Deep Madness is a cooperative game for 1-6 players from Diemension Games. Each person will take control of one or more investigators trying to solve the mystery of what happened to the crew of the Kadath deep-sea mining facility while fending off horrific creatures that are the stuff of nightmares.
To setup a game of Deep Madness, you’ll need to configure the board tiles as instructed in the rule book for the chapter you are playing. This includes placing 1) the tiles on either their normal side or devoured side, 2) flood tokens to show that a room is flooded, 3) spawn tokens that determine where monsters will spawn from, 4) any necessary tokens that are needed to indicate one or more objectives, and 5) any other tokens you will need. You will also set up the room cards based on how the tiles were set up. You will shuffle the cards for the normal tiles and place them face down and shuffle the cards for the devoured rooms and place them face up in a separate pile. These are called the Room and Devoured Decks respectively.
You will configure the Devouring (Round) Track according to the chapter guidelines with the appropriate devour and hazard icons. Shuffle the Madness, Consciousness, and Search Decks and place them near the board. Place the damage, sanity/madness, and spawn/devoured effect tokens in separate pools near the board.
Shuffle the investigator’s activation cards and place them in a row. Then randomly choose, shuffle, and deal out the six (seven if the Husk is chosen) monsters you use in the scenario and place them underneath each investigator’s activation card. These two rows of cards form the Activation Track. These monsters are linked to the investigators they are underneath, which I’ll explain more about in the Gameplay section. There may be certain monsters that you need to use based on which chapter you are playing. You will place them at the same time.
Finally, each player will take one or more investigator cards along with any starting equipment and their drowning dial. Set the dial to 6 unless otherwise stated by the chapter. Then place the appropriate figure on the start space for the chapter. In a two-player game, each person will control three investigators.
Phase 1: Devour Phase. You will move the round track to the right and resolve the effect. If it is a devour icon, you will flip the top card of the Room Deck and place it on top of the Devoured Deck. You will then flip the room tile corresponding to the number on the card from its normal side to its devoured side. Finally, the players will choose in which room to place a spawn token, while the remaining rooms will get a random devoured effect token, which is on the opposite side of the spawn tokens. These tokens can cause an investigator to gain a sanity token, decrease their resistance dice by one, take one damage, discard a search card, and other effects when he/she ends their turn in one of those spaces.
If the icon is a hazard icon, you’ll follow the instructions for each icon according to the rules for the chapter.
Phase 2: Spawn Phase. Whether it’s a devour or hazard icon, the number in the upper-left corner tells you how many cards to draw in order to spawn monsters. Each card you draw can spawn one or more monsters in one or more rooms. For each monster that you spawn, you will place it in the room tile indicated by the top card of the Devoured Deck. Place the monster on the spawn token in the room. You’ll then place that card on the bottom of the deck and continue spawning in the next room. This will continue until you have drawn the requisite number of cards.
Now it’s time for both the investigators and monsters to take their actions in the Action Phase. You will take actions in the order of player investigator, linked monster, player investigator, linked monster, and continue on until all six investigators and all monsters have taken a turn. The order of the investigators and monsters was determined during setup. You keep track by sliding the activation marker along each investigator and monster card on the Activation Track. I mentioned earlier that if the Husk monster is in play, you will actually have seven monsters. Husks will spawn Mind Eaters. The Mind Eaters actually go first and are placed in front of the first monster in the row. [Wife’s note: Hope that you do not get these evil little things. They spawn like crazy, make it difficult for you to evade your zone, and generally make the game a whole lot harder. I hate them!]
Each investigator can take three actions. You can move one space per action, initiate combat with a monster, trade with other investigators on the same space, or rest to recover sanity (but not health). You can search (can only be done once per turn) for equipment by drawing the top card of the Search Deck. Some chapters will give you an investigate action, which is explained in the rules for the current chapter you are playing.
You can also open, reset, and lock hatches. You will open a closed or locked hatch just by moving through it, but this can also be a separate action. If you lock a hatch, this can stop a monster from getting through. However, if a monster rolls a number of successes (fives or sixes) on the dice equal to its horror, it will be able to break down the hatch. Should this occur, you must spend an action to reset the hatch before you can lock it again.
To attack a monster, you must have a weapon. These can be ranged weapons such as pistols or shotguns, or melee weapons such as knives and crowbars. The rules here are standard fare in these types of games. You must have a line of sight to a monster to use a ranged weapon, and it must be in range. Melee weapons can only be used if you are in the same space as a monster.
