Friday, 11 August 2017

Massive Darkness!

Yes, I know I promised a series of posts about jungle terrain and newly painted miniatures, but the truth of the matter is that I have been somewhat distracted by the latest offering from CMON, 'Massive Darkness'; yet another Kickstarter that I backed in April 2016.  Billed as a cooperative board game and building on the successful Zombicide: Black Plague mechanic, I nearly let this one pass me by, after all I have more plastic miniatures than I will ever paint.  Yet a chance email exchange with my good friend Stefan of 'Monty's Caravan' fame caused me to think again - solo play being the eventual hook that saw me pledge.  Well that pledge duly arrived at 'Awdry Towers' last weekend and since then all I seem to have done is venture further and further into the tunnels and dungeons, fighting guards and monstrosities along the way!
'Massive Darkness' is a dungeon crawl and allows standalone adventures or the option to play in story mode, building your characters' abilities along the way.  A huge fan of Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone's Fighting Fantasy gamebooks as a boy, I was really looking forward to this and with what I thought was a fair understanding of the mechanic being used couldn't wait to get started.  The first thing that needs to be said is that this being and CMON Kickstarter there was a mountain of plastic to unpack!  These photographs just show the core box and don't include all the wondrous goodies that came as stretch goals.  The plastic miniatures are exquisitely detailed and I am sure will take paint just as well as the Zombicide versions; already there are some firm favourites that might yet skip to the head of the painting queue!
The quality of the card stock used for the sumptuously designed dungeon tiles is, as we have come to expect, superb and in fact all the pieces have that reassuring feel of quality to them and so it will come as no surprise to hear that the tutorial game was set up on the practice table* and away we went. Dutifully laying out the game as described, I started to become aware that there was an awful lot of paraphernalia on the table.  
Yes I am aware of how pretentious that sounds, but it really is a Godsend!  I have set up a small table in the spare room, which means I can leave unfinished games out overnight rather than pack them away so that we can use the dining room table - why hadn't I thought of this sooner? 
Event cards, door cards, treasure cards**, guard cards***, roaming monster cards, tokens, dashboards and class sheets - it was a good job that I was just playing the tutorial with only two board tiles on the table!  Unperturbed I ventured on, but couldn't help reminiscing that back in the day all I needed was an HB pencil and a couple of D6s!  Still it wasn't long before I was opening doors, picking up treasures and battling guards and banished such trifling matters as being uncharitable. 
**Five sets one for each level of Darkness.
***Again another five sets! 
Dwarves love their treasure.
Tutorial successfully completed it was time to get to grips with the first quest proper and at this point my issues with just how busy the table was started to resurface.  It all seemed incredibly faffy, I mean ridiculously so  - it was time for a rethink.  I am not a overly stupid man, but there I was sitting at a table five feet long by two and a half feet wide, covered in a multitude of cards and plastic miniatures and not really enjoying myself.  The need to check and recheck the class sheets of each of the characters, that were in turn separate from the player dashboards, meant that I was having to swap between distance and reading glasses and all the time getting more and more frustrated.  The absolute joy of Zombicide: Black Plague is its simplicity, the ability to fully immerse yourself in the story and enjoying the colloabtive nature of the game, ideally with friends, is what made us return to it time and again as our game of choice.  How then had CMON got this so wrong with Massive Darkness?  Of course the answer is they haven't, it was me!  
A very busy table!
In my bid to get going as quickly as possible, I had rather fallen foul of the old maxim that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing!  Assuming that 'Massive Darkness' was, in effect, Zombicide: Black Plague by a different name, I had completely missed the point; this is a different game and should be treated as such!  The first realisation came with the number of guards that were spawned as you enter each room, it is dependent on the number of adventurers on the board. The more adventurers the more guards, so why was I trying to run all six adventurers at once?  By reducing my heroic band to a Wizard, Barbarian and Bloodmoon Nightrunner**** I was instantly able to really focus on what was important.  The class sheets, the paper pages used to record the characters' progress, were no longer spread all over the table, but stacked in order to make it easier to access.  
A Bloodmoon Nightrunner - a thief by any other name!
It was starting to feel more like the games of old, where interaction and understanding your character's unique abilities were key to success in your chosen adventure.  If you follow this approach through to its natural conclusion then the mechanic of the game should allow you to venture into the dungeon with just one character and still succeed in your quest, but I haven't been brave enough to try this yet!
****Thief/Assassin in old money!
Thou shall not pass!
So where have these revelations left me with regards to my 'Massive Darkness' enjoyment?  Mightily relieved for one thing!  I now feel that I have a much clearer understanding of what the game is all about.  As with my previous experiences of CMON board games there is a depth to them that isn't initially apparent.  The subtlety of the rules allows for complexities in the gameplay that will keep me engrossed for some considerable time to come.  
Wait! Don't open two doors at once!
Already we have had scenarios that have thrown up interesting, almost cinematic moments be they the classic 'bug hunt' or a 'temple run' style game that saw my adventurers race to the exit before the roof to the dungeon caved in, wonderfully realised by removing the preceding tiles according to the game mechanic.
Bad news for a High Troll.
It is a totally immersive game and the secret to its success is making your individual contribution exactly that - individual.  My initial mistake was trying to be too inclusive assuming that the more adventurers the better, something that we have found in Zombicide: Black Plague.  With 'Massive Darkness' the enjoyment comes through the development of the individual characters and I am really looking forward to playing this with a couple of friends to see how their own characters develop through the twists and turns of the dungeon's tunnels.
A Barbarian doing what a Barbarian does.

