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Subject: The Glass Slipper That Wouldn't Fit: my reaction to Massive Darkness rss

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Paul Bauman
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In contrast to the lightness of the rules, the pace of this one perplexed me. I finished reading the rulebook & thought to myself: "Yeah, this sounds like something streamlined, slick, ye ol' clunky dungeon crawl distilled down to a loot-happier Zombicide, something more like Diablo: The Board Game. Let's get this played!"

Then I jumped into the first few games and the tempo just lumbered in awkward fits & starts. It was disorienting, a collision between the video-gamey promise of constant loot drops and level ups and the harsh reality of how numbing and uninteresting that becomes in cardboard form -- at least in the fussy manner that it's been realized here.

It becomes work that's difficult to even own from turn-to-turn since your characteristics are constantly shifting. You're not given a chance to appreciate & fully use that last, amazing loot drop because the next amazing loot drop needs to be compared to it. This wouldn't feel like work in a video game, but in cardboard format either the pace of loot drops needs to slow or the presentation of character state needs to be much more clean and efficient, making decisions faster and easier. As it stands, the design breaks immersion and doesn't feel all that playful or evocative. It replaces this with constantly scaling "busywork" that masks the act of doing mostly nothing more than throwing the dice that your cards tell you to throw & picking a skill proc every once in awhile.

The simplicity of these decisions is fine; in fact in the case of Zombicide (a spiritual parent), the design doesn't obfuscate this and it feels more confident, immersive, and fun as a result. In MD, all of the work surrounding that core simple decision loop is comparatively overwrought, scattered, and distracting. The activity overbears the actual import of what’s being done. Rooms full of gear are constantly uncovered & deliberated over. XP is constantly being examined at the end of the round for the next expense on a linear skillup shopping list (where multiple tracks all fill up at mostly the same pace under the constant stream of XP). Combat always pauses as modifiers from multiple cards and reference sheets are compiled, special abilities remembered (since there are new ones nearly every turn), and this gets worse with every level as adjustments and procs scale up in number & magnitude.

So what sounds cool and Diabloesque on paper in reality becomes harried text scanning for missed quasi-decisions, providing less of a feeling of actively or positively choosing from a smorgasbord of tactical choices but more like trying to not screw yourself out of money on some sad, dungeon crawler tax form. "Let's see... am I missing anything?" was uttered during nearly every single round of combat at the table, followed by another 20-30 seconds of looking at gear cards, character cards and character sheets.

This improves slightly with repeated plays, but I carried that initial experience with some trepidation into those later attempts and the impression didn't really fade all that much: the contrast between the rules and the reality of this game had been one of the starkest that I'd experienced in recent board gaming memory. The glass slipper that was being beautifully presented just did not seem to fit the awkward incarnation of the game in play. I wish I could say that it all turned out for the better before the stroke of midnight, but not all endings can be happy ones.

While the pacing eventually improves a bit, the volatile balance and frequent lack of fun decisions in these oddly empty XP Corridors Of Dice Chucking does not. It feels as if this was designed with a repertoire of dungeon-crawl ideas that only included Zombicide and Descent but the design still doesn't accomplish a melding of the two that preserves any of the satisfying agency or drama of its predecessors.

Nothing seems to come to a head in this game. You don't feel a sense of scaling drama as the board gradually gets more crowded and treacherous. You either punch through the first 1 or 2 experience levels and steamroll the rest of the scenario, or some random catastrophe crushes your progress somewhere in those early stages. The end. The only real decision in this game often lies in how many turns you want to spend pulverizing XP piñatas or kiting some roaming monster before tidying up and moving to the next (and usually the only available) tile and leveling up the mobs and loot. It's all very controlled, sedate, and dry.

In the end I'm frankly surprised at just how much was poured into producing & marketing this, seemingly without dedicating some solid sessions with one or two knowledgeable designers/developers who could balance things out and provide some ideas... any ideas... beyond the bland, decision-free, overly busy & scattered, generic fantasy-fest that we ended up with here. Who finished a test game of this and didn't immediately come away with that bizarre emulsion of plodding play time and easy-mode gameplay reeling uncomfortably in their brain?

