Massive Darkness 2 (MD2) is the sequel to, you guessed it, Massive Darkness. The original saw a group of heroes known as the Lightbringers. They worked together to defeat the Massive Darkness that threatened their world. Massive Darkness 2 sees the return of this evil, placing the world in peril once more. The Lightbringers must again join forces to defeat that which promises to devour all. This time, the Lightbringers must venture into hell itself. But they have trained for this. The dark has become their ally.
I must confess that I have not played the original game. Massive Darkness 2 is my first experience in this world. The game is designed by Alex Olteanu and Marco Portugal. It builds upon the original work of Raphael Guiton, Jean-Baptiste Lullien and Nicolas Raoult. You may recognise them as the designers of the infamous Zombicide series. Published by CMON, there are similarities in components and mechanics to the zombie battler. However, MD2 feels very much like its own game.
Massive Darkness 2 is a cooperative dungeon crawler with a big emphasis on fighting monsters. Players aim to survive long enough to complete the objectives. The game takes place over a series of quests. They can be played in isolation and in any order, although there is a narrative that runs through them. Throughout the game, players take turns to explore and engage in dice-based combat. This allows you to collect items, gain XP and level up. This game is a blast to play and some of the most fun I’ve had throwing dice.
You start off by choosing your character from a selection of six asymmetric heroes. Each player collects their character’s miniature, hero card and skill cards. They then collect their health and manna tokens and special components. The excellent hero dashboards (player trays) help to organise your equipment and track your hero’s progression. Next you decide which quest to play. The rulebook illustrates which game tiles to set out and which components are required for the chosen scenario. It also explains the quest’s objectives and any special rules. All dice, monster cards, monster miniatures, equipment cards, door cards and various tokens are placed beside the board. Once everything is set up (this can take a while), you are ready to begin your adventure. Make no mistake, this game comes with a lot of stuff. Your initial setup may seem a little daunting but it is worth it.
How To Play
Each round in divided into four phases: hero phase, enemy phase, level up phase and darkness phase. In the hero phase, each player has three actions. They can either move, attack, trade and equip, recover health and/or manna or execute a special action. In the enemy phase, any monsters on the board move and/or attack. After this, players must spend their XP if they have enough to level up. Finally, the round marker moves along the darkness track during the darkness phase. Here, there is a chance for more monsters to spawn or for rare and epic treasure to be added to the treasure bag. Rounds continue in this manner until either the objectives are met or enough heroes are knocked out.
Once set up, this game is easy to get into and easy to teach. The objectives usually involve moving to a particular space and/or interacting with a token. The choice of hero actions are straightforward and allow the game to move at a good pace. This combined with the cooperative nature of the game means that there is little downtime between turns. The one possible challenge to learning the game is understanding how your character works. Each hero has different abilities and feels unique. For example, the wizard casts spells, the paladin can put out tokens to support other players and the beserker uses rage to power up their actions. Once you get to grips with your character, you can soon work out how to get the most out of their abilities. The big bonus of this is that playing the same scenario with a new character gives a new experience. This all adds to the replayability of the game.
Combat is a huge part of the game and it is so much fun. When entering combat, the player needs to assemble the dice pool from a selection of attack, defence and enemy dice. The number of each type of dice is dependent on the hero’s weapons and abilities, the strength of the monsters as well as the number of monster minions. When you attack, there is a chance that your hits will be blocked or that the monsters may retaliate. Fortunately, there are ways to mitigate bad rolls through weapon and character abilities and skills. This gives you a sense of some control over a random based combat system. If you have the right types of equipment and abilities, you can enter combat feeling empowered.
Hello Darkness My Old Friend
Due to the training of the Lightbringer heroes, they are more powerful when attacking in darkness. The board consists of dark and light spaces. If you attack from a dark space, you get to roll the ‘darkness die'. This die can add extra hits to your roll but can also release your characters darkness ability. This could be performing an attack spell, getting an extra action, or healing. The darkness die adds an extra dimension. It encourages you to plan when and where is best to attack to get the most from your character.
