Review of Death in the Dark

Reviewed by Richard Dufault

Mission Statement: Psycho Fire-Blasting Dwarves Fight Evil Elves and spiders in a Gold Rush/Frontier Town/Mines of Moria setting using rules reminiscent of a cross between Space Hulk and the computer game X-Com.

Hardware: RAFM sent me their basic boxed set, containing the following: 16 dungeon tiles on heavy card, many cardstock buildings die-cut on several sheets (you must follow the directions to assemble these!), many die-cut counters and a small box of miniatures: 6 Boomer Dwarves, 1 Dwarven Sergeant, 1 Dwaven Flammjager, 2 Vanir Warriors, 1 Vanir Priestess, 10 small spiders, 2 medium spiders and one humongous spider. All are cast in pewter, and all except the spiders have 1" rectangular metal bases. There are 6 dice in the box and all of the buildings (actually rooms in a dungeon) have cut-out doors, and bases are provided for the doors. Oh yes, and there's a thick, glossy rule book and a photocopied painting and assembly guide.

What I think of the hardware: the game has great Toy in the Box value just for the minis, rooms and tiles. The cool thing about the tiles is that they can be re-arranged to any shape. The default is 4x4, but you could do a running battle on 2x8 or a Mines of Moria type scenario with 1x 16.

The Game: It's quite simple. It is based on the old Universal Soldier system, which has been re-tooled to work at skirmish scale. Initiative is rolled once at the beginning of the game, and that sets the tone. Players take turns setting up the rooms in the dungeon (think of the dungeon as sort of a large open office area, with cubicles all over the place). Then, they set up their troops at opposite ends of the board, and the game is on! The initiative winner takes all of his actions, which are limited by Movement Points, and then passes the initiative over to his opponent. Play alternates back and forth until one player loses all his models or throws in the towel. Players can act during their opponent's turn by using Cover Fire or magic. The game moves very quickly, and a battle with a decent sized force (which comes with the game) can be over in two hours, less if you're quite familiar with the game.

What I Think of the Game: KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) has been applied here, and it works. When we first played, we had some problems with issues such as Line of Fire and cover, etc, but there is a built-in rule to take care of disagreements: each player rolls a d6, and high roller gets his way. This is a great rule, and allows the game to flow smoothly while still letting players hash it out after the game is over.

Technical Details: Basically, you compare one model's Attack Strength, which is rated from A (good) to E (bad), to the defender's Defense Strength, which is rated the same way. A chart yields a multiplier and a target number. You multiply the attacking model's number of attack dice by the multiplier, and roll the dice. Any results over the target number constitute a hit. Since most models only have one hit point, this system is very quick. There are no armor saves, since the armor has already been taken into account with the Defense Strength.

What I Think of the System: This works well. It keeps the game moving very quickly and can resolve battles rather quickly.

Fluff (the campaign background): The game universe is interesting and diverse. Many races other than the Dwarves and the Vanir will be available soon. RAFM has already sent me a bunch of minis depicting another race soon to be realeased: Reptiliads. (In playtest, these boys are very good.) Other races in the works: Undead; Orcs; Humans. Some of these guys can already be hired into a force as mercenaries, such as the Durnanoth Archer (good elf), Orcish Battlemonger (ouch) or Reptiliad Warrior.

What I Think of the Fluff: The backgound history sets the tone for the game, and introduces every race and group that will potentially get published as a separate army book. While I would not rate this as highly as, say, the Al-Qadim setting by TSR (one of my all-time favorites), it is pretty good, with heroes, villainous gods, betrayal, magic, etc. Basically a good world-generation story that supports the game.

The Campaign Game: If you think the combat system is cool, wait until you see the campaign system! It is definitely the best part of the game. This is how it works: each player runs a mining company. These companies compete with each other to find and extract Demon Ore, a mineral everyone has to have. Every Campaign Turn, players roll on the event chart to see what happened to their mining company, and battles always ensue. There are Scouting battles, Assaults on other players' Strongholds, Rescue Missions and Prospecting Missions, to name a few. Players can play any race, since they represent companies in conflict. Models advance as they gain experience, with some really neat skills to be gained. Slain models aren't really slain: after each battle, you roll on a chart for each "killed" model to see what, exactly happened. Results vary from "Squashed Like A Bug" to "Arrow Hit Your Canteen! No Damage!". This makes it possible to keep characters alive in a very deadly game. Between scenarios, players can send their models to "the city" to shop, get healed, gamble, etc. There are risks to going into town, but many cool items and services can be purchased, such as -Dr. Lothar+s Spider Repellent-, for example.

My 2 Cents Worth: The game is good. The background story is ok. The campaign game is great.

Overall: I definitely recommend this game! It has an average to low initial price, compared to dozens of competitors, but the contents of the box are worth every penny.

Editor's Note
Death in the Dark is produced by RAFM. Their contact details are as follows:
Rafm Company Inc.
36A Easton Rd.
Brantford, On, Canada N3P 1J5
Phone 1-519-759-1995
Fax 1-519-759-6280