Sunday, November 29, 2020

Shattered Seas Review AND Deep Madness Tour Guide - Review by S.E.

This post was simulcast on Black on Nov-28-2020

Cover art by Christopher Shy / Cover design by Byron Leavitt.

Shattered Seas is a toxic dose of Lovecraftian mythos, psychedelic team-exploration (reminiscent of Stark Trek voyages), and survival-horror melee (mutant creatures replacing zombies). It’s a maelstrom of fun if you enjoy horror adventure, losing your mind, and drowning.

Ever want to crack open the gateway into an Otherworld with a few friends? Perhaps you are ambitious and naively want to gain dominion of cosmic powers. Will you be comfortable with mutating forces transforming you into a tentacled mass? Start the madness by searching for the mystical Sphere buried in the ocean near the submerged Kadath Mining facility. Lucas Kane, a marine biologist, is one of your tour guides. Here he observes Kadath, a mining facility with organic qualities (excerpt):

Kadath lit up below them drew his attention and caught his breath. The facility sprawled across the seabed like a sunken metropolis from another world, its illuminated structures pushing defiantly upward into the inky abyss. The station’s domes and towers seemed like the last bastions of light and reason still standing in an endless Stygian wasteland. It was hypnotic, dreamlike, and yet somehow inexplicably solid. Lucas could make out the shuttle tubes running between the three main domes, as well as to the smaller, squarer outposts and middle structures. He could even see the primary enclosed drilling site not far off from the main facility, connected to Dome Three by long, spacious tubes.

This novel was inspired by Diemension Games' Deep Madness, a cooperative sci-fi/horror board game. The novel serves as a stand-alone book as much as it does a gateway into the game narrative. Non-gamers will enjoy it all the same since the key protagonists (Lucas Kane and Connor Durham) are freshly introduced, plus the story is a prequel to the story presented in the game. At the end of this article, there is an embedded movie overviewing the board game. 

BG_SS_Kane The cover features Lucas Kane (Christopher Shy artist)

Deep Madness was Diemension Games’ first title and raised over $4 million USD across two Kickstarter campaigns (from ~2018-2020). Byron Leavitt injected loads of narrative into the game, so Kadath and all its many inhabitants have curious backstories and strange intentions. With Shattered Seas Leavitt extends the world created by the Diemension Game team (with designers Roger Ho, Cherry Li, Chauncey, and Yichuan Wang) to whom Byron dedicated the book… in addition to the KS backers). There are also many illustrators and sculptors, including Chang Yuan, Stefan Kopinski, D.Rock-Art Studio and NWA Studio featured in the art book, that brought the world to life. The surreal aesthetic is captured well by Leavitt in the novel. Experience supernatural horror (excerpts):

The walls of the corridor were changing around him. This alteration wasn’t like the red fungus he had seen earlier, either. This was something else. The only way he could describe this was… biomechanical, perhaps? It almost seemed that pieces of people had been used to help craft the walls. He saw faces staring sightlessly at him, arms and legs and torsos fused into the substance around them.

The being above him burned like flames, its massive body ethereal and translucent. It was roughly human in shape, except that it had multiple heads and sets of arms – and it was almost as tall as the cathedral. While much of its body shimmered and fluctuated, one thing Connor could make out for sure: its eyes were like miniature suns in its faces.

Board Game Art

Shattered Seas is saturated with ghosts, possession, & body horror. Expect bloody action that tilts toward the fun side of horror.

You will observe the melding of multiverses as the forces of the Sphere are unleashed. The novel is much easier to digest than the game (which is very challenging and requires some commitment of hours per session and table-top real estate to accommodate the maps & pieces). Leavitt was challenged to write the novel as part of the second printing. He could have “phoned-it-in” and provide some shallow replay of a scenario. Instead, Leavitt went the extra mile to build on the lore.

Read the book, or play the game. Either way, you’ll want to do the other.

In a world as nutty as this, don’t expect all mysteries to be solved. However, it genuinely expands the story in a stand-alone fashion. We can avoid spoilers while covering the approach.

There are two main perspectives woven together. The first has Lucas Kane, a mysterious marine biologist, exploring in/around Kadath Mining Facility (yes, that is a call out to Howard Phillips Lovecraft’s The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath”). The other has Connor Durham, a preacher from Ireland leading a small band on a strange, isolated zone we’ll just call Tower-Island.

The Leng Corporation funding Kadath, as well as the mysterious Golden Dawn cult, play roles as the fates of Connor and Lucas get intertwined. Strangely, the characters from the core box do not appear appreciably, but characters from expansions appear in dominant roles:, ie Regan & Meredith Waite from the Rise of Dagon set and Dr. William West from Oracle’s Betrayal.

