Kevin Outlaw
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As always, you can see this review (with pictures) on my blog at AlwaysBoardNeverBoring. Come and visit. I promise not to set fire to the place while you're there.



Okay, before I start this review, I'm going to lay my cards on the table. I backed Dark Darker Darkest on Kickstarter. It was not the first game I backed, but it was the first (and currently only) game that actually arrived at my house. Additionally, I was one of the people who had some involvement in the second edition of the rules book (on a voluntary basis). So, yeah, this game is a little bit special to me. If you feel that either of those things in any way devalues or negates my opinion, better jog on, because there is a big, fat dollop of opinion heading your way... right... now...

Er...

Now...



Anyone who frequents my blog knows I am a sucker for a game that tells a story (yeah, I'm talking about stories again). There is something joyous about sitting at a table with a group of friends, and creating a unique adventure in another world. What that means is Dark Darker Darkest was a very easy sell for me. You see, Dark Darker...

Wait. You know what? I've got to say this first. Dark Darker Darkest is a bloody awful name for a game. It doesn't really mean anything. And if you say it quickly you sound like that guy from Team America: World Police, flailing his arms around in the jeep.

Right. Got that out of the way. I feel better now.

Where was I?

Right. Dark Darker Darkest turned up on the Kickstarter website at a time when I was beginning to despair. I had recently received Zombicide, and had found it a little dull and a little clunky. I was thinking it had reached the point where there was never going to be a good zombie game, despite the industry churning out new games about necrotic fiends on a bi-weekly basis.

But then there was Dark Darker Darkest: A game that involved a group of everyday people sneaking into a fortified manor house to hunt down a mad scientist and then steal the antidote for the virus that is ravaging the population.

Yeah. It's Resident Evil, the board game.

Ker-ching!

More than just a zombie game, this was a game that promised the thrill of being hunted through cramped hallways by reanimated dogs, undead birds, infected gorillas, and giant snakes. It's like the worst day trip to the zoo ever.

(Please note, I do not believe there is a gorilla or snake in the retail game, they were extras that Kickstarter backers got, and which other gamers might get at some point in an expansion. Sorry, folks!)

So I backed the game. I only backed at the basic pledge level which got me the game and the stretch goals, as I didn't feel the need to buy anything else; and I was incredibly excited when two gigantic boxes arrived at my house. I mean BIG boxes. It's a game about zombies, and I thought there might actually be a real corpse in there.

(Please note, my excitement was slightly dampened by the absence of a whole bunch of stuff that Queen still haven't sent to me, and are unlikely to send to me for some while yet. Never mind, the game's the thing...)

If you were to explain Dark Darker Darkest to someone, the first thing you would do is tell them to ignore the stupid name. Then you would tell them that the game involves a small group of people moving around a mansion which you create from a big stack of nicely illustrated tiles. Some tiles have cameras which you need to try to avoid, and some tiles are locked. Avoid or kill the zombies, unlock the doors, find the antidote, and escape. You'll be back home in time for Scooby Snacks.

But describing what this game is really doesn't do justice to what this game is.

You see, The Big Ds is a co-operative game. Everyone works together to win against the game system. And it is one of those beautiful co-operative games that genuinely feels co-operative. It achieves this with a fabulous team mechanism. At the start of each turn, you look at where people are in the house. Any people on the same tile form a group. You then create an order in which the groups will activate. Every character within each group gets a set number of actions (moving, searching, attacking), but those characters do not have to take those actions in a strict order. One person could move and shoot, then pass control to someone else in the group who searches, who then passes control back to the first person, and so on. Only once all the characters have exhausted all of their actions does control move to the next group, who then get to take their actions.

Do you see what I'm saying?

Do you see?

If all of your characters start the turn together, then you just get one big turn for everyone to act in, and there is no strict order for characters to move in, and you can hop back and forth between characters as much as you want. But if you spread your characters out, then they all act independently.

And did I mention that every time a group finishes activating, zombies and creatures in the house might respond to the sound the group has made, and lurch into abnormal life, hunting down survivors to gnaw on their entrails?

I didn't?

They do. And the fire might spread too.

I didn't mention fire?

Man, I suck at reviews. Which is really worrying considering what this blog is all about.