One difference here is that a melee weapon can hit multiple monsters, while a ranged weapon can only hit one. You roll a number of dice based on the dice stat on the weapon card and successfully hit the monster on rolls of five or six. Each success will do a number of damage based on the damage stat of the weapon. You’ll then assign that damage to the monster or monsters you attacked. Monsters can be wounded, so you don’t have to worry about doing all the damage necessary to kill on one attack.
If you fail on the attack roll, you can take sanity to reroll a die. You can do this up to your investigator’s sanity limit. However, there is a risk. Each time you kill a monster, you must flip a sanity token over to its madness side based on the monster’s horror rating. Get three madness tokens and you’ll have to draw a madness card. You want to try and avoid drawing these cards as much as possible.
If you kill a monster and you have no sanity tokens to flip over, you’ll draw a consciousness card. These cards give your investigators a little bonus, such as healing a wound, and even some background on what happened at the facility before your group arrived.
Water is Not Your Friend
I mentioned earlier that some of the rooms will have flood tokens. These symbolize rooms that are submerged. Every time you take an action, except for resting, you will rotate your drowning dial down one step. After reaching zero, you will potentially take damage by rolling dice. The further into the negative you go, the more dice you roll. If you go past -6, you instantly die. You’ll need to watch this closely because if even one investigator dies, the chapter is lost.
Flooded rooms also block line of sight. You cannot see into a flooded room from a non-flooded room or vice versa.
Now It’s Their Turn
After a player has taken all of his/her actions with an investigator, the linked monster will go. They will move, attack, and perform a special action. The order of these is different for each monster. When a monster attacks, it deals damage equal to its damage rating. This damage can be prevented by rolling for resistance. You will roll two dice and a five or six will prevent the damage. The resistance roll can also be rerolled by taking sanity.
Play will continue going back and forth between investigators and their linked monsters. Once all actions have been taken by all figures, you will move on to the Refresh Phase. This is where you resolve any end of round effects. After, you will take the Activation Card of the first investigator of the Activation Row and place it at the end. You will slide every other card forward one space. The monster cards will not move. This means the investigator that went first in the previous round will go last in the next round, and each monster now activates after a different investigator. If the Mind Eater is in the game, it will still go before the new first investigator.
The game will continue until players win or lose. Players win if they complete the objective of the chapter. They lose if even one character dies, whether by taking wounds or drowning or if the Devour Track reaches the end.
Deep Madness is a game with a lot going for it and very little against. Yes, there are some fiddly bits in this game. Having to flip a tile to show it’s devoured is a neat idea, but having to take off all the figures, tokens, etc. that may be present on that tile is cumbersome. The wound tokens could have been double-sided to show 1 and 2, 3 and 4, etc. instead of just 1, 2, 3 and so on. Despite these minor quibbles, it is a well-produced, well-thought-out game. There’s only one issue that keeps me from truly enjoying Deep Madness, which I’ll get to later.
The miniatures for the different creatures in the game are awesome and horrifying to look at. They fit perfectly with the disturbing atmosphere that the game’s story builds towards. You may on first glance get a couple of the monsters mixed up (we did our first game and used the wrong model for the Twisted), but you’ll eventually get used to telling the difference. It usually comes down to the more appendages/tentacles a monster has, the deadlier it is.
The story is quite immersive. It’s told to you not only in the book before and after each chapter but also in the Consciousness and Madness cards that you may receive during the game. As you flip the Consciousness cards, you learn more and more about what happened at the Kadath facility before your team arrived. This is similar to playing survival horror games like Resident Evil and Deadspace where you would find documents or codices giving you more backstory about what happened. I love this type of storytelling where you are trying to put together the pieces of the events that led to the arrival of your team and what is currently going on. The Madness cards add another layer of immersion by having your team directly experience mental and physical trauma with horrific descriptions of what’s about to happen to them.
Another point to note about the story is it draws heavily from H.P. Lovecraft, mentioning locations and terms that fans of his books and other board games based off this mythos will certainly enjoy. I found the setting of a deep-sea mining facility refreshing. Between Eldritch Horror, Arkham Horror, the LCG version of Arkham, and Mansions of Madness, it’s nice to have a game that uses the Cthulhu mythos while not set in the exact same time period with the exact same investigators with the exact same stats and abilities.
The variety of items and weapons you can find is also nice. There are no more than two copies of any such card, so you don’t have to worry about finding 5 pistols or 4 crowbars. A lot of these items also have secondary effects, such as being able to do extra damage, if you spend some sanity.
The rule book is well written. There is a lot going on in this game, but everything is well explained. There are also reference cards, which is a nice plus. The only problems with the rulebook are there is no table of contents and the back cover of the rulebook is the end of the story. If you play this and get really into the story, don’t look at the back cover.