[caption id="attachment_466833" align="aligncenter" width="900"]BG_SS_Cards Character cards from Deep Madness expansions[/caption]


One cooperative battle was an explicit, over-the-top melee paying homepage to the armory within Kadath:

Ron grimly picked up the woman’s crowbar…[Gerald] threw the rivet gun aside in disgust... Gerald swung his axe….Lucas reached the beast and drove his scalpelRonald cracked its skull with the crowbar, then bludgeoned it over and over until it collapsed to the ground… his axe was still embedded in the third one...The girl pulled out a utility knife and jabbed it into the thing’s neck.

Experience horror in deep waters:

What do we do now?” It was the question they were all wondering, and, as such, no one had an answer when Connor finally asked it. Mitsuko sat curled up in the belly of the boat, rocking back and forth, while Min and Connor perched on either side of her. Their combined silence spoke volumes. “Connor…”

...Hands breached the surface of the water. They writhed and flailed, grasping at the air as they sought for any purchase they could find. Some looked ruddy and perfectly normal, while others were pallid and rotting. And some were not human in the slightest. The hands grabbed the sides of the boat, their desperate grips wildly rocking the small craft and threatening to either capsize it or tear it completely apart. Mitsuko grabbed an oar and started beating the hands, while Min began trying to pry them off. “Connor, get us to the shore!”

Board Game Art

Wanting to Tour Kadath Yourself?

  • Shattered Seas book for Kickstarter backers: You received links eBook already. Hardcopies are en route now for a ~Nov/Dec 2020 delivery for most.
  • AudioBooks for Kickstarter backers: The two versions of the audiobook near Halloween (update 72). One is a simple voice narration and the other a “full-blown audio drama with a cast and sound effects and music”--listen to the outstanding demo from Soundbooth Theater.
  • Non-backers: Expect paperbacks, eBooks, and Audio of Shattered Seas to be available via standard sellers of games and books ~early 2021.
  • Get the game too! The third printing of Deep Madness is planned for 2021 via Kickstarter and will likely have all this content (get notified form on Dimension Games website). Check out Board Game Geek or local board game retailers for new/used copies.

Own the Game Already, but Could Use a Guide to the Narrative Scenarios?

  • Check out this guide if you want to play in chronological order or to see how the novel characters fit in with scenarios (noted in purple): Deep Madness Scenario Guide - Chronology. Note, the Shattered Worlds special game scenario featuring Lucas Kane will be revealed with the delivery of the paperbacks.
  • The board game is very challenging, so consider some of the game variants (i.e., my household uses the "extra stamina" rule, so each character gets +1 action (for a total of four each). Touch base with fans if you need help. In addition to the Board Game Geek link above, there are two active Facebook groups to scope out, one being the official Deep Madness Game page and the other the Deep Madness Universe: Backers, Collectors and Fans page.

Deep Madness Board Game Overview (official blurb):

"Descend through the ocean depths into unbridled madness. Deep Madness is a cooperative board game of survival horror for 1-6 players. Journey with a team of investigators to the Kadath deep-sea mining facility, and discover the dark secrets lurking on the ocean floor. Something is down there, waiting for you: an ancient, incomprehensible power that channels your deepest fears and gives them flesh. With each successive chapter, the nightmare unravels before you, ratcheting up the tension through fiendish gameplay and a progressively psychedelic story. Fight to stay alive as you hold your breath through flooded rooms while throbbing madness devours the station around you. Flee from the squirming hordes of monsters clambering down the corridors, and face off against the horrific Epic Monsters as each round brings you closer to certain doom. The question is not if you will discover the truth buried within Kadath’s claustrophobic depths: it’s if you will survive long enough to tell anyone about it. Featuring 66 plastic miniatures in the base game alone (and over 259 across all of the expansions), Deep Madness is a tense, nail-biting experience you won’t soon forget."

S.E. Lindberg resides near Cincinnati, Ohio working as a microscopist by day. Two decades of practicing chemistry, combined with a passion for the Sword & Sorcery genre, spurs him to write adventure fictionalizing the alchemical humors (under the banner Dyscrasia Fiction). With Perseid Press, he writes weird tales in the same vein (Heroika and Heroes in Hell series). He co-moderates the Sword & Sorcery group on Goodreads, and invites all to participate. He enjoys studying Aikido and creates all sorts of fine art in the family workshop. Touch base via Facebook or Twitter.