But anyway, do you see? Do you see why Triple D is so cool?

The game encourages you to forge a unit, to stick together and work as a team. It actively encourages you to act like you would bloody well act in a zombie apocalypse.

If you are one of those people who watches horror movies and says, "Why are they splitting up?" Well, this is the game for you.

Or, maybe it isn't.

Because there is another mechanism in this game that is either going to make or break it for you. You see, for all the plastic zombie miniatures, and the brooding artwork, and the fire - oh God, the fire - this whole game revolves around a mechanism which is its most magnificent triumph and its biggest failure.

Unlocking doors.

The whole game is about unlocking doors.

Throughout the mansion there are locked door tokens. When you get close to them, you flip them over to reveal two or three coloured symbols. Every item you start with, and every item you find in the mansion, has a coloured symbol on it. If a bunch of people have items with icons that match all the icons on the door token, you can unlock the door. You then keep the token, and you can cash it in later on a "security panel" to break the code that is sealing the entrance to the mad scientist's laboratory.

(Please note (really? Again?), in the original rules for the game, one person had to have all the items required to unlock a door. This was changed in the revised rules, which you can find on the BoardGameGeek website.)

This is the game's greatest triumph, because it creates agonising decisions for the players, and gives the game a heavy dose of resource management which is often lacking from other games of this sort. For example, you are out of ammo, and there are zombies closing in; but you really need the icon that appears on your spare ammo clip. If you reload, you lose that icon, and you cannot unlock the door. If you cannot unlock the door, you cannot win. If you don't reload, the zombies eat your brains, and you cannot win.

(Not winning is a really big aspect of this game, by the way.)

But this mechanism for unlocking doors is also the game's biggest failure, because it is so absolutely, totally, unapologetically unthematic.

You know what? I don't care. It is a concession the designer chose to make for the sake of making the game gruelling, tense, and entertaining. And it works. Managing your equipment is like a mini-game. You have to finely balance the useful weapons you want for fighting zombies, with the tat you need for unlocking doors.

And when you do finally unlock the laboratory, the game flips on its head. The group activation mechanism I talked about earlier transforms into this crazy Euro-style worker-placement type thing where the group can "place" six actions at a time, after which the bad guys react. Used actions are then locked out for several turns before being returned to the players, so there is a chance certain characters may have to miss a turn and you never have quite enough actions for what you want to do. And of course, the whole time, the crazy scientist (or one of his relatives) is attempting to set fire to the mansion with you still in it.

It's bat-shit crazy.

And absolutely joyous.

And you might hate it.

You might hate it because, while I think the artwork is incredible and sets the game apart from anything else in my collection, you might think it looks ugly and drab. You might hate it because the miniatures aren't great (a friend of mine said they were like "cheap army men"). You might hate it because the price in the UK makes you want to be a bit sick in your mouth. You might hate it because the iconography on the cards is often difficult to understand, and you will need to reference player aids during every game unless you are really familiar with everything. You might hate it because it is so bloody difficult to win.

And you might hate it because it chucks about a dozen mechanisms into the pot and stirs them together into a stew that some people are going to think is awesome and some people will think is stew.

I guess that's as fair as I can be about the game. I love it. It is the zombie game I wanted all previous zombie games to be. It does that thing where it takes great game mechanisms and dunks them in a vat of theme, and while some of the theme might drip off on your shirt, there is still lots of tasty theme left to enjoy. No, wait. I'm thinking about fondue, aren't I?

But the theme is strong in this one. Even with those idiosyncratic rules that don't quite gel.

Need an example?

Here's an example of something that happened in one of my games:

Towards the end stages of the game, a fire was running rampant through the house, and it looked like the whole place was going to burn down. While Lucy Chang ran to get into the laboratory, Leo and Bunny accessed the sprinkler system, dousing the flames. It was a losing battle, but Leo was keeping the fire at bay just long enough to stop the game ending through the destruction of too many mansion tiles.

Lucy opened the laboratory, and the crazy scientist lurched at her through the billowing smoke. She set to him with a baseball bat, and for the next two turns they wrestled with each other as the scientist approached the sprinkler room.