Taking It To The Next Level
One of the most enjoyable aspects of the game is the feeling you get when you level up. Every time you defeat a monster, you gain experience points. If a lead monster or one of the more powerful roaming monsters gets defeated, all players receive XP. The fact that all players get experience adds to the cooperative nature. It avoids players wanting to take all the glory and experience for themselves.
During the level up phase, if a player has enough XP to level up, they must spend it. This allows them to increase their health, add more treasure to the treasure pool and gain a new skill. Due to the frequency of combat, players will often find themselves levelling up. By the end of a mission, you will often reach the maximum of level 5. This gives the players a real sense of achievement and progression. Be warned though, as you level up, the monsters also become more powerful. This helps to maintain a balance in difficulty level.
Throughout the game, there are opportunities to gain new items. These can be more powerful weapons, armour or consumables such as health potions. Every time you defeat a lead monster or roaming monster, they drop loot. You can also gain loot from exploring rooms and treasure chests. Every time you gain a loot token, you reach inside the treasure bag to pull out a treasure token. This will determine whether you gain a common, rare or epic item. As the game progresses, more rare and epic tokens get added to the bag. This increases your chance of gaining those powerful items. At times, it can feel like you are drawing items that are not suited to your character or don’t add to your strength. However, you will find you will gain many items throughout the game. You can then use 'forge' points on the map to trade three items for one higher value item. You can also trade between players meaning there is more chance of you getting hold of that coveted epic weapon. This all adds to that feeling of character growth and gaining power.
Like A Boss
Some of the campaigns include a final boss encounter and they are worth a special mention. They add another level to the game. The boss has its own tile for the battleground as well as a huge 'miniature'. The core game comes with two of these bosses and they are tough. The bosses give a real sense of purpose to the time spent levelling up and collecting gear. They are very powerful and if you are not prepared, you will soon find yourself defeated. The boss battles feel epic. To defeat them you need to plan and work together. You have to think strategically and adapt to the rolls of the dice. These boss battles are something special and help lift the game above similar dungeon crawlers.
There is a lot of stuff in this box. It is not the cheapest game but you get a lot for your money. There are eight different sets of cards, some of which are divided into three sub sets. In the Massive Darkness 2 box, there are 18 dice, over 20 different types of tokens, hero specific components and more. Oh and 68 miniatures! They have crammed a lot into this box. Whilst you feel spoilt having so much content, it takes a lot to organise. Set up and tear down takes a significant amount of time and this may limit how much you get it to the table. Combine this with a play time that can exceed 2 hours and you realise that this game has a significant time commitment. If one game is crying out for a well-designed box insert, this is it. The components are of good quality and makes the game feel more expensive than it is. The player trays are well designed and help you to manage your equipment. The tracks on the player trays do a good job of keeping track of your XP and your current level. The miniatures are well sculpted and contain a lot of detail. If you are someone who likes to paint miniatures, these will keep you happy for a while. Some of the miniatures are huge and have significant table presence. The only small complaint would be that the larger models have parts that feel a little thin and delicate.
If you enjoy dungeon crawlers, I thoroughly recommend this game. If you are new to this genre, this is an excellent place to start. MD2 is so much fun to play and it provides memorable gaming moments. Each time this game has got to the table, we have not wanted the experience to end. In fact, this is perhaps my main criticism. Some of the early missions seem to end suddenly. Just as you start to get the gear you need and feel more powerful, the mission is over. We have delayed meeting the final objective just so we can fight more monsters. But not wanting the game to end is testament to how enjoyable the experience is.
One significant downside is the set up and tear down time. This can reduce how often it sees the table. Managing all the components and cards can seem daunting and can take up table space. Using baggies to organise the game can help but it still takes some effort. But, if you allow for this, you will be rewarded.
The content, the components and the gameplay make Massive Darkness 2 easy to recommend. The missions (with more available to download), the variety of characters and the number of skills and equipment adds to the replay value. It would have been great to have a few more roaming monsters and mobs as they can feel a little repetitive. There are expansions that will give you more monsters and heroes. There is even an expansion that provides a full campaign mode if this is something that appeals. MD2 Hellscape is a fun and exciting dungeon crawler. The speed at which you become more powerful is so rewarding. The slick dice-based combat system adds to the thrill. If you can find the time to set it up, you and your gaming group are in for one hell of a ride!