviously the design team is brazillian and some typos are bound to slip through but it does make the game feel unpolished.
Currently we only have one, very simple, mission, to play so it’s hard to judge the game on that but the mission we have feels very much like a zombicide style mission. In Zombicide, objective tokens are placed out on the board and they will be food or guns or whatever, but the missions are largely the same, pick up the objective tokens and escape. Here it was no different, activate the objective tokens and defeat a boss monster. Hopefully the 10 missions included in the base game will feature a more diverse selection of missions or else Massive Darkness, despite it’s endless stream of miniature content, will start to feel very samey very quickly.
Are you backing it?
That's the question here isn’t it? I threw up a lot of negatives so you’d be forgiven for thinking I don’t like the game. So yes, I am backing it and for a couple of reasons.
Value - it's a CMON game and regardless of whether or not I like the finished version it will largely hold its value so if it’s not for me I can resell it with the exclusives and get most if not all my money back.
Painting - there are a lot of minis in the box I would like to paint irrespective of whether or not the game is good. In addition to that the most popular posts on this site are my painting guides for CMON games so if nothing else it might bring in new readers.
Time - the game is a full year away from delivery and is still in development. Releasing the mod on top TTS has given the developers tons of feedback to act on that would not have necessarily come through internal playtesting. And from Q&A’s I’ve seen the designers are aware of this feedback and are keen to develop the best version of the game they can.
Variety - I have so far only played two of what will be the 10 available classes and I’ve enjoyed learning how those characters function within the game. If nothing else I would like to try out the other classes, perhaps strolling through the dungeon singing “Toss a coin to witcher” for an entire game session as the Bard or building steampowered mechs as the new Tinkerer class. So I’m on board for playing at least 10 games to try out each class.
Fun - despite the rules niggles, we had a couple of fun sessions with this one and my regular gaming buddy Dave immediately asked to play again. Even if the game delivered tomorrow with its typos and inconsistencies that wouldn’t mean it was unplayable, we might throw a house rule or two in there and bumble through some of the stickier rules but we’d still be having a fun time which is really what gaming is all about right?
How about you guys, are you backing Massive Darkness 2? Would you like to see The Duke tackle that big ol’ box of miniatures? If so which one? Until next time, have fun gaming.