Eventually outpacing Lucy, the scientist entered the sprinkler system room. He thrust Bunny into the adjacent room and attacked Leo. As the scientist tore bloody chunks from Leo, he glanced at Bunny, and nodded. She knew what he meant.

With trembling hands, she pulled the pin from the grenade she had found earlier, and lobbed it into the room, bringing the whole place crashing down on the two combatants.

You can chalk that up to a win for the good guys, and a climax that rivals any number of horror films.

And that is why I love the D-Meister.

I can't say you will love this game too, but I can say you should definitely try it if you get the chance.

If nothing else, you will have some stories to tell.
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Dan Buman
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I think you pretty well summed up DDD. Its one of those games that, even with the improved rules set, people are going to love or hate. I'm with you, I think it is excellent. Thanks for your thoughts.

This was my first ever kickstarter and I also did the basic pledge with stretch goals and no add ons. My game arrived on time with no damage or missing pieces. I guess I was lucky in that regard!
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Trevor Kindree
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This game looks fantastic, I too kickstarted it (have everything I was supposed to get, but didn't go for any of the extras). It's highly thematic, a fantastic game. The doors, I'm having a difficult time trying to explain WHY I need an axe and a canister of chainsaw fuel (gas?) to unlock a door, but my group is just going to have to accept "just cuz" as the answer.

(Oh, and if you ever need to hear a fantastic example of "Just cuz": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AZkWChXUSMk)
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Ian Allen
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nice review - I KS'd it with extras and I got everything I was supposed to get. I can't wait to try this out with the revised rules, after reading your review - sounds awesome ...
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Trent Boardgamer
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Nice write up. I've really been enjoying this game myself. It's obvious it really appeals to the right audience. It's a shame it's launch (and initial rulebook) weren't handled slightly better, to not put some people off.

Once you start playing this game correctly it's a genuine fun challenge and one that plays differently every time you set it up.

Oh and it needs to be played with people that are cool not being able to win the game. Like you said it's the little stories which I enjoy and actually playing the game, winning is just a conclusion with some variety if you manage to get that far.
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Kim Williams
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Really well written review - I even read all the words! (I'm afraid that's a rare thing)
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Luke Heineman
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Great review! I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I think the abstraction of the door locks is indeed hard for people to swallow at times. Well, remember when you found that shotgun earlier? When you were searching that room you found a piece of paper with a series of numbers on it. Perhaps that's part of the door lock code? Well look at that, it is!

Now why that piece of paper is "tied" to you maintaining possession of that shotgun, I have no idea :P, but it's just a game.
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Trent Boardgamer
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lukeheineman99 wrote:
Great review! I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I think the abstraction of the door locks is indeed hard for people to swallow at times. Well, remember when you found that shotgun earlier? When you were searching that room you found a piece of paper with a series of numbers on it. Perhaps that's part of the door lock code? Well look at that, it is!

Now why that piece of paper is "tied" to you maintaining possession of that shotgun, I have no idea , but it's just a game.


Clever, maybe the code is etched on the barrel or something?

It's probably the only aspect of the game which steps out of the thematic theme for my group. Game mechanic wise it fits, but thematically it's a little trickier to be convincing about. All in all though, it doesn't stop me enjoying (imho) the best zombie game to date.
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Doe Gibson
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My story for this will be- When one of Doctor Mortimer's lab assistants realized what her completely mad boss was up to, she was desperate to leave as many clues as possible for anyone who came looking. With cameras and security guards everywhere, her mission was extremely difficult. Doctor Mortimer's madness and paranoia grew intense, and he become suspicious of everyone. He deliberately infected his staff. By the time our heroine began the final stages of turning, her code clues were as crazy as everything else in the house.

Now, if my copy would just arrive. cry
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David Ausloos
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Actually, the thematic story behind this that I had written a while ago while developing the game was close to Trent's idea:

I won't be telling anything new when I say Mortimer has somewhat of a dark twisted mind. When he was still human, fighting off urges to use his experiments to gain power, he began to get paranoid about interference of governement authorities and other powerful chess pieces that began to take notice of his inventions. As a result, he started to heavily secure his house to make sure nobody could enter or leave it alive, fueled by his infinite brooding paranoia.