Sure, it all sort of... works but it's unfortunate that no one took it upon themselves to pull that necessary rip-cord during final testing, assessing the definite potential for un-fun and simply placing this on the backburner for some more design time.

So, there it sits on my shelf now, waiting for a 2.0 Kickstarter campaign that will hopefully reconcile the goal of the design with its implementation. In its current state, this game doesn't represent the "quick fun" romp that it initially presents with its pedigree and production. It's certainly a romp, but feels comparatively anemic and clunky in the context of both its own messaging and the genre it attempts to slot itself into.

Note: I never bothered with the campaign mode, since all reports indicate that this crowdsourced (hairbrained) feature is broken.
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MGAC California
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What a totally original and unique thread!


I'll take your game, if you don't want it. Just let me know the shipping.
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Matloob Qureshi
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Completely agree with your assessment. It manages to be less fun that Zombicide Black Plague in almost every way. Awful game.
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Paul Bauman
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MGAC wrote:
What a totally original and unique thread!


I'll take your game, if you don't want it. Just let me know the shipping.


If you're serious, I'm actually looking to unload it if possible. DM me a price. I'll try to keep it low since the shipping would probably be pretty expensive, given the size of the box.
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Ian Williams
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I agree completely. Love Zombicide, but this one bogs itself down in loot and leveling.
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chris nelson
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I'm kind of in the same boat. I'm holding on to it until we see what next years Zombicide type kickstarter is, assuming they keep their annual streak going.
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MGAC California
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Frohike wrote:
MGAC wrote:
What a totally original and unique thread!


I'll take your game, if you don't want it. Just let me know the shipping.


If you're serious, I'm actually looking to unload it if possible. DM me a price. I'll try to keep it low since the shipping would probably be pretty expensive, given the size of the box.


I am serious. PM inbound.
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Christopher
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I've never understood why some have so much difficulty with the modifiers in this game. Half the fun of Diablo is poring over different loot to decide what the best/most fun loadout is. MD has become our favorite game, and as tabletop RPG players we're used to calculating modifiers. It's really not hard, but if you don't enjoy it MD isn't the game for you.
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Christopher
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The OP is also contradicting himself by saying the game plays itself but it also contantly requires you to make loot decisions. It's fine that you don't like the game, but it's silly to say it plays itself.

Let me guess: you played the tutorial and quest 1?
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Paul Bauman
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SpoDaddy wrote:
The OP is also contradicting himself by saying the game plays itself but it also contantly requires you to make loot decisions. It's fine that you don't like the game, but it's silly to say it plays itself.

Let me guess: you played the tutorial and quest 1?


Look, I realize that you're an advocate for the game and enjoy it a lot, and I respect that.

However, this style of pointing out straw man contradictions as some means of invalidating a perspective that needs to be logically unassailable is kind of a tired BGG stereotype and, in this case, also somewhat unfair. Since you're ventriloquizing what I said with a weird "fallacy police" spin on it, I'll just repeat what I actually said. Is there a faint contradiction in there? Maybe. But I think my entire point is that this contradiction is in the game itself, not in my ostensibly fallacious experience of it:

Quote:
It replaces this with constantly scaling "busywork" that masks the act of doing mostly nothing more than throwing the dice that your cards tell you to throw & picking a skill proc every once in awhile.

The simplicity of these decisions is fine; in fact in the case of Zombicide (a spiritual parent), the design doesn't obfuscate this and it feels more confident, immersive, and fun as a result. In MD, all of the work surrounding that core simple decision loop is comparatively overwrought, scattered, and distracting. The activity overbears the actual import of what’s being done.


As for my plays, it looks like I've logged seven of them. I remember skipping the tutorial and playing the next scenario once before moving onto several others.

