Review: Massive Darkness – return of a nameless threat
I heard about them in my grandmother’s story. It’s been dozens of years, since I was screaming deeply under the blanket, when she told me her experiences. At that time, it came to me as a reality, but with the passing of time I began to believe more and more, that it was just a goodnight fairy tale. But the last rumors suggest, that my child’s imagination was not so far from reality. We must unite against the threat, that the darkness will devour us all.
All the lovers of challenges and adventures are struck by night in board game called Massive Darkness. This is the impatiently awaited novelty of the highly popular Zombicide series. Of course, we are talking about designer trio Raphael Guiton, Jean-Baptiste Lullien and Nicolas Raoult. Release of this game dates back to 2017, when production ended after a successful Kickstarter campaign (3.5 million dollars and over 22,000 contributors). The whole game was published by Cool Mini or Not (CMON) as expected and Esdevium Games delivers it to Europe.
And the game really deserves that word „massive“ in the title. It may not be anything but huge. The box is square as well as previous zombie package, but it is even higher! On the lid, we see pack of determined heroes facing terrible enemies. First of all, after opening the lid, you must choose your story in the thick manual book. These are connected into a campaign, that starts with a tutorial prelude. Specific adventure tells players, how to create a map of large squares (nine double-sided are in the box). In addition to the created map, they divide cards into number of decks, whether treasures, events, doors, but above all a number of monster cards based on their levels.
Then players have each their own tasks: choose their hero. Players will receive a corresponding card, but above all the player boxes, we already know from Black Plague and a set of plastic marking ticks. This way, he will emphasize starting number of lives and zero experience to start with.
But the player should not forget his direct connection with the world of the game – the miniature of the hero, which he marks with help of a colored pedestal. In the end, his character must also choose a class and starting equipment made up of a weapon and armor. Players will stand their characters into starting zone on the map, and will also place the Lifebringer on the map. There are also more tokens, dice and, above all, miniature of monsters, that have to be on the table to start playing.
Each turn is divided into two major parts – phases of the heroes and phase of the enemy followed by a few other „accounting“ phases. Individual players always engage in the game one after the other, whenever their colleague uses up their stock of three action points. In the main case, these can be used to move to an adjacent zone (maps are divided into large squares, nine spaces for each large tile) and can also open doors or lift objects during movement.
But there are also walls on the map, which the heroes must bypass and they block their field of view. When one of the heroes first look into a room, he immediately identifies its inhabitants using a special (randomly drawn) door card. It tells participants, which treasures and monsters are inside and where. Printed numbers are on the card, referring to the individual fields.
Each player can pick up an item on his space or open treasure chest by revealing top treasure card of the appropriate level. This new item can be immediately equipped and placed on plastic box next to picture of a hero on positions for weapon and armor. On the ground, players may also encounter items, that relate to their overall goal. In addition, these items can be exchanged (transmuted) – three items of equal level into item one level higher. In addition, for one experience point, heroes can also activate their unique move.
Inside the room, but in addition to inanimate wooden boxes, there will also be much more vivid and bloodthirsty monsters waiting in the rooms. Any attack costs one action point and can be made using one of three types of combat – close, ranged or magic. Of course, the hero must have an appropriate weapon in his hand. Each of them has a link to statistics (line in lower parts of the card), allowing player to roll one or more colored dice, if he uses that equipment. With help of dice, he tries to roll a sufficient number of hits. The monster has some blue dice of defense at its disposal, that also need to be rolled and their result will lower impact of the attack.
All the hits draw out monster life force and once number of wounds reaches life points, monster is removed from the map and player gains experience (marked on the player’s box) together with eventual reward (item, that enemy was carrying). But while the defeat of a normal monster brings experience only to the one, who deals the final blow, stronger rivals (eg agents, bosses or marching monsters) mean reward to all players. The battle also enter charms or abilities. These can only be triggered, if specific symbols (other, than a sword and shield) are rolled on dice.
But to enemies is connected another important concept – levels. Tokens with digits are deployed on the map according to the scenario entry. Current difficulty of battles is determined by the players‘ progress and increases as players move and open the door to new, more demanding areas. At the same time, however, players are also able to access more powerful skills (on their chosen skill card) and treasures mentioned. To reach a certain skill just by reaching the level is not enough, but the player must also acquire skill by spending experience.