But there was a problem of his mind being forgetful.
As a solution he decided to engrave part of the code to unlock areas on objects spread around the house, so to make it almost impossible for people to figure out how to open up these secured rooms as they would only find meaningless snippets of code that made no sense.

Naturally, he underestimated the team of urban heroes that entered his doomed dwelling...



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Richard Waszczuk
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Nice review. I admit the door unlocking mechanism, and holding certain gear items (i.e. hats, body armor, and items that should have been attached to certain firearms) was a cause for consternation among my fellow gamers. David's explanation at least resolves the first issue, if not the second.

Another group member disliked the Darkness track, as he hated rushing and we ended up losing our last game because time simply ran out for us (if we only had 2 more rounds...). I don't have an issue with it, per say, and I explained the reason for it ending the game by explaining it was a countdown timer for a bomb. I had meant to slip that into the rulebook (with David's approval) during the proof reading.

In the final week there was me and one other proof reader. I wonder if it was Carbon Copy with whom I was working with at that stage? Whoever it was, I will credit whoever I was working with at that stage with making some amazing edits (the "Aim" icon explanation was superbly simple, and yet very informative compared to past versions, including one attempted by myself) and some less... appealing... flavor text closer to the end of the rulebook. However, that could be chalked up to a difference of opinion in editing styles.

Fun Fact: Instead of the current two categories of Equipment cards, "Gear" and "Consumable Item", they were almost named "Equippable Item" and "Consumable Item".

As for the KS, I had no issues with the DDD components, as everything that was promised was delivered inside the 2 boxes. The only issues I had was the delayed delivery and the fact that I'm still waiting, along with many others, for the add-on content. I haven't tried playing with the special zombies or radioactive rules yet... mostly because we die on Dark mode so often my fellow gamers don't feel the need for a greater challenge.
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Glad to see another review up. I'd actually like to the address the whole name issue... I don't have any issue with it except that it doesn't roll off the tongue and I end up trying to shorten it every time I talk about it but "DDD" for someone who is unfamiliar with the game doesn't mean anything.

Aside from that, I actually expected more of a difference between the difficulty levels modes "Dark, Darker and Darkest" because if that gives the game its name then shouldn't it be a significant part of the game? However, the difficulty modes are unnecessary because of the inherit difficulty already embodied in all of the random obstacles thrown at you (i.e. zombies, fire, darkness tracker, chip codes and locked doors). I have played the "Darker" mode once unsuccessfully and essentially that added colour code token reduces the darkness tracker from 5 to 4 unless you are really lucky with the code chips. And "Darkest" mode doesn't even seem remotely worth trying... You would have to roll perfectly and have all the chips line up for you... but hey! I haven't really fully tested those modes out yet.
 
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Kevin Outlaw
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rwaszczuk wrote:

Fun Fact: Instead of the current two categories of Equipment cards, "Gear" and "Consumable Item", they were almost named "Equippable Item" and "Consumable Item".



I think I submitted about 20 different options when I was discussing the possibilities with David (including the rather awful option of "encumbering").
 
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David Ausloos
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Logus Vile wrote:
Glad to see another review up. I'd actually like to the address the whole name issue... I don't have any issue with it except that it doesn't roll off the tongue and I end up trying to shorten it every time I talk about it but "DDD" for someone who is unfamiliar with the game doesn't mean anything.

Aside from that, I actually expected more of a difference between the difficulty levels modes "Dark, Darker and Darkest" because if that gives the game its name then shouldn't it be a significant part of the game? However, the difficulty modes are unnecessary because of the inherit difficulty already embodied in all of the random obstacles thrown at you (i.e. zombies, fire, darkness tracker, chip codes and locked doors). I have played the "Darker" mode once unsuccessfully and essentially that added colour code token reduces the darkness tracker from 5 to 4 unless you are really lucky with the code chips. And "Darkest" mode doesn't even seem remotely worth trying... You would have to roll perfectly and have all the chips line up for you... but hey! I haven't really fully tested those modes out yet.


Actually, the name of the game was chosen long before there was any mechanic designed. When I design a game I like to start with a mood first, and in the case of DDD the title was important for me to trigger the universe. This was the same for Rogue Agent. I had that title long before I actually started developing.
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Richard Waszczuk
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RedMonkeyBoy wrote:
I think I submitted about 20 different options when I was discussing the possibilities with David (including the rather awful option of "encumbering").