Edited to reduce pre-coffee morning snark
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C Bazler
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I'm keeping my copy exclusively for the Z:BP crossover content. Without a serious fix, I don't see myself wanting to play this again.
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Christopher
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When to spend xp on using your signature move vs when to save it for the next upgrade, when to knowingly risk using the lightbringer, when to use healing potions vs when to save them to maximize their healing points and risk death, when to ignore an agent and when to prioritize one even if he's weaker than other threats, when to let a different character kill a guardian so they can get the loot without having to waste a trade action, when to move onto a tile that levels up the game...
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Paul Bauman
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I put some amount of work into articulating what I thought was a fairly clear statement. I've seen word salad, and reject your characterization of what I wrote as such. Point blank. I find it disrespectful and reductive, and couching it with "I have no issue with you" doesn't buffer that.

I also find it ridiculous that you provide a "TLDR" which is essentially dismissive of what... 3 whole sentences, but expect me to read and validate a compensating inventory of your favorite raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens in the game?

Give me a break.

That said, if you wrote a deep breakdown of this game and posted a review, I'd totally read it. It would also provide balance, which I'm sensing your trying to restore here. I just wish you'd find some way to do it less dismissively.


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Daniel Palma
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SpoDaddy wrote:
When to spend xp on using your signature move vs when to save it for the next upgrade, when to knowingly risk using the lightbringer, when to use healing potions vs when to save them to maximize their healing points and risk death, when to ignore an agent and when to prioritize one even if he's weaker than other threats, when to let a different character kill a guardian so they can get the loot without having to waste a trade action, when to move onto a tile that levels up the game...


Man .... you and I must have played totally different games then because from my 20 plus game experience , there was probably 3 rounds of what you said but then the rest of the game was just a pubstomp because of how OP our characters became in the end. I cant even count the amount of times I became immortal due to combination of weapons. The game is a terrible numbers game and completely agree with the review. I backed this game in the late pledge and hoped it to be the next step to zombicide, instead it was a huge step backwards and a cluttered mess. Which is a shame because I went all in and so wanted this game to be amazing. That being said, if there is a season 2 , ill be in the look out for that one. Also the homebrew that demortis is making.
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Paul Bauman
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That's been my experience too. A long list of beard pulling minutiae and the occasional decision spike can sound really impressive out of context, especially when couched in the superiority of someone who thinks everyone else "just doesn't fully understand" the brilliant gestalt of this game.



In reality, at the apparent risk of word salad (i.e. the inability to read dense phrases that avoid paragraphs of fluff... and long cherry picked lists without context):

"The activity overbears the actual import of what’s being done."
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Christopher
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bulletdan wrote:
SpoDaddy wrote:
When to spend xp on using your signature move vs when to save it for the next upgrade, when to knowingly risk using the lightbringer, when to use healing potions vs when to save them to maximize their healing points and risk death, when to ignore an agent and when to prioritize one even if he's weaker than other threats, when to let a different character kill a guardian so they can get the loot without having to waste a trade action, when to move onto a tile that levels up the game...


Man .... you and I must have played totally different games then because from my 20 plus game experience , there was probably 3 rounds of what you said but then the rest of the game was just a pubstomp because of how OP our characters became in the end. I cant even count the amount of times I became immortal due to combination of weapons. The game is a terrible numbers game and completely agree with the review. I backed this game in the late pledge and hoped it to be the next step to zombicide, instead it was a huge step backwards and a cluttered mess. Which is a shame because I went all in and so wanted this game to be amazing. That being said, if there is a season 2 , ill be in the look out for that one. Also the homebrew that demortis is making.


Characters do often become supremely powerful by the end (if they survive that long), that's a fair criticism (though we enjoy getting to curbstomp everything at the end after earning our way through the earlier levels, and the tougher enemies can often pull of surprise one-shot kills even on geared up heroes). Some of the quests are way too easy, which is another fair criticism. The harder quests require you to make constant important decisions to skew the odds in favor of your survival, and that's where the game shines (if you don't mind calculating your modifiers and abilities).

My group found Zombicide to be too simplistic and lacking in meaningful decisions, so MD was exactly what we were hoping for. I honestly expected MD to be a shallow slog like Zombicide when I bought it, only wanting it to use the minis in my Hackmaster games. My group was pleasantly surprised by how much we wound up loving the game.



