Deep Madness Review

There are times in life when you say “screw it”, throw caution to the wind, drop all pretence of sensibility and just get stuck into something. Be it a new hobby, sport or simply just spunking a wad of cash so thick it could be used to prop up a skyscraper. With the notion of Kickstarter (other crowdfunding platforms are available), it’s getting ever easier to buy and back games with increasing production costs (and consequentially improved quality), timescales and grandeur. I’m not going to start a rant about the cost of games getting silly, there’s a time and a place for that and it’s not this review.

It's not this review as it would grossly undermine the entire argument because Deep Madness cost me more than the GDP of Bolivia and took almost two years to turn up. “Par for the course” you might say, but that just makes one of my previous points even more valid. Going in with eyes open then complaining about the cost is somewhat hypocritical so I won’t do that. What I will do is begin by saying Deep Madness is freaking awesome.

Deep Madness - Hysteria and Husk

Well, that’s let several cats out of the fairly hefty bag, but allow me to elaborate. 

Deep Madness is a Lovecraftian-inspired sci-fi co-operative survival horror game set in the near-future in the undersea mining facility, Kadath. So pretty much all the elements that scream “things are going to go south” in one place. And south things do go, very rapidly.  Your team of Investigators arrive at the base after a particularly eventful party where nobody thought to call the cleaners the following morning. The sort of morning after where bodies are strewn across the floor, liquids are sprayed across the walls and there’s a few shambling grotesques wandering around trying to find something to eat. You disembark from your submersible to discover very quickly that not all is well and a bit of Pledge wouldn’t go amiss. 

Deep Madness - Gameplay1

Deep Madness is built as a campaign with an overarching story; each chapter being a single scenario.  I love this idea as I’m a fan of story-based games because it means I can really get into the game and feel as if I’m there. This comes back to my need for a link between mechanics and theme, which Deep Madness achieves admirably. The chapters give the players a reason to progress and take part in the unfolding tale. Even if it is a tale of misery, woe and general torment.

An obvious comparison I could make with Deep Madness is Mansions of Madness by Fantasy Flight Games. For anyone with a decent memory, you’ll recall that we made MoM 2nd Ed. our Game of the Year in 2016. Thing is, the games are actually not very similar at all. Deep Madness is more of a dungeon crawler akin to Descent or Zombicide, but with the constant onslaught of Lovecraftian cosmic monstrosities trying to turn you inside out and wear you as hats faster than you can say "Cthulu Fhtagn". 

Deep Madness - Twisted and Bathophobia

Players control the team of Investigators as they attempt to achieve objectives, which vary according to the mission. It could be turning on the Oxygen generation system (breathing, it seems, is not overrated), making a lift work or simply killing the (very) big bad. Maps are determined in the rulebook so they’re fixed, but there’s no reason you couldn’t invent your own maps and scenarios as the board is modular thanks to the map tiles. Set up overall is quite involved, although it depends on the scenario. I speak no hyperbole when I say a recent game took over 30 minutes to set up and get going.

Helpfully, Deep Madness is modular in pretty much every sense; not just the board tiles, but the monsters themselves. You basically just add whichever monsters you feel like facing into the deck, maybe throw in an Epic (but just one, adding two leads to bad times) and deal six of them out, taking into account any special set up information from the chosen scenario. Then sob gently as your Investigators get turned into people paté over the course of about two hours.

Deep Madness - Putrid

Deep Madness scales well too, designed for 1-6 players the idea is that there will be six Investigators, but for any games with fewer than six, there are additional action tokens so Investigators take more than the designated three actions. It means that there’s always 18 actions taken by the Investigators to make things balanced and that works well.

Gameplay is both straightforward and complicated in equal measure. In broad terms, players take it in turns to take their actions; the usual mix of move, attack, interact, trade etc. and this is where one of the “USPs” makes its presence felt. Instead of all the Investigators moving, then all the monsters, Deep Madness mixes this up by players and monsters alternating their turns so we have a Player-Monster-Player-Monster kind of affair.

Deep Madness - Monster Cards

This arrangement can be used to your advantage as you’ll know when a monster type is activated, but it can also lead to the very entertaining, yet grim inevitability, where you realise the Investigator in the most trouble doesn’t get their turn until after the nearest monster gets to run at them brandishing a dessert fork and rubbing its tummy. Turn order rotates after each round so the ongoing player-monster tango keeps things fresh.

At the start of each round, bad things happen. This is controlled by the Devoured Track and is defined by the scenario. You’ll probably change a room from being normal and the kind of place where daycare would be appropriate to the sort of room suitable only for school dinner preparation and perhaps a mosh pit. And this is where my first niggle appears.

Deep Madness - Madness Within and Blind

Changing a room from normal to Devoured isn’t as simple as putting a marker on it, you are supposed to physically flip the tile over. Fine if there’s not much on it, but if there’s a lot going on (and there almost certainly will be), it’s a bit of a pain to take everything off it, turn it over, then put everything back again. The artwork is different and reminds me of something like the Upside Down from Stranger Things or the messed up bits in Silent Hill. It’s very effective, but not so important when there’s an army of minis on the tile covering everything up.

Monsters spawn every round in the devoured rooms, but the spawn rooms change with each monster so things are kept pretty even. Run out of minis however and you lose, a bit like in Pandemic with a cube shortage. The identifying marks on monster cards to differentiate normal and Epic are a little unclear for my dog-eyes, but it’s a minor quibble.

Deep Madness - Devourer of Worlds

Speaking of the minis, they’re gorgeous. And there’s a hell of a lot of them. I went for the full pledge which totals around 230 models, but even the base game has a veritable bounty of plastic, more than enough to keep even the most fevered painter occupied for a long time. Monsters come in two flavours: Regular and Epic. As you can imagine, the regular ones bumble about the level after being summoned (usually after a room is devoured) and get in the way. Epic monsters are the big lads and they’re always bad news; they have special abilities, some far reaching, so you'll want to dispatch them as quickly as you can. If you can.

I've mentioned complexity, which manifests in the sheer amount of stuff going on. There's a ton of things to keep track of like your Investigator abilities, stats, insanity, madness, oxygen levels, inventory, monster stats and abilities, distances, dice rolls, weapons, board effects, room conditions....and the list goes on. If you miss even one or two of these things, it can have a major effect on the game so you need to stay vigilant, which can begin to feel faffy at times.

Deep Madness - Gameplay2

Which leads me to the one underlying thing I feel throughout the game and that is that it really is truly on a knife edge. Saying that the game is against you is like saying that a monsoon is "a bit wet from the standpoint of water". There's the horrible feeling that one slight mistake will cost you the game and to be honest, that's both good and bad.

Steve actually counted the number of turns it would take for us to complete one of the scenarios and he concluded that it would be impossible. Thankfully he was wrong, but it proves a point; approach the mission the wrong way and you're boned. The part of me that relishes a challenge loves this as it really forces you to think as a team and how you're going to approach the game. However, I do appreciate that I am a bit weird and perhaps a little more forgiveness in places would be welcome.

Deep Madness - Gameplay3

So there’s a lot to Deep Madness, but I absolutely love it. The other two sadists here at Collider Towers were hoping that it would be a bit of a flop based on the size of pledge I went for, but I’m happy to report that Deep Madness is anything but. I can’t get enough of it and love the atmosphere it creates. Oppressive, challenging and relentless with a perfect mix of tactics, dice, theme, mechanics and teamwork. There’s really only one thing you need to remember.

Run. Just run.

This review is based on a full copy of the game purchased through Kickstarter.
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