What might possibly be the biggest factor to determine whether someone purchases or passes on Deep Madness is the difficulty. This game is hard. You need to find that perfect balance between working toward the objective and eliminating monsters that are impeding your progress. Spend too much time killing monsters and you won’t have enough time left to finish the objective. Rush towards the objective and you may find yourself getting beaten down by the monsters.
Even you find what you feel is a perfect balance, the luck of the dice comes in. You roll for attack, defense, to see if a monster triggers a specific ability, whether locked hatches are broken through, and more. You can spend sanity to reroll dice in most instances, but your sanity can turn into Madness, which can result in drawing a Madness card, which is always a bad effect for you and possibly the entire team.
Another reason this game is hard is that if even one investigator dies, you lose. If you get a couple of bad roles trying to defend from taking wounds, you can find yourself in dire straits really fast.
In a two-player game, each player controls three investigators. My wife and I played the first scenario three times and lost three times. The third time we used the More Prepared variant, which allows each member of your team to start with a syringe item that can provide a benefit such as healing wounds or making your attacks stronger. Each time we played, we did get closer to winning. We then tried the second scenario still using the syringes and lost again.
As someone who grew up playing and still plays hard video games like Megaman, Battletoads, and Dark Souls, as well as board games such as Shadowrun: Crossfire and Ghost Stories, I love when a game is hard. I love when a game is challenging and smacks you down. I love games that force you to think outside the box to beat the challenge presented to you. However, this game is a different type of hard. It expects what feels like perfection. If you don’t have the perfect roll at the exact time you need it every time you roll the dice, you’ll lose. If you don’t take the actions the game expects you to take, you will lose.
The reason I’ve spent so much time talking about the difficulty is that this is the one thing that can keep a lot of people from enjoying Deep Madness, myself included. The amount of time it takes to set up, play, and break down this game just isn’t worth the investment if the outcome is going to be the same every game. Ghost Stories is quick to set up and put away, along with being quick to play. Deep Madness is none of those things.
Do I think the game is unwinnable? No. Every game can be beaten. Should I have to play a game a very specific way to even hope to attain victory? No, because that doesn’t make a fun game.
A Wife’s Perspective
The components in the base game are really nice. The base game includes 60 monster minis of 15 types plus six character minis. The minis are well done and very horrific looking. They include grotesque things such as the putrid, the delirium, and agony. There are also bases for each mini that include a space to add wound tokens, which I find somewhat novel. However, the bases do not fit well. We had to struggle to fit the bases on the minis, and it was especially difficult with the twisted figures because they are so wide and leave so little of the base to work with.
As with many board games, there are a plethora of tokens to punch out. The tokens include sanity/madness tokens, slowed/weakness tokens, objective markers, flooded markers, and wound tokens. The wound tokens range from 1-6. While we appreciated the variety of wound tokens, having them be double-sided, i.e. a ‘1’ on one side and a ‘2’ on the other might have been better as it would have cut down on the time it took us to sort through all of the wound tokens while playing the game.
We played the first scenario three times and the second scenario once. There are multiple chapters, each with a continuation of the overall story and their own objectives. There is variation in which monsters you might get. In the base game, you always have the same six characters on your team.
Despite Deep Madness being one of my favorite genres, horror, and looking good, this game just isn’t for me. I feel as if the designers created the game with only one possible way to win and if you didn’t play the game EXACTLY the way they played it; there was no way for you to win. As my husband mentioned, we played the first scenario multiple times and the second once. I understand that with any game that incorporates dice rolling as a mechanism, there will be some chance or randomness to the game. However, in the one playthrough of the second scenario, we had near perfect dice rolls, which almost never happens, and we still lost.
We play many difficult boardgames. Ghost Stories, Arkham Horror: LCG, Eldritch Horror, and Shadowrun: Crossfire to name a few. And we have won all of these games. Deep Madness being a difficult game is not my problem. Deep Madness feeling pre-scripted is my problem. With the four previous games that I mentioned, there are multiple ways to win a scenario. Sure, you may be overrun with monsters or be ambushed in Eldritch Horror, but you can also escape and collect the items and clues that you need. With Deep Madness, monsters are constantly spawning. You need to spend a certain minimum amount of time combatting and defeating them so that you can travel through Kadath and meet your objectives. However, if you spend too much time searching to try and find weapons (because not everything in the search deck is a weapon) and doing combat actions, you won’t meet your objective. But, if you spend too much time on the objective, monsters will overrun you and either kill you or there will be so many in your space that you won’t be able to evade them.
There is obviously a balance. I just feel like there is one balance and only one balance. Playing this game began to feel like solving a math equation to find the exact number of steps we could spend on movement, searching, and combat instead of just playing a game for enjoyment.