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Christopher
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Frohike wrote:
That's been my experience too. A long list of beard pulling minutiae and the occasional decision spike can sound really impressive out of context, especially when couched in the superiority of someone who thinks everyone else "just doesn't fully understand" the brilliant gestalt of this game.



In reality, at the apparent risk of word salad (i.e. the inability to read dense phrases that avoid paragraphs of fluff... and long cherry picked lists without context):

"The activity overbears the actual import of what’s being done."


Now who's strawmanning? I never said I was superior in any way to anyone, or that I think everyone else just doesn't fully understand the game. I said you, if you don't think any of the laundry list of meaningful decisions I cited are important, must not fully understand how the mechanics of the game interact (an obviously logical and reasonable conclusion).

I'm not sure what you're referring to when you say "the inability to read dense phrases that avoid paragraphs of fluff", and if you think my list of meaningful decisions is without context or "cherry picked" (a phrase that ironically makes no sense in this context) you should explain why. Instead, you keep insisting the game is "decision-free" then mocking a detailed list of important decisions without actually refuting any of them.

Again, the game isn't perfect and has flaws that I readily cite, but mischaracterizing the game isn't doing anyone a favor in deciding if they'd enjoy it or not.
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Paul Bauman
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Sorry, I didn't intend to strawman you. That's literally how your response registered because much of your subtext implies that any negative assessment of this game's decision space is somehow sweeping these positive features under the rug, or the result of insufficient understanding of the game. It hints at superiority rather that acknowledging alterity: that some people just didn't enjoy or lend as much significance to the things you did.

I don't want to refute your list & pick it apart because, honestly, that's unfair. Those things happen in the game and I'm glad that floats your boat.

But to me, if you'll indulge a goofy analogy, this list of "meaningful" decisions (don't most acts of deciding mean something?) just reads like a death table scene where a doctor is furiously pointing at the heart monitor and noting the occasional heart flop every few minutes, insisting that the patient is still viable, while everyone else is looking at a corpse waiting to happen. Those spikes are just the occasional mechanical surge pushing some blood around in the game, but they don't happen with enough endemic regularity and the net effect still feels inert. The overall impression for my group is that we felt busy doing not much of anything, like defibrillating a cadaver. So our repeated reaction was to walk away from the table saying "well... that was a thing."

So, I called a time of death. This game just does not function in a way that I or my group found to be entertaining.
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Joshua O'Connor
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“all of the work surrounding that core simple decision loop is comparatively overwrought, scattered, and distracting. The activity overbears the actual import of what’s being done. Rooms full of gear are constantly uncovered & deliberated over. XP is constantly being examined at the end of the round for the next expense on a linear skillup shopping list (where multiple tracks all fill up at mostly the same pace under the constant stream of XP). Combat always pauses as modifiers from multiple cards and reference sheets are compiled, special abilities remembered (since there are new ones nearly every turn), and this gets worse with every level as adjustments and procs scale up in number & magnitude.”


THIS. I plowed $400 into this game on the same expectation with the same result and conclusion. Caveat Emptor. I hope a 2nd Edition can fix it without me having to buy more stuff, because I won’t.

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Joshua O'Connor
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SpoDaddy wrote:
I've never understood why some have so much difficulty with the modifiers in this game. Half the fun of Diablo is poring over different loot to decide what the best/most fun loadout is. MD has become our favorite game, and as tabletop RPG players we're used to calculating modifiers. It's really not hard, but if you don't enjoy it MD isn't the game for you.


I hear you, but me and my friend found the modifier counting hard to remember and tedious. People are different. Honest reviews help different people decide if a game is for them.
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Paul Bauman
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To be fair, I think he presents strong arguments about the aspects he finds engaging in the game. I also think that, at a certain point, it’s time to stop being reactive in trying to abate negative reviews and pointing out perceived blind spots, and just... put in the hard work, and write a positive review. I meant what I said earlier. I’d totally read a review he would compose because he clearly has done a deep dive with the game and got more out of it than I did. That’s always good reading, even if I might disagree or not share the same appreciation.
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