Deep Madness is a new boardgame from Diemension Games, originally funded via a Kickstarter project in November 2016 and delivered – admittedly almost a year late – in October 2018.
It’s a co-operative boardgame designed to be played by 1-6 players.
The plot is straight out of a sci-fi/horror movie – the players take the roles of a team of investigators, employed by the Leng Corporation to investigate a mysterious loss of communications from the Kadeth deep-sea mining facility. You discover that the facility appears to have been strangely altered, and seems to be infested by gruesome horrors which may, in fact, be the mutated remains of the crew, or worse – monsters from some other realm of existence.
The base game has eight scenarios, which lead the players through the main storyline of the game. There are other expansions which add further scenarios at various points in the story.
In look and feel, the game itself is something of a crossover between Mansions of Madness and Space Hulk. The players are trying to achieve an objective amongst a board layout made up of a number of floor tiles, whilst at the same time being assaulted by a seemingly never-ending wave of gruesome monsters, which not only cause physical harm, but also affect the sanity of the investigators. The influence of HP Lovecraft is evident – especially as one of the expansions has the title The Rise of Dagon – maybe a clue as to what is actually going on?
The first thing to say about Deep Madness is that it is a BIG game – I received the ‘Investigator’ Pledge, which included the base game plus a couple of exclusive kickstarter expansions. This equates to over 200 miniatures, plus a huge number of cards and cardboard floor tiles and tokens.
The miniatures are produced in plastic, are all fully assembled and are well detailed. The card art looks great (cards are in three sizes – Tarot, Poker and mini) and the card counters are of good quality – I have had a little problem with the playing tiles warping, but nothing too major.
The large number of components required in the game does mean that set-up time for a scenario is prolonged – expect to take at least 15 minutes to get the game ready to play.
in a 1,2 or 3 player game, each player controls multiple investigators, whilst in 4-6 player games each player controls a single investigator. You have a character card, which gives details of your character abilities, plus you can gain equipment cards during the game by searching the complex.
Each investigator can perform three actions on their turn, which can be used to either move around, fight or interact with their environment or other investigators. Searching for equipment to aid you in your objective is vital, but each investigator is limited to one search action a turn.
As an added complication, some of the rooms that investigators have to traverse are flooded (Did I mention that this is a deep-sea facility?) – investigators have a limited air supply, and taking actions in a flooded area expends air. Too many actions and you start taking damage. Leave it too long before finding an air bubble and you might drown.
Each scenario has a limited number of turns in which it has to be completed, and the turn sequence is controlled by a card layout (see above).
The turn sequence has an investigator being activated, followed by the monster immediately below it, followed by the next investigator in sequence, and then the corresponding monster etc.
Each monster has a programmed number of actions on their card, along with a description of any special effects that they have. At the end of each turn, the investigators rotate one place (the first player moving to the last slot and everything moving along one place).
As well as the player action phase, other phases of each turn include the possibility of parts of the playing area being devoured (which means that monsters may spawn in that area, and other negative effects occur) special, scenario specific, events occurring, and new monsters spawning.
During the game, players are constantly trying to balance performing actions that will progress the scenario objectives against ‘crowd control’. Fail to kill monsters, and you risk being overwhelmed. However, each monster encountered and killed takes a toll on the investigators sanity.
However, the death of a single investigator will bring the game to an end.
As with all games of this type, one of the biggest questions is ‘How replayable is the game?’
In each scenario, the players face a random selection of six monsters. The base game contains 9 basic monsters, plus three Epic monsters. The expansions available as part of the Kickstarter ‘Investigator’ Pledge add a further 13 different basic monsters, plus a number of extra epic monsters. You can use a single Epic monster to replace a basic monster, which will increase the difficulty of the scenario, as epic monsters are very nasty.
In addition to the multitude of monsters to face, the expansions add a number of investigators to the game – a further 12, giving the players a total of 18 to choose from, each with their own ability. Some reflect the classic genre character tropes, whilst others are inspired by heroes of film or PC game.
Also add a further 4 scenarios to the mix.
All in all, a awful lot of choice and monster/investigtor combinations are available, and this doesn’t take into account the two extra expansions The Oracle’s Betrayal and The Rise of Dagon. Each has three more characters, plus more scenarios and monsters (and even some different game mechanics).
The final thing to note on the replayability front is that this game is hard. REALLY HARD. Each scenario will take a number of attempts before it can be successfully completed – simply trying to find the best team to complete each scenario’s challenge may take a while.
Impressive graphics, beautifully horrible miniatures and fun and challenging gameplay makes Deep Madness a great, if perhaps somewhat frustrating game. It is deeply atmospheric, with the additional issues of limited air supply, drowning and ever-increasing madness adding to a complex mix which makes the game rise above the average dungeon crawler.
Frustrating? The game is possibly a tad harder than it needs to be, and it is easy to get overwhelmed and think that scenarios aren’t just hard, but almost impossible. In this respect, it is good that the gameplay and theme is engaging enough to keep player interest and has certainly kept us coming back for more.
The only downside to Deep Madness is that it is not available through retail outlets, but only via Kickstarter (not the original intention of the publisher, but made a reality due to the cost of production)
However, the good news is that a KS project for a reprint, plus a further expansion, is running until the 20th November 2018, with delivery due in August 2019. One can only hope that since this will be a reprint, the delays that hampered the original production will not be a factor.