Encumbrance rules? Time to pull out my D&D Second Edition rulebook...

I wasn't aware there were that many discussions, but then most of my interaction with rule changes was either through the revised drafts of the rulebook or David. However the "Equipment" page was one of the more infamous pages in the rulebook.

Back when I originally suggested "equippable items", as a counterbalance to "consumable items" (something I love to see), it appeared to be perfect and David agreed with me. Then I noticed that "equippable" was registering as a typo... I found out it wasn't one. It was just a gamer term. So I decided to let David know, because what kind of English proof reader would I be to pass off non-dictionary words? So he decided to change it to another word. I suggested two alternatives and he chose "gear".

The only changes, as far as equipment is concerned, that I would like to see changed in the future is maybe slots for body armor and head, and a rule on cards like the laser sight, that allow it to attach to the firearm, and jut out slightly from behind the firearm card with the rules, akin to Super Dungeon Explore treasure/loot cards.

That way the 1 or 2 hands rule would make more logical sense.
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Kevin Outlaw
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rwaszczuk wrote:


I wasn't aware there were that many discussions,


It cannot be understated the effort David put into this new edition of the rules. He brought together a team of really good people, and he got those people heavily involved, while still keeping true to his own vision. I lost count of the e-mails we sent back and forth, and I have do doubts that it was the same for everyone else.

As for hands: I have never seen them as "hands." To me, they have always expressed an abstracted weight and ease of use. At least, that is how I have always justified the hand symbol on items like scopes
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Kenrick Fearn
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Hi All,

This is the best of all my zombie games and in many ways the most intelligent ...not just wacking zombies ...but has a real challenge and a sense of purpose ...

I feel David has worked bloody hard to make this game accessable and right for a lot of people...not forgetting those who helped him to get the revised rules as good as could be ...

I am pretty sure it will take something quite unique to knock this off my "number 1 zombie game " position ..

Happy gaming

Ric

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Richard Waszczuk
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RedMonkeyBoy wrote:
It cannot be understated the effort David put into this new edition of the rules. He brought together a team of really good people, and he got those people heavily involved, while still keeping true to his own vision. I lost count of the e-mails we sent back and forth, and I have do doubts that it was the same for everyone else.


True, Up until working on the rulebook my Inbox had about 10 PMs, but now its' probably closer to 100. However, most of my contact on the rules was through David, so it was unclear to me what everyone else was doing. I know I spent well over 30+ hours proof reading, and it's a shame we didn't track the drafts with version numbers.

I can confirm your viewpoint that David was very dedicated to resolving the issues players had with the rulebook. As I myself had a terrible time with understanding the Multitracker from reading the original rules and I'm confident that new players won't encounter the same difficulties I did.

Quote:
As for hands: I have never seen them as "hands." To me, they have always expressed an abstracted weight and ease of use. At least, that is how I have always justified the hand symbol on items like scopes


I just told my friends, "It doesn't attach... you just hold it".
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I developed Carpal Tunnels for the first time during this editing process.

No lie.

Could have been the pull-ups during workouts... but mostly it was from the typing, and I ordinarily type around 60 hours per week.

That will learn me.

PS.. Healed now, but still some "catching" when clenching.

The Darkness did get me after 60+ hours of rewrites, proofing, etc.

David was a saint for accepting the endless wave of corrections and page rewrites. I felt bad every time I changed something, because I know that everyone just wanted to get it finished. The final week was crazy. Probably 100+ emails and 25 uploads.

Working with David was nothing but positive. He is talented and passionate about his creation, while always wanting to do what was best for the gamers.


RedMonkeyBoy wrote:
rwaszczuk wrote:


I wasn't aware there were that many discussions,


It cannot be understated the effort David put into this new edition of the rules. He brought together a team of really good people, and he got those people heavily involved, while still keeping true to his own vision. I lost count of the e-mails we sent back and forth, and I have do doubts that it was the same for everyone else.

As for hands: I have never seen them as "hands." To me, they have always expressed an abstracted weight and ease of use. At least, that is how I have always justified the hand symbol on items like scopes
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