Monday, 7 August 2017

A Jungle Encounter!

Saturday saw my first proper game using the Congo ruleset from 'Studio Tomahawk'.  In one of those all important bouts of introspection it had occurred to me that my hobby progress was being hampered by a lack of any discernible progress in any one area - surely the goal had to be to playing a game, but which one?  The discovery of Congo seemed to give me the direction I was lacking and written, as it was, in a light hearted and often humorous way the rules seemed much more accessible to this novice wargamer.  The style combined with a card activation system and the use of tokens to record the ever increasing level of stress seemed to help make the game a more comfortable crossover from the collaborative board games that I was enjoying to a 'real' wargame.  So from 'Salute 2017' Congo had become the focus of my hobby time and to give that focus a tangible time frame I made the decision to host a game during the eagerly awaited summer holidays.  A brief email exchange between Mike 'The Dark Templar' Reynolds and 'Bullcher Feb' of the splendid and often humorous, 'Bull's Waaagghhh' blog resulted in a date being tentatively placed in the diary and so countdown began. 
With very little responsibility befalling me during the holiday time and with the 'Saintly Mrs. Awdry' determined to improve her golf game, I have been afforded a good deal of time in preparation for this game.  Miniatures were assembled, primed and painted and terrain has been resourced and constructed with rules tested and learnt.  In fact this process has been such a wondrous distraction during a month that was to prove difficult due to personal circumstances.  Such was the level of industry that I will have blog posts aplenty for the weeks to come, but more of those another time.
So returning to the day and the game in hand.  I had invited the chaps down to darkest East Sussex with the intention of running through the second scenario, 'The King of the Apes'.  Mike's White Man's Expedition, after weeks of hacking through the jungle, were finally in a position to discover and capture the mighty Kong.  Meanwhile Bull's Forest Tribes were intent on harrying the intruders and protecting the sacred creature.  All was prepared, briefing notes had been sent earlier in the week, I had set up the board the night before and I knew that the table was ready, but how would they chaps take to the game?
I had decided to take on the role of 'Jungle Guide' and lead them through the initial exchanges, but such was the adaptability of the pair that it wasn't long before the two were locked in battle and needing very little direction!  When preparing the Forest Tribe column with its Pygmy Warriors, Cannibals and Witchdoctor it occurred to me that the unpredictability of the group would be just what a seasoned 'Ork' handler would enjoy and initially assigned them to Bull - I could not have been more on the money!  The mischievous, frustrating nature of this column was expertly put to devastating effect by Bull, aided by some of the most spectacular dice rolling I have ever seen, the  jungle spirits were definitely with him on the day!  Mike on the the other hand was being frustrated by the lack of success with his rolling, a particular case in point being the inability of a unit of trained, Indian soldiers failing to hit a barn door* whilst rolling a handful of D10s!
*quite what a barn door was doing tin the jungle was anybody's guess?
The 'White Man's Column' limped through to a timely lunch break and being a stout heartened sort of chap that he is, Mike agreed to venture into the Jungle for another time.  With Bull handing over the reigns of the Forest Tribes to myself it proved a much more cagey encounter.  A greater understanding of the objective and fairing slightly better** with his rolling, Mike was able to successful track and capture the great ape!
**albeit only slightly!
With a couple of games under our safari suit belts it was time to end the day and as I wished the plucky adventures well on their return journey to Kent, I was suddenly struck with the sickening thought that I hadn't really taken any photographs and so this rambling collection of thoughts can barely be called a battle report.  Fortunately both Mike and Bull have written up their day and can be found at Congo! and A Trip Back in Time respectively.  As for me, the day could not have gone better and I felt that I had achieved my goal of taking an idea through to completion.  With a good number of miniatures now already painted, I shall definitely be looking at another possible scenario to work towards, something with crocodiles sounds favourite!  
What I must do though is take a moment to thank both Mike and Bull, who have both been incredibly supportive and encouraging.  This was a completely new ruleset for them and certainly not a period that they would normally game and yet they both indulged my wish to take part and made the day the success that it was, thank you chaps!

So as hinted earlier there will now follow a series of posts that will certainly take me through August and into September as I sift through the photographs that I have taken and document my thought processes in building the terrain and bringing it to the table, but in the meantime I have included a couple of shots that I did manage to remember to take on the day.  I should perhaps also mention that only moments before our intrepid adventures arrived at 'Awdry Towers' there had been a loud knock on the door.  There standing on the threshold was the Postman with a very large box - Massive Darkness has arrived!
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