As soon as all the heroes have spent all three points, monsters standing still on their own feet get to act. They are gradually attacking, moving towards heroes and repeat it twice. Heroes have to defend themselves with the help of blue and green dice, which provides them their armor.
At the end of the round, players reveal an event card, that can add some new monsters, but may also bring something positive for the player. Only if heroes can jointly fulfill all the assigned tasks for the given scenario, game is over and whole team can celebrate. If one of the heroes loses the last point of life, his player can once again breath life in him with the help of the Lifebringer. But it has only a limited number of uses, and once the fallen hero can no longer be revived, then game ends in their defeat.
Massive Darknes is famed evolution of other coop games. It should be regarded as the successor of the excellent Black Plague from the Zombicide series. Although this is a very similar game, this new box brings plenty of new and exciting things for it to be really interesting for every adventurer out there.
The most distinctive news are the levels. These allow the match to progressively develop. Difficulty grows gradually, as do the hero’s abilities. But above all, players have a great chance of controlling these levels and not exploring unnecessarily into places, that are not yet enough in their power to deal with. It is this mechanism, that we like very much and it makes the game more tactical and smoother.
This interesting mechanisms is very much connected with the monster cards, that put enemies on the map. These are spaced according to the predefined layouts, but the content of the room is decided again by chance and by revealing the upper card from the deck.
There is much more tactics in the game, even though battles remain random. But thanks to the abilities and well solved items (adding sets of dice), it is possible to plan well. And this is an essential feature of co-operative games. The luck in the dice here is definitely not a bad thing and it brings great tension to it all. The weapons themselves are differentiated by level and bring dice with different strength.
In addition, retaliation may also occur immediately after the hero’s attacks. If the monster does not fall in the round, it gets a chance to get revenge at the end of player’s turn. This can only be avoided by running away or by hiding in the shadows. That’s another very good news, which you must count into your tactics.
In addition to these development features, the game is still excellent as a classic dungeon-crawler. Running through one room at a time, finding treasures and fighting monsters is exactly, what many adventurous players are looking for. And all these things come in handful.
Even the fantasy theme here comes really alive and does not feel just pasted or too generic. Maybe it’s thanks to interesting illustrations. First of all, atmosphere is excellent, which is, of course, given by the fact, that all the players try to bring their strength together.
There is a total of ten scenarios and lucky its not just about killing some monsters. Players will also often be searching for objects or running from underground. Individual stories have their specific rules, everything is clearly described.
The biggest disappointment is unfortunately the campaign itself. Not that the individual tasks were not interesting, but the story is not very tense. But if you do not mind just such a basic connection of stories without a deeper and original idea, then the campaign acts well as a guide for heroes on their adventures.
Problem also comes in a moment, when you would like to enjoy this whole adventure in a larger number of players. With four players, matches are too slow and waiting for the next turn is long. Ideal number is two or three members of the adventure team. The stories themselves are certainly not short. Count with two or more (three) hours for more complex quests.
Processing is absolutely luxurious. The amazing and dark pictures on the map boards are completed with excellent illustrations on the cards, but especially with the perfect miniatures. Entire game is really fantastic, and it’s hard to say anything bad about it. Plastic boxes for organizing items, injuries and experiences is a great finishing touch.
Massive Darkness is the best cooperative fun ever created by the trio Guiton-Lullien-Raoult. Their mechanisms gradually turn into jewels, and from the first, slightly problematic Zombicide, it has become a truly complex adventure game with no exaggerated complexity. Massive Darkness has a long campaign ready for you and plenty of beautiful looking fun.
Review: Massive Darkness – return of a nameless threat
Massive Darkness is a game, that may appeal to all fans of fantasy battles. Players have a common goal to work with. Everybody also plays for himself and his hero, because they control and can improve them properly. In a few moments, players cross the path of the first monster and dice hit the game. As heroes acquire new equipment and experience, the overall difficulty of the game is gradually increasing and players can unlock stronger capabilities for their characters. In four, the game is too slow, with long wait and really extreme overall length of the game. With lower numbers, its still couple of hours, but its at least full of action. Massive Darkness does not offer a breathtaking story with its campaign, but it's still a great fantasy game, that should be